Week Outside Westminster: Is Cameron a separatist sleeper-cell?

Ed Jacobs presents the round-up of the week in the rest of the UK, outside of the tiny Westminster bubble

 

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Scotland

David Cameron headed north this week to make the positive case for Scotland remaining in the union, whilst dangling in front of Scots the possibility of extra powers if they rejected independence.

Alex Salmond headed south to outline his plans for a £30 billion oil fund if Scotland said yes to independence.

Merv “the Swevere” King meanwhile used a press conference on the Bank of England’s inflation report to promise to say more in the future on the SNP’s plans to retain sterling if Scotland voted to go its own way.

The big news, meanwhile, was that Rangers Football club had entered administration. Conscious of the underlining tensions between the clubs, efforts were made to downplay any sense of joy Celtic might have had the move. Alex Salmond told the David Frost programme on Al Jazeera:

“The most diehard Celtic supporter understands that Celtic can’t prosper unless Rangers are there. The rest of the clubs understand that as well. Therefore you have to have cognisance of these things when you’re pursuing public policy.

“We’ve certainly been arguing to HMRC on one hand, and indeed to Rangers, to for goodness sake get a settlement, get a settlement and a structure over time whereby Rangers can continue because Rangers must continue for the future of Scottish football and for the fabric of the country.”

Celtic responded however by expressing its disappointment at the first minister’s comments, using a statement to argue:

“We are very disappointed with the First Minister’s claims that Celtic ‘need’ Rangers and that Celtic ‘can’t prosper unless Rangers are there. This is simply not true.

“In a series of interviews given just three days ago, we made it abundantly clear that Celtic has a well-defined strategy and a business plan independent of the fortunes of any other club. That remains absolutely the case.

“The predicament of Rangers is clearly a serious and complex matter with a whole range of possible outcomes. However, we are extremely well-qualified to make our own position clear and have no wish to see this being misrepresented for political reasons.”

The former Labour first minister, Henry McLeish sat down with “Holyrood” magazine to call on the party to up its game. He explained:

“The Labour Party faces the most critical four years in its history in Scotland. Apart from the local elections this year, we have the European elections and the referendum in 2014, Westminster elections in 2015 and the Scottish elections in 2016.

“Frankly, time is running out and we need a convincing narrative about where the constitutional question goes and we need to reconnect with the Scottish people.

“What does the party stand for and what are we offering in these big elections? It is a critical period and we are not in the best position we could be, but I think with goodwill, focus and some sincerity we can move a long, long way from where we are, but time is running out.

“I don’t support independence. I think it would be an upheaval too far.

“We live in an interdependent world and it would be a big upheaval for limited gain, so the best objective for the Labour Party would be to say,

‘Most Scots want to stay in the union, but would also like the union transformed, so let’s not waste a lot of time, let’s defeat independence by offering an alternative.’

We don’t want to wake up in two and three quarter years time with independence defeated but no change on offer, because the Scottish people have shown in polls that they like the idea of more, so why don’t we take that forward? We have to break the mould of the Labour Party thinking that by talking about more devolution they are ceding ground to the SNP.

“My message to the Labour Party is forget Alex Salmond, forget the SNP. This is about what we are going to do, what we are about, what we are for and our leadership and all of our party should be focused on that. We have nothing to fear from the SNP, but with five wasted years behind us, now is the time to move forward and out of the past.”

Northern Ireland

The Stormont Executive announced over £500 million of investment in new road and hospital construction projects to support the creation of close to 3,000 jobs. Analysing the announcement, BBC Northern Ireland’s economics and business editor, Jim Fitzpatrick concluded:

The announcement of a scaled-down A5 is good news for those construction companies – some local such as Farrans, Grahams and FP McCann – who had been awarded contracts.

“It was always likely that some work would proceed because the money was allocated and the project was ready to go. The reduced scale has freed up money for a mothballed upgrade of the A2 along Belfast Lough at Greenisland and the new investment at Altnagelvin hospital.

