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...
Scottish Labour would make taxing the rich a key priority in the next parliament, leader Kezia Dugdale has said. Ms Dugdale will focus on her party's plan to use new powers over income tax coming to Holyrood to introduce a 50p rate for top earners during a campaign visit to Rutherglen, South Lanarkshire. She will highlight analysis by think tank IPPR Scotland showing that Labour's tax plans, which also include a 1p increase to the basic rate of income tax, would raise £900 million more than the SNP by 2020/21. The Labour leader said the extra funds would be channelled towards two other key priorities for her party - investing more in education and stopping cuts to public services. Ms Dugdale will campaign with Rutherglen candidate James Kelly and local activists as they launch a new leaflet in partnership with trade unions. Speaking before the visit, she said: "Today I am outlining the three priorities that must define the next Scottish Parliament, and will guide the next Labour Scottish Government. "Those priorities are simple: Tax the rich, invest in education to grow the economy and stop the cuts to public services. "Labour will use the powers to ask the top 1% to pay the most and stop the Scottish Parliament acting as a conveyor belt for Tory austerity. "That's the positive message activists and trade unionists will be making on high streets and doorsteps all across Scotland this weekend. "Labour will set a 50p top rate of tax for those earning over £150,000 a year so we can stop the cuts and invest in education." Meanwhile Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie will join volunteers campaigning in Bridge of Allan, Stirling, and meet voters following his party's manifesto launch on Friday. The Lib Dems' flagship policy, a "penny for education" involves adding 1p to income tax for those earning more than £21,500 to raise around £500 million each year for education. Mr Rennie said: "The Scottish Liberal Democrats' manifesto is a bold and positive programme for the next five years to make Scotland the best again. "Feedback from the doorsteps is that our uplifting message for a transformational investment in education, leading the charge on boosting mental health services, guaranteeing our civil liberties and protecting the environment is translating into votes. "More Liberal Democrats will deliver positive, liberal change. We're back to our best. Now it's Scotland's turn." Elsewhere on the election trail, Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson will visit the south of Scotland to highlight her party's proposals to boost business in the area. She will focus on a manifesto pledge to set up a South of Scotland Enterprise, similar to Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE), to grow the economy.
A furious war of words has broken out in North East Fife, after Liberal Democrat candidate Iain Smith was accused of "blatant double standards." His SNP rival Rod Campbell hit out as the emotive issue of RAF Leuchars' future began to dominate the local campaign trail. Mr Campbell insisted the Lib Dem candidate had been "less than straight" with voters in a new campaign leaflet. "The latest Lib Dem leaflet tries to take credit for changes in taxation by reminding voters that the UK Government is a Tory/Lib Dem coalition," Mr Campbell said. "The changes in question were introduced by George Osborne in his recent Budget and Iain Smith seems happy in this case to be associated with the Conservatives in London. "However, right next to the article on taxation is one about the threat to RAF Leuchars. It posts Mr Smith as champion of the campaign to save the airbase. "Nowhere does this article recognise that it is the Lib Dem/Tory coalition that threatens Scottish defence facilities, not least RAF Leuchars. "When Iain Smith likes the actions of the London coalition, he claims credit for his party. "When it comes to RAF Leuchars, he pretends that he has nothing to do with Nick Clegg and the actions of the London government. However, Mr Smith was happy to laugh off the SNP missive. "This is typically laughable bluster from the SNP," he said. "Yes, thanks to the Liberal Democrats thousands of Fifers will pay no tax from this month and around 180,000 will have a tax cut and, yes, Sir Menzies Campbell MP and Ialong with members of the local community and the RAF Leuchars task forceare campaigning vigorously to save the base. "I am a campaigner for my community and RAF Leuchars is vital to our social fabric, local economy and defence of the UK. "The MoD have repeatedly said that no decisions have been made on the future of RAF bases, but that does not stop us from making the case for its retention. "Sadly, the SNP candidate has yet again undermined the efforts of those fighting hard to save the base."
