Scottish Tory leader demands party rules out another independence poll
It is arguably fortunate for Ruth Davidson that her maternity leave coincided with the period when the surreal polling bubble in which Theresa May’s Government had been floating finally burst.
As she returned to the fray this week, untainted by the past few months, the Scottish Conservative leader demanded that whoever succeeds May as Prime Minister rule out giving authorisation for a second referendum on Scottish independence.
David Mundell, the Scottish Secretary and close ally of Davidson, also made similar noises in an interview with the Sunday Herald. He also told his local paper that he retained ‘high hopes’ for the Scottish Parliament, despite its “unfulfilled potential”.
Davidson also ruled herself out of any contest for the UK leadership, saying that her son was her top priority.
This comes amidst conflicting evidence about the state of support for independence: whilst a YouGov poll for The Times suggests that voters are “swinging towards independence”, the Daily Telegraph reports that only one in five Scots support Nicola Sturgeon’s proposals to hold another vote within the next two years.
Nationalist activists inflicted a serious setback on the First Minister at the SNP conference this week, when they defeated a leadership-backed proposal to try to retain the pound after independence. Public fears about the currency of an independent Scotland – and its implications for pensions, mortgages, and so on – has been identified as a major stumbling block to winning over ‘No’ voters.
However, none of this has prevented the wearisome tradition of English commentators writing about how strong the case for Scottish independence suddenly is: John Harris at the Guardian, Jeremy Warner at the Daily Telegraph, and Philip Stephens at the FT all indulged in such exercises this week. The myth of the fragile Union endures. Stephen Daisley, writing in the Spectator, was closer to the mark when he argued that Sturgeon is taking her base “for a ride” on the question.
Fresh row over probes into police and soldiers during the Troubles
The Government faces another argument over its treatment of those who served in the security forces during the Troubles, the Sun reveals, after it emerged that over 200 former soldiers and police officers face investigation.
Whilst the Ministry of Defence wants to impose a statute of limitations on investigations, the Northern Irish Office has reportedly told “relatives of those killed in the Troubles” that any such restrictions will not apply to Ulster cases. Unionists have long been dissatisfied with the NIO’s apparent failure to fight their corner the way Dublin does for the nationalists.
Conservative MPs such as John Hayes have strongly criticised the Government for confining the MoD’s efforts to protect ex-servicemen to recent conflicts such as Afghanistan and Iraq.
Notably, Theresa May did not take the opportunity afforded by last night’s reshuffle to move Karen Bradley away from the Ulster brief, in which she is almost universally viewed as incompetent. This comes as the Northern Irish Secretaries tries to spearhead yet another round of talks aimed at getting the Northern Irish Assembly back up and running.
But whilst the Belfast Telegraph reports that the DUP and Sinn Fein have pledged to “engage constructively” with the process, optimism remains low. As our editor pointed out this week, May’s own insistence on making a no-deal Brexit contingent on the existence of an Assembly gives Sinn Fein and others every reason to forestall it.
In happier news, the Sunday Telegraph revealed that the police have re-opened the investigation into the 1979 assassination of Airey Neave. Sajid Javid ordered it reviewed after it had lain untouched for 30 years.
Neave was killed by a bomb in the car park of the Palace of Westminster. He had been the architect of the Conservatives’ Northern Irish policy at the 1979 election, which involved setting aside the goal of restoring Stormont in favour of better integrating the Province with the mainland. Margaret Thatcher did not carry through this proposal after his death.
Woe for Scottish Labour as Dugdale quits
Kezia Dugdale, the former Labour leader in Scotland, has announced that she will be stepping down from the Scottish Parliament, taking up a position at a think-tank aimed at tackling “populist politics”.
This comes after she won a defamation case against cybernat blogger Stuart Campbell, better known by his alias ‘Wings over Scotland’. Her relations with the Party broke down after it refused to support her and even appeared to suggest that she would lose, and she previously told the Times that she could not forgive them.
Meanwhile Anas Sarwar, another Labour MSP, has apparently been banned from giving evidence to an anti-racism probe into allegations of racist conduct he himself made. According to the Scotsman, Sarwar was only given four days’ notice of the hearing, and then told he could not provide evidence as he needed to give two weeks’ notice to do so.
Unsurprisingly, he has branded the system unfit for purpose. The hearing by the National Constitutional Committee found that, without any verbal evidence being taken, there was “no case to answer”. Sarwar claims a Labour councillor refused to back his leadership bid because Scotland wouldn’t vote for a “brown Muslim P**i”.