Published:

Last week, this column looked at allegations that Nicola Sturgeon was acting in a ‘Trumpian’ manner after she banned awkward print journalists from the launch of the SNP’s local election campaign.

We also highlighted an excellent recent piece in the Spectator which explored the ways in which the Nationalists have used their long grip on Holyrood to increasingly suborn the civil service and civil society north of the border.

This week saw yet another example of the close relationship between the SNP and the institutions they rule over after the First Minister was caught in breach of her own rules on masks.

Yet despite the high-profile investigation into Downing Street, which has already seen the Prime Minister issued a Fixed Penalty Notice with the prospect of more to follow, there were no consequences for Sturgeon: Police Scotland decided not to take action.

That at least can be justified as an independent operational decision. Perhaps more serious are the claims, reported in the Herald, that the National Clinical Director has been “blurring the lines between ministers and government officials” in his defence of the First Minister.

After Professor Jason Leitch explained on the radio that her face had been uncovered for “a matter of seconds”, the Scottish Conservatives pointed out that it wasn’t his place, as a civil servant, to be offering defences of Sturgeon’s conduct.

Kenny Farquharson, no dyed-in-the-wool unionist, has written that the First Minister ought to resign after being caught breaking her own rules – perhaps especially since she insisted on maintaining mask mandates long after they had been abandoned in England.

But as Guido points out, neither the Scottish or (in the case of Mark Drakeford’s breach) the Welsh police have decided to take action.

In other bad news for the SNP, there are big questions after it emerged that the outgoing CEO of Scotland’s £2bn publicly-owned investment bank was paid off to the tune of £117,500 – six months’ salary – rather than working out her notice. Ministers have come under fire for a lack of explanation after Eilidh Mactaggart resigned at the end of January, apparently for personal reasons.

The Nationalists have also been caught in their own sleaze scandal after Westminster authorities upheld complaints against two SNP MPs.  According to the Daily Telegraph, the party is facing calls to suspend Patrick Grady, the party’s former chief whip, and Patricia Gibson, a frontbencher, over allegations of sexual misconduct.

Even if the SNP decide not to act, there could still be consequences. The Times reports:

“The result of the investigation by Westminster authorities has been referred to an independent expert panel, which can recommend suspension or expulsion from the House. The SNP will also have to decide whether to take any other disciplinary action of its own against the pair.”

Back to the Protocol

Jacob Rees-Mogg, the Minister for Brexit Opportunities, has made headlines by reiterating to a committee of MPs that the Government has the right to unilaterally overhaul the Northern Ireland Protocol in the event that the European Union don’t agree to reform it.

According to the FT, he said that “The United Kingdom is much more important than any agreement we have with any foreign power. That must be the case”.

However, he refused to be drawn on the specifics of the Government’s plans, which will do nothing to allay the concerns of cynics that it is once again having one of its intermittent bouts of tough talk, few of which have resulted in serious action.

It is worth noting though that unilateral action does not necessarily mean a ‘big bang’ approach such as triggering Article 16 or ‘tearing up’ the agreement entirely.

The Government’s tactic of indefinitely extending so-called ‘grace periods’ – originally intended to allow Northern Irish businesses to find EU alternatives to their British suppliers – has been very effective; despite lots of initial bluster, it has not blown up the talks.

Ministers can also now point to the long operation of the grace periods and fairly ask the EU for evidence of the feared market distortions which are supposed to justify them.

There is no doubt that the United Kingdom could, in principle as the sovereign power, resile from the Protocol. Whether the political will exists to do so is a completely different question.