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.
A competition celebrating the “great passion” of a late MSP has been launched in the Mearns. Alex Johnstone, long-serving Conservative MSP for the North East, died aged 55 in December last year after a short illness. His widow Linda has received an engraved quaich to be presented to the top debating talents from his home turf. Sponsored by the English-Speaking Union (ESU) Scotland and Mearns Heritage Services the quaich was made to honour Mr Johnstone’s “significant contribution to all things Scottish” and his work for the people of Angus and the Mearns. The quaich will be used to promote an annual debate between pupils of Mearns Academy in Laurencekirk and Mackie Academy in Stonehaven on topics of Scottish interest. Mrs Johnstone said she attended Mearns while her husband went to Mackie. She added: "I am delighted that his name and legacy will live on through this trophy, and hope that it will encourage a future generation of young debaters to follow in the footsteps of an inspirational servant of the north east. “I am very pleased to accept this trophy for the purposes of debate between Mearns and Mackie Academies in Alex’s name.” “Alex learnt his debating skills while still at school. He was passionate about the north east, the Mearns especially. He made his voice heard when debating issues and voicing concerns for the people of this area. “This is why I feel it is a fitting tribute for him, and I am delighted that The English Speaking Union and Mearns Heritage Services have agreed to sponsor this trophy.” MEP Ian Duncan, a close friend of Mr Johnstone and ESU Scotland's chairman, said: "It is a privilege to support the launch of the Alex Johnstone memorial trophy, a fitting tribute to a wonderful and passionate man. "Alex was a well-liked and much-respected figure throughout Scotland, but he will always be associated with the north east, an area that he loved so much.” Dave Ramsay, director of Mearns Heritage Services, said, “From my very first conversation with Alex in 2008, to my last conversation with him in hospital, you could not fail to be impressed by his passion for Burns and all things Scottish, and in particular his love of the Scots language.”
Another week, another new Audi. Two new Audis, in fact. The German car maker has announced a couple more additions to its Q line up of SUVs. The Q4 is a coupe-SUV hybrid that will go up against the BMW X4 and Mercedes GLC Coupe. As its name suggests, it’ll be positioned between the compact Q3 and bigger Q5. At the other end of the scale is the Q8, which will go head to head against the Range Rover. It’s lower and sleeker than the Q7 Audi is also producing. In concept form, it sat only four people, although it seems likely the production version will be a five seater. There’s a 630 litre boot as well. Eagle eyed Audi followers will notice the only SUV slots left to fill are the Q1 and Q6. Watch this space...
MSPs have thrown their weight behind a “Walter Mitty” law to clamp down on shysters who pose as war heroes. Liam Kerr, the North East MSP, has assumed the mantle held by the late Angus politician Alex Johnstone, who campaigned to outlaw the fraudulent display of military honours. Scottish Conservative Mr Kerr called parties from across the divide to support the private member’s bill being tabled by Gareth Johnson MP in Westminster. “There is nothing we as a country should value more, no people we should honour more, than those men and women who volunteer to defend our nation and our way of life,” said Mr Kerr. “We know there are instances in Scotland where people have lied about their military service. “It beggars belief that anyone would stoop so low as to try and deceive people into thinking they are a war hero.” https://youtu.be/2plnPAhQef4 Mr Kerr said he was proud to take up the cause championed by Mr Johnstone, the Conservative for the MSP who passed away aged 55 at the end of last year after a short battle with cancer. “I think it would be a fitting tribute if MSPs from all sides of the political divide could give their support to this motion and to the Awards for Valour (Protection) Bill,” Mr Kerr added. The bill proposes creating an offence to wear certain military medals or insignia “without entitlement”. Exemptions would apply for films or theatrical performances, as well as those wearing them in honour of a family member. Colin Beattie, the SNP MSP, warned the bill appears to assume that those who do not fall into the exemptions are “automatically acting in a nefarious manner”. But he added: “I welcome the progression of the Awards for Valour (Protection) Bill and look forward to seeing the positive effect that it will have on members of our armed forces and their close families.” Lewis Macdonald, the Labour MSP, also backed Mr Kerr but added: “We should be careful not to punish those who inadvertently cross a line.”
