Davidson predicts strongest Conservative performance since devolution

Labour’s disintegration north of the border could see the Scottish Conservatives record their best result since the advent of devolution, according to a bold prediction by leader Ruth Davidson.

Your columnist saw the Glasgow MSP address a meeting organised by the libertarian think tank the Adam Smith Institute, in which she set out the case for “a Scottish alternative” to the statist consensus that dominates Scotland under Labour and the SNP.

She was particularly keen to stress that, despite a slick PR operation, the Nationalists should not be viewed as an effective party in government: on key indicators such as education Scotland has slipped back both in terms of outcomes and equality of access, despite much-vaunted shibboleths like free tuition.

Yet the Conservatives haven’t advanced at any Scottish election since the first in 1999, when they returned 18 MSPs out of 120.

Justifying her confidence, Davidson pointed out that despite an estimated 25 per cent of Tory supporters voting tactically for other parties in the general election, the party still only slipped by a couple of percentage points compared to 2010 – demonstrating, she claimed, how much the party’s support had grown.

Under the proportional system used for Holyrood elections such voters would likely return home, not only boosting the Tories but also further cutting Labour’s already devastated vote, as they were the overwhelming beneficiary of tactical voting in May.

Davidson has previously been wary of making such predictions, citing how the party got its fingers burned by predicting a string of gains before the 2010 election, none of which materialised.

Polls currently suggest the SNP are on course for a landslide with their allies, the Greens, set to significantly increase their presence and further bolster the separatist majority. Some predict the Tories taking 14 seats, one fewer than 2011.

But if anybody can exploit the opportunity posed by the collapse of Labour as the default party of Scottish unionism, last night left no doubt that Davidson’s the woman to do it.

Villiers ‘not surprised’ that the Provisional IRA still exists

The Guardian reports that Theresa Villiers, the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, is apparently unsurprised by the continued existence of the Provisional IRA (PIRA), one of the pre-eminent terrorist groups from the Troubles.

Her comments come after George Hamilton, the head of the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI), expressed the belief that members of the group, colloquially known as the ‘Provos’, were behind the murder of ex-IRA gunman Kevin McGuigan two weeks ago.

However, he did not believe the PIRA’s leadership had sanctioned the killing, although McGuigan’s family and “republican sources in Belfast” apparently insist that they did.

Sinn Fein, who maintain that the PIRA had nothing to do with the shooting, have been attacked by unionists for their failure to properly address the subject.

Scottish Labour tack left as Dugdale scrambles to be ready for 2016

Having taken up the poisoned chalice that is the leadership of Labour in Scotland, Kezia Dugdale MSP seems set on continuing Jim Murphy’s flight to the left as she prepares for an SNP onslaught in May.

Last week she unveiled a new front bench team, but deputy leader Alex Rowley – who was elected independently – has already hung out a big, red signal flag.

Rowley, who has gone on record as saying that Jeremy Corbyn would make a “first class” leader of the UK party, has called for a referendum to be held on renewing the Trident nuclear weapons system.

Meanwhile, Dugdale herself has used her first speech as leader to promise tax increases when Holyrood receives new financial powers next year, and has challenged Nicola Sturgeon, the First Minister, to “prove she is a socialist”.

If their first week is indicative of Labour’s strategy for next May’s Scottish elections it looks as if they and the Nationalists will be fighting tooth and nail over some very left-wing terrain indeed.

Corbyn will comfort defenders of Welsh Labour’s crumbling ‘classical’ approach

Martin Shipton, the chief reporter at Wales Online, believes that far left Labour leadership hopeful Jeremy Corbyn may find a friend in Carwyn Jones, the First Minister of Wales and Labour’s most senior elected representative.

Next year’s Welsh Assembly elections will be one of the first tests faced by whomever is elected leader next month. Welsh Labour have shown evidence of being in trouble after suffering shock defeats at the general election and sustained pressure on key issues such as education and health.

Corbyn has explicitly endorsed the Welsh party’s policy of “clear red water” – adopting a ‘classical Labour’ position that rejects the centrism and policy innovation that were Blairism’s hallmarks.

Shipton argues that the MP for Islington’s unusual style may win Labour back voters lost to marginal parties like Plaid Cymru and UKIP – who look likely to enter the Assembly for the first time in 2016.

Yet based on recent events it seems more likely that, by increasing resistance to change inside Welsh Labour, Corbyn’s influence is more likely to leave the party vulnerable to attack from the very effective Welsh Conservatives, who secured their best general election result for thirty year by handily defeating Labour in a clutch of critical seats.