LibDem limits

The main electoral impact of the Liberal Democrats in modern times has been to help deny the Conservatives a working Commons majority.  They have done so regardless of whether the latter have been in government or opposition.

In 1974, the Conservatives were in government, the Liberal vote surged, Edward Heath failed to win a majority and Jeremy Thorpe refused to enter a coalition with him.  In 2010, the Tories were in opposition, the LibDem vote rose slightly, David Cameron failed to gain a majority – and Nick Clegg took his party into coalition.

It is significant that sweeping LibDem gains haven’t tended to harm Labour.  In 1997, the party gained 25 seats, taking its total to 34.  In the same election, Tony Blair won a landslide.  He and Paddy Ashdown had crushed the Conservatives in a pincer movement.

The tumultuous effects of Brexit have resuscitated the LibDems and are reviving their prospects.  Coalition nearly killed them, at least at Westminster.  But the EU referendum has given them a new lease of life.  Once again, it is most evident in areas which otherwise return Conservative MPs or councils.

Out of their 14 MPs in England and Wales, all those elected as Liberal Democrats in 2017 had the Tories in second place.  In the local elections last spring, all their councils gained were in yellow/blue areas.  Their revival tends to be concentrated in areas in which they flourished between roughly the late Thatcher and late Cameron eras.

This is the context in which to viewed their latest shift on Brexit, the opportunities it is bringing them, and the defections it is gaining them.  The shift to revocation takes place in the context of their competiton with Labour.  The more red votes the party can squeeze in blue/yellow marginals, the more seats it is likely to win.

So as Labour gradually commits itself more explicitly to Remain, to be delivered through the medium of a second referendum, the more the LibDems must try to outflank it.  Junking the referendum and going straight for revocation is the obvious means of doing so.

The ploy carries risks for Jo Swinson’s party.  Revocation may play well in South-West London or university-type seats.  But it is hard to see how it will be a plus in Brexity South West of England.  Swinson seems to be going for broke in the Remain heartlands of 2016: the capital itself and what might loosely be called the greater South East.  Plus Scotland.

In her perfect world, the Liberal Democrats will sweep up London seats in which they have not been previously competitive.  Hence Chuka Umunna’s flight from Streatham towards the Cities of London and Westminster.  She may also be hoping to have a crack at Labour in some of its north London constituencies.  The prospect is agitating pro-EU Labour MPs such as Keir Starmer and Emily Thornberry to push harder for Remain.

It is tempting to write off the Revocation policy.  After all, Swinson can only implement it herself with the Commons majority that she won’t win.  That clip of a prosperous-looking LibDem audience whooping it up for Guy Verhofstadt’s imperalist ravings won’t impress Revocation-sceptic centrist voters.

But the shift will have an effect on the conversation at Westminster.  Were Swinson to win that mythical majority, Revocation would be one thing: she would have won the right to implement it, fair and square.  But the policy will be quite another if Brexit doesn’t take place on October 31, and MPs begin to drift in its direction without a mandate.

That would be to flick a V-sign not only at 17 million Leave voters but the entire EU referendum result – with consequences for the stability of our already shaken politics that are potentially shattering.  Revocation in that context would be the real extremism, not No Deal, for which at least there is a mandate if necessary.

Swinson’s gambit may blow up.  It could just be that LibDem support in blue/red marginals collapses, handing the Conservatives new seats in the Midlands and North, and that these outnumber LibDem gains in the blue/yellow marginals.  Or that the Luciana Berger and Angela Smith defections to the party are the start of something bigger

Four-way politics in England and Wales complicates all these calculations, as does its equivalent north of the border: Swinson herself could lose her seat to the SNP, which took it from her 2015, before she won it back two years later.  Which reminds us that there will be more to any forthcoming general election than Brexit.

This should lead us to look at the LibDems in the round, as their conference continues today.  Coalition sobered them up, at least for a while, and provided some good Ministers: Steve Webb’s work with Iain Duncan Smith at Work and Pensions stands out.

But most of the stars of that era have either left the Commons or are leaving: Clegg, Webb, David Laws, Vince Cable.  Their successors look less impressive.  And the Tory defectors, Phillip Lee and Sam Gyimah, may not be in the Commons for much longer (and nor may the Labour ones, come to think of it.)

The LibDems have a core problem that they cannot shake off.  In local government, they may well revive further.  In the European elections, they can build on their second place won this year. In Scotland, they could conceivably govern as part of some rainbow coalition.  That is also possible in Wales, where they are currently weak.  Westminster is a different proposition.

For a lesson of the Cameron years is that first past the post sets the party up for punishment if it goes into coalition.  Doing so tends to have the effect of depressing smaller parties in any event, as Paddy Ashdown used to point out, regardless of the electoral system in question. But first past the post intensifies the effect.

Were the LibDems to go into coalition with the Conservatives again, their lefter-leaning voters would desert them.  The reverse would be true were they to go into coalition with Labour.  (The Lib/Lab pact scarcely helped the Liberals in 1979.)  In any event, a lot of LibDem support comes from protest voters.  In 2015, many of these decamped to UKIP, in defiance of any ideological consistency.

This suggests that the most durable option for the LibDems in any future hung Parliament would be confidence and supply.  It is almost impossible to imagine Swinson going into coalition with Jerermy Corbyn or Boris Johnson in any case.

No Ministerial cars; no red boxes.  No more posts as Deputy Prime Minister, or LibDem Ministers shaping government policy.  It is a grim fate for any ambitious politician to accept, but the LibDem mentality is different to that of Labour, as well as us Conservatives.  They are used to marginality, being squeezed – and the joys of irresponsible opposition. Brexit has changed much for them, but less than one might think.

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Henry Hill: Government disowns attack on Scottish judiciary and tries to reassure Unionist allies

Government retreats from ill-judged attach on Scottish court…

Yesterday the Court of Session in Scotland ruled that Boris Johnson’s advice to Her Majesty to prorogue Parliament was unlawful, in a ruling which sent shockwaves through both the Westminster bubble and the legal community.

We covered this on the site yesterday, and I went into a bit more detail over on CapX about what this ruling might mean both for the present Government and for the longer-term relationship between the political and judicial elements of our constitution.

One thing I did warn ministers against was following the lead of an anonymous spokesman who, offering the Government’s first response to the judgment, appeared to call into question the impartiality of Scottish judges.

Needless to say Nicola Sturgeon was all over that at once, and whilst the Government has rightly rowed back from that line it may be too late to avoid handing the SNP another stick with which to beat the Scottish Tories at any upcoming general election.

However, the Government did receive some good news this morning when a Belfast court ruled that Brexit – even a no-deal Brexit – does not break the Belfast Agreement. We have previously said as much.

…as Johnson squares up to the Nationalists

Perhaps this will be offset by other efforts by the Prime Minister to ‘move the battlefield to Scotland’. In a trip to Aberdeen last week he moved to shore up the Conservatives’ unionist bona fides by insisting that he wouldn’t grant the Scottish Government the legal authority to hold an independence referendum – even if the SNP won a ‘landslide’ in a snap election.

He said: “People were told in 2014 that the referendum was a once in a generation event. I don’t see why we should go back on it.” The Prime Minister also unveiled an extra £200 million in central funding for Scottish farmers.

Whilst it might not be popular with the devo-max brigade, there is a very strong case for imposing proper limits on the frequency of independence plebiscites. Not only would it prevent the SNP from completely denormalising the UK and force them to focus on governing – where their record worsens by the week – but it may also be essential to the proper functioning of the very benefits of Union which the Government needs to sell voters on.

In other SNP news, it appears they may be about to deselect one of their sitting MPs. Dr Lisa Cameron failed to win a vote of Nationalist members to get re-adopted, blaming a ‘local smear campaign’ over her refusal to vote to legalise abortion in Northern Ireland.

