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Scottish politics

Labour figures eyeing up independence are ‘living in fairyland’, says party veteran

August 23 2016

Labour grandee Tam Dalyell has said those in the party warming to Scottish independence on the back of the Brexit vote are “living in fairyland”. Former First Minister Henry McLeish and David Martin, who is Labour’s longest-serving MEP, are among the senior Labour figures who have said they could be converted to the independence cause. Official Scottish Labour policy is to oppose a second referendum on secession until at least 2021, but leader Kezia Dugdale has been accused by some quarters of softening her pro-Union stance. Delivering his assessment of those in the party shifting towards independence, Sir Tam told The Courier: “They are living in fairyland. I think they are wrong. “McLeish and others had better realise that there is no chance of an independent Scotland being admitted into the European Union. “No prime minister of Spain would allow it and nor would the Germans.” Mr McLeish, who led a Scottish Labour government in 2000/01, said earlier this year the party must abandon its strategy of “just saying no to independence” and advocated a “new alternative of real home rule”. Mr Martin, who is on Ms Sturgeon’s Standing Council on Europe, has said independence is “worth considering” if Scotland cannot retain access to the single market. Scottish Labour deputy leader Alex Rowley revealed last month that he would not oppose a second independence referendum, saying the Brexit vote had shifted the debate. His boss Ms Dugdale reprimanded on live radio yesterday saying it was “wrong” for Mr Rowley to take that stance against party policy. Sir Tam, who was an MP in Scotland for 43 years and a fervent Unionist, called on MPs from all parties to block Brexit. “I believe it is up to every member of Parliament to do the right thing and to vote against the triggering of Article 50,” he said. “I would hope the House of Commons blocks Brexit and I have very strong views on this.” He said the referendum result does not have to be enacted because “people were lied to and misled by (Boris) Johnson and others”. “You look at what Brexit would mean for places like Dundee, and the damage it could do to universities like Dundee, and I am very angry about it,” he added. Article 50 is the legal mechanism through which member states leave the EU. Political and constitutional experts disagree on whether Parliament has to vote on whether it is triggered.

Scottish politics

Plan for Scottish firms to secure workers from EU under Brexit exemption

February 23 2017

Parts of Scotland would have special access to EU workers under a proposal mooted by the Scottish Secretary. David Mundell said the UK Government is “not minded” for immigration to be devolved to Holyrood - a key plank of Nicola Sturgeon’s demands over Brexit. But the Conservative MP suggested geographical areas affected by depopulation and labour shortages will need to have unique arrangements. Rural parts of Tayside and Fife rely on seasonal workers and many are seeing a population decline of younger people. Mr Mundell told MSPs on Wednesday his government was looking at a UK-wide system which protects the supply of EU workers. “Clearly we need to address issues around depopulation and the provision of services in those areas,” he said. “I am not minded to a view that immigration should be devolved. The Scottish Government have clearly made that case. "But going forward we want to have an immigration system that allows for those jobs, which are necessary in our economy, to be filled.” In November, Angus Soft Fruits, which employs 4,000 seasonal workers from the EU, threatened to move abroad if post-Brexit immigration policy stops it from recruiting from the bloc. Scotland voted with a 62% majority to Remain in the EU, but Leave votes elsewhere in the UK threaten to over-rule that. Ms Sturgeon has put forward proposals for Scotland to stay in the European single market while part of a UK that leaves. The First Minister says an independence referendum is “highly likely” if Scotland’s will is ignored. Mr Mundell told journalists after his appearance at Holyrood’s EU committee that the way to attract workers to Scotland is not by making the country the highest taxed part of the UK. Scots earning at least £43,000 will pay up to £400 more a year than their English counterparts after Holyrood set income tax under major new powers on Tuesday. Mr Mundell also said the triggering of Article 50, which starts the two-year Brexit process, is not a deadline to negotiations with the Scottish Government. A Scottish Government spokesman said that goes against assurances previously made by UK ministers. “Our position remains that it is essential UK ministers establish a position that properly reflects all parts of the UK ahead of Article 50 being triggered,” he added.

