Salmond inquiry warns ministers not to shred evidence

The Holyrood probe into the Scottish Government’s mishandling of allegations against Alex Salmond has warned ministers and civil servants not to damage or destroy any evidence, the Daily Telegraph reports.

A cross-party group of nine MSPs decided at their very first meeting that they expected Nicola Sturgeon’s administration to retain all “relevant documentation”. They have also decided to defer formal hearings until after legal proceedings against the former First Minister have concluded.

Linda Fabiani, a Nationalist legislator, has been confirmed as convener of the inquiry after the SNP rejected another round of pleas from opposition parties to relinquish control of the post.

In other news, Sturgeon has also been criticised this week for undertaking another overseas ‘jaunt’, according to the Scotsman. The First Minister was in France – where she took the time to tell the Assembly that Westminster ‘ignores Scotland’ – but opposition parties have criticised her for spending so much time and taxpayers’ money on trips when foreign policy remains reserved to London.

Last week, Stephen Daisley set out in the Spectator how the British Government could curb such behaviour – ministers would be well advised to consider such proposals.

Welsh Government hints at laws forcing companies to deal in Welsh… if they can justify it

Eluned Morgan, the Welsh Government’s minister for the Welsh language, has hinted that it may in future introduce laws compelling private businesses to conduct business in Welsh.

However she said that it was up to Welsh speakers to make better use of existing services in the language before such steps could be taken.Wales Online reports:

“But she pointed to the low use of Welsh-language services in the public sector. She cited figures from Bridgend council where almost 10% of people in the county speak Welsh, but only 0.2% of phone calls from the public – 301 out of 160,528 – were in Welsh last year. “It’s difficult for us to sell the need to do that to the private sector,” she said.

Baroness Morgan, who placed third in Welsh Labour’s recent leadership election, also warned that if requirements became too burdensome they might deter investment in the principality. She was also defending the decision to ditch a major planned shake-up of Welsh language provision, including the scrapping of the post of Welsh Language Commissioner.

SNP divided over ‘soft indy’ call

Andrew Wilson, a key adviser to Sturgeon, this week called on the SNP to push for the “softest of all” forms of independence in order to try and woo the swing voters needed to win another referendum, the Scotsman reports.

Wilson was recently in charge of the so-called ‘Growth Commission’, the SNP’s effort to create a new economic case for separation after their White Paper was discredited. Kevin Hague made short work of his findings, which has perhaps helped spur Wilson towards a safety-first ‘project reassurance’ approach.

One feature of his proposals is caps in public spending during the first years of independence, and a broader recognition of “the level of integration and all the ties that have bound us for centuries”.

But his contribution has provoked a backlash – one which maps onto the broader divisions opening up within the Party. Joanna Cherry QC, a high-profile Nationalist MP, led those arguing that Brexit required the SNP to go full-tilt for independence. Cherry is an ally of the embattled Salmond, who has latterly positioned himself as the leader of the more ‘fundamentalist’ wing of the separatist movement.

The ongoing decay of the Nationalists’ once phalanx-like internal discipline has prompted some commentators to suggest that Sturgeon, who only a few years ago appeared mistress of all she surveyed north of the border, may be on the way out.

Dodds tells DUP conference that no deal remains better than a bad one

There’s no sign yet of the Democratic Unionists softening their Brexit stance after Nigel Dodds, their leader at Westminster, told a party conference that no deal remained preferable to the Party than a bad one.

The News Letter reports Dodds as saying that the Government can only count on the DUP’s support on the Meaningful Vote if “necessary changes” are made to the backstop.

In related news, Angela Merkel apparently expressed concern about Ireland’s hard-line position on the border question during a phone call to Leo Varadkar in January, according to the Belfast Telegraph. The outgoing German Chancellor was reportedly worried that Dublin’s stance was undermining the EU’s negotiating position.