Police confirm that Republican ‘On the Runs’ are linked to dozens of crimes

The Belfast Telegraph reports that 36 Republicans who received so-called ‘comfort letters’ from the British Government are linked to 136 incidents by the Police Service of Northern Ireland.

Last week this column covered the latest twist in the saga of so-called ‘On-the-Runs’ (OTRs), Republicans who were wanted the police and were granted a de facto amnesty by the Blair government.

Conservative ministers ended the OTR scheme after it led to the collapse of the trial of John Downey, who was charged with the 1982 Hyde Park bombings.

Revelations about the scheme have prompted fury from unionists, who argue that it amounted to a get-out-of-jail-free card to people linked to “hundreds of murders”.

In other news, dissident Republicans are also being blamed for the shooting dead of a man in West Belfast on Thursday night.

Swinney accused of misleading MSPs over ‘success’ of Named Persons

John Swinney, the Scottish Government’s Education and Skills Minister, has been accused of ‘falsely presenting’ claims to Holyrood in order to make the controversial state guardian scheme appear successful, the Daily Express reports.

According to the ‘No to Named Persons’ (N2NP), he mislead Holyrood’s education and skills committee about the efficacy of a pilot scheme in the Highlands.

They point out that the substantial drop in referrals to the Children’s Reporter in the region, which Swinney attributed to the pilot, was replicated in other parts of the country which weren’t running the scheme.

Swinney is one of the innermost circle of the SNP leadership: his move to education was supposed to be concrete evidence that it was Nicola Sturgeon’s top priority, at least between May’s Scottish elections and June’s EU referendum.

UUP and SDLP ally to offer alternative power-sharing government

This week Colum Eastwood, the leader of the nationalist Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP), addressed the conference of the Ulster Unionist Party. The News Letter reports that Mike Nesbitt, the UUP leader, told his members that the two more centrist parties will offer a real alternative government for Stormont.

Under Northern Ireland’s power-sharing arrangements, every party with a sufficient contingent of MLAs is entitled to take ministerial positions in the government. This has created a legislature with a chronic lack of opposition.

Any alternative to the Democratic Unionist/Sinn Fein administration – what the Belfast Telegraph dubs a ‘failing regime’ – would need to be cross-community.

However, it will be very difficult for the UUP to champion a centrist, cross-community coalition at the same time as a ‘Unionist unity’ pact with the DUP.

Scottish MPs criticise boundary review proposals

The Boundary Commission for Scotland’s initial draft for revised Scottish constituencies has been branded ‘unacceptable’ by MPs, according to STV.

Both the SNP’s Angus Robertson and Labour’s Ian Murray are quoted as criticising the scheme. Scotland is due to have its MPs cut from 59 to 53.

Notional results from the 2015 election on the new boundaries would give the Nationalists every seat except Orkney and Shetland, which would remain Lib Dem. However, on one set of projections current polling would push the Conservatives up into second with six seats and put them very close in two more. Labour would not have any.

Plaid AM calls for ‘clear green water’ between Nationalists and Labour

Last week this column covered the news that Lord Dafydd Elis-Thomas, a Plaid Cymru AM and former leader, had quit the party because it was too reluctant to work with Labour at Cardiff Bay.

Now Wales Online reports that other nationalists are pushing back. Neil McEvoy, a Plaid AM, is reported to have “derided” any coalition with “corrupt, stagnant Welsh Labour”.

At present the two parties have a ‘compact’, where Plaid meet regularly with Carwyn Jones’ administration (which includes the sole Liberal Democrat) to influence policy.

The Nationalists recently secured £119m worth of spending concessions, and Leanne Wood has refused to rule out a coalition.

Were Plaid to join that administration it would leave the parties of the right, the Conservatives and UKIP, a monopoly on opposition.

Lawyers warn of ‘culture of fear’ amongst Scottish prosecutors

Scotland’s independent prosecution service has fallen under a fall of fear about political diktats, according to the Scotsman.

Leading lawyers’ bodies have apparently warned that in certain cases, particularly those pertaining to domestic abuse and racial prejudice, prosecutors feel under pressure to bring cases to trial despite “clear shortcomings in the evidence”.

A new inquiry by Holyrood’s justice committee is set to hear concerns that political activism is “leeching away” prosecutorial discretion.