Tennis star joins line of helpless Scottish onlookers

Wimbledon Champion Andy Murray has said he will not reveal his position on the Scottish Independence debate for fears of a backlash from opposition.

Murray has never been far from the question of independence following a comment he made some 8 years ago during the football World Cup, claiming he would support anyone playing against England.

The tennis star said: “I wouldn’t personally choose to make my feelings on something like that public because not a whole lot of good comes from it.

“I have made that mistake in the past and it’s caused me a headache for seven or eight years of my life and a lot of abuse.”

The Scot re-ignited public interest in his stance on the matter last year when he was crowned 2013 Wimbledon champion and posed for photos draped in the Scottish Saltire, but Murray has chosen to distance himself from the discussion.

“My thoughts on it aren’t that relevant, because I can’t vote myself”, he said.

Murray, who splits his residency between his London home and training base in Miami, is one of some 800,00 Scots living abroad who will not have a say in their country’s future.

The tennis star joins a list of high-profile Scots that will find themselves sitting on the side lines as the referendum comes around on 18th September, but some have been more forthcoming with their views.

Side-lined Scots

Sir Sean Connery, Actor, – Famed Scottish Actor, who now resides in the Bahamas, has long been a supporter of the separation from the UK. Connery who concedes that the decision should stay in the hands of those who live and work within the country, claims independence is an opportunity “too good to miss”.

VOTE – YES

Sir Alex Ferguson, Football Manager – Ex-Manchester United and Aberdeen manager has lived in England for more than 25 years, but the football man dares anyone to question his “Scottish-ness”. A long-term critic of First Minister Alex Salmond, Ferguson publicly pledged his allegiance to the ‘Better Together’ campaign but is distressed at the inability of Scots like himself, not to be given a vote.

VOTE – NO

Alan Cumming, Actor – Hollywood actor and TV star, Alan Cumming is a keen supporter of the ‘Yes’ campaign who claims independence can only add to Scotland’s potential and release a wave of creativity and ambition. Cumming, who currently resides in America spoke of his intention to purchase property in Scotland in order to register a vote.

VOTE – YES

Sir Chris Hoy, Cyclist – GB’s most decorated Olympian found himself the target for abuse from Scottish nationalists last year when he suggested Scottish athletes would find it harder to win medals if they were to split from Team GB. Ironically the cyclist went on to claim he did not want to enter ‘the hornet’s nest’ of the referendum debate, but considering previous comments it appears he would be opposed to a split.

VOTE – NO

Kenny Logan – The former Scotland rugby international has offered perhaps the most aggressive opposition to Scottish ex-pats’ inability to vote. Logan, who lives in England, has pledged to help fund a potential court case in an attempt to force Scotland’s hand and allow individuals like him to have a say in the future of their homeland. Thus far Logan has given little indication over which way he would vote, should he be permitted

VOTE – ?

Gordon Brown: Scotland should not be given fully devolved tax powers

Gordon Brown today suggested that corporation tax should remain to be set at Westminster and for Scotland to raise 40% of its income as part of his calls for greater devolution of power.

National Insurance would also be best decided at Westminster said Brown, who recommended that only limited powers of taxation be passed on to Holyrood in the event of a No vote.

His proposals have been fiercely criticized by deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, who has questioned why the former Prime Minister failed to implement any of these proposals during the his ten year tenure in Westminster.

Brown was speaking in Glasgow today ahead of a tour of Scotland to advocate the union, and suggested six constitutional changes to devolve power, including the permanent status of Scottish parliament as part of the United Kingdom.

His idea to “make for a better relationship between Scotland and the United Kingdom to turn what I could call a centralized system of power to one where there is power sharing” will not appease the nationalists, however, with his plans falling well short of full powers of taxation and welfare.

Instead, he put forward plans for the Scottish parliament to have the power to vary income tax by 15p in the pound as opposed to the current level of 10p set to come into force. The first 5p in the pound of income tax would remain set within the corridors of Westminster, however, with Scotland responsible for raising 40% of its future budget.

“There should be scope for devolved taxation to raise something like 40 per cent of the Scottish Parliament’s expenditure. As we note above, the tax freedom available to the Scottish Parliament is presently very limited – only 12 per cent of its spending – and under the Scotland Act 2012 that figure will rise to around one-third.

“To raise the money that is equivalent to the cost of non-covenanted services – about 40 per cent of its budget – the best way forward is to widen the Scottish Parliament’s power to vary the income tax, which is currently 10 pence, to 15 pence.”