UK politics

Theresa May risks human rights challenge for treating EU nationals as ‘bargaining chips’

July 20 2016

Theresa May could be taken to court over human rights violations for treating EU nationals as “bargaining chips”, according to a senior academic. The Prime Minister has refused to guarantee the rights of citizens from member states to continue living and working in the UK on the basis it would harm her Government’s negotiating position during Brexit talks. But Virginia Mantouvalou, the co-director of University College London’s Institute for Human Rights, said the UK’s stance has potentially “devastating implications” for millions of people and could breach their right to a private and family life under Article 8 of the convention. She told The Courier she has spoken to about 20 EU nationals in the last few days, who are worried about their future in the UK and open to the idea of mounting a legal challenge to the UK Government. “The stance of the UK Government on the status of EU citizens in the UK may violate the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR),” she wrote in an article for the UK Constitutional Law Association. “European human rights law does not permit the treatment of people as bargaining chips.” Dr Mantouvalou said while the UK Government has said there will be “no immediate change” in the legal status of citizens in the UK, the Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond has backed Mrs May’s refusal to make longer term guarantees because it would “absurd” to do so before negotiations begin with other member states. The human rights and labour law expert said the uncertainty alone caused by these statements could amount to a breach of Article 8 even before the prospect of deportation is raised, which she accepts the UK Government has not done. “If this (not guaranteeing rights of EU citizens) lasts for a couple of years, as it may well do, and a particular individual, and his or her dependents, is affected by the uncertainty itself surrounding their legal status then it may well be in breach of the ECHR,” she told The Courier yesterday. The ECHR is enshrined in UK law through the Human Rights Act and is not connected to its membership of the EU. The act allows for alleged human rights breaches to be challenged in courts in the UK. Mrs May called for a withdrawal from the ECHR earlier this year, but during her Conservative leadership campaign said that is “something I’m not going to pursue”. David Torrance, the SNP’s Kirkcaldy MSP, said Mrs May’s refusal to guarantee the status of EU nationals living here is “nothing less than a disgrace”. A Downing Street spokesman said: “The Government’s position is clear. We fully expect the legal rights of EU nationals already in the UK will be properly protected. They make a huge contribution to our country. “But we need to win the same rights for British nationals living in European countries.” There are 173,000 non-UK EU nationals living in Scotland.

Scottish politics

Do not ignore will of Scots on independence and EU referendums, Labour MSP demands

July 15 2016

Theresa May and Nicola Sturgeon must not ignore the democratic will of Scots that was expressed in the last two referendums, says a senior Labour MSP. Scotland went against the grain by voting to Remain in the EU last month, nearly two years after it rejected a breakaway of the UK. Scottish Labour’s Jackie Baillie told the Prime Minister and First Minister, who met at Bute House today to hold talks over Scotland’s constitutional status, that the outcome of those ballots must be respected. She said: “Scottish Labour has fully supported Nicola Sturgeon to get the best deal for Scotland. We welcome this meeting between the Prime Minister and the First Minister and the commitment from both of them to explore all options available. “Theresa May and Nicola Sturgeon cannot ignore the results of both of Scotland’s referendums. People voted overwhelmingly for Scotland to stay inside the EU and the UK. “Respecting the democratic will of people across Scotland and finding a solution that delivers on both results should be their first priority. “The Prime Minister has said that she will not trigger Article 50 until there is a UK approach for the negotiations. "This should be a cross UK and cross Government approach that involves the leaders of all of the UK’s devolved Governments.” Earlier yesterday, the newly-appointed Brexit secretary David Davis said that Britain will be in a position to start the official exit process "before or by the start of next year". He said the formal process of leaving should begin after consultation with businesses, devolved administrations, trade unions, universities and research institutions. "This is one of the reasons for taking a little time before triggering Article 50. The negotiating strategy has to be properly designed, with serious consultation," Mr Davis wrote in The Sun. "This whole process should be completed to allow triggering of Article 50 before or by the start of next year."