Willie Rennie has slapped a £400m price tag on Liberal Democrat support for the SNP Government’s budget. The Nationalists are seeking the backing of at least one other Holyrood party to ensure its spending plans make it onto the statute book. Mr Rennie, the Scottish Liberal Democrat leader, listed demands including £90m for colleges and more cash for police. In a letter to Finance Secretary Derek Mackay, he said: “Our support for the budget can only be considered if significant and substantial change is included for colleges, the pupil premium, mental health, the police and the island economies.” Last week, the Scottish Greens, who are the SNP’s pro-independence partners in Holyrood, said they cannot support the budget if the government does not make the tax system fairer. Scottish Labour have indicated they could work with ministers if they drop £327m cuts to councils’ core grants. A Scottish Government spokesman said mental health spending is up 38% under the administration and they are investing an extra £750m over five years for closing the attainment gap. “We will continue to have discussions with the different parties across Parliament as we take forward our plans for a fair budget which delivers for Scotland,” he added.
A Holyrood committee is being urged to investigate allegations that Police Scotland has been involved in "illegally spying on journalists". The Liberal Democrats are demanding that the justice sub-committee on policing sets up a probe into the matter, with the Tories backing their call. Labour has already lodged a motion at the Scottish Parliament demanding "full transparency from the Scottish Government about what exactly it knows regarding the allegations about spying on journalists and their sources". Now Liberal Democrat justice spokeswoman Alison McInnes has written to the committee's convener Christine Grahame, urging her to set up an inquiry. It comes after the Sunday Herald alleged that Police Scotland is one of two forces in the UK which has illegally monitored communications between journalists and their contacts. The Interception of Communications Commissioner's Office (IOCCO) says it has "identified that two police forces had acquired communications data to identify the interactions between journalists and their sources without obtaining judicial approval". Justice Secretary Michael Matheson stressed the Scottish Government is "firmly opposed to the unlawful monitoring of communications", but added ministers had to "respect the IOCCO position" of not identifying the forces concerned. Ms McInnes said First Minister Nicola Sturgeon "seemed concerned about GCHQ spying on MSPs but is silent on claims Police Scotland spied on journalists". The Liberal Democrat MSP stated: "Reports that Police Scotland has been involved in illegally spying on journalists threaten to sour public trust in our public institutions. "The refusal of the national force and Scottish Government to confirm or deny Police Scotland's involvement in this matter will only fuel concerns about a conspiracy of silence. "I am writing to ask that the policing sub-committee undertake a full inquiry into these allegations in order to ascertain Police Scotland's involvement. This would allow both ministers and Police Scotland bosses to set the record straight." Scottish Conservative justice spokesman Margaret Mitchell said: "Given the allegations that have been made, it seems right that there should be an inquiry held by the justice sub-committee on policing. "We would support this so as to restore public confidence and get to the bottom of this worrying issue." A Scottish Parliament spokesman said: "The sub-committee on policing has received correspondence on this issue and will consider how best to respond at its first meeting following Parliament's return." In an article in the Daily Record newspaper, Mr Matheson said: "We need to let IOCCO complete their investigations free from interference otherwise we risk failing both victims and the wider justice system." He said reports that two police forces had been "obtaining communications data without obtaining judicial approval have rightly raised such serious concerns". The Justice Secretary added: "The body responsible for investigating breaches of this Code of Practice, the Interception of Communications Commissioner's Office (IOCCO), has decided not to name these forces at this stage. "IOCCO's rationale for not naming the forces at this time is clear, simple and sensible. "They believe that doing so could prejudice their ongoing investigation process and threaten the privacy of individuals involved. They also believe that any future prosecutions and legal proceedings could potentially be compromised and individuals denied justice as a result of any ill-timed comments. "Any responsible government has to respect the IOCCO position." He also stated: "This Government has a proven track record on civil liberties and I am proud that Scotland is at the forefront of protecting the basic rights and freedoms of our citizens. "Our history of championing civil liberties goes far beyond that of our political counterparts, and I am determined to ensure we continue in our commitment to be the most transparent, accountable and accessible Government yet."
