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Talking Politics

GE2017 morning blog – manifesto maelstroms and plunging polls

May 16 2017

It's finally here. Just five days after it was leaked to the country via the Press, Labour's manifesto will be officially unveiled. Jeremy Corbyn and his crew are setting up in Bradford to publish the party's programme for government. This would all be a lot more exciting if there was much chance of Jez taking up residence in No. 10. Instead, new YouGov research shows things look pretty grim for Labour, despite a recent resurgence to narrow the opinion poll chasm with the Tories to a mere impossible leap. This is particularly true in Scotland, which has the lowest number of people planning to vote for the party next month of any region in the UK. None of the date will make for pleasant reading for Kezia Dugdale, who will be at the manifesto launch. The Tories are the main beneficiaries north of the border. Both of those parties will also point to a dip in support for the SNP, although Nicola Sturgeon's party is still well out in front when it comes to the popular vote. You Gov's Matthew Smith says: "Most attention in Scotland has been on the Conservative resurgence at Labour’s expense – the Tories have nearly doubled their vote share, increasing from 15% in 2015 to 28% now. Labour meanwhile have seen their share of the vote decline from 24% to 18% now – their lowest share of the vote anywhere in the UK. "This is something of a sideshow to continued SNP dominance, however. The nationalists remain in command at 41% of the vote, although this does represent a nine point decrease on their share of the vote in 2015." So what can we expect from the document itself? Well, there will be a rejection of a second independence referendum, with The Guardian reporting federalism will be embraced, in a victory for Dugdale. There is chat in other papers of new tax bands for those who earn more than £80,000, a top rate of 50p, a "fat cat" tax under which big businesses, city banks and Premier League clubs being forced to pay a levy if they pay workers more than £330,000, and the 30 hours a week of free pre-school childcare being extended for working parents who have children over the age of two-years-old. All will be revealed, again, at 11am. Elsewhere, Nicola Sturgeon is making a speech in South Queensferry where she will mark a decade of SNP government and set out her ambition for the future. Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie will campaign within the Gordon constituency held by Alex Salmond. Prime Minister Theresa May, meanwhile, will answer questions in a live telephone town hall event at 7pm.

UK politics

Brexit judges ban publication of personal details after ‘serious violence’ threats

December 5 2016

Information about potentially key people at the centre of the Supreme Court's Brexit case will be withheld due to "threats of serious violence". Lord Neuberger, the president of the Supreme Court, revealed the extraordinary step as the legal battle over whether the UK Government needs parliamentary approval to trigger Article 50 has reached the highest legal authority in the land. The order means no one can publish or reveal the names of certain former claimants in proceedings, the names or addresses of any children who are interested parties, any information likely to lead to the identification of those people or their families in connection with these proceedings, or the home address of the First Respondent to the case. Lord Neuberger said: "We have made this order largely because various individuals have received threats of serious violence and unpleasant abuse in emails and other electronic communications. "Threatening and abusing people because they are exercising their fundamental right to go to court undermines the rule of law. "Anyone who communicates such threats or abuse should be aware that there are legal powers designed to ensure that access to the courts is available to everyone." The Supreme Court is being asked to overturn a High Court ruling that the Prime Minister must seek MPs' approval to trigger the process of taking Britain out of the European Union. In a decision that infuriated Brexiteers, three senior judges said Theresa May lacked power to use the royal prerogative to trigger Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty and start the two-year process of negotiating Brexit without the prior authority of Parliament. 11 Supreme Court justices - a record number to sit on an appeal - will have their say on one of the most important constitutional cases in generations. If the appeal is unsuccessful, and any potential further appeal to the European Court of Justice in Luxembourg also fails, the government's timetable for Brexit could be thrown into disarray. The Prime Minister has made it clear she intends to give an Article 50 notification by the end of next March to start negotiations with 27 other EU countries. Brexit Secretary David Davis is leading the government's historic legal action. His team of lawyers, headed by Attorney General Jeremy Wright, will argue in the four-day Supreme Court hearing that three High Court judges erred over Article 50 and its use was legally justified by the June 23 referendum vote in favour of quitting the EU. The Scottish and Welsh governments and the Attorney General for Northern Ireland are all intervening in the case. Scotland's Lord Advocate James Wolffe QC is to argue that it would be unlawful for the Article 50 process to start without a legislative consent motion (LCM) from Holyrood. Lord Neuberger added: "The Justices of the Court are of course aware of the public interest in this case. "And we are aware of the strong feelings associated with the many wider political questions surrounding the United Kingdom’s departure from the European Union. "However, as will be apparent from the arguments before us, those wider political questions are not the subject of this appeal. "This appeal is concerned with legal issues, and, as judges, our duty is to consider those issues impartially, and to decide the case according to the law. That is what we shall do."


