Westminster diary: Indyref2 setback, devolution debates and more

Pro-independence politicians and campaigners speak to the media outside the Supreme Court on Wednesday. Credit: PA

The Supreme Court delivered the ruling that was widely expected - the Scottish parliament does not have the powers to hold another independence referendum without Westminster's consent.

Wednesday's legal judgement certainly did not end the political debate though.

At Prime Minister's Questions, the SNP's Westminster leader Ian Blackford asked: "will he at least be honest and confirm that the very idea that the United Kingdom is a voluntary union of nations is now dead and buried?"

Rishi Sunak repeated the UK government's key argument: "I think that the people of Scotland want us working on fixing the major challenges that collectively we face", such as supporting the economy.

He is certainly taking a friendlier approach towards the Scottish Government than his predecessors did.

Several more SNP MPs got to question the PM, before an urgent question on the same subject.

They repeatedly asked versions of this key question: "what is the democratic route for Scotland to determine our own future?"

Scottish Secretary Alister Jack replied with versions of this answer: "In 2014, there was a consensus between both governments, all political parties and civic Scotland. Those are not the circumstances today."

Dumfriesshire Conservative MP David Mundell provided some temporary relief to his constituency neighbour, saying: "My constituents will not be celebrating this outcome, but they will be deeply relieved that, with all the other issues that they face, they are not going to be facing a hugely divisive independence referendum next October."

At her press conference in Edinburgh, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon declared: "from today, the independence movement is as much about democracy as it is about independence."

She confirmed she will push ahead with her Plan B - using the next general election as a 'de facto referendum', and said there will be an SNP special conference in the new year to work out the details of how they will do that.

She will, of course, strive to keep the independence question high on the agenda - and it did dominate proceedings at Westminster on Wednesday, but I think UK government ministers will be pretty confident it won't bother them much in the months ahead.

During debate on the government's Levelling Up & Regeneration Bill in the House of Commons on Wednesday, Carlisle Conservative MP John Stevenson called for "consistency" in devolution settlements across England, with his view that each area should have an elected mayor.

Westmorland & Lonsdale Liberal Democrat MP Tim Farron argued, though, that giving powers only to local areas that have a mayor "is not devolution but delegation to neaten up the system for the benefit of the government rather than to empower local communities."

Mr Farron also put forward an amendment demanding a review of business rates, which he said are putting off many businesses in his community from using town centre premises.

Levelling Up Minister Dehenna Davison said that "a review has been concluded only recently, and we have put in place an incredibly robust support package" around business rates.

The amendment was voted down by Conservative MPs.

During Transport Questions on Thursday, Penrith & The Border Conservative MP Neil Hudson complained of the continuing "poor and unreliable service" on the West Coast mainline.

He asked for assurance that "nothing will be ruled out, including stripping [train company Avanti] of its contract if it does not lift its game."

Rail Minister Huw Merriman said: "In December, with the good will of the unions and the workforce, we will see an increase in weekday services from the current 180 to 264", but did not address Avanti's future in his response.