Sturgeon signals trouble ahead over regulation

The Irish Protocol may be a unionist horror show to which the Government should never have submitted, but don’t think that the regulatory challenges posed by Brexit are confined to Northern Ireland.

As I wrote in 2018, Theresa May’s capitulation over “post-Brexit devolved powers” has set a series of time bombs under the Union – and Nicola Sturgeon doesn’t look like she’s going to waste much time trying to set them off.

The First Minister has told an event in Brussels that she intends to propose new legislation in Holyrood which will keep Scotland’s regulations aligned to the European Union after Brexit, presumably in order to ease a theoretical re-accession in the event of Scottish independence.

Doing so would obviously entail breaking with the United Kingdom’s regulations, and thus fracturing the British internal market. If that happened it would have huge potential to undermine the integrity of the Union. Ministers can’t claim they weren’t warned – it’s not a coincidence that those warning against passing EU powers to the devolved assemblies posed produced in-depth papers about the dangers, and their opponents mostly stuck to bromides about the “spirit of devolution”.

(Tom Harris, usually sound on this stuff, does write about “the opportunities that will be made available to Scotland’s devolved parliament in the form of new powers previously wielded by Brussels on Scotland’s behalf.” Alas, he is mistaken.)

Davies illustrates the mounting strength of devo-scepticism…

This column has been devosceptic since its launch back in the mists of 2013. For most of that time it has been a lonely beat, although we have been joined along the way by sturdy companions such as Stephen Daisley.

But if Brexit demonstrated anything, it’s that given sufficient time even the most impregnable and established consensus can start to totter. There have already been tremors – a couple of years ago almost one in five Scots told pollsters they wanted to abolish Holyrood – but in Wales there really seem to be grounds for a possible lift-off.

In the latest set of polls run by Professor Roger Awan-Scully, support for abolishing the Welsh Assembly took a third of the vote in a straight choice (once ‘Don’t Knows’ were excluded). On a broader list of options, independence got its highest share ever (14 per cent), but was still outpolled by abolition. This despite there being almost no Welsh politicians, journalists, or academics pushing the integrationist position.

For the moment, that is – as there were some signals this week that the Abolish the Assembly party (ATA) might be positioning itself to pick up one or more defectors from the splintered remnants of what was previously UKIP’s Assembly group.

All of this has prompted Paul Davies, the current leader of the Conservatives in the Assembly, to start saying things like “we know it’s not devolution that’s the problem”, which is not the sort of statement required if everyone actually knows that. He is doubtless disconcerted by the election of a new tranche of Tory MPs from devosceptic North Wales – I have written previously about how the Assembly party, by contrast, is locked into a self-defeating devocratic cycle.

…as Crabb wakes up to Welsh MPs’ diminished role

Meanwhile at Westminster we find Stephen Crabb, the former Welsh Secretary, complaining that English Votes for English Laws (EVEL) has left Welsh MPs feeling “second class“. This echoes complaints by the Scottish National Party, who made a song and dance of being excluded from an NHS vote earlier this week.

As ever, it’s important to remember that it was actually devolution, not EVEL, which created two tiers of MPs – those who can vote on issues that don’t affect their own constitutents, and ones that can’t. That’s what lies at the root of the ‘West Lothian Question’, which EVEL is an attempt to solve.

More than that, EVEL also serves to try to align the interests of MPs from Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland with those of the Union. Prior to its introduction, non-separatist MPs from those countries were all too happy to endlessly indulge the devocratic demand for “more powers” because their own role, and sense of importance, was undiminished. It is no coincidence that it was EVEL, rather than much more damaging concessions to the Welsh Assembly, which finally elicited many of these paeans to the inter-connected reality of our United Kingdom.

Davidson would give ‘serious consideration’ if offered peerage

Ruth Davidson has said that she would give “serious consideration” should Boris Johnson offer to elevate her to the peerage, according to the Daily Record.

This would potentially give the former Scottish Conservative leader a pathway to serving in the Government without having to beat a precarious path to a seat in the House of Commons. Indeed, the Daily Express reports speculation that she might be made Secretary of State for Scotland.

Sinn Fein: what the fuss is about

Earlier this week, our editor posed a reasonable question: what grounds are there really for getting het up about the possibility of Sinn Fein taking office in the Republic of Ireland? He wrote:

“After all, it is deemed suitable to share government in Northern Ireland.  Indeed, the British state has only recently made gargantuan efforts to get it back into co-office.  Its efforts to do so receieved a standing ovation from almost everyone apart from this site’s very own Henry Hill.”

However, it’s being a reasonable question does not preclude it having a reasonable answer. For the benefit of readers who don’t follow the Irish press, I thought it might be interesting to offer up this counter-argument from Dan O’Brien of the Irish Independent:

“As a thoroughly democratic entity of long-standing, this Republic cannot be compared with Northern Ireland. Giving a party such as Sinn Féin a role in its government would not improve the democratic fabric of this State. On the contrary, it would put it at risk of degradation. Anyone minded to vote for Sinn Féin on Saturday should be conscious of that.

Both pieces are well worth reading in full.

News in Brief:

  • Smith’s dismissal is Johnson’s second chance to take the Union with Northern Ireland seriously – ConservativeHome
  • Scoping work underway for a ‘Boris bridge’ between Scotland and Northern Ireland – Daily Telegraph
  • Sinn Féin to try to form ruling coalition after Irish election success – The Guardian
  • Powerful MPs vow to end witch hunt of veterans ‘who defended us’ during The Troubles – Daily Express
  • Scottish finance secretary quits over messages to boy – BBC
  • COP 26 must be ‘value for money’, Johnson warns Scotland – The Guardian