Labour accuse Sturgeon of trying to crash fiscal devolution

For a party which hoped to be shepherding Scotland towards imminent independence from Britain by now, the SNP is proving remarkably reluctant to embrace fiscal devolution – due to the risk that Scotland “could lose billions”.

Labour have accused Nicola Sturgeon’s administration of trying to derail the assumption of substantial tax responsibilities by Holyrood ahead of this year’s Scottish election, according to The Herald, and joined Tory MSPs in rejecting the Nationalists’ proposals.

This charge comes as both Labour and the Liberal Democrats pledged this week to raise taxes in the (unlikely) event that they gain office in May – much to the delight of those who want more from Scottish politics than the constitution.

Ruth Davidson, meanwhile, persisted with her down distinction strategy, emphasising the Conservatives’ unalloyed unionism, tax-cutting instincts, and crop of fresh, high-quality candidates.

SDLP plan to establish opposition in Northern Ireland

The Social Democratic and Labour Party, the smaller and more moderate of the nationalist parties in Northern Ireland, has announced its intention to set up in opposition to the all-party executive.

At present, the need for the Ulster system to avoid creating losers (the necessary by-product of winners) creates an all-shall-have-prizes government, formed by ‘mandatory coalition’, in which all the main parties are guaranteed ministries.

With every plausible contender for power being complicit in the province’s dysfunctional government, the effect on scrutiny has been predictable and an effective opposition sorely missed.

If the mechanism for formal opposition is created and the Ulster Unionists join the SDLP there, could we yet see two cross-communal coalitions competing for office in Northern Ireland? That would be something.

Labour at odds with First Minister over EU referendum date

A split has opened between the national Labour leadership and Carwyn Jones, First Minister of Wales and its most senior remaining elected official.

Alan Johnson, who leads Labour’s campaign to ‘Remain’ in the EU, has endorsed an early poll. Jones meanwhile has written to the Prime Minister claiming that a June vote would be “disrespectful” to devolved elections.

Three more Nationalist MPs feel the heat

The woes afflicting the SNP’s MPs are such a regular occurrence that they seem almost to be becoming a regular feature of this column. This week offers three.

First George Kerevan, a crusader against expenses who ostentatiously declined the majority of his salary, was revealed by Guido to have contrived to win back some £25,000 of his forgone earnings by paying them to his wife instead.

Then Dr Philippa Whitford was found by the Daily Mail earning £500 a day moonlighting as a surgeon on the NHS, despite Pete Wishart’s pious assurance that no SNP MP would take a second job (although this reflects badly on his judgement rather than hers).

Finally and most seriously, Natalie McGarry* risks being sued by JK Rowling after she accused the author of “defending misogynists” on Twitter without adequate (read: any) substantiating evidence.

(*In fairness to the SNP I should note that McGarry has already resigned the party whip whilst the police investigate the disappearance of up to £30,000 in donations from a pro-independence group she led.)

Welsh Government faces two land scandals

The Labour administration in Cardiff Bay made headlines on Wales Online not once but twice this week for some very poor land purchase decisions.

First, a leak from the Welsh Audit Office suggested that independent assessors had valued Cardiff Airport at between £20-30 million less than the £52 million the Welsh Government paid to nationalise it (which it insists was “absolutely” the right decision).

Then it emerged that the controversial sale by said Government of valuable development land for “farmland prices” – at a cost of millions in lost income – occurred after Labour scrapped the expert body which had bought it in the first place.

Swinney tightens chokehold on Scottish councils

The long-running guerilla war between the SNP and Scottish local government boiled over this week as John Swinney, the Finance Minister, was accused of ‘dictatorial’ behaviour.

He stands accused of threatening councils with “draconian” sanctions if they do not sign up to his agenda – including another year of the council tax freeze which is gradually eroding local government independence.

The Daily Telegraph reported that the Nationalist squeeze on council budgets has forced Scottish schools to make £300 million in cuts over the past five years.

Veteran demands PSNI investigate IRA attacks on him

A former soldier has asked the Police Service of Northern Ireland to investigate a string of murder attempts on him by the IRA.

The Belfast Telegraph reports that Mike Harmson, who served in Ulster during the 1980s, wants to ensure that soldiers and other security personnel are treated fairly during inquiries into historical allegations.

His case could apparently “open the floodgates” for veterans to turn the legal tables on the IRA. The Police Federation of Northern Ireland has likewise called for investigations to cover attacks on police officers.

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