Devolved powers to Scotland would involve pooled resources to strengthen areas of the Scottish economy, including health and education, where Scotland is already in charge of spending:

“Within the social union of the United Kingdom, not only should UK taxes provide directly for redistributive welfare benefits such as the old-age pension, but we should also pool and share sufficient resources across the UK to ensure that the devolved administrations and the UK government can provide, on a common basis, for the key services of the UK welfare state – the right to free health care, and the universal right to education.”

“Whether you are Scots, Welsh, English or Northern Irish you have the right to a pension when elderly, help when unemployed, sick or disabled, universal free health care and basic education.”

Deputy first minister Nicola Sturgeon was quick to attack Brown’s proposals, questioning the authenticity of his desire for devolution, given his inaction during his time as Prime Minister:

“[Gordon Brown] was prime minister for a number of years, he was in government for more than 10 years, and didn’t deliver the powers that he is now saying he thinks Scotland needs. That underlines the point that the only way that we can secure new powers, and the new powers that Scotland needs to meet the challenges we face, is to vote Yes in referendum and support independence.”

SNP’s media spin doctor Kevin Pringle was equally dismissive of Brown’s speech:

Brown’s speech today comes as one part of a wider, concerted cross-party effort from Westminster to put on a united front about devolving powers in the event of a No vote come September.

However, with the parties unable to agree on just what powers, and to what extent, they are willing to devolve to the Scottish parliament, voters are being left with yet more uncertainty as to what the future would hold for a Scotland that rejected independence.

Better Together spokesperson Ross MacRae on cross-party devolution front:

Just this month Scottish Labour announced grandiose plans to back the devolution of key welfare and tax powers to Holyrood in an effort to give undecided Scottish voters more confidence in a No vote.
Despite its unified façade, however, there are deep fault lines within the party regarding the issue, with senior sources admitting that the party are split about the fully devolved powers of income tax.

Any less than full devolution of income tax, as recommended by the party’s Devolution Commission, would be pounced upon by the SNP as a U-turn in Labour policy indicating a lack of commitment to achieving devolved powers.

The Scottish government have previously stated that any measures of devolution that fall short of full powers on taxation and welfare would represent a failure to the people of Scotland in the event of a No vote, and would see a perpetuation of the social inequality handed to Scotland as a result of governments they never voted for.

Eddie Nisbet

Twitter: @eddienisbet

Scottish Independence: Gordon Brown calls for greater power sharing within UK

By Eddie Nisbet

Former Prime Minister Gordon Brown has waded into the independence debate for the first time, announcing his desire to see greater levels of power-sharing across the United Kingdom.

In a speech in the east end of Glasgow today, Brown will set out six proposed “major” constitutional changes that will overhaul the current division of power between Westminster and Holyrood.

Among these mooted changes is a constitutional guarantee of the permanence of the Scottish Parliament.

“A moment cannot now be lost in detailing the positive case for a strong Scottish Parliament in a strong Britain,” Brown will tell a conference in Labour’s Scottish heartland to mark the beginning of a No tour of Scotland.

Speaking ahead of the conference, Brown has indicated that more coordinated measures are required to tackle Scotland’s social malaise regarding poverty, housing, unemployment and the environment.

The six “radical” constitutional changes to be proposed by Brown in his speech today are:

  • Constitutional law proposed to guarantee the UK pool and share resources for the defence and security of the citizens of all four nations;
  • The permanence of the Scottish Parliament enshrined in the British constitution for the first time;
  • Increased powers for Holyrood in health, employment, transport and economic growth;
  • A new tax sharing agreement that would balance pooled resources of the UK, including accountability to the electors where tax revenue is spent;
  • New power-sharing partnerships to address shared social problems of poverty, housing needs, unemployment and environmental issues;
  • A major transfer of powers running down from Westminster and Holyrood to more localised power for communities.\

Listen to Better Together spokesperson Ross MacRae on Gordon Brown’s speech today:

Brown’s No tour of Scotland is to appeal to those voters who want more powers for Holyrood short of being fully independent from the UK.

The latest polls indicate that the No vote is standing at 53% compared to 35% set to vote in favour of independence. With 12% still undecided, however, there is still plenty of political ground to be made up over the next 191 days.

Brown’s speech makes up one part of a double-pronged attack on independence, with former Liberal Democrat leader Mingus Campbell making a similar speech in Edinburgh.

Suggesting tax-raising powers could be delivered unto Scotland in the event of a No vote, Campbell is also calling for increased devolved powers as a viable alternative to independence:

“Gordon Brown’s approach, and indeed my approach and indeed the approach of the Lib Dems, is to look at the UK as a whole.

