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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."

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.

Scottish politics

Ruth Davidson suggests DUP opposition to equal marriage causes suicide attempts

June 30 2017

Ruth Davidson has criticised the Conservatives’ UK Government partners for failing to introduce equal marriage in Northern Ireland, suggesting the policy is causing gay people to attempt suicide. The Scottish Tory leader claimed she has been assured by Prime Minister Theresa May that the UK Government will seek to influence the Norther Irish executive to change the law. Ms Davidson, who is engaged to her partner, Jen, also said she has lobbied DUP boss Arlene Foster on the issue. In an article for The Times, she wrote: “I’ve campaigned passionately for this to change. Last year, at Amnesty International’s invitation, I travelled to Belfast to make the case in person. “I’ve raised the issue with Arlene Foster, leader of the DUP, and have had assurances from the prime minister that the Conservative Party will use our influence in Northern Ireland to press for marriage equality. “To me it seems anachronistic to tell our young people: you’re good enough to serve in our armed forces; you’re good enough to care in hospitals; you’re good enough to teach in schools; but you’re not good enough to marry the person you love and who loves you. That idea of difference is at the root of all bullying. “Don’t get me wrong. Change has happened. I’m 38. When I was born, ‘homosexuality’ was still a crime in Scotland. "People could be prosecuted and punished for being in a loving same-sex relationship. Now, those same couples can be recognised in marriage. But, just because things are easier, it doesn’t make them easy. “In Northern Ireland more than 90% of young LGBT people say they face homophobic language in school; 70% of those bullied had death threats; at least 33% have attempted suicide.” Legislation to allow same-sex marriage in England and Wales was passed by the UK Parliament in July 2013, while the same law was approved by Holyrood in February 2014. Ms Davidson has been openly critical of the DUP’s stance on a number of social issues since it emerged their 10 MPs would support the UK Conservative  Government on a confidence and supply basis. She too has come under fire, however, after terms of the deal included £1.5 billion for Stormont and nothing for Scotland’s budget. Christina McKelvie, convener of the Scottish parliament’s Equalities and Human Rights Committee, said: "Ruth Davidson loves to boast about her influence on the prime minister but it has now been exposed as empty bluster. “If Ruth Davidson was really unhappy about the government being propped up by the dinosaurs in the DUP, her MPs could have done something about it.” The DUP has been contacted for comment.

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.

Scottish politics

NHS Tayside scraps data sharing form after Named Person court ruling

October 13 2016

NHS Tayside has scrapped plans to share data about children with social workers and school nurses following a Supreme Court ruling on the SNP’s controversial Named Person scheme. A Perth campaigner complained to the health board about leaflets being routinely handed out at accident and emergency units. It told parents, carers and patients that, following Scottish Government guidance, “your own details or those of your child may be disclosed to other professionals”. But following the intervention of Lesley Scott, of the TYMES (The Young ME Sufferers) Trust, who campaigned against the Named Person plans, a U-turn has been made. The Supreme Court unanimously decided in July that part of the 2014 legislation is incompatible with Article 8 of the European Convention of Human Rights in relation to family life and privacy because of its information sharing provisions. The scheme sought to appoint a state official for every child in Scotland to monitor their wellbeing, including powers to access and share private data on children and parents and provide advice. In her letter of reply to Mrs Scott, NHS Tayside chief executive Lesley McLay said: “I wish to confirm action has been taken to withdraw the leaflet from distribution and to carefully reconsider NHS Tayside information governance procedures in the area and the chief nurse, children and families, NHS Tayside is facilitating the change in practice.” Mrs Scott warned the local health board “may be just the tip of the iceberg” She added: “Given the NHS Tayside situation, that would appear not to be the case and there are clearly processes in place that could lead to unlawful practice  NHS Tayside is to be applauded for recognising that their current information sharing processes had the potential to be incompatible with the DPA and to fall foul of Article 8 rights under the ECHR. “The Deputy First Minister John Swinney has stubbornly maintained the named person pilot schemes currently operating across the country are unaffected by the ruling from the UK Supreme Court. “But in the wake of the judgement NHS Tayside has taken a critical eye to its practices and deemed them unacceptable to families.” A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “Clearly public authorities must comply with the requirements of relevant legislation, such as the Data Protection Act and the Human Rights Act, when providing services to children and families.” Mr Swinney has said he hopes to implement the scheme by August 2017 after a period of “intense engagement” on amendments.

