web analytics



Copyright 2015 Libero Themes.
All Rights Reserved.

8:30 - 6:00

Our Office Hours Mon. - Fri.


Call For Free 15/M Consultation



Westlake Legal Group > Nicola Sturgeon MSP

Henry Hill: Westminster legislating for Northern Ireland sets a useful precedent for the DUP

DUP accepts Westminster changing abortion and same-sex marriage in Northern Ireland

Sam McBride writes for the Independent that the Government’s parliamentary allies, the Democratic Unionist Party, show no sign of causing ministers much difficulty over the Commons legislating for the Province on social issues.

Although the socially-conservative party is formally opposed to extending same-sex marriage or legal abortion to Ulster, in truth many of its modernisers will be quietly pleased that these particular boils have been lanced without the Party having to risk alienating its core support by being directly involved.

Moreover, as I explained in last week’s column, the DUP will also be very pleased that MPs have blown such a large hole in the Government’s increasingly threadbare case for refusing to introduce wholesale direct rule. Just about the only remaining justification for the Northern Irish Office’s current non-solution of letting the civil service govern Northern Ireland without democratic oversight has been the relative consistency with which ministers have stuck to it.

Now that Parliament has acted directly to take important decisions in the absence of a devolved administration (and the passage of these amendments means that it is now certain not to return before their October 21 deadline, as doing so could block the reforms), it will be much harder to justify refusing to step in again. Noted unionist blogger Owen Polley has set out in a piece for the Article some areas which could do with ministerial attention.

However John Larkin, the Northern Irish Attorney General, has raised concerns about the drafting of the abortion amendment, drafted by Stella Creasy and overwhelmingly passed by MPs, according to the News Letter. He reportedly feels that it is “is unclear and inconsistent with important human rights texts”. Lord Duncan, an NIO minister, appears to share his concerns and has hinted that the Government may try to push back the deadline.

By contrast to their relative quiescence on these issues, the DUP have not been shy about naming their price in other areas. This week Nigel Dodds, the leader of the party’s Westminster group, indicated that they were rowing behind the Sun’s campaign on behalf of veterans and would make policies for ex-servicemen and women part of the next confidence and supply deal. Unionist concern at the handling of so-called ‘legacy investigations’ into soldiers remains high.

Hunt urges Johnson to rule out more powers for Holyrood…

The Herald reports that Jeremy Hunt has called on Boris Johnson to ‘draw a line under devolution’ and rule out any new tax powers for the Scottish Parliament, in the same week that he himself pledged not to approve a second referendum on Scottish independence even in the event of a separatist majority at the 2021 Holyrood elections.

Amidst reports that the underdog is hoping to run up a “big win” north of the border, where local Tories are reportedly deeply wary of what a Johnson premiership might been for their political recovery, a story resurfaced that Johnson once asked Nicola Sturgeon if full fiscal autonomy – a confederal arrangement wherein Scotland would have its own Treasury – would “buy off” the SNP.

This comes in the same week that Lord Forsyth, the former Secretary of State for Scotland and far-sighted opponent of devolution, wrote in the Daily Telegraph that the real threat to the Union lay in constantly giving the nationalists and devocrats more powers. Stephen Daisley also penned a magisterial piece (for which I even got a little credit) for the Scottish Daily Mail on the same theme – it has been a good week for devosceptics.

…as First Minister of Wales picks new fight on ‘devolved powers’…

Meanwhile Mark Drakeford, the strongly-nationalist but technically-Labour First Minister of Wales, has attacked both candidates’ plans to replace EU funding with a UK-operated Shared Prosperity Fund.

Drakeford, who has stated that he views the UK as essentially a non-sovereign confederation, claims that Johnson’s intention for there to be a “strong Conservative influence” over the funding contradicts Labour’s motto of “Not a penny lost, not a power stolen” by suggesting a shift in power back towards London, the BBC reports.

This would, of course, be a very good thing, and entirely in line with the aims of Theresa May’s legacy-building devolution inquiry of finding ways to enhance the role of the British Government in the devolved territories. Neither Johnson nor Hunt should flinch from taking Drakeford – who has declared his party’s support for the UK to be ‘conditional’ – head-on.

…and Lidington and Mundell warn of danger to Union

On the other side of the argument, David Lidington warned this week that English ‘apathy’ about the United Kingdom risked breaking it up. According to the Times, he said:

“In England, I think that there is an indifference to the Union; a sense of taking it for granted. It is something that is there as part of the landscape rather than something that you’ve really got to make a conscious effort to work to sustain.”

David Mundell, the Scottish Secretary, also warned that a no-deal exit might strengthen the hand of the separatists in Scotland and Northern Ireland – even as his son Oliver, an MSP, has endorsed Johnson on this site on the basis that he will “deliver Brexit and secure the Union”.

Johnson has pledged this week to prioritise keeping the UK together over Brexit, although we must stress again that on the available evidence that isn’t the choice.

News in Brief:

  • Barclay warns that no-deal exit will harm Ireland more than the UK – Daily Telegraph
  • Dublin admits it will impose border checks under a no-deal scenario – The Sun
  • Reality intrudes on the Irish Government’s Brexit game plan – Irish Times
  • Johnson pledges £160 million ‘back payments’ to Scottish farmers – Daily Telegraph
  • SNP MP has made citizens’ assembly ‘ten times harder’, says adviser – The Herald
  • Davidson lashes out at Labour for letting unions set its Brexit policy – Daily Express

Real Estate, and Personal Injury Lawyers. Contact us at: https://westlakelegal.com 

John Lamont: Contrary to the SNP’s expectations, the closer we get to Brexit, the more popular the Union becomes

John Lamont is MP for Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk, and is a member of the Scottish Affairs Select Committee. This article is from the latest edition of Bright Blue’s magazine, Centre Write.

Like many people across the UK, it took me some time to digest the news that broke on the morning of 24th June 2016. Whatever side of the argument you were on, the result of the EU referendum was a surprise to most people.

However, one person in the UK wasted no time to jump on the vote, so sure was she of the implications. As soon as the result had been declared, Nicola Sturgeon hastily called a press conference at Bute House, her official Edinburgh residence. She stood in front of assembled media and declared that a second referendum on Scottish independence was now firmly back on the table, asserting that Scots were so outraged about leaving the EU they would now want to leave the UK. Her political calculation was that she would be able to exploit the fact that the majority of Scots voted to Remain to get her flagging campaign to break up Britain back up and running.