“I am endeavouring to point the way forward so that all of these contributions – for example from devo plus, from Reform Scotland – that all of these contributions make a very, very considerable – and in my view – effective alternative to the narrow minded view of independence.”

Theresa May independence claims challeneged by SNP

Theresa May the Home Secretary has made the latest in a series of allegations about the prospects for an independent Scotland. In an interview with the BBC, Ms. May stated that there may be border controls on the border with England, dependent on whether Scotland opts out of the Schengen agreement or not.

This comes after comments she made during the Scottish Conservative Party conference in Troon over the weekend. During the conference, the Home Secretary stated that she believed that Scotland was stronger in the union, and suggested that immigration would become less controlled in an independent Scotland. Ms May also questioned the issue of sovereignty within the EU, stating “It completely defeats the SNP argument that Scotland would fare better with more control over its affairs when they seek to hand over so many serious areas of government elsewhere.”

In her interview with the BBC, Theresa May states  it may be possible that Scotland post-independence will have passport controls on the border with England. The Schengen agreement, which guarantees no border controls in the EU, was opted-out of by the UK, but new EU states, such as Scotland would be, are automatically opted in and have to negotiate if they don’t want to be in it.

Currently the UK operates a Common Travel Area with the Republic of Ireland, and Ms. May stated that an agreement of this kind may be negotiated between Scotland and the rest of Britain after independence.

A statement released by the SNP today stated that since both the rump UK and Scotland would be successor states from the UK, they ” will therefore inherit exactly the same status within the EU, including not being in the Schengen area.”

“An independent Scotland will also inherit the Common Travel Area which exists across UK and Ireland, and provides for no border controls for the citizens of these islands.”

The statement added that a soveriegn country can tailor immigration to meet their needs and that immigration may help “address skills shortages in Scotland’s labour market”. The SNP claims that the  the Home Secretary’s statements were “silly” and “scaremongering.”

Edinburgh contributes more to economy than London

According to a new report Scotland’s capital contributes more to the country’s economy than any other city in the UK. The study was released by London based accountancy firm UHY Hacker Young. Their calculations are based on Gross Value Added (GVA). It basically means the measure of a region’s contribution to the UK economy according to the value of the goods and services it provides. Figures show the city had a GVA of £34,950 for 2009. This figure places it ahead of London, where the GVA fell from £34,964 to £34,779. A reason for it is that the crisis had a negative impact on the capital’s financial sectors with a lot of jobs getting cut, as well as a lot of poor neighborhoods around the city.

Traditionally, London’s GVA has been considerably higher than the other major UK cities but recently it has suffered due to the economic crisis. Unemployment has had a significant bearing on the GVA contributon: the unemployment rate in the capital stood at 9.1 per cent, compared to Edinburgh’s rate of 6.3 per cent.

But Edinburgh is not the only Scottish city which performed well in the report, Glasgow and Aberdeen were also ranked in the top 5 cities in the GVA league table. Aberdeen in particular, with its sizable oil and gas industry is an important contributor to the UK’s overall economy. And the Northern city has been largely unaffected by the financial crisis and continued to show stable performance in the report.

Marc Waterman, a partner for UHY Hacker young explained: “The situation in Aberdeen is unique within the UK. It’s the only major city in the UK that has an economy based almost entirely around the oil and gas industry.” The demand for Aberdeen’s oil internationally means a positive impact on Britain’s overall economy.

The strong performance from Scottish cities should be received with some semblance of caution, since the analysis does not always include all relevant factors. But nevertheless the report should provide a boost in confidence for 2014, when Scotland will vote on independence.

Salmond “scared of separation”

Iain Gray used today’s First Minister’s Questions to corner Alex Salmond over his refusal to name a date for Scotland’s referendum on independence, accusing the First Minister of being “scared of separation”.

In typical First Ministers’ Questions style, Mr Salmond responded in kind by accusing the Labour leader of being “frightened of the concept of independence.”

The Labour leader urged Mr Salmond to “steady the ship and decide a date for the referendum,” after a week of bickering between Holyrood and Westminster, which saw Finance Secretary John Swinney accuse the UK Government of “becoming ever more hysterical” over the issue of independence.

The First Minister confirmed that the referendum would take place in the second half of the SNP’s current term in parliament, as set out during the party’s election campaign earlier this year, but refused to confirm a specific date.

Mr Gray said: “The longer this goes on, the more it looks as if Alex Salmond is trying to rig the referendum to get the results he wants.

“He always puts party before principal and isn’t that why he can’t name a date?”

Mr Salmond responded by saying: “Some people in the Labour party actually recognise that they lost the election and have to accept the mandate of the Scottish people.”

He added: “Westminster should keep out of the referendum and not meddle.

