The Week Outside Westminster

Scotland

• The former chair of the Committee on Standards in Public, Sir Alistair Graham, said reports the SNP were auctioning lunches with Alex Salmond and Nicola Sturgeon at Holyrood looked like “a clear breach of the rules”.

The first minister responded by cancelling the lunches. Labour’s Iain Gray described it as “sickening”.

• Calls were made for SNP deputy first minister Nicola Sturgeon to resign over news that she wrote to a judge calling for him to “consider alternatives to a custodial sentence” in the case of one of her constituents who was convicted of committing benefit fraud totalling £80,000.

Alex Salmond declared: “I fully support Nicola Sturgeon”. Iain Gray accused Sturgeon of “an appalling error of judgment”, with Conservative justice spokesman Bill Aitken describing her actions as “ill-considered” and the Liberal Democrats saying the revelation “beggars belief”.

• In interviews before the Scottish Conservative party conferefce, David Cameron said the SNP’s “dreams of an independent Scotland will remain dreams”. It came as the first minister launched a new strategy on his plans for a referendum bill, in the hope that they would stay alive until after the election.

• Independent MSP Margo MacDonald raised concerns over news her bill to allow for assisted suicide in certain cases would not be scrutinised by the parliament’s health committee.

• Labour launched its commission to address the problems of alcohol abuse, with shadow health secretary Jackie Baillie saying:

“We need to consider radical measures to reduce the level of problem drinking but minimum unit pricing is not the answer.”

SNP health secretary Nicola Sturgeon described the commission as “a smokescreen”.

Wales

• The assembly’s presiding officer, Lord Dafydd Elis-Thomas, described as “historic” the overwhelming support all parties at Cardiff gave in a vote for a referendum on full law making powers. Leader of the “yes” vote campaign, the Archbishop of Wales, Barry Morgan, said:

“This means that AMs have put the needs of the people before party politics.”

For the “no” camp, Rachel Banner said:

“No one was battering down the doors of the All Wales Convention – it’s not coming from the people of Wales it’s coming from the political establishment.”

• Liberal Democrat assembly member Mick Mates found himself demoted as he was forced to apologise over allegations he had abused staff, having been rushed to hospital after a night out.

• The Welsh Local Government Association said the recent period of severe snow had led to total overspends by Welsh councils of £4 million.

Northern Ireland

The Irish National Libaration Army (INLA) announced it had decommissioned all its weapons as the independent decommissioning body was wound up. The Real IRA said people were living on “another planet” if they thought they would be giving up their arms.

• Alliance leader David Ford, favourite to take control of the new justice department, described as “frosty” the first meeting on Monday between parties over who should become Northern Ireland’s first justice minister.

On Wednesday he said:

“If the progress that has been made in the last 48 hours continues it looks like we could have something positive and constructive to move on.”

Sinn Fein’s Gerry Kelly described as “business like” the first cross party meeting to look at a new parades regime, whilst the first and deputy first ministers announced a timetable that would lead to a new parades body by the end of the year.

• DUP leader Peter Robinson warned that he would bring down Stormont if Sinn Fein reneges on promises made at the Hillsborough negotiations.

• Jim Sammon, president of Derry’s Chamber of Commerce, said:

“The politicians have shown leadership on these issues and now they must show leadership on the economy.”

Quote of the Week

“The facts are that Alex Salmond is in a desperate place. His administration has run out of steam, his ministers are under pressure and he is frightened that his last remaining key manifesto pledge is set to be rejected.”

Scottish Labour Leader,Iain Gray speaking during First Minister’s Questions, referring to the SNP’s change in strategy over an independence referendum

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