The Week Outside Westminster – Robinson and McGuiness pray for the Reverend

Political leaders in Northern Ireland call for prayer for Ian Paisley, the propsoects for Scottish independence don't look so great, and Welsh Labour defends the NHS in the principality.


To receive The Week Outside Westminster in your inbox, sign up to the email service

Northern Ireland Peter Robinson and Martin McGuinness united this week in calling on the people of Northern Ireland to pray as former DUP First Minister, Ian Paisley was admitted to hospital following a suspected heart attack. Uniting in their concern for the health of the man who was an architect of the DUP/Sinn Fein partnership at Stormont, a spokesperson for the current First and Deputy First Minister responded:

The First Minister and the deputy First Minister have both been in contact with the Paisley family. They have offered their best wishes to Dr Paisley and his family and call on the community to give prayerful support to Ian and his family at this time.

“The First Minister and the deputy First Minister would appeal for the Paisley family to be given the space and privacy they deserve and that their wishes are respected.”

The next moderator of the Presbyterian Church, the Rev Roy Patton meanwhile said of the former Free Presbyterian leader:

“We have had our differences in the past but it would be inappropriate to dwell on those differences at the present time but rather recognise the qualities that Dr Paisley has brought to his ministry, his faith, his pastoral work and his desire to serve in the ways in which we all seek to serve.

“We want to convey to Dr Paisley and to Baroness Paisley and to the family our support and our prayers.”

Meanwhile, as the debate over the future of unionism in Northern Ireland continued to rumble on, Ed Curran warned of the dangers of a two party system emerging at Stormont. Writing in the Belfast Telegraph he observed:

“Surprise, surprise. Peter Robinson has been to his first gaelic match, Martin McGuinness is heading for Windsor Park and the Ulster Unionists have scored another own goal.

“What a shame that attending a sports event in the 21st century should require any religious, political or cultural heart-searching; that a First Minister taking his seat in the stands should still be considered historically ground-breaking and talked about as if he had embarked on a trip to the Moon and back.

“Life is changing in Northern Ireland – and for the better. Not so long ago, any unionist leader who dared to enter a GAA turnstile would have been orange-carded out of his party before he could say Mickey Harte. The big winners in Armagh nine days ago were Peter Robinson, Martin McGuinness and community relations.

“Meanwhile, back at the ranch at Stormont, all is not well yet again with another shade of unionism. But do we really want to see the end of the Ulster Unionist party? Do we really want Northern Ireland dominated by two monolithic power-blocks, the Democratic Unionists and Sinn Fein?

“As the battering-rams of the media attack the gates of the Ulster Unionists, we should not forget one thing: Northern Ireland would not be the place it is today if it were not for the UUP and the SDLP.

“We are in danger now of talking ourselves into a two-party state – unionist and nationalist with a small, ineffective and compliant group squeezed in the middle. Surely, the Ulster Unionists and the SDLP have played too significant a part in the development of the new Northern Ireland to allow that to happen?

“Peter Robinson and Martin McGuinness are transforming themselves into latter-day moderates, but is it not time that the UUP and SDLP began to fight back and re-assert their important alternative voices in our society?”

Scotland The Scottish Government successfully secured its budget for 2012/13, with an additional £382 million earmarked for 2012-2015 for additional capital spending with support from the Lib Dems. In sketching out the debate that ensued at Holyrood, the BBC’s Scottish Political Editor, Brian Taylor wrote on his blog on Wednesday:

“An intriguing set of responses from opposition parties in the Holyrood chamber this afternoon to John Swinney’s final budget proposals – intriguing not because of their similarity but because of their mutual differences.

“Mr Swinney is adamant that he has done the best with limited resources, emphasising capital expenditure, providing extra money to limit the cuts in housing and reversing to some degree the extent of the cuts faced by colleges.

“Taking the lead from their spokesman Ken Macintosh, a succession of Labour MSPs lined up to attack the budget package in its entirety.Insufficient, misplaced, wrong priorities, not a budget to tackle youth unemployment. In response, Mr Swinney, Bruce Crawford and SNP backbenchers challenged Labour to say what they would cut to meet their spending commitments. So far, so predictable.

“But the criticism from Gavin Brown of the Tories was more nuanced, more modulated. He said that all the extra largesse on offer from Mr Swinney had originated with the UK government (chief proprietor, Mr Brown’s party.) And he condemned in particular the continuing (albeit reduced) levy on large retailers. It would, he said, make Scotland more uncompetitive.