‘It is goodbye from me – for now’ Alex Salmond paves way for Holyrood return during emotional farewell speech
Alex Salmond has hinted at a return to frontline Scottish politics as Holyrood backed the devolution of major new tax and spending powers. The former First Minister said he was leaving devolved politics “for now” during his farewell speech to the Scottish Parliament. Mr Salmond who currently sits as an MSP in Aberdeenshire East is standing down at this election to sit solely as an MP. He has previously left to take a seat in Westminster only to return to the Scottish Parliament. One MSP branded him the “Muhammed Ali of Scottish politics” for his repeated comebacks. The comments came as MSPs gave their assent for the UK Parliament to pass the Scotland Bill, which will hand greater control over areas including income tax, VAT and welfare to the Scottish Parliament. Welcoming the new powers, Mr Salmond said: “There is a broad consensus on the need for this parliament to assume greater responsibility for the governance of Scotland. “And we are definitely stronger so much stronger as a result.” He added: “There is no greater honour in public life than to be a member of this Parliament. “There is no greater task than to mould the public purpose of Scotland. “There no greater cause to serve than that of the people of this country. “And so, with that it is goodbye from me for now.” Mr Salmond served the fledgling Scottish Parliament between 1999 and 2001, before departing for Westminster and then returning to lead the SNP to its first minority government in 2007, a landslide in 2011 and then the independence referendum in 2014. He has held a dual role as MSP for Aberdeenshire East and MP for Gordon since the general election in 2015. North East MSP Alex Johnstone said: “I suffered slightly from dj vu as I listened to Mr Salmond make his final remarks as did some other members, I am sure because we have heard him do that before. “What worried me most was that he finished his speech by saying goodbye ‘for now’, so it is possible that he may be planning, in his role as the Muhammad Ali of Scottish politics, to make that second comeback. “Let us watch this space.”
Mid Scotland and Fife MSP Murdo Fraser has been demoted in the new Scottish Conservative parliamentary line-up. There was no position in Ruth Davidson's shadow cabinet team for Mr Fraser, who also stood for leader on a controversial platform of scrapping the party and starting again under a new name. He was offered a shadow cabinet role believed to be deputy leader but turned it down due to fears his presence would provide the party's opponents with ammunition. Instead he will act as convener of the energy, economy and tourism committee a position previously held by Lothians MSP Gavin Brown, who becomes the party's finance spokesman. Mr Fraser told The Courier he is happy with his new role, saying: ''I am delighted to have this role in a very important parliamentary committee. I look forward to taking it forward and supporting our new leader.'' There was a major role for Ms Davidson's other main rival in the leadership contest, Jackson Carlaw, who was appointed deputy leader and handed the health portfolio. The announcement of the front bench team was initially scheduled for Wednesday, but was delayed as the fall-out from the leadership contest caused headaches for Ms Davidson. Several MSPs are understood to have rejected roles initially offered to them as continued ill feeling split the party. The majority of the Conservative MSP group supported Mr Fraser in the leadership contest. However, the line-up was confirmed early on Thursday morning, meaning Ms Davidson was able to face First Minister Alex Salmond at the despatch box with her team behind her. Mr Salmond began their exchange at First Minister's Questions by congratulating Ms Davidson, on her 33rd birthday and on her success in leading her party. Referring to the problems with the MSP group, he added: ''I would mention that this hobby of hers of kickboxing, in a political sense, seems to have become endemic among her colleagues in the last couple of days''. Ms Davidson pressed the First Minister to set the date for his planned referendum on Scottish independence. Mr Salmond responded that the referendum would take place in the second half of the current five-year parliament and include a yes or no question on independence. Other shadow cabinet appointments included confirmation that Mid Scotland and Fife MSP Liz Smith will keep the education and lifelong learning portfolio. The former teacher is understood to be among the MSPs who turned down a role, rejecting Ms Davidson's suggestion she move to the the rural affairs brief. Rural Affairs Secretary Richard Lochhead said the move showed rural Scotland was ''not a priority'' for the Tories. Former presiding officer Alex Fergusson will now take on the role for the Conservatives, while former health spokeswoman Mary Scanlon moves to energy, enterprise and tourism. John Lamont, who ran Ms Davidson's leadership campaign, was appointed chief whip and former leader Annabel Goldie becomes culture and communities spokeswoman. The party's other former leader, David McLetchie, will serve as justice spokesman and Margaret Mitchell another leadership candidate becomes local government and planning spokeswoman. North East Scotland MSP Alex Johnston keeps the infrastructure, capital investment, housing and transport role, while Nanette Milne will be public health, sport and commonwealth games spokeswoman. Ms Davidson said: ''I am delighted to unveil my parliamentary team. I believe it's a strong team, which plays to the talents of the members, and will prove well able to hold the government to account.''
