Scottish Conservatives ask voters to help pick candidates for Holyrood

The Scottish Conservatives are inviting supporters of the party to join members in selecting their candidates for next year’s Scottish elections.

The Edinburgh News reports that interest in the Tory selection process is higher than in previous years as a high proportion of its current MSP group, including former leader Annabel Goldie, are standing down next May.

Scotland operates a two-tier electoral system, with constituencies voting by first past the post and regional ‘top up’ lists designed for proportionality.

Constituency selection remains restricted to members for the moment, but regional selections have been thrown open to those who told canvassers they were supporting the Conservatives during the general election.

Due to the party’s ongoing difficulties north of the border, no fewer than 12 of the party’s current crop of 15 Holyrood seats are drawn from the regional lists, meaning that supporters could have a real impact on the shape of the 2016-2021 Conservative caucus.

The party hopes it will help to engage the public with the party, increase the profile of its candidates and induce more people to give the Tories their list vote.

Welfare reform negotiations devolve into acrimony

The Belfast Telegraph reports that Theresa Villiers, the Northern Ireland Secretary, has described the outlook for talks aimed at resolving the province’s ongoing welfare and budget crisis as “bleak”.

According to the paper, Sinn Fein’s Martin McGuinness, the Deputy First Minister, behaved “dismissively” towards Villiers and challenged her over statistics.

Sinn Fein have been resisting welfare reform, which the Northern Ireland Executive has a duty to implement, for two years, and incurred Treasury fines which have blown a deep hole in the Executive’s budget and necessitated deep spending cuts.

In line with their own hard-left economic ideology, the Republicans blame the Government and cuts for the crisis. Meanwhile unionist politicians have attacked Sinn Fein and the SDLP, the smaller nationalist party, for reneging on their previous commitment to welfare reform in the Stormont House Agreement, the deal struck last year that was supposed to have ended this crisis.

The stalemate revives the prospect of the devolved assembly collapsing. Villiers told the press: “The credibility and the future viability of the devolved institutions is now at stake. The choice rests with Northern Ireland’s political leaders.”

Jones warning on reserved powers/recognisability

Carwyn Jones, the First Minister of Wales and most senior Labour office holder in Britain, has denounced what he calls an attempt to drag the country back to the pre-devolutionary era.

According to Wales Online, Jones feels that a list of proposed reserved powers is so extensive that it would actually strip the Welsh Assembly of some of its current law-making powers.

The First Minister is keen to move to a “reserved powers” model, whereby Westminster determines what the Welsh Executive can’t legislate on rather than what it can.

Despite being broadly more sceptical of devolution than Scots, polls reveal the Welsh supporting primary law-making powers for the Assembly on some policy areas.

Jones is also keen for a ‘permanence clause’ to be passed regarding the Welsh Assembly, even though he concedes that parliamentary sovereignty would give it no legal standing.

He does not think that the official list of proposed reserved powers, due from the Government in July, would be as sweeping as the ‘Whitehall wish list’.

This comes as polls suggest that, after a profile boost from the general election, nationalist leader Leanne Wood is now the best-known of Wales’ devolved politicians, with fewer people failing to recognise her than Jones.

However, the election also demonstrated the limited value of such exposure when Plaid failed to gain seats, and they remain

McCallister investigated for fraud as tragic epic of NI21 drags on

Police have raided the home of John McCallister, the independent unionist MLA, whilst investigating allegations of fraud in NI21, the party he co-founded.

According to the Belfast Telegraph a number of items were seized, including a computer.

McCallister established the putatively non-sectarian, pro-Union party with fellow ex-Ulster Unionist rebel Basil McCrea, but resigned following bitter infighting which all but destroyed NI21 months after its launch.

This was triggered when McCallister, then deputy leader, called in outside experts to launch an independent investigation into sexual misconduct reports directed against McCrea by party members, whereupon he was gradually driven out of the party.

One particularly farcical episode was when NI21 officially re-designated from ‘unionist’ to neutral on the border, which undermined its core selling point only weeks after being set up. Some sources claim this was intended to force McCallister, a staunch unionist, to quit the party.

McCrea, still leader of NI21 and its sole MLA, has welcomed the fraud probe and claims that no current party member is under investigation.

In a statement issued on behalf of the party he claimed that the party had been “a victim of criminal activity”.

McCallister denies all allegations against him, whilst police apparently intend to report two men to the Public Prosecution Service.