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

Martin McGuinness toasts the Queen… as IRA victims call for his arrest

Northern Irish Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness has come some way since his time as a Sinn Fein MP, when he refused to represent his constituents in Parliament to avoid taking the oath of allegiance.

First, there was the handshake in 2012, when the former high captain of die-hard Republicanism clasped hands with Her Britannic Majesty. This warmth has now gone even further – the DFM has taken part in a toast to the Queen, proposed by Ireland’s socialist president Michael D Higgins at a banquet to celebrate his official state visit to the United Kingdom, as the orchestra played God Save the Queen. Viewed in a certain light, we’ve come a long way from civil war.

But not for everybody. Outside the banquet at Windsor Castle a group of victims – including former servicemen and relatives of those killed in terrorist attacks – mounted a protest. Some called outright for McGuinness’ arrest, whilst others condemned the British government for doing so much to rehabilitate armed Republicans while victims, who have to live every day with the consequences of the Troubles, are ‘thrown on the scrapheap’.

Lessons for unionists as Canada emerges from the shadow of separatism

In a result which might well have transformed Canadian politics overnight, the province of Quebec as decisively rejected its recently popular nationalist government in provincial elections, handing a majority to the ardently pro-federation Quebec Liberals.

This is a little off-topic, but I think the comparisons between the Canadian and British experiences bear some examination – not least because the Canadian experience would, if described in a British context, look like the wildest of unionist fantasies.

Quebecois separatism, like its Scottish counterpart, really took off in the 1970s. Since then it has successfully forced two referendums on separation (or something like it) from Canada. The second, in 1995, was only won by 50.58 of the vote. The ‘Yes’ side were energetic, driven, and commanded by a charismatic “sovereigntist rock star”. Meanwhile the doom-laden projections of the pro-federation media appeared to be demoralising, rather than energising, supporters of Canada.

It sounds a lot like the very worst fears of the current unionist campaign. The two decades hence were likewise filled with the same sort of tactics our own devolutionary enthusiasts are using. To quote a Canadian paper:

“The near-death experience of the 1995 referendum was followed by a range of propitiatory offerings on the federalist side: not only the devolution of various federal powers, but the delivery of bundles of cash, notably under the pretence of solving the “fiscal imbalance.” The received wisdom in federalist circles for many years held that Quebecers could never be asked just to accept Canada as it is: the dreaded “status quo.” There had to be offers.”

Again, that could well be describing the conduct of devolution since 1998. But as the writer points out, this election was different. The pro-separation Parti Quebecois went into the election with a strong lead, aiming for a majority government, on the basis of avoiding all referendum talk (again, not a million miles from the Scottish experience).

Yet one pro-separation stunt by a high-profile candidate was enough to completely derail their campaign and hand the election to the Liberals, led by their most unapologetically federalist (i.e. unionist) leader since the 1960s. And this without any offers of extra powers or money from the rest of Canada, which has largely run out of patience with such tactics.

The PQ offered their assistance to the SNP, who declined it. It’s easy to understand why: it seems that it is the unionists who should be learning from Canada. With the polls suggesting there could be a close result, we should work as hard as we can to ensure that, twenty years hence, the mere prospect of a referendum is enough to see the SNP thrown out of Holyrood.

MoD accused of leaking against Welsh government over military NHS treatment

One advantage of devolution is that parties can try out policies in one part of the country, allowing the results to be held up to scrutiny.

This is the approach the Conservatives are taking to try to show the sort of horrors a Miliband regime has in store of the country. The go-to “big picture” example is France, of course, the travails of post-devolution Wales provide plenty of flattering comparisons with Coalition England, even on core Labour areas like education and health.

But Carwyn Jones, the Welsh First Minister, has accused the government of politicising the UK civil service after alleging that the Ministry of Defence leaked the minutes of a meeting where the Surgeon General, most senior of the military medical positions, said he wanted wounded soldiers moved from Wales to England for treatment.

Jones went further, questioning how serious the government is about maintaining the Union when it is “hitting Wales all the time” (not his conflation of his government with the entire principality), and declaring that the Welsh government should assume that “any meeting that takes place in Whitehall … will be used against us.”

If Jones considers attacks on other jurisdictions controlled by other parties a threat to the Union, presumably he firmly refrains from railing against ‘Westminster Tory cuts’ and such in Welsh elections…

Religions demand place in Scottish constitution

Representatives of Scotland’s various religious groups have banded together to call for official recognition in any written constitution of an independent Scotland.

The SNP government has declared its intention to publish a provisional constitution to ‘inform the independence debate’, but has so far ruled out any changes to the legal status of Scotland’s religions.