SNP still struggle to make headway despite Brexit chaos

Some of us were always sceptical of the orthodox view that a Leave vote would be a boon to the Scottish Nationalists, and almost three years on from the referendum the evidence keeps coming in.

This week the Scottish Sun reports that a new poll, commissioned by a pro-SNP think-tank, has found support for breaking away from the UK at just 30 per cent, versus over 50 per cent for remaining – or a 37/63 split when ‘Don’t Knows’ were excluded.

However John Curtis warned against over-interpreting it as the poll, commissioned by Angus Robertson’s ‘Progress Scotland’, shows that three quarters of 2014’s Yes and No voters have not changed their minds. Robertson was previously the SNP’s Westminster leader before losing his Moray seat to the Conservatives in 2017.

Nor is this the only front on which the Nationalists are feeling the pressure. The usually well-disciplined party is preparing for a grassroots revolt against a controversial challenge to its currency plans for a post-separation Scotland, according to the Scotsman.

Activists who want an immediate switch to a Scottish currency are teeing up to oppose plans by the SNP leadership to retain the pound indefinitely after independence. This is in line with the party’s infamous ‘Growth Commission’, which recommended a Gordon Brown-style series of ‘six tests’ which would have to be met before Edinburgh issued its own currency.

Whilst leading SNP figures such as Derek McKay, the finance minister, are pushing a conference motion backing this to replace the current policy of a currency union with the UK, members led by ex-MP George Kerevan are backing a harder-line approach.

Dublin urged to come clean on support for the IRA

A new book by an Irish historian has prompted fresh calls from campaigners for the Irish Government to ‘come clean’ about the support offered to the IRA by elements in the Republic during the Troubles.

The News Letter reports how Gearóid Ó Faoleán has spent his PhD gathering evidence of “active support for the IRA from all southern political parties, members of the Gardai, Irish Defence Forces, civil service, judiciary and GAA.”

He reportedly hopes his new book, A Broad Church, will bring balance to a debate which has focused heavily on the alleged actions of the British state, particularly allegations of collusion with loyalist paramilitaries. Campaigners argue it puts new pressure on Dublin to act “even-handedly” on legacy matters, and it will surely be of interest to MPs who have recently protested against the excessive focus of legacy inquiries on British troops.

According to House of Commons research, the Republic refused to extradite 93 per cent of people wanted in the UK for IRA offences for 25 years from 1973-97. This was a major source of Unionist dissatisfaction with the 1985 Anglo-Irish Agreement.

New Welsh tax powers come into force

Devolution took another step this week as the Welsh Assembly gained tax-varying powers. The BBC reports that 10p raised from each tax band will also now go to a ‘Welsh Treasury’ rather than to the Exchequer.

However Mark Drakeford, the left-winger who replaced Carwyn Jones as First Minister of Wales, has suggested that his Labour administration does not currently wish to raise tax rates ahead of the next devolved elections in 2021. This is in line with commitments made in their 2016 manifesto.

Apparently he will instead ask the UK Treasury for more money, rather than use his much-demanded new powers to raise cash.

In other news, Labour held Newport West in last week’s by-election. Despite no fewer than 11 parties contesting the seat the contest remained a two-horse race between them and the Conservatives, with UKIP in third and up on vote share amidst slumping turnout.

Sturgeon ordered not to delete records by Salmond probe

The First Minister of Scotland has been ordered not to destroy any emails, text messages, or phone records relating to her administration’s botched investigation into Alex Salmond, the Daily Telegraph reports.

A Holyrood committee looking into ‘Government Handling of Harassment Complaints’ wrote to her to insist she retain anything which might be deleted “in the ordinary course of business”. Another letter asked whether any material had already been disposed of and, if so, what steps are being taken to recover it.

Sturgeon is under pressure over what she knew about a string of sexual misconduct allegations against Alex Salmond, her predecessor and mentor.