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Henry Hill is a British Conservative and Unionist activist and writer.

Sinn Fein u-turn on Stormont opposition…

Abandoning its trenchant opposition to welfare reform is not the only Sinn Fein u-turn to make the papers in the last couple of weeks.

Martin McGuinness, the Deputy First Minister, apparently made clear this week that his party accept the need for an official opposition in the Northern Ireland Assembly.

At present Northern Ireland is governed on an all-must-have-prizes basis, with seats being allocated to all parties in the chamber according to their support. This mean that the five big parties – the Democatic Unionists, Ulster Unionists, Alliance, SDLP and Sinn Fein – all hold ministries in the same government.

Whilst any party could decline its place in the Government and go into opposition voluntarily none have yet chosen to do so. This leaves the duty of scrutinising the NI Executive in the chamber to a handful of MLAs from minor parties, most notably Jim Allister of the hard-line Traditional Unionist Voice.

Until now the republicans had been steadfastly opposed to the creation of an official opposition, with supporters like DUP leader Peter Robinson stressing the need to build cross-chamber support for it due to Sinn Fein’s effective veto.

This decision comes after a serious split in the Executive last week after the three junior partners voted against the budget. McGuinness hit back by pointing out that such parties had the luxury of opposition knowing that Sinn Fein and the DUP would prop up the institutions by passing the budget.

He suggested that despite this, none of the three would choose to enter opposition once the mechanisms were in place.

…as Stormont takes a step forward by electing a Republican speaker

Meanwhile, the Assembly passed another democratic landmark this week when Mitchel McLaughlin, a Sinn Fein MLA, took up the post of Speaker.

His accession was approved, as everything in Belfast must be, by both Sinn Fein and the Democratic Unionist Party. That the republicans would be able to hold the speakership is a promise dating back to Ian Paisley’s leadership of the latter, although it had prevaricated on the issue.

However, reportedly Sinn Fein’s decision to back down from its long-running standoff with Westminster over Coalition welfare reforms removed a major impediment to the move.

Despite this five DUP MLAs missed the vote. One was ill, but the other four have yet to provide any explanation.

This may be just the first of many problems that McLaughlin, a traditional republican who has expressed controversial opinions on the murder of Jean McColville, will have to overcome if he is to gain the acceptance of such a divided chamber.

Nationalists harden their anti-nuclear stance as they gear up for 2015

The Scottish National Party, Plaid Cymru and the Greens have come together to call for the scrapping of the Trident nuclear weapons system.

With the next Parliament expected to produce no overall majority for either of the major parties, this alliance hopes to wield disproportionate influence in any coalition of supply-and-demand negotiations.

Despite a previous painful u-turn on the subject of Trident in the build-up to the Scottish referendum (when they still thought their future lay in the centre) which led to the defection of two MSPs, the SNP are now embracing their unilateralist tendency and urging their tens of thousands of new members to join the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament.

Although Plaid have struggled to follow the SNP and carve out a dominant position, both the Scottish Nationalists and the Greens are surging in the polls and this hard-left coalition could potentially wield a substantial destabilising influence in the next Parliament – much to the delight of the majority of Scots who want a Labour/SNP Coalition after 2015.

SNP MSP claims that supporters of local powers want to “bring down” Scottish Parliament

Joan McAlpine, a famously (and often fatuously) outspoken Nationalist member of the Scottish Parliament, has this week alleged that those who support localism are plotting against Holyrood.

After blaming local authorities for a string of issues, ranging from school closures and planning decisions to A&E performance, that are all ultimately under the control of the SNP-controlled Parliament, McAlpine suggested that the “anti-SNP parties” were driving pressure to decentralise Scotland.

Apparently, they put this into the Smith Commission (which the SNP signed up to) in order to “bring down our Parliament”. Why? “…because it is popular” and most Scots want it to have “more powers”.

In addition to drawing fire from COSLA, which represents Scottish local authorities, her remarks appear to contradict a speech given this week by a spokesman of her own government’s Infrastructure Secretary, who welcomed a Glasgow summit which will explore decentralisation.

It also drew the ire of the Scottish Greens, the SNP’s principal allies in the separatist Yes Scotland campaign.

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