Home Tags Posts tagged with "David Cameron"

David Cameron

This week we’ve been celebrating the 15th anniversary of the Scottish Parliament…if celebrating is the right word. It is certainly the focal point for our current debate over independence, which boils down to the question: just how much power should the parliament have ?

The late John Smith MP Devolution "the settled will"

The late John Smith MP
Devolution “the settled will”

Almost everyone wants it to have more power. Unfortunately we are not being offered a range of powers in the referendum question, only a yes or no to independence. And looking back on it, this is one of the mistakes the Better Together campaign made at the beginning of this whole divisive affair.

John Smith, the Labour leader who’s death 20 years ago has been marked this week with the opening of a new Centre for Public Service at Glasgow University, once famously remarked that devolution was “the settled will” of the Scottish people. It has been anything but settled. John Smith may have started the ball rolling but Donald Dewar kicked it on with his famous remark – “devolution is a process not an event.”

So more powers are being devolved from Westminster all the time, the latest involves half of all income tax, landfill tax, stamp duty on house sales etc. The Better Together parties have promised still more powers, though, disastrously, they’ve not been able to agree on a detailed alternative to independence. Thus the referendum debate has become even more confused and uncertain.

Can David Cameron help create a "united front" against independence?

Can David Cameron help create a “united front” against independence?

The prime minister came to Glasgow on Thursday to try to forge a united front against independence, even invoking the spirit of John Smith. But Mr Cameron’s “sunshine” speech was not exactly helped by the Chancellor back at Westminster who repeated his warning that there can be no currency union after independence. And the SNP’s Nicola Sturgeon was able to dismiss the spring offensive as a “Tory takeover of the No campaign.”

The referendum has however brought the dying tradition of the public meeting back to life. I was at a referendum debate in Edinburgh last Sunday afternoon – sponsored by the local churches – and every seat was taken. I could see steam coming out of peoples’ ears as they tried to keep their feelings under ecclesiastical control. The Church of Scotland – which holds its general assembly this coming week – has called for a service of national reconciliation in St Giles Cathedral in the immediate aftermath of the referendum in September.

It could be a humbling experience, if the campaigns turn nasty or if the result is close. Perhaps we Scots will be revealed as not the greatest practitioners of democracy in the world. After all, the parliament we have built over the last 15 years is not without its flaws. Its successes I think have included free personal care, free university education, the national parks, the smoking ban and being a national forum. But its failures are legion: the cost, the expenses scandals, its timidity over taxation, its failure to spread power down to local communities and its turgid and ineffective committee system.

Commonwealth Games Ticket fiasco

Commonwealth Games
Ticket fiasco

But parliaments are not the only things that can go wrong. The organisers of the Commonwealth Games suffered humiliation at the hands of their computer experts earlier this week. The sale of the last 100,000 tickets had to be suspended when the on-line and telephone systems designed to handle the stampede collapsed. Then our newest jail, HMP Grampian in Peterhead, which only opened in March, erupted in an old-style riot. Forty prisoners went on the rampage, beating up their new furniture and fittings. Police had to be brought in to restore order.

The brutal world of football also suffered a few shocks this week. The new owner of Hearts, Ann Budge, brought along her new brush on Monday morning and swept away the manager Gary Locke and eight other coaches and players. Instead she’s brought in a former manager Craig Levein and promoted Robbie Neilson to first-team coach. The Paisley club St Mirren have also promoted Tommy Craig from within. And in both cases, the new philosophy seems to be to nurture home-grown players rather than take part in the bidding war for outside talent. Not before time.

About the only place were tranquillity reigns is the European election. There are unlikely to be any riots or stampedes at the voting stations on Thursday. But we are all waiting to see if the SNP increase their number of seats from 2 to 3, whether Labour will keep their two seats and whether the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats will hold on to their single seats or whether they will be taken by the Greens or UKIP. Who would have thought that democracy could be so exciting ?

By John Curtice, Strathclyde University and Michael Keating, University of Aberdeen

Europe is back on the agenda in Scotland. William Hague wrote to the Scottish government calling for a plan B in case EU membership is refused.

