Welsh Labour just put tuition fees up

If the Welsh Conservatives had prayed for a single story which might undercut a resurgent Labour Party, it would be this: Carwyn Jones’ administration has announced that it intends to put up tuition fees.

Even better, the task of announcing this has fallen to Kirsty Williams, Jones’ coalition colleague, education minister, and the last Liberal Democrat in the Welsh Assembly.

Naturally, they’re running the usual tactic of devolved politicians and trying to displace the blame onto Westminster. But not only do student leaders and other groups appear to have clocked that the Welsh Government has authority over the decision, but Guido points out that Welsh Labour acknowledged this in their general election manifesto… wherein they  said it was “difficult to conceive” of circumstances in which they wouldn’t match UK Labour’s offer to abolish fees altogether.

This highlights the problems of having a UK-wide election campaign fronted by devolved politicians. Putting Jones front-and-centre was hailed during the election, but it does make it much harder for ministers in Cardiff to disown, let alone contradict, national policies.

It remains to be seen whether this takes the wind from the sails of Labour’s newly-energised younger voters. David Cameron was adept at using Welsh Labour’s dismal records on health and education against Ed Miliband – can CCHQ do the same today?

Sturgeon to ‘relaunch’ her government are election shock

The Scotsman reports that Nicola Sturgeon will ‘relaunch’ the Scottish Government, trying to regain the initiative after the unexpected and debilitating loss of 21 seats in last month’s general election.

Apparently the First Minister and her advisers are mulling a series of ‘radical’ proposals on areas such as the economy, the environment, and local government in order to persuade the public that the SNP aren’t fixated solely on their stalling push for a second referendum.

Tellingly, one of the concrete ideas outlined was “greater devolution at a local level, handing powers currently held by councils to community councillors or other local groups.” Given that local authorities have been fighting running battles with the hyper-centralised Nationalist administration for years, it’s unsurprising that a new means to weaken them should be under discussion.

Beyond that, however, there is reason to be sceptical that the SNP will in truth produce many ‘radical’ policies, or implement those they do come up with.

Recently Sturgeon announced that she was putting her plans to pursue indyref2 on hold, only to then reveal that she was at best postponing them for a short while. For a variety of reasons, the SNP can’t abandon the pursuit of imminent independence.

And if they do believe a referendum is coming in the next few years, they need to keep as many voters on-side as they possibly can. Broad coalitions do not make for bold action. Any genuine innovation on domestic policy (saving those which directly attack their opponents, such as local government reform) will alienate various groups from the SNP and perhaps, thus, from independence.

It’s the season for relaunches. Theresa May has had hers, such as it was, and now Sturgeon seeks the same. But for both women, the realities of their political position militate against a bold domestic agenda.

Nationalists join forces with anti-Brexiteers in Parliament

Plaid Cymru, alongside representatives of the Scottish Nationalists and the Greens, have joined MPs from the national parties in a new parliamentary group which aims to prevent ‘hard Brexit’, Wales Online reports.

The purported aim of the group is to resist an “extreme” Brexit. A non-extreme Brexit is apparently defined as one which provides the “exact same benefits” as EU membership. The pretence that this is not an outright Continuity Remain grouping is paper thin.

Although it’s not surprising that Anna Soubry and Chuka Umunna, who will co-chair this faction, should try to build as broad an alliance as they can, the presence of every anti-UK party in the Commons save Sinn Fein (who don’t take their seats) ought to give them pause.

If Brexit imperils the United Kingdom, as we were often assured it did during the referendum campaign, why now do those parties whose primary purpose is to unpick that Union rally to the Remainers?

The answer is readily supplied by Matthew Parris in his recent Spectator article on Catalonia: “For secessionists the EU is the solution to every question about their future need for armed forces, a worldwide network of embassies, trade agreements and all the rest of the paraphernalia of statehood.”

If Soubry and Umunna are genuinely motivated by what they think is best for Britain, they should mind the succour they give to those parties which want anything but.

Unionists resist Sinn Fein’s demands for ‘Irish Language Act’

One of Gerry Adams’ demands for ending the current impasse over devolution in Northern Ireland is that Stormont should pass an Irish Language Act.

Such a bill would apparently model itself on similar measures in Scotland and Wales, where everything from road signs to public-sector hiring policies are geared towards lending prominence to the ‘native tongue‘ and a patina of utility to nationalist language programmes.

Unfortunately for Adams, who now sits as a TD in the Irish legislature in Dublin, Sinn Fein’s scheming is these days so transparent that even more moderate parties such as the Ulster Unionists are less inclined to play along than once they are.

Robin Swann, the UUP leader, has summarised their bill an “an attempt to balkanise Northern Ireland starting with the creation of a two tier civil service, with a recruitment quota of 10 per cent, and giving an Irish Language Commissioner the powers of a High Court judge to go after English speakers”.

Other commentators are also pointing out that in the Republic, where the Irish language has been thrust on the population for generations in a most heavy-handed manner, the result is great annual expense for very poor results. (Meanwhile, the Welsh government wants to boost the number of Welsh speakers by one million.)

Perhaps Sinn Fein’s biggest problem, however, is that the DUP now appears much less concerned about avoiding direct rule from London than in previous years. Patience with the ten-year-old and utterly dysfunctional DUP/SF duopoly at Stormont appears, according to Alex Kane, to be running out at last.