MPs demand that self-confessed IRA bomber faces justice

According to the Daily Mail, Birmingham MPs are demanding that a man who has confessed to taking part in the 1974 pub bombings in the city.

Michael Christopher Hayes, who now lives in Dublin, told the BBC that he accepted ‘collective responsibility’ for all the IRA’s attacks (on the mainland) but played a particular role in the Birmingham atrocity, as well as planting the Brighton Bomb in 1974.

It will doubtless be awkward for Jeremy Corbyn that Jess Philips and Khalid Mahmood, two of his own MPs, are leading the call to have Hayes extradited and investigated. But on this subject his instincts are probably closer to Tony Blair than he’d like to admit.

After all, the last time the IRA’s mainland campaign was headline news was after Blair’s secret “comfort letters” programme – essentially below-the-radar pardons to “on-the-runs” wanted in connection with republican terrorism – led to the collapse of the trial of John Downey, the Hyde Park bomber.

When finally forced to defend himself Blair stood by his scheme, and tried to warn the Coalition against interfering with it. By insisting that an IRA operative is brought to justice it is Phillips and Mahmood who have fallen out of step with recent Labour history.

SNP divided on strategy as Salmond plots return

The general election came as a very nasty shock to the SNP: they lost 21 seats, including such nationalist titans as Angus Robertson, their Westminster leader, and Alex Salmond. Those that remain have seen seemingly impregnable majorities cut to marginal status.

Now that their much-reduced caucus have had time to find their feet again in the new Parliament, the debate is opening up about where the Nationalists go from here.

This week held up two competing visions: Salmond confirmed his intention to stand again and press hard on independence as a driving issue; and Chris Stephens, a member of the SNP front bench, said that the party needed to tack left to tackle Corbyn.

Salmond, as a former oil economist for the Royal Bank of Scotland and long-serving MP for Scotland’s right-leaning North East, represents the ‘Tartan Tory’ aspect of the party, the one which rallied anti-Labour voters behind the SNP’s to the black-and-yellow standard.

This tendency is strong amongst the Parliamentary group – Tommy Sheppard, an able but decidedly left-wing Nationalist MP, ended up withdrawing from the contest to replace Robertson due to a lack of support.

However, the former First Minister is a leading voice of the separatist ‘true believers’. He’s an old man in a hurry: if Scoxit doesn’t happen soon, he may not be in the limelight (or even alive) by the time the stars align again. Before June this set him at odds with Nicola Sturgeon, but the election result may have shortened her political lifespan to the point where they are falling back in sync on this one.

Electorally, this is a problem: with Scottish politics currently highly polarised around the constitutional question, the Salmond wing’s previous ability to win over centre-right, anti-Labour voters is probably shot. The North East of Scotland is almost solidly Tory for the moment.

Yet Stephens’ plan of tacking left poses equally pressing challenges, not least of which is that a lot of the SNP’s voters – and for that matter, members and especially legislators – aren’t socialists. Having already seen pro-Brexit nationalists jump ship to Ruth Davidson’s Conservatives (a development foreseen on ConservativeHome), who are now a competitive second in a good clutch of the Nationalists’ remaining seats, alienating middle-class support to assuage Labour switchers may simply move the pain around.

It also conflicts with the Party’s need to try and maintain as broad a coalition as possible, in order to be in a position to pursue a referendum when and if the opportunity arises during the Brexit process. Adherence to this principle has basically stopped the SNP doing much governing of any description; it certainly precludes adopting a detailed, radical agenda of the left.

After years of eerie, phalanx-like discipline, it’s healthy to see that defeat has opened the Nationalists up a little to internal debate. But they don’t yet seem to have found a way out of the hole Sturgeon has led them into.

Cardiff Bay to insist that Assembly staff speak Welsh

An unhappy feature of Welsh nationalism, and one which makes it a closer cousin of its Québécois than its Scottish counterpart, is its language fixation.

You can see it on display in this New Statesman piece from the usually excellent Roger Scully, in which he asserts that people who don’t engage with Welsh are complicit in ‘colonialism’ – an unfortunate state of Anglikaner impurity they share with a substantial chunk of the Welsh population.

But the Welsh Government, doubtless taking time out from trying to find solutions to its woeful track record on issues such as education and health, has stepped up: from 2018 all staff in the National Assembly will require ‘basic Welsh’.

On the face of it, the need to learn simple phrases is unobjectionable. But it fits uneasily into a pattern whereby local communities can be denied English-language schooling, and is simply the latest of example of the Welsh Government attempting to use the public sector to lend a patina of utility to its nationalist language projects.

It also fits a broader trend towards insularity: making Welsh-speakers artificially competitive for posts in Wales offsets the fact that the opportunity cost of learning Welsh (as opposed to a world language or other transferable skill) is being less competitive outside the country.

Other policies, such as a tuition fee subsidy that penalises studying elsewhere in the UK and a push for a separate ‘Welsh law’ which would prevent Welsh-trained lawyers being automatically able to practice in England, are cast in a similar mould.

In his piece Scully talks of progressive hypocrisy on the Welsh language. It strikes me that the real double standard is that people who scorn UKIP for attempting to impose an archaic, pigeon-hole vision of nationhood on modern Britain should laud the same instincts in a Celtic context.

Irish Prime Minister opposes border poll

Leo Varadkar, the new Taoiseach of the Republic of Ireland, has told Time magazine that he is opposed to a referendum on Northern Ireland’s constitutional status, the Belfast Telegraph reports.

Varadkar, who leads the centre-right Fine Gael party and the current government, said that the nationalist side would lose any poll because unionist voters weren’t switching over.

This view contrasts with that of his predecessor, Enda Kenny, who professed the widespread view that Brexit would drive up support for separatism in the home nations.

Instead the Taoiseach argues that any referendum would whip up tensions and lead only to increased sectarianism and division – which, he adds, is precisely why Sinn Fein are pursuing one.

However, he does share Kenny’s great concern that Brexit, if it can’t be stopped, should take a form which disguises as much as possible the true, international nature of the Northern Irish border.