DUP insist they still have clout amidst rumours Johnson might be lining up to cave on the backstop…

At this week’s ‘People’s PMQs’ Johnson once again ruled out a Northern Ireland-only backstop – but that has done little to quiet rumours that he might be about to revive it in order to pass a Brexit deal through the Commons.

Speculation has been fuelled further by apparent moves in Downing Street to clear the way for readmitting the rebels who lost the whip after voting to strip the Government of control of the Brexit negotiations – in order to protect the Prime Minister from the ‘spears’ of the European Research Group.

Despite signs that the Democratic Unionists might be open to all-island arrangements on some issues, namely agrifood, both they and the great bulk of Northern Irish unionists remain implacably opposed to any arrangement which sees their Province split away from the mainland.

Amidst reports of growing Unionist unease – not helped by reports of senior Tories saying Johnson is preparing to throw them under a bus – the DUP have been forced to insist that they still have clout at Westminster. They may now be wishing that they had opted for a deeper and longer-term arrangement with the Conservatives when it was offered to them in 2017, as their semi-detached status and 2019 renewal point are now starting to look more like a liability than a chance to extract more cash from London.

Just to reiterate that opposition to the backstop is not confined to hardliners – and Lord Ashcroft’s polling finds four unionists in five opposed to it – Lord Empey has this week set out the Ulster Unionist Party’s proposed alternatives.

Meanwhile Arlene Foster, the DUP leader and former First Minister, has announced that she will not be seeking a Westminster seat at any upcoming general election. There had been speculation she might do so lest her position as leader become untenable should Stormont remain suspended and the political centre of gravity shift back to London.

In other Ulster news, the Government has announced a shot in the arm to iconic shipbuilder Harland & Wolff with a multi-billion pound contract for new Royal Navy frigates, and Northern Irish Office minister Lord Duncan has raised eyebrows after failing to defend a senior civil servant from ferocious criticism over a controversial payment to an official ‘offended’ by a portrait of the Queen.

…as Varadkar’s relationship with them deteriorates apace

All of this comes amidst collapsing belief amongst unionists in Leo Varadkar’s good faith on the backstop. The Irish leader has also been strongly criticised by Micheál Martin, the leader of the opposition, for failing to adequately prepare Ireland for a no-deal Brexit.

Bertie Ahern, a former taoiseach, also made an important intervention to warn Dublin against trying to impose a settlement without the support of the unionists. He argued that the Belfast Agreement’s promise of equal treatment had to apply to both sides:

“Any solution has to include the unionist people because parity of esteem in the Good Friday agreement is both sides; to do a deal through Europe with Britain that creates a problem for the unionist community and will be rejected by the English nationalists in the Commons – that’s not really an option.”

Apart from the nonsensical reference to ‘English nationalists’ this is sound advice, and echoes concerns we highlighted last year about Dublin’s intensely one-sided interpretation of the Agreement.

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Leave Beat the SNP in Half of Their Westminster Seats

The SNP love going on about how more Remain votes than Leave votes came from Scotland in the United Kingdom’s EU referendum. They don’t like mentioning that more than a million Scots voted to leave, or the fact that if you disregard the Leave votes from Scotland and Northern Ireland, Remain would have won. Guido has compiled some data that might offer the Scot Nats a reason to think again about ignoring the sizeable contingent of Scottish Brexiteers…

In half of the SNPs 35 seats, the Leave percentage outweighed the SNP vote share in the 2017 election. The SNP MPs who have cause to be worried are:

  • Kirsty Blackman Aberdeen North 41.3 SNP 43.09 Leave
  • Neil Gray Airdrie and Shotts 37.6 SNP 39.84 Leave
  • Brendan O’Hara Argyll and Bute 36 SNP  39.43 Leave
  • Phillipa Whitford Central Ayrshire 37.2 SNP 41.62 Leave
  • Douglas Chapman Dunfermline and West Fife 35.5 SNP 39.39 Leave
  • John McNally Falkirk 38.9 SNP 43.2 Leave
  • David Linden Glasgow East 38.8 SNP 43.84 Leave
  • Chris Stephens Glasgow South West 40.7 SNP 40.86 Leave
  • Peter Grant Glenrothes 42.8 SNP 47.61 Leave
  • Drew Hendry Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey 39.9 SNP 40.13 Leave
  • Angela Crawley Lanark and Hamilton East 32.6 SNP 35.96 Leave
  • Martyn Day Linlithgow and East Falkirk 36.3 SNP 42.02 Leave
  • Hannah Bardell Livingston 40.1 SNP 43.26 Leave
  • Angus MacNeil Na h-Eileanan an Iar 40.6 SNP 43.9 Leave
  • Patricia Gibson North Ayrshire and Arran 38.9 SNP 42.4 Leave
  • Stephen Gethins North East Fife 32.9 SNP 41.4 Leave (Fife only stats available)
  • Ian Blackford Ross, Skye & Lochaber 40.3 SNP 43.49 Leave

The Tories becoming the Leave Party might not be such a bad move in Scotland after all…

The post Leave Beat the SNP in Half of Their Westminster Seats appeared first on Guido Fawkes.

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John McDonnell says there are no deals with SNP over a second independence referendum

Shadow chancellor John McDonnell has ruled out election deals with the SNP about Scottish independence.

Speaking on BBC’s Andrew Marr Show, Mr McDonnell did not comment on potential alliances if a general election is called imminently.

Asked about his comments at the Edinburgh Festival that Labour would not block a second Scottish independence referendum, he insisted “there are no deals whatsoever” with the SNP.

The comments had caused controversy as they were at odds with the stated position of the Scottish Labour Party.

‘Not doing a deal’

John McDonell says there are no deals in place over a news Scottish referendum vote (Photo: Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)

Speaking on The Andrew Marr Show on Sunday morning, Mr McDonnell said that it was still his opinion but added: “That’s not a deal, that’s my personal view that I’ve expressed.

“That’s not doing a deal, that’s my position, but we’re not doing deals with anyone.

“When we go into the next general election, I believe we will have a majority, but if we are in a minority, we will be a minority government, we won’t do coalitions, we will expect [other parties] to support the party.

“If we’re in a minority position, we’ll form a government and the other opposition parties can vote for the policies we’re advocating and if they don’t, we’ll go back to the people.”

Westminster vs Holyrood

John McDonnell: 'I think Scotland should stay united within the United Kingdom' (Photo: Anthony Devlin/Getty Images)
John McDonnell: ‘I think Scotland should stay united within the United Kingdom’ (Photo: Anthony Devlin/Getty Images)

Under the Scotland Act, Holyrood could only hold an independence vote if it is given the power to do so by the UK Government.

Mr McDonnell said: “I said then (in Edinburgh), I don’t think it’s up to the UK Parliament to block a referendum. I don’t think there should be another referendum, I think Scotland should stay united within the United Kingdom.

“It would not be a priority for us, we’ve got enough to deal with, with climate change, austerity, etc

“Certainly it wouldn’t be in the early years of a Labour government and there would have to be a proper mandate in Scotland – the Scottish people would have to decide themselves.”

‘Determine our own future’

Reacting to Mr McDonnell’s comments, the SNP’s deputy Westminster leader Kirsty Blackman MP said: “No Westminster government, of any party, has the right to stand in the way of the sovereign right of the people of Scotland to determine their own future.

Read more:

Ruth Davidson’s resignation leaves Tories adrift in Scotland

“John McDonnell is right to recognise it would be completely undemocratic for a Labour Westminster Government to try to block a fresh independence referendum, which the Scottish people and Parliament have voted to hold.

“The SNP will put Scotland’s opposition to Brexit and our right to choose our own future as an independent nation at the heart of the coming election.

“A win for the SNP will reinforce Scotland’s right to choose and see any remaining opposition at Westminster wash away.”