Scottish politics

High-profile figures in Scotland call for Brexit to be stopped

July 18 2017

Dozens of senior politicians and academics in Scotland have demanded Brexit is called off. A letter signed by 60 public figures said leaving the EU must be abandoned as the “disastrous consequences” of doing so become “ever clearer”. Former first minister Henry McLeish and ex-Lib Dem leader Lord Campbell are among those to back the call. Lord Kerr, the author of Article 50, as well respected professors David Bell and Christina Boswell and MEPs Alyn Smith and David Martin have also signed up. It reads: “We call for a national debate on Brexit. We ask our fellow citizens, and our politicians, to think again. It is time to call a halt to Brexit.” The letter, which was sent to the Herald, said the UK’s international reputation is “seriously damaged”, Brexit will increase the speed of falling living standards and EU citizens in the UK and Brits on the continent are in “unacceptable limbo”. “We recognise that a narrow majority voted to leave the European Union, but the disastrous consequences are now becoming ever clearer – every day,” the signatories said. It added: “In a democracy, it is always possible to think again and to choose a different direction.” The signatories: Prof. David Bell, Stirling Management School, University of Stirling Andrew Bolger, former Scotland Correspondent, Financial Times, Prof. Christina Boswell, School of Social and Political Science, University of Edinburgh Professor Sir Harry Burns, Professor of Global Public Health, University of Strathclyde The Rt. Hon Lord Campbell of Pittenweem CH CBE PC QC Dr Chad Damro, University of Edinburgh Professor Emeritus Sir Tom Devine, University of Edinburgh Christine De Luca, poet Dr Richard Dixon, Director, Friends of the Earth Scotland Sir David Edward, Professor Emeritus Edinburgh University Law School and former ECJ Judge John Edward, Former Head of European Parliament Office in Scotland/Former EU Policy Manager, Scotland Europa Colin Imrie, European policy analyst Maria Fletcher Director, Director of Scottish Universities Legal Network on Europe (SULNE) Lord Foulkes of Cumnock Dr Peter Geoghegan, University of the West of Scotland, Gwilym Gibbons Creative Help Ltd Prof. Anne Glover, Vice Principal for External Affairs and Dean for Europe, University of Aberdeen Vanessa Glynn, Chair, European Movement in Scotland Michele Gordon, Director, The Language Hub David Gow, Editor, Sceptical Scot, Editor, Social Europe Dr Eve Hepburn, Chief Executive, Fearless Femme CIC David Hood, Director, Edinburgh Institute for Collaborative & Competitive Advantage Dr Kirsty Hughes, Director, Scottish Centre on European Relations Helen Hunter Education Officer (retired) Helen Kay M.A., M.Sc. Stefan G Kay OBE Patricia Kelly, Retired Teacher Lord Kerr of Kinlochard GCMG Mark Lazarowicz, former Labour MP 2001 – 2015, Edinburgh North Graham Leicester, International Futures Forum (in a personal capacity) Baroness Liddell of Coatdyke, former Secretary of State Scotland and former High Commissioner to Australia. Dr John MacDonald, Director of the Scottish Global Forum and editor of CABLE magazine Gordon Macintyre-Kemp, Author and Chief Executive, Business for Scotland Dame Mariot Leslie David Martin, MEP Monica Martins, Managing Director, WomenBeing Project Marilyne MacLaren, retired politician and educationalist Rt. Hon. Henry McLeish, former First Minister Maggie Mellon, former executive board, Women for Independence and social work consultant Professor Steve Murdoch, University of St Andrews Isobel Murray, Professor Emeritus Modern Scottish Literature, Aberdeen University Dr Kath Murray, Criminal Justice Researcher Andrew Ormston, Director of Drew Wylie Projects Alex Orr, Managing Director, Orbit Communications (in a personal capacity) Robert Palmer robertpalmerconsultants@gmail.com Ray Perman, author and journalist Willis Pickard, former editor TES Scotland and Rector, Aberdeen University, Dr Janet Powney, consultant in education and evaluation research Lesley Riddoch Ian Ritchie, software entrepreneur Baron Robertson of Port Ellen, KT, former Secretary of State for Defence, former Secretary General, NATO Bill Rodger, Treasurer, European Movement in Scotland Anthony Salamone, Research Fellow and Strategic Adviser, Scottish Centre on European Relations Prof. Andrew Scott, University of Edinburgh Anne Scott, Secretary, Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, Scottish Branch Peter K. Sellar Advocate, Axiom Advocates Faculty of Advocates, Edinburgh, Prof. Jo Shaw, University of Edinburgh Dr Kirsteen Shields, Lecturer in Public Law, University of Dundee Martin Sime, Chief Executive, SCVO Alyn Smith, MEP Grahame Smith, General Secretary STUC Professor Michael E. Smith, Professor of International Relations, University of Aberdeen Prof. Chris Smout, Historiographer Royal of Scotland and Emeritus Professor, University of St Andrews Struan Stevenson, former MEP and European Movement in Scotland Vice-President Lord (Jim) Wallace of Tankerness Lib Dem Peer & former Deputy First Minister Sir Graham Watson, former President of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe Party (ALDE Party), former MEP Dr Geoffrey Whittam, Reader, Glasgow Caledonian University Fay Young, Director of a digital media company

