London Playbook: Scotland’s bunfight — EU citizens — Corbyn going nowhere
Presented by Intuit
By DAN BLOOM
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Good Thursday morning: This is Dan Bloom, with you today and tomorrow.
DRIVING THE DAY
ON YOUR MARKS: The starting pistols are about to start popping in the race to replace Nicola Sturgeon. No biggie — this election only might decide who runs the U.K. and whether 5.5 million citizens stay part of it. It comes after yet another extraordinary day in British politics that hit politicians, journalists and the public for six … and seems to have left Labour politicians rubbing their eyes in happy disbelief.
Get set: The Scottish National Party’s ruling National Executive Committee will meet this evening to decide the exact rules and timetable for electing their leader. One SNP MP predicts it will take two to three months, though an SNP official tells Playbook’s Emilio Casalicchio: “It should all be done and dusted by the end of March.”
Go! Runners and riders currently include Constitution and Culture Secretary Angus Robertson … Deputy First Minister John Swinney … Finance Secretary Kate Forbes … Depute Leader Keith Brown, who refused to rule it out on Newsnight … Ash Regan, who resigned in protest over gender recognition reforms … Health Secretary Humza Yousaf … Culture Minister Neil Gray … and many more. An MP can technically stand for leader but they wouldn’t be first minister. An SNP MP tells your author their WhatsApp has been exploding: “I would be surprised if it was two or three candidates — it could be four or five.”
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HOW IT WORKS: Under current rules, the SNP’s first full-blown leadership election since 2004 will need each candidate to get 100 nominations from party members in at least 20 of the party’s local branches. But these rules were set when the SNP had fewer members — by 2021, it had 104,000. There is then a ballot of members who rank the candidates using single transferable vote. Anyone who had a valid membership by Tuesday will be eligible, one MP told Playbook.
In doubt: Is Sturgeon’s plan for a special conference on March 19 to decide if the 2024 general election should be a “de facto” independence referendum? Three SNP MPs and a party official say they expect it to be postponed or repurposed. One said: “I’m not convinced the de facto referendum idea would have got through. There was a lot of skepticism and it was a massive gamble.” The MP didn’t blame the gambit for Sturgeon’s departure, though — instead saying: “She’s completely and utterly f*cking exhausted.”
INDEPENDENCE STALLED: There is plenty of chatter about what damage Sturgeon’s dramatic exit has done to her lifelong dream of Scottish independence — either in terms of the political momentum to force a referendum, or support for the SNP generally. Ministers believe it is a “generational setback,” according to the Times. Supporters tell the i it may now be “decades” away, the Spectator has politicians asking “if she cannot lead Scotland to independence, who can?” and a Labour source tells the Independent “independence is dead.”
Early poll: A snap Find Out Now poll shown to Playbook overnight found 16 percent were less likely to vote SNP after Sturgeon’s resignation — with only 9 percent more likely. It had a nationally representative sample of 508 people. Asked if the party could survive without her, an SNP MP who is not a dyed-in-the-wool fan told POLITICO’s Esther Webber: “I doubt it.” Read more here.
Different delay: The Mail points out that the contest could make the Scottish government miss a mid-April deadline to decide if it will battle the U.K. government in court for blocking the Gender Recognition Reform Bill. The paper says the law — which is being blamed heavily in some quarters for Sturgeon’s exit — is now “hanging by a thread,” while the Telegraph goes further saying it is “set to be ditched.”
LABOUR JUBILANT: Other than independence, the big story is the sheer glee from Labour MPs, with widespread briefings including to the Guardian that the party could win back up to 15 or 20 seats in 2024. Aides were already boasting before Sturgeon’s exit that they could win a Holyrood election, leapfrogging from third place, if she left.
Ring round: A Scottish Labour candidate tells Playbook’s Rosa Prince “the stars are aligning” while an MP says: “It’s a very good thing for Labour, a bad thing for the Tories and a very, very bad thing for the SNP.” A prominent Labour campaigner tells your author: “I’m definitely not one for complacency, but perhaps between news of Corbyn and Sturgeon, Keir’s a lot closer to No. 10 than he was a day ago.”