This press conference has set the tone for the political debate in Scotland since. The SNP have time and time again confidently asserted that Brexit makes Scottish independence much more likely. At every available opportunity they have sought to utilise Brexit to argue the only option is to leave the UK. It is almost a weekly occurrence for the First Minister or one of her senior Ministers to repeat that Brexit makes Scottish independence a sure thing.

After the EU referendum, a re-energised SNP embarked on a nationwide campaign to sell their new independence message. They commissioned a so-called ‘Growth Commission’, led by Andrew Wilson, the economist, to refresh the hugely discredited economic case for leaving the UK which Scots rejected in 2014.

Given the First Minister’s confidence, an outside observer might be led to conclude that Scottish independence is a likely outcome of Brexit. But three years on from that Bute House press conference, that is not how things have turned out.

Poll after poll shows that support for Scottish independence is actually falling, despite the SNP’s best efforts. One of the most recent, commissioned by Angus Robertson, a former SNP MP,  showed support for the Union is up to 62 per cent. At a time when the political establishment in the UK is consumed by Brexit and the nationalists are focused entirely on independence, support for the SNP’s cause is falling, not rising.

The SNP’s ‘Growth Commission’ came back with the conclusion that leaving the UK would result in an extra ten years of austerity, far beyond anything the UK Government has imposed, and it has now been quietly shelved by the SNP leadership.

And in 2017, the First Minister’s impulsive reaction to Brexit resulted in her losing a third of her MPs, including Alex Salmond and Robertson, both to Scottish Conservatives like myself campaigning against another independence referendum. The closer we get to Brexit, the more support for independence falls.

The SNP clearly miscalculated that Brexit would push people towards independence. So, why are Scots still backing the United Kingdom? There are, in my mind, two main reasons.

First, many independence supporters actually want to leave the EU. The SNP kept a tight lid on them during the EU referendum, but since then, senior figures such as Jim Sillars, the former deputy leader of the SNP, have vocally supported leaving the EU. A NatCen report found that over a third of SNP voters backed Brexit.

This makes sense; pro-Brexit Scottish nationalists are at least consistent. Why would you campaign for Holyrood to have more powers, only to want to hand large parts of them back to Brussels? The impact of the SNP’s posturing on Brexit has been that many of these voters have stopped supporting independence.

The second reason that support for independence is falling is that most Scots are, to use a good Scottish phrase, scunnered by the endless constitutional debate. The vast majority of my constituents, whether they voted Leave or Remain, just want Brexit to happen so we can talk about something else. And the last thing they want their politicians to be focusing on is another debate about breaking up the United Kingdom.

If Brexit has shown us anything it is that leaving a political union is challenging. And because the UK is a market worth four times more to Scottish businesses than the EU, Brexit would look like a walk in the park compared to leaving the UK. And unlike with the EU, Scotland is a significant net beneficiary from the UK, meaning independence would result in an instant hit to public finances, even if trade was miraculously left unaffected.

Time and time again I listen to speeches from SNP Members of Parliament outlining how damaging leaving the EU would be for Scotland. Yet, in the same breath, they argue in favour of leaving the United Kingdom. Unpicking more than 300 years’ worth of political, economic and fiscal union would be a huge undertaking, much more substantial than Brexit. So people look back on the SNP’s claim in 2014 that independence could be negotiated and delivered in 18 months and realise that this was complete nonsense. In many ways, Brexit makes the argument for leaving the UK much weaker and that is something the SNP leadership misjudged back in 2016.

Most Scots continue to support remaining part of the UK, but that could change. The SNP should not be underestimated. They have an army of highly motivated volunteers and everything their politicians do is designed to try to boost support for independence.

While we must continue to highlight the weaknesses of the SNP’s argument, the focus for politicians who want the UK to survive and thrive must be on showing Scots how they benefit from remaining part of the UK.

Real Estate, and Personal Injury Lawyers. Contact us at: https://westlakelegal.com 

Henry Hill: Hunt pulls Foreign Office support to Sturgeon’s separatist excursions

Hunt pulls Foreign Office support for Sturgeon to ‘protect the Union’…

The Foreign Secretary took an opportunity to burnish his unionist credentials this week when he withdrew Foreign Office support from Nicola Sturgeon’s diplomatic excursions to Brussels, the Scotsman reports.

In what the paper describes as “a major change of protocol”, Jeremy Hunt has restricted the First Minister and other devolved ministers’ ability to avail themselves of Britain’s diplomatic network and assets to set up meetings with foreign leaders.

This “will now be restricted to trips touching on “areas for which [Scottish ministers] have a devolved responsibility” and where they “avoid supporting activities intended to campaign for policies contrary to [the UK] Government’s position””, according to the paper.

Hunt has been strongly criticised for this by some politicians and commentators in both Scotland and Wales (he recently denied an official car to Mark Drakeford for similar reasons), and been accused of showing ‘disrespect for devolution’. Some have taken up the usual refrain that denying devocrats anything they want is a sure-fire way to break up Britain.

But Hunt is right to take a stand. It is absurd that the British State should actively support devolved politicians trespassing on its reserved prerogatives, especially when they’re doing so to pursue a diplomatic policy which conflicts with its own or are outright trying to win support for seceding altogether.

In fact, he might consider going further. Stephen Daisley has written scathingly about the SNP’s penchant for overseas junkets, and offered the following suggestion which might be right up the Foreign Secretary’s street:

“First, they could amend the Scotland Act to require the Scottish Government to submit for approval to the secretary of state for Scotland any proposed spending which could reasonably be construed to involve reserved matters or be otherwise ambiguous. Next, they could require that all ministerial visits outside of Scotland are signed off by the secretary of state as falling within the remit of Scottish ministers.”

Something to mull over as he hits the campaign trail in Scotland.

…as MPs criticise him for his stance on Ulster veterans

But it hasn’t all been smooth sailing. Hunt has come under fire from a number of Tory MPs for saying that members of the security forces who served during the Troubles should be treated “the same way” as the republican terrorists they were fighting.

He argued that the peace process secured by the Belfast Agreement required the equivalent treatment of both sides, no matter how ‘difficult’ that may be.

