Republicans warn of election if First Minister doesn’t ‘stand aside’

The News Letter reports that Sinn Fein, one of the two ruling parties in the Northern Ireland Executive, has warned the Province may face new elections if the First Minister doesn’t step down.

Last month I set out the background to the current scandal besetting Arlene Foster, the leader of the Democratic Unionists, namely the botching of a renewable energy scheme that will cost the Ulster taxpayer more than £400 million.’

Since then fresh revelations – and her own conduct – have made her position ‘increasingly precarious’. But the DUP are standing by her, insisting she won’t step aside from her role for ‘a single day’.

Conservatives should be keeping a close eye on these developments: Foster’s leadership has seen her party, with its very useful clutch of Westminster MPs, working much more closely with the Government. A new leader may take a different stance, making Theresa May’s job that much more difficult.

Scottish Labour reject call for pact with SNP as woes deepen

A proposal that Labour form an electoral pact with the Scottish Nationalists has been roundly rejected by the party’s Scottish branch, according to Politics Home.

The Fabian Society floated the idea as perhaps the only way for the Opposition to take power in a report on the dire state of the party. But Scottish Labour point out, entirely rightly, that the SNP doesn’t actually govern progressively.

Scottish Labour also, again probably rightly, fear such an alliance would be electoral suicide: their pro-independence supporters are long gone, and a formal pact with the separatists would only see them shed further unionist support to the Conservatives.

As we reported earlier this week, leaked internal polling showed that Labour is down to 15 per cent ahead of this year’s Scottish local elections – against the Tories’ 25 per cent – and have shed “around half” of their 2015 vote has abandoned the party, “with most going to the Tories”.

Welsh Conservatives condemn vast fund for NHS negligence claims

Tories have criticised the Welsh Government for paying almost £700 million into a fund intended to reimburse NHS bodies for clinical negligence and personal injury claims, Wales Online reports.

The Labour administration in Cardiff Bay says the sum is to cover several years’ claims, and potential costs from previous claims, but the Conservatives insist there are more cost-effective ways to mitigate against risk and are demanding an inquiry.

Angela Burns, their health spokesman, said: “The Welsh Labour Government should instigate an urgent inquiry into its medical practices to ascertain why we’re seeing such a rise in claims against the health service, and put measures in place to prevent harm from arising in the first place.”

Number of Scottish applicants failing to get a university place doubles under SNP

The advent of much broader devolution over domestic issues is making it harder for the Scottish Government to shift blame to Westminster, and the Nationalists are starting to feel the heat for poor domestic policy. Transport has been the most high-profile case recently, but this week two more cracks appeared.

Both relate to young people: in the first instance the Scotsman reports that a “flagship national drive to reduce youth unemployment” has suffered a blow after figures showed “a rise in jobless youngsters last year”. More seriously, according to the Daily Telegraph the number of Scottish applicants missing out on a university place has more than doubled over the past ten years of Nationalist rule at Holyrood.

Keeping higher education ‘free’ has been a flagship SNP policy: but it’s only financially sustainable because the number of Scottish (and EU) students eligible for places at Scottish universities is capped.

Thus rising application numbers have simply led to fierce competition, with more and more Scots squeezed out by fee-paying overseas (and English, Welsh, and Northern Irish) students.

Plaid demand right to challenge UK legislation in court

According to Wales Online a Welsh Nationalist AM has called for the Welsh Government to be able to challenge Westminster legislation in court.

Steffan Lewis claims the current asymmetry means that there is a potential “Westminster veto”, which may be wielded by a “dangerous” UK establishment emboldened by Brexit.

He insists that the Wales Bill, which allows the Government to challenge Welsh legislation if it thinks it strays into reserved areas, may somehow allow Westminster to start “legislating unilaterally over issues that fall wholly or partially within devolved policy areas”.

The motivations for this move soon reveal themselves: complicating Brexit and undermining Parliament’s sovereignty and authority in reserved areas like foreign policy.

Lewis says as much when he complains that: “Westminster has asserted that it alone will make the final decisions on our future relations with the EU and this is a threat to policy areas where Wales has jurisdiction within current EU frameworks.”