Meanwhile Alex Salmond warned EU member states that there would be consequences over fishing rights in Scottish waters if Scotland was declined membership, while attracting some bad publicity for sounding rather too positive about Vladimir Putin during an interview a month ago. Our panelists say:


Michael Keating, Professor of Politics, University of Aberdeen

Prof Michael Keating

Prof Michael Keating

I don’t think William Hague’s letter adds anything to the debate. He doesn’t say that Scotland would not be a member of the EU. That’s the most significant thing about this. It means we must assume that Scotland would be a member. It would be useful if the British government would just say that, as they have said they will recognise the referendum result.

Then he’s talking about article 49 [general entry] versus article 48 [special entry by unanimous agreement]. This is really a technical matter. If there’s a political will, Scotland will be allowed in.

The UK government’s position on the budget issue is quite incoherent. It’s true that the budgets from 2014 to 2020 are already agreed, but the UK share is for the whole of the UK not the remainder of the UK. The most likely outcome would be to divide the existing budget pro rata. The other states will not want to get into a fight between the UK and Scotland about that.

As for after 2020, the big difficulty is the UK keeping its rebate, not Scotland getting a rebate. The UK is going to find it very difficult to do that if it is going to pick a fight with Europe over renegotiating the terms of membership and have a referendum in 2017. The idea that it will be able to keep all the rebate as well seems much more implausible than anything the Scottish nationalists are proposing. In fact, it’s rather dangerous for them to talk about the rebate at all.

After 2020, the only friend that the UK would have over keeping its rebate might be an independent Scotland. The UK has to be able to argue there are special conditions that apply to the UK to justify the rebate continuing. It would enormously help the UK if Scotland were a member because it would mean that someone else was getting it too.

London is just raising hypothetical problems and is evading the big question: would the UK support Scottish membership of the EU? Everything else can be negotiated.

It’s more than likely that the other states would just follow the lead of the UK. The Spanish government has said that Scottish independence is a matter for the UK and Scotland. They have not said they would veto it, so you have to assume they would agree to it.

As far as the fishing issue is concerned, Salmond is effectively just taking the unionist position to its logical conclusion. If you are threatening to throw Scotland out of the EU, your fishing boats aren’t going to be allowed there.

In any EU negotiation for Scotland, fishing is not going to be a particularly powerful card. The only other people that care are the Spanish. It may be part of a deal with Spain, but I don’t think it would be a dealbreaker.

John Curtice, Professor of Politics, University of Strathclyde/ScotCen Social Research

Prof John Curtice

Prof John Curtice

I think the Scottish Government now accepts that it will in some way have to apply for membership. It has suggested it might be possible to use the procedure under article 48 as opposed to article 49.

But as I understand it, the article 48 procedure still requires the unanimous consent of all the members –- just as a Article 49 application does. So although the Scottish government is arguing that it is a way of facilitating Scotland’s membership relatively quickly, either option is going to require at some point the acquiescence of all existing 28 members.

This has implications that are not always appreciated. One is that if one accepts the argument that the rest of the UK would be the successor state, the UK will have a veto on the terms of Scotland’s membership.

One knotty issue is the UK budget rebate. Nobody will wish to unravel and reopen the EU settlement through to 2020, and from the EU point of view the easiest solution might be for Scotland and the UK to agree on how to divvy the rebate up. Obviously this could still lead to problems between the two sets of negotiations.

But after 2020 Scotland would probably struggle to maintain the rebate. Making it clear that would be the case might well be one of the ways that a country like Spain, facing demands for Catalan independence, might hope to show there is a price to pay for going it alone.

The fact that Scotland’s membership is not automatic weakens its bargaining position to some degree. There will have to be a bit of negotiating and hand-holding to sell the political deal to the 28 members. You can see why some countries would prefer Scotland not to vote yes and you can certainly see that none of the states are going to say before the referendum that everything is fine.

On the other hand there are the thousands of EU migrants whose current right to stay in Scotland rests on Scotland’s membership of the EU. It is sometimes argued that if Scotland was not allowed to maintain membership, those citizens would potentially have standing in the European Court of Justice to argue that the EU cannot just take away their rights as citizens.

But the EU issue is largely irrelevant to the outcome of the referendum. Scotland is more europhile than England. Scotland would probably vote to stay in. But even so, the modal voter in Scotland would probably take the view that it would be good if Brussels was not so powerful -– a position somewhat similar to David Cameron’s.