More hype: Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar told the BBC on Wednesday night: “I think people believe a U.K. Labour government is possible.” The Sun’s Harry Cole writes that “champagne corks will be popping” for both main parties in Westminster, but “long-term it’s Labour who might be happiest.” The Mail uses the headline “Could her exit put Starmer into No. 10?” and points out he will be giving a speech to the Scottish Labour conference on Sunday, while a source tells the i it is a “gamechanger.”
BUT BUT BUT … Nicola McEwan, professor of territorial politics at the University of Edinburgh, tells Playbook: “If I were in Labour’s shoes, I would be a little wary of being too cock-a-hoop about it. The SNP is a formidable electoral machine and they haven’t got to where they’ve got to purely on the back of Nicola Sturgeon. It’s much more than that. I would be surprised if it had any immediate and dramatic impact that favored the other parties.” She says it’s too early to tell about support for independence, too.
Some more: Prof. McEwan also has a note of caution for excited journalists: “I think what we will see in the next few days is people ruling themselves out, so the field will narrow. What might take a bit longer is people ruling themselves in.”
WHAT TORIES ARE SAYING: There are fewer excitable noises, despite the party being second-placed in Holyrood. One Tory MP told Playbook that Sturgeon’s exit would be “good for the Union” (because they claimed support for independence will fall). But the same MP accepts Labour could win the spoils: “When you throw everything up in the air, nobody can be sure where it will come down.”
WALL OF NEWS: Lasting 60 times longer than Liz Truss, Sturgeon was a giant figure in politics whether loved or loathed. As expected, the high drama of her press conference yesterday splashes many of the non-Scottish papers and editions — her “tears” lead the Mail and Independent … the Times and i nose in on the blow to independence … the Telegraph says she was “brought down” by the gender recognition row … the Guardian goes for “brutality in politics” … the FT has “SNP at the crossroads” … and the Metro combines her with Labour news: “Sturgone … Corbinned.”
In Scotland: The papers have a more personality-focused feel. The Scotsman has “In my head and in my heart I know that the time is now” … the Herald goes with “I am a human being as well as a politician” … The Daily Record leads with “I want my independence” … the Courier has her “bringing down the curtain” (literally) on her leadership … and the National has “It’s been the privilege of my life.” The Times and Mail Scottish editions both wipe out most of the front with big photos of an emotional Sturgeon at her press conference.
View from the commentariat: Too many to choose from, but the Mail runs a spread by Andrew Neil looking at how she “ran out of road” … The Economist suggests her exit shows populism “has peaked” but is “far from dead” … and for POLITICO, Euan McColm says she is entirely to blame for her own demise.
FOR THE FANS: HuffPost UK has 13 “iconic” Sturgeon moments, including being hit by a swingball.
Not a fan? Donald Trump issued a full-blown statement bidding “good riddance to failed woke extremist Nicola Sturgeon of Scotland!” He harrumphed: “I built the greatest Golf properties in the World in Scotland, but she fought me all the way, making my job much more difficult.”
NOT GOING QUIETLY: Jeremy Corbyn attended a meeting of his local Labour Party last night — hours after Keir Starmer said there was no chance of him standing again as the Labour candidate for Islington North. As a Labour member and local MP, he is entitled to attend, but it comes as speculation mounts over what the ex-leader — suspended from the Labour whip over his claims about anti-Semitism — will do next, and how long it will prolong a bitter row with party HQ.
Independence Day: Diane Abbott’s claim to The News Agents that Corbyn has “no intention of standing as an independent” raised many left-wing eyebrows, an ally of his tells Playbook. They say Corbyn is, in fact, likely to do exactly that — but predict he would apply as a Labour candidate first, and only stand as an independent once he is formally blocked by the party.
This could lead to … the surreal scenario where members of Labour’s ruling National Executive Committee could interview Corbyn to see if he would make a suitable candidate, two people familiar with the process told your author. The NEC panel would then decide if Corbyn fails a “due diligence” test and should be blocked from the longlist. According to internal party guidance seen by Playbook, this test includes, “crucially,” how likely a candidate’s comments are to be “used in a detrimental manner by the media and/or our political opponents.” Which, er, sounds like it could be relevant.
