Democratic Unionist leader doubles down on ‘unionist unity’

In my summary of the latest Northern Irish elections at the weekend, I wrote that the Democratic Unionists needed to let their really bad result spur them to a serious rethink.

However I also acknowledged that the close-run thing with Sinn Fein, combined with the continued waning of the Ulster Unionists, might lead them further down their current cul-de-sac. Now a split seems to be developing about which to choose.

Arlene Foster, the former First Minister and current DUP leader whose intransigence over the “cash-for-ash” scandal precipitated this disaster of a poll, has said that she wants “one party for unionism“.

This party would obviously be the DUP, which has a history of trying to squeeze out alternatives (such as making the First Minister’s office go to the largest party, and not a nominee from the largest bloc as before).

On the opposite track is Ian Paisley Jr, who argues that humble pie must be ‘served up and eaten’ and says that Foster has serious questions to answer. The North Antrim MP previously raised eyebrows with a generous tribute to Martin McGuinness in January, when the long-time Deputy First Minister stepped down from the Assembly.

Despite Foster and Nigel Dodds, the leader of the Party’s eight-strong Westminster group, appearing together recently to insist nothing was wrong, she apparently faces a serious revolt from her own MLAs, who’d rather she stepped down than risk the collapse of devolved government. Her decision is probably what will decide the matter.

Meanwhile the UUP are already in the process of finding a new leader after Mike Nesbitt’s election-night resignation. His bold decision to endorse transfers to moderate nationalists have been endorsed by Lord Trimble, a former UUP First Minister and now a Conservative peer.

Davidson strikes bullish tone at Scottish Conservative conference

The Tories took the offensive in Scotland this week, with Ruth Davidson banking her status as leader of the Opposition and pitching the Tories as an alternative government.

According to the Herald the Conservatives are sticking to their line that the SNP are ‘losing their grip’ on important domestic policies whilst they fixate on independence.

Davidson has also warned the Nicola Sturgeon that the Nationalists risk a “massive” backlash if they try to drag Scotland into a referendum rematch a large majority of voters don’t want.

Elsewhere the Daily Telegraph reports that businesses are preparing to contribute “six-figure sums to the next anti-independence campaign. The Constitutional Research Council, which previously donated to the DUP during the Brexit referendum, reports that it already has a number of donors lined up to support a “new and positive” campaign.

As I wrote last week, the next pro-UK campaign is going to have to be rather different to Better Together and be essentially built from scratch. Having a pool of ready donors with a similar vision, and who are ready to contribute to the development of the campaign as well as the crucial final stages, would be a very welcome development.

On the subject of Brexit, Tory MSPs continue to sound a dissenting voice in Holyrood: this week Adam Tomkins argued that the SNP’s plans for special treatment would destroy the Union, and the Conservative members of the Scottish Parliament’s Brexit committee demurred from a report calling for a ‘bespoke solution’.

Plaid suspend Assembly Member amidst bullying row

The Welsh Nationalists have suspended a member of their Assembly group after he was accused of “bullying behaviour”.

Neil McEvoy was also removed from his post as Plaid’s spokesman for sport and tourism after a tribunal issued him a one-month suspension from being a Cardiff councillor. Another Nationalist candidate claims to have pulled out of the upcoming local elections rather than risk sitting with him.

Wales Online reports that Labour pressured Plaid into action after McEvoy was accused of bullying a member of Cardiff council staff. How this will affect their cooperation in the Assembly remains to be seen.

Scottish Nationalists abandon oil

Finally, this marks the week when the SNP appear to have officially abandoned decades of established orthodoxy: that oil money would make Scottish independence easy and profitable.

Andrew Wilson, who leads the Party’s growth commission, has said that he’ll assume oil revenues are zero in all his future modelling on the economics of a post-UK Scotland. Any revenue will be a genuine bonus, and not the foundation.

This is part of the Nationalists’ bid to find a new economic case for independence after the projections in their wildly optimistic 2014 White Paper (what Alex Massie dubs Alex Salmond’s “rosy-tartaned vision”) were undershot by about 99 per cent.