A cross-party group of parliamentarians has lost an early-stage bid to secure a European court ruling on Brexit.Seven politicians from four parties, not including the Conservatives, believe the UK Parliament could unilaterally halt the Brexit process if the final deal is deemed unacceptable by the Commons.They claim this offers a third option instead of Britain having to choose between a bad deal on the UK’s future relationship with Europe or crashing out of the EU with no deal.The group is ultimately seeking a definitive ruling from the European Court of Justice (CJEU) on whether the withdrawal process triggered under Article 50 of the Treaty on European Union can be revoked by the UK on its own, without first securing the consent of the other 27 EU member states.Their legal team went to the Court of Session in Edinburgh last week to ask a judge to refer the question to the Luxembourg court.On Tuesday, judge Lord Doherty refused to move the case to a full hearing at Scotland’s highest civil court, saying the issue is “hypothetical and academic”, and that he is “not satisfied the application has a real prospect of success”.The politicians have a right to appeal against the decision to the Inner House of the Court of Session.The seven elected representatives who launched the case are Green MSPs Andy Wightman and Ross Greer, MEP Alyn Smith and Joanna Cherry QC MP of the SNP, Labour MEPs David Martin and Catherine Stihler and Liberal Democrat MP Christine Jardine. None were present in court as the judge issued his decision.Aidan O’Neill QC, representing the politicians, previously asked for the case to proceed through the Scottish court, arguing there was a genuine dispute between the two sides as to the proper interpretation of Article 50 which the court required to resolve.David Johnston QC, for the UK Government, insisted the application has no real prospect of success and that there was “no live issue” for the court to address.The policy of the UK Government is that the notification under Article 50 will not be withdrawn, he said.Finding in favour of the Government, Lord Doherty said: “I am mindful that demonstrating a real prospect of success is a low hurdle for an applicant to overcome.“However, I am satisfied that that hurdle has not been surmounted. Indeed, in my opinion, the application’s prospect of success falls very far short of being a real prospect.“In my view, the Government’s stated policy is very clear. It is that the notification under Article 50(2) will not be withdrawn.”He went on: “Given that neither Parliament nor the Government has any wish to withdraw the notification, the central issue which the petitioners ask the court to decide – whether the UK could unilaterally withdraw the Article 50(2) notification – is hypothetical and academic.“In those circumstances it is not a matter which this court, or the CJEU, require to adjudicate upon.”The judge concluded: “I am not satisfied that the application has a real prospect of success … Permission to proceed is refused.”The legal action was launched following a crowdfunding campaign and is backed by the Good Law Project.Project director Jo Maugham QC tweeted after the hearing: “It’s plainly in the national interest that MPs, MEPs and MSPs, who face a choice whether to approve Theresa May’s deal, know what options are open to them if they don’t.“I will support an appeal against this decision – to the Supreme Court if necessary.”
The Conservatives must completely rebrand in Scotland to once again become a credible force, a candidate for party leader has insisted. Lord Sanderson, who conducted a review of the Tories' position in Scotland last year, said Mr Fraser's idea was "strange" and could play into the hands of the SNP. Meanwhile, Stewart Maxwell, an SNP MSP for the West of Scotland, claimed the proposal was "hugely embarrassing" for Prime Minister David Cameron, who was in Scotland at the weekend. He added: "After well over a decade in Scottish political oblivion, the Scottish Tory Party has finally called in the receivers the long, slow death of the Scottish Tories now looks like being a sudden demise." Labour MP Ann McKechin, the shadow Scottish secretary, said the plan was "doomed" to fail because the party's policies, not its name, made it unpopular. Mr Fraser said he had received an "extremely positive" response since making the suggestion and particularly welcomed the support of former Scottish Secretary Sir Malcolm Rifkind. Sir Malcolm, who served under Mrs Thatcher, said: "I think that what Murdo Fraser is saying is very refreshing. In broad terms, I welcome it." Several senior Tory MSPs including Liz Smith, Alex Fergusson, Gavin Brown and Alex Johnstone, also backed the proposal. Mr Johnstone, North East Scotland MSP, said: "This is the type of imaginative thinking we need and I will be supporting Murdo Fraser all the way." However, the proposal prompted Glasgow MSP Ruth Davidson to confirm she will contest the leadership and defend the present Scottish party. Ms Davidson, who grew up in Fife, is considered his biggest rival in the leadership contest and is likely to receive the tacit support of David Cameron. "I am proud to be a Scottish Conservative and Unionist. This is a destabilising distraction that will be welcomed by no one more than Alex Salmond," she said. Ms Davidson, who was elected to Holyrood for