Dundee and London culture links will boost economy, says Sadiq Khan

February 28 2017

Close links between the V&A in Dundee and its big sister in London will be a "boon" for the UK economy, Sadiq Khan has predicted. The Mayor of London said cultural attractions are a large part of the draw for tourists who visit Scotland and talked up the impact the museum will have on the city when it opens next year. Tristram Hunt, the former Labour MP, has recently taken up post as the V&A's director in London and it is understood he is keen to foster a positive relationship with Dundee. Mr Khan said: "I've got a saying I use in London where I say that culture is in the DNA of our city. It's the glue that binds us together. "I think that applies across the country. Culture is so important. It enriches our lives, it gives young people confidence, it teaches people leadership skills. "It is also a huge boon for our economy. Many people who visit Scotland come because of the culture. "The V&A in Dundee with its sister museum in South Kensington in London is really important to our reputation overseas. "The V&A in London has a new director in Tristram Hunt and he's a passionate believer in the power of culture to do good. "This is an example of where our country punches well above our weight in relation to music, in relation to tech, in relation to theatre and museums and galleries as well." Mr Khan also praised the close links between Dundee and its surrounding area, including Perth where he was speaking at the Scottish Labour conference. The Tay Cities Deal, which is bidding to secure millions of pounds worth of economic investment locally, involves Angus, Dundee, Perth and Kinross, and Fife Councils. There has also been support from surrounding councils for Perth's bid to become UK City of Culture 2021, following Dundee missing out to Hull in 2014. Labour's most powerful elected politician in the UK said winning the coveted prize could have a transformative effect but refused to back Perth against its rivals, instead wishing luck to each bid.

Scottish politics

EXCLUSIVE: SNP playing games with Scots’ lives in independence quest, says Theresa May

March 2 2017

Theresa May has accused the SNP of playing games with Scots’ lives in a bid to win independence. In an exclusive interview with The Courier, the Prime Minister said Nicola Sturgeon’s government has “tunnel vision” on the constitution and has neglected domestic duties as a result. The First Minister accused UK ministers of acting with “obstinacy and intransigence” by refusing to accept suggestions from their Scottish counterparts on Brexit negotiations. Mrs May said: “The way I look at this is very simple. I believe passionately in the Union, I’m Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, but to me what matters is how we as politicians deliver for ordinary people in their day-to-day lives. “Politics is not a game and I can’t help but feel that the SNP does treat it as a game and they have this tunnel vision of only looking at the issue of independence. I think what people want to see is the SNP government looking at the issues that matter to them on a day-to-day basis: the Scottish economy, reform of schools, jobs, the NHS. “I think it is clear that people in Scotland don’t want a referendum. They want an SNP government getting on with the job.” The Conservative leader will address the party’s Scottish conference in Glasgow on Friday. Ms Sturgeon hit back, accusing the Mrs May of using “the language of Westminster diktat” and claiming her ministers have sought “consensus and cooperation”. She said: “The Prime Minister spoke last July of not triggering Article 50 until there was ‘a UK approach and objectives’ – but has subsequently proceeded towards the triggering by signalling a hard Brexit outside the single market without any agreement or significant consultation with Scotland or the other devolved governments. “If the Prime Minister thinks she can come to Scotland and sermonise about where power should lie, in the manner of one of her Tory predecessors, she should remember this: her government has no mandate in Scotland, and no democratic basis to take us out of Europe and the single market against our will. “But increasingly, this Tory government seems to think it can do what it wants to Scotland and get away with it.” See Friday's Courier for the full exclusive interview with the Prime Minister.