Additional reporting from Press Association.

More politics

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Henry Hill: Scottish Nationalists, Democratic Unionists, and Sinn Fein put themselves on a war footing

SNP chomping at the bit for an election as Sturgeon tees up referendum demand…

Although the Prime Minister’s bid for an election was defeated in the House of Commons last night, there remains a general expectation that Britain will go to the polls sooner rather than later – and unionists and nationalists have been gearing up.

The Scottish National Party are chomping at the bit for an election. This is unsurprising, because polling suggests that they are on course to win back most of their 2017 losses and return to a ballpark of around 50 seats, with the Conservatives reduced to around three.

As a result, the Nationalists’ current Commons cohort may play a key role if Boris Johnson does manage to secure the House’s backing for a dissolution – although it suits neither party to be seen to be collaborating with the other.

…as the First Minister hits out at plans for cybernat party…

Sturgeon has also criticised plans by Stuart Campbell, the Bath-based leader of cybernat site Wings over Scotland, to set up a new separatist party to contest the next Holyrood elections. He believes that by offering pro-independence voters more options on the list vote – alongside the Greens – he can maximise the efficiency of the anti-UK vote and the number of separatist MSPs returned.

Whilst the First Minister has good reason to be wary of such a party – it would represent a more populist stain of nationalism than her own, and likely offer a vehicle to the SNP’s unreconciled ‘Salmondites’ – the electoral logic of multiple parties for list seats is sound. Something for advocates of a ‘united unionist party’ – which now includes Adam Tomkins, a senior Scottish Conservative MSP – to bear in mind.

This comes as the Scottish Government prepares to demand that Westminster cede them the power to hold a re-run of the referendum on Scottish independence at some point in 2020. Holyrood has already prepared legislation to hold a plebiscite, but has no legal authority to authorise one as the constitution is – quite rightly – reserved to Westminster.

…and DUP and Sinn Fein set themselves on a war footing

Meanwhile in Northern Ireland both the Democratic Unionists and Sinn Fein are on a war footing. The latter have announced that they may be willing to collaborate with other anti-Brexit parties in order to unseat DUP MPs – an alliance absent in 2017, when the Unionists made advances. Although at least once analyst thinks that both parties should be confident of holding their seats, an anti-DUP alliance could threaten seats such as Belfast South and Belfast North.

One fun story which ran this week was the suggestion that Kate Hoey, the Ulster-born Labour MP and hard Brexiteer, might stand for the DUP in North Down. This followed stories that the Vauxhall MP had hinted she might stand for a party other than Labour – most likely the Brexit Party.

Although she is close to the Unionists on many issues she would be a poor fit for the seat, and so it is not surprising that she has dismissed such claims this morning.

Arlene Foster, the former First Minister and leader of the DUP, has also been floated as a possible high-profile candidate for the last unionist seat in Northern Ireland outside her party’s hands. Unless Stormont returns, her position as leader will grow increasingly difficult as power shifts further to Westminster.

Finally Danny Kinahan, the former MP for South Antrim and champion of liberal unionism, has announced his intention to contest his seat again at any upcoming contest. He won it during the brief renaissance of the Ulster Unionist Party at the 2015 election, before falling victim to the DUP surge two years later.

Court rejects Scottish bid to overrule prorogation of Parliament

A rare bit of good news for Boris Johnson this week as yet another of Jolyon Maugham’s crowd-funded legal challenges to the Government ended in failure.

Lord Docherty ruled that the move was inherently political and thus non-justiciable. He said: “Accountability for the advice is to Parliament and ultimately the electorate and not to the courts. In my opinion, there has been no contravention of the rule of law.”

This cuts to the heart of the philosophical dispute between those who advocate for a so-called ‘political constitution’ – wherein the highest authorities are the politicians and, ultimately, the electorate – and those who desire a so-called ‘constitution of laws’, with that role de facto played by the courts. This dispute was referenced in submissions to the court.

A separate case, brought by high-profile Remainer litigants including Gina Miller and Jo Swinson, will be heard at the High Court in London this afternoon.

Republicans in the spotlight over weird donation

In other Northern Irish news, Sinn Fein are facing scrutiny after a man who lived in a caravan left the Party millions of pounds – one of the Province’s largest-ever political donations – in his will.

Not only was the £2.5 million sum higher than initially reported, and the will signed just a month before the IRA’s 1997 ceasefire, but the gentleman in question named two senior IRA figures as its executors. Not suspicious at all.

Meanwhile Michele O’Neill, the party’s leader in Northern Ireland, faces a challenge for the vice-presidency of Sinn Fein from John O’Dowd, another MLA and former Stormont education minister.

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Nicola Sturgeon says Shetland a ‘top target’ for SNP after Lib Dem hold

The Liberal Democrats have held on to their seat in Shetland after a hard fought Holyrood by-election, but the party saw its majority reduced significantly at the hands of the SNP.

The result means that the island constituency is no longer Scotland’s safest seat, with Nicola Sturgeon claiming it is now a “top target” for her party at the next election in 2021.

Lib Dem candidate Beatrice Wishart won 5,659 votes after a strong turnout of 66.5 per cent, making history in the process by becoming the first female parliamentarian elected to represent the area.

However, the SNP mounted a strong campaign in the build up the vote and secured a 14.4 per cent swing away from the Lib Dems. The party’s candidate Tom Wills finishing second with 3,822 votes.

Majority cut

The result means that the Lib Dem majority has been more than halved from 4,895 in 2016 to only 1,837. Turnout was also higher that then 62 per cent recorded at the last election.

The by-election was sparked by the resignation of long standing MSP Tavish Scott, the former Scottish Lib Dem leader who had represented the constituency since 1999.

Ms Wishart said she was honoured to become Shetland’s first female MSP after the “roller coaster” campaign and said the constituency had “once again rejected Scottish nationalism”.

Nicola Sturgeon visited Shetland three times in the build up to the by-election (Photo: Getty)
Nicola Sturgeon visited Shetland three times in the build up to the by-election (Photo: Getty)

“My work will start on Monday to get the Scottish Government to take action on its empty promises for fair ferry funding, to improve nursery provision, mental health care and broadband.”

Alistair Carmichael, the Lib Dem MP for Orkney and Shetland, claimed the result would be a “bitter disappointment” for the SNP.

“Just last week Nicola Sturgeon was here for her third visit in a month, telling us it was going to be neck and neck. If that was neck and neck, all I can say is that’s some neck,” he added.

Sturgeon ‘proud’

However, the First Minister said she was “proud” of the campaign her party had fought and said the result meant the seat was now easily winnable at the next election.

“The Lib Dem majority has been slashed, with a 14 per cent swing to SNP. What was the safest seat in Scotland is now a top SNP target for 2021. The tide is turning,” she added.

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Ruth Davidson’s resignation leaves Tories adrift in Scotland

The result also contained more bad electoral news for Scottish Labour, which fell from third place in 2016 to sixth, with candidate Johan Adamson winning just 152 votes.

Independent candidate Ryan Thomson came in third with 1,286 votes, ahead of Conservative Brydon Goodlad on 425 and Green candidate Debra Nicolson on 189.

Scotland’s safest seat is now Orkney, where Lib Dem MSP Liam McArthur has a majority of 43.1 per cent over the SNP.

Full results:

  • Beatrice Wishart (Scottish Lib Dems) 5,659 (47.86%, -19.52%)
  • Tom Wills (SNP) 3,822 (32.32%, +9.27%)
  • Ryan Thomson (Independent) 1,286 (10.88%)
  • Brydon Goodlad (Scottish Conservative) 425 (3.59%, -0.07%)
  • Debra Nicolson (Green) 189 (1.60%)
  • Johan Adamson (Scottish Labour) 152 (1.29%, -4.61%)
  • Michael Stout (Independent) 134 (1.13%)
  • Ian Scott (Independent) 66 (0.56%)
  • Stuart Martin (UKIP) 60 (0.51%)
  • Peter Tait (Independent) 31 (0.26%)

14.40% swing Lib Dem to SNP

Electorate 17,810 – Turnout 11,824 (66.39%, up by 4.31%)

More on Scotland

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Iain Dale: I hope this isn’t the last we see of Ruth Davidson

Iain Dale presents the evening show on LBC Radio, and is the author of the forthcoming book ‘Why can’t we all just get along’.

