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Henry Hill is a British Conservative and Unionist activist and writer. Follow Henry on Twitter. He is also editor of the non-party website Open Unionism, which can be followed on Twitter here.

Five terror suspects linked to dissident republicanism arrested in Scotland

Four men and a woman have appeared in court after being arrested on suspicion of intention to commit terrorism. None of the five has thus far entered a plea. They were arrested last Wednesday by Police Scotland, assisted by the PSNI and security services.

Resident in Scotland, they are believed to be sympathetic to dissident Irish republicanism, and stand accused of attempting to acquire firearms and explosives with the intention of waging a terror campaign against the UK, extending the on-going dissident violence seen in Northern Ireland (see below) to the mainland.

A statement by Police Scotland claims that the suspects are not affiliated with any of the various dissident terrorist organisations currently operating in Ulster, none of which appear to have the resources to mount a mainland campaign of the sort waged by the Provisional IRA. And while we’re on the subject of dissident republicanism.

Theresa Villiers sent a bomb in the post

A parcel bomb addressed to Theresa Villiers, the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, was discovered in the postroom of Stormont Castle in east Belfast yesterday morning. Staff were evacuated from the building, which houses the offices of the First Minister and Deputy First Minister of the province, whilst it was made safe by the Army.

It is the fourth such device intercepted in Northern Ireland since Friday – two others were addressed to police officers, the third to the offices of the public prosecution service. Although investigations are underway, police have blamed dissident republican groups for the bombs, claiming that they remain wedded to violence and show no sign of seeking to open up dialogues or enter the political process, as other former terrorists have done.

With both parts of Ireland now embarking on the ‘decade of commemorations’, a string of centenaries marking the events which led to the creation of Northern Ireland and the Irish Free State, there is concern that dissidents might attempt to exploit these anniversaries to raise their profile.

Labour win Dunfermline by-election

After the disappointment of Aberdeen Donside Labour have bested the SNP in a by-election, retaking the formerly safe Scottish Parliament seat of Dunfermline. Despite talk that many Conservatives were voting Labour in order to defeat the Nationalist candidate, the Scottish Conservatives also increased their vote, although remained in fourth place.

The by-election was called after the former Nationalist MSP, Bill Walker, finally resigned in disgrace over domestic abuse. The defeat is the latest step in the slow erosion of the SNP’s unprecedented overall majority in the Scottish Parliament: after breaking the turn-by-turn approach to the speakership to install their own candidate and losing two backbenchers over NATO, the SNP majority stands at two. However, both the Scottish Greens and the three Independent MSPs are separatist, so in reality Salmond’s parliamentary position remains secure.

Whilst this will be cheering news for Labour, mired as it is in the ongoing battles with Unite, at Grangemouth and Falkirk, the swing in Dunfermline is apparently too small to suggest that they will emerge ahead of the SNP at the next Scottish election in 2016. Meanwhile, Salmond’s high profile involvement in ‘saving’ the Grangemouth petrochemical plant contrasts badly with Labour twice over: it is hard for Labour to condemn Unite’s militancy when their Scottish leader is a member of the union; and the trouble in Grangemouth was due to, and thus brought the spotlight back onto, the dodgy dealings in Falkirk.

Labour is going to have to step up its game if it wants to be in a position to capitalise on a ‘No’ vote in 2014.

Welsh councils using ‘anti-terror’ legislation to surveil employees

Five councils in Wales have told the BBC they have spied on their own employees, using powers granted to local authorities under a piece of New Labour legislation, the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000. Several other councils said they would do so if circumstances warranted, and yet more failed to respond to the BBC’s request for information.

In one instance a teacher on sick leave was followed by a private surveillance company, whose report took note of various personal details including her clothing, facial expressions and the way she walked. In addition to such direct monitoring the Act also makes provisions for the interception of communications.

Councils claim to use such powers in instances when fraud is suspected, to catch people feigning illness to take leave and so on. Big Brother Watch argues that there is no need for councils to have such powers, and if serious fraud is suspected it could be investigated by the police.

Archbishop’s joke paints Scotland with an Irish palette

This is a story that, despite the dismaying headlines, ended up irritating me far more as an historian than a unionist: in a speech in Iceland Justin Welby, the Archbishop of Canterbury, cracked a joke to the effect that it was ‘a miracle’ that Scots were cooperating with him in his anti-Wonga crusade as the English had spent ‘800 years’ mistreating Scotland.

It was, as Cranmer is eager to point out, only a joke. For all his faults, the Archbishop has not yet leant his straight-faced support to separatist nationalism – although the presence of such a joke in a carefully prepared speech less than a year before the referendum suggests either naivety or mischief. The fact that such comments could nonetheless provide the nationalists with useful ammunition has already been picked up by the Mail.

What irks me, however, is the fact that the claim at the centre of the joke seems to be referring to the wrong country: ‘800 years’ (850-ish now) is the span of time since the Norman invasion of Ireland, which first brought Ireland under the English crown where, as a royal and often somewhat colonial possession, it can make a convincing case for subsequent ‘mistreatment’.

Scotland, on the other hand, spent about four of those eight centuries as a sovereign kingdom. England and Scotland were frequently at war, but that was life in the pre-national feudal world, and two groups of French knights throwing poor people at each other does not constitute ‘mistreatment’ (of anybody save the peasants, at least).

As the two kingdoms became constitutionally entangled with the Union of the Crowns in 1606 and the Treaty of Union in 1707, political conflicts tended to cut across the border. Scottish Covenanters fought against Cromwell against royalists from both kingdoms, whilst lowland Scots found they had more in common with Hanoverian England than their Jacobite highland countrymen. Scots also shared England’s imperial ambitions, being enthusiastic participants in – and beneficiaries of – the British Empire, as well as keen colonisers of what would become Northern Ireland.

Right up until the mid-20th Century, at least, the notion that Anglo-Scottish cooperation constituted a ‘miracle’ would have seemed a strange one indeed. Whilst that isn’t to say that England has always been a pillar of neighbourly virtue, if the Archbishop of Canterbury is going to crack politically mischievous jokes at such a sensitive juncture he might at least come up with some based on Scotland’s actual historical experience, rather than that of the Irish. They have no shortage of their own comedians.

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