Hearing similar: The Guardian’s Jess Elgot and Aletha Adu also report Corbyn is likely to put himself forward as a Labour candidate, due to his “solid support” among locals. The i’s Paul Waugh hears the Islington North selection is likely to happen after May’s local elections — and Corbyn will be blocked if he tries to stand. An insider tells him Corbyn’s remarks about anti-Semitism would fail a due diligence test, which is higher than the bar for membership: “Is it everyone’s right to stand as a candidate? It f*cking isn’t.”
War of words: Corbyn issued a 6 p.m. statement on Facebook accusing Starmer of a “flagrant attack on the democratic rights of Islington North Labour Party members” — after Starmer said people who didn’t appreciate his changes to the party, including cleaning up anti-Semitism, could be shown the door. “Jeremy’s legal fund” had donations of up to £100 trickling in on Wednesday night and has topped £450,000.
Anger of the left: Momentum’s co-chairs said “the door might be open — but we’re not leaving” … Ex-staffer Georgie Robertson sent a rare tweet about the legal action she is facing over a leaked report, while alleging the party takes “no action whatsoever over racism, sexism, abuse and toxic factionalism”… and Owen Jones accused Starmer of “pulling Kafkaesque s***” over his decision to ditch a series of his 2020 leadership pledges. If Team Starmer’s aim was to mark a decisive break with the Corbyn left, they have certainly succeeded in that.
WAR IN UKRAINE
BEATEN BY FRANCE: Today’s Times gives part of its front page to a warning from the International Institute for Strategic Studies that Britain’s military power risks falling behind France’s — despite spending more. It comes as the Whitehall row over defense spending ahead of the March 15 budget heats up.
POLISH PRESSURE: Rishi Sunak will meet President Andrzej Duda of Poland at lunchtime, sandwiched in a brief lull between two big summits on Ukraine. NATO defense ministers met earlier this week, and on Wednesday Duda called for new security plans for NATO’s eastern flank.
Coming up: The PM, foreign secretary, defense secretary and their three Labour opposite numbers will all be jetting to the Munich Security Conference on Friday and Saturday, where the war is firmly on the order of business. Meanwhile, if you’re a sucker for foreign affairs punishment, Truss will be giving her first major speech since her brief spell as PM at 5.30 a.m. U.K. time on Friday from Japan, taking aim at the growing threat from China.
Reminder: Next week marks the first anniversary of Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine and there will be a flurry of events and visits. Foreign Secretary James Cleverly is expected to mark the occasion at the U.N. Security Council in New York.
TODAY IN WESTMINSTER
NEWS — WHILE YOU WERE BUSY WITH SCOTLAND: Playbook can bring you a hefty Brexit update — the Home Office has backed down in a legal battle over the rights of 2.2 million EU citizens who live in the U.K. Officials are now re-examining the scheme that allows them to stay in Britain … nearly four years after it opened.
News EU can use: The High Court ruled the EU Settlement Scheme unlawful in December due to its two-stage structure. After Brexit, EU citizens who had lived in the U.K. for less than five years had to apply for “pre-settled” status — then apply again for “settled” status once they hit the five-year mark. The judge said people who failed to make this second application risked being deemed illegal “overstayers,” despite having rights to stay under the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement.
U-turn: The Home Office had insisted it would appeal — but late on Wednesday night told Playbook it had changed its mind. “After careful consideration, we have informed the court that we do not wish to pursue the appeal,” a spokesperson confirmed. “We are working to implement the judgment as swiftly as possible and will provide an update in due course.”
What it means now: No solution is confirmed, but campaign group the3million — which broke the news in a tweet — said the government will need to “implement changes” to the policy. Co-chief executive Monique Hawkins said the decision “has averted a ticking time bomb.” The Independent Monitoring Authority for citizens’ rights agreements previously said it would liaise with the Home Office on the outcome of the “landmark” case, which it brought.