Such a stance will do little to deflect the charge that he is continuity Theresa May. Both the Prime Minister and Karen Bradley, her hapless Northern Irish Secretary, have been strongly criticised for failing to protect ex-servicemen and Royal Ulster Constabulary officers from historical investigations and legal action.

This topic has been increasingly heated on the Conservative side since the revelation that Tony Blair’s administration had offered a de facto amnesty to hundreds of IRA ‘on-the-runs’ by issuing so-called ‘comfort letters’, one of which collapsed the trial of the Hyde Park bomber.

Northern Irish cabinet post ‘hotly contested’

Conor Burns could become the first-ever Ulster-born person to be appointed Northern Irish Secretary, the Belfast Telegraph reports.

He is also a Brexiteer, a staunch unionist, and a practising Roman Catholic, which would make for a fascinating combination if he were given the opportunity to take on the role.

According to the Sun, there is fierce competition for the post, which is reportedly coveted by Gavin Williamson – the man responsible for negotiating the Government’s confidence and supply arrangement with the Democratic Unionists.

Either candidate could give the department a much-needed shake-up. There is deep resentment in Ulster’s unionist circles at the Northern Irish Office’s high-handed and studiously neutral stance, which they feel does not adequately counterbalance the de facto support nationalists receive from Dublin.

Elsewhere Alun Cairns, the Welsh Secretary, has called for whoever wins the leadership race to establish a dedicated Downing Street team aimed at protecting the Union.

Johnson appoints Thomson as his campaign manager in Scotland

Following the collapse of ‘Operation Arse’ – the Scottish Tories’ abortive campaign to block his path to Downing Street – Boris Johnson has finally started to build up some support amongst their parliamentary group.

Andrew Bowie, the Prime Minister’s PPS and one of the fastest-rising stars of the 2017 Scottish intake, has now endorsed him. So too has Douglas Ross, another tipped for high office, and Colin Clark, the ‘Salmond-slayer’, who has rowed in behind the front-runner after initially backing James Cleverly.

But the first to come out for him was Ross Thomson, the arch-Brexiteer MP for Aberdeen South, and he has now been appointed Johnson’s campaign manager north of the border.

He certainly has a mountain to climb. The Scottish Tories’ reservations about his candidate are apparently rooted in some private polling showing that a Johnson premiership would have a horrible impact on the party’s performance. Whilst Davidson appears to have reconciled herself to the need to make it work – which was always the logic of staying in the UK-wide party, the basis of her leadership – Johnson himself will have to work very hard to improve his standing in Scotland.

Clark, Thomson, and Ross have written in the Daily Telegraph that their man will ‘swat’ the Nationalists. That remains to be seen.

Hands and Morgan say Ulster border is soluble problem

In other news an Alternative Arrangements Commission, run by Tory MPs Greg Hands and Nicky Morgan, has concluded that a ‘hard’ border between Northern Ireland and the Republic can be avoided using existing technology. In a report set to be published on Monday they claim that “futuristic high-tech solutions are not needed”.

This comes amidst reports that Ireland is coming under pressure from Brussels to set out its plans to maintain the border in the event of a no-deal exit. Suffice to say, the fact that Dublin is reportedly prepared to erect a border rather than compromise its position on the EU puts paid to any suggestion that London is obliged by the Belfast Agreement to do otherwise itself.

If Hands’ and Morgan’s findings are accurate they will be a fillip to Johnson, who is in the Ulster press this week saying that there are “abundant technical fixes” to the border question.

News in Brief:

  • Scottish Tories urge boycott of SNP’s ‘Citizens Assembly’ – The Herald
  • Davies selected to re-fight Brecon & Radnorshire in recall by-election – The Times
  • Foster warns both candidates that UK must leave on October 31 – Daily Express
  • Sturgeon wants no minimum vote threshold for an independence referendum – The Herald
  • Devolved ministers ‘don’t know what they’re doing’ on the economy – Wales Online

Real Estate, and Personal Injury Lawyers. Contact us at: https://westlakelegal.com 

Henry Hill: Davidson endorses Javid as Johnson and Hunt polish unionist credentials

Davidson endorses Javid…

Undoubtedly the biggest item of the week, from the perspective of this temporarily leadership-focused column, was Ruth Davidson’s decision to endorse Sajid Javid’s bid to succeed Theresa May.

In an interview for the BBC, she explains that she thinks he has the most credible and deliverable strategy for Brexit whilst highlighting why the Scottish Tories might be wary of competitors such as Boris Johnson and Andrea Leadsom.

Whilst this might strike some as a surprising choice, since Davidson has established herself as firmly on the left of the UK-wide party and there are certainly options less dry than abolish-the-top-rate-of-income-tax Javid, it fits with her position in the last leadership contest. In 2016 she backed Stephen Crabb, with whom she had forged a sort of liberal-unionist alliance, and (although it is hard to credit now) in that race Javid was Crabb’s ‘running mate’.

Javid also fits with Davidson’s style of rejuvenating Conservatism by tearing up the playbook. In her case it meant a) visibly embodying a new generation of Toryism and b) abandoning the “sackcloth and ashes” apologetics for being Conservatives. As potentially the first BME Prime Minister Javid certainly offers a visible refresh, and Stephen Bush has written an excellent piece in the New Statesman about how the Home Secretary is also ditching the script for how ethnic minority Tories talk about race.

Not coincidentally, Davidson had a piece in the Times Red Box this week on the need for ‘new thinking’ to turn the Party’s fortunes around.

…as Stewart picks up more fans (in Holyrood)…

Although Davidson has warm words for him, Rory Stewart will surely be sorely missing her endorsement. But he isn’t without his fans amongst the Scottish Conservatives.

Last week I noted that ‘quasi-federalist’ Murdo Fraser had come out for him, and this week he was joined by Adam Tomkins, the Scottish Tories’ constitution spokesman, and at least one other MSP. This will likely do little to ease the concerns of those worried about Stewart’s concede-to-the-devocrats approach to unionism, which we covered last week, as Tomkins was the one sent out to bat for the Scottish Tories’ screeching u-turn on special status for Ulster.

Despite this show of support from the MSPs, however, I have not yet seen a single Scottish MP endorse Stewart, despite his wholehearted endorsement of their joint letter to the Times setting out a list of demands entitled ‘Our next leader must spend to save the Union’.

