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

Welsh independent schools plan to abandon devolved GCSEs for English alternative

We should all know by now that the Welsh government has problem with education and healthcare. The travails of the NHS in Wales have led David Cameron to describe Offa’s Dyke as a ‘line between life and death’. Meanwhile it’s been a while since I last trotted out my favourite article on Welsh education, from the Economist’s Bagehot column, but it remains indispensable. It even has a healthy dose of scorn for Nick Clegg. Go on. Read it. I’ll wait.

In short, Labour’s policy of pouring money into education whilst removing all elements of teacher accountability and parent choice was a disaster – a fact recently reinforce when it received lamentable PISA rankings, languishing at the bottom of the home nations.

The Welsh government suffered yet another educational setback this week when a body of independent schools announced plans to opt out of the incoming Wales-specific GCSE. The Welsh qualification is being brought in to avoid coalition reforms to the English GCSE – specifically the scrapping of coursework.

But the Welsh Independent Schools Council (WISC) has announced that it believes the Cardiff-based qualifications will lack “credibility and portability”, and will instead offer Michael Gove’s reformed qualification.

This is a welcome challenge to an administration who have consistently sought to use devolution in the reactionary cause of resisting public service reform. It’s also a boost for Conservative efforts to use Wales as an electoral asset: even where they weren’t forced to do so, the schools that most depended on good outcomes for pupils have gone with Gove over the state education establishment.

McCallister declares that NI21 needs ‘putting down’

NI21It’s unusual, in this column, to have an item you can come back to even a few weeks in a row (not counting the Welsh government’s various problems). So I’m grateful to NI21 for providing a nice political soap opera – to borrow the words of one of the party’s council candidates as he resigned this week – on my beat.

 Last week, we found out that the party leadership had reportedly ended the investigation into sexual misconduct allegations levelled against the leader, Basil McCrea, and instead turned its guns on deputy leader and co-founder John McCallister. His crime – of speaking to the press out of turn – is one he seems happy to repeat, for this week he has openly discussed the “toxic” experience of his time in NI21 and hinted that he will soon be leaving the party.

McCallister holds the lowest seat in his South Down constituency and faces a tough fight to keep it in the next Assembly elections – possibly from UKIP’s Henry Reilly, a popular councillor in the area.

P.S. When I attacked the NI Conservatives for being hopeless a couple of weeks ago, I was criticised in some quarters for not having the full picture – so I contacted four well-known Ulster pundits and asked their views. I’ll be doing a collected post on this site, but until then one will be coming out every morning until Friday on Open Unionism.

Equality campaigner quits Scottish Labour over ‘nepotistic’ and discriminatory candidate selection

Scottish flagA former police inspector who worked to recruit ethnic minority officers in the aftermath of the Macpherson report has resigned his membership of the Labour Party, and accused it Scottish branch of having poor candidate selection processes that discriminated against ethnic minority candidates. Tom McInally, formerly of the Strathclyde and Metropolitan police forces, levels two charges at his former party: against all-women shortlists, and nepotism.

His principle criticism of all-women shortlists will be familiar to Conservatives, for they are broadly the grounds that our party has resisted them on: they increase central office control; can exclude eminently suitable local candidates; and can see duff candidates handed seats by a dearth of competition.

The particular instance that drew is wrath was that of two Scottish Parliament constituencies in Edinburgh – Western and Pentlands, both held by the SNP – which were paired up on a one man, one woman basis. Only one female applicant was present at the selection meeting, guaranteeing her a seat regardless of her quality as a candidate. This occasion seems to have touched a nerve with the former racial equality campaigner because a well-qualified ethnic minority candidate, Shami Khan, feels excluded from being a candidate.

This isn’t the first time Labour has come a cropper from all-women shortlists. In 2005 they lost a 19,000+ majority in Blaenau Gwent after Labour AM Peter Law ran as an independent in protest against an all-woman shortlist being imposed on the constituency (and when Law died of a heart attack in 2006, his former campaign manager rubbed salt in the wound by winning the subsequent by-election for ‘Blaenau Gwent People’s Voice’).

Khan and McInally’s second complaint is that Scottish Labour’s selection processes are unmeritocratic. Khan feels that the two Edinburgh constituencies were ‘stitched up’ by the leadership whilst McInally claim the party has a ‘friends and family’ approach to candidate selection, telling the Scotsman:

“Look around at the selected candidates in Edinburgh and Dunfermline and look at the connections they have, from MSPs’ daughters, son-in-laws, very close friends, workers.”

Naturally, Labour deny the accusations of both men. The party will not be grateful to have its candidate selection procedures back in the spotlight: with the referendum looming and vital elections close on its heels, they won’t want to give any excuse to mention Falkirk selection scandal again – as both the Scotsman and I have done.

Queen eyes Iron Throne on visit to Ulster*

The QueenHer Majesty has, at present count, sixteen thrones to her name. Her sixteen realms stretch from Canada to Australia and New Zealand by way of Jamaica, Barbados and Belize. Given the relatively low cost of these dominions in terms of wedding massacres, poisonings and civil wars, she would likely have hesitated to take the seven-realms-for-one bargain proffered by the Iron Throne of Westeros – even if it weren’t just a prop, encountered during a studio tour on her recent visit to Northern Ireland.

Whilst there she also praised Belfast as ‘a living example’ of people overcoming impossible-seeming odds to work together towards peace (the author, as an enormous fan of Belfast, can only agree). Martin McGuinness also continued his run of friendly gestures toward Her Majesty. Following on from April’s toast, the Deputy First Minister broke new ground by having his first one-on-one meeting during a ten-minute private audience. After this, the third time he and HM have met in person, he praised her as someone who “absolutely and passionately supports the peace process”.

Lest the Sinn Fein faithful get jittery he took care to reassure people that he emerged from the meeting with his Irish Republicanism undiminished, before spelling out in equally direct terms that he was reaching out to unionists and trying to ‘represent everybody’. Normally that sort of messaging is left to subtext, but Ulster remains some way off normal politics.

*I am rather sad that someone beat me to ‘Windsor is Coming’.

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