Scottish Conservatives go on the offensive as SNP come under pressure on education

It’s been a week of miserable headlines for the Scottish Nationalists as their education record and policy agenda has come under sustained attack on multiple fronts.

Yesterday the Daily Telegraph reported that more than 200 Scottish schools are advertising staff vacancies after the figure was made public by the Scottish Tories. With the Scottish Government already under fire for collapsing pass rates (as covered here last week), Ruth Davidson used an op-ed in the Scotsman to launch a scathing attack on the SNP record.

Amongst other measures she called for ‘Primary 1’ tests to be scrapped. John Swinney, the Cabinet Secretary for Education and Skills, is facing calls for a boycott of the controversial exams if they aren’t abandoned.

Nor is the trouble confined to the state sector. Derek Mackay, the Finance Secretary, has been accused of ‘passing the buck’ for supporting private schools to local authorities after he advised a leading public school to apply for rates relief to offset the impact of the Scottish Government’s plans to end business rates charity relief for such institutions.

Meanwhile it also emerged that private school pupils are now appealing exam results at three times the rate of their state school counterparts after the SNP introduced charges to do so.

Home Office proposals for Ulster ‘stop and search zones’ spark hard border fears

The Government has been criticised for undermining its ‘invisible border’ pledge over plans to introduce ‘stop and search zones’ along the Northern Irish border.

Under proposals from the new Counter Terrorism and Border Security Bill, police and border officials could “stop, search, and detain” any individual suspected of planning “hostile activity” within one mile of the border on its northern side, as well as train stations with connecting services to the Republic.

Although the move has been attacked by campaigners and individual Irish politicians, Dublin has not made an official comment. Ben Wallace, the Security Minister, has described those trying to conflate the new measures with Brexit as “a bit desperate”, and argued that the plans are simply an extension of existing powers.

However, a former senior officer in the Royal Ulster Constabulary has rejected claims by Sinn Fein that the move will politicise the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI), the News Letter reports. Alan McQuillan, a former assistant chief constable, pointed out that several impartial oversight bodies will scrutinise the use of any new powers.

In other news, the reports that Mary Lou McDonald, the leader of Sinn Fein, has said that the Republic ought to consider rejoining the Commonwealth in order to encourage unionists to participate in a debate around a ‘united Ireland’.

Tory and Labour candidates set out their Welsh leadership credentials

Pretty much all of Wales’ major parties currently undergoing leadership elections, which is keeping the political writers busy. Wales Online has profiled Paul Davies and Suzy Davies, the two AMs vying for the leadership of the Conservative Assembly group.

On the Labour side, Alun Davies has set out his stall to succeed Carwyn Jones as First Minister and Vaughn Gething, the current Health Secretary, has secured enough support to enter the race too.

Meanwhile, the fact that an anti-devolution candidate has won the leadership of the UKIP group has prompted a couple of interesting articles on how a campaign against the Welsh Assembly could make headway in the years ahead. It’s obviously heartening to see the prospect getting some press time, but a cursory glance as the People’s Army’s decaying Welsh brigade suggests they are not the vehicle to take integration forwards.

Democratic Unionists accused of ‘betraying’ their voters with lack of Westminster staff

The News Letter reports that Chris Montgomery, who until last year was Chief of Staff for the Democratic Unionist Party’s Westminster group, has accused the party of “a betrayal of unionist voters” for its anaemic London office.

According to Montgomery, at present the DUP doesn’t employ so much as a secretary in Westminster, despite having access to ten MPs’ staff allowances as well as short money.

He puts this down to “irredeemable laziness”, and claims that the party is failing to exploit a once-in-a-generation opportunity for a Northern Irish party to make a huge impact on national politics. Montgomery also highlighted specific measures, such as failing to crack down on Sinn Fein’s foreign funding, which he claims the party could have delivered if it put its mind to it.

In response the DUP claimed that there was only a “short gap” in their Westminster staffing arrangements, and that a new team would be in place come September.