…and Johnson too (in Westminster)

Even Boris Johnson, who was within recent memory the target of a concerted campaign by the Scottish Conservatives to block his path to Downing Street, has managed to get two, with both Colin Clark and Ross Thomson declaring for him this week.

The former mayor also picked up some more pan-UK support in the form of Alun Cairns, the Welsh Secretary, who penned a piece for the Times in which he argued that, with the Union more in urgent need to defence than ever, Johnson was “the person best equipped to drive a bold, ambitious plan that will unite party and country and deliver for our nation”.

Meanwhile Davidson has urged Johnson to “do things differently” if he becomes Prime Minister, compared to his spell as Foreign Secretary, and his team have been engaged in what the FT calls “intense talks” with the Democratic Unionists about how to repair the two parties’ working agreement in the Commons.

Hunt gets tough on devocrats

A nice side-effect of the eminent position enjoyed by the Union in this leadership contest is that every candidate has to pay mind to it, and this week we saw the Foreign Secretary burnish his credentials by taking a tough attitude on attempts by devocrats to exceed their briefs and woo Europe.

Hunt withheld British diplomatic support for a mission by Nicola Sturgeon, the First Minister, in which she tried to butter up Brussels figures and set out her case for another vote on breaking up the UK. He also refused an official car to Mark Drakeford, the First Minister of Wales, for his own Brussels visit unless he stuck to the Government’s line on Brexit.

Whilst this is obviously baby steps, it is a welcome sign that Westminster is starting to realise that it can and should assert its prerogatives within the constitutional settlement. The devocracies in Cardiff and Edinburgh spit tacks whenever London is viewed to be impinging on devolved matters – it’s only right that London take the same approach to reserved issues. We should not be subsidising separate foreign policies for Wales and Scotland.

Leadsom rows back on referendum gaffe

But the prominence of the issue is a sword that cuts both ways, as Andrea Leadsom discovered this week when she appeared to suggest that she might grant Sturgeon the power to hold another plebiscite on Scottish independence.

Although she said that she herself would fight hard against another vote, the former Leader of the House said she wouldn’t rule one out entirely as it would be ‘disrespectful’. This provoked a backlash not only from Tory unionists but also from Ian Murray, Labour’s MP for Edinburgh South, who got to claim that her comments show “that the Tories can’t be trusted to protect Scotland’s place in the Union.”

News in Brief:

  • Scottish Conservatives savage SNP over delayed broadband pledge – Daily Telegraph
  • Disgraced ex-SNP MP jailed for 18 months – The Sun

Real Estate, and Personal Injury Lawyers. Contact us at: https://westlakelegal.com 

Henry Hill: Leadership hopefuls queue up to disavow second referendum on Scottish independence

Leadership hopefuls line up to disavow second Scottish referendum…

Tory MPs vying to succeed Theresa May are burnishing their unionist credentials this week by taking firm stances against Nicola Sturgeon’s push for a second referendum on Scottish independence, the Daily Telegraph reports.

Matt Hancock has reportedly said that not one of the mounting number of hopefuls would transfer the First Minister the powers necessary to conduct another vote, arguing that the question was settled in 2014.

The article says that both Sajid Javid and Rory Stewart have both publicly stated this, whilst James Cleverly has also tweeted his opposition to a re-run of the independence question.

Hancock also says that he wants to establish a ‘Unit for the Union’, and ensure that all Government policy passes a “pro-Union test”. Stewart has gone even further (as we might expect of the man who built a cairn during the 2014 referendum), and has outlined plans to create the position of First Secretary of State for the Union.

All of this comes as Sturgeon publishes a bill in the Scottish Parliament which aims to pave the way for another plebiscite. Adam Tomkins MSP, a constitutional expert and Scottish Conservative spokesman, has suggested that it could be laying the groundwork for a ‘wildcat’ referendum, ignoring the fact that only Westminster can legally legislate for one.

Meanwhile ITV’s Peter Smith has written up a very interesting piece on the First Minister’s strategy, which hinges on trying to keep the separatist grassroots geed up (and loyal) until she can somehow lay her hands on the leverage to force Westminster to authorise a referendum.

In related news, Sajid Javid will today meet with Arlene Foster, the leader of the Democratic Unionists, to discuss what Northern Ireland needs out of a post-Brexit immigration policy. Winning the DUP’s support will be crucial for any leadership hopeful, as they still hold the key to the Government’s working majority in the House of Commons.

…as Welsh and Scottish Labour swing behind EU vote re-run

Labour’s devolved parties in Scotland and Wales have both backed a second referendum on Brexit in the aftermath of the party’s hugely disappointing showing in last week’s European elections.

Mark Drakeford, the First Minister of Wales, has done so after his party suffered an unexpected and almost unprecedented humiliation, coming third behind the Brexit Party (which won two MEPs) and Plaid Cymru.

Richard Leonard, the Scottish leader, is going to ask members to endorse not only another vote but to commit to campaign to Remain, regardless of whether Jeremy Corbyn managed to negotiate a ‘jobs first Brexit’ or similar. In Scotland Labour failed to win a single one of the nation’s six seats (it previously held two), falling behind not only the SNP but the Brexit Party, Tories, and Liberal Democrats. Two of his frontbenchers quit their roles last week as division wracked the party north of the border.

According to the Daily Mail some figures inside Labour are arguing that the Scottish party faces an ‘existential’ challenge, whilst the phrase picked up by the Scotsman is ‘life support’. But Wales Online’s Martin Shipton warns that a ‘knee-jerk’ response will only do limited good.

Alternatively, Gerald Warner argues on Reaction that introducing devolution was ‘suicide’ for them – it’s good to see this case starting to get an airing.

Ulster Unionists and Sinn Fein face questions after disappointing election results

The leadership of two of Northern Ireland’s major political parties was in question last night after both the UUP and Sinn Fein suffered disappointing election results last week.

Robin Swann, the Ulster Unionist leader, has offered to resign after his party lost its seat in the European Parliament, where it has been represented continuously since 1979, to Naomi Long of the Alliance Party. He reportedly considered his position as the results came in.

Since losing their position as ‘the big party of unionism’ to the DUP in the 2000s, Alex Kane highlights how the UUP have struggled to carve out a new purpose for themselves. With the former hoovering up the conservative vote, the party now seems to have missed the bus with liberal pro-Union voters, who are flocking to the constitutionally-neutral Alliance instead.