The Scottish people’s commitment to Europe is too weak to think that many are going to vote yes to avoid an EU referendum initiated by a future UK Conservative government or alternatively that they vote no on the grounds that independence potentially undermines the stability of Scotland’s membership of the EU.


The rest of our panel’s analysis of the referendum campaign can be found here

The Conversation

Michael Keating receives funding from the Economic and Social Research Council.

John Curtice does not work for, consult to, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has no relevant affiliations.

This article was originally published on The Conversation.
Read the original article.

A chance to get away from it all?

As I lay in my wind-battered tent last weekend, I must admit I did not think about how the events of this week would unfold…the clash of the cabinets, the debate over North Sea Oil, the vote on corroboration. Instead I was wondering if the scout leader would call me out to help rescue a tent-full of 12 year-olds which had been struck by a blown-away tent from further up the field. Luckily, he handled the crisis by himself and I remained snug in my sleeping bag…until I too had to get up and re-peg my own tent before it blew away.

Church of Scotland LogoThe annual “Brass Monkey” camp held at Bonaly Scout Centre on the edge of the Pentland Hills really puts life in perspective. Here the concerns are high winds, rain, tents, rucksacks, meal times, wide games and watching the citizens of the future cope with life’s early challenges. All 160 scouts seemed to be having a great time, untroubled by the sterling zone, the EU entry requirements, jobs, house prices, climate change and life’s later challenges.

But hey, the life of the nation is not at all the same as “life” in general. And thank goodness for that. The Church of Scotland brought out a report this week which tires to bridge this gap between the two worlds. It appeals to voters in September’s referendum on independence not just to ask; “What’s in it for me ?” (pensions, wages, oil revenues etc ) but to consider what’s best for the country. The debate, it says, should be less about currencies and constitutions and more about social values such as fairness, equality, integrity and participation.

Two cabinets talked of  'Scotland's Oil'

Two cabinets talked of ‘Scotland’s Oil’

So how does this apply to “Scotland’s oil” ? Well, not one but two cabinets met to discuss this in Aberdeen on Monday. David Cameron brought the UK cabinet to Scotland for only the third time in its history. Ministers had before them a report from Sir Ian Wood calling for a new oil industry regulator which will encourage smaller companies to take over mature wells and squeeze the last £200bn of oil and gas from the North Sea. But it cannot be done, Mr Cameron warned, without the “broad shoulders” of UK investment.

The UK energy secretary Ed Davey also found time to pop up to Peterhead to announce that, at long last, the gas-fired power station there is to have a pioneering £100m carbon capture system installed.

Alex Salmond meanwhile staged his own cabinet meeting in a church, a few miles down the road, in Portlethen, followed by a public question and answer session. He wanted to highlight the difference between his down-to-earth “people’s government” and the posh boys from London who “jetted in and jetted out” to a meeting behind closed doors deep inside BP’s main Aberdeen office building. They were only here, he said, to keep Scotland’s oil for themselves “and squander it as they have done for the past 40 years.”

Standard Life nae mair?

Standard Life nae mair?

Back in Holyrood on Thursday, Mr Salmond was facing another foe, Labour’s Johann Lamont, who asked him how many companies it would take to consider leaving Scotland before he realised independence was bad for jobs. “It isn’t just Bathgate no more, or Linwood no more,” she said, quoting the Proclaimers, “It was Standard Life no more, Royal Bank of Scotland no more, if Scotland became independent.”

Standard Life bosses told their shareholders this week that they were planning to set up new companies south of the border and abroad if Scotland voted to be independent, because of uncertainty over the currency and pension and insurance regulations.

RBS - Record Loss but huge bonuses

RBS – Record Loss but huge bonuses

The Royal Bank of Scotland said it would have to shed jobs in Scotland, as it down-sized to concentrate on retail home banking again. It’s just reported a loss of £8.2bn for the year 2013. It’s the bank’s biggest loss since it had to be rescued by the UK government in 2008. But amazingly, it’s didn’t stop the bank paying out £576m in bonuses. Perhaps the bank is considering a move to another planet.