Scottish politics

Former Labour first minister says ‘no disguising how difficult’ local elections will be for the party

February 24 2017

A former Scottish Labour leader has warned the party is facing a fresh electoral blow when voters return to the ballot box this year. As the party gathers for its conference in Perth, Henry McLeish said its performance in the council elections in May is shaping up to be “very different” to the relative success of 2012. But the ex-first minister said Kezia Dugdale’s party could yet emerge from a “calamitous” period in its history to do well. Mr McLeish said winning Glasgow and Fife five years ago was a major boost to Labour, but he added: “This time the outcome could be very different. “The SNP are polling well. The Tories are likely to do better on the back of good results in the Holyrood elections. “Both the Liberal Democrats and the Greens could pick up seats. UKIP could certainly do better.” Mr McLeish, a former Fife councillor, said there is “no disguising how difficult these elections will be” for Labour, but said there is an opportunity given the “gloss is wearing off the SNP”. He added that Labour has a proud record of “civic achievements, political reforms and progressive improvements”, which is in “sharp contrast” to the inexperience of many SNP councils. The conference kicks off today at Perth Concert Hall with a debate on Ms Dugdale’s proposal for a “new Act of Union”, which would see the UK adopt a federal constitutional structure. Ms Dugdale is speaking on Saturday after an address by London Mayor Sadiq Khan. Jeremy Corbyn, the UK Labour leader, is to deliver his speech on Sunday. On the eve of the conference, Ms Dugdale said she would “without question” stay on as leader of the party until at least 2021 after admitting the local elections would be difficult for Labour. In an at times testy interview with STV, she repeatedly refused to say whether she thinks Westminster MPs should block an independence referendum, despite senior Tories in Scotland saying there should be no veto. Ahead of Friday’s debate on the constitution, she said the case for independence is even weaker now than it was two years ago. “Scotland’s too divided. We can bring our country together with a new solution around the constitution, one that appeals to people who voted both Yes and No,” she said. “This is why on the first morning of our conference I am asking my party to back my proposals for a federal solution for the whole of the UK.” See today's The Courier to read Mr McLeish's article on Labour's prospects in full.

