COVID-19: Sturgeon abandons 2020 independence push…

The First Minister has announced that her Government is formally abandoning its bid to try and stage a re-run of the Scottish independence referendum this year, according to the Daily Telegraph.

Mile Russell, the SNP’s constitution minister, has reportedly written to Michael Gove to confirm that the Scottish Government has ‘paused work’ on a second referendum on account of the coronavirus crisis.

Although the Government had no intention of granting Sturgeon the legal authority to stage a plebiscite this year in any event, the move will ease tensions between London and Edinburgh and free up resources for public health operations.

The paper reports that this move comes “as the coronavirus lockdown across Scotland intensified, with the Catholic Church suspending public masses and the National Trust for Scotland shutting its buildings.” Meanwhile Sturgeon has announced that schools across the country will close by the end of the week.

Another sign of the impact the crisis is already having on civil society is that Heart of Midlothian football club have reportedly asked both players and staff to accept a 50 per cent pay reduction.

Meanwhile the Scotsman reports claims by a Scottish scientist that over a million vaccines against COVID-19 will be available by the end of the year, with “first responders, medical staff and those with underlying medical conditions given priority.”

…as Northern Ireland faces inhaler shortages and job losses…

Ulster is facing a shortage of inhalers due to stockpiling as the shadow of the coronavirus epidemic spreads across the UK, according to the Belfast Telegraph.

The Northern Ireland Executive has also unveiled a £370 million fund to help support ‘vulnerable firms’ as the Province prepares to close its schools from next week. The one exception is for children of ‘key healthcare workers’, who will be able to attend so as not to prevent their parents from working. Driving tests have also been suspended for three months.

In other grim news, charities have warned that the imposition of social isolation and other quarantine measures could lead to an ‘explosion’ in domestic abuse as people are trapped in their homes. There has also been a warning of a ‘tsunami’ of job losses in the hospitality trade as job losses mount.

All of this has served to overshadow the publication of the official report into the ‘cash-for-ash’ scandal, the fallout from which collapsed devolution in Northern Ireland back in 2017. Both Arlene Foster and the DUP more widely were strongly criticised in the report, the FT reports, but she has insisted that she will remain as First Minister.

…and Wales sees venue closures and more

Meanwhile in Wales, Cardiff Council has announced sweeping closures of public spaces – including leisure centres. This raises the prospect of even swimming pools, which might have been hoped to stay open as chlorinated water is safe, may close across the country.

The funeral service of a popular rugby star has also been scaled back and will be streamed online as social distancing takes hold, and schools across the Principality will be closing.

Meanwhile Vaughan Gething, the devolved health minister and one-time contender for the leadership of Welsh Labour, has gone into self-isolation as the overall number of cases in Wales continues to climb.

The Salmond trial

This column isn’t going to be picking over the gory details of the Salmond case – better safe than sorry – but here are a few stories providing a sample of this week’s coverage: ‘Women told not to work with Salmond alone at night’ (FT); ‘Salmond says sexual assault claims exaggerated for political reasons’ (The Times); ‘Woman ex-SNP chief allegedly tried to rape ‘not at Bute House that night’’ (Scottish Sun); ‘Nicola Sturgeon met Alex Salmond’s accuser in March 2018’ (FT); ‘I stayed quiet for Scotland, Alex Salmond accuser tells court’ (The Times);