A group of parliamentarians plans to lodge a legal appeal in an attempt to secure a European court ruling on Brexit.The politicians believe the UK Parliament could unilaterally stop the UK leaving the EU if the final Brexit deal is deemed unacceptable by the Commons.They want a definitive ruling from the European Court of Justice (CJEU) on whether the withdrawal process triggered under Article 50 can be halted by the UK on its own, without prior consent of the other 27 EU member states.The group took its fight to the Court of Session in Edinburgh but on Tuesday Judge Lord Doherty turned down a bid to have a full hearing on whether to refer the question to the Luxembourg Court, ruling the issue is “hypothetical and academic”, and that he is “not satisfied the application has a real prospect of success”.Now campaigners have announced plans to appeal against his ruling to the Inner House of the Court of Session.Two of the original group of seven have withdrawn – the SNP’s Joanna Cherry QC and Liberal Democrat Christine Jardine – while director of the Good Law Project, Jo Maugham QC, which has backed the crowdfunded legal action, has been added.The remaining five members are Green MSPs Andy Wightman and Ross Greer, SNP MEP Alyn Smith and Labour MEPs David Martin and Catherine Stihler.In a statement, Mr Maugham said they believe the judge’s decision was “flawed”.He added: “Establishing that, alongside the political route to revocability there is a legal route, is vital in the national interest.“If Parliament chooses not to withdraw the Article 50 notice then no harm is done by asking now the question whether it has that right.“But if Parliament does come to want to withdraw the notice, knowing it has the right to do so serves the national interest.“It improves the bargaining position of the UK, it ensures we retain the opt-outs and rebates that we presently enjoy, and it places the decision entirely in the hands of the UK’s Parliament and – if it chooses – its people.”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: “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.”
Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie has claimed the SNP is determined to “compound the break-up of Europe with the break-up of the UK”. Speaking at the party’s spring conference in Perth’s Dewars Centre on Saturday, Mr Rennie said the aspirations of the SNP were clear. “It looks as if the First Minister is determined to rerun the referendum of only three years ago,” he said. “It is not a battle I want after all the division of the last campaign. And we will not vote for it. “But if the nationalists think by asking the question over and over again they will beat us into submission then they need to think again. “I will stand up for our United Kingdom family. We will lead the way on the kind of campaign for the United Kingdom that we want to see. We should set the terms. “The new case for the United Kingdom is a positive, uplifting one that focuses on the ties that bind us rather than the differences some would use to divide us. “Our United Kingdom is an uplifting, mutually beneficial partnership that we should cherish not trash.” On Brexit he said the referendum result must be respected but “political leaders have got a responsibility to lead”. “A Brexit deal referendum is the right and democratic thing to do,” he said. “When they look back at this time our grandchildren will be astonished that we did not take our time and ask ourselves whether we really wanted this. "When the Brexit deal proves to be so damaging why not ask the British people a new question? “I told this conference in the autumn that I will not give up on Europe, and I won’t. “We can win the case, public opinion can change.” A federal UK was the best way forward, he also told the delegates. "Power is now shared around the UK more than ever before," he said. "We can do more. Federalism is the long-term and viable future for the UK that saves us from the forces of perpetual division."
The Scottish Liberal Democrats have given a clear indication they believe action on fuel prices is imminent. Energy spokesman Liam McArthur welcomed a "clear steer" given by UK ministers that they are "working hard to help" hard-pressed drivers. The comments will be welcomed as significant due to the Lib Dems' part in the coalition government at Westminster. Chancellor George Osborne has been urged to cancel a scheduled rise on fuel duty on April 1, which many believe could cripple already struggling families and businesses. Mr McArthur was speaking after oil giant Shell announced it had almost doubled its annual profits in the last year. High oil prices and a boost to production meant the British-Dutch firm increased earnings in the final three months of the year by almost 400% to £3.5 billion. "Shell's bumper profits are largely due to the spiralling cost of oil," said Mr McArthur. "While this is cause for celebration to the big oil firms, it's a source of misery to drivers across Scotland who are facing ever higher fuel prices. "Labour did nothing to tackle rising fuel prices in 13 years, so I'm encouraged that UK ministers have given a clear steer that they are working hard to help drivers cope." There has been much public anger over the cost of filling up at the forecourt in recent months, with The Courier's petition for a fairer system attracting well over 5000 names. Earlier this week, First Minister Alex Salmond and the leaders of devolved administrations in Northern Ireland and Wales issued a joint plea for lower costs. The issue will also be raised at Westminster on Monday after the SNP secured a joint opposition day debate with Plaid Cymru. The UK Government has previously said it is "actively looking at options" for reducing the cost of fuel, including introducing a fuel duty stabiliser.If you want to support the Courier's call for a fuel duty regulator, click here to add your name to our petition.
