SNP chomping at the bit for an election as Sturgeon tees up referendum demand…
Although the Prime Minister’s bid for an election was defeated in the House of Commons last night, there remains a general expectation that Britain will go to the polls sooner rather than later – and unionists and nationalists have been gearing up.
The Scottish National Party are chomping at the bit for an election. This is unsurprising, because polling suggests that they are on course to win back most of their 2017 losses and return to a ballpark of around 50 seats, with the Conservatives reduced to around three.
As a result, the Nationalists’ current Commons cohort may play a key role if Boris Johnson does manage to secure the House’s backing for a dissolution – although it suits neither party to be seen to be collaborating with the other.
…as the First Minister hits out at plans for cybernat party…
Sturgeon has also criticised plans by Stuart Campbell, the Bath-based leader of cybernat site Wings over Scotland, to set up a new separatist party to contest the next Holyrood elections. He believes that by offering pro-independence voters more options on the list vote – alongside the Greens – he can maximise the efficiency of the anti-UK vote and the number of separatist MSPs returned.
Whilst the First Minister has good reason to be wary of such a party – it would represent a more populist stain of nationalism than her own, and likely offer a vehicle to the SNP’s unreconciled ‘Salmondites’ – the electoral logic of multiple parties for list seats is sound. Something for advocates of a ‘united unionist party’ – which now includes Adam Tomkins, a senior Scottish Conservative MSP – to bear in mind.
This comes as the Scottish Government prepares to demand that Westminster cede them the power to hold a re-run of the referendum on Scottish independence at some point in 2020. Holyrood has already prepared legislation to hold a plebiscite, but has no legal authority to authorise one as the constitution is – quite rightly – reserved to Westminster.
…and DUP and Sinn Fein set themselves on a war footing
Meanwhile in Northern Ireland both the Democratic Unionists and Sinn Fein are on a war footing. The latter have announced that they may be willing to collaborate with other anti-Brexit parties in order to unseat DUP MPs – an alliance absent in 2017, when the Unionists made advances. Although at least once analyst thinks that both parties should be confident of holding their seats, an anti-DUP alliance could threaten seats such as Belfast South and Belfast North.
One fun story which ran this week was the suggestion that Kate Hoey, the Ulster-born Labour MP and hard Brexiteer, might stand for the DUP in North Down. This followed stories that the Vauxhall MP had hinted she might stand for a party other than Labour – most likely the Brexit Party.
Although she is close to the Unionists on many issues she would be a poor fit for the seat, and so it is not surprising that she has dismissed such claims this morning.
Arlene Foster, the former First Minister and leader of the DUP, has also been floated as a possible high-profile candidate for the last unionist seat in Northern Ireland outside her party’s hands. Unless Stormont returns, her position as leader will grow increasingly difficult as power shifts further to Westminster.
Finally Danny Kinahan, the former MP for South Antrim and champion of liberal unionism, has announced his intention to contest his seat again at any upcoming contest. He won it during the brief renaissance of the Ulster Unionist Party at the 2015 election, before falling victim to the DUP surge two years later.
Court rejects Scottish bid to overrule prorogation of Parliament
A rare bit of good news for Boris Johnson this week as yet another of Jolyon Maugham’s crowd-funded legal challenges to the Government ended in failure.
Lord Docherty ruled that the move was inherently political and thus non-justiciable. He said: “Accountability for the advice is to Parliament and ultimately the electorate and not to the courts. In my opinion, there has been no contravention of the rule of law.”
This cuts to the heart of the philosophical dispute between those who advocate for a so-called ‘political constitution’ – wherein the highest authorities are the politicians and, ultimately, the electorate – and those who desire a so-called ‘constitution of laws’, with that role de facto played by the courts. This dispute was referenced in submissions to the court.
A separate case, brought by high-profile Remainer litigants including Gina Miller and Jo Swinson, will be heard at the High Court in London this afternoon.
Republicans in the spotlight over weird donation
In other Northern Irish news, Sinn Fein are facing scrutiny after a man who lived in a caravan left the Party millions of pounds – one of the Province’s largest-ever political donations – in his will.
Not only was the £2.5 million sum higher than initially reported, and the will signed just a month before the IRA’s 1997 ceasefire, but the gentleman in question named two senior IRA figures as its executors. Not suspicious at all.
Meanwhile Michele O’Neill, the party’s leader in Northern Ireland, faces a challenge for the vice-presidency of Sinn Fein from John O’Dowd, another MLA and former Stormont education minister.