EXCLUSIVE: Scottish Government denies ‘sick note’ tag as another council lashes out

October 3 2016

The Scottish Government has been forced to deny a sick-note tag after a second council complained of a key economic report being pushed back. Lesley Laird, Fife Council’s depute leader, raised concerns about a triple delay to the Kingdom's Local Development Plan, which has been sitting with the Scottish Government's Planning and Environmental Appeals Division (DPEA) for more than a year. It comes after The Courier revealed Perth and Kinross Council officials blamed "significant resource issues due to staff illness and retirements" at DPEA for the TayPlan potentially falling behind schedule, although ministers insist that remains on track. Councillor Laird said: “It wasn’t a surprise that the FIFEplan has gone over the DPEA’s target date of 1 June, 2016 due to the size of Fife, number of settlements and complexity of some of the issues in our community. We have now been informed by the DPEA on three occasions that the examination process has been further extended. “As well as creating uncertainty for communities and developers alike, the growing timescale for the examination is likely to lead to a significant cost increase for the council, as we are required to bear the cost of the examination. Our current estimate is that the examination will cost £180,000, as reporter time is charged at £400 per day. “I have asked the Scottish Government, to provide clarity on when the FIFEplan will now be approved, and in view of the significant costs overrun, if it would consider bearing the cost of this examination to avoid it having to be met by Fife council tax payers.” Ms Laird has now written to Kevin Stewart, the Minister for Local Government and Housing, to raise the authority's concerns. Liberal Democrat leader and North East Fife MSP Willie Rennie said the latest revelation proved DPEA "is on its knees" and claimed the problem extends nationwide. He said: "Reports of delays are emerging from multiple areas of the country and these delays risk the timely progress of local development plans. "The Fife Plan process is the subject of considerable debate in communities and it is essential for business to see progress too. "The SNP Government need to step up and explain how they are intending to fix this problem." Senior Scottish Government sources insisted DPEA sickness absence rates are lower than the average across the civil service north of the border. A spokeswoman said the department is currently dealing with "an exceptionally high workload" and has recently recruited an extra nine self-employed reporters to try not to fall further behind. She added: "However, the reporters considering the Fife Local Development Plan have had to issue over 100 requests for more information because of insufficient information submitted by the council. "This is an unprecedented number and has inevitably had an impact on the length of time being taken to conduct the examination, which is expected to be submitted to the local authority at the end of October."

Scottish politics

Labour rebellion as Holyrood rejects Article 50 triggering

February 7 2017

Labour MSPs rebelled against their leader as Holyrood voted to reject the UK Government’s plans to start the Brexit process. Three members defied Kezia Dugdale - Neil Findlay, Brexit backer Elaine Smith, and Richard Leonard - with Jeremy Corbyn loyalist Mr Findlay accusing his leader of silencing those who did not agree. Sources close to the Labour leader said the party only had a small number of speaking slots it could allocate to its MSP and pointed out that both Mr Findlay and Ms Smith contributed to the debate. Holyrood voted by 90 to 34 for a motion from the Scottish Government saying the European Union (Notification of Withdrawal) Bill should not proceed following a heated debate. The Supreme Court has already ruled the UK Government does not need to consult the devolved administrations before it starts the formal process of leaving the EU, but Mike Russell, the Scottish Brexit minister, insisted the debate was "more than symbolic". SNP leaders have made clear that without a deal to keep Scotland in the single market, they could seek to hold a second independence referendum. Mr Russell said: "Time is running out. Voting today to reject the triggering of Article 50 is a good way - in fact it is now the only way - to remind the Prime Minister of that and of the disastrous consequences of the path she seems determined to tread." Tory MSP John Lamont accused SNP ministers of "grievance politics" and making "weekly threats" about another vote on independence. He said: "Despite the rhetoric from the Scottish Government, the reality is there is plenty of opportunity to engage in the process of the UK leaving the EU." He pointed to meetings of the Joint Ministerial Committee - which brings together the UK Government and the devolved assemblies - and to the fact that Mrs May's first visit after entering Downing Street was to see Nicola Sturgeon in Edinburgh. Scottish Labour's decision to vote against triggering Article 50 puts it at odds with UK Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, who has ordered Labour MPs to back the Brexit Bill in its final House of Commons stage on Wednesday. Lewis Macdonald, the party's Europe spokesman, said: "We in this place have no veto on Article 50 but we do have a right and a duty to speak on behalf of those we seek to represent." But his party colleague Ms Smith said: "Who is speaking for the 40% of Scots who voted leave and undoubtedly expected that the result eight months ago should now proceed?" Scottish Green MSP Ross Greer said: "Day by day it becomes clearer that this Brexit plan is being made up on the go by hard-right Tory ideologues.” Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie attacked Labour for "total and utter confusion" over its position.