“Then we heard from Willie Rennie of the Lib Dems. Would he too laud the level of cash made available by the UK government? To the contrary, he praised Mr Swinney for coping with a very tight settlement in tough times. His entire speech was a model of gentle, emollient oratory. He praised the partial concession on colleges. He praised the effort to improve the housing market. To be clear, he stressed that the Lib Dems would have done certain things differently, but his tone was one of cautious praise, rather than strident condemnation.”

After week’s meanwhile in which the SNP appeared to be gaining momentum for its plans for independence, new polling revealed that things might not be as rosy for them as might first have seemed.  Outlining the findings of new polling, Robbie Dinwoodie, Chief Scottish Political Correspondent at the The Herald explained:

“TNS-BMRB had just started sampling on January 25 based on the wording it has used since the first SNP administration announced its referendum proposals in 2007. It offers two options: To agree that the Scottish government should negotiate with the UK so that Scotland becomes an independent state, or to disagree with that proposal.

“The survey of 998 adults, between January 25 and February 1, indicated 35 per cent would vote Yes in agreement, down four points on last August, and 44 per cent would vote No, with 21 per cent undecided, down two.

“The poll also repeated a three-option snapshot first taken in October 2011 asking for preferences between maintaining Holyrood’s existing powers, giving the parliament more powers, or full independence.

“Support for the status quo has risen from 29 per cent to 32 per cent, backing for more powers has fallen from 33 per cent to 30 per cent, and backing for independence drops from 28 per cent to 26 per cent.”

Wales David Cameron’s attack on Labour’s handling of the health service in Wales during PMQs this week meanwhile attracted sharp criticism from the Welsh Government, with a spokesperson for Health Minister, Lesley Griffiths declaring:

“The prime minister got his facts about Wales totally wrong. He is clearly rattled by the onslaught on his NHS reforms in England – reforms which are in a complete and utter shambles.

“With GPs, the BMA, nurses, midwives and trades unions and even some in his own party lining up to slam his proposals, it begs the question, does the name ‘Custer’ mean anything to the prime minister? By contrast the Welsh government is proud to have a mandate from the people to run the health service – something the prime minister doesn’t enjoy.”

Dr Stefan Coghlan, chairman of the BMA in Wales responded:

“Consecutive Welsh Governments have diminished the role of the private sector from the NHS, and the purchaser/provider split no longer operates. Doctors in Wales have welcomed this direction of travel and the attempts to ensure NHS Wales follows the principles set out by Aneurin Bevan in a modern setting.

“A health service that remains loyal to Aneurin Bevan’s founding principles for the NHS, remaining free at the point of delivery is the right decision for patients, and the right decision for doctors – it meets the needs of everyone. It remains the BMA position that the Health and Social Care Bill should be withdrawn in England; with an overwhelming amount of professional opinion saying this is deeply flawed, damaging and unnecessary legislation.”

Plaid Cymru leadership hopeful , Simon Thomas pulled out of the race to succeed Ieuan Wyn Jones, giving his backing instead to the former Rural Affairs Minister, Elin Jones as her running mate. Explaining his decision, Thomas concluded:

“Achieving the third in a crowded field has been more difficult. As the most recent Assembly Member in the contest I have had a lot of ground to cover and make up. It’s been gratifying nevertheless to see a great deal of support for me. However, the most signal feature of the current election in Plaid Cymru is the fact that so many branches, constituencies and members are undecided and are seeking real direction.

“It has become clear to me that the majority of our members want a leader who will focus on building our nation’s economy, sustaining its environment and growing the support for independence in a credible way.

“One thing is for certain, Plaid Cymru will not achieve government or electoral success by playing Fisher Price politics with people’s hopes and dreams.

“Both Elin and I offer such a vision. I believe that by combining our experience, talents and different types of appeal we can work together to give the party the kind of direction and leadership it clearly needs. Elin has succeeded in gaining considerable support. I congratulate her on that, and today I announce that I will withdraw my candidacy in order to support her has her deputy on a joint ticket. I ask the party now to trust the next credible generation of Plaid politicians to take us forward under Elin’s leadership.”

See also:

Like this article? Sign up to Left Foot Forward's weekday email for the latest progressive news and comment - and support campaigning journalism by making a donation today.