the first time in May, is expected to make a formal announcement about her bid today. The only other challenge is from Jackson Carlaw, a West of Scotland MSP. The Tories were wiped from the political map in Scotland in 1997 and have failed to make significant progress since, with only Mr Mundell being elected in the 2010 Westminster poll. They also dropped two seats at the Holyrood election in May, leaving them with 15 MSPs from the total of 129. Mid Scotland and Fife MSP Murdo Fraser caused astonishment over the weekend when he unveiled plans to break away from the UK Conservatives and form a new and entirely separate centre-right party. Defending the proposal on Sunday in the face of derision from opposition parties, the Perthshire-based politician told The Courier his "radical" plan was the only option for electoral success. "Anyone who is involved in Conservative politics in Scotland knows that we cannot go on as we are," he said. "We have tried a change in leadership and policy reviews and they simply haven't worked. "What I am proposing is radical, but I strongly believe it is necessary." Mr Fraser, considered a favourite to replace Annabel Goldie, said many Scots supported Conservative policies but would not vote for the party because of "historical baggage". It is hoped the new group could contest Westminster, Holyrood and council elections without suffering from the stigma of being associated with Margaret Thatcher, still a fiercely divisive figure in Scotland. Mr Fraser said the new party would be a "sister party" of the UK Conservatives and its MPs would take the Tory whip at Westminster. He will provide more detail about the plans when he officially launches his leadership bid today. He will say: "A new party a winning party with new supporters from all walks of life. A new belief in devolution. A new name. "But, most importantly, a new positive message about the benefits of staying in and strengthening our United Kingdom. "A new party. A new unionism. A new dawn." But the plan has drawn criticism from some high-profile Conservatives and opposition politicians. Scotland Office minister David Mundell, the only Tory MP in Scotland, described changing the name as a "simplistic" approach to the party's problems. Continued...
Alex Johnstone, the Scottish Conservative MSP who represented the North East of Scotland since the Scottish parliament began in 1999, has died after a short illness. He was 55. Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson led tributes to Mr Johnstone, saying he “embodied politics at its best”. “Alex’s passing is an enormous loss for the Scottish Conservative party, for the Scottish Parliament, and for Scottish public life generally," she said. “He was a big man with a big heart. He embodied politics at its best: trenchant in his views, always up for a political fight, but respected and admired by all sides of the political divide for his decency and generosity. “The north east of Scotland could not have had a greater friend over the 17 years he served as their MSP. He was utterly devoted to championing the area. “All our thoughts and prayers are now with Linda and their family. “During his short illness, Alex was greatly touched by the many messages of goodwill he received from across the parliament. “On behalf of the party, may I thank everybody who got in touch with Alex to pass on their thoughts. It meant a great deal to him.” Born in Kincardineshire in 1961 and educated at Mackie Academy in Stonehaven, Mr Johnstone spent his entire life in the north east of Scotland, where he built a successful career as a self-employed dairy and arable farmer. Elected at the age of 38, he immediately brought his considerable experience in Scotland’s rural economy to the parliament, initially as its first convener of the rural development committee. In 2001, he was appointed as the Scottish Conservatives’ chief whip and business manager, serving on the Parliament’s business bureau. In the last parliament, he served on the Parliament’s welfare reform committee. He was also appointed the party’s spokesman for infrastructure, housing and transport, a role he continued after May’s election. Outside of politics, Mr Johnstone was a devoted husband to his wife of 35 years, Linda. The couple had two children and six grandchildren. First Minister hails one of Holyrood's "most well-known and most well-liked" First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said: "I am very sad to learn of Alex Johnstone’s passing. Holyrood has lost one of its most well-known and well-liked parliamentarians, and he will be sorely missed. “Alex was of course one of the Scottish Parliament’s original 1999 intake, and he quickly established himself as a champion of the North East. He was never afraid to stand up robustly for the causes he believed in – but always did so with good humour and respect for his political opponents. “I would like to offer my condolences to Alex’s wife Linda, his family and his friends, and hope that they find some comfort in the warm tributes being paid to him from across the political spectrum and beyond.” Ken Macintosh, the Scottish Parliament’s Presiding Officer, said: “Alex and I both came into the Parliament at its inception, in 1999. From an early stage, all of us detected the ready wit and sense of fun, but also the shrewd political judgment that