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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.

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

Sturgeon vows that Holyrood will vote on triggering Article 50

January 23 2017

Nicola Sturgeon has promised that the Scottish Parliament will have the opportunity to vote against Brexit. The SNP leader said the question of triggering Article 50 will be put to MSPs regardless of what the country’s most senior judges say on the matter. The Supreme Court is expected to deliver its judgement on Tuesday over whether Westminster and the devolved legislatures must have a vote on the two-year process for leaving the EU. In her column for the Daily Record, Ms Sturgeon said: “This week, it’s time for the judges to have their say, as the Supreme Court decides whether the PM can the start the process of taking us out of the EU without an Act of Parliament. “No matter what the court decides, I want to make this crystal clear - I intend to make sure the Scottish Parliament has the chance to vote on the question of triggering Article 50. “And if the UK Government don’t start showing Scotland some respect, I’ll make sure that people across Scotland have the chance to choose our own future, before the Tories drag us off an economic cliff edge.” Scotland voted to Remain in the EU with a 62% majority, but faces being taken out on the strength of Leave votes in England and Wales. Judges are expected to pass judgement on the roles of the devolved legislatures the Article 50 process. Under the Sewel Convention, Westminster must seek Holyrood’s approval if it wants to pass legislation that covers devolved issues, such as leaving the EU. There is disagreement over whether the convention, which is incorporated into the Scotland Act, is legally binding on the UK Government. Prof Alan Page, from Dundee University’s public law department, said it is “unlikely” that the convention gives the Scottish Parliament a veto. He added: “Subject to what the Supreme Court says, a vote would underline the Scottish Parliament’s opposition to a ‘hard Brexit’, but would not affect the triggering of Article 50.” Even if Holyrood cannot prevent Article 50 from proceeding, there is nothing to stop MSPs from expressing their will on the subject. On Sunday, Brexit secretary Mike Russell said SNP MPs would vote against triggering Article 50 in a Westminster vote.


VIDEO: St Andrews professor Clara Ponsati and lawyer address Catalonia supporters outside court

May 15 2018

St Andrews professor Clara Ponsati returned to court today to continue her fight against extradition to Spain. The ex-minister was greeted by flag-waving Catalonia supporters for the hearing at Edinburgh Sheriff Court. Gordon Jackson QC, for Prof Ponsati, said her solicitors had visited the region to meet legal experts as part of preparation for the court battle, which could cost £500,000. Outside court, her lawyer said Spain’s extradition bids show the country is facing its “greatest crisis since the dark days of General Franco”. The former Catalan minister is fighting extradition to Spain for her part in an unsanctioned independence referendum in the region last October. She is wanted by the Spanish authorities on charges of violent rebellion and misappropriation of public funds. Her legal team say the extradition is being fought on several grounds including the validity of the warrant and Prof Ponsati’s human rights. During the short procedural hearing, lawyers drew battle lines over the definition of corruption in the two legal systems. Under the rules of the European arrest warrant, a suspect can only be extradited if there are equivalent laws in both jurisdictions. After the hearing, Mr Anwar accused Spain of "abusing" the arrest warrant as a “tool of political oppression”. “The courts can never be a solution to political negotiation,” he told Prof Ponsati’s supporters. “Spain today faces its greatest crisis since the dark days of General Franco. “Without the unconditional release of all political prisoners and the withdrawal of the European arrest warrants, there will never be a resolution to this crisis.” A further procedural hearing is due to take place on June 12 and July 15, before the professor’s case is heard in full over two weeks from July 30. Prof Ponsati was head of economics at the university when she became the region’s education minister, just a few months before the referendum. She returned to Scotland in March and resumed working at the University of St Andrews in Fife ahead of the reactivation of the arrest warrant. <script src="https://content.jwplatform.com/players/URjbgxmj-xYmBS0Bi.js"></script>

UK politics

Nigel Farage says British judges are ‘difficult to trust’

November 6 2016

Judges are so ingrained in the pro-EU elite in British society that it is difficult to trust them, Nigel Farage has claimed. UKIP’s interim leader took aim at the High Court justices for ruling that parliamentary approval is needed to trigger Article 50, the mechanism for leaving the EU. Mr Farage also warned that the public will vent their anger on the streets of Britain if the vote to leave the EU is not respected. The MEP told the Andrew Marr Show: “I am afraid that the reach of the European Union into the upper echelons of society in this country makes it quite difficult to trust the judges.” He criticised Lord Chief Justice John Thomas for not stepping aside for Thursday’s decision given his role in a body that sought to further integrate EU laws domestically. “If they are activists pushing for politically European integration they should not be making these judgments,” Mr Farage added. He said he “completely understands” newspaper coverage after the High Court ruling which referred to judges as “enemies of the people”. The former City worker said: “Believe you me, if the people of this country think that are going to be cheated, they are going to be betrayed, then we are going to see political anger, the likes of which none of us in our lifetimes have ever witnessed in this country. “Those newspaper headlines are reflecting that.” Asked if there was a real danger of disturbances on the street, Mr Farage said: “Yeah I think that’s right.”