I can’t imagine there is a Conservative in the country who doesn’t regret the resignation of Ruth Davidson as leader of the Scottish Conservatives. Any political observer with half a brain can see that she has transformed the fortunes of the party north of the border. OK, no leader achieves the kind of success she has singlehandedly, but she has set the tone and led from the front. I doubt any of us ever really believed she would help deliver 13 Tory MPs and overtake Labour to become the main opposition to the SNP in the Scottish Parliament. But she defied all expectations. I’ve never had children but I imagine if I had, it would have been a life-changing experience. Clearly that has been the case for Ruth and her partner Jen, and I hope she gets huge satisfaction from bringing up their young son Finn – the kind of satisfaction politics can never deliver. I very much hope this isn’t the last we will see of Ruth Davidson. She must know that if she wants a career in Westminster, it’s hers for the asking. Clearly that’s not going to happen for a few years, but there will no doubt be a stream of constant speculation on the issue for some time to come, unless she categorically rules it out.

– – – – – – – – – – –

The decision to prorogue Parliament has launched a cascade of bluster and outrage among opposition parties and Remainers. I wrote a long blogpost on the issue on my website on Wednesday and won’t repeat all my arguments here, except to say this: isn’t it great to see a Prime Minister who knows what he wants, has a sense of direction and will get down and dirty in order to achieve his aim? It is of course fatuous to claim that this isn’t a tactical move. Of course it is. But then again, the reaction to it has been so OTT as to be risible. Those who have a full case of Brexit Derangement Syndrome have gone full tonto and likened it to a Latin American coup, or compared Boris Johnson to Hitler. Normal voters on both sides of the debate look on in bemusement and wonder if these politicians think we are stupid. We keep being told by people in the media who ought to know better that it’s the longest prorogation since the 1940s, conveniently omitting to point out that Parliament wouldn’t have been sitting for three weeks anyway due to the party conferences. Ah yes, says Lewis Goodall of Sky News, but you’re being disingenuous because MPs might have voted to sit during the party conferences. Might. That’s the key word. I doubt it very much. So now we are faced with the ludicrous spectacle of some MPs going to sit in Church House in a makeshift parliament. Who are they going to debate with? People they agree with? It’ll be the ultimate ‘massdebate’. If you get my drift…

– – – – – – – – – – –

There was a right kerfuffle in France at the weekend when Downing Street cancelled a planned interview by Boris Johnson with Channel 4 News. It’s clear that the reason for cancellation was what Dorothy Byrne, the Head of Channel 4 News & Politics, said about the Prime Minister in her Mactaggart lecture at the Edinburgh TV Festival. She called him a liar – an extraordinary thing for someone in her position to say. It rather detracted from what was actually a rather interesting lecture. She questioned why leading politicians won’t do interviews without realising that comments like hers were one of the reasons. Her wider point is valid, though. For instance, it was ridiculous that on the day of the prorogation announcement that no government minister was put up to defend the decision on the radio or TV. All we had to go on was Boris Johnson’s pooled clip, given to Sky. I couldn’t get a government minister on my show, nor could Newsnight, or anyone else. So what did most programmes do? Line up a constant stream of guests who criticised the move. The next morning Jacob Rees-Mogg did a full media round, but by then it was a bit late. I had hoped that Downing Street would cut the apron strings a bit under the new regime, but it appears not. What political communications people need to realise is that if they don’t let politicians on the media to explain government policies, no one else is going to do it for them. If ministers can’t be trusted to explain government strategy or policy, then perhaps they shouldn’t be ministers at all. All that is needed is for there to be a cadre of 5-10 Cabinet and junior ministers who are known to be good communicators, to be placed around the media on days of big announcements. They can be properly briefed and sent out to bat. Sounds a perfectly sensible way of organising things to me…

– – – – – – – – – – –

It’s great news that Andrew Neil is back on our screens with his own show on a Wednesday evening. My only regret is that it clashes with my radio show! It looks from the press release that it’s possibly only going to run until 31 October, but most people will hope that it becomes a permanent fixture. It’s not clear what kind of show it will be, but I assume it will be primarily interview-based. Exactly as it should be. Andrew is a pre-eminent political interviewer and his Straight Talk show is still sorely missed.

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Nicola Sturgeon says Boris Johnson suspending Parliament is ‘not democracy, it is dictatorship’

SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon accused Boris Johnson of operating a “dictatorship” for his plans to suspend Parliament – which she says are intended to “force through a no-deal Brexit.”

Number 10 confirmed plans to suspend Parliament on from the second week of September until October 14, when there will be a Queen’s Speech to open a new session of Parliament.

The act, known as prorogation, has provoked outrage from opposition figures who will have a restricted timeframe to block a no-deal Brexit.

‘It is dictatorship’

Nicola Sturgeon accused Boris Johnson of running a ‘dictatorship.’ (Photo: BBC)

“This is absolutely outrageous,” Ms Sturgeon told the BBC, adding: “shutting down parliament in order to force through a no-deal Brexit – which will do untold and lasting damage to the country against the wishes of MPs – is not democracy, it is dictatorship.”

“If MPs don’t come together next week to stop Boris Johnson in his tracks, then I think today will go down in history as the day UK democracy died. This simply can’t be allowed to happen.”

Commons Speaker John Bercow interrupted his holiday to launch a tirade against the Prime Minister, calling his actions a “constitutional outrage”.

“However it is dressed up, it is blindingly obvious that the purpose of prorogation now would be to stop Parliament debating Brexit and performing its duty in shaping a course for the country,” Mr Bercow said.

‘Prorogation’

Boris Johnson at the despatch box for the first time as Prime Minister (Photo: Jessica Taylor/UKParliament/PA Wire)
Boris Johnson at the despatch box for the first time as Prime Minister (Photo: Jessica Taylor/UKParliament/PA Wire)

Prorogation simply means the end of a parliamentary session. It automatically happens when an election is called, and is not necessarily a drastic constitutional move. But with Brexit looming on the 31 October the move is being viewed by the opposition as an attempt to restrict their ability to block his plans for Brexit.

Opposition leaders led by Jeremy Corbyn agreed at a meeting on Tuesday to use the moment when Parliament returns from its summer break on September 3 to work together on a new law to prevent a no-deal Brexit.

Read more: what is prorogation and has it happened before 

The Prime Minister has repeatedly promised to take the UK out of the European Union on October 31, with or without a deal.

Mr Corbyn said: “I am appalled at the recklessness of Johnson’s government, which talks about sovereignty and yet is seeking to suspend Parliament to avoid scrutiny of its plans for a reckless no-deal Brexit.

“This is an outrage and a threat to our democracy.”

‘Ample time in Parliament’

MPs vote in the Commons. (Parliament TV)

But the Prime Minister said it was “completely untrue” to suggest that Brexit was the reason for his decision, insisting that he needed a Queen’s Speech to set out a “very exciting agenda” of domestic policy.

The move would also allow him to bring forward legislation for a new Withdrawal Agreement if a deal can be done with Brussels around the time of the European Council summit on October 17.

“There will be ample time on both sides of that crucial October 17 summit, ample time in Parliament for MPs to debate the EU, to debate Brexit, and all the other issues,” Mr Johnson said.

