Tory dominance in awards nominations angers Nationalists

The Herald has named Ruth Davidson their politician of the year for doing the supposedly impossible and reviving the fortunes of the Conservative Party north of the border.

She also picked up the prize for being ‘Donald Dewar Debater of the Year’ for her high-profile clash with Boris Johnson in the climactic TV debate of the EU referendum.

Not that the leader hogged all the prizes: David Mundell, the Scottish Secretary, picked up ‘Best Scot at Westminster’ for delivering the latest Scotland Act and maintaining good relations with the Scottish Government.

Of the ten awards available only one went to an SNP figure – congratulations to Fergus Ewing, the rural economy secretary, on his ‘Politics in Business’ award.

The Courier reports that this disparity provoked anger in Nationalist ranks, with Pete Wishart leading the charge – but left-wing Labour deputy leader Neil Findlay was quick to take him to task.

Davies defends those sceptical of further devolution

The leader of the Welsh Conservatives has attacked politicians who accuse opponents of more devolution of being ‘anti-Wales’, according to Wales Online.

In a private speech to party officials, Andrew RT Davies criticised the notion that there was any contradiction between being Welsh and British, and urged unionists to be more pro-active in championing Britain: “For unionists of any political colour, it can be all too easy on occasions to retreat, shy away, and cow to the nationalist tune when singing the virtues of our great Union.”

Davies continued:

“And as proud unionists we have a duty to stand up to this weakness that threatens the United Kingdom, to fight against the subtle, dog-whistle politics Plaid Cymru seek to instigate when we attempt to promote the mutual benefits of the Union…  Plaid’s ultimate aim – what they live and breathe for – is an independent Wales – a politics engineered to divide our great nation.”

It’s certainly heartening to start seeing the re-emergence of a more muscular unionism to meet the challenges of the Brexit vote. Perhaps Davies is taking his cue from the Prime Minister, but whatever the reason his intervention is very welcome.

On the subject of devolution Nick Bourne, a Tory peer and Davies’ predecessor as leader in Wales, told the House of Lords that the current Wales Bill will likely be the “last major piece of legislation on Wales for a long time”, whilst Peter Hain made the case for a referendum on tax-raising powers for the Assembly from the red benches.

Another flaring up of Labour devoscepticism occurred in Scotland where the Scotsman reports Brian Wilson, a former Labour cabinet minister, asking what exactly the Scottish Parliament has achieved in the almost 20 years since it was set up and criticising his party for allowing the SNP to recast it as a mere “staging post” for independence.

Tory peer leads bid to introduce gay marriage to Ulster

Another Conservative peer made the news this week: Lord Lexden, the Conservative Party’s official historian and sometime contributor to this site, is spearheading a bid to pardon men convicted in Northern Ireland before the decriminalisation of homosexuality, the News Letter reports.

The paper says that he “has tabled a series of amendments to the Government’s Policing and Crime Bill which would see posthumous pardons for convictions involving what had been many homosexual offences.”

However Jim Allister, a “veteran QC” who leads the hard-line Traditional Unionist Voice party, claims that it may in fact be unlawful to offer pardons on the basis of sexual orientation because of the provisions of equality legislation, whilst criticising the apparent hypocrisy of people not campaigning for pardons for heterosexuals convicted of now-obsolete crimes.

Meanwhile the Belfast Telegraph reports that Arlene Foster, the First Minister of Northern Ireland and leader of the Democratic Unionist Party, has pledged that her party will block attempts to legislate for gay marriage in the province for at least the life of the current Assembly.

However she stressed that the DUP’s position on marriage did not mean that gay people were unwelcome in the party.

Conservatives attack SNP’s policy vacuum

The SNP hasn’t introduced a single new piece of legislation to the Scottish Parliament since it won its third term in May’s elections.

According to the Scotsman, new research by the Scottish Conservatives shows how the Nationalists have allowed their fixation on Brexit, and the threat of an independence rematch, to eclipse their domestic agenda. Previous SNP administrations tabled three and then four bills in their first half-year.

It’s not as if the Scottish Government isn’t confronted by problems to fix: in addition to education, which was supposed to be the central focus of Nicola Sturgeon’s new term, the Herald reports that more than three quarters of Scottish universities are forecasting spending deficits for this financial year. The SNP remain committed to exempting Scottish and EU students from tuition fees.

Meanwhile “staggering failures” in efforts to reform the Scottish NHS – for which Sturgeon was responsible whilst health minister – have left it facing “unprecented” cuts, despite health boards already missing seven out of eight performance targets.

Humza Yousaf, the Nationalist transport minister, capped off the week when he responded to mounting anger at the SNP’s response to over-crowded and late-running commuter trains with admission that he’s not a “transport expert”.

Foster comes out swinging for Brexit

As I mentioned when I discussed the possibility of a Tory-DUP deal, having to own Brexit seems to have injected a new sense of Britishness into Northern Ireland’s dominant, but historically very parochial, unionist party.

This week we had further evidence of that, with the First Minister coming out swinging for the UK in several separate interventions.

In an op-ed for the Guardian, which ran under the headline ‘Britain joined the EU as one nation, and that’s how we’ll leave’, Foster attacked any suggestion that the UK should be dismantled or part-dismantled for the sake of the EU.

She also hit out at Enda Kenny, the Irish prime minister, accusing Dublin of tasking diplomats “to talk down our economy and to attempt to poach our investors”, and declared that internal passport checks between Ulster and the mainland would be a “red line” for her party.

In other news, Foster also committed the Northern Ireland Executive to cutting corporation tax to 12.5 per cent in 2018.