Welsh Labour MPs join welfare rebellion…

Welsh Labour’s Westminster caucus was convulsed by rebellion as MPs broke ranks with the national leadership to vote against the Government’s welfare reforms.

Wales Online reports that seven of Labour’s 25 Welsh MPs were part of the group of 48 that rebelled against Harriet Harman’s attempt to abstain on the legislation.

Kim Howells, a former foreign minister and Welsh MP, is reported to have described the present trouble as “the most serious crisis I’ve ever encountered in Labour’s history”.

But Peter Hain, the former Welsh Secretary, described the upset as a “passing phase” which was not a “life or death” moment for the party.

However, he described the leadership contest as “underwhelming”. Howells went further, alleging that he didn’t know “what anyone believes anymore who is there at the top of the Labour Party.”

….as new measures could spell end for devolution in Ulster

Sammy Wilson, a Democratic Unionist MLA and former Finance Minister of Northern Ireland, has claimed that the latest round of welfare reforms could spell the end of the Northern Ireland Assembly.

The News Letter reports that the latest tranche, when taken on top of the Coalition reforms which have already brought Stormont to the brink of collapse, may well cause the collapse of the devolved government.

Welfare is technically devolved to Ulster but Stormont is required to mirror mainland legislation. Failure to do so has already incurred Treasury fines which run to the hundreds of millions of pounds, necessitating deep cuts in departmental budgets.

Wilson hit out at Sinn Fein, who have paralysed the province’s government for almost two years in a bid to resist the introduction of Universal Credit, for failing to take their seats in the Commons and ‘defend the vulnerable’.

The DUP have broadly taken a pro-implementation line, and the former Finance Minister said that the Government’s Welfare Reform and Work Bill contained many measures he supported.

He also warned the SNP against clamouring for the devolution of welfare, citing the costs of breaking from UK policy.

Meanwhile Samuel Gardiner, an Ulster Unionist MLA, has told the Belfast Telegraph that unless Northern Ireland reins in its welfare spending it could spell disaster. He is quoted as saying:

“Denying financial reality and refusing to live within budgets will not create a paradise, instead it makes Northern Ireland more akin to Greece – the new bankrupt Athens of the North.”

This comes in the same week that his party has had to defend its management of the Department for Regional Development (DRD), after it was revealed to be the only one of Stormont’s twelve ministries to have overspent its budget for 2014/15.

Salmond accused of ignoring Scottish Parliament

Alex Salmond, SNP foreign affairs spokesman and former First Minister of Scotland, has been accused of ignoring the Scottish Parliament since May’s general election.

The Daily Telegraph relates that Salmond, who was elected to the constituency of Gordon, has only spoken in Holyrood once since taking his seat on the green benches, from which he has addressed the Commons more than 180 times in a few months.

Indeed, he is one of Westminster’s most active members – but many of his contributions have nothing to do either with his brief or Scotland. In contrast, he has failed to contribute to Holyrood discussions on substantial areas of policy, especially devolution.

The veteran Nationalist is currently the only politician to sit in both the London and Edinburgh parliaments, and before the election he claimed to be confident that he could perform both roles until he steps down from Holyrood.

He has done this twice before, and in 2010 notoriously collected the £65,000 ‘golden goodbye’ intended to help MPs relocate despite having been elected an MSP in 2007.

Sources close to Salmond report that he is determined to be the MP with most speeches in the Chamber.

Fears of far-left infiltration in the SNP

The Sunday Herald reports that senior figures in the Scottish National Party fear that entryists may be infiltrating some of their branches.

They believe the intent is to persuade Nationalist members and supporters to give Tommy Sheridan’s far-left Solidarity party their second preference in next year’s Scottish election.

Many of the new members signed up during the SNP’s post-defeat surge, fuelled in no small part by a dramatic shift to the populist left on the party’s part, are feared to hold Sheridanite views, the paper reforms.

Sheridan was first elected to the Scottish Parliament in 1999 as a member of the Scottish Socialist Party, and led it to an unprecedented six seats in 2003 before splitting from it after a scandal before the 2007 election, in which both the SSP and Solidarity, his splinter group, failed to get elected.

Polls suggest the Nationalists may now take every constituency in next year’s election, which might lead them to lose all the proportional list ‘top up’ seats. Sheridan is therefore trying to persuade separatist voters to favour him with their second preference, over the Greens or the SSP.

Solidarity has apparently changed its rules to allow members to hold concurrent memberships with other parties, which would make such tactics easier.