BRACE, BRACE: British Gas profits have just been announced, fresh from the firm forcibly installing prepayment meters into customers’ homes. Preliminary 2022 results for the firm’s owner Centrica should have appeared here a few moments ago.
HAPPY CRIME WEEK-AND-A-BIT! Yvette Cooper is giving a 10 a.m. law and order speech at the Institute for Government to kick off Labour’s “crime week,” which — naturally — has started midweek but will last about 10 days, a party official tells Playbook. Register to watch online here.
Happy tally: The shadow home secretary will promise to recruit an extra 13,000 community police officers and police community support officers. In a section pre-briefed to the Guardian, she will heap praise on BBC Calder Valley cop Catherine Cawood, who “may be fiction” but is like real police officers “who know their communities, who pick up the things that everyone else misses to solve crimes and keep people safe … We need more of them.”
Warm-up: Cooper visited police and community officers in Milton Keynes on Wednesday — photo via Stefan Rousseau of PA — and Labour released figures to The Times suggesting knife crime has surged in the home counties over a decade. The Sun and i both run with the story that 22 percent of officers are in back-room roles, a 10-year high. Cooper is also expected on the Sunday shows this weekend.
NEW RAAB CLAIMS: Bullying-accused Dominic Raab graded civil servants’ policy papers “on a scale of one to four” and used the scores to create a “private log of his officials’ performance,” a former colleague has told the Financial Times. Its hair-raising story quotes officials who claim staff were “on eggshells,” “he gets uncontrollably angry at minor things,” and not sorting documents into tabbed-up folders could trigger a “meltdown.”
There’s more: One civil servant said a ministerial car driver once arrived to collect Raab 5 minutes early, upon which “he screamed at his private secretary.” Raab denies bullying and has said he “behaved professionally at all times,” while a figure close to him told the FT it was “false and malicious” to allege he screamed at anyone. No wonder Adam Tolley’s investigation is taking so long.
GOING POSTAL: Send your letters, quick — 18 days of Royal Mail strikes clearly weren’t enough. Communication Workers’ Union General Secretary David Ward will confirm at a 4 p.m. press conference if his members have backed a new six-month mandate for walkouts. Fresh strike dates are expected as soon as the first week of March if the ballot passes.
Striking today: British Museum workers in London, some staff at DVLA and DWP, Unite members in the NHS and ambulance service in Northern Ireland, and 70,000 members of the University and College Union at 150 sites.
More bad news for Sturgeon: Teachers in Scotland will go ahead with strikes after the EIS union rejected an 11.5 percent pay offer over two years. The Scotsman has the story.
WHAT THE GOVERNMENT WANTS TO TALK ABOUT: Health Minister Neil O’Brien is announcing £421 million to tackle drug and alcohol abuse. The money is for councils split between 2023-24 and 2024-25 — a full breakdown by area is here. O’Brien is doing a morning broadcast round, where we’re sure he will definitely be asked about this announcement and not the future of Scotland.
What it won’t want to talk about: The Crown Prosecution Service has been reprimanded by the Information Commissioner’s Office for losing CDs and files containing evidence in rape and sexual assault cases. In one incident spotted by Civil Service World, and “regretted” by the CPS, two discs containing video interviews of sexual assault victims went missing in Lincoln.
PARLIAMENT: Yep, you know the score by now — in recess until February 20.
PUNCH AND JUDY POLITICS: Sunak has been urged by the charity Full Fact to correct the record over a claim he made during PMQs. On February 1, Sunak said Just Stop Oil “bankroll” Starmer and the Labour Party — but Full Fact found no evidence that the protest group, its main funder, or its co-founder, has donated to Labour.
BEYOND THE M25
NEWS FROM DC: POLITICO food and agriculture reporter Marcia Brown caught up Stateside with Thérèse Coffey, who said Truss “continues to be a very close friend” and “we need to pull every lever we can to grow” the economy. In fairness, the environment secretary also pointed out growth is one of her new boss Sunak’s five pledges.