Long’s win prompted Nigel Dodds, the DUP’s Westminster leader, to remind everyone that British policy on Brexit will be decided by MPs, not MEPs. His party lost its Belfast East stronghold to Long in 2010, but recaptured it in 2015.

Meanwhile Mary Lou McDonald, the national (not northern) leader of Sinn Fein, has had to fend of suggestions that her position is under threat after a very disappointing set of results for her party.

Whilst they held their Northern Irish European seat (even after a big nationalist tactical voting push to the Alliance), the Republicans suffered a serious setback in the Republic of Ireland. If repeated at the next general election Sinn Fein could lose half its representation in the Dail.

Real Estate, and Personal Injury Lawyers. Contact us at: https://westlakelegal.com 

Andrea Gee: I’m standing in this Euro-election in Scotland to deliver Brexit – and defy Sturgeon

Andrea Gee is Office Manager to Paul Masterton MP and a candidate in Scotland for the European Parliament.

My family and friends think I’m mad. “Why stand in an election no one wants?”, they say, “if you want to deliver Brexit, why not stand for the Brexit Party?” they ask.

The answers to these questions are clear. Yes, I want these elections not to be happening and, yes, I want Brexit delivered – but the solution doesn’t lie in burying our heads in the sand or jumping ship to another party. The solution lies in coming together and, in my case, standing for election.

I am doing so in these European elections for three reasons: no more divisive referenda, respect for the result of the EU referendum, and securing a Brexit that works for Scotland and the UK.

“Warm words, clichés and a standard party response”, I hear you say. But in Scotland, where the politics of grievance reigns, the European elections are yet again a vehicle for the SNP’s independence propaganda machine. Nothing is more resolute than my loyalty to the United Kingdom and to preserve the union we need to stand together as a team. I am not letting my vote be used again as a proxy for independence by Nicola Sturgeon.

As part of Ruth Davidson’s team, we are united in our determination to deliver the result of the EU referendum. We are the only major party who has promised to do so. Let’s look at the alternatives.

I’m not sure anyone knows what Richard Leonard’s policy on anything is, let alone Brexit. Dare I say, I’m not sure anyone knows who Richard Leonard is? (The Leader of the Scottish Labour Party, in case you didn’t know.)

The Liberal Democrats in their blatant disregard for democracy are entirely irrelevant, seeking only to repeat a referendum to get the result they want.

The uninspiring Change UK, The Independent Group, the Tiggers – or whatever name they have chosen this week – are the epitome of the liberal elite that so many used their franchise to vote against in 2016, and their bland, corporate facade has failed to cut through.

The SNP are full of contradictions. It seems they have no problem with unions after all – but only unions that take power away from Scotland and the UK. A vote for the one trick pony Brexit Party will deliver electoral success for the SNP, not Brexit.

We are the only major party that will free Scotland from the damaging Common Fisheries Policy, provide a positive vision for Scottish businesses and protect the rights of EU citizens. This is our chance to build a bright future for Scotland. Unlike Nicola Sturgeon, who would rather manufacture chaos for the benefit of her own independence agenda, this is our chance to create a positive vision for Scotland.

To come together as a country and move on, we need as a Party to come together and move on.  This election, which candidates don’t want to stand in and members don’t want to vote in, is our chance to send a message that we want Brexit; we want it secured as soon as possible. That is our message to Parliamentarians in Westminster on Brexit – and our message to Nicola Sturgeon is: start respecting the results of referenda.

I can’t guarantee that you will agree on Brexit with the the person sitting next to you on the train, the people you work with or your nearest and dearest but, since June 2016, it doesn’t matter which side you were on – we voted as the United Kingdom and the result of our vote should  be respected. There is one thing I think we can all agree on though. We have had enough of Brexit delay, and we want our politicians to concentrate on what matters to us: our schools, hospitals, communities and economy. To achieve this, we need to move on together. Your vote will help us do that.

Real Estate, and Personal Injury Lawyers. Contact us at: https://westlakelegal.com 

Andy Maciver: Scotland, Johnson – and his standing there. As his leadership prospects improve, Scots Tories are mulling going it alone.

Andy Maciver is Director of Message Matters, and a former Scottish Conservative Head of Communications.

Ruth Davidson’s back. A sprightly interview with the BBC on Monday laid the foundation for the territory she wants to occupy over the next two years until the 2021 elections to the Scottish Parliament – a second Scottish independence referendum.

Her line on it – that the people don’t want one and I’m the people’s human shield to stop it – is tried, tested and successful. She is the undisputed Queen of the Union, and her iron grip on that throne at the expense of Labour is what doubled her representation at Holyrood in 2016, and delivered the 13 MPs in 2017, without whom Theresa May would not have re-entered Downing Street.

Whether her “not now, not ever” line will hold if the SNP gets a newer, stronger mandate in 2021 (spoiler alert – the line won’t hold), and whether it’s good medium- to long-term strategy for the Tories to be the party which continually says no to Scotland’s democratically elected government (spoiler alert – it’s not) is for another article.

For this piece is not about the issue that Davidson does want to discuss – namely, independence. It’s about the issue she doesn’t – Brexit – and the severe consequences it brings for the Scottish party.

The principle of Brexit has proven to be less of a problem for the Scottish party than some had thought it would. For sure, Scotland is a Remain country, but 38 per cent (the Leave vote) is a million people for the Tories to target, and polling both for independence and for voting intention remained largely unchanged until recently.  Indeed, a stronger, coordinated push by the 13 Conservative MPs for an EFTA/EEA outcome could have been a rocket-boost for Tory fortunes north of the Border.

But, even as it is, the principle of Brexit is manageable. However, Davidson returned this week to mounting evidence that the practical consequences of Brexit are not. There are three such consequences.

First, it is entirely possible that the Scottish Tories will lose the single Scottish MEP seat they currently hold in the coming European elections. So what would that matter, right: after all, MEPS will only be in a job for a few months and nobody pays any attention to them anyway? Sure – but getting people out of the habit of voting Tory, when they’ve just started to get back into it, is a momentum-killer.

