New polling shows devoscepticism is no fringe interest

Fresh polling has shown that the constitutional debate in Wales is becoming more polarised, with growing support both for independence and for doing away with devolution entirely.

Presenting the findings (with a nationalist gloss) on Nation.Cymru, Roger Awan-Scully reveals that a quarter of voters say they would vote ‘Yes’ to independence were the question posed tomorrow. (Experience in Scotland suggests any vote would see this number rise, as the very staging of a referendum legitimised the option).

But it isn’t all bad news: the polls also showed a sharpening of support for re-integrating Wales into a British constitutional framework, with overwhelming support amongst Welsh Conservative voters. Scrapping devolution also beats independence in a head-to-head battle.

These findings add to the sense that this is a looming problem for the Tories in Wales, whose Cardiff Bay leadership are devo-enthusiasts who think their path to getting Labour out lies through a pact with Plaid. Yet hundreds of thousands of Conservative voters sit the devolved contests out, relegating the Party to level pegging with the Nationalists, and members are increasingly restive on the issue.

It has fallen to Daniel Kawczynski, the MP for the border constituency of Shrewsbury, to raise the standard of devoscepticism. Undeterred by the criticism he received from the Welsh Tory leadership, he has returned fire in the Daily Express, warning that devolutionaries are “chipping away at the Union”. His local paper, the Shropshire Star, has also published a debate between Kawczynski and Ken Skates, a Welsh minister, on whether or not devolution is good for Wales.

Whilst the Tories tentatively explore this heresy, meanwhile, Labour are engaging in another bout of their usual intellectual necromancy on the constitutional question. A new group, ‘Labour for Devolution’, are reviving the idea of regional assemblies, calling for each nation and region of the UK to have a parliament equal in power to Holyrood – presumably for no other reason than Edinburgh being devolution’s high-water mark and thus avoiding having to ask any awkward questions about bringing powers back.

Meanwhile, in another piece, Fraser has suggested that the Opposition’s official plans would entail rolling back devolution. That seems like too much to hope for.

Sturgeon faces continued pressure over care homes

The Scottish Government has been extremely fortunate that the woes of the British Government have overshadowed its own domestic failures, but it continues to face questions over the unfolding ‘care homes crisis’. This morning the Guardian reported that there exists a “scandalous” postcode lottery when it comes to testing for staff and residents in the at-risk facilities.

At the weekend the Times also revealed that a second official report, this one from 2016, warned that Scotland was not prepared for a pandemic due to staff and resource shortages.

Jackson Carlaw, the leader of the Scottish Conservatives, has challenged the First Minister over her failure to appoint a dedicated minister to oversee care homes once the scale of the threat became apparent.

Murdo Fraser dedicated his column this week to highlighting how ill-equipped a newly-independent Scotland would have been to meet the Covid-19 crisis, whilst Ian Smart has a blog setting out a string of institutional failures across broad swaths of devolved government.

At Prime Minister’s Questions, Boris Johnson also attacked Ian Blackford, the SNP’s Westminster leader, for his “obscurantism and myth-making” about the Government’s performances.

Fury over claim Sinn Fein is blocking payments to IRA victims

The Government has challenged Sinn Fein after the Republican party was accused of blocking payments to victims of the Troubles – because they wanted ex-prisoners to get payments too, according to the Daily Mail.

Speaking at Prime Minister’s Questions, Johnson told a DUP MP that it was ‘very important’ that the programme get up and running, and that it will provide “a fair, balanced and proportionate way of helping all those who suffered most during the Troubles.”

Under the scheme, which was outlined by the Government earlier this year, victims who suffered either physical or psychological injury will receive between £2,000 and £10,000 per annum – but not those convicted of serious offences or injured by their own actions.

Sinn Fein have refused to nominate a Stormont department to operate the programme. There is also a dispute over who’s going to fund it, with Brandon Lewis refusing to commit to its being paid for by Westminster.

In another news, the Irish backstop – which this Government signed up to – is apparently forcing retailers to consider moving operations out of Northern Ireland. The constitutional damage it will do to the Union grows clearer by the day. In the event of a no-deal Brexit, will ministers have the courage to resile from it and insist that the proper place for a border is, bluntly, where the Border is?

Holyrood committee has ‘serious concerns’ over delayed release of Salmond documents

MSPs have expressed frustration at the Scottish Government’s slowness to release key documents relating to Alex Salmond, the Daily Record reports.

A special Holyrood committee has been convened to investigate the ‘fiasco’ in which an internal probe into the former First Minister’s alleged misconduct ended up in court, with Salmond victorious and a judge ruling the inquiry “tainted by bias and unlawful”, in the Record’s words. All at a total cost to the taxpayer of over £500,000.

The committee was forced to suspend its work when Salmond was charged with various sexual offences, but has been able to resume upon his acquittal. He’s now apparently on a warpath for revenge and ‘gunning’ for senior members of the current Nationalist administration.