“The construction industry will be pleased with the executive predicting 2,500 jobs. But the headline spend on infrastructure has not changed from what was planned.

“In other words, it would have been much bigger story had the executive decided not to proceed with any of these projects.”

For the executive, first minister, Peter Robinson said of the package announced:

In our draft Programme for Government the executive indicated that our top priority was growing the economy. Today we are making a down-payment on that pledge. Today we are announcing a package of capital projects that will secure jobs in the short term and provide much needed investment in infrastructure for the long term.

“As a result of the decisions reached this morning, these projects will create more than 2,500 jobs for Northern Ireland’s hard-pressed construction industry; further improve our roads infrastructure; and significantly upgrade our health care infrastructure in Belfast, Omagh and Londonderry.

“This is the executive delivering for the people of Northern Ireland – at a time when some parts of the local economy – particularly the construction sector – need our help the most.”

One senior DUP MP, Nigel Dodds, meanwhile called for the UK and Irish governments to do more to tackle the “haemorrhaging” of football talent from the north to the south. Outlining his thinking he argued:

“Action should now be taken to stop the haemorrhaging of talent from Northern Ireland. The British and Irish governments should now work to address this injustice which sees footballing talent developed in Northern Ireland, at some considerable cost, lost to compete at international level with the Republic’s team.

No one should be opposed to the idea of talks to resolve this issue, and there is a degree of irony about the demands for free eligibility.

“The creation of two international teams was brought about when the FAI split away from the Irish Football Association, and indeed the original restrictions of eligibility were introduced after complaints by the FAI after players had played for both teams.

“The IFA put considerable resources into the development of players through the youth system, which is lost when players then declare for another association.”

Sinn Fein responded by calling for an all-Ireland team to be created.

Wales

There was a rare glimmer of good news on the unemployment front as figures showed a fall in the number out of work in Wales for a second consecutive month. Responding to the news, business minister Edwina Hart declared:

“On the key measures of unemployment and employment there is cause for some optimism, and the economic inactivity rate in Wales is the lowest since comparable records began in 1992. We hope this is an indication that Welsh government policies are having a beneficial effect during these difficult times.

“We are doing all we can as a devolved government to stimulate the economy to reduce the barriers businesses face, encourage demand and investing for the longer term. For example, almost 500 applications have been received for our economic growth fund to provide immediate access to capital funding for investments to create and retain jobs in Wales.”

Meanwhile, as he prepares to publish next month the government’s strategy on the Welsh language, education minister, Leighton Andrews called for a consensus to strengthen and protect it. Writing in the Western Mail he explained:

“I was delighted when the first minister gave me responsibility for the Welsh Language portfolio in May 2011. As an active Welsh learner, my engagement with the language in a meaningful way goes back to my days as a student in Bangor in the 1970s.

“The language is important to all of us in Wales, and opinion surveys regularly show the majority of Welsh people are committed to and supportive of the language. We must always strive to protect a political consensus around measures to develop and strengthen the language. Next month therefore I will publish a new strategy for the language that deliberately builds on the draft strategy published by the One Wales government.

“The future development and survival of the language depends on the commitment of the people of Wales, and must be owned by all of us.

“Its protection cannot depend on those who are professionally employed in its development or promotion. We must also ensure that we are encouraging people to use the language skills that they have – and not to contribute to a climate in which they feel that less than perfect Welsh language skills are a barrier to participation.”

See also:

Cameron heads north, Salmond heads south and Mervyn’s living in the futureEd Jacobs, February 16th 2012

Scotland unites in wanting to save RangersEd Jacobs, February 15th 2012

Scotland unites in wanting to save RangersEd Jacobs, February 13th 2012

The Week Outside Westminster – Robinson and McGuiness pray for the ReverendEd Jacobs, February 11th 2012

A separate Scotland will be worse off if it keeps the poundMatthew Pitt, February 10th 2012

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