First Minister claims Brexit could see powers taken from Holyrood

The First Minister has tried a new tactic to break out of the corner she’s backed herself into over a Scottish independence referendum: trying to persuade Scots that Brexit poses a threat to devolution.

According to the Scotsman, Nicola Sturgeon believes – or professes to believe – that “a powerful Westminster faction, which never supported devolution” sees Brexit as a chance to claw powers back.

Both the British Government and the leaders of the opposition parties in Scotland are taking quite a firm line that this is nonsense, and I’m afraid they’re almost certainly right: “more powers” is an orthodoxy which brooks no deviation.* Nonetheless, that the First Minister is playing this card is informative.

Brexit was supposed, by nationalists and Europhile unionists alike, to provide the SNP with all the additional grievance they needed to make a go of ‘indyref 2’. But as Sturgeon continues to talk herself up to the edge, arguments like this suggest the Nationalists still have no faith in that proposition.

*(Suffice to say, I’d be a little put out to learn that there was a secret counter-devolutionary cabal and I wasn’t in it.)

Jones says UK could become a ‘mini-EU’ after Brexit

But whilst one First Minister was imagining a pro-Westminster counterweight that probably doesn’t exist, another was illustrating why we need one.

Carwyn Jones, the small-n nationalist Labour leader in Cardiff, has argued that the United Kingdom may somehow need to create a “mini-EU” to maintain its internal market after Brexit.

His argument is that, as devolution consumes all in its path, there may soon be no body coordinating commerce rules across the country. Therefore you’d need some body comprising all the various legislatures to set it, and a new court to enforce it. This is just the sort of fracturing an expert report, revealed by the Scottish Conservatives, warned against this week.

(Jones hasn’t allowed Wales voting leave to stop him demanding “more powers!”, just as he planned to do if it voted remain.)

Of course, the British single market manages to run quite coherently at present, so an alternative would simply be not to devolve whatever powers it is that would require Jones’ expensive and unnecessary new constitutional architecture. If only there were a “powerful Westminster faction” to take up that standard.

Ulster prepares for snap election

Tomorrow Northern Irish voters will go to the polls for the second time in less than a year, in a snap election which seems depressingly unlikely to change anything much.

Barring a major upset (which not everyone is ruling out, realistically or otherwise), both the Democratic Unionist Party and Sinn Fein look set to be returned as the largest parties of their respective blocs and thus to continue to be the only viable Executive coalition.

The previous Executive broke down over a green energy scandal (which we outlined here) in which Arlene Foster, until recently the First Minister, is personally implicated. Her refusal to step aside for an investigation prompted Sinn Fein to walk out.

If Foster insists on staying in post – and her party don’t seem inclined to give the republicans a scalp – then we may end up with an exciting result after all: the complete stalling of Northern Ireland’s devolutionary architecture, and possibly a return to ‘direct rule’.

Yet the suspension of business-as-usual isn’t in the interests of the politicians who draw their power, prestige, and pay from Stormont, so most likely they’ll patch something up.

As a side note, it will be very interesting to see how the Ulster Unionists perform: their leader, Mike Nesbitt, has deliberately styled his party and the SDLP as an ‘alternative government’, and taken the bold (and un-reciprocated) of saying he’ll vote SDLP before he votes for other unionist parties.

Khan lands himself in hot water over SNP attack

The Mayor of London went north this week to support his beleaguered Scottish comrades at their annual conference, but sparked a fierce row after appeared to equate Scottish nationalism to racism.

Sadiq Khan subsequently toned down his comments, but he’s not without his supporters – and the backlash they’ve faced goes some way to proving his point.

According to the Guardian Claire Heuchan, a black Scottish PhD student who penned an article in support of the mayor’s remarks, was driven off Twitter by furious cybernats who made her fear for her physical safety.

Elsewhere this week the Scotsman reports that an SNP candidate in May’s local elections told a No voter to ’emigrate’. And no, it’s not the convicted anti-English racist discovered last week.