Ed Jacobs writes about the UUP in chaos, the Tories trying to pick up the pieces, Leanne Wood heading to the Plaid Cymru summit, and Ed Miliband in Scotland.
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In the week that David McNarry declared himself to feel “abused” by the way he was dumped by UUP leader Tom Elliott, the Conservatives announced their plans to enter the world of Northern Irish politics on its own, a development which received a lukewarm reception at best.
In an editorial, the Newsletter argued:
“If the ‘new’ party is to survive then it will need a new and articulate team of spokesmen and candidates: and it really must be very careful not to become a refugee camp for disgruntled and electorally unsuccessful former members of the UUP.
“But the ultimate test will be the next round of elections. For if it doesn’t breach the eight per cent barrier and start winning seats it won’t be given a second chance to get it right.
“The brutal reality is that this really does represent the last – slightly desperate – throw of the dice for ‘Conservatives’ in Northern Ireland.”
Former UUP staffer Michael Shilliday, meanwhile, declared on the Slugger O’Toole blog:
“The Conservative Party has no hope in Northern Ireland without an existing local base, the best fit being the UUP. The UUP is visionless and increasingly rudderless without the Conservative Party (the real one that is, not what passes for it in Northern Ireland). Seems obvious what to do really.”
Amidst the on-going debate over the future of the Union, meanwhile, Sinn Fein deputy first minister Martin McGuinness argued that a referendum on whether the North wanted to join with the Republic could be held by as early as 2016.
Speaking to the Irish Examiner he concluded:
“It just seems to me to be a sensible timing. It would be on the question of whether or not the people of the Six Counties wish to retain the link with what is described as the United Kingdom, or be part of a united Ireland. It could take place anytime between 2016 or 2020-21.
“I don’t see any reason whatsoever why that should not be considered. I think, in all probability, the people who have got the power to put that in place won’t even contemplate it this side of the next Assembly elections, which conceivably could be 2015 or 2016.”
DUP MLA Peter Weir dubbed the remarks “unrealistic”.
Having received the most number of nominations for her campaign, Plaid Cymru Leadership hopeful Leanne Wood told of her aspirations for independence.
Writing in the Guardian, John Harris explained:
“Leanne Wood is rather different from most of the UK’s politicians.
“Forty years old and a mother of one, she still lives in the same street in the Rhondda Valley where she was born and brought up.
“She thinks the crash of 2008 should have “resulted in the rejection of capitalism and many of its basic economic and political assumptions”, and that the UK’s coalition amounts to a “hyper-competitive, imperial/militaristic, climate-change-ignoring and privatising government”.
“She is also a proud republican, who refuses to attend the kind of official events at which the Queen turns up, and was once thrown out of the Welsh Assembly for referring to the reigning monarch as “Mrs Windsor”. If any of this chimes with your general view of what’s wrong with the world, it’s fair to say that you’d like her.
“If Wood pursued her political career in Westminster, her opinions might ensure she was kept safely on the fringes. But in her home country, she is a high-profile voice – and the current favourite to take over the leadership of Plaid Cymru, the nationalist party who, until 2011, shared power in Wales with Labour.
“With the result due on 15 March, Paddy Power has 4-5 odds on to win; in her Cardiff office, there is a sense of quiet expectancy.
“The prospect of life as party leader is not the only reason for her air of energised enthusiasm.
“Being a senior Plaid Cymru figure, Wood believes in Welsh independence. And with Scotland set to vote on whether to stay part of the UK in 2014 and the future of the union being argued over as never before, Wood and her fellow Welsh nationalists think there is an unprecedented opening for the most fundamental of their beliefs.
“Certainly, if Scotland makes the leap and leaves a rump United Kingdom of England, Wales and Northern Ireland (“Little Britain”, as it has recently become known), Wales’s marginal position will be self-evident: it will have 30 Westminster MPs to England’s 502, and bump against the political and economic dominance of the English south-east as never before.