made him both popular and highly regarded across the political spectrum. "He was a dedicated parliamentarian, and an intensely loyal man, remaining in his Kincardineshire birthplace throughout his life, close to his farming roots and absolutely committed to making a positive difference. "To lose a colleague at any age is sad indeed, but to lose one so young is deeply upsetting. His loss will be felt keenly at Holyrood and beyond.” Scottish Labour leader Kezia Dugdale said: “On behalf of Scottish Labour I would like to extend our condolences. Our thoughts are with Alex Johnstone’s family and friends. “Alex had a reputation around the Scottish Parliament as a great character. When our politics can feel divided, he was always quick to inject some much-needed humour. “Alex was a politician respected across the chamber, and I hope his legacy is one of goodwill in our politics.” Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie said: “Alex looked like a big Tory bruiser but he was actually a kind and gentle man who I both admired and liked. "For five years he sat in front of me as I asked the First Minister questions. He could have chosen to express his dissent every time I spoke but he chose not to embarrass me. "Instead he would thump the desk in approval every week whether he agreed with me or not - and he did that for five years. That is the mark of the man. I will miss him." Co-convener of the Scottish Greens Patrick Harvie said: "I’d like to offer my sincere condolences to Alex Johnstone’s family, friends and colleagues. "I worked with Alex on a number of parliamentary committees and groups over the years, and while he and I were never short of issues to disagree about, he always had those disagreements in a spirit of respect, good humour and courtesy. "Those are aspects of Alex’s presence in Parliament that I know I won’t be alone in missing.” Aberdeenshire Provost Hamish Vernal said: "It is with great sadness that I learned of the death of Alex Johnstone. "He represented the area for more than 17 years in Parliament and was a champion for the North East. "He will be a huge loss for the area and Scottish political life, and my thoughts are with his family, friends and political colleagues. "As a mark of respect, flags at Aberdeenshire Council will be flown at half mast." https://twitter.com/AngusRobertson/status/806539417020223489 https://twitter.com/KeithBrownSNP/status/806533567102812161 https://twitter.com/BBCPhilipSim/status/806533991251804164 https://twitter.com/DeanLockhartMSP/status/806536678470983680 https://twitter.com/FSB_Scotland/status/806536895895375873 https://twitter.com/NFUSParliament/status/806538650909609985 https://twitter.com/ianssmart/status/806538707318743040 https://twitter.com/garryjclark/status/806539355783331840 A proud North East MSP Alex Johnstone was a proud and determined champion of the North East, and was always willing to make sure local issues were heard in the national parliament. He was a tireless campaigner on knife crime, seeking to boost education on the dangers of carrying a blade. His political activity also included a campaign for greater recognition for King Macbeth, while he also strived to ensure UNESCO recognition for Arbroath Abbey. This video shows Mr Johnstone highlighting the work of Arbroath's CAFE project, hailing its efforts to tackle the problems of youth crime. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=olUk1SLnB84
Scotland’s newest MSP was sworn in at Holyrood after the untimely death of Alex Johnstone. Bill Bowman, who ran for the Tories in Dundee East in the 2016 Scottish Election, will represent the North East region. Mr Johnstone, who was first elected in 1999, passed away earlier this month. Scottish Conservative party leader Ruth Davidson led tributes Mr Johnstone earlier this week as MSPs unanimously backed a motion of condolence. Mr Bowman, a chartered account, who spent 20 years working in Aberdeen, recognised the “huge contribution” of his predecessor after being sworn in by Presiding Officer Ken Macintosh on Wednesday. He said: “I feel honoured to have been sworn in as a member of the Scottish Parliament for the North East region. “Clearly, these are not the circumstances under which I would have wanted to be elected, and I must offer tribute to the huge contribution made by the late Alex Johnstone. “He was a tireless and dedicated campaigner for his local area and the warm words echoing around the chamber yesterday from across the political divide were testament to his character and influence.” Mr Bowman – who worked with international firm KPMG – said he was “looking forward” to beginning his work as an MSP. He said: "I am ready to continue Alex Johnstone’s good work, and promise to stand up for the people of the north-east and do my utmost to ensure their voice is heard at parliament. "I said during the election campaign that we need to see growth in our economy and improvement in our education system, two areas in which the SNP are falling woefully short at the moment. “I am looking forward to joining the Scottish Conservative team providing a strong and effective opposition at Holyrood." The Scottish Conservatives won four regional seats in the 2016 Holyrood election, as well as the constituency of Aberdeenshire West. Mr Bowman was ranked six on the Tories’ North East region list in that election.