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.

George Galloway would like to be Prime Minister of Scotland – if they reject his ‘No’ call

In addition to his responsibilities representing the people of Bradford West as the sole Respect MP in Westminster, George Galloway has become something of a one-man unionist whirlwind of late. He’s on a speaking tour of Scotland, trying to persuade to vote ‘No’ in this year’s independence referendum.

But although he wants a “real Labour prime minister of the whole of Britain”, Galloway says he’d ‘fancy’ the Scottish premiership if they vote Yes. Presumably this would be to avert what he fears would be a right-wing race to the bottom post-separation, as Edinburgh gets sucked into ferocious tax-competition with an impregnable Conservative regime in London.

The interview highlights Galloway’s somewhat inconsistent stance on nationality and democratic legitimacy. For example, he makes a strong, classical unionist case about keeping this “small island of English speaking people” together, emphasising that English people “are not foreigners” to Scots.

Yet this generous stance stops at the Irish Sea. Galloway says he believes in “united countries” and thus “would support Northern Ireland’s exit from the UK”, according to the Scotsman. That is not a position which holds up to scrutiny – as one indignant nationalist commentator points out, it is scarcely credible to claim (the island of) Ireland is by some objective measure a country when Scotland is not. Coastlines alone are a very weak basis for discounting the right to self-determination of over a million people, much as the untidy map might irk some.

It’s not clear what Galloway’s impact on the Scottish debate is likely to be. It is certainly unusual to have a far-left figure who is a vocal unionist – normally such voters are wooed by the likes of the separatist Scottish Socialist Party or the Greens. His not being attached to the official Better Together campaign might also help him reach parts of Central Scotland that other politicians couldn’t reach. The question is how many such voters there are, and how many are open to persuasion.

Welsh Health Minister sees a ‘very powerful case’ for banning e-cigarettes indoors…

Mark Drakeford, the Health Minister for the devolved administration in Wales, claims to see a ‘very powerful case’ for applying post-2007 restrictions on public tobacco use to e-cigarettes – despite there being no plausible case that they harm bystanders.

Unlike traditional tobacco products e-cigs can still be advertised and consumed indoors, and he is worried that e-cigarettes are hindering government efforts to stigmatise tobacco consumption by “re-normalising” it. Since e-cigarettes only emit water vapour, those in favour of banning them have had to abandon the “second hand smoke” argument that justified the original ban, which might explain Drakeford’s forthrightness.

He speaks as Wales signs up to the latest batch of Westminster anti-tobacco measures, including a ban on the sale of e-cigs to under-18s.

…while Northern Ireland moves towards plain packaging

In a move which has divided the Unionist parties, particularly the DUP, the Northern Ireland Assembly has moved a step closer towards imposing plain cigarette packaging on Northern Ireland.

Speaking for the prohibitionist wing of the Democratic Unionists was Health Minister Edwin Poots, who argued that the purpose of the plan was to discourage new customers from taking up a tobacco habit. On the other side was Finance Minister Sammy Wilson, who maintained that all the anti-tobacco legislation to date had resulted in a slight net increase in the number of people smoking in the province.

He also pointed out that harsh restrictions would harm the economy – there is a tobacco plant in Ballymena – whilst channelling tax revenue into the hands of black marketeers, as it has in the Republic. South of the border up to one in four cigarettes sold in cities are smuggled, compared to one fifth in Northern Ireland. One argument against plain packaging is that they are much, much easier for counterfeiters to produce than current branded boxes.

Uncommonly for such a debate, Wilson also touched on the underlying principles of the matter, saying to the Assembly:

“It creates health problems, but then so does drinking alcohol. We regularly hear that our A&E provision is inundated at weekends, and many of the problems happen because people present themselves intoxicated with alcohol.

“(And then there is) obesity because of people’s attraction to fast food. The question is this: how many of these problems do we believe should be addressed by legislation, regulation and tighter restrictions? At what point do the general population say: ‘Let us make up our own minds rather than you making our minds up for us’?”

There is no doubt, I think, that we would all live longer, fitter lives if we were made the prisoners of doctors. That doesn’t automatically make it the right thing to do.

Scotland could see first same-sex marriage this autumn

Scotland could see its first same-sex marriages in October as MSPs prepare for a final vote on legislation to legalise it.

The measure, which has previously enjoyed the overwhelming support of MSPs on a free vote, will be “opt-in” for religious groups, with none being forced to perform the ceremonies. Both the Scottish Catholic Church and the Church of Scotland are opposing the measure.