Davidson launches push for school reform in Scotland

The Scottish Conservatives have unveiled radical proposals to devolve control over school budgets and lessons to headteachers and reduce local authority control.

The Scotsman reports that Ruth Davidson, who leads the Tories north of the border, has called for a “cultural shift” away from council dominance in the education system.

New policies, set out in a paper entitled The gold standard – a world class education for every child, will feed into the party’s manifesto for May’s Holyrood election.

Davidson explained that the Tories aimed to turn “your local school into your school of choice”, to avoid parents feeling the need to pay fees or move house to get into a better catchment area.

The Scottish Conservatives have previously echoed Michael Gove in calling for parents to be able to establish their own schools.

Welsh Conservatives seek powers to pioneer ‘safe standing’ at stadia

Andrew RT Davies, the leader of the Welsh Conservatives, is leading calls for the Assembly to be devolved responsibility for safety at sports grounds, according to Wales Online.

He has written to Tracey Crouch, the Sports Minister, to urge the British Government to cede the necessary powers to Cardiff Bay.

This would allow Welsh clubs to pilot so-called safe standing zones, a modern version of the now-banned terraces, to assuage critics’ fears and assist adoption across the UK.

SNP MPs under pressure for business and property dealings

Another week, another series of bad headlines for the newly-engorged Nationalist caucus in the House of Commons.

The BBC reports that Phil Boswell, MP for Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill, is being investigated by the Standards Commissioner over an alleged breach of the rules about declaring company directorships.

He previously made the news when it emerged that he had accepted an £18,000 loan from his employer to benefit from a tax loophole – despite being a vocal critic of tax avoidance.

Meanwhile, the Scottish Daily Mail has uncovered the £630,000 property empire of Dr Lisa Cameron, the Nationalist member for East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow.

Dr Cameron has spoken out strongly against the Right to Buy policy, which the SNP has scrapped, but owns three ex-council properties and rents them out to constituents.

DUP and Sinn Fein move closer as Ulster elections loom

After a period of division and dysfunction, the two largest parties in the Northern Ireland Assembly appear to be signalling closer cooperation ahead of May’s devolved elections, according to analysis in the Belfast Telegraph.

Despite coming from polar opposite positions on the traditionally pre-eminent question of Northern Ireland’s constitutional status, the province’s system of “mandatory coalition” forces parties to cooperate in the Executive.

In recent years the devolved administration has ground to almost a complete halt as Sinn Fein fought to block the implementation of the Coalition’s welfare reforms in Northern Ireland.

Meanwhile, the News Letter reports that Alban McGuinness, a veteran Belfast MLA from the soft-nationalist SDLP, has decided to stand down at the next election.

Nationalist ministers criticised for BBC claims and tobacco links

Two ministers in Nicola Sturgeon’s SNP administration came to the attention of the press this week, as the First Minister pledged a renewed push to secede from the United Kingdom.

The Guardian relates that during an escalating row over broadcasting Fiona Hyslop, the Nationalist culture secretary, has been criticised by television executives over “bizarre and preposterous” claims that the BBC is underspending in Scotland.

Nationalists are calling for all Scottish licence fees to go directly to BBC Scotland in a bid to balkanise the national broadcaster.

Meanwhile Fergus Ewing, the business secretary, is reported by the Sunday Herald to have bought nearly £50,000 in shares in an investment trust heavily linked to big tobacco companies, despite his party’s tough anti-smoking stance.

McCrea refuses to bow out as NI21 crumbles to dust

Basil McCrea, the ex-Ulster Unionist MLA and founder of NI21, has stated his intention to stay in politics following the near-disintegration of his party, according to the Belfast Telegraph, although he won’t say how many candidates it will field in May’s Stormont election.

NI21, a non-sectarian party which briefly looked set to take Northern Irish politics by storm, fell apart spectacularly just ahead of the 2014 local elections following a split between McCrea and John McCallister, another MLA and its co-founder.

Former Better Together activists to fight Scottish elections as Unionist Party

A number of Glasgow-based veterans of the campaign to keep Scotland in Britain have launched a new party ahead of May’s elections to the Scottish Parliament, The Scotsman reports.

Properly titled ‘A Better Britain – Unionist Party’, the group seems intended to offer a home to Labour-leaning unionists who can’t bring themselves to make the jump to the Scottish Conservatives.

It combines a staunchly unionist constitutional position, including opposition to new powers and restoration of pre-2007 Scottish Executive branding, with a distinctly centrist policy platform including a 50p higher rate of income tax.

The Unionist Party plans to concentrate on a small number of areas and only contest list seats, to assuage concerns that it might split the vote.