Leaked emails spark investigation into SNP’s referendum spending…

The Electoral Commission is to investigate a claim that the SNP breached spending rules during last year’s referendum by covertly colluding with another organisation, according to The Herald.

Emails apparently show Peter Murrell, the SNP’s chief executive and husband to Nicola Sturgeon, was involved in the management of Business for Scotland (BfS), a separatist business organisation fronted by Michelle Thomson MP, who recently lost the SNP whip after press revelations about her (possibly illegal) property dealings.

The messages were, according to Labour blogger Ian Smart, leaked in order to try to put some distance between the SNP and Thomson, and show Murrell trying to rid BfS of her services. Smart writes:

“If the SNP, through Mr Murrell, was controlling the expenditure of another “permitted participant” then that had to be declared as part of the SNP’s permitted referendum expenditure. And if that control existed and if it was not to be disclosed, then Mr Murrell would be breaking the criminal law.”

…as they bow out of the EU ‘In’ campaign

Writing at the Spectator, Fraser Nelson reports that the Nationalists have decided not to be part of the official, cross-party campaign to keep Britain in the European Union.

John Swinney MSP, the Deputy First Minister, apparently believes that ‘Britain Stronger in Europe’ is set to be a reheated version of ‘Project Fear’, the relentlessly negative campaign against Scottish independence.

Andrew Cooper, who served as strategy director for Better Together, will apparently be taking the same position in BSE. If they really are considering going down the route of the Scottish ‘No’ campaign, they should read this book, then change their minds.

The SNP want to be free to make their own, ‘positive’ case for the EU. Doubtless they also want maximum freedom to set out a distinctly Scottish case for Europe, as the prospect of Brexit without Scottish backing is being touted as the trigger for a second referendum.

Labour AM attacks government culture in Cardiff

Jenny Rathbone, an Assembly Member for Cardiff Central, has criticised the “unhealthy culture” at the top of the Welsh executive, according to Wales Online.

Apparently Carwyn Jones, the First Minister and the most senior elected Labour politician in the kingdom, sacked her from a committee chairmanship after she criticised what she viewed as wasteful public spending. Rathbone claims that:

“The events of the last 24 hours have confirmed in my mind there is an unhealthy culture at the top of the Welsh Government which does not allow for rigorous debate and reflection on the best use of public funds. Independent thought is not tolerated by AMs and if someone does step out of line, they are ruthlessly dealt with. This is not a good way to make difficult decisions.”

UK Government insists on referendum for Cardiff tax-raising powers

The Government has confirmed that there will need to be a referendum in Wales before the power to vary income tax rates is devolved to the Assembly, reports the BBC.

Responding to a bid by the Liberal Democrats for the requirement to be dropped the Viscount Younger, a Government whip, reiterated their commitment to the measure.

Welsh devolutionaries are wary of such a referendum. It may have something to do with the fact that support for the Assembly gaining the ability to raise income tax is much less overwhelming amongst ordinary voters than the near-uniform support of the Welsh political class might suggest.

Democratic Unionist ministers could return to their posts

The BBC reports that Arlene Foster, the DUP MLA and acting First Minister of Northern Ireland, has reported that her party might return to the Executive.

They pulled out after the apparent murder of a Northern Irish citizen by a still-active IRA provoked outrage from unionists, who had held the disbanding of terrorist groups as a pre-condition for power sharing.

Foster has said that her party will examine a report, due to be published by a panel set up by Theresa Villiers, the Northern Irish Secretary, to investigate the ongoing existence of terrorist groups, before making its decision.

Loyalist paramilitary groups renounce criminality

The three largest loyalist paramilitary groups in Northern Ireland have joined together to renounce criminal activity and draw up a programme to lawfully advance the interests of their communities, according to the News Letter.

The Ulster Defence Association (UDA), Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF), and Red Hand Commandos, will create a ‘Loyalist Communities Council’ to address disenfranchisement and low educational attainment amongst loyalists.

Jonathan Powell, a former aide to Tony Blair, and David McNarry, a UKIP MLA, were reportedly involved in brokering the deal.