Asked whether the move was because he was planning a general election before the end of the year, Mr Johnson said: “No, what you should take from this is we are doing exactly what I said on the steps of Downing Street which is that we must get on now with our legislative domestic agenda.”

The public advocate was announced in the Queen's Speech
The Monarch attends the Queen’s Speech (PA)

The Commons was expected to sit in the first two weeks of September and then break for the conference recess – although opposition MPs had been planning to vote against leaving Westminster for the autumn party gatherings in late September and early October to allow more time to consider Brexit.

Mr Johnson’s move will now ensure that the Commons is not sitting during the period and MPs will return on the day of the Queen’s Speech.

Downing Street sources said only around four sitting days would be lost, although that was based on the conference recess being passed by MPs.

Mr Johnson said EU leaders were watching the actions of MPs and “it is only by showing unity and resolve that we stand a chance of securing a new deal that can be passed by Parliament”.

Additional reporting by Press Association.

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Boris Johnson faces Commons battle as opposition parties unite to oppose no-deal Brexit

Boris Johnson faces a parliamentary battle as Jeremy Corbyn agreed to work with other opposition parties to find practical ways to try to block a no-deal Brexit in the Commons.

He has backed off from his original plan to call an early no-confidence vote in Mr Johnson’s government and install himself as caretaker Prime Minister in a temporary government.

Senior figures from six parties at a meeting in the Labour leader’s office agreed instead to focus on finding legislation to prevent Britain leaving the European Union without agreement. That could include amending Bills going through the Commons to demand a delay to Brexit or trying to seize control of the parliamentary timetable.

They are preparing to make their move shortly after MPs return from their summer break next week.

Talking tactics

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has been warned over the potential impact of a no-deal Brexit
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has been warned over the potential impact of a no-deal Brexit (Photo: Thierry Chesnot/Getty)

The co-ordinated action is in response to Mr Johnson’s repeated insistence that he will take Britain out of the bloc with or without a deal on 31 October.

Mr Corbyn was joined round the table by Ian Blackford, the SNP’s Westminster leader, Jo Swinson, the Liberal Democrat leader; Anna Soubry, the leader of the Independent Group for Change; Liz Saville Roberts, Plaid Cymru’s Westminster leader, and Caroline Lucas, the former Green Party leader. Several pro-EU Conservatives had been invited, but none attended.

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Boris Johnson warns attempts to block or delay Brexit are doomed to failure

The group will meet again to talk tactics and flesh out their plans in the coming days. Following the hour-long meeting in Mr Corbyn’s Westminster office the six parties said in a joint statement: “The attendees agreed that Boris Johnson has shown himself open to using anti-democratic means to force through no deal.

“The attendees agreed on the urgency to act together to find practical ways to prevent No Deal, including the possibility of passing legislation and a vote of no confidence.”

‘Coalition of anti-democrats’

A Downing Street source responded: “It’s utterly perverse that Corbyn and his allies are actively seeking to sabotage the UK’s position. This coalition of anti-democrats should be honest with the British public, they are against us leaving the EU no matter what.”

Mr Blackford said the meeting had committed to “work together effectively to prevent a catastrophic no-deal”.

He said Mr Johnson had “no mandate or majority” and the numbers were stacking up against him.

Mr Corbyn’s initial proposal had been attacked by Ms Swinson who had argued that he was too divisive a figure to lead a united front.

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Scottish Secretary ignites row with SNP over ‘nationalist’ comments

The Scottish Secretary has been urged to apologise over an “offensive” newspaper column in which he likened the SNP to right wing nationalist movements in other parts of the world.

Alister Jack, who was chosen by Boris Johnson to replace David Mundell in last month’s Cabinet clear out, said Scotland’s ruling party “requires an enemy to make it thrive”.

His comments provoked a furious reaction from senior SNP politicians, who described his article as “embarrassing”, “extremist” and “politically and historically illiterate”.

Writing in the Times, Mr Jack said people in Nicola Sturgeon‘s party claimed that they subscribed to a “different kind of nationalism, somehow uniquely benign”.

‘Picking fights’

He added: “I’m sorry but I’m not sure I can spot the difference. Like nationalist movements the world over, it requires an enemy to make it thrive. It needs an ‘other’ to rail against.

“It’s all about finding something at which to take offence so they pick fights about flags on packaging, scour news bulletins and political shows for examples of imaginary bias.”

Nicola Sturgeon has said she would rather the SNP did not have 'national' in its name
Nicola Sturgeon has said she would rather the SNP did not have ‘national’ in its name (Photo: Getty)

Mr Jack, who unlike most Scots voted Leave in 2016’s referendum, also accused Ms Sturgeon of running a “campaign of scaremongering” against Brexit.

“[She] has said she wants a rerun of the 2014 independence referendum next year and she needs to fuel her push with anger, bitterness and resentment,” he added.

The Scottish Secretary’s comments were sharply criticised by SNP politicians and members, with the party’s Westminster leader Ian Blackford leading the backlash.

‘Lacks dignity’

“Wow, I am surprised the Secretary of State has sunk to this level. He should withdraw this article and apologise,” he wrote on Twitter.

“Let’s have an informed debate of Scotland as an independent country and yes, unionists should speak of their vision. This is not it. It lacks dignity.”

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Nicola Sturgeon: I’d back Jeremy Corbyn to stop no deal – but I don’t really trust him

MP Stewart McDonald said Mr Jack was “politically and historically illiterate”, while MP Angus MacNeil said his “extremist off the wall language” was “more applicable to describing his colleagues” in the Cabinet.

The row came after both Ms Sturgeon and Justice Secretary Humza Yousaf said they would remove the word “national” from their party’s name if they could turn the clock back.

Speaking at an event at the Edinburgh Fringe festival on Monday, the First Minister said she had “problems” with the word due to its association with right wing groups around the world.

Last week, Mr Yousaf also said he “struggled” with the word being attached to his party for the same reason, with both politicians suggesting they would have chosen something different.

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Henry Hill: Scottish Government’s own statistics punch fresh hole in the case for independence

Unionists pounce as Scottish Government data reveals huge deficit

This week has marked one of the big events in the constitutional debate calendar: GERS Day. This is when the Scottish Government publish the annual figures for ‘Government Expenditure and Revenue Scotland’.

GERS – which, again, are compiled by the Scottish Government – at one point formed the basis of the SNP’s prospectus for independence. But these days they’re enough to whip the separatist movement into a frenzy.

Why? Because they reveal that the distribution of wealth around the UK creates a ‘Union dividend’ for every Scot worth almost £2,000 a year, calculated from the amount extra that Scotland receives in public expenditure versus what it generates in revenue.

They also show that Scotland is currently running a public account deficit seven times higher than that of the UK as a whole. Were it an independent country it would have amongst the highest in the EU, and the Scottish Government would face an unenviable choice between swingeing public service cuts or eye-watering tax rises – probably both. No wonder the Scottish Conservatives have accused Nicola Sturgeon of going into hiding.

Unionists have not been slow to jump on these figures: Kevin Hague is the man to follow for number crunching, but Sam Taylor of pro-Union group These Islands has also written up a handy explainer on the benefits of the UK common market for Reaction.

But although the latest GERS figures are undoubtedly a boon to unionists fighting off what might be the imminent prospect of another independence referendum, they do highlight a strategic weakness in the pro-UK case: that it is so dependent on cash transfers and other, rather mercenary benefits. What will they campaign of if (when?) Scotland becomes a net contributor, and is asked to fund fiscal transfers to other parts of the UK?

Electoral Commission trips up the push for a Scottish referendum

But the GERS figures weren’t the only snares to trip the campaign for a re-run of the 2014 plebiscite on independence this week. Two more were laid, this time by the Electoral Commission.

First, the Commission wrote to MSPs to tell them that it would need to assess the wording of the question in any referendum – even if the wording was identical to the previous one. This opens the door for them rejecting a ‘Yes/No’ question, which pro-UK campaigners insist unfairly benefited the independence campaign in 2014.

