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The Scotsman:


Sturgeon damaged as SNP loses over half of Westminster seats

After a campaign heavy on Brexit and independence rhetoric, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon emerged "damaged" following an election that saw the SNP decline from 56 seats in Westminster to 24, losing over half of their Westminster representation. Notably, SNP Deputy Leader and Westminster Leader Angus Robertson lost his Moray seat to Conservative Douglas Ross.

During the election, Sturgeon made the decision to make a second independence referendum, IndyRef2, a central campaign pledge following Theresa May's decision to pursue a hard Brexit. "The logic was that if the Tories were going to force Scotland out of the EU, then we would bring Scotland out of Britain and back in - clearly that may not have been the right message," said an SNP staff member who asked to remain anonymous.

Alex Neil, a former SNP cabinet secretary, said that Sturgeon "missed the mark" as criticism over the SNP's record in Holyrood increased. Over the course of the campaign, both the Scottish Conservatives and Scottish Labour amplified their critiques of Ms Sturgeon's failings on the health and education systems in Scotland. Labour's message on the SNP as "an austerity party in tartan" resonated with voters in Scotland's Central Belt. "Putting IndyRef2 ahead of health and education was foolish," said Neil.

Returning to Holyrood after the election, Sturgeon will find her political capital reduced. An anonymous SNP MSP said, "We need to shelve the IndyRef2 talk and focus on core issues. Nobody is going to take independence seriously unless we show that we can govern the devolved issues we're already responsible for."

However, some in the SNP activist class say that backing down on independence would be the wrong move, describing it as a "historic error" to change policy based on one election result. "If the SNP walk away from independence, I'll walk away from the SNP," said one blogger on an SNP-affiliated site.

The challenges facing the SNP are only amplified as MPs come together to elect a new Westminster leader. "Labour will need the SNP for support if it's going to govern," said Dundee East MP Stewart Hosie. "The question is what do we focus on: securing independence or Scottish public services?" A more skeptical SNP MP said, "If Labour puts DevoMax on the table, is that a good thing for us or is it just giving Nicola more rope to tie a noose with?"

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Northern Irish political leaders see path forward on Brexit

Northern Irish political leaders across the political spectrum see a path forward on Brexit after the government published a white paper focusing on the need to preserve North-South trade on the island of Ireland and East-West trade within the United Kingdom's single market.

Upper Bann MP Doug Beattie noted that, "The components are all there for a Brexit deal that [the UUP] can support if the government conducts negotiations prudently." His thoughts were echoed by independent unionist Sylvia Hermon, who added that "the preservation of frictionless trade within [the UK's] internal market and on Ireland" were the barometers by which she would judge a deal.

Former UUP leader Mike Nesbitt commented on the white paper, stating that "[the white paper] appears to lay the foundations for a progressive Brexit that puts unionism first - which is central to any unionist support for a Brexit deal. It equally prioritises maintaining the peace that we built over the past two decades in Northern Ireland - a noble and vital goal for the continued prosperity of our people."

The SDLP, viewed as the most skeptical potential supporters of a Brexit deal, also offered positive notes surrounding the white paper. SDLP leader Colum Eastwood said that "maintaining a close relationship that, over the long term, facilitates and easing of Northern Ireland back into the single market is our priority - we see elements in support of that goal in the government's statement."

Other parties were less supportive of the government's white paper. Arlene Foster, the DUP leader, said that the white paper amounted to "an abandoning of the ideals of Brexit" and that the priority must be "a strong, robust, and independent UK market, which is not served by the close relationship with the EU sought be the Labour Party." TUV said it was "a betrayal of Brexit". Sinn Fein remains opposed to Brexit in its entirety.

Importantly for the government, assuming the backing of their MPs, the addition of the SDLP, UUP, and Dame Sylvia's votes would secure a parliamentary majority for their Brexit deal.

"It's increasingly clear that the route for a Brexit deal runs through Belfast," said Seamus O'Dowd, a lecturer at Queen's College Belfast. "The UUP are making clear that their loyalty to the Conservative Party will only stretch so far on Brexit - so long as their red lines are met, they're willing to back a deal no matter who proposes it. Likewise, the SDLP are making clear that they're not Labour's lapdog either - they want a very close relationship, though it's unclear how close that will be required to be."

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