How far can Great British Railways reach in Scotland?
This week the Daily Telegraph reports that Nichola Sturgeon is sidelining Great British Railways, the new national railway brand unveiled by Grant Shapps. Apparently Nationalist ministers, who are preparing to nationalise Scotland’s passenger rail franchise, scorned the plan at a conference in Glasgow.
Yet it is in some ways a strange story. The Department for Transport knows full well that control of ScotRail is devolved; there was never any hope that the SNP would sign up to a pan-GB initiative. This is, after all, the government that only paused efforts to abolish the British Transport Police in Scotland after mass resignations by officers.
But that doesn’t mean that GBR won’t have a presence north of the border. For one thing, it will operate several cross-border services – Shapps should make sure these show GBR’s best face, the better to contrast with Nationalist-run ScotRail. It will also apparently run ticketing and have a visible presence at stations, as this aspect of the old British Rail empire was never broken up.
Unionists clash as Stormont passes controversial Education Bill
The two main unionist parties in Northern Ireland are fighting after they failed to block the passage of new legislation which will oblige the Executive to support integrated schools.
According to the News Letter, both the Ulster Unionists and the Democratic Unionists were concerned that it would see such institutions prioritised over existing ‘controlled’ and ‘maintained’ schools.
However, after the Assembly passed the Bill, the UUP refused to back a DUP-led ‘petition of concern’. This is a mechanism, drawn up as part of power sharing, that allows one side at Stormont to veto legislation. Doug Beattie, the UUP leader, said that the bid was an “abuse” of the system.
Baillie says Labour were ‘wrong’ to work with Tories in pro-UK campaign
Scottish Labour might sport a new logo, but they are still having the same rows. This week, Jackie Baillie told their conference that she thinks it was “wrong” for their party to join forces with the Conservatives during the 2014 referendum on Scottish independence.
The Courier reports her as saying that Labour should be sure to run “distinctive” campaigns in the future, even if they shared with the Tories the ultimate objective of keeping the United Kingdom together.
Naturally the Conservatives have hit back, pointing out that Labour are in coalition with the SNP on several councils and arguing that this is yet more evidence (although Sir Keir Starmer’s ‘radical federalism’ should be sufficient) of their weakness on the Union. By contrast, nine Aberdeen councillors who went into coalition with the Tories were suspended from the party.
This comes as the SNP try to pressure Anas Sarwar into dropping one of his candidates, a former leader of the Orange Order in Scotland. If he does, that will only accelerate the movement of a section of working-class pro-UK voters towards the Conservatives – a shift which already saw the Tories come within a few hundred votes of winning Lanark and Hamilton East in 2017.