“It would be insulting and contemptuous for the Scottish people for Westminster to get involved.”

The First Minister went on to say that a number of opinion polls are showing increasing and substantial support for an independent Scotland. He reminded the main chamber that the SNP were re-elected with “a massive majority” six months ago on the basis of their promise to hold a referendum.

He went on to express concerns that the UK Treasury was not keeping the Scottish Government properly informed about the impact the euro will have on the Scottish economy. The Chancellor, George Osborne, is yet to respond to John Swinney’s request that economy-boosting measures are included in the Treasury’s autumn statement, including an increase in capital spending.

The week so far in Scottish politics

Holyrood Parliament. Image: Pete Swift

Squabbles over independence, a fight against sectarianism and donations from lottery winners:
this is the week so far in Scottish politics.

Listen here:

Check back this afternoon for a run down of the first minister’s questions.

Scott tells SNP to ditch ‘independence panto’

Tavish Scott SNP

Tavish Scott SNP courtesy of britishblogs

By Domenica Goduto

Tavish Scott, leader of the Scottish Liberal Democrat party, caused confusion this weekend after he made an apparent about-face regarding his party’s views on the SNP‘s proposed independence referendum.

Yesterday, 15th March, Scott told supporters at the Scottish Liberal Dem conference in Perth that the Scottish Government must ditch its plans to hold a referendum on independence and focus instead on the country’s economic recovery.

He stated,  “You cannot waste taxpayers’ money, government time and parliamentary debates on a cause that the country doesn’t want and the economy can’t bear.

“Ditch the referendum. Forget the spin and politics of the independence panto.

“Put the needs of Scotland before the interests of the SNP.”

Scott also claimed that the ongoing banking crisis is the Prime Minister’s fault. “The banking shambles is Labour‘s shambles, Gordon Brown’s shambles,” he said.  He accuses Brown of “fixing” the Lloyds takeover of HBOS, when he feels that the Scottish bank should have remained independent.

The attack came just one day after Scott revealed in an interview that he would not rule out a future referendum. “I don’t think I should rule out a referendum for all time because I don’t know what’s going to happen,” he told the BBC.

Asked about the possibility of his party forming a coalition with the SNP, Scott replied that, “It could be a possibility.”

These statements have raised speculation as to whether the referendum may yet take place, despite the Government’s previous attempts having already been voted down by the Scottish Parliament.

The Lib Dems have traditionally opposed the question of independence, refusing previously to enter into a coalition with the SNP unless the Nationalists abandon their referendum plans.

However, some Lib Dems are now calling to reconsider that position, a reassessment which could lead to cooperation between the SNP and the Lib Dems in the 2011 election.

Scott claims that for now his party’s top priority is fixing the economy and supporting Scottish voters who are struggling in the recession.

“This party will work every hour on the needs of people, businesses and families,” he said.

“We will work every day to build practical help for people now, when they need it most.

“Liberal Democrats are ready to rebuild the jobs, homes and hope destroyed by this recession.”

SNP Home Affairs spokesperson Pete Wishart MP observed, “There have now been so many Lib Dem U-turns on a referendum that they must be just as dizzy as labour.

“The economic downturn demonstrates the need for Scotland to have the economic muscle and financial powers to combat recession.

“The need for Scotland to have the powers of independence are even more acute now.”

Scott’s attack  is the latest in a string of setbacks for the Government.  A recent survey conducted by the Government itself revealed that a majority of Scottish voters do not back the SNP’s plan to block the construction of new nuclear power plants in Scotland.  53% of respondants would support a turn to nuclear power, while only 23 % would oppose it.

Meanwhile, the results of a YouGov poll conducted for The Sunday Times show that support for Labour has overtaken that for the SNP for the first time in two years.  The SNP is still ahead in the constituency vote, with 35 per cent versus Labour’s 34 per cent, but Labour’s 32 per cent on the regional vote beats the SNP’s 30 per cent.  This would amount to 49 seats for Labour versus 44 for the SNP.

Listen Here:

At what cost for a free Scotland?

Robert BurnsFareweel to a’ our Scottish fame,
Fareweel our ancient glory!
Fareweel ev’n to the Scottish name.
Sae famed in martial story!

Robert Burns was rightly worried when he wrote ‘such a parcel of rogues in a nation’ in 1791. The poem was about the act of union in 1707, but even at the time of writing Scotland was going through an identity crisis, having only preserved the Kirk and law in terms of administrative identity, Scotland lacked any kind of national substance and Burns was well aware of this.