‘Pigs, potatoes and parsnips’: The three ‘Ps’ she used to describe her Suffolk constituency while addressing the National Association of State Departments of Agriculture. Coffey was in Washington for a speech urging unity between the U.S. and the U.K. amid the war in Ukraine, and praising American leadership on “trade, sustainability and innovation.”
EARTHQUAKE UPDATE: The U.K. has announced £25 million in aid funding to support the earthquake recovery effort in Turkey and Syria. Development Minister Andrew Mitchell explained the U.K.’s support to Turkey and Syria is moving from the rescue to recovery phase in an article for The House magazine: “We are seeing thousands of families left homeless by the earthquake, packed into crowded tents or lined up in the streets queuing for hot meals.”
SAHEL SUPPORT: Vulnerable communities across the Sahel will receive £33 million from the U.K. up to 2026, supporting those suffering from rising violence, displacement and food insecurity. Mitchell made the commitment during a three-day visit to Niger, his first to the Sahel region since being appointed. Separately, funding for Education Cannot Wait (ECW) — £80 million over four years — will also help to provide education for 20 million children living in humanitarian crises around the world, including Ukraine and Syria.
BUSWAY TO HEAVEN: Bishops have joined pensioners and rural campaigners in an open letter, urging the government to halt cuts to bus services. Campaign group Better Buses for South Yorkshire says one in six services would be cut if the COVID-era Bus Recovery Grant, already extended several times, ends as planned next month. Huddersfield Hub covered the issue more broadly.
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Health minister Neil O’Brien broadcast round: GB News (6.50 a.m.) … Times Radio (7.05 a.m.) … Sky News (7.20 a.m.) … LBC (7.50 a.m.) … ITN (playing out shortly after 8.40 a.m.) … Bauer (playing out shortly after 8.55 a.m.).
Shadow Home Secretary Yvette Cooper broadcast round: Today program (7.09 a.m.) … Times Radio (7.45 a.m.) … Sky News (8.05 a.m.) … Bauer (playing out shortly after 8.20 a.m.) … LBC (8.35 a.m.) … ITN (playing out shortly after 8.55 a.m.).
Also on the Today program: Scottish Greens co-leader Lorna Slater (6.50 a.m.) … Depute Leader of the Alba Party Kenny MacAskill (7.15 a.m.) … Leader of the Scottish Conservative Party Douglas Ross (7.30 a.m.) … SNP Westminster leader Stephen Flynn (8.10 a.m.).
Also on Times Radio Breakfast: Former Scottish First Minister Jack McConnell (7.20 a.m.) … Former Scottish Secretary Malcolm Rifkind (8.05 a.m.).
Also on Kay Burley: SNP Westminster leader Stephen Flynn (7.05 a.m.) … Conservative peer and pollster Robert Hayward (8.20 a.m.) … Ukrainian Ambassador to the U.K. Vadym Prystaiko (8.30 a.m.).
Also on Nick Ferrari at Breakfast: Former Alex Salmond and Nicola Sturgeon speechwriter Andy Collier (7.10 a.m.) … Journalist and broadcaster Andrew Neil (8.20 a.m.).
Also on Good Morning Britain: Former Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond (6.40 a.m.) … Former England footballer Andy Cole and Director of the University of Bedfordshire’s Organ Donation & Transplant Research Centre Gurch Randhawa (both 7.25 a.m.) … Chef Prue Leith and Tory MP Danny Kruger (both 8.20 a.m.).
Also on TalkTV breakfast: Former Alistair Darling SpAd Catherine MacLeod (7.05 a.m.) … University of Strathclyde Professor of politics John Curtice (8.05 a.m.) … Former SNP Westminster leader Ian Blackford (9.05 a.m.) … Tory MSP Jamie Greene (9.20 a.m.).
Mike Graham (TalkTV): Former Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond (10.30 a.m.).
Also on Good Morning Scotland: IPSOS Scotland pollster Emily Gray (6.45 a.m.) … Scottish Conservative Party chairman Craig Hoy (7.08 a.m.) … Former Scottish First Minister SpAd Katy Taylor (7.35 a.m.) … Deputy leader of the Scottish Labour Party Jackie Baillie (7.45 a.m.) … SNP President Mike Russell (8.05 a.m.) … Glasgow City Council leader Susan Aitken (8.35 a.m.) … Who Cares Scotland’s Louise Hunter and Nicola Sturgeon mentee Charlotte Liddell (both 8.50 a.m.).
