Henry Hill: ‘Show, don’t tell’ is the right way to fight the SNP – and ‘Ukima unionism’ in action

30 Sep

According to the Times, the Government is taking a new tack on how to tackle the threat of Scottish independence: stop talking about it:

“In a private edict, government ministers have been told not to engage with the SNP or proactively make the case for the Union. They were advised to take a show-not-tell approach of prioritising policies that will benefit the UK and ensuring that civil servants and ministers think about the impact of decisions north of the border.”

Lord McInnes, the latest man to take up the post of Boris Johnson’s adviser on the Union, apparently thinks that putting a spotlight on the subject is counter-productive given that the SNP missed out on a majority in May. Instead the plan is to try and “shut down the debate”, and presumably give the Nationalists space to focus on all the things they disagree on.

The paper also reports that the plan instead is to take a ‘show-don’t-tell’ approach by “highlighting money allocated to communities through city region deals and the potential of the upcoming Union connectivity review”, as well as using the new legislation passed by the Government to spend more directly in devolved areas.

Yet reports that this is being spearheaded by Michael Gove conflict with others from Whitehall sources that the new ‘Minister for Intergovernmental Relations’ previously opposed the UK Internal Market Act which makes such an approach possible, as well as trying (and failing) to get the Government to await a legislative consent motion from Holyrood before proceeding with the Subsidy Control Bill.

Whatever the truth, a shift towards building a positive, pro-active case for the British state – as opposed to saying nasty things about the Nationalists and then handing them more powers – can only be a good thing.

‘Unionist unity’ is a cul-de-sac for Northern Ireland

Sir Jeffrey Donaldson, the leader of the Democratic Unionist Party, has called for a so-called ‘unionist unity’ pact in order to prevent Sinn Fein claiming the First Minister’s office after the next Northern Irish election.

But whilst no unionist wants to see Michelle O’Neill installed in the Provinces ‘highest office’ – in fact, the First Minister and Deputy First Minister are a co-equal executive, with a fictive hierarchy originally meant to flatter the unionists – the other parties should resist.

After all, it was the DUP who, along with Sinn Fein, negotiated the 2006 St Andrews Agreement which changed how the First Minister was chosen. Instead of being elected, and thus chosen by MLAs from the larger communal bloc (which the unionists will still probably be), they are simply nominated by the largest party. The very obvious intention was to corral voters behind the big two.

It is significant that the leaders of all the main ‘capital-U Unionist’ parties, including Doug Beattie of the Ulster Unionists, have come together to oppose the Protocol. But their best hope of maximising the unionist vote is a diverse offering, with parties capable of appealing to voters with different priorities and values. ‘Unionist unity’ shrinks the overall electorate by shedding voters to the Alliance or seeing more people stay at home.

Henry Hill: If the DUP suffer an electoral collapse, it could bring Stormont grinding to a halt – again

2 Sep

What happens if the DUP collapse?

It’s just one poll – and there are plenty of unionists who’d insist on a health warning being attached to anything from LucidTalk – but the implications of the latest voting intention poll published by the Belfast Telegraph really are extraordinary.

It finds the Democratic Unionists down on just 13 per cent. In that scenario they have fallen behind both the more liberal Ulster Unionists, up to 16 per cent, but also the hard-line Traditional Unionist Voice, up on 14. Meanwhile Sinn Fein remains on 25 per cent, with the more moderate SDLP on 13.

Whilst this would still see the three unionist parties poll more collectively than the two nationalist ones, it would leave Sinn Fein the largest party in Stormont by some margin. It would also put Michelle O’Neill in the First Minister’s office, thanks to rules changes (intended to help the two then-dominant parties) that make it the largest party, not the largest designation bloc, that determines the role.

Of course, in practice the First Minister and Deputy First Minister are co-equal roles. But given the fraught state of unionism over the Protocol, the symbolism may still prove too much – and the TUV’s Jim Allister will take lumps out of any unionist party that joins the Executive as the ‘junior partner’. But as Sinn Fein previously demonstrated when they walked out at collapsed Stormont, if both sides aren’t prepared to share power then the whole system grinds to a halt.

That isn’t inevitable. The situation has proven extremely volatile over the past few years and could change again. But with the next Northern Irish election scheduled for next year, Sir Jeffrey Donaldson does not have long to turn things around. If he can’t, Brandon Lewis might find himself having to do what his predecessors have always shied from doing, and introducing direct rule.

SNP’s nuclear hypocrisy

Today’s papers report on some of the options the Government is considering for relocating the United Kingdom’s nuclear arsenal in the event that Scotland becomes independent and insists on shuttering the current submarine base at Faslane.

Getting nuclear weapons out of Scotland is a long-standing SNP policy, even if some more sensible commentators suggest there could be good value in renting it back to the continuity-UK.

According to a report by the Royal United Services institute, there are three options: relocate the Trident fleet to a new base in the ‘rUK’; house the fleet with an allied power overseas; or negotiate the retention of the Faslane and Coulport bases as part of any independence settlement.

The first would take time, not to mention costing billions, to build a suitable new submarine base, probably in Wales. It is thus disfavoured by the Treasury in favour of option two, which has scant capital investment requirements. However it’s difficult to imagine a government selling the country on storing our nukes in an American port, especially now the need for more strategic autonomy from Washington has been so cruelly exposed by the debacle in Afghanistan.

Which leaves option three. According to the FT, one insider dubbed the proposal a “nuclear Gibraltar”, although a closer match might be the Sovereign Base Areas in Cyprus. But given the extremely close proximity of the two Scottish bases to the rest of the UK metropole, there doesn’t seem any pressing need to go down the Overseas Territory route when they could function perfectly well as simple exclaves.

The most galling part, however, is that the SNP currently intends an independent Scotland to join NATO, a nuclear alliance – part of its bid to cast the new state as a responsible member of the international community. But as Kenny Farquharson put it, that means their anti-nuclear policy really just amounts to demanding a change of address for Trident, and then trying to benefit from NATO without contributing to it.