This morning’s Daily Express reports that Rishi Sunak is making fresh overtures to Nicola Sturgeon, urging her to help him “deliver for all our people across these great islands”.
Given that the Prime Minister is rightly standing firm on refusing the SNP a fresh independence referendum, the collaborative tone is well-judged. A noisy confrontation over the constitution would be just the thing the First Minister needed to distract from yet another week of domestic woes.
First, she has been accused of peddling “Orwellian” energy statistics about Scotland’s renewable sector: “The first minister was forced to correct the parliamentary record after she erroneously told MSPs Scotland’s “net energy consumption is already provided by renewable energy sources.”
Embarrassingly, even the correction might need to be corrected: Sturgeon’s subsequent claim that renewables provide 98.8 per cent of Scotland’s net energy consumption has apparently been contradicted by the UK Statistics Authority, which puts the figure closer to 63 per cent.
SNP ministers have also been forced to admit that long-standing claims about the long-term potential of the sector – specifically that Scotland has 25 per cent of Europe’s offshore wind potential – is false, after it was debunked by pro-Union think-tank These Islands.
Next we have a couple of health stories. First, more than 3,000 patients have died whilst waiting to be discharged from Scottish hospitals since the SNP first pledged to end bed-blocking eight years ago. Second, experts have pushed back against some of the key claims underpinning Sturgeon’s push for a shake-up of social care. Third, a major hospital has been declared a “toxic war zone” by staff after five consultants quit.
Then there’s the ongoing ferries scandal. The former owner of the Ferguson Marine yard has alleged that Sturgeon rushed the announcement of the disastrous contract in order to show up George Osborne, who has Chancellor was unveiling a major investment in the Faslane naval base on the same day. Meanwhile a Tory MSP claims the First Minister may have broken the Ministerial Code by being unable to produce a record of a key meeting.
This has real-life consequences: MSPs were told this week that the dire state of the ferry service is contributing to the depopulation of the Scottish isles: “An ageing fleet has meant many ferries are breaking down more often and needing more maintenance, which has in turn led to cancellations and disruption.”
Meanwhile, this story in the Times highlights how the ‘quangocracy’ the Nationalists have built up in Scotland may be gatekeeping access to British levelling up funds.
Northern Irish elections kicked deep into 2023
Last week, we marked the passing of yet another solemn deadline issued by the Northern Ireland Office.
Originally, Chris Heaton-Harris had said that he would call fresh elections at “one minute past midnight” on October 28th if the Democratic Unionists missed his deadline for getting the devolved Executive back up and running.
Yet November came and no action was taken. And now, today’s Times reports that instead the Government is actually changing legislation to avoid having to call a Stormont poll, with fresh elections postponed until perhaps April.
This is apparently to allow more time for a breakthrough in the negotiations between the UK and the EU and Ireland over the future of the Protocol. There has once again been an outbreak of positive mood music, as there was briefly under Liz Truss, with the Daily Express reporting that a deal is expected “within weeks”.
But with the EU not having actually re-opened its negotiating mandate, Unionists are sceptical that any deal will amount to more than a carefully-finessed British cave-in. If they don’t think the terms are saleable to their voters, there is little reason to think a new election would force the DUP back into Stormont.
In the meantime, the Northern Irish Secretary has announced that MLAs’ pay will be docked whilst the Assembly isn’t sitting – another tactic that was never employed when it was Sinn Fein staging the walk-outs.