The SNP government was undaunted by these headwinds and it pressed ahead in parliament with its latest legal reforms. MSPs voted 64 to 5 in favour of the Criminal Justice Bill, which includes a controversial measure to drop Scotland’s unique and age-old rule of “corroboration” – the need for two distinct pieces of evidence for a prosecution to be mounted in court. Most Labour, Conservative and Liberal Democrat MSPs abstained and called on the government to think again, as indeed has the parliament’s own justice committee and a string of senior judges and court lawyers.

So the battered tent of democracy continues to be blown to and fro. I’ll be amazed if the Criminal Justice Bill makes it through all its parliamentary stages unaltered. I’ll be amazed too if more large companies and UK government ministers don’t raise more doubts about independence in the weeks ahead. But I’ll be amazed if it doesn’t just result in more Scots saying “Yes we can ” to independence. Like those scouts at Bonaly, they won’t be put off by head winds, rain or negative messages.

RBS – £550m in bonuses despite huge losses

Why is it that banks are so convinced that the best way for them to succeed is to offer mega-bonuses to their senior staff?

David Cameron Wanted to veto big bonuses

David Cameron
Wanted to veto big bonuses

The Royal Bank of Scotland had to get approval from the Treasury for its plan to pay about £550 million pounds in staff bonuses for 2013 – all this despite expected losses estimated at around £8 billion. It’s understood that the details will emerge tomorrow (Thursday) when the bank plans to unveil a ‘strategic review’ of its investment banking and international operations. If reports are correct, this could lead to the the group cutting up to a quarter of its workforce, currently some 120,000 people.

The news comes despite the Prime Minister, David Cameron, promising last month that the government would use it power as an 81% shareholder to block such a move. Labour has already called on the Government to stop RBS from paying its top staff bonuses worth twice their salary.

Barclays LogoRBS is not alone in prompting an angry reaction from the public, politicians and trade unions over the issue. Barclays announced that it would increase its bonuses by 13% to £2.4 billion, despite announcing plans to cut 12,000 jobs. Another bank to bring public opprobrium on its own head was HSBC when it confirmed that it would pay its chief executive, Stuart Gulliver, allowances worth £32,000 a week – on top of his £1.2m salary. The idea was to get around the EU’s cap on bonuses. Others are expected to follow suit.

But it’s worth recalling a talk given during one of the TED conferences. Dan Pink’s analysis came at the height of the financial crisis and is a damning critique of what he describes as the failed policy of rewarding people with bonuses – and he presented the evidence to prove it. It seems that the bankers just haven’t been listening to the scientific proof. It’s worth hearing again exactly what he said.

By Murray Pittock, Glasgow University

Scotland has always been a distinct nation but since the Act of Union in 1707, it has been a nation within a larger political entity: the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

The election of a minority Scottish National Party (SNP) government led by Alex Salmond in 2007 brought about the first indications that situation could change. When the SNP won a convincing majority enabling it to rule in its own right last year, the possibility that Scotland could again become a sovereign nation became a distinct possibility.

Now the Westminster coalition government of Conservatives and Liberal Democrats is striking back. Prime Minister David Cameron seeks to define a referendum on independence on London’s terms while Salmond says he has a mandate to run a referendum from Scotland.

The Conversation spoke with Glasgow University expert Professor Murray Pittock to find out exactly what the state of play is between two close neighbours with a long and storied history.

Can you explain what the situation is at both Westminster and in the Scottish Government as regards a referendum on Scottish independence?

The Westminster government have looked to seize the initiative over the Scottish referendum by saying that they will use their powers to either amend the current Scotland bill going through the Lords or more likely the 1998 Scotland Act to enable a binding referendum on the future of Scotland to be held.

Other referenda would simply be consultative. There was an indication at the weekend that they would wish this referendum to be held within 18 months, to wrongfoot the Scottish National Party government in Holyrood who have said all along, publicly, that they would hold it at some point in 2014.

There has been some sign of a retreat from that position by the UK government – particularly by the Liberal Democrat members of the Coalition – where the Scottish Secretary Michael Moore is looking to resolve the issue with the Scottish Government.

Earlier this week First Minister Alex Salmond made very clear that the mandate the Scottish Government had was to hold a referendum in 2014 and that is when he would intend to hold a referendum.

