Davidson’s timetable for Westminster makes perfect sense

The idea that Ruth Davidson did not harbour Westminster ambitions was never particularly plausible, and nor was the idea that she would drop everything in Scotland to race south and try to replace David Cameron or Theresa May.

Once the Fixed-term Parliaments Act clock had been reset by the June election, a perfectly logical timetable was always apparent. Davidson could take the Scottish Conservatives into the 2021 Holyrood elections, step aside as leader after a decade in post, and look for a Westminster seat in the general election slated for 2022.

Now the press report that this is, in fact, pretty much the plan – assuming that she doesn’t take office as First Minister, of course.

Davidson has confirmed that if she stands it will be for a Scottish seat, which again is not surprising. Happily, the Tories’ strong performance north of the border in June means that she has several seats to choose from where the Scottish Conservatives are in a competitive second place, including Edinburgh South West.

A riskier but more interesting choice, however, might be Lanark and Hamilton East. The Tories fell just 266 short in this constituency in the summer after having never been remotely competitive before. Davidson’s star power might well be enough to put them over the line, and having a high-profile Conservative holding such a seat would really hammer home her determination to broaden the Party’s appeal.

Sargeant’s son to pursue his Assembly seat

Wales Online reports that Carl Sargeant’s son, Jack, has announced his intention to contest the upcoming Alyn and Deeside by-election to the Welsh Assembly, which was precipitated by the apparent suicide of his father Carl.

The local Labour party has previously stated it would not tolerate “a national candidate being parachuted in”. Last week the Cardiff HQ announced that they would not be imposing an all-woman shortlist on the seat, likely for fear of sparking a Blaenau Gwent-style backlash and jeopardising Carwyn Jones’ slender majority in the Assembly.

Earlier this week it was also discovered that Welsh Labour ignored its own policy on sexual harassment when it so badly mishandled the allegations against Sargeant.

In other news, an ‘expert panel’ on reforms to the Welsh Assembly have proposed the usual, entirely predictable ‘reform’ shopping list: more AMs, quotas for women, votes for 16-year-olds, and so on.

Simon Hart, a Welsh Conservative MP, points out that he has never once encountered any popular enthusiasm for even more politicians. But there is no reason to think that a devocrat class which fought so hard to avoid asking the public whether they wanted the Assembly to have tax powers would care overmuch about that.

Labour would force gay marriage referendum on Northern Ireland

Owen Smith, the Shadow Northern Irish Secretary, “is understood to favour” putting two controversial issues directly to the people of the Province in referendums should today’s de facto direct rule arrangements will be in place and he takes office, according to the Times.

These are gay marriage and abortion, two issues on which Ulster takes a very different stance to the rest of the United Kingdom. Until now the Democratic Unionists have used the provisions of the devolution settlement intended to protect minority views to block the legalisation of gay marriage, but a referendum called by the Secretary of State would bypass that.

Smith would be at liberty to take actions which anger the DUP as it is near-unthinkable that the party would be cooperating with a Labour Government headed by Jeremy Corbyn.

In fact, the absence of Stormont is already starting to see policies implemented which had been held up by the “power-sharing crisis”. Just this week the News Letter reports that civil servants have implemented a delayed pay rise for health workers, with speculation that other such actions may follow.

Sam McBride, a journalist on that paper, makes an interesting point that this move involves setting aside an important constitutional principle: “that civil servants have no democratic mandate to take political decisions and therefore should not take political decisions”.

That they have done so here, he adds, sets a “significant precedent”. It certainly makes more acute the question of how long James Brokenshire can afford to allow Ulster to languish in constitutional limbo before bringing in direct rule and restoring legitimate, political oversight to governance in the Province.