Second, whilst Scottish Conservative polling had held relatively firm in the mid- to high-20s for around three years, it has now taken a decisive dip, mirroring the drop in UK-wide Tory polling since the Prime Minister announced the long Brexit delay. The latest poll – YouGov had them at 20 per cent last week – was bordering on a return to the pre-2014 norm.

But those consequences are the undercard to the showstopping main event, featuring Boris Johnson. When Davidson went on maternity leave in the autumn, Johnson was approaching busted-flush status, with a low expectation of him making it to the final two in any leadership contest. But she returns amidst the failure to deliver Brexit, and the perceived need to tackle the re-birth of Nigel Farage, which have propelled Johnson to the status of favourite once again.

Readers may recall a series of briefings last year code-named “Operation Arse” – this was the Scottish Tory-led ‘Stop Boris’ campaign. It was widely known that this was based on a combination of internal polling and Davidson’s own disdain for Johnson.  That polling was never released: however, I understand the numbers to have been so severe that they incited jaw-dropping astonishment and effectively put the Scottish party on a crisis management footing.

Johnson was shown to be unpopular across all Tory voters – the core, 2016 switchers and 2017 switchers. He was the least popular of all leadership candidates. His favourability, I understand, was around -40. May, at the time (although it will inevitably have dipped) was +40, and Davidson +80.  He was as unpopular in Scotland as Jeremy Corbyn.

The backdrop to this was the party’s polling and focus group evidence telling them that they had a chance of being the largest party in 2021 (I have never thought this is achievable but that is hardly the point).  Those Johnson numbers are not just acting as a bump in the road towards this outcome; they point to an end to that road.

This is why, as the Scottish party heads into its spring conference this weekend, talk of separating the Scottish party from the UK party is firmly back on the agenda. This proposal came to prominence in 2011, when Murdo Fraser’s leadership campaign was based on the platform of creating a new party (full disclosure – I helped).

As far as I’m aware, none of its original supporters (let’s call them the 2011 Team) have changed their minds. One can see why. Ruth Davidson is Scotland’s most popular leader, persistently out-polling Nicola Sturgeon over the last couple of years, and just last week recording a net positive rating of +10 compared to the First Minister’s +1 and the Prime Minister’s -58.

And yet, despite that, the First Minister’s party remains soaring at over 40 per cent, with Ruth Davidson’s unable to even reach its fingertips to a number starting with a 3, and now ostensibly struggling to hold on to a number starting with a 2. Does nobody ask why? Does nobody ask what is stopping people voting for the person they like the most?

Outside the bunker, the answer is slapping us across the face, and no more so than this week as we see, yet again, the harsh winds from London blowing the Scottish polling off course. ‘Twas ever thus. The 2011 Team knows that this will ebb and flow, but it will never fundamentally change. The ties are too strong.

But the 2011 Team are no longer the only advocates of a separate party. They have been joined by, let’s call them, the 2019 Team. These are people who are unsupportive of the principle of a separate party, but believe that it may be the only practical way to stop what they regard as a catastrophic, perhaps existential threat posed to the Scottish party by a Boris Johnson leadership.

The reticence in some quarters, not least in London in 2011, when the establishment moved mountains to prevent Fraser winning, is a puzzle. With hindsight, I think those of us involved with Fraser in 2011 must take some of the blame. The slogan was “A new party for Scotland” and, whilst that was the right message for the country, it was a frightening message for the party membership.

It was the right product, in the wrong packaging. Instead, we should have looked to the past rather than the future (we did mention it, but it wasn’t the central plank). Because the reality is that what Fraser was arguing for was a return to the pre-1965 structure, when the Scottish party was separate (and more successful).

In truth, the centralisation of the party from 1965 until now should be seen as a historical blip; as an experiment gone wrong. This would not be a leap in the dark. It would be a return to the party’s roots.

This idea returns, from time to time, because it contains an inevitability. It will never die. It will happen, because it is so blindingly obvious that it should. Scotland created a new parliament and a new voting system and dumped the old party structure on it, with a sprinkle of nationalism on top. It had no right to work, and it hasn’t. The pro-union parties are structurally unable to adapt to changes in public opinion and are forced into the negative end of a binary debate.

Unionism and centralism are not the same thing. Observe Canada, our closest peer in this respect, which has provincial parties for provincial parliaments and national parties for the national parliament. And is at next-to-no risk of separation.

The centre-right can win in Scotland. But the Conservatives can’t.  As a party grandee told us when endorsing Fraser in 2011 “you’ll lose this time, but the beans will never go back in the tin”.

Real Estate, and Personal Injury Lawyers. Contact us at: https://westlakelegal.com 

Dean Lockhart: How the Conservatives will make Scotland a tiger economy

Dean Lockhart MSP is the Scottish Conservatives’ economy spokesman.

How do we put a tiger in Scotland’s tank – to make Scotland a TIGER economy? That will be one of the key questions when the Scottish Conservative Party conference kicks off in Aberdeen this weekend.

The need for a new economic approach for Scotland is more pressing than ever. Under this SNP government, we’ve seen over a decade of low growth – an average of just 0.7 per cent over the 11 years the nationalists have been in office. Contrast that anaemic performance to Scotland’s long-term economic growth rate of two per cent and you see that the issue is real and pressing.

The SNP launched yet another export strategy this week. But let’s face it, this is a government that has had 12 years to deliver economic growth and expand Scotland’s export base, without success. While we will support all efforts to boost Scotland’s trade, we simply cannot see how the SNP’s plan can succeed at a time when Nicola Sturgeon is calling into question the very currency that Scotland will use to trade with in the future.

I am not a politician by trade. After growing up in Scotland, I spent twenty years working with businesses across the UK, Europe, Hong Kong, Tokyo, and Singapore. I came home during the independence referendum to campaign to keep the UK together – and ended up as a Scottish Conservative MSP.

This roundabout path to politics has taught me a few things. First, the impact of good economic policy can be profound. When I first worked in Singapore in the 1990s, it was a far cry from the dynamic and world-beating economy it is today. I witnessed close-hand how this transformation came about as a result of a ‘whole-of-government’ focus on economic growth.

Second, there is an unlimited pool of interest and goodwill towards Scotland and its produce around the world. Go to southeast Asia, or China, or anywhere in Europe and people know and identify with Scotland’s culture and our world-class industries.

