The importance of the United Kingdom dominated the Spring Conference Of the Conservatives with Prime Minister Terresa May leading the charge against the SNP.
“The SNP argue that we should break up the UK because we are leaving the EU” she said. She continued “…but three years ago they campaigned for a result that would have taken Scotland out of the EU altogether.
They are happy to see power rest in Brussels. But if those powers come back to London… they want them given to Edinburgh… so that they can try to give them back to Brussels.
And now they apparently say that an independent Scotland would no longer seek to become a member of the EU after a vote for separation.
It is muddle on muddle.”
Let battle commence
Despite May’s words to her members the battle between these islands two most powerful women will be intense.
Undoubtedly Nicola Sturgeon, the Scottish first minister, wrong footing Terresa May by announcing the plans for second independence referendum on the morning of the day when the legigislation to trigger Article 50 was approved by Westminster.
Sturgeon dominated next day’s headlines. Giving the appearance that Theresa May’s announcement on triggering Brexit was delayed until the end of March.
May had to turn her attention to Scotland and by the end of the week her view that “now is not the time”, and wouldn’t discuss a potential referendum before the Brexit negotiations are complete.
Sturgeon’s response insisting that the vote would happen on her timetable, while the first minister hinted at “other options” if she is formally turned down by the UK government.
May appeals to Brexit supporters in Scotland
May looks to be in the stronger position as her government can prevent a referendum by withholding permission, whilst opinion polls do indicate that a majority of Scottish voters do not want a referendum without knowing the results of the Brexit negotiations first.
In appealing over the heads of the Scottish government, May’s position will play well both with voters most committed to Brexit and those fearful of greater uncertainty.
Two Parliaments at loggerheads
But the political wind will change when the Scottish parliament votes in favour of Sturgeon’s proposal on Wednesday. Sturgeon will claim to have a democratic mandate. This will rally supporters and create a Scotland versus Westminster fight. The debate will shift from the pros and cons of independence to who has the right to decide on the vote.
The question though is how long the UK government can delay even discussing a potential referendum. To do so for the two years of Brexit negotiations will be difficult. This will depend on avoiding a sustained Yes lead in opinion polls and is unlikely to succeed without a concerted and risky campaign warning about the dangers of independence to the Scottish economy, currency and borders.
So despite Prime Minister May trying to kick the ball to the long grass its unlikely to stay there for long.
Another Scottish referendum
Another Scottish referendum on independence is looming. Nicola Sturgeon announced she wanted the vote before the UK leaves the EU.
First Minister Sturgeon will ask for Scottish parliament’s backing. Although she is 1 short of a majority she is likely to get her way with the support of the Scottish Green MSPs. The Conservatives, Labour and Liberal Democrats in the Scottish parliament will vote against.
Such a referendum needs the Westminster parliament’s consent. Terresa May is unlikely to grant such a request until the Brexit negotiations have finished and the UK is out of the EU.
Meanwhile Carwyn Jones responded by saying it was a matter for the Scottish people to decide, but was still of the view the 4 countries of the UK were stronger together.
Leanne Wood was of the view that with Scottish independence Wales needed to have a real conversation amongst itself as to what constitutional future it wanted for itself.
The short bill to allow the government to trigger Article 50 to start the process of leaving the EU was passed by both Houses of Parliament unammended.
Prime Minister May will now get her way of starting the formal process of leaving at the end of March.
Article 50 is a plan for any country that wishes to exit the EU. It was created as part of the Treaty of Lisbon – an agreement signed up to by all EU states which became law in 2009.
Before that treaty, there was no formal mechanism for a country to leave the EU.
Now the real work of negotiating Britain’s exit begins
Bill to protect historic names fails
The historic place names bill fell at its first hurdle when AMs voted against it.
The private members bill proposed by Dr Dai Lloyd to enshrine in our planning laws protection for historic names of houses, farms, fields and the landscape was defeated when Labour decided to vote it down by 28 votes to 25.
All the opposition parties supported the bill.
But the Welsh Government’s Ken Skates said the proposals were not feasible.
Right to Buy to be scrapped
Carl Sergeant The Cabinet secretary with responsibilities for housing introduced a bill scrapping the rights of tenants of public and social housing to exercise the right to buy their homes.
Sergeant said, “The rights will end for new homes not previously let in the social housing sector two months after the Bill becomes law. To ensure that tenants are aware of the effect of the Bill, abolition of rights on existing properties will not take place until at least one year after the Bill receives Royal Assent. All affected tenants of social housing will be informed in writing within two months of Royal Assent.”
Plaid Cymru supported his move but both the Conservatives and UKIP opposed the proposal.
The Conservative housing spokesperson, David Melding said, “this is a very sad day for Wales. After all, nearly 140,000 families have benefitted from the right to buy since 1980 and home ownership is an aspiration that tens of thousands continue to have across Wales. Now, an important route for them will be closed.”
U turn on NICs
It was Harold Wilson that coined the phrase that “a weeks a long time in politics.” Chancellor Philip Hammond would concur.
It took only a week for the Chancellor to drop one of the main planks of his spring budget. The plan to increase National Insurance Contributions (NICs) for self-employed workers became dead in the water.
The move followed a week of heavy criticism from within the ranks of his own party. The pressure clearly got to him and he made an inelegant U-turn.
The hidden costs of Chinese money.
The Chinese state visit is about getting their cash to pay for infrastructure investment in the UK. Forget the moral issue about ignoring human right abuse to get that cash, after all it’s not the first time that the UK have conveniently overlooked such issues to get a trade deal.
But business is business, many will say. To be picky about who the country trades with would disadvantage UK Ltd. Needs must.
But it’s not sensible business. The agreement reached so that the Chinese put their cash into finance in part a nuclear power plant at Hinkley point is bad economics.
The official price for building it is £18 billion. Although most nuclear experts have said it will be much higher £24 billion is what they estimate. Whatever the figure what we do know is that the Chinese will get a guaranteed price of £92.50 per megawatt hour – double the usual price. This will be reflected in our energy bills until 2060.
What is being proposed dwarfs every previous PFI scheme. And like every other PFI scheme it’s an expensive way to finance any scheme. Generations will literally be paying the costs for years down the line.
Yet a much smaller subsidy of £9 per-annum on wind and solar power is deemed too much for the poor consumer. It makes little sense.
The same amount that is to be spent on the nuclear project put into developing sustainable energy technology would make the country world leaders in the field. But no it’s not to be.
Even if you agree nuclear energy is needed as part of the country’s future this deal is wrong on so many levels. At a time when we have the lowest interest rates ever why are we putting ourselves in hock to the Chinese and French states.
Even the security services are worried about letting a foreign power build and run such a potentially dangerous industry.
If Volkswagen can put hidden software in cars to cheat emission targets what hidden capabilities could the Chinese build into the nuclear plants’ software?
Our future security is at risk because the Chancellor cannot see the difference between borrowing for revenue and borrowing for investment. He’s quite prepared to sell us all down the river to a foreign power just to satisfy some dubious fiscal targets. Madness.
Let the Tories never again question Corbyn’s patriotism.