Weekly digest of all the political news from Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
• It was ‘goodbye’ from Rhodri Morgan as he stepped down after ten years as First Minister, describing devolution as a “successes”. And in a sign of the affection he attracts, Assembly Members across the parties gave Morgan a standing ovation after his final session of First Minister’s Questions.
• It was ‘hello’ from the new First Minster, Carwyn Jones, as he got the Queen’s seal of approval. In accepting the position, Jones made clear his desire for greater powers for the Welsh Assembly and Government.
• Carwyn Jones’s first cabinet included places for his defeated leadership rivals, Edwina Hart and Huw Lewis.
• Plaid Cymru AM Mohammed Asghar defected to the Conservatives. Asghar spoke of being “attracted by the caring Conservatism and policies for change put forward by David Cameron and the Conservative Party at Westminster”. Plaid Cymru called on Asghar to resign his seat and Welsh Conservative Leader Nick Bourne described it as “another sign that only the Conservative Party, under David Cameron’s leadership, can bring about the change Wales and Britain needs”.
• First Minister Alex Salmond asked former Presiding Officers George Reid and David Steel to investigate whether he misled Parliament over class size numbers.
• The SNP and Liberal Democrats united, with the Scottish Parliament backing calls for greater powers to Holyrood where consensus can be found. Labour’s Pauline McNeil accused the SNP of “cherry picking” proposals in the Calman Commission and seeking independence by “stealth”. The new External Affairs Minister, Fiona Hyslop attacked Labour and the Conservatives for “holding Scotland back”.
• The SNP described the PBR as “a damaging pre-election pitch”, claiming it made the case for full fiscal autonomy for Scotland. Scottish Secretary Jim Murphy said the report meant an extra £23 million for Scotland, telling the SNP to spend their money “more wisely”. Research by the Scottish Parliament suggested the Scottish budget faces cuts of up to £814.4 million, with Scottish Conservative Leader Annabel Goldie telling the First Minister to “confront reality” and spell out where cuts will have to be made.
• A report by Parliament’s cross-party Local Government and Communities Committee raised concerns over the Scottish Government’s consultation on measures to cut repossessions in the Home Owner and Debtor Protection Bill, which had the potential to cause more problems than it solves. Committee Convenor, Labour’s Duncan McNeil, concluded that “from the evidence we took, these concerns are due to a lack of adequate consultation by the Scottish government”.
• Finance Minister Sammy Wilson warned that the PBR could see the block grant to Stormont cut by £100 million, before speaking of his relief that it actually increased by £28 million. Then he attacked it for being “a politician’s budget”.
• The Business Body NI Manufacturing slammed political leaders for infighting over the devolution of policing and justice whilst jobs were being lost during the recession. Its Chief Executive Bryan Gray concluded that “talk about political consequences are ridiculous compared to the consequences of economic downturn”.
• Retiring Sinn Fein MLA Francie Brolly gave warning that Sinn Fein could walk away from the Assembly if a deal on devolving police and justice powers are not agreed by Christmas. The warning came as Irish Foreign Minister Michael Martin urged all sides to “focus on the issues” rather than on blaming one another.
“It shows the calibre of the people responsible that they would threaten my family and neighbours in such a way.”
• In response to a Parliamentary Question from Vince Cable, Northern Ireland Office Minister Paul Goggins confirmed that in 2008/09, almost £600,000 was spent on staff bonuses, with one getting £11,000 alone.
Quote of the week
“It has been a pleasure and a privilege to be First Minister and I have enjoyed it immensely.”
Rhodri Morgan as he officially retired as Welsh First Minister
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