Government presses Welsh ministers to set up a parallel scheme

One of the features of devolution is that our ‘National’ Health Service is not terribly national. Each of the devolved legislatures is responsible for healthcare in its territoriy – often with less than spectacular results.

With the nation trying to pull together to combat the spread of Covid-19, Conservative MPs are deeply frustrated that even as hundreds of thousands of English people sign up to the Government’s NHS volunteer scheme, there is no such programme in Wales.

This anger is not confined to the devosceptic usual suspects, either. At Prime Minister’s Questions yesterday Craig Williams, the new MP for Montgomeryshire who formerly sat for Cardiff North, asked Boris Johnson:

“I welcome the Prime Minister’s approach to devolution. Wales has two Governments, and his mature approach, and that of the Welsh Government, has meant that we have delivered fast legislation and efficient help, but any divergence on policy or communication causes anxiety for my constituents. The Secretary State for Health and Social Care has made an announcement on volunteering. Sadly, Welsh volunteers cannot take part in that scheme—we are cross-border—so will the Prime Minister get on the phone to the Welsh Government and say, “Let’s work together”?”

Meanwhile Simon Hart, the Welsh Secretary, has written to Mark Drakeford to ask that he make the establishment of such a scheme an urgent priority – and “to explain why the proposals are likely to be different to the UK Government version.” Stephen Crabb has also said that “Wales should be part of the main scheme from the get go”.

Nor is this the only place where devoscepticism seems to be taking root. A suitably-outraged report in the separatist National newspaper tells us that Chris Elmore, who was standing in for the Shadow Scottish Secretary, asked the following of Alister Jack:

“The coronavirus has shown that local services have been decimated by the Scottish Government. They’ve passed on four times the austerity to local councils that they have received themselves. Would you agree with me that any additional budget resourcing should be passed to Scottish local councils to help bolster already under pressure local services?”

He makes an excellent point – under devolution the SNP have pursued an aggressive policy of centralisation, undermining the financial autonomy of Scottish local government. A policy wherein HM Government set aside the idea of Holyrood as a gatekeeper and liaised directly with councils would be most welcome.

Alas, we’re not there yet and Jack merely said that, “under the devolution settlement”, it was a matter for the Scottish Government.

Salmond gathers his forces as SNP civil war looms

This column didn’t get into the details of Alex Salmond’s trial – there was plenty on it in the press. But as I noted on Tuesday, his shock acquittal on all charges made a civil war within the Scottish National Party more likely than not.

Well, we’re two days on and they haven’t wasted any time. Senior Nationalists are already calling for an inquiry into whether or not there was a ‘conspiracy’ against the former First Minister at the top of the Party. Jim Sillars, another figure on the ‘fundamentalist’ wing of the separatist movement – of which Salmond is effectively figurehead – has also claimed that he had been ‘set up’ by his former party.

For his own part, the Times reports that the ex-SNP leader intends to publish a ‘revelatory’ book covering the period of the scandal which will take aim at SNP figures he believes conspired against him. He reportedly claims it will include “certain evidence” which, for some reason or other, he hadn’t been able to use in his trial.

However he may not be out of the woods yet – four women in London have reportedly made complaints to Scottish detectives about the former MP’s behaviour whilst in the capital.

On the other side of the field, allies of Nicola Sturgeon apparently fear that Salmond’s re-admission to the SNP will be ‘automatic’, as he resigned his membership before they had an opportunity to suspend it over the allegations against him. The First Minister herself risks seeing her reputation severely damaged as furious Salmondites press her on what she knew, and when.

As Alex Bell points out in a scathing Courier column, the coming battle can only damage the SNP. The row could open a rift between a substantial portion of the separatist movement, where Salmond remains a giant, and the current Nationalist leadership plus “just about every female MSP”.