Davidson at odds with UK party over Human Rights Act

Ruth Davidson, the Scottish Conservative leader, has taken to Twitter to draw attention to a potential point of clash between the Scottish Conservatives and the national party.

She points to the Scottish Conservative manifesto, which claims that the Scottish Parliament should have the final say on any changes to the Human Rights Act.

Ruth Davidson Human Rights

The HRA was built into the legislation that established the Scottish Parliament, and opponents of reform are arguing that this means that Holyrood has a veto on the United Kingdom’s membership of the European Convention on Human Rights and on the HRA, despite both foreign policy and the relevant legislation being reserved areas.

This is not constitutionally true: Parliament is sovereign, and can pass any law it wishes. Writing in the Daily Telegraph one lawyer sets out the facts:

“Of course, that would be possible as a matter of strict law. However, under the 1998 Sewel Convention (which would apply with equal force to Northern Ireland and probably to Wales): “Westminster will not normally legislate with regard to devolved matters in Scotland without the consent of the Scottish Parliament.” In other words, withdrawing Britain from the Convention would for all practical purposes require the consent of each of the separate nations of the UK.”

Even the Sewel Convention, however, is written in such a manner (“normally legislate”) so as to permit “a dramatic flash of the legislative sword” in exceptional circumstances – for example, where a Government has secured a Parliamentary majority with a mandate to repeal the Human Rights Act.

However, this perception does mean that, as the author suggests, unpicking the HRA is almost impossible if the Government elects to concede Holyrood a de facto veto. This in turn means that Davidson’s stance may put her on a collision course with the Prime Minister and Michael Gove, who intend to repeal it and have a mandate to do so.

Yet setting aside the constitutional technicalities, this suggests another problem: did the Conservatives end up fighting this election on divergent, even mutually contradictory manifestos?

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Knives out for Murphy in Scotland…

The knives are out in the Welsh and Scottish Labour parties as each processes the aftermath of a very disappointing general election.

In Scotland, Jim Murphy is facing calls to resign after seeing all but one of his party’s constituencies to the Scottish Nationalists.

Neil Findlay, the socialist throwback he defeated to win the leadership, has resigned from the shadow cabinet as the trades unions start to call for Murphy’s head.

In addition to a putative left-wing putsch others such as Alex Rowley MSP, who has written an open letter to Murphy, worry that it is not credible for the party leader to be without any democratic post, let alone the Scottish Parliament, in the run up to next year’s Scottish Parliament elections.

Most commentators agree that there is very little that Murphy could actually have done to reverse his party’s precipitous collapse in the aftermath of last year’s referendum on independence.

Yet he has not gone without blame: this report in The Herald claims to come from inside the “campaign from hell”, and paints an unflattering portrait of the Labour leader as vain and obsessed with his media image.

More seriously, the author reports that Labour were subject to chronic inconstancy of strategy: veering from essentially running a Findlay-style left-wing campaign to that of a “full-fat Unionist”. Having derided the left and championed the interests of MPs for most of his political career, Murphy’s attempts to steal the SNP’s tunes were not convincing.

Criticism has also been directed at his team, especially John McTernan, his chief of staff.

…and Jones in Wales

Carwyn Jones, the First Minister of Wales, has faced an outbreak of public dissent from his own party after Welsh Labour suffered a startling and very disappointing result in Wales last week.

David Taylor, a former adviser to Peter Hain, spoke out after the party failed to take Cardiff North and lost Gower and Vale of Clwyd to the Tories. He accused Jones of complacency after the First Minister emphasised Welsh Labour’s continuing position as the largest party.

Although he did not elaborate on the night, he later set out a fuller case against Jones: namely that the First Minister’s aping of Scottish Labour’s tactics (blaming Westminster, playing the national card and entrenching Old Labour positions) was unsuited to a country which “is not becoming more Welsh or more left wing politically.”

Tellingly, Jones’ response to the setback was to call for Welsh Labour to distance itself more from the national party, continuing the pattern of trying to shift the blame away from the Welsh party and find solutions in enhancing his own power.

However, research for the LSE finds that despite a surge in the aftermath of the Coalition Labour has shed fully a third of its support in Wales in the two years leading up to polling day: roughly when the Tories started running hard against Jones’ government and record in office.

Meanwhile, other Labour sources attacked the party’s ground operation, claiming that party strategists had no idea that seats such as Gower were under threat whilst they poured resources into a futile attempt to unseat Plaid Cymru in Arfon.