 217 years later Scotland finds itself pressed with similar questions of identity and history. Alex Salmond’s relentless pursuit of independence, many believe, could be the last chance for a generation to secure self rule and truly pursue a completely independent Scottish identity.

 My view of the SNP before 2007 was that they were a party thinly veiled in fake ambition and misplaced patriotism, lead by a man who, ironically, confirmed our title as “The sick man of Europe”. They lacked backbone when it came to making political decisions and setting political agendas, but if being Scottish has taught me anything it has got to be our incredible will to succeed and survive, unless of course we’re talking football.

Sweeping changes by the SNP to Education, Health and Tax have left people understandingly happy and shown that they do have political clout even amongst the big hitting Labour and Conservative parties who rule from Westminster. However, as we mount ambitious attempts to break away from the UK are we leaving much of our Scottish history, Culture and identity in the past?

In Victorian and Edwardian Scotland, public culture was an object for struggle, often class struggle, in which much of our hard working image was created. We were world famous for ship building, being exceptionally hard working labourers and keeping the wallets shut. We were proud of our clan heritage, military past and distinct dress sense. These stereotypes have evolved over the years, the ship yards have decreased considerably, new business sectors have been created in the central belt, our farms are becoming redundant, credit cards and loans are available from every bank, we are now an integrated society with typically Asian or European names and only where the kilt on special occasions. So, despite claiming back much of our own political identity from Westminster we have seen the traditional Scottish identity all but disappear in favour of importing the common western culture.

The Scottish National Party isn’t to blame for this creeping western imperialism, but they can do something about it.

We need only look at the sharp decrease in Gaelic speakers between the 1991 and 2001 Censuses as an indicator to sneaking cultural suicide. According to a Holyrood report from the 2001 Census the Gaelic language should be completely extinct by 2050. The example set by the Irish and Welsh, who have re-introduced their national language back into primary schools, High Schools, the workplace and even in the streets is exemplary. The Maori population in New Zealand made such an impact with the rejuvenation of their language that most white people speak the basics and all public service writing is bi-lingual. As a figurehead of identity and culture, language could go a long way to realising Alex Salmond’s dream of independence or could we really be saying goodbye to the Scottish name?


Call For Scots Own Exchequer

Reform Scotland has today called for Scotland to be more financially accountable, by appointing its own Exchequer, in a move that could lead to a more independent Scotland.

The independent think tank says an Edinburgh based ‘Chancellor of Exchequer’ would allow Scotland far greater control of its finances, including full control of its oil revenue, by allowing it to raise all the money it spends. In essence, it means Scotland would raise its own tax revenue as opposed to receiving grants from Westminster.

Currently the majority of the Scottish Parliament’s revenue comes in block grants from Westminster,  under the Barnett Formula ruling. The think tank states this formula should be scrapped, to allow a ‘re-balancing of the constitution’.

Ben Thomson, Chairman of Reform Scotland, claims the government suffers from limited accountability as a result of its reliance on the block grants. Because of the security provided by the Barnett formula, he claims the block grant “provides no incentive for politicians in Scotland to come up with innovative ideas to boost economic growth or improve public services”.

Economist Graeme Blackett echoes those sentiments: “We recommend that a Scottish Exchequer – and that would require a Scottish chancellor – is established as part of a new financial settlement.”

New call for Shetland Independence

By Graeme Gardiner

Shetland is looking to independence in a bid to provide a more profitable economy for the islands and its arts.

The idea of devolution is not new for the island situated 60 miles north of John o’Groats. This time however the calls have more weight as they come from one of their most influential voices, the Convenor of Shetland Council, Mr Cluness.

He believes that in order for Shetland to prosper and to stop its declining population is to improve the economic stability of the island and its arts.  A viable solution for this would be independence for the island, as this would allow tax rates to be altered to suit their needs.

Mr Cluness said: “What these islands need are viable, profitable economies and one way you can create that is through the ability to vary rates of taxes. In the 21st century there must be some way that the government could look at a different status for Shetland,”

The Shetland Islands, which consists of 100 islands of which 8 are occupied, is looking to close neighbour the Faroe Islands as an example. They have been home governed since becoming independent from Denmark in 1948 and have had a steady rise in population since then.

In June this year, its sole resident Stewart Hill declared a small Shetland Island independent. He lives on the 1.5 acre Forvik in a tent and has set up his own currency, stamp and flag. Mr Hill is exempt from all taxes and hopes that the other islanders will see what they could have and go for independence.

He said: “By declaring Forvik a crown dependency I am simply re-establishing the correct legal relationship between this part of Shetland and the crown. By doing so I will prove that Shetland as a whole can get the same benefits and more – simply by asserting rights that already exist.”
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