Gove digs out Better Together’s greatest hits as Davidson heads to the Lords
Michael Gove has been in Scotland this week, fronting a new push by the Cabinet to raise the Government’s profile north of the border ahead of next year’s Holyrood vote – with a particular focus on the under-35s.
Following polls which suggest that independence is not a priority for the Scottish electorate, the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster has said that he will not be ‘distracted’ by those showing majority support for breaking up Britain.
He has also adopted an identifiable style – perhaps informed by Downing Street polling – which appears to be setting the tone for the pro-UK effort. It includes repeatedly stressing that devolution is not only ‘working’ but, in a phrase dredged up from 2014, offers “the best of both worlds”.
As I wrote for the Daily Telegraph this week, this is a tactical position with huge strategic dangers. The insistence that ‘devolution is working‘ makes it difficult to attack the SNP’s many failures, or to answer the separatists when they pose the simple question of why, if Holyrood is using all these powers so well, should it not have even more?
Worse still, Gove’s article for the Times makes repeated references to the “four nations” and “different nations” of the UK, but doesn’t mention ‘Britain’ or ‘British’ once. It bodes ill for any effort to build an ’emotional case’ for the Union if Cabinet ministers dare not speak the nation’s name.
Ruth Davidson, however, has struck a different note to this softly-softly approach, suggesting that Unionists should have been more combative and “put the boot in” to the SNP in the aftermath of the 2014 vote. This comes as the Press & Journal reports SNP fears that she is being elevated to the Lords to launch high-profile attacks on them (surely a reasonable assumption).
With the Government preparing to face down the Scottish Government over control of the British internal market, and another row brewing over the proposed ‘Shared Prosperity Fund’, the best that can be hoped is that Gove is speaking softly so as not to draw attention to a big, big stick. Or boot.
New parties shaking up the unionist and separatist camps in Scotland
With the possibility of a second independence referendum possibly riding on the results of next year’s Scottish Parliament elections (although it shouldn’t), the stakes are extremely high – and have tempted new entrants into the ring.
In the nationalist corner is the new Alliance for Independence. This has been set up with the express intention of gaming Holyrood’s electoral system by contesting only the list vote, attracting vast numbers of SNP second preferences, and delivering a separatist supermajority next year.
However it has already become a locus for deeper tensions within the independence movement, with Nationalist figures dissatisfied with Nicola Sturgeon’s safety-first strategy rallying to its defence. There are also concerns that it could become a vehicle for Alex Salmond to stage his next comeback.
(On a related note, the Daily Record reports that the Scottish Government is set to miss an important deadline for turning over documents to the inquiry into the debacle with the former First Minister.)
On the pro-UK side, meanwhile, is George Galloway’s Alliance 4 Unity. This is an explicitly ecumenical effort, distinct from his Workers Party GB: he has openly stated that he will work with Tories in the name of defeating the SNP, and attracted candidates from a range of backgrounds to stand under the A4U banner.
Despite that, Galloway’s big opening might be on the left, exploiting the gap in the market created by the moribund Scottish Labour Party (more below) and wooing Lab-Nat switchers tempted by the radical promises of independence supporters.
Crack in DUP unity as Foster spurs rebellion over Stormont changes
A major crack in the discipline of the Democratic Unionist Party appeared this week, when Arlene Foster found herself facing the largest Stormont rebellion in the Party’s history.
The revolt was staged over a controversial bill intended to give increased powers to individual ministers in Northern Ireland’s power-sharing executive, the News Letter reports. The move has been pushed through by the DUP and Sinn Fein, whilst being opposed by the Ulster Unionists.
Senior DUP figures have accused the First Minister of trading away important safeguards secured for Unionism at previous negotiations. Outside observers have also suggested that it will increase the exposure of Executive decisions to legal challenge.
If this comes to pass, it will join the St Andrews Agreement in the line of Stormont fouling itself up with self-directed reform.
BBC urged to drop Sturgeon’s ‘political broadcasts’
The BBC has been urged to stop broadcasting Nicola Sturgeon’s coronavirus press briefings on the basis that she is using them for party political purposes.
According to the Herald, Scottish Labour have demanded a meeting with the head of BBC Scotland and claim that the broadcasts are “in breach of the Charter of the BBC”. The Tories have made the same claim – in their case slightly awkwardly, as the Prime Minister is in the process of trying to set up a similar press briefing at Westminster.
Labour veteran calls on Leonard to step down ‘for the Party’
Lord Foulkes has called on Richard Leonard, the leader of the Scottish Labour Party, to step aside ahead of next year’s Scottish Parliament electons, the Daily Record reports.
The peer, a former MP and MSP, suggests that Jackie Baillie, the punchy and relatively right-wing deputy leader, could take over on an interim basis for the 2021 campaign.
Leonard is a left-winger who was a close ally of Jeremy Corbyn. His leadership has seen a fresh waning in the Party’s fortunes, losing all but one of its MPs (again) at the 2019 election and fifth place at the final European elections. Labour are currently bumping along at 15 per cent in the Holyrood polls.