Davidson rejects prospect of splitting the Party

Following suggestions (set out on this site by Andy Maciver) that the Scottish Conservatives were contemplating a breakaway, Ruth Davidson appeared to quash the suggestion this week, according to the Times.

She reportedly told Andrew Marr that: “My entire leadership pitch back in 2011 was predicated on the idea that we wanted to remain part of the United Kingdom party but with the autonomy for candidate selection, policy, financing and all of these other things that come under my purview.”

The extent of this autonomy has been stretched in the past, such as on occasions when it appeared that some Scottish Conservatives were trying to claim they had distinct policies on reserved issues.

Sources in the Scottish Tories claim to have private polling which suggests that Boris Johnson is satanically unpopular in Scotland, and some suggest that this would necessitate a breakaway if he became leader of the UK party. Earlier this week it was revealed that the former Foreign Secretary had been barred from the Scottish conference.

However, this hasn’t stopped Johnson from embarking on a ‘leadership tour’ of Scotland to bolster his ‘One Nation’ credentials, the Sun reports. He will headline a fundraiser organised by Ross Thomson, the arch-Brexiteer MP for Aberdeen South, as well as trying to drum up support amongst other associations.

Meanwhile Davidson used the conference to start setting out her pitch for the First Minister’s job at the next Scottish elections. Amongst her headline policies was a proposal to raise the leaving age for mandatory education from 16 to 18 and a new emphasis on vocational education.

She also promised that her administration would mean an end to the “constitutional games” which have so pre-occupied the SNP over the past few years.

Mercer resigns over prosecution of veterans

The News Letter reports on Johnny Mercer’s decision to withdraw his support from the Government until it takes action to prevent the prosecution of ex-servicemen for alleged historical offences in Northern Ireland.

In a letter to the Prime Minister, the MP for Plymouth Moor View wrote that he found the repeated investigations “personally offensive”, adding:

“These repeated investigations with no new evidence, the macabre spectacle of elderly veterans being dragged back to Northern Ireland to face those who seek to re-fight that conflict through other means, without any protection from the Government who sent them almost 50 years ago, is too much.”

He has withdrawn his support from all Government legislation “outside of Brexit”.

Although none have yet gone so far as Mercer, the question of protecting veterans of the security forces in Northern Ireland excises a number of Conservative backbenchers. The Northern Irish Office has been criticised for deliberately excluding Ulster cases from the Ministry of Defence’s broader efforts to protect current and former soldiers from so-called ‘tank-chasing’ lawyers.

In other Northern Irish news, a senior figure in the Province’s human rights community has accused Sinn Fein of ‘abusing the concept of human rights’ by using a row over the status of the Irish language to block the restoration of Stormont.

Professor Brice Dickson, former chief commissioner at the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission, argued that republicans’ decision to use gay marriage and the language question as “bargaining chips” was denying the people of Ulster their right to government, and that in 2008 Sinn Fein supported the NIHRC’s advice on a Bill of Rights which included neither measure.

Meanwhile an academic has written to the News Letter urging the DUP to separate the two issues. Professor John Wilson Foster, a scholar of the Irish language, argued that the DUP’s opposition to gay marriage undermined the Union, and that abandoning it would strengthen their chances of resisting Sinn Fein’s politically-motivated language legislation.

Doubts linger over Welsh Assembly as health minister survives no-confidence vote

Vaughan Gething, the Welsh health minister and recent contender for the local Labour leadership, has survived an attempt to oust him from his position in the wake of the latest Welsh health scandal, Wales Online reports.

A motion of no confidence was tabled by Plaid Cymru following the revelation that dozens of stillbirths have not been properly reported or investigated at hospitals run by the Cwm Taf NHS Trust. It was supported by the Nationalists and the Tories, but fell 31 votes to 21.

This comes just weeks after news broke that Welsh patients face being turned away at English hospitals because the Welsh Government refuses to match English per-patient funding, which I looked at in this column a few weeks ago.

Perhaps stories like this explain why polling published this week to mark the 20th anniversary of devolution revealed deep ambivalence amongst the public as to whether or not it had been good for Wales, with just a third agreeing and a quarter disagreeing.

Despite this – and likely in part due to the lack of any consistent and effective devo-sceptic campaign – an overall majority (52 per cent) favour either granting the Assembly even more powers (27 per cent) or holding it at the same level (25 per cent). Just under a fifth of Welsh voters want its powers weakened or the Assembly abolished, but at present that view is almost entirely unrepresented in Welsh political life.