Scottish politics

SNP will seek EU membership for independent Scotland

March 15 2017

The SNP will seek European Union membership for an independent Scotland, senior party figures have confirmed. Reports yesterday suggested Nicola Sturgeon might abandon plans to be part of the Brussels bloc if there was a vote to leave the UK but this was strongly denied by Nationalist strategists, who said EU is “in the party’s DNA”. It came as Prime Minister Theresa told MPs that “Scotland will be leaving the European Union” whether or not it becomes independent. A report in the Daily Telegraph claimed the First Minister would try to join the European Free Trade Association in an effort to placate the 400,000 2014 independence voters who backed Leave in last year’s EU referendum. The Courier understands such a move would only be made as a transitional arrangement to stay in the single market while re-entry is sought into the EU. SNP sources claim that, privately, senior figures on the continent are positive about membership arrangements being negotiated quickly. However, Alfonso Dastis, the Spanish foreign minister, said this week that an independent Scotland would have to “join the queue” to become a new member of the EU. Lewis Macdonald, Labour’s Europe spokesman, said: “This is more chaos and confusion from the Nationalists on Europe.” During Prime Minister’s Questions, Mrs May warned the SNP against “constitutional game-playing” after coming under pressure to offer the devolved administrations a say before triggering Article 50, the formal process for leaving the EU, which will receive Royal Assent today. This means the government can now act, but it is expected to wait until the end of the month. Angus Robertson, the SNP leader at Westminster, accused the Prime Minister of breaking promises to secure a UK-wide agreement before firing the starting gun on Brexit negotiations. He said: “Does she not understand that if she does not secure an agreement before triggering Article 50, if she is not prepared to negotiate on behalf of the Scottish Government and secure membership of the single European market, people in Scotland will have a referendum and we will have our say?” The Prime Minister said there would be “further discussions” with devolved administrations. She added: “Scotland will be leaving the European Union. It will leave the European Union either as a member of the United Kingdom or were it independent - it is very clear…that it would not be a member of the European Union.”

Fife

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

EXCLUSIVE: French Government confirm no Scottish Brexit deal negotiations

December 1 2016

SNP ministers have not discussed with their French counterparts how a bespoke Scottish Brexit deal would be achieved, The Courier can reveal. Culture Secretary Fiona Hyslop said during a television interview at the weekend that European nations were “very sympathetic and understanding of the position Scotland is in” following the June referendum. She added: “We have spoken to ministers. I’ve spoken to Harlem Désir (the French secretary of state for European affairs) in Paris, I’ve spoken to the Italian Government.” A French embassy spokeswoman confirmed a meeting in September included discussions on educational and cultural ties, as well as investment prospects for French businesses in Scotland. She said: “They also reviewed the today’s (sic) main European issues but did not touch upon the negotiations regarding Brexit since article 50 has not been triggered yet.” A Scottish Government press release about the trip said work by SNP ministers “to protect Scotland’s place in Europe” was touched upon. There was more encouragement for the SNP from an Italian embassy spokesman, however, who confirmed “informal” conversations have taken place between the two administrations. He added: “The negotiation for Brexit, as you know, will be only with the European Commission - and not with any single EU Government - and it will commence only after the UK Government activates the procedure under article 50 of the Treaty of Lisbon.” Conservatives constitution spokesman Adam Tomkins said: “Ministers should not...use these meetings to claim afterwards that there is some kind of negotiation on-going between Scotland and EU nations when quite clearly there is not. It is dishonest.” Nicola Sturgeon is trying to persuade Theresa May minster to keep the UK in the single market after it exits the EU and has floated the idea of a Scottish deal with Brussels if that does not happen. A source close to the First Minister insisted she has been open that it will be up to the Prime Minister to put forward all exit proposals, including any for Scotland, given the UK is the member state. A Scottish Government spokesman said: “As we made explicitly clear at the time, Ms Hyslop and Mr Desir discussed Scotland’s position on the EU referendum result. "They did not discuss Brexit negotiations as Article 50 had not been triggered – and as we have also made clear, we are intent on our proposals for Scotland being advanced through the UK negotiating strand. “This is entirely consistent with French Embassy’s position regarding the meeting.” Meanwhile, a Spanish supporter of Scottish independence has joined the European Parliament’s Brexit negotiation team. Catalan’s Josep Maria Terricabras has been named as one of a dozen MEPs on a team monitoring Britain’s bid to leave the bloc.

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.

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