SNP derided for Westminster walkout stunt

As Alex Massie notes in the Spectator this week, the SNP have not had much luck converting their latest grievance – the alleged ‘power grab’ of devolved powers by Westminster – into popular outrage in Scotland.

So in a bid for some headlines Ian Blackford, the Nationalists’ Westminster leader, engineered a row with the Speaker and led his somewhat diminished cohort of MPs out of the House of Commons yesterday.

It apparently made the top lines in the Scottish press – “Job done. Mission accomplished”, as Massie puts it – and the Daily Express reports that it has led to hundreds of new members signing up to the SNP.

But the move has also been criticised, not just for being “shallow and pointless” (see this searing and endearingly self-deprecating tweet from Tim Farron) and for being so blatantly choreographed in advance – but because by getting himself barred from the chamber Blackford actually prevented the debate he was allegedly seeking from going ahead.

As Stephen Daisley notes, both Conservative and Liberal Democrat MPs tried to salvage it but couldn’t, as the deadline for doing so had passed.

Whether or not the Nationalists intended to actually kill the debate, or simply didn’t realise the procedural consequences of their actions, isn’t clear. But the whole farrago does seem to be an illustration of how the 2017 general election cut not just the quantity but the calibre of the SNP’s Westminster caucus. It’s hard to imagine Angus Robertson pulling this sort of stunt.

Welsh nationalist leader will step down if she doesn’t become First Minister

The BBC reports that Leanne Wood will step down as leader of Plaid Cymru after the 2021 election if she hasn’t managed to become First Minister.

Although Wood captured the Assembly seat of Rhondda for the nationalists at the last election, there is apparently disquiet amongst some Plaid AMs about her performance and some talk of a leadership challenge.

In her interview, Wood acknowledged that there “a minority” in Plaid who want to go in a different direction, perhaps acknowledging that her politics are markedly more left-wing than those of her recent predecessors.

The Plaid leader insists that she “will be First Minister”, but it is difficult to see her path to that role. Labour are scarcely likely to help install the nationalists in office, whilst Wood’s personal politics almost certainly preclude the sort of rainbow pact with the Tories and others which seems the only other realistic option.

Robinson calls for fixed-term border polls in Northern Ireland

A former First Minister of Northern Ireland has suggested that the Province hold ‘generational’ polls on its constitutional status at fixed intervals, the Belfast Telegraph reports.

Peter Robinson, who preceded Arlene Foster as leader of the Democratic Unionist Party, suggested that the move might make the prospect of a referendum less disruptive to local politics – and less threatening to unionists.

He also suggested that the chaotic aftermath of the Brexit vote illustrated how there would need to be plenty of long-term planning in place for any change in Ulster’s constitutional status, rather than leaving everything to be sorted in the event of a vote for merging with the Republic.

Foster was delivering a lecture at Queen’s University, Belfast, on how the Northern Irish devolved institutions might be re-established on a more stable footing.

In other DUP news, the party has been criticised after an insider claimed it has an internal regime of fines for its representatives if they “break internal protocol on dealing with the press”.

Architect of ‘The Vow’ now supports Scottish independence (shock, horror…)

If Ruth Davidson’s opposition to the Vow appeared far-sighted when news of it broke last week, it looks even more so now: Murray Foote, who until March was the editor of the Daily Record newspaper, has declared his support for Scottish independence.

This matters because it was Foote who bounced the clueless and panicking leaders of the Westminster parties, chief amongst them David Cameron, into issuing ‘the Vow’ on the front page of his newspaper.

Reducing the referendum from a vote on our country into a vote on the vague terms of a particular deal was always an extremely bad idea – as this site pointed out at the time. There is little evidence that the pledge shifted many votes to the ‘No’ camp, but it gave the SNP the wriggle-room they needed to delegitimise the outcome.

In an ideal world, this latest development would prompt the many unionists who still extol the “more powers!” orthodoxy to reassess their position, but we won’t be holding our breaths.