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.”
Scottish Labour leader says 1p income tax rise would be ‘right thing’ for Scotland’s public services
Labour has challenged First Minister Nicola Sturgeon to "do the right thing for Scotland's future" by backing its plans for a 1p rise in income tax. Scottish Labour leader Kezia Dugdale said the tax increase, which would raise £0.5 billion, is a "radical alternative" to austerity. The cash raised would be used to prevent cuts to education, Ms Dugdale added, as she promised rebate schemes worth £100 a year to help low-paid workers and pensioners on a low income. Labour announced its plans the day before a Holyrood debate on the 2016-17 budget, the first one in which the Scottish Government has had a role in determining income tax rates north of the border. With the Scottish rate of income tax due to come in on April 6, Deputy First Minister John Swinney has opted to keep payments in Scotland the same as the rest of the UK. He is currently locked in a stand-off with councils over their funding offer in the budget, with local government body Cosla arguing authorities face a "totally unacceptable" £350 million of cuts. In that situation, Ms Dugdale insisted these new powers "could not lie unused on the shelf". Making a speech in Edinburgh, she stated: "Given the choice between using our powers or making cuts to our children's future, our nation's future, we chose to use our powers." A teacher earning £29,000 a year would pay £188 more in income tax while Ms Sturgeon, who has a salary of £144,687, would have to contribute an additional £1,447, Ms Dugdale said. She added: "Some of us will pay a little more, the wealthiest will pay the most, but we will all gain from protecting our children's schools, the public services we love." Ms Dugdale conceded the move "isn't a cold political calculation about the Labour Party's electoral fortunes", adding that "arguably if it was, I wouldn't be doing it". She stressed more than one in four workers (810,000) "won't lose a penny" because of a £50 million rebate scheme, which will be delivered by local councils, while about one in five (490,000) would pay less. "One in four workers will pay no more and one in five tax payers will end up better off financially as a result of the rebate," she vowed. A further £25 million would be put aside for a rebate scheme for low-income pensioners who have to pay tax. Ms Dugdale said her party's plans are "the only credible alternative to austerity", adding if the Scottish Government rejects them there "can be no credible claim that the SNP is an anti-cuts party". The Labour leader told Ms Sturgeon: "You know, First Minister, if we do not make this change it is our children, our young people and the most vulnerable in society who will pay the price. We will all be poorer. "So, please, let's put aside party politics, let's come together and do the right thing for Scotland's future." Labour's announcement comes a week after the Scottish Liberal Democrats proposed a 1p income tax rise to fund investment in education. Labour's plans for an income tax rise received some support from unions, with Kevin Lindsay of the train drivers' union Aslef saying: "Labour in Scotland is offering a real alternative to austerity, to the misery caused by the Conservatives and planned by the SNP, and it is an alternative which will safeguard public services throughout Scotland." GMB Scotland secretary Gary Smith said: "GMB Scotland welcomes the proposal to use the powers of the Scottish Parliament to raise additional revenues to mitigate the impact of the cuts in the pipeline. We have identified 8,785 job losses on the way at Scottish councils." Conservative finance spokesman Murdo Fraser questioned how the rebate scheme would work, saying a worker earning £20,000 a year would pay £90 more in income tax and would then have to claim the £100 rebate. He said: "Kezia Dugdale doesn't seem to be able to answer even basic questions about how this policy will work. "Labour is proposing a ridiculous merry-go-round where first Labour takes money off the lowest-paid and then gets the council to hand it back. "Can Labour tell us today how this is supposed to work? How much will it cost to administer? "How much will basic rate taxpayers have to pay? And is Scottish Labour proposing to order councils to spend money as it sees fit? "We need some urgent answers to this or people will simply conclude that Labour's latest plan is a complete mess - much like the party as a whole." Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie said: "I'm pleased that the consensus is growing that action is required for our public services. "Last week, we set out our proposals for a penny for education to deliver £475 million worth of investment for a transformational change in education. Unlike Labour, Liberal Democrats will target our investment in education. "The financial situation in our nurseries, schools and colleges is dire, and it seems everyone apart from the SNP and Conservatives recognise that we need urgent action to save it. "By using the powers at our fingertips as soon as they're available in April, Liberal Democrats will take urgent action to invest in education."