There are a number of bones of contention. One of these is whether there should be a third question about repatriating maximum powers short of foreign affairs, the so-called “devo max” question.

Another is whether the UK Electoral Commission or a Scottish Referendum Commission should run the referendum.

The third is whether 16 or 17 year olds should be entitled to vote rather than over-18s. The First Minister has indicated that 16 and 17 year olds would vote if the Scottish Government organised the referendum.

Can you explain the “devo max” option in some more detail?

There is some variety as to the powers that are suggested under devo max but the fundamental issue is that devo max represents what tends to be the polling evidence in Scotland, which is that there is a majority in favour of repatriating all powers to Scotland – including taxation and macro-economic policy to a significant degree – but excluding defence and foreign policy.

Although it must be said that the Scottish administrations since 1999 and particularly since 2007 have operated a nascent foreign policy.

In terms of the question of a mandate, the Tories only have one Westminster seat in Scotland and the Lib Dems have 12 where the SNP won a very considerable victory in the Scottish Parliament elections. Who will be able to claim better that they have the mandate to decide what referendum should be held and when?

Lib Dem Nick Clegg and Tory Prime Minister David Cameron can work together in government, but can they defend the Union together? AAP/Stefan Wermuth

The question of mandate has two aspects: a constitutional aspect and a political aspect. From a constitutional point of view the UK government has a case. From a political point of view, its case is very weak because clearly the Scottish Government was elected to govern Scotland and to conduct a referendum on independence and it has won an overall majority under a proportional system which is very difficult to do.

The Scottish Government clearly does have a political mandate and most of the counter-arguments have been constitutional and legal arguments. The question is how far those will give way to the politics. The early response in Scotland, not from politicians, from the public – judging by radio phone-ins and the like – is very hostile to the idea of Tory interference in Scotland, even from people who do not support the SNP.

I think if this was a Labour London government, it would be easier for them to put Alex Salmond in a corner. I think that the risk here is that in pandering to the anti-Scottish or anti-Salmond views of some of his backbench MPs and thinking he doesn’t have very much to lose in Scotland because he only has one seat, David Cameron has re-animated Scottish views that the Conservative party is a toxic brand and (also re-animated) antipathy to it and all that its stands for.

Which is perhaps predictable but is not going to make his task in gaining ascendancy over the Scottish Government any easier.

Is there a situation where a divided Unionist camp advantages the Scottish Nationalists?

I think that is a significant advantage. The other thing is the 2014 date. People have said it is chosen because of the 700th anniversary of the Battle of Bannockburn, or it has been chosen because of the Commonwealth Games but one reason it has been chosen is, I suspect, because the next UK general election is in 2015 and holding it within six to nine months of that General Election, especially in the autumn when the campaigning season has started after the party conferences, will make it very difficult for the Labour party and the Conservatives to appear on the same platform.

The indications are that they won’t be able to do that.

Would the SNP, even though they will campaign for independence, be happy with devo max?

I think the best guess there is that the Cabinet and the parliamentary party in Holyrood have got a variety of views on this and some of them will be keen to have devo max and some of them would be uncertain about having a third question. I think that circle may be squared by having a consultation process on the form a referendum should take with the electorate in Scotland.

My suspicion is the First Minister probably is interested in a third question and we will see whether people feed back to say they would like one.

Murray Pittock is involved in developing the Studying Scotland agenda in schools and elsewhere with the Scottish Government as part of his work in leading the Scottish Studies Global research theme for the University of Glasgow.

The Conversation

This article was originally published on The Conversation.
Read the original article.

Is there a ‘Plan B… C… or D’?

It may be St Valentine’s Day but the message from London has suddenly changed from “Love” to a stony “No.” Last week, David Cameron went to the Olympic stadium to declare his love for Scotland and his desire for us to stay in the United Kingdom. This week, the declaration from “Mount Olympus” was followed by a rare trip to Scotland by the Chancellor George Osborne to warn voters that if they choose independence, there will be no currency union with the rest of the UK.