“With that grim prospect on the horizon, Wood thinks these could be fertile times for her and her party.”
Health secretary Andrew Lansley, meanwhile, was snubbed by the Welsh government over demands that they let him know before the press, about their decision to fund both the removal and replacement of PiP breast implants.
In a letter seen by the BBC, Lansley wrote to Welsh health minister Lesley Griffiths:
“I would… like to take this opportunity to seek your assurance that in the future you will inform my department if the Welsh government decides to take a contradictory approach to a public health issue before we learn of it through the media, which was the case in relation to your comments regarding the replacement of PIP breast implants on the NHS.”
Responding, a spokesperson for the Welsh government declared:
“Andrew Lansley’s letter is arrogant and patronising. Behaving like devolution never happened flies in the face of the respect agenda so often talked about by the prime minister.”
Ed Miliband used a speech in Glasgow to argue that social justice was best achieved with Scotland staying in the Union, arguing:
“I say let’s confront the real divide in our society.
“Not between Scotland and the rest of the United Kingdom. But between the haves and the have-nots. So I am not here to tell Scots that Scotland cannot survive outside the United Kingdom. But I am here to tell you that we need to make Scotland, England, Wales, and Northern Ireland, a fairer, more just, place to live.
“And we can do this best together.”
Assessing the speech, George Eaton at the New Statesman wrote:
“Buoyed by his victory on Stephen Hester’s bonus (he accused Cameron of failing to act as a “responsible shareholder”), Miliband presented his own brand of social democratic Unionism.
“The crux of his argument was that “the real divide” in Britain is not between Scotland and the rest of the United Kingdom but between “the haves and the have-nots”. The task of creating a “more equal, just and fair society” is one best performed by the nations of the UK working together, he said.
“He spoke of the Scotsman who founded the Labour Party (Keir Hardie), the Englishman who led the “most successful Labour government” in history (Clement Attlee) and the Welshman (Nye Bevan) who founded the NHS.
“In his Hugo Young lecture last week, Alex Salmond argued that an independent Scotland could serve as a “progressive beacon” for the rest of the UK, but Miliband turned this claim on its head.
“Scottish secession, he warned, would trigger a “race to the bottom” on bank regulation, wages and conditions at work. For instance, citing the example of Ireland, Salmond has pledged to slash corporation tax should Scotland win fiscal autonomy.
“Perhaps partly for this reason, Miliband argued for a single-question referendum, excluding the possibility of a “devo max” option.
“There are some in Labour, citing Donald Dewar’s echoing of devolution as “a process, not an event”, who argue that the party should embrace devolution max, which is favoured by a majority of Scots, as a positive alternative to independence.
“The danger in leaving devo max off the ballot paper, they note, is that Scottish voters conclude that the only way to win fiscal autonomy is to vote for full independence. But Miliband, like Cameron, seems wedded to the high-risk option of a one-question referendum.”
As “Fred the Shred” this week lost the “Sir” to become “Mr Goodwin”, Alex Salmond outlined his regrets at previous support for him.
He told the BBC:
“If we all had our time again we’d look at things differently. I think there are very few people who can justifiably say that they anticipated the full extent of the financial collapse – the financial crisis.
“I mean I know some people claim they did but I think if you examine the record you’ll find there’s very few people on the planet – and I am certainly not one of them – who anticipated it.
“So, yeah, of course, if we had the benefit of hindsight we’d do things differently and I am sure that is true of lots and lots of people.”
Also this week:
• Sign up to receive our weekly summary of the news from Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, The Week Outside Westminster
• Conservatives in Northern Ireland – what’s the point? – Ed Jacobs
• Scottish independence would leave Trident dead – and the MoD don’t care – Kate Hudson, CND
• McGuinness in Irish unity poll call – Kevin Meagher
• Miliband to outline vision of a fairer Union – Ed Jacobs