Leadership hopefuls line up to disavow second Scottish referendum…

Tory MPs vying to succeed Theresa May are burnishing their unionist credentials this week by taking firm stances against Nicola Sturgeon’s push for a second referendum on Scottish independence, the Daily Telegraph reports.

Matt Hancock has reportedly said that not one of the mounting number of hopefuls would transfer the First Minister the powers necessary to conduct another vote, arguing that the question was settled in 2014.

The article says that both Sajid Javid and Rory Stewart have both publicly stated this, whilst James Cleverly has also tweeted his opposition to a re-run of the independence question.

Hancock also says that he wants to establish a ‘Unit for the Union’, and ensure that all Government policy passes a “pro-Union test”. Stewart has gone even further (as we might expect of the man who built a cairn during the 2014 referendum), and has outlined plans to create the position of First Secretary of State for the Union.

All of this comes as Sturgeon publishes a bill in the Scottish Parliament which aims to pave the way for another plebiscite. Adam Tomkins MSP, a constitutional expert and Scottish Conservative spokesman, has suggested that it could be laying the groundwork for a ‘wildcat’ referendum, ignoring the fact that only Westminster can legally legislate for one.

Meanwhile ITV’s Peter Smith has written up a very interesting piece on the First Minister’s strategy, which hinges on trying to keep the separatist grassroots geed up (and loyal) until she can somehow lay her hands on the leverage to force Westminster to authorise a referendum.

In related news, Sajid Javid will today meet with Arlene Foster, the leader of the Democratic Unionists, to discuss what Northern Ireland needs out of a post-Brexit immigration policy. Winning the DUP’s support will be crucial for any leadership hopeful, as they still hold the key to the Government’s working majority in the House of Commons.

…as Welsh and Scottish Labour swing behind EU vote re-run

Labour’s devolved parties in Scotland and Wales have both backed a second referendum on Brexit in the aftermath of the party’s hugely disappointing showing in last week’s European elections.

Mark Drakeford, the First Minister of Wales, has done so after his party suffered an unexpected and almost unprecedented humiliation, coming third behind the Brexit Party (which won two MEPs) and Plaid Cymru.

Richard Leonard, the Scottish leader, is going to ask members to endorse not only another vote but to commit to campaign to Remain, regardless of whether Jeremy Corbyn managed to negotiate a ‘jobs first Brexit’ or similar. In Scotland Labour failed to win a single one of the nation’s six seats (it previously held two), falling behind not only the SNP but the Brexit Party, Tories, and Liberal Democrats. Two of his frontbenchers quit their roles last week as division wracked the party north of the border.

According to the Daily Mail some figures inside Labour are arguing that the Scottish party faces an ‘existential’ challenge, whilst the phrase picked up by the Scotsman is ‘life support’. But Wales Online’s Martin Shipton warns that a ‘knee-jerk’ response will only do limited good.

Alternatively, Gerald Warner argues on Reaction that introducing devolution was ‘suicide’ for them – it’s good to see this case starting to get an airing.

Ulster Unionists and Sinn Fein face questions after disappointing election results

The leadership of two of Northern Ireland’s major political parties was in question last night after both the UUP and Sinn Fein suffered disappointing election results last week.

Robin Swann, the Ulster Unionist leader, has offered to resign after his party lost its seat in the European Parliament, where it has been represented continuously since 1979, to Naomi Long of the Alliance Party. He reportedly considered his position as the results came in.

Since losing their position as ‘the big party of unionism’ to the DUP in the 2000s, Alex Kane highlights how the UUP have struggled to carve out a new purpose for themselves. With the former hoovering up the conservative vote, the party now seems to have missed the bus with liberal pro-Union voters, who are flocking to the constitutionally-neutral Alliance instead.

Long’s win prompted Nigel Dodds, the DUP’s Westminster leader, to remind everyone that British policy on Brexit will be decided by MPs, not MEPs. His party lost its Belfast East stronghold to Long in 2010, but recaptured it in 2015.

Meanwhile Mary Lou McDonald, the national (not northern) leader of Sinn Fein, has had to fend of suggestions that her position is under threat after a very disappointing set of results for her party.

Whilst they held their Northern Irish European seat (even after a big nationalist tactical voting push to the Alliance), the Republicans suffered a serious setback in the Republic of Ireland. If repeated at the next general election Sinn Fein could lose half its representation in the Dail.