Ross refuses to back Williamson over the A Levels fiasco

The new leader of the Scottish Conservatives has refused to support Gavin Williamson continuing in post as Education Secretary following the furore over the mishandling of A Level results, according to the i, saying that the Secretary of State needed to “reflect on what happened”.

Douglas Ross did not explicitly call for Williamson’s resignation, but told BBC Scotland: “That is a decision for Gavin Williamson. It’s a decision for the prime minister, if he continues to have the trust of the prime minister. I’m not here to say in your report that I think Gavin Williamson has done a great job and he should continue.”

He really could not have done anything else. When the Scottish Government dashed itself against the same reef a couple of weeks ago, the Scottish Conservatives led the charge in calling for John Swinney’s resignation.

Nicola Sturgeon’s decision to retain her key ally probably set the precedent which saved Williamson’s job, but the Tories couldn’t plausibly justify their attacks on Swinney whilst defending Williamson, who made exactly the same mistakes but with more warning.

In any event, one of Ross’s selling points as the new Scottish Tory leader was his willingness to take on Boris Johnson, who remains deeply unpopular in Scotland. He won’t be entirely unhappy about having been given a new opportunity to demonstrate it.

Welsh Government warns that single market plan endangers the Union

The devocrat campaign against the Government’s proposals for protecting the integrity of the British internal market continue. This week, the Welsh Government has warned that the plans will “accelerate the break-up of the Union”, the FT reports.

If you haven’t been following the debate, this is the latest development in a bitter clash between Westminster and the devolved administrations over what happens to a host of economic powers and regulatory responsibilities which are being repatriated from Brussels. The Government maintains (rightly) that these need to be held at the highest level, now London, to ensure the harmony of the UK common market. The devocrats argue that these powers are ‘devolved’ in principle, and their retention by Westminster is a ‘power grab’.

In fact, as I have set out previously, the real danger to the Union lies not in frustrating the devolved administrations’ insatiable lust for powers, but in ceding them so much power that the core functions of the UK are undermined. Ministers must hold their nerve.

More evidence of the SNP’s domination of Scottish public life

Two stories this week which highlight quite how deep a shadow the current Scottish Government casts over public life north of the border – and how difficult this makes it to hold it to account.

First, Nicola Sturgeon has been criticised for appointing a vocal SNP supporter to lead the ‘independent’ probe into her government’s mishandling of their own school exams scandal. Mark Priestly urged voters to vote for the Nationalists and against the Tories ahead of last year’s general election.

This follows fresh anger at Devi Sridhar, a Scottish Government public health adviser, for once again appearing to blame England (and Wales) for Scotland’s coronavirus woes. (Professor Sridhar has form on this, having previously ‘mistakenly’ described unionists as ‘anti-Scottish’ and claimed that English policymakers were ‘content’ with a certain level of Covid-19 deaths.)

Finally, the Scotsman reports that a cross-party group of MSPs have complained after Linda Fabiani, the Nationalist MSP chairing Holyrood’s inquiry into the Scottish Government’s botched handling of the Alex Salmond investigation, after she appeared to shut down what they consider a legitimate line of questioning. Murdo Fraser was asking Leslie Evans, the Scottish Government’s most senior civil servant, whether or not there was a policy of not leaving female staff alone with the former First Minister.

Elsewhere this week, Evans and Swinney announced that they will not be releasing the legal advice given to Scottish ministers when Salmond took them to court over their bungled inquiry, which bodes well.

All of this comes amidst reports in the Sunday Times that bullying claims against Scottish ministers have ‘soared’ – with more complaints filed than in ‘all of Whitehall’.

Scottish Labour to campaign against independence

Richard Leonard, the embattled leader of the Labour Party in Scotland, has confirmed that his party will oppose independence in the event of a second referendum, according to the Daily Record.

As Tom Harris noted on the site this week, there has been speculation that Labour could try to adopt a more neutral stance on the question in a bid to win back former voters who have defected to the SNP or the Greens. But with the party still on the defensive, such a strategy risked shedding pro-UK voters to the Tories without the guarantee of winning any back. Selling progressive Scots on the Union is less of a quick fix, but represents the only stable path to a long-term future.

Meanwhile Leonard, a left-winger who was viewed as close to the previous national leadership, is facing mounting pressure to resign and make way for someone more effective – most likely Anas Sarwar – ahead of next year’s Holyrood elections, in which the party is still predicted to come third. He is refusing to budge.