SDLP ‘on back foot’ after senior resignation over merger
The alliance between the Social Democratic and Labour Party, Northern Ireland’s smaller and more moderate nationalist party, and Fianna Fail suffered a blow this week when the former’s most high-profile MLA resigned.
Clare Hanna, the SDLP’s Brexit spokeswoman, resigned from its Assembly group (although not her actual party membership) after a special conference on Saturday approved the new ‘policy partnership’ with the Republic party, the News Letter reports.
She said that: “I remain unconvinced that an exclusive partnership with Fianna Fáil is the right vehicle to deliver the non-sectarian, transparent and social democratic new Ireland I believe in”.
SDLP members backed the proposal at the conference, although 30 per cent voted against it. There apparently remains a lot of uncertainty around what exactly the new relationship entails, with senior figures being coy as to whether it would mean a joint manifesto or similar.
Hanna may not be the last to leave: Colum Eastwood, the SDLP leader, was reportedly warned that a group of members were “considering their options” after the link-up was approved.
In other Irish nationalist news, Sinn Fein have reiterated their belief that a no-deal Brexit would trigger a border poll in Northern Ireland.
According to the Guardian, Mary Lou McDonald described such a vote as a “democratic necessity” in the event that Britain left the EU without the backstop in place – but declined to say when a referendum should be held.
Writing on this site today, David Shiels has warned ministers that by talking up the prospect of a border poll – in a bid to shepherd unionist MPs behind Theresa May’s withdrawal deal – they are playing into the hands of the republicans.
Leo Varadkar, the Irish Taoiseach, continues to insist that such a Brexit can be avoided – even has he refused to negotiate with the Prime Minister during her visit to Dublin earlier this week. However Geoffrey Cox, the Attorney General, did meet with his Irish counterpart on that Friday, as well as meeting separately with senior figures from the Democratic Unionist Party.
Sammy Wilson, the MP for East Antrim and DUP Brexit spokesman, has had to insist this week that his party remains united in its opposition to the backstop. The News Letter reports that Arlene Foster had earlier refused to be drawn on whether or not she was still demanding its complete abandonment.
Backlash grows against SNP’s new tax
Teachers have announced that they will demand compensation out of public funds if they are subject to the Scottish Government’s new car park tax – in a move the Tories estimate could cost £1.7 million in Edinburgh alone.
According to the Daily Telegraph, this move by the unions comes as part of a growing public backlash against the proposals, which would see charges levied on private car parks such as those operated by businesses and other places of work.
There was also outrage when it was revealed that such a tax is liable for VAT if the cost is passed on to employees, pushing the cost to workers up to around £500 per year.
Derek Mackay, the SNP’s Finance Secretary, accepted an amendment tabled by the Scottish Greens introducing the levy in order to win their support for his budget, which could not have passed without them.
Opposition parties have also this week criticised Nicola Sturgeon, the First Minister, for talking up the prospect of independence whilst on an official trade trip to the United States.
This prompted Stephen Daisley, writing in the Spectator, to urge the Government to re-assert its prerogatives over foreign affairs and start attaching conditions to the Scottish Government’s use of public funds outwith its remit. Probably too much to hope after ministers’ foolish retreat over post-Brexit devolved powers, but definitely a good idea for a bolder, more imaginative leadership to consider.
In other news, the Scottish Conservatives have reportedly declared victory in their campaign to stop Boris Johnson becoming Tory leader. I wrote about the significance of ‘Operation Arse’ earlier this week.
Labour AM apologises for ‘unacceptable’ comments about Jews
Jenny Rathbone, a Labour member of the Welsh Assembly, has apologised and been issued a formal warning over “unacceptable” comments she made about Jewish communities.
Wales Online reports that the Cardiff Central AM said it was “really uncomfortable” how certain security-conscious synagogues now resemble ‘fortresses’, and that “siege mentalities” might be driving this change. She will now undergo antisemitism training by the Community Security Trust.
Meanwhile Mark Drakeford, the new First Minister, is apparently trying to ease out Wales’ most senior civil servant in order to get a “fresh start”.