Paisley narrowly sees off bid to force by-election

The Government whips will be breathing a sigh of relief this morning when it emerged that Ian Paisley Jr had survived a recall petition.

According to The Times, the bid to unseat the Democratic Unionist MP garnered 7,009 votes – not far shore of the 7,543 that would have been needed to hit the 10 per cent threshold.

However, he does remain suspended by the DUP as it carries out an investigation into his failure – which he insists was unintentional – to declare two family holidays paid for by the Sri Lankan government estimated to have been worth £50,000.

North Antrim is a rock-solid unionist seat which voted Leave in the referendum, so if the recall petition had been successful the seat would likely only have been at risk if the DUP declined to nominate Paisley as their candidate and put someone up against him.

But he would apparently have faced a challenge from a new pro-EU unionist group called the Both Unions Party, the Irish Times reports, with John Stevens, the former Conservative MEP and founder of the Pro-Euro Conservative Party, as the candidate. Readers with long memories may remember that Stevens originally floated his idea for a pro-EU unionist party, then dubbed the ‘New Unionist Party’, on this very site in 2014.

In other news, Michael Gove has apologised for attending a fundraising dinner for Paisley. According to the BBC both he and a special advisor believed the event to be a business one, as the Conservative Party does not allow Cabinet ministers to raise funds for other parties.

Salmond faces mounting pressure over harassment and bullying allegations

It has been another bad week for Alex Salmond as the press and police continue to dig into a range of allegations of misconduct dating back to his time in office.

First, the Daily Telegraph reports that the police have “stepped up” their inquiry into claims of sexual misconduct into a “full-blown investigation” following their initial assessment of the evidence presented by the Scottish Government.

Then the Daily Record discovered concerns that Salmond was ‘bullying’ his staff were raised by trades unions almost ten years ago. It claims that his “explosive temper… disturbed civil servants”, as did “the behaviour of other ministers”, and that up-to-date processes for handling inappropriate workplace behaviour were instituted “because of these concerns”.

Salmond’s travails have already divided the Nationalist movement, and the former First Minister has been fiercely criticised for raising money to cover his legal costs from independence supporters. Now Nicola Sturgeon has been drawn into what the Herald calls a “secrecy row” after several meetings with her predecessor to discuss the crisis were left off her official engagement disclosures.

Welsh Labour choose ‘one member, one vote’ for leadership election

A long-running battle drew to a close this week when Labour formally adopted ‘One Member, One Vote’ (OMOV) for the election of their leader in Wales. At a special conference 64 per cent backed the changed, which had the backing of the leader of the Welsh division of Unite.

This dispute came into sharp focus after the previous electoral college handed the deputy leadership to Carolyn Harris despite her challenger comfortably winning the membership vote. The decision to change will weaken the hold of elected representatives and trade unions over the position and could clear the way for a Corbyn-style membership insurgency.

In other news, Carwyn Jones has confirmed that he personally vetoed elements of the official inquiry into his treatment of Carl Sargeant, the former Welsh minister who is believed to have taken his own life last November. As reported here last week, the inquiry is currently suspended whilst Sargeant’s widow seeks a judicial review into how it will be conducted.

Harris, Jones’ deputy leader, also faces an inquiry into allegations of assault by one of her aides. She is accused of pulling Jenny Lee Clarke’s hair so hard that it came out in clumps. The investigation was initially closed in 2016, but has apparently been re-opened after Clarke complained about how the investigation was handled.

Davidson ‘hailed’ for mental health honesty

The leader of the Scottish Conservatives made national headlines this week after opening up about her mental health challenges in a high-profile interview with the Sunday Times.

She said that this, combined with the need to maintain her relationship, were reasons that she would not consider running for the national leadership of the Conservative Party, according to the Herald. Her candidness won praise from commentators, politicians, and third sector organisations alike.

Davidson also spoke out against the way that women are treated on sites such as Twitter, the Daily Telegraph reports, and claimed that she is “done” with social media.

In the meantime, however, she also kept up the pressure on the Scottish Government over school performance, accusing the Nationalists of keeping parents in the dark over school performance.

This comes in the week that John Swinney, the SNP’s education minister, was forced to order schools to keep conducting controversial ‘P1’ tests despite a high-profile defeat on the subject in the Scottish Parliament. He was also warned that his plan to mount a tax raid on private schools threatens teaching jobs, according to the Scotsman.

DUP maintain tough stance on border

Diane Dodds, the DUP’s MEP, has reiterated her party’s opposition to any Brexit deal which dislocates Northern Ireland from the mainland economy, the News Letter reports. The lack of any softening in the DUP stance may explain why Theresa May is proving immovable on the issue in Salzburg, rejecting EU proposals for ‘de-dramatised’ and minimised arrangements on the Irish Sea.

However, a different push for alignment may put pressure on the party’s relationship with the Tories when a ten-minute rule bill aimed at granting Northern Irish women access to abortion reaches the floor of the House of Commons. According to the Times this bill, although tabled by a Labour MP, commands the support of several senior female Conservative.

In other news Lord Empey, the former leader of the Ulster Unionist Party, has become the latest figure to publicly criticise those claiming that Brexit will undermine the Province’s peace process, claiming that such talk will only “provide an excuse” for those who seek a return to violence.

And in the Republic, a new report has claimed that annexing Northern Ireland would “reduce permanently” southern living standards by 15 per cent, due to the need to make up the funding Ulster currently receives from London in grants.

Plaid leadership hopefuls set out plans to reverse ‘stagnation’

As ballot papers are sent out to Nationalist members across Wales, the candidates vying for the top job have taken a last opportunity to outline their plans for Plaid Cymru.

One candidate, Adam Price, explicitly argued that the party has ‘stagnated’ when compared to the stellar performance of the SNP, and outlined a series of proposals to overhaul the party’s campaigning machinery and strategy, according to Wales Online. He also threw some red meat to his audience with proposals to force all senior office-holders in Wales to learn the Welsh language.

Meanwhile a Plaid-supporting economist has attacked plans by Alun Cairns, the Welsh Secretary, to integrate the economies of southern Wales and the West of England. Critics of the current devolved arrangements claim that the north-south focus cuts the two halves of Wales off from their natural hinterlands in England, but Eurfyl ap Gwilym claims the Government’s plan is “designed to undermine the integrity of Wales”.