Talking Politics

The rise of macho-economics is going to hurt

November 14 2016

It was meant to describe the new President-elect of America but it feels particularly appropriate for Brexit Britain. Kudos to my cousin in any event, someone quite familiar with how large-scale finance works across countries given his job managing a huge project in Singapore, for coining the term "macho-economics". What does it mean? In short it highlights the absurdity of offering simple solutions to mighty difficult and multi-faceted problems. The Don’s are obvious. From promising to create 25 million jobs over 10 years and double economic growth to 4%, which hasn’t been seen since the Bill Clinton presidency in the 1990s, to slapping a 35% tariff on Mexican imports and a 45% tariff on products from China. No thoughts for the consequences, such as the potential economic collapse from implementing such policies. Instead the electorate is simply presented with “bad guys” to blame for the very real problems which hurt them every day. This handily brings us back to the reality of the UK leaving the European Union and how close to the mark the “project fear” arguments of the remain campaign were. Obviously we don’t actually know the answer to that question given we are still in the EU with Article 50 yet to be triggered. It is then that the proverbial will hit the fan but we do have some hints about how messy it will be. Let’s take Sir Howard Davies’s television interview as an example. Asked about whether or not banks will quit the UK and move to the likes of Ireland or mainland Europe if they are not given clarity over how Brexit will be negotiated, he said: “They are currently making contingency plans and once you’ve got a contingency plan - hey, there is a risk you might implement it one day.” Yes, it’s a maybe. Yes, it’s the chairman of RBS saying this. Yes, this means he is one of the “elites” we all love to hate. But is it not obvious he has a point? And is it not obvious that jobs would leave this country along with any financial services who decide they don’t want to stick around any longer? Perhaps threats from the banking sector further demonstrate why people are so disillusioned with the idea of globalisation. People have been left without a safety net and it is down in no small part to the attitudes and actions of companies such as RBS. That does not mean we should scoff at potential unemployment. Easy answers from demagogues help no one but those seeking power based on a tower of lies. That’s simple macho-economics. Let’s see how tough they’re feeling when reality hits home.

Scottish politics

Dugdale at odds with Corbyn over Article 50 vote

February 6 2017

Kezia Dugdale, Scottish Labour’s leader, has put herself at odds with Jeremy Corbyn by confirming she will instruct her MSPs to vote against triggering Article 50. Her decision comes less than two weeks after she said she supported the UK leader “entirely” when he said he would not do anything to “frustrate” the Brexit process. A Labour amendment at Holyrood says the party “respects the outcome of the EU referendum and accepts that, as a result, we will leave the European Union” but argues Article 50 should not be triggered until the UK Government has set out detail on “unanswered questions” around “jobs and opportunities of people across Scotland.” Senior figures close to Ms Dugdale said the party’s position is “consistent” with her comments, adding that today’s vote will not in itself frustrate the process. Meanwhile, rumours are circulating that some Labour MSPs may rebel during the vote and back Article 50 being triggered with the party divided over the issue.

Scottish politics

Scottish Tory analysis predicts party could claim 13 seats in general election

May 8 2017

The Scottish Conservatives could claim up to 13 seats at next month’s general election, according to new analysis carried out by the party. Figures based on the council election results, released at the Tories' general election launch in Edinburgh, put the Ruth Davidson's candidates in pole position in constituencies including Aberdeen South, Angus and Moray  –  as well as Scottish Labour’s sole seat in Edinburgh South. Ms Davidson refused to predict the number of seats she would win but claimed it was now “game on” in a host of seats north of the border. She said: “There are now no no-go areas for the Scottish Conservatives. “We doubled our number of MSPs and now we have more than doubled our number of councillors  –  but that is not enough. “Nicola Sturgeon has tried to make out Scotland was the SNP but it’s not and that has really got up people’s noses. “Scotland is not the SNP and we’re going to show them that’s the case.” Ms Davidson rubbished the SNP slogan “Standing up for Scotland” and questioned what difference the SNP landslide in the 2015 Westminster election had actually made. She said: “When Nicola Sturgeon speaks about being stronger for Scotland I’m not sure what Scotland has got out of having 54 SNP MPs. “What have they done for Scotland? “We’re going to have an incredibly difficult few years making sure we get a good Brexit deal. “Let’s not make it look as if a minority party talks for the totality of the country.” And, in a bid to put the blue into waters between the Scottish Conservatives and other parties, Ms Davidson added hers was the only party against raising taxes. She said: “Every other  party in this country wants to tax people to the eyeballs. “I’m going to be standing up for Scottish business. “We need to do this so every young person at school, college or university will have a job at the end of it.” SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon said Scottish Conservative MPs would simply be voting fodder for a Theresa May UK Government. She added: "We know from her own words that Theresa May wants to have a free hand to do whatever she wants and that means a reckless approach to Brexit that is about appeasing UKIP, putting Scottish jobs at risk, and imposing further cuts that will damage Scotland's public services. "So the choice at this election is a very clear one for Scotland: a Tory MP who will be a rubber stamp for Theresa May, an SNP MP who will stand up for Scotland and make Scotland's voice heard."

