Salmond at Stormont

Alex Salmond visits Belfast today to meet Ian Paisley and Martin McGuinness.

The visit is the first step in Salmond’s plan to unite the leaders
of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland in order to confront Gordon
Brown with joint demands when he is prime minister.

The intitial request will be to revive a series of mothballed
joint ministerial committees between the regions and Whitehall, in
which cabinet secretaries would thrash out cross-border issues, with an
annual meeting of the three first ministers and the prime minister.

After establishing the formal framework, Salmond intends to
push for more financial powers for the Scottish parliament, with
corporation tax a priority. (Sunday Times, via nuzhound)

Mark Devenport reports that Salmond may get a sympathetic hearing, because of Gordon Brown’s coolness to Northern Ireland’s own case for a corporation tax cut:

Around the time of the Scottish parliamentary elections,
politicians in Edinburgh were closely watching the efforts of the
Northern Ireland parties to persuade Gordon Brown to approve a regional
cut in the rate of corporation tax.

Scotland argued that if Northern Ireland achieved such a
cut, it should follow suit. Northern Ireland responded that it was in a
unique position because of competition for investment from the Irish
Republic with its low tax rate of 12.5%.

But since then, the Northern Ireland parties have been
disappointed by what they view as the lack of generosity from the
chancellor over a "peace dividend".

There is little optimism that the former head of the
Inland Revenue, Sir David Varney, will recommend a regional reduction
in corporation tax after reviewing the matter.

If they feel let down by the future Scottish resident of
Downing Street, the Northern Ireland parties may conclude there is
nothing to be lost by working closely together with Gordon Brown’s bete
noir, Mr Salmond. (BBC News)

Liam Clarke reaches a similar conclusion:

In late April and early May, London had attempted to play Holyrood
and Stormont off against each other and to set Salmond and Paisley at
each other’s throats in the battle for resources.

Government sources briefed journalists and politicians that
Northern Ireland couldn’t be given the economic package it needed from
Westminster because of Scotland. Salmond, it was argued, would ask for
the same. Therefore, delay was necessary until well after the Scottish
elections. It might never be possible.

Paisley, who had threatened not to go into government without
the package, was forced to back down. But now his advisers are focused
on making Scotland an ally rather than a rival in negotiations with
Westminster. (Sunday Times, via Nuzhound)

One possible forum for that co-operation could be the British-Irish Council, which meets next month, as Bertie Ahern pointed out in an article yesterday:

this is not an end of history but a new beginning. The next
important steps are the meetings of the North/South Ministerial Council
and the British-Irish Council that will take place in Northern Ireland
early next month. I will lead a newly-elected Irish Government to meet
with the new Executive in Northern Ireland, led by Ian Paisley and
Martin McGuinness.

By that time, Gordon Brown will have taken
office as the new British Prime Minister. I wish him well and I look
forward to maintaining and improving the excellent relationship already
built up with Tony Blair.

There are also newly-elected
devolved administrations in Scotland and Wales, which will be
represented at the British-Irish Council. It is an exciting time – of
fresh challenges, new relationships and incredible opportunities.

We have to seize this moment and make a difference.

The new Government has clear plans to do just that.

We are ready to be a partner with Northern Ireland. By working
together, we can develop a more prosperous, sustainable and globally
competitive economy on both parts of this island. For example, the new
Government supports the concept of a single, all-island corporation tax
rate of 12.5 per cent. (Sunday Independent)

If Ahern, Paisley and Salmond are all going to be pushing for corporation tax cuts, one can just imagine how much Gordon Brown is looking forward to that British-Irish Council meeting.



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