The week in politics: Fighting talk from Holyrood and Westminster
The mother of all parliaments has a problem: its adolescent offspring in Edinburgh is getting above itself.
By Alex Stevenson Follow @alex__stevenson
I'm quite keen on constitutional issues, as it happens. Even the most pernickety details of the way power is divvied up in our country is enough to keep me going for days, if not weeks. So you can imagine how much I've enjoyed this week, when the prospect of the first struggle for supremacy between Westminster and Holyrood reared its fascinating head.
There is nothing more suspicious than a smug and complacent government lawyer. They are confident – very confident – that they are going to win the argument. This is because they usually do. But not always: which is why, when the legal eagles of the Scotland Office expressed themselves satisfied that the Scottish government couldn't hold any kind of referendum without Westminster's say-so, we waited to hear what Alex Salmond's response was going to be with bated breath.
He did not disappoint. Salmond is not a man to be ordered around by anyone, least of all London. And so the pattern for the rest of the week was set: a good dose of Scotch scorn. Nationalists north of the border are strutting around like bombasts who have drunk too much Coca-Cola. Both sides have been squaring up to each other and issuing the sort of fighting talk normally only seen in the lead-up to a major boxing encounter. By the end of the week Salmond was complaining about Westminster's "bullying". Nick Clegg mocked him for getting "jumpy". And Martin McGuinness, who knows a thing or two about minor disagreements, was jokingly offering the parliaments the use of a castle near Dublin for peace talks. What on earth is going on?
Privately, the SNP claim they are delighted with how this week has played out. They knew they were always going to have to tackle these awkward procedural issues but were reluctant to make the first move. Playing the waiting game has paid off, they say: London blinked first, made the initial move and, they claim, is now paying the price politically.
This is a very long game, though. At stake this week was the question of who gets to set the terms of the referendum – the sort of process-driven story which so enrages J. Bloggs for not having anything to do with the actual issue at hand. Perhaps temperatures will cool in the coming days – although the publication of the Scottish government's consultation on a referendum, coming up next week, suggests not. We're left with the frankly heart-palpitating prospect of a struggle in the courts between London and Edinburgh. Sounds like fun.
The left of British politics will have been most interested this week in Ed Miliband, who used the excuse of a new year for yet another desperate relaunch of his ailing leadership. As always, he did just about enough to cling on. His new vision for Labour would have been bold and exciting had he made it immediately after he actually became leader; 18 months on, it looked to many like the actions of a man seeking to turn around his political fortunes.
This was also the week when the government confirmed its intention to press ahead with High Speed Rail 2; that the Leveson inquiry heard the somewhat mixed case for the defence from tabloid news editors; and that we tasted, briefly, the sweet prospect of Eric Cantona running for the French presidency. Blink and you'd have missed it, but it was fun while it lasted.