UK politics

Supreme Court rules Brexit needs UK Parliament vote – but no Holyrood veto

January 24 2017

Britain's highest court has ruled that the UK's exit from the European Union cannot take place without it being approved by MPs. It has also ruled that there is no need for the devolved administrations to be consulted, meaning the Scottish Parliament will not hold a veto on Brexit. First Minister Nicola Sturgeon claimed the ruling strengthened the case for independence, saying it was "becoming ever clearer" Scots must vote on remaining part of the Union. Supreme Court justices ruled, by a majority of eight to three, that Prime Minister Theresa May cannot lawfully bypass MPs and peers by using the royal prerogative to trigger the two-year process of negotiating the UK's divorce from its EU partners. The ruling is a blow to Mrs May, who has repeatedly said she intends to trigger Article 50 by the end of March following the clear majority in favour of Brexit in the June 2016 referendum. It was won by a wide-ranging group of anti-Article 50 campaigners led by investment manager Gina Miller, 51, and hairdresser Deir Dos Santos. Announcing the judgement, Supreme Court President Lord Neuberger said: "The government has the prerogative power to withdraw from treaties as it sees fit. "It cannot do so if it will change UK laws unless authorised to do so by Parliament." David Davis warned MPs against thwarting the "will of the people" by frustrating Britain's exit from the EU as Labour said the Government's Brexit plan had "big gaps". The UK Brexit Secretary told the Commons he will introduce the "most straightforward Bill" possible within days to give effect to the "decision of the people" and respect the Supreme Court's judgement. Ms Sturgeon has already vowed to give MSPs a vote on triggering Article 50, although it will now be purely symbolic after judges unanimously Conservative ministers are not legally required to allow Ms Sturgeon's government to potentially block the proposals with an Edinburgh vote. The judgement read: "As to the application of the Sewel Convention to the decision to withdraw from the EU given the effect on the devolved competences, the convention operates as a political constraint on the activity of the UK Parliament. "It therefore plays an important role in the operation of the UK constitution. But the policing of its scope and operation is not within the constitutional remit of the courts. "The devolved legislatures do not have a veto on the UK’s decision to withdraw from the EU." The SNP leader said her government "welcomes" the ruling on Westminster being required to vote on Brexit but was "obviously disappointed" with the decision on devolved administrations. She added: "The claims about Scotland being an equal partner are being exposed as nothing more than empty rhetoric and the very foundations of the devolution settlement that are supposed to protect our interests – such as the statutory embedding of the Sewel Convention – are being shown to be worthless. "This raises fundamental issues above and beyond that of EU membership. Is Scotland content for our future to be dictated by an increasingly right-wing Westminster Government with just one MP here – or is it better that we take our future into our own hands? It is becoming ever clearer that this is a choice that Scotland must make." For the full Scottish reaction, click here. The UK Government will do "all that is necessary" to implement the ruling, Attorney General Jeremy Wright said. Mr Wright added the government was "disappointed" by the final decision in its historic battle but that ministers will comply with the ruling. Speaking on the steps of the Supreme Court, he said: "The Government will comply with the judgement of the court and do all that is necessary to implement it." In a statement released immediately after the ruling, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said his party would not "frustrate the process for invoking Article 50" but would seek to amend the government's bill. SNP MPs pledged to table 50 amendments to the UK Government’s Brexit Bill, which has not yet been published for anyone to see the contents of. These include a call for a white paper to be published before Article 50 is invoked; unanimous agreement of the Joint Ministerial Committee encompassing the devolved administrations; and agreement with the European Commission that the current terms of UK membership will be revised if MPs fail to ratify the final terms an exit deal. Mike Russell, the Scottish Brexit Minister, has already said every SNP MP will vote against to block the triggering of Article 50 no matter the circumstances. It is expected that Labour's Ian Murray and Alistair Carmichael of the Liberal Democrats will also vote against the motion, leaving Conservative David Mundell, the Secretary of State for Scotland, as the only Scottish representative who will support the government.