Ex-First Minister quits Nationalists and mounts legal challenge against the Scottish Government

Alex Salmond has resigned his membership of the Scottish National Party in order to avoid ‘internal divisions’ as he fights allegations of sexual harassment.

Nicola Sturgeon had been resisting growing pressure to suspend her predecessor over claims that he had groped two Scottish Government staff members whilst in office.

Salmond has dismissed the allegations and attacked the complaints procedure for being unjust. In a remarkable turn of events, the Scotsman reports that he has taken the Scottish Government to court in order to seek a review of the way it handles allegations against current and former ministers.

If the sight of the former First Minister suing the administration led by his successor wasn’t strange enough, Salmond has also come under fierce criticism from both Labour and the Conservatives for using a crowd-funding campaign to cover his costs and, according to some, ‘intimidate’ his accusers. A successful one, too: it hit its £50,000 target “within hours”.

What happens now isn’t certain. Salmond is determined to clear his name and re-apply for SNP membership, but since leaving Bute House his conduct – most notably taking up a programme on Kremlin-backed propaganda channel Russia Today, but also his pandering to the more fundamentalist wing of the separatist movement – has started to become a problem for the current, gradualist leadership.

Iain Martin suggests that at this point “a formal breakaway of fundamentalist pro-Salmondites cannot be ruled out” – although as the case of the Greens has demonstrated, having more separatist parties doesn’t necessarily do the cause any electoral damage, at least at Holyrood.

Government accused of ‘appeasing IRA’ on treatment of ex-servicemen

The Sun reports that former special forces soldiers, now facing court battles for their conduct against the IRA, have accused Theresa May of failing them. In a letter seen by the paper, they also take aim at Gavin Williamson and General Sir Nick Carter, the Chief of the Defence Staff.

It also attacks the Government’s plans for a £150 million probe into shootings by the Armed Forces during the Troubles, accusing ministers of giving republicans another opportunity to “rewrite history”.

This concern is shared by many in Northern Ireland. This week, one of Ulster’s leading former detectives laid into ministers for “appeasing the IRA”, accusing them of allowing terrorists to “redefine murder” and gambling on the absurd hope that each concession will be the one to placate the “republican war machine”. Last week, Dr Cillian McGrattan warned that the British Government was on the brink of endorsing “a pro-terrorist, anti-state view of the Troubles”.

Elsewhere Robin Swann, the leader of the Ulster Unionist Party, called on the latest consultation on legacy issues to be extended by a month to give more victims and victims’ groups an opportunity to respond.

Welsh Labour leadership contest in data row

An argument has erupted over the use of data by a new campaign vehicle linked to Vaughan Gething, one of the candidates vying to succeed Carwyn Jones as First Minister.

His new group, named ‘Together for Labour’, has been established separate to his formal leadership bid. Wales Online reports that it he stands accused of trying to hold on to volunteers’ contact information beyond the end of the contest. For his part, Gething insists that the group is meant to continue campaigning on behalf of the Party whether or not he wins the leadership, which would make its long-term retention of membership data legitimate.

But a spokesman for his campaign, whilst dismissing allegations that Together for Labour meant to exploit a loophole in GDPR as “conspiracist nonsense”, did not answer questions about the identity of the group’s data controller.

Democratic Unionists urge Sinn Fein to end Stormont boycott

The News Letter reports that the DUP have mounted a fresh bid to put pressure on Sinn Fein over the ongoing stalemate over devolution.

Arlene Foster spoke at a press conference hours before a series of protests were held across the province to mark the moment when Northern Ireland hit Belgium’s record for having 589 days without a government. Sammy Wilson, the DUP MP for East Antrim, said that he shared the “frustration” of those calling for a return of Stormont.

This comes amidst claims that the lack of effective government is holding back the Northern Irish economy and hampering inward investment. However an invitation to fresh talks by the leader of the Alliance Party met with a cool response, according to the Belfast Telegraph.

If there isn’t a break-through soon the Government will probably have no choice but to introduce some form of direct rule, be it formal or ad-hoc. Earlier this week I wrote about the impact this might and ought to have on the renegotiation of the Conservative-DUP pact, which we should expect to occur at some point in 2019.