But economic growth doesn’t come without hard work. No country is handed it on a plate. In a competitive global marketplace, we need both vision and endeavour to secure it. In short, we need this ‘whole-of-Government’ focus on economic growth I witnessed abroad, back here in Scotland.

Just think how much could have already been achieved if all of the effort and energy and hours this SNP government put into pushing for independence over the last 11 years had been devoted to growing Scotland’s economy instead.

As part of our policy review for the 2021 Scottish elections, the Scottish Conservatives have been working hard on ways to return Scotland to the sort of year-on-year growth rates which make such a positive difference to how we fund those services most dear to us.

We don’t claim to have a monopoly on wisdom, which is why we set up a Scottish Future Growth Council, bringing together experts in trade, business, economics, and public policy. The Council will publish its first report this week. We want to use party conference to start outlining the ideas to take Scotland forward so that, when Ruth Davidson challenges Sturgeon to become First Minister in 2021, people know we have a plan that is ready to go.

First and foremost, we would provide strategic focus. By opposing any more referendums on constitutional change, all that energy currently expended by the nationalist government intent on breaking up Britain can be redirected into prioritising Scotland’s economic potential. The Scottish Government already has all the powers available to deliver higher growth, it just needs to use them properly. We promise to get on with creating a new Scottish tiger economy from day one.

That economy would be built around the priorities of technology, innovation, global trade, employment and regional growth.

It’s a plan that embraces the technological revolution we are now living through, as change sweeps through our lives. A plan that puts our world-class universities and colleges at its heart – adopting best-practice from places like the Greater Boston Area, where Harvard and MIT drive innovation.

It’s a plan that focuses on boosting our global trade through our export industries, leveraging the incredibly powerful global Scottish diaspora – an aim our Growth Council endorses in full. That improves skills and delivers real lifelong learning so everyone can qualify for a well-paid job. And finally, a plan that ensures all parts of Scotland – not just the central belt – benefit, with a strategy that recognises the different strengths of Scotland’s varied demographic and geographic nature.

Importantly, it’s a comprehensive plan with real focus. The current government has been criticised for too many overlapping, redundant or competing strategies that clutter up the economic landscape. We would sweep the bureaucracy away and ensure that we focus public and private sectors on one clear mission – restoring growth to Scotland’s economy.

How would this translate in reality? If we run the next Scottish Government, we would, within the first 100 days, convene a major international conference of leaders from business (both here and abroad), universities, foreign investors, unions and other public bodies to get input and support for a new ten-year economic strategy based on our TIGER model. That plan would then be implemented with the full weight of government behind it.

The SNP likes to blame its lack of progress on the fact it lost the referendum and Scotland is still a part of the UK. The truth is that all the policy levers we need are already at the Scottish Government’s disposal. Comparing us to Ireland’s ‘celtic tiger’ model, the only power that isn’t held at a Scottish level that Ireland used in its economic revolution was the power to cut Corporation Tax. And since, at a UK level, Corporation Tax rates are already at one of the lowest levels of any advanced economy, it is unclear how the nationalists would have used this tool, if at all.

The choice is clear.

The SNP will always put constitutional division before economic growth, and it will spend years doing so. That’s not scaremongering on my part – their own Growth Commission Report argues that the chaos and pain of independence is required to see Scotland prosper in the future.

The Scottish Conservatives see things differently. We believe Scotland can thrive now, can achieve the sort of impressive growth rates that were all too familiar before the nationalists took office. We believe Scotland, as part of the UK, is already a great nation ready to take on the world.

Come the 2021 elections, the SNP will have been in power for 14 years. For the vast majority of this period they will have caused deep uncertainty by campaigning for independence – raising questions about the future direction of Scotland’s economy and even what currency we will be in use in the future.

We believe that Scotland’s economy post-2021 can enjoy a post-Nationalist bounce. With the right vision and application – and the massive uncertainty of Independence put to one side – business confidence and investment will return, enhancing the lives of all our citizens. Together with our plans to create a TIGER economy, we will restore Scotland’s long-term economic growth levels.

At this conference, and with two years to go until the next election, we want to show people we are thinking about how to turn that vision into a reality. We are taking the first steps to delivering a Scottish tiger economy which can roar again.

Real Estate, and Personal Injury Lawyers. Contact us at: https://westlakelegal.com 

Henry Hill: Davidson demands May’s successor rules out another Scottish independence referendum

Scottish Tory leader demands party rules out another independence poll

It is arguably fortunate for Ruth Davidson that her maternity leave coincided with the period when the surreal polling bubble in which Theresa May’s Government had been floating finally burst.

As she returned to the fray this week, untainted by the past few months, the Scottish Conservative leader demanded that whoever succeeds May as Prime Minister rule out giving authorisation for a second referendum on Scottish independence.

David Mundell, the Scottish Secretary and close ally of Davidson, also made similar noises in an interview with the Sunday Herald. He also told his local paper that he retained ‘high hopes’ for the Scottish Parliament, despite its “unfulfilled potential”.

Davidson also ruled herself out of any contest for the UK leadership, saying that her son was her top priority.

This comes amidst conflicting evidence about the state of support for independence: whilst a YouGov poll for The Times suggests that voters are “swinging towards independence”, the Daily Telegraph reports that only one in five Scots support Nicola Sturgeon’s proposals to hold another vote within the next two years.

Nationalist activists inflicted a serious setback on the First Minister at the SNP conference this week, when they defeated a leadership-backed proposal to try to retain the pound after independence. Public fears about the currency of an independent Scotland – and its implications for pensions, mortgages, and so on – has been identified as a major stumbling block to winning over ‘No’ voters.

However, none of this has prevented the wearisome tradition of English commentators writing about how strong the case for Scottish independence suddenly is: John Harris at the Guardian, Jeremy Warner at the Daily Telegraph, and Philip Stephens at the FT all indulged in such exercises this week. The myth of the fragile Union endures. Stephen Daisley, writing in the Spectator, was closer to the mark when he argued that Sturgeon is taking her base “for a ride” on the question.

Fresh row over probes into police and soldiers during the Troubles

The Government faces another argument over its treatment of those who served in the security forces during the Troubles, the Sun reveals, after it emerged that over 200 former soldiers and police officers face investigation.