Scottish politics

SNP MEP Alyn Smith calls for crackdown on ‘cybernat’ abuse

July 10 2017

A senior SNP politician has demanded a crackdown on party members who use anonymous profiles to abuse others on social media. Alyn Smith MEP, who went for the SNP deputy leadership last year, said he is frustrated by the lack of action taken by his party over so-called cybernats. He has called for new rules to explicitly ban members from running online accounts that allow them to spread bile incognito. "I would like to see a specific code of conduct in my own party with four or five simple points that everyone agrees on, including a ban on the kind of anonymous accounts which seem to enable people to be so unpleasant,” the MEP told The Herald. "I also think all the parties, either through their leaders or their chief executives, could sign some kind of code of online decency. “As an out-gay pro-European nationalist I am no stranger to abuse but I am fed up of whataboutery from one side or another." The constitutional divide in Scotland has led to a large number of anonymous profiles popping up across social media representing both sides of the debate. Nicola Sturgeon, the SNP leader, and Ruth Davidson, who heads up the Scottish Conservatives, are among those facing the worst abuse from accounts with profile pictures often depicting flags rather than identifiable individuals. An SNP spokesperson said:  “As Alyn Smith MEP pointed out in his article in the Sunday Herald, the SNP has led in calling for a debate free from online abuse. "We look forward to seeing further details of his proposals and we are hopeful that people from all parties can find common ground on this."

Scottish politics

Tory councillor banned from classroom attacks SNP for teacher shortages

October 16 2017

A Conservative councillor who was banned from the classroom has attacked the SNP over teacher shortages. Kathleen Leslie, who sits on Fife Council, called Nicola Sturgeon a “drooling hag” and a “wee fish wife” in a series of abusive posts on social media during the 2014 referendum campaign. The former Dunfermline teacher admitted last month her fitness to teach was impaired and agreed to be struck off the register by the General Teaching Council. In an article for the Conservative Home website titled “the SNP is to blame for the shortage of Scottish teachers”, she asked: “Where are all the teachers?” “Perhaps a decade of being subjected to an ongoing crisis in implementation of Curriculum for Excellence (and) National Qualifications that are still plagued by assessment criteria problems might explain their departure.” She said the SNP’s “absolute obsession with independence” had contributed to the recruitment crisis, adding: “I cannot help but wonder how, in a country with a once globally renowned education system, we seem to have slipped in international standing and failed to successfully recruit and retain teachers.” The irony of a struck-off teacher criticising teacher shortages was not lost on Twitter. One SNP councillor said: “You couldn’t make it up.” Another user said: “So there's a shortage and she still wasn't good enough to be let near a class room? Her opinion counts for precisely nothing.” An SNP spokesman said: “Ms Leslie’s abusive and deeply offensive comments have seen her struck off and deemed unfit to be a teacher – and the fact she still holds office as a Tory councillor speaks volumes. “She holds views that have become a hallmark of the intolerant and unacceptable face of the Tories in Scotland and it is time Ruth Davidson took responsibility for the ugly rhetoric in her party.” A spokesman for the Scottish Conservatives said Ms Leslie apologised for her “unacceptable comments when they first came to light”. “It is now time the SNP dealt with the very real problems facing classrooms across Scotland, all of which have happened under their watch,” he said. John Swinney, the Education Secretary, admitted in August there were about 700 teacher vacancies across Scotland. In his conference speech last week, he announced a £20,000 “golden hello” to career changers moving into teaching certain subjects, including maths and science.