Danny Alexander  Fell into line with the Chancellor

Danny Alexander
Fell into line with the Chancellor

Labour’s Ed Balls and the Liberal Democrats’ Danny Alexander fell smartly into line. The SNP deputy leader Nicola Sturgeon complained that the unionist parties were “ganging up” on Scotland and we were being “bullied” into voting No to independence. It was all part of “project fear”, she said, and it would backfire spectacularly.

The currency question is undoubtedly an important one. It’s something very real, in your hand every day, and something to be worried about. So the SNP and the Yes campaigners have been responding to the London offensive with the assurance it’s all a bluff, that the rest of the UK would find it in its interest at the end of the day to keep Scotland in the sterling zone, making trade easier and sharing the UK’s debt.

Nicola Sturgeon 'Feisty'

Nicola Sturgeon
‘Feisty’

In interviews this week, the feisty Ms Sturgeon was reluctant to talk about her plan B or C or D, saying she was not going to be bullied out of her plan A, an agreed currency union. She didn’t want to threaten the rest of the UK with plan B which is for Scotland to use the pound sterling unofficially but not take on its obligations, such as the debt or limitations on borrowing.

Plan C of course is to join the euro, which was SNP policy until the global crash and the euro zone crisis. Plan D is for Scotland to have its own currency, the groat or the bawbee, which would float on its own on the turbulent seas of the international money markets. Unpopular though it may be, I think an independent Scotland should join the euro. It would certainly make our entry into the European Union much easier and there are signs that the euro is gradually recovering its credibility.

Scottish Power investing in Ben Cruachan

Scottish Power investing in Ben Cruachan

There were indications from the heavens this week that Scotland is indeed a separate country. We were spared the storms and floods that have swept the coasts of England and Wales and swollen their iconic rivers. The gods have clearly taken the view that we in Scotland are at least trying to take global warming and climate change seriously. We may be still be missing our emissions targets but our legislation is among the most ambitious in the world. And we are making a real attempt to switch to renewable energy.

This week Alex Salmond was in Spain to see a pump storage hydro scheme operated by Scottish Power’s owners Iberdrola. The company is now investigating a £600m expansion of its similar scheme at Ben Cruachan near Oban. When the windmills are turning, water is pumped up from Loch Awe into a reservoir inside the hollowed-out mountain and when the wind drops, the water flows down to the loch again through a series of electricity turbines. Result: the holy grail, renewable energy all the time.

Donald Trump will no longer invest in Scotland (Pic: Gage Skidmore Creative Commons)

Donald Trump will no longer invest in Scotland
(Pic: Gage Skidmore Creative Commons)

One man who does not like it, because he doesn’t like windmills, is Donald Trump. This week he lost his court case against an experimental wind farm in the sea off his new golf course at Menie in Aberdeenshire. “Wind farms are a disaster for Scotland,” he’s quoted as saying, adding (and I can’t quite believe he said this) “a disaster, like Lockerbie.” He promptly announced he was abandoning plans for a hotel and luxury village at Menie and instead he had bought a new golf resort at Doonbeg in County Clare on the west coast of Ireland. It’s said to have cost him £12.3m and will be the 16th golf resort in his portfolio.

As I write, Scotland is still waiting for a medal at the Winter Olympics in Sochi. Our curling teams are testing our nerves with up and down performances. Team GB is celebrating Jenny Jones’s bronze medal in the snowboarding, said to be Britain’s first ever Olympic medal won on snow. Only, it’s not quite.

Alain Baxter from Aviemore won a bronze in ski-ing at the Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City in 2002. The medal was denied him at first because he failed a drugs test. However he was later cleared when it was discovered the banned substance was in an ordinary inhaler he’d bought quite innocently over-the-counter in the USA. The British version of the inhaler, which Baxter normally used, did not contain the forbidden substance and, in any case, the amount was not enough to affect performance. He’s still waiting for his medal to be returned but has meanwhile congratulated Jenny Jones on her achievement.

Olympian justice, like Olympian love, is a fickle thing.

Scotland would ‘walk away’ from the pound after a ‘Yes’ vote

So – the gloves are off. The Westminster politicians have changed their tactics – from charm offensive to plain offensive. And it’s all happened so quickly.