It could also mean that the question might be altered to refer to both what might be gained and what would be lost, again in line with the new standards set in 2016. The EU referendum wording (“Should the United Kingdom remain a member of the European Union or leave the European Union?”) thus offered a more complete picture of the proposition than that on the ballot paper in Scotland two years previously (“Should Scotland be an independent country?”).

A more muscular approach to such questions by unionists is long overdue. David Cameron adopted a strategy of conceding to the SNP more than he needed to – on both the wording and timing of the referendum – in the hope that it would settle the issue. This was a mistake.

Further to its need to assess the wording, the Commission has also informed the Scottish Government that there ought to be nine months between the completion of any legislation to conduct another referendum and polling day. The Guardian reports that this could scotch proposals to hold another plebiscite next year – although the far bigger hurdle seems to be that the legislation has only been tabled in the Scottish Parliament, which has no authority to authorise one.

Corbyn doubles down on wooing separatists

Last week, this column covered how civil war has broken out inside the Labour Party after both Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell appeared to rewrite the Opposition’s policy on Scottish independence and declared that they would not stand in the way of another vote.

One week on and, despite some apparent back-tracking on whether or not Labour would seek an arrangement with the SNP in the Commons, the issue hasn’t gone away. Indeed, not only has Corbyn doubled down on his willingness to allow another independence referendum, but ITV report him saying that he wouldn’t be a barrier to one in Wales, giving a shot of publicity and credibility to what remains a very marginal campaign in the Province.

Not coincidentally, the Express revealed that the Labour leadership were in talks with the SNP about collaborating against No Deal at Westminster. The SNP’s willingness to install Corbyn as caretaker Prime Minister has also given them a stick with which to beat the Liberal Democrats – one reason why I suggested this week that the Nationalists might be the real, and indeed only, winners of abortive attempts to set up an anti-Brexit ’emergency government’.

News in Brief:

  • Deep concern in SNP over prospect of cybernat party – The Times
  • Johnson accuses Brussels of jeopardising peace in Ulster – Daily Telegraph
  • Scottish Government failed to audit £500,000 paid to Salmond – Daily Record
  • Pro-UK group call for ‘truth commission’ to fact-check referendum campaigns – The Scotsman
  • PSNI call for ‘progress’ after republican bomb attempt – BBC
  • Tycoon lambasts Scottish Government over ‘expropriated’ shipyard – FT
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The real winners of this abortive ’emergency government’ could be the SNP

At the time of writing, it looks as if efforts to put together a ‘letter-writing government’ – formed with the sole intention of extending Article 50 and then calling an election – are hitting the buffers.

For all the controversy around the handful of Conservative and ex-Conservative MPs who appear willing to discuss putting Jeremy Corbyn into Downing Street for that purpose, there aren’t nearly enough of them to offset the ten ex-Labour MPs who won’t countenance installing their former leader.

Writing in the Daily Telegraph, Stephen Bush estimates that a Corbyn-led ’emergency government’ (the phrasing varies from advocate to advocate) would require 14 Tory rebels just to offset those hold-outs. He then reveals that they can’t even get Dominic Grieve.

As the Labour leadership are extremely unlikely to stand aside to allow a less divisive figure to do the job, the plan looks as if it might be dead in the water. Oddly, the biggest winners of this abortive effort might be the SNP.

Whilst they may no longer hold nearly every seat in Scotland, the parliamentary arithmetic is such that Nicola Sturgeon’s phalanx of Nationalist MPs would be absolutely crucial to any administration capable of outvoting the Conservative/Democratic Unionist alliance in the Commons. Unlike the hole she has dug for herself over independence, the First Minister seems to have used this leverage fairly well.

Unlike the other potential members of the rainbow coalition, the SNP have not ruled out making Jeremy Corbyn the next Prime Minister if that’s what it takes to halt Article 50. This has had several benefits.

First, they have been able to tempt both John McDonnell and, today, Jeremy Corbyn into undermining Labour’s agreed position on the Union and talking up the prospect of a second independence referendum. This has plunged an already-weakened Scottish Labour into civil war, and will likely see its vote squeezed even further as the SNP corral pro-independence voters and unionists consolidate behind Ruth Davidson’s Conservatives.

Second, this stance has allowed Sturgeon to put pressure on Jo Swinson. As the Scottish leader of a left-liberal, pro-EU party, SNP strategists might have worried that a Liberal Democrat revival might further chip away at their post-2014 coalition.

But Swinson’s room for manoeuvre is hindered by the fact that her Party’s main targets are mostly Tory-Lib Dem marginals where Corbyn is toxic. Putting a spotlight on Swinson’s swithering allows Sturgeon to paint the SNP as the best advocates for Scottish Europhiles, at very little cost to herself.

And of course, actually installing Corbyn in Number Ten would allow the Tories to re-run their successful campaign against the spectre of a ‘Lab-Nat Pact’ at the next election, not unhelpful if you think that a government led by Boris Johnson is a booster for independence.

The only possible danger seems to lie in the plan somehow working, and Corbyn entering the election legitimised as Prime Minister and as the hero who thwarted Johnson and his dastardly no-deal plans. But that prospect is probably not keeping the First Minister up at night.

It has now been two years since we first highlighted how the machinations of parliamentary remainers were bolstering those who want to break up the Union. It’s time this truth sank in.

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Nicola Sturgeon: I’d back Jeremy Corbyn to stop no deal – but I don’t really trust him

Nicola Sturgeon said she would be prepared to help install Jeremy Corbyn as the leader of an emergency government to avert the “catastrophe” of a no-deal Brexit.

Labour leader Mr Corbyn has urged other opposition parties to oust Boris Johnson in a vote of no confidence and make him a caretaker Prime Minister until a general election is held.

His surprise plan was rejected out of hand by the Liberal Democrat leader Jo Swinson, who argued that he was the wrong person to unite a deeply divided Commons.

But some pro-Remain Conservatives said they would meet Mr Corbyn to discuss tactics.

‘Explore any opportunity’

Ms Sturgeon, Scotland’s First Minister, also refused to exclude the strategy if it was needed to prevent Mr Johnson leading Britain out of the European Union on 31 October without agreement.

The SNP leader admitted she did not “particularly trust” Mr Corbyn, but said: “We will work with anyone and we will explore any opportunity to stop Brexit. It’s no secret that I’m not the greatest fan of Jeremy Corbyn but we won’t rule out any option if it helps avert what is a looming catastrophe of a no-deal Brexit.”

Jeremy Corbyn made the surprise offer on Thursday (Photo/Matt Dunham, AP)
Jeremy Corbyn made the surprise offer on Thursday (Photo: Matt Dunham, AP)

She also took a swipe at Ms Swinson for rejecting the Labour leader’s plan, saying: “I think that’s daft, frankly, for somebody who professes to be so against Brexit.”

The Green MP Caroline Lucas has also urged Ms Swinson to reconsider her hostility to the proposal.

The Liberal Democrat leader has floated an alternative blueprint in which either Kenneth Clarke or Harriet Harman serves as temporary Prime Minister in an “emergency government” to find a way out of the “national crisis” over Brexit.

She argued that there was “no way” the Labour leader could unite the Commons – not least because of hostility to him on his own backbenches.

First speech

Making her first major speech since succeeding Vince Cable, Ms Swinson instead recommended placing either the Father or Mother of the Commons – titles given to the longest-serving sitting male and female MPs – to lead a time-limited government.

“They are hugely experienced and, unlike Jeremy Corbyn, or indeed myself, they are not seeking to lead a government in the long term,” she said.

She disclosed that she had been in contact with both Mr Clarke and Ms Harman and believed that either would be happy to take on the role.

