Sturgeon talks down snap election over indyref standoff

The First Minister of Scotland has ‘dismissed’ suggestions that she might engineer a snap election to the Scottish Parliament to try to break her deadlock with Theresa May, according to the BBC earlier this week.

Nicola Sturgeon has already ruled out a legal challenge too (on the sound basis that her recent 11-0 defeat at the Supreme Court bodes ill for such chicanery). This leaves an attempt to wriggle round Westminster’s control of the referendum – as reported in this column last week – as seemingly the only game-changing gambit not yet ruled out.

Of course, the SNP have good reason to be cautious: by no means is all of their vote separatist, and they can’t be sure how an election campaign fought explicitly to gain a mandate for a near-future re-fight of 2014 would affect their coalition.

Only this week, the Scotsman reported a YouGov poll which found a clear majority of Scots believe that a ‘generation’ must be at least 20 years long, which will confirm the instincts of unionists who are trying to hold the separatists to their claim that the 2014 referendum was a “one in a generation event”.

With the polls in a bad place it may actually suit Sturgeon for the Prime Minister to hit ‘pause’, for it allows the her to keep her activists simmering nicely without being forced into a make-or-break decision.

Yet two more stories from the Scotsman highlight the perils of waiting: the SNP’s governmental fixation with independence is being blamed for £6.5 billion in lost growth, whilst Labour claim that spending on Scottish pupils has fallen by over £1 billion in just seven years.

Brokenshire sets deadline for talks as Ulster Unionists elect a new leader

The Northern Irish Secretary has set Good Friday as the deadline for the current negotiations about forming a devolved executive, according to the Belfast Telegraph.

In a bid to increase pressure on the local parties – who already missed his initial deadline – James Brokenshire insisted that talks could not continue indefinitely and only a ‘narrow window’ remained.

The Guardian reports that Parliament may need to legislate to restore control of some Stormont departments to Westminster by the end of April. The use of emergency British cash to keep certain sectors ticking over in the absence of an Ulster budget has apparently been described as “direct rule by stealth”.

Such a course may set the Government up for a clash with its Irish counterpart, who appear to believe that the British have undertaken never to restore direct rule. London doesn’t seem to share this view, and has already rebuked Enda Kenny, the Irish prime minister, for suggesting it.

Elsewhere the Ulster Unionists have crowned their new leader. Robin Swann was the only candidate to succeed Mike Nesbitt, who stepped aside following the party’s disastrous showing in last month’s snap election.

After the UUP fell from third to fourth place in the Assembly, the North Antrim MLA has said that he wants to build a “non-threatening, positive” unionism. It will be interesting to see whether he can maintain this approach. The DUP have predictably reacted to their self-inflicted humbling by urging a ‘unionist unity’ pact on Swann.

Such a move might shore up capital-U Unionist representation in the short term, at the expense of locking the Unionist parties into a fatally narrow offer that not only fails to cut through with Catholics but sheds liberal, less tribal Protestant voters to alternatives like the Alliance.

Reckless defects from UKIP to Conservatives in the Welsh Assembly

UKIP hadn’t long broken into the Welsh Assembly before things went awry: Neil Hamilton, the disgraced ex-Conservative MP who somehow ended up on the party’s list, stood against and defeated Nathan Gill for the leadership of the Assembly group.

His putsch was confirmed by then-leader Diane James (who is herself considering defecting back to the Tories) but condemned by Nigel Farage, and fitted into the broader pattern of infighting wracking the People’s Army at the time.

Now Welsh UKIP are following those wider trends once again: Mark Reckless, another former Conservative MP who followed Douglas Carswell over the top, has ‘re-ratted’ to the Tories. Like Carswell, he claims that UKIP’s primary mission was accomplished with the Leave vote in 2016.

He also faces criticism for his failure to stand down from his seat – made worse by the fact that, unlike Carswell, he’s a list AM and thus has no personal mandate of his own. However, he points out that the PR system means he couldn’t defend himself in a by-election, as his seat would simply be allotted to the next candidate on UKIP’s 2016 list.

As for his status, it’s a little complicated. Reckless is taking the Tory whip at Cardiff Bay, taking the Conservatives back into second place with 12 seats (Plaid having lost former leader Dafyd Elis Thomas last autumn), but he’s not rejoined the party.