UK politics

Ex-Labour FM calls for Kezia Dugdale to ‘unwind’ independence opposition

September 14 2016

Kezia Dugdale should row back on her opposition to independence and seize control of the debate by calling for a “radical alternative” to the constitutional status quo, say a former Labour first minister. Henry McLeish, who was first minister between 2000 and 2001, said the Scottish Labour leader should “unwind” her anti-independence stance and put forward a solution along the lines of home rule or federalism. In an interview with The Courier, the former Fife MP also called for Jeremy Corbyn to stand down to save the party from collapse and warned against treating the Brexit vote as a “binding outcome”. Mr McLeish, who has said he is open to Scottish independence, said: “It’s actually my view that the Labour party will hold the cards as to whether Scotland eventually becomes independent or stays in the Union, but the  Labour Party in Scotland have now got to - in a very bold way - say ‘we are entering this debate again’. “What they need to find is an alternative between status quo Unionism and on the other hand independence.” He added Ms Dugdale should “unwind” on her opposition to independence, saying she “need not position herself to be totally opposed to that”. But he said she has a “great opportunity” to take the fight to the SNP, who he said have succeeded in convincing people that independence is the “only show in town”, by proposing a “radical alternative”. Scottish Labour’s 2016 manifesto said they will oppose another independence referendum until at least 2021, a position Ms Dugdale has stood by since the Brexit vote. A Scottish Labour spokesman said: “Labour stands with the majority of Scots who want to stay in the UK and maintain our relationship with Europe. “But whilst the SNP and the Tories continue to obsess about the arguments of the past only Labour is talking about plans for Scotland’s future, like cutting the attainment gap, investing in our NHS, creating jobs and  banning fracking.” Mr McLeish also pleaded with warring factions of the UK party not to split if Mr Corbyn fights off challenger Owen Smith to retain his leadership. Making a fresh plea for Mr Corbyn to step down, he denounced the campaign group Momentum as a “cult”, who he said have taken the “ridiculous” position of backing the leader instead of the party. The Labour grandee added: “We are limping along just now and I’m afraid that there is no easy solution. “The only thing that has to happen is that Labour doesn’t split and that might mean a tawdry situation in Parliament with the Parliamentary Labour Party not listening to the leader and the leader not referring to the PLP.” Mr McLeish said there are precedents for holding another EU referendum on the outcome of Article 50 negotiations given the result was so tight and there was “no understanding” of what Brexit meant. “In Quebec they had a referendum and the Quebecois lost and had another one, the SNP look like they are going to have another referendum on Scottish independence some time,” he said. “In 1973 we voted to join the EU, in 2016 we decided to come out, and there are other examples throughout the world.” “And this is why we should not accept that this is a binding outcome because first of all it was a consultative referendum and secondly it was based on oBrexit, with no meaning on what it stood for.” Mr McLeish, who played for East Fife FC, proposed a “triple lock” against Brexit in which the UK parliament would have a vote on the terms of Article 50 and the repeal of the European Communities Act 1972, devolved nations are given a more “substantial say” and there would be another referendum on the outcome of negotiations.

Scottish politics

UK Government urged to use majority shareholder status to force RBS retreat on branch closures

December 8 2017

UK ministers must use their status as majority shareholders to force Royal Bank of Scotland into a retreat over branch closures, says Nicola Sturgeon’s spokesman. More than 100 branches are to close in Scotland within the next year - 62 belonging to the taxpayer-owned bank and another 49 at Bank of Scotland. Ten of them are marked for closure in Courier Country, with most of those happening in late spring next year. A meeting between the Scottish Secretary David Mundell and a senior RBS executive last night did not result in a breakthrough, The Courier understands. RBS is standing firmly behind their decision to proceed with the closures. It says the impact on the community of losing the sites will be mitigated by alternatives such as mobile banks, post offices, cash machines and online services. A spokesman for the First Minister said the UK Government should use its 71% ownership share in the rescued bank to force a U-turn. “They should certainly use their position as majority shareholder to ensure that the bank, when it comes to taking decisions like this, balances its commercial interests…alongside its responsibility to continue to provide a decent level of service to communities,” the spokesman told journalists. Earlier, shadow Scottish Secretary Lesley Laird, who is a Fife MP, said Mr Mundell must do “everything in his power” to halt the closures. The sit-down between the Scottish Secretary, who sits in Theresa May’s cabinet, and RBS’ personal and business banking chief executive Les Matheson took place in Edinburgh. A source at the Scotland Office said: “(Mr Mundell) expressed his disappointment and dismay at these closures and made clear that people across rural Scotland are very angry about this.” There will be “further engagement” between the Scotland Office and the bank on the issue, the source added. The Treasury has insisted that they cannot get involved in “commercial decisions” made by the management teams of banks. RBS says that customers who are losing their branch will still be able to perform some tasks locally at mobile banks, post offices and cash machines. A spokesman for the bank said: "We're providing our customers with more ways to bank than ever before - they can choose from a range of digital to face-to-face options.”