“I’m confident that if that’s what the House of Commons resolves then– those individuals will be happy to take on that role to try to steer our country through these difficult waters.”

Ms Swinson was speaking after welcoming the former Conservative MP Sarah Wollaston, who has been sitting as an independent, to the party, bringing the total number of Lib Dem MPs to 14.

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Henry Hill: Wallace rejects amnesty for Ulster veterans, but wants inquiries restrained

Wallace rejects amnesty for soldiers but wants inquiries curbed

This week Ben Wallace, the Defence Secretary, revealed that he is opposed to offering an amnesty to members of the Armed Forces who served in Northern Ireland during the Troubles.

Whilst arguing that they should receive “the very best legal advice and support”, the former Security Minister is reportedly concerned that any amnesty would also need to be extended to paramilitaries and terrorists. According to the Times, he said:

“We must make sure we don’t let off the hook the murderers that are still out there and need to be hunted down and convicted of the killings that they took part in.”

This will be controversial due to the previous scandal over so-called ‘comfort letters’, which were issued by the Blair Government and are widely viewed to have given a de facto amnesty to IRA terrorists. They came to light after collapsing the trial of John Downey, who was being prosecuted over his role in the Hyde Park bombing.

However, Wallace did offer ex-servicemen some hope. The Daily Mail reports that he doesn’t want any new investigations to proceed unless actual new evidence emerges against individual soldiers. He also stated that he did not intend to allow the history books to be ‘rewritten’, and that the Armed Forces should be proud of what they achieved in Ulster.

This is addressed directly at the concerns of many unionists, who worry that the historical inquiries process is unfairly targeting the Army and Royal Ulster Constabulary and thus bolstering a republican narrative of the Troubles.

Labour’s civil war on the Union deepens

Last week, I wrote about how John McDonnell had opened a rift in the Labour Party over their stance on a second Scottish independence referendum.

In what looked like a fairly shameless bid to woo the SNP, the Shadow Chancellor announced that a Corbyn-led government would not stand in the way of a second referendum.

This sparked huge controversy because McDonnell appeared to be unilaterally re-writing Labour policy on the issue – and cutting Scottish Labour off at the knees to boot.

Although he initially doubled down on his remarks, this week opened with Labour officially ruling out entering into any formal alliance with the Nationalists to oust the Tories, instead committing to governing as a minority government in such circumstances.

If true, this suggests a remarkable amount of strategic incoherence. Such an announcement is unlikely to undo the damage McDonnell has likely done to Labour’s standing with its unionist voters, whilst ruling out an alliance appears to rule out any potential dividend from his actions. Of course, it does invite us to speculate as to what constitutes a ‘formal alliance’…

Meanwhile the Scottish party has condemned the national leadership, and Labour MSPs have vowed to ignore the Shadow Chancellor’s new policy – although left-wing allies of McDonnell hit back at ‘kamikaze unionists’ in a leak to a separatist site. The surprise departure of Brian Roy, the General Secretary of Scottish Labour, added to the turmoil.

On the Tory front, David Mundell has cropped up to suggest that it would be very difficult for the Government to resist legislating for a second referendum in the event that separatist parties won a majority at the 2021 Scottish election. (He is mistaken.) Meanwhile a poll found that only two fifths of Scottish voters think another referendum should be granted in the next five years.

Salmond paid half a million by the Scottish Government

It is often suggested that Nicola Sturgeon and the SNP pursue independence so vociferously in part to distract from the hash they are making of governing Scotland. This week provides yet another raft of embarrassing headlines which lend weight to that suspicion.

First, and most shockingly, it emerged that the Scottish Government has paid out almost half a million pounds to Alex Salmond, the former First Minister, over its mishandling of its official inquiry into allegations of sexual misconduct levelled against him. This money was to cover his legal costs after he mounted a successful legal challenge on the matter.

That case is separate to the criminal case against the former SNP leader, who is charged with two attempted rapes, nine sexual assaults and two indecent assaults. He denies all wrongdoing, but the case remains a time bomb ticking under the Scottish Government – Sturgeon was Salmond’s protege, and it was her administration that presided over the botched inquiry into his conduct.

If that weren’t enough, elsewhere this week we learn that once again the Nationalists’ university fees policy has seen Scottish pupils missing out on places offered to applicants from elsewhere in the United Kingdom; the SNP Health Secretary has announced that an embattled £150 million hospital may not be open by the end of 2020, following concerns about the construction process and reviews of its safety; and a pro-Nationalist business magnate is furious that the Scottish Government may be about to nationalise a shipyard he rescued.

This week in commentary

There has been quite a bit of interesting commentary on Union-related issues this week, so rather than scatter them throughout the rest of the column I’ve collated them here.

Writing in the Daily Telegraph, Jeremy Warner suggests that Brexit has made Scottish independence more difficult (only two years after ConHome considered that point proven, but still). Rather than be bullish about the implications of this he chooses to finish on a maudlin note, but that’s unionism for you.

From his new vantage point at the Atlantic, the excellent Tom McTague (formerly of Politico) sets out why Brexiteers are right to be deeply concerned about the Irish backstop. The analysis isn’t perfect, but it’s a rare sympathetic take on the pro-UK position.

In the Scotsman, Brian Monteith – now a Brexit Party MEP – suggests that Ruth Davidson’s decisions have imperilled the UK, whilst Paul Hutcheon writes in the Herald that the biggest threat to the Union is Scottish Labour’s collapse.

Finally, Iain Martin has decided that the way to save the UK is radical constitutional reform including devolution to England, a senate, and the rest. As is traditional for advocates of this position, he appears to just assume it will work, and makes no attempt to explain why identical assumptions about the last two decades of the devolution project have all come to nothing. Sigh.

News in Brief:

  • Varadkar ‘opposed to direct rule’ as he prepares to meet Johnson – iNews
  • Controversial cybernat blogger to launch new separatist party – The Times
  • Lib Dems and Greens to join anti-Brexit alliance with Plaid – The Spectator
  • SDLP sparks row after querying Union Flags on Tesco fruit – Belfast Telegraph
  • Scottish Court to hear ‘fast-tracked’ legal challenge to Brexit – FT
  • Ex-Plaid leader criticised over comments on carrying knives – The Sun
  • RBS ‘will move to England’ in the event of independence – The Scotsman
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We don’t have a problem with Jeremy Corbyn as temporary Prime Minister, SNP MP says

An SNP MP has said his party would have no problem in helping install Jeremy Corbyn in Number 10 as a way of stopping a no-deal Brexit if Boris Johnson were to be ousted from power.

Mr Corbyn made a pitch to opposition party leaders on Wednesday night, asking them to vote with him to topple Mr Johnson when parliament returns in September and then support him becoming a temporary prime minister to lead a caretaker Government.

He said in the letter the caretaker Government would be “strictly time-limited” and would only apply for an extension to Brexit from the EU and to hold a snap general election. It would not enact any Labour policy.

Under the Fixed Terms Parliament Act, the opposition has two weeks to try and form a new Government following a successful no-confidence vote, after which a general election is held.

‘We’ve said we’d work with the Labour Party’

Stephen Gethins said the SNP would back Jeremy Corbyn. (Photo: BBC)

The suggestion was met with a mixed response from the smaller parties, while rebel Tories, who are critical for overturning Mr Johnson’s slender majority in the Commons, have tacitly engaged with Mr Corbyn.

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Jeremy Corbyn appeals to Tory MPs and opposition leaders to appoint him temporary Prime Minister

SNP MP Stephen Gethins, who is one of 35 nationalist MPs in Westminister, told BBC’s Newsnight: “We don’t have a problem with Jeremy Corbyn, if he can command the house or get majority there, being in No 10. We’ve said we’d work with the Labour Party.”

Moments before he had said: “I think we want to see the back of this frankly dangerous Tory government and will absolutely vote that we’ve got no confidence in this government.