Whilst the Ministry of Defence wants to impose a statute of limitations on investigations, the Northern Irish Office has reportedly told “relatives of those killed in the Troubles” that any such restrictions will not apply to Ulster cases. Unionists have long been dissatisfied with the NIO’s apparent failure to fight their corner the way Dublin does for the nationalists.

Conservative MPs such as John Hayes have strongly criticised the Government for confining the MoD’s efforts to protect ex-servicemen to recent conflicts such as Afghanistan and Iraq.

Notably, Theresa May did not take the opportunity afforded by last night’s reshuffle to move Karen Bradley away from the Ulster brief, in which she is almost universally viewed as incompetent. This comes as the Northern Irish Secretaries tries to spearhead yet another round of talks aimed at getting the Northern Irish Assembly back up and running.

But whilst the Belfast Telegraph reports that the DUP and Sinn Fein have pledged to “engage constructively” with the process, optimism remains low. As our editor pointed out this week, May’s own insistence on making a no-deal Brexit contingent on the existence of an Assembly gives Sinn Fein and others every reason to forestall it.

In happier news, the Sunday Telegraph revealed that the police have re-opened the investigation into the 1979 assassination of Airey Neave. Sajid Javid ordered it reviewed after it had lain untouched for 30 years.

Neave was killed by a bomb in the car park of the Palace of Westminster. He had been the architect of the Conservatives’ Northern Irish policy at the 1979 election, which involved setting aside the goal of restoring Stormont in favour of better integrating the Province with the mainland. Margaret Thatcher did not carry through this proposal after his death.

Woe for Scottish Labour as Dugdale quits

Kezia Dugdale, the former Labour leader in Scotland, has announced that she will be stepping down from the Scottish Parliament, taking up a position at a think-tank aimed at tackling “populist politics”.

This comes after she won a defamation case against cybernat blogger Stuart Campbell, better known by his alias ‘Wings over Scotland’. Her relations with the Party broke down after it refused to support her and even appeared to suggest that she would lose, and she previously told the Times that she could not forgive them.

Meanwhile Anas Sarwar, another Labour MSP, has apparently been banned from giving evidence to an anti-racism probe into allegations of racist conduct he himself made. According to the Scotsman, Sarwar was only given four days’ notice of the hearing, and then told he could not provide evidence as he needed to give two weeks’ notice to do so.

Unsurprisingly, he has branded the system unfit for purpose. The hearing by the National Constitutional Committee found that, without any verbal evidence being taken, there was “no case to answer”. Sarwar claims a Labour councillor refused to back his leadership bid because Scotland wouldn’t vote for a “brown Muslim P**i”.

Real Estate, and Personal Injury Lawyers. Contact us at: https://westlakelegal.com 

Henry Hill: Caught between her activists and the voters, Sturgeon plays for time on independence

First Minister tries to keep her grassroots on board ahead of party conference

Nicola Sturgeon is back in the newspapers, with headlines suggesting that she is going to demand a second vote on Scottish independence.

But in fact, it isn’t as straightforward as that. Whilst the First Minister continues to talk up the need for such a vote, she is fighting shy of either trying to set a date or demanding the authorisation from Westminster required to hold one. This is because, despite all the expectations that Brexit would spark a surge in support for breaking away from the UK, no such surge has arrived in the three years since Britain voted to leave the EU in 2016.

This has put the SNP in a tricky position. Sturgeon, clearly believing the Remainer line about the fragility of the UK, declared in the aftermath of that vote that it constituted the change in circumstances the SNP felt was required for another independence referendum. When the wave failed to come in, she suddenly found herself trapped between her energised and expectant activist base and the cold reality of electoral arithmetic.

The First Minister will doubtless be watching the fate of Theresa May, who likewise spurred her Party towards an outcome she was unable (or at least unprepared) to deliver and is now reaping the whirlwind. Already the SNP’s legendary phalanx-like discipline is starting to fracture, with the Nationalist grassroots staging a rebellion against the Scottish Government’s ultra-cautious currency proposals, which also came under academic fire this week.

She may also have taken on board that it is very difficult to deliver seismic constitutional change on a narrow referendum win.

As Alex Massie sets out in the Spectator, Sturgeon still hopes that she can play for enough time to bring forward a winnable vote, perhaps if the separatist parties (the SNP and the Greens) win another combined majority in the next Holyrood elections.

In the meantime her goal is to continue to drive forward the fragmentation of the UK within the devolved framework in the manner which has become traditional since 1998: demand ever-more powers, blame all ills on Westminster, and present the preoccupations of the devocracy as the “constitutional aspirations of the Scottish people”.

Will McKee’s murder shake Ulster’s entrenched status quo?

Last Thursday night Lyra McKee, a widely-respected young Northern Irish journalist, was shot and killed by a gunman purporting to represent the New IRA, also known as ‘Saoradh’.

The week since has seen a flood of tributes to her and her work. Here’s one, from Stephen Daisley, and another from Ruth Dudley Edwards, but just putting her name into Google will throw up plenty more.

But it has also prompted the question: can even this appalling murder force the Northern Irish parties out of their trenches and, possibly, get devolution back on its feet?

Hopes were raised after Fr Martin Magill, the presiding priest at McKee’s funeral, won a standing ovation after challenging politicians from the pulpit. But suggestions that politicians such as Arlene Foster were ‘shamed’ into applauding Magill’s criticism have elicited a prickly response, and whilst members of the main parties talk a good game it still seems unlikely that there will be any lasting breakthrough.

As I explained recently, the Prime Minister’s decision to rule out ‘no deal’ so long as there is no Northern Ireland Assembly gives Sinn Fein (not to mention several smaller pro-EU parties) very little incentive to get Stormont back on its feet. Meanwhile the DUP will likely return to calling for direct rule if and when this latest spur to get negotiations underway dies down.

Karen Bradley, the Northern Irish Secretary, has announced that she will “hold talks” with local party leaders to see what progress can be made. But she is a figure of near-universal derision in the Province, and this resurgence in republican terrorist violence only highlights once again the extraordinary – and inappropriate – lengths to which May will go to keep a loyal minister in her Cabinet.

Meanwhile Maria Miller, the Chair of the Women and Equalities Committee, has accused the Government of failing to uphold the human rights of Ulsterwomen when it comes to abortion.

Real Estate, and Personal Injury Lawyers. Contact us at: https://westlakelegal.com