David Cameron Stay - for the sake of the family

David Cameron
Stay – for the sake of the family

First, we had the Prime Minister choosing the rather curious location of the velodrome in London’s Olympic Park to send out an ‘emotional, patriotic’ appeal to Scots to stay in the union. David Cameron stressed that he wanted Scots to realise that people in England, Wales and Northern Ireland were not looking the other way. As his put it, “it’s so important for Scotland to realise that the rest of the family see this as a very important family decision.”

Shortly before that, the Governor of the Bank of England, Mark Carney, had been to Edinburgh where he didn’t appear to rule out the prospect of a currency union after a ‘Yes’ vote in September. What he DID say was that an independent Scotland would need to give up some power to make such a currency union UK work. Again in his words, the proposal from the Scottish Government “requires some ceding of national sovereignty”.

Thus far, so friendly! Then the Chancellor, George Osborne, comes to town. His message was rather like Margaret Thatcher at an EU Summit – No, No, NO! He insisted that a vote for independence would mean Scotland walking away from the pound. Indeed, he said that was “no legal reason” why the rest of the UK would want to share sterling with an independent Scotland.

George Osborne Why would the rest of the UK want to share the pound?

George Osborne
Why would the rest of the UK want to share the pound?

“When the Nationalists say the pound is as much ours as the rest of the UK’s,” he asked, “are they really saying that an independent Scotland could insist that taxpayers in a nation it had just voted to leave had to continue to back the currency of this new, foreign country? Had to consider the circumstances of this foreign country when setting their interest rates? Stand behind the banks of this foreign country as a lender of last resort? Or stand behind its foreign government when it needed public spending support?”

What made this speech more important in the independence debate than that (say) of David Cameron was a series of hints that this was not his view alone. The Chief Secretary to the Treasury, the Liberal Democrat MP Danny Alexander, appears to support Mr Osborne’s position, as indeed may Labour’s shadow chancellor, Ed Balls.

It would therefore seem that the politicians from London are playing ‘good cop, bad cop’. But the risk they run is a hardening of feeling on both sides. After all, the Deputy First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, has warned that if UK ministers decided to hold to this position, then an independent Scotland could retaliate by refusing to accept a share of UK debt.

It doesn’t bode well for the likely tone of the Independence Referendum campaigns as we move towards September.

It’s ‘Today’ Jim – but not as we know it!

The world of the Keltie Clippie seemed to go quiet for a while. It could have something to do with the way that fact’s been stranger than fiction recently. One just has to think of the conflicting messages coming from the Coalition in London!

However, she has decided that the time has come to poke a little fun at one of the bastions of Britain – the BBC!

The Statute of Robert the Bruce at Bannockburn

It will take place, as the original one did, over two glorious days, at the end of June. The 700th anniversary of Robert the Bruce’s victory over King Edward II will be a battle for independence fought, not for real, but for a virtual reality…as befits our modern age.

Bannockburn Re-enactment (Picture: NTS)

Bannockburn Re-enactment
(Picture: NTS)

The SNP’s propaganda war-machine will be using the images conjured up by the re-enactment of the battle, on the supposed field at Bannockburn on the 28th and 29th June, to lob a few emotional rocks at the No campaign. Meanwhile, up the road in Stirling, the No campaigners will be hoping that the British Armed Forces Day, will be attracting 100,000 spectators waving Union Flags. The flat carse-land at Stirling will not have seen anything like it since 1314.

It’s hard to resist the temptation to draw some parallels. Edward II (David Cameron) was coming north to relieve the siege of Stirling Castle ( occupied by the No campaigners). Robert the Bruce (Salmond) drew up his troops in front of the castle and, by skilful manoeuvring, beat off a force at least 10 per cent larger than his own (the current gap in the opinion polls).

Such amusing parallels may seem too obvious and too extreme but there’s no doubt that a lot of political strategy has gone into these visitor attractions. The 700th anniversary of Bannockburn was always going to be an important even – no matter what the political circumstances of the time. No doubt the National Trust set about rebuilding of the visitor centre, at a cost of £9m, in all innocence. This is due to open in March and will include, of course, a virtual reconstruction of the battle.

bannockburn 11It then looks like the Scottish government persuaded the National Trust to stage a real re-enactment of the battle and a whole weekend of colourful events over the 28th/29th June. It would include a number of themed “villages”, live music, craft shows, and food and drink stalls. It couldn’t help becoming a patriotic, if not nationalist, event. It was part of the euphoria package of Commonwealth Games, Ryder Cup and Homecoming which might persuade doubting Scots to vote Yes for independence.