Scottish politics

Brexit will cost Scotland up to £11bn a year, says Scottish Government analysis

August 23 2016

Brexit will cost Scotland up to £11bn every year, according to a study published by the SNP Government. Tax revenues will also shrink by nearly £4bn because of the impact of leaving the EU, the analysis found. Nicola Sturgeon said the figures reveal that whatever alternative relationship is struck with Brussels there will be a “profound and long-lasting impact on the Scottish economy and society. "That stark picture outlined today means that, whatever the model of relationship with the EU which is chosen by the UK Government in their negotiations before and after Article 50 is triggered, it will not be as economically beneficial as full EU membership,” she said. "The only way to protect Scotland's economy - and the clear benefits which come from being part of the world's biggest single market - is to work to ensure we protect our relationship with the EU. "My Government is absolutely committed to pursuing every possible avenue and option to do that." The Government analysis paper suggests that by 2030, Scottish GDP is projected to be between £1.7 billion and £11.2 billion per year lower than it would have been if Brexit did not happen. Tax revenue is projected to be between £1.7 billion and £3.7 billion lower. Scottish Conservatives leader Ruth Davidson, who was speaking to activists in Edinburgh today, said it is a “bit rich” for Ms Sturgeon’s government to provide a breakdown of Brexit costs when the impact will much more severe if her independence ambitions were realised. “Even by their own figures anything she highlights will be times four-fold or more by keeping independence on the table or withdrawing Scotland from the UK,” she said. The Scottish Government analysis was published a day before the release of the Government Expenditure and Revenue Scotland (GERS) figures, which is expected to show an increase in Scotland’s £15bn budget deficit.

UK politics

‘No turning back’ from Brexit after Theresa May triggers Article 50

March 29 2017

Theresa May said there is “no turning back” as she fired the starting gun on the UK’s departure from the EU. The Prime Minister admitted there will be “consequences” from Brexit, including losing influence in forging EU rules and implications for British companies trading with the bloc. But she said leaving will allow the UK to make its own decisions to “build a stronger, fairer Britain”. Speaking minutes after European Council president Donald Tusk confirmed receipt of the letter triggering Article 50, Mrs May laid out her approach in the Commons for the two-year negotiations. The Conservative leader said it is expected that Scotland and other devolved administrations, will see a “significant increase” in their decision-making powers as a result of Brexit. She told MPs: “This is an historic moment from which there can be no turning back. Britain is leaving the European Union. We are going to make our own decisions and our own laws. “We are going to take control of the things that matter most to us. And we are going to take this opportunity to build a stronger, fairer Britain – a country that our children and grandchildren are proud to call home.” The triggering of Article 50 starts the legal process for Brexit, although the 27 member states will have to agree negotiating principles before the formal divorce talks begin, possibly in May. Mrs May said it is in the best interests of all parties that the process is conducted in a “fair and orderly manner”. In the Article 50 letter, which was hand-delivered by Sir Tim Barrow, Britain’s ambassador to Brussels, Mrs May said she wants the UK to have a “deep and special partnership” with the EU. Attempting to strike a conciliatory tone, she said the Leave vote was “to restore our national self-determination” and not an attempt to “harm” the EU and its member states. She warned that security in Europe was more fragile than at any time since the Cold War, adding that any weakening of co-operation would be a “costly mistake”. That need was reinforced by the “abhorrent attack” on Westminster, she added. Scotland was mentioned once in the six-page secession letter, in which Mrs May said the negotiations will take “due account of the specific interests of every nation and region”. She promised to consult fully on which Brussels powers should go to Westminster and which should be transferred to devolved administrations. She added: “It is the expectation of the Government that the outcome of this process will be a significant increase in the decision-making power of each devolved administration.” Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said the PM’s Brexit approach is “reckless and damaging”. Nicola Sturgeon called the move a “leap in the dark”. She wished the Prime Minister well in the negotiations but warned that “the people of Scotland must have the final say on their own future once the terms of Brexit are clear”. The First Minister added: “The UK Government’s hard-line approach to Brexit is a reckless gamble, and it is clear, even at these very early stages, that the final deal is almost certain to be worse economically than the existing arrangements – and potentially much worse.”

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.

UK politics

Sturgeon poised to deploy lawyers to help force May into Brexit vote

November 3 2016

Nicola Sturgeon is threatening to get involved in a legal fight to force Theresa May to call a Commons vote on Brexit. The High Court ruled on Thursday that MPs must get a vote on triggering Article 50, the mechanism for the UK leaving the EU. The SNP leader told Holyrood that she is looking at whether there is a role for the Scottish Government when the ruling is challenged by the UK Government in the Supreme Court. Ms Sturgeon was asked at First Minister’s Questions by Labour MSP Lewis Macdonald if the Scottish Government would "actively oppose" an appeal by the UK Government. She said: “We will be looking at the judgment very carefully and yes we will actively consider whether or not there is a case for the Scottish Government to become participants in that case. “The judgment this morning I don’t think is a huge surprise to anybody who followed the case, but it is hugely significant and it underlines the total chaos and confusion at the heart of the UK Government.” She added: “The job of this government is to protect Scotland’s interests. Scotland voted to remain in the EU and my job is therefore to protect our place in Europe and the single market as far as I possibly can. “SNP MPs in the House of Commons will certainly not vote for anything that undermines the will or the interests of the Scottish people.” Her official spokesman refused to say whether SNP MPs will definitely vote against the triggering of Article 50. But he said the ruling had hardened opinion even further within the Scottish Government that Holyrood must also get a vote on Article 50. He added: “The First Minister’s view has always been that there should be legislative consent (from Holyrood) for Brexit.” A spokesman for the UK Government, which does not believe it needs a mandate from MPs on triggering Article 50, said it would contest the ruling in the Supreme Court. He added: "The country voted to leave the European Union in a referendum approved by Act of Parliament. And the government is determined to respect the result of the referendum."