TODAY’S FRONT PAGES
(Click on the publication’s name to see its front page):
Daily Express: ‘High-risk’ Nicola had issues with alcohol.
Daily Mail: Tearful Sturgeon quits … with her dreams in tatters.
Daily Mirror: Nicola’s turmoil.
Daily Star: Form an orderly queue!
Financial Times: SNP at the crossroads after Sturgeon steps aside as Scotland’s first minister.
i: Independence dream fades as Sturgeon quits.
Metro: Sturgone … Corbinned.
POLITICO UK: After Nicola Sturgeon, Scottish independence warriors have one last shot.
PoliticsHome: Jewish leaders call for “constant vigilance” as Labour antisemitism special measures end.
The Daily Telegraph: Sturgeon brought down by trans row.
The Guardian: Sturgeon quits citing brutality in politics.
The Independent: Exit tearful Nicola … so is it also ‘brutal’ end of Scottish independence?
The Sun: Cops: Nicola’s alcohol struggles.
The Times: Huge boost to unionism as Sturgeon steps down.
TODAY’S NEWS MAGS
POLITICO Europe: The new Luddites: AI comes for the creative class.
The New Statesman: Why the right is losing everywhere — The slow death of Western conservatism.
The Spectator: After Sturgeon — What’s the future for Scotland — and the Union?
WESTMINSTER WEATHER: Light rain throughout the day with a gentle breeze. Highs of 13C.
CULTURE FIX: Crossbench peer Frank Field‘s “Politics, Poverty and Belief: A Political Memoir” is published today by Bloomsbury Continuum. The former Labour MP retook his parliamentary oath of allegiance to the king earlier this month, more than a year after it was announced he was terminally ill. Field’s book can be purchased here.
CONGRATS: Tory MP Tracey Crouch married her long-time partner Steve Ladner, a BBC Radio Kent presenter, on Valentine’s Day at a castle in Hythe. Pic here from the small ceremony, which had a cake of tiered cheese (not imported). The pair have no honeymoon planned, not even in summer recess — as she will be climbing Kilimanjaro for the charity Breast Cancer Kent.
Congrats II: Emily Catherine Jane Bowie, daughter of Tory MP Andrew Bowie and his wife Madeleine, was baptized at the English Church in Stockholm on Sunday.
NAD FAB: Friday night TalkTV host and occasional MP Nadine Dorries has interviewed Joanna Lumley, who told her “Absolutely Fabulous” icon Patsy Stone couldn’t have been written in the same way today due to political correctness. “You wouldn’t be able to smoke, you wouldn’t be able to drink, you wouldn’t be able to snort coke,” she lamented.
MY WAY OR THE HIGHWAY: Fancy a recess stroll? Somerset House has a 30-meter-wide art installation from today, filling the courtyard with two twisting and interlocking 168-meter spirals of motorway signs. TimeOut has more. It’ll still be easier to understand than the Northern Ireland protocol or the SNP leadership election.
NO EXCUSES: Jacob “WFH police” Rees-Mogg will surely feel victorious at the news Govia Thameslink Railway (GTR) is trialing cheaper Southern Rail Advance peak tickets on Mondays and Fridays to tempt people back into the office. GTR data found around 40,000 and 90,000 fewer people were catching GTR rush hour trains on Mondays and Fridays, respectively, compared to the middle three days of the week. The discount is up to 15 percent.
BIRTHDAYS: Former Montgomeryshire MP Glyn Davies … Former Upper Bann MP David Simpson … Teneo’s Sally Herd … Big Society Capital’s Kelly Furlong … SNP MSP Bruce Crawford … Labour peer and former Northern Ireland Secretary Peter Hain … Labour peer and Welsh MS Eluned Morgan.
PLAYBOOK COULDN’T HAPPEN WITHOUT: My editor Emma Anderson, reporter Noah Keate and producer Grace Stranger.
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