Then some bright sparks in the No camp in Stirling – where the Conservatives and Labour have formed a Unionist coalition against the SNP – thought up the idea of bidding to hold the UK Armed Forces Day on the same weekend. It would reinforce “Britishness” and spike the guns of the SNP down the hill at Bannockburn. The Defence Secretary Philip Hammond jumped at the suggestion and announced that Scotland should again host this important annual event – even though it had only recently been in Edinburgh – and, of course, Stirling would be the ideal place. Let battle commence…for visitor numbers and TV coverage.

Bannockburn Re-enactment (Picture: NTS)

Bannockburn Re-enactment
(Picture: NTS)

The National Trust panicked. It had only sold 2,000 tickets out of 45,000 at that stage and it was fearful of making a massive loss. Mr Salmond sent Visit Scotland to the rescue but the event was trimmed from 3 days to 2 and its budget cut from £950,000 to £650,000. Visit Scotland bosses are currently in trouble with MSPs at Holyrood for not telling them about the changes when they gave evidence to the tourism committee in mid-January. The bosses at Stirling Council are also in trouble, explaining how they will pay the bill of £250,000 for staging the Armed Forces Day.

Faced with such jolly confusion, I decided I should do my patriotic duty and go to both events on Saturday 28th June. They both sound like a great day out – or, at least, half a day out each. But as with so many things these days, it’s not that easy to get tickets.

When I typed Bannockburn into my computer, I landed in the National Trust’s visitor centre with its game-boy presentation of the battlefield. No mention of the June weekend. The next two Bannockburn entries turned out to be “unavailable”. I then tried the Visit Scotland website but there was no link to a ticket office. There was however a telephone number, which turned out to be the rather harassed lady at the aforementioned National Trust visitor centre. Once her computer had been cranked up she was able to give me the name of a website, called Ticket Soup, which might sell me some tickets.

This indeed was a useful website. It didn’t sell soup but it did sell tickets for “the performance” on Saturday 28th. Prices ranged from £20 to £75, plus a £2 booking fee, plus an outrageous £2.30 for postage. They must be heavy and bulky tickets but I look forward to them thumping down on my door mat.

Not everyone will be as persistent in their patriotic duty. As often is the case, Scotland will need to get its tourism business up to speed if it’s to make a success of either of these events in the summer. We also need to get rid of the petty divisions and rivalries which have led to such a farce.

Food prices have been falling

The UK’s inflation rate fell to the psychologically important level of 2% in December, down 0.1% from the month before. It’s the first time inflation has been at or below the government’s target of 2% since November 2009 and means that Bank of England Governor, Mark Carney, can breathe a sigh of relief.

Mark Carney Governor of the Bank of England

Mark Carney
Governor of the Bank of England

The news that the Consumer Prices Index had fallen to a new low was welcomed by Prime Minister, David Cameron. He turned to Twitter, writing that it was “…welcome news that inflation is down and on target. As the economy grows and jobs are created this means more security for hard-working people.”

This is the sixth successive month that the Office for National Statistics (ONS) has reported a drop in inflation. The reason is that food prices have been falling – indeed, the change in the price of both food and non-alcoholic drinks was the smallest it had been since 2006. Discounts in the run up to Christmas also helped, with the prices of toys and computer games falling faster last month than they had a year ago.

By contrast, there has been a slight increase in the cost of road fuel; and the recent increases in domestic gas and electricity prices were announced after the latest data had been collected..

The new rate is still well above the growth in average earnings. However, some economists predict that this situation may end later this year when average pay rises start to rise above inflation. They also believe that the latest news will ease pressure on the Bank of England to raise interest rates in the light of the recent recovery in the economy.

Labour’s Treasury spokeswoman, Catherine McKinnell, said that the fall in the inflation rate was welcome, “but with prices still rising more than twice as fast as wages the cost-of-living crisis continues. After three damaging years of flat-lining, working people are on average £1,600 a year worse off under the Tories.”