Theresa Villiers, the Northern Ireland Secretary, has backed a plan by the Democratic Unionist Party to table a budget in the Northern Ireland Assembly based on figures that assume the passage of welfare reform, according to the BBC.
Arlene Foster MLA, the DUP Finance Minister in Ulster’s all-must-have-prizes Executive, will include those spending cuts necessitated by overall falls in UK Government spending but not the additional £600m of reductions her party believe will be required if the ongoing stalemate over Universal Credit continues.
Villiers has warned the Northern Irish parties that “the clock is ticking”, and the NI Executive will continue to incur punitive Treasury fines as long as it resists bringing the province’s welfare system back into parity with the mainland.
Foster has rejected the characterisation of her budget as a fantasy, arguing that it can be delivered as soon as Sinn Fein and the SDLP restore their support for the previously-negotiated Stormont House Agreement, in which the Republicans yielded on welfare reform.
Jones allies with Sturgeon on Europe and the Human Rights Act
Carwyn Jones, the Labour First Minister of Wales, has joined forces with Nicola Sturgeon to campaign on the EU and the Human Rights Act.
Both First Ministers will campaign to enfranchise 16 and 17 year olds and EU citizens for the plebiscite. The Herald reports that Jones also Brexit as “unacceptable” unless all four home nations voted endorsed it.
Although he does not go so far as Sturgeon in explicitly calling for a Welsh veto on the EU, he does call for one on the Human Rights Act.
He and Sturgeon both claimed that the Government has no right “to change the constitutions of Wales and Scotland” by repealing the Act, even though as Westminster legislation it is a reserved issue.
Finally, both want their administrations put at the forefront of planning for the devolution of further powers from Westminster, arguing that where there is evidence of demand for more powers the Government must respect it.
Jones is trying to ride Sturgeon’s coattails there: much as it must frustrate him, there is no evidence of any particular hunger in Wales for more power to accrete in Cardiff Bay.
SNP set to storm Scottish elections
The Scottish National Party looks set not only to win a second majority in next year’s Scottish elections – itself meant to be an impossible feat – but to make further gains, according to a new poll for the Scotsman.
Apparently 60 per cent of those questioned intended to back the Nationalists in the constituency ballot next year compared to the 45 per cent the party won in 2011, which delivered them 53 of the 73 constituency seats.
Labour are on 19 per cent (from 32 in 2011), the Tories on 15, and the Liberal Democrats on an apocalyptic three. However, pollsters counselled caution, as it is not yet clear whether these results represent an ongoing trend or a honeymoon period from the SNP’s recent Westminster smash.
However, the Herald reveals that senior Labour insiders are warning that the party might lose every single constituency seat, a worse performance even than last month’s one-seat wonder.
This will put mounting pressure on the candidates in the Scottish Labour leadership contest, which is ongoing following the defenestration of Jim Murphy after he lost his seat in May.
What remains to be seen is the impact of fiscal responsibility on a political culture which has until now been a giveaway competition.
John Swinney, the Scottish Government’s Finance Minister, is apparently mulling a hike in Scottish income tax to bridge the spending gap opened by George Osborne’s latest cuts. The Scottish Conservatives ought to be able to get some mileage from that.
Opposition grows to Welsh e-cig ban
The Welsh Government is meeting mounting opposition to its plan to ban the use of e-cigarettes in public spaces, according to Wales Online.
Their Public Health Wales Bill would require support from the opposition in order to pass the Assembly, but none appears to be forthcoming.
The Conservatives, Liberal Democrats and Plaid Cymru all expressed concern at the lack of evidence justifying what Tory leader Andrew RT Davies described as “to resort to law to ban this particular pastime.”
Meanwhile Kirsty Williams AM provided a rare instance of raw liberalism from a Lib Dem when she said: “Banning things just for the sake of it isn’t a position any Government should take.”
Physicians are also sceptical about the ban, although the First Minister claimed that the World Health Organisation wanted e-cigarettes brought into a comparable legislative position as their conventional equivalents.
There has been some limited support for the ban from the tourist industry, some of whom believe that it will join the carrier bag levy in being good for the Welsh ‘brand’.
One hotelier, Mike Morgan, director of Welsh Rarebits hotels, is quoted by WO as saying: “People simply don’t want to dine next to somebody who swears loudly, or is playing loud music and this is just another form of bad etiquette. It’s not a civil liberty issue, it’s about good manners.”
To which the obvious response is that good manners are not legally enforceable, and none of the other examples he cites are illegal. If his is the best support for this legislation the press can find, the Welsh Government would do well to abandon it.
SDLP leader to resign Stormont seat
Alasdair McDonnell MP, leader of the centre-left, nationalist Social Democratic and Labour Party, is to resign his seat in the Northern Ireland Assembly ahead of next year’s devolved elections.
The BBC reports that his party will hold a convention to co-opt a replacement for McDonnell’s South Belfast Assembly seat, which mirrors his Westminster constituency. Under the proportional system employed in Ulster, deaths and resignations do not trigger by-elections.
McDonnell had previously come under pressure to resign his leadership of the SDLP, the smaller and more moderate of Northern Ireland’s two major nationalist parties, due to the perceived challenges of leading it into a devolved election whilst sitting in the Commons.
This is due both to attempts to shore up the party’s green flank against Sinn Fein, who do not take up their Westminster seats, and an upcoming ban on ‘double jobbing’ – the practise of Northern Irish politicians holding both Stormont and Westminster seats simultaneously.
His decision to resign his position at Stormont will do nothing to reduce concerns about a party being led from London instead of Belfast.