“As Nicola Sturgeon made clear we’ll happily work with the Labour Party as well, we’ll work with our colleagues in the Liberal Democrats too.

“But what we also need to do and we need to ensure this, is we need to take no-deal off the table and there’s a sense of immediacy with that.

“And I think we’re in the same place with the Liberal Democrats on that as well, that just needs to go, and then we need to move forward from there.

“Let’s get rid of this Tory government. I also want to hear from Labour – are you a Remain party or are you a Leave party? Because I want us to remain in the European Union.”

Some opposition support

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has written to MPs calling for them to block no-deal Brexit (Photo: Getty)

There was cautious support from Plaid Cymru, with Liz Saville Roberts saying the party, which has 4 MPs, was open to a unity government regardless of who leads it, but that it must have “stopping Brexit” as its first priority.

Caroline Lucas, the Green Party’s sole MP, tweeted: “I welcome Corbyn’s Vote of No Confidence and will support his temporary government to avoid No Deal (though would prefer #PeoplesVote before General Election).

“But if he can’t gain the confidence of the House, will he commit to support an MP from his party or another who can?”

The group of Tory rebels, who have promised to help topple Mr Johnson, said they were open to enganing with Mr Corbyn, although it is unclear whether they support his plan to enter Number 10.

Lib-Dems say plan is ‘nonsense’

Liberal Democrat leader Jo Swinson said Mr Corbyn should not lead a government of national unity (Photo: Getty)

But Liberal Democrat leader Jo Swinson, whose party has 14 MPs, has dismissed Mr Corbyn’s letter calling for parties to work together as a “nonsense”, saying it should support a “unifying” figure to take charge.

Labour’s shadow business secretary Rebecca Long-Bailey said: “What I would say is issue a plea to Jo Swinson particularly.

“I know that Jo wants to avoid a no deal situation, as we do, and we think this is the simplest and most democratic way of doing that.

“This isn’t an issue about personalities and politics, it’s not about implementing Labour policy; it’s about avoiding a no-deal situation arising and ensuring that a general election is called so, ultimately, the people can decide which government they want.”

Ms Long-Bailey said: “I think it is sad Jo has made those comments, but I wouldn’t close the door completely.”

She added: “We have to work together, even if we don’t like what each other says a lot of the time, but we have to stop no-deal. It’s as simple as that, because we know the damage that could be caused is unfathomable.”

Additional reporting by Press Association. 

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Lord Ashcroft: My new Scotland poll. Yes to Independence takes the lead.

Lord Ashcroft KCMG PC is an international businessman, philanthropist, author and pollster. For more information about his work, visit www.lordashcroft.com and www.lordashcroftpolls.com.

In the wake of Boris Johnson’s visit to Edinburgh last week, I polled Scots to measure support for a second independence referendum and to gauge opinion on independence itself. I found a small majority in favour of a new vote – and the first lead for an independent Scotland for more than two years.

I found 47 per cent agreeing that there should be another referendum on Scottish independence within the next two years (Nicola Sturgeon has demanded a new vote by 2021), with 45 per cent disagreeing.

While more than nine in ten Conservatives oppose a referendum, a return to the polls is favoured by more than one third of 2017 Labour voters, more than half of EU Remain voters, and by more than one in five of those who voted No to independence in 2014.

Asked how they would vote in such a contest, 46 per cent said they would vote Yes to independence, and 43 per cent No. Excluding those who say they don’t know or wouldn’t vote, this amounts to a lead of 52 per cent to 48 per cent for an independent Scotland. This is the first lead for independence in a published poll since an Ipsos MORI survey in March 2017, and the biggest lead since a spate of polls in June 2016, shortly after the UK voted to leave the EU.

One third of Labour voters, a majority of EU Remain voters and 18 per cent of those who voted No to independence last time round said they would vote Yes. Again, more than nine in ten Tories said they would vote No, as did just over one in ten of those who backed independence in 2014. A majority of voters up to the age of 49 said they would vote Yes, including 62 per cent of those aged 18 to 24.

Overall, a majority of Scots thought that if a second referendum were to be held, the result this time would be an independent Scotland. Only three in ten – including just two thirds of Conservatives and fewer than half of 2014 No voters – thought Scotland would vote to remain part of the UK. A further 18 per cent said they didn’t know.

More than six in ten Scots – including 38 per cent of 2017 Conservatives and two thirds of Labour voters – said they think Brexit makes it more likely that Scotland will become independent in the foreseeable future. Indeed, more than half of 2014 No voters think this is the case, with 32 per cent of them saying it makes independence much more likely.

Just over half – including a majority of Labour voters, nearly one in five Tories and two thirds of EU remain voters – say Brexit strengthens the case for Scotland to become independent.

Nearly half (46 per cent) of all Scots agree with Sturgeon’s claim that a No Deal Brexit would be disastrous for Scotland, including half of Labour voters and nearly one in five Tories. A further three in ten (including most Conservatives) think the risks have been exaggerated but there would be some difficulties.

Asked what their preferred Brexit outcome would be, most 2017 Conservative voters backed Boris Johnson’s position that the UK should leave the EU on 31 October, with or without a deal – though one in five said they would be prepared to wait longer than October for a better deal, and nearly a quarter said they wanted to remain in the EU. Remaining is the most popular outcome, though favoured by only half of all Scots.

Scottish voters are closely divided as to whether – if it were not possible to do both – it would be more important for Scotland to remain part of the UK, or to remain in the EU. While 43 per cent would prioritise the Union, 45 per cent would prioritise the EU. While Conservatives and SNP voters were leaned heavily as one would expect, Labour voters were split: 46 per cent would choose the UK, 40 per cent would choose the EU, and 14 per cent say they don’t know.

More than half of Scots said there should be a second referendum on EU membership, including 69 per cent of SNP voters, more than half of Labour voters and one in five Conservatives. Should this take place, 67 per cent of those giving an opinion said they would vote to remain.

As for Boris Johnson’s first week as Prime Minister, while nearly half of Scots said they expected him to do badly, a quarter of those said he had done better than they had anticipated.

While only just over one third of 2017 Conservatives they expected him to do well and he had, a further one in four said they had had low expectations but been pleasantly surprised.

Compared to other politicians, Boris Johnson ranks relatively low among Scottish voters – though still above Nigel Farage, Jeremy Corbyn, and Scottish Labour leader Richard Leonard. He scores well below Ruth Davidson, both among Scots as a whole and, to a lesser degree, 2017 Conservatives.

Asked which of the two most likely candidate would make the better Prime Minister, 29 per vent of Scots named Johnson, 23 per cent said Corbyn, and nearly half said they didn’t know. Fewer than four in ten 2017 Labour voters said they thought Corbyn would make the best Prime Minister.

Despite this, when forced to choose, Scots said they would prefer a Labour government with Corbyn as Prime Minister to a Johnson-led Conservative government by 57 per cent to 43 per cent. A quarter of Labour voters said they would prefer the latter, as did the same proportion of SNP voters – perhaps calculating that this circumstance held out the best prospect of independence for Scotland.

3Those who voted SNP in 2017 are the most likely to say they will stick with their party in a new general election. They put their mean likelihood of turning out for the party at 88/100, compared to Conservatives’ 71/100 chance of voting Tory again; 2017 Labour voters put their chance of voting the same way in a new election at just 56/100. Some Tories were tempted by the Brexit Party (their mean likelihood of voting this way being 35/100), and some by the Lib Dems (26/100). The SNP, the Liberal Democrats and the Greens all held some appeal for Labour voters. In terms of overall mean likelihood to vote for the party, both Labour and the Tories ranked behind the SNP, the Lib Dems and the Greens, whose score was boosted by an average likelihood of 55/100 among 18-24 year-olds.

Full data tables for the survey are available at LordAshcroftPolls.com.

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