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Spring is in the air

After nearly a week of fine weather, I have finally been convinced that spring has arrived. The daffodils opening their bright little faces was the confirmation I needed. They’ve made me as light headed as William Wordsworth, the man who stole some good lines from his wife and sister to write that famous poem.

Craigmillar Castle

Craigmillar Castle

I was wandering as lonely as a cloud through the Craigmillar estate when I saw my host of golden daffodils this morning. Of course the snowdrops and the crocuses have been out for weeks and the gorse on Arthur’s Seat has begun to blossom but daffodils, for me, are the real sign of spring.

The cold gales have gone. The deep snow on the Cairngorms is melting fast and the wettest winter for over a hundred years is over. Suddenly life seems easier and more cheerful.

Even the long road to the referendum seems less daunting. We were treated this week to the usual spring ritual of a row over the GERS figures (government expenditure and revenue, Scotland). They revealed an embarrassing public sector deficit of £12bn (8.3 per cent of GDP), caused largely by a 40 per cent fall in oil revenues. It’s the first time in five years that the deficit was higher than for the UK as a whole, which allowed Alex Salmond to claim, at first minister’s question time, that last year was a blip and that new investment in the North Sea will bring in much higher revenues in the future.

Gordon Brown Out of hybernation

Gordon Brown
Out of hybernation

This week also saw Gordon Brown come out of post-prime-ministerial hibernation to enter the referendum debate. He made a speech in Glasgow calling for more tax powers for the Scottish Parliament, allowing it to raise up to 40 per cent of what it spends. He cast it as part of a plan to write a new constitution for the United Kingdom, guaranteeing home rule for Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales.

This came perilously close to the Liberal Democrats’ idea of a federal Britain. And indeed Sir Menzies Campbell – elder statesman of the Lib Dems – said he could see common ground emerging among all the pro-Union parties for more powers for the Scottish Parliament. He called for a constitutional summit of all parties within 30 days of a “NO” vote in the referendum in September.

O dear, there’s been another leak. Actually, it’s a leak about a leak. It all happened at the Dounray nuclear establishment in Caithness in the spring of 2012. A test reactor for the Navy’s fleet of nuclear submarines apparently sprang a leak and a small amount of radiation escaped. At first this was described as “level zero” on the safety scale and there had been “no measurable change in the radiation discharge”. But the defence secretary Philip Hammond later changed this to “no measurable change in the alpha-emitting particulate discharge.”

Dounreay

Dounreay

Whatever this covers up, he could not disguise the fact that the Scottish Environment Protection Agency was not informed until nine months after the incident – and was asked to keep it quiet. The Scottish government was not informed at all. We only found out about it last week as part of Mr Hammond’s announcement to the House of Commons that he was spending £120m on refuelling one of the navy’s submarines because of the incident at Dounreay. As in most nuclear matters, it’s all as clear and simple as Higgs-Boson.

It’s not been a good week for the Royal Navy. The 800 strong workforce employed by Babcock to service the submarine base at Faslane and Coulport on the Clyde walked out on strike for the first time in 40 years. They’re protesting against a one-percent pay rise at a time when they say managers are giving themselves a 9 percent rise.

Still at sea, on the surface this time, a Scottish round-the-world yachtsman has been rescued after his boat was hit by a huge wave off Cape Horn at the southern tip of Chile. Andrew Halcrow, aged 54 from Shetland, described how his mast was broken by the wave as he lay in his bunk. “It was so brutal, I was sure a ship had rammed into me,” he wrote on his website. It’s the second time Mr Halcrow has tried to sail single-handed around the world. His first attempt in 2007 ended when he became ill while sailing off the Australian coast. He’s now trying to recover his 32ft boat and we should all cheer his bravery if he ever sails it back to Shetland.

Finally, I see that Rangers are bravely fighting their way back from financial disgrace. They’re now unbeatable at the top of Division One after their 3-0 defeat of Airdrie on Wednesday night. They will go into the Championship league next season against the likes of Dundee, Falkirk, Alloa, Raith Rovers and Queen of the South. And if they triumph again, they will be back in the Premier League this time next year. All they have to do now is hold a board meeting that doesn’t end in tears and a court hearing.

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.

Drawing of a rainbow

Picture: Clive Darr

By John Knox

Why the rush to form coalitions across Scotland’s councils? Who ever voted for them? What purpose do they serve?

And when will they be seen as the conspiracy against the electorate which they are?

It seems to be the received opinion that if no party has an overall majority, then there has to be a joint administration to run our councils.

I cannot understand why this has to be the case. Alex Salmond ran a very successful minority administration in the Scottish Parliament for four years. He had to assemble a majority for each of his policies separately. As he put it: “No party has a monopoly of wisdom.”

Parliament was the proper place for open discussion and, if necessary, compromise – not a hastily arranged, highly charged and secret series of meetings the weekend after an election. And the same goes for local councils. If parties get together after an election and write a new manifesto, what was the point of the voters going to the polls and choosing which party to support?

And how can two or more teams who have just been slogging it out in an election suddenly become one team in administration? They may share one or two policies but – hopefully – they have very different philosophies. And on a personal level, surely it is better to have a team in administration who know each other well, and who have prepared for office together.

The scramble for coalition looks to me like a desperate attempt by parties who lose elections to try to get their people into office. And for those parties who win elections – but not convincingly – it looks like they are pushing through their pet policies against the will of the majority of voters. There is no better example than the Tories and their little helpers at Westminster.

The political experts tell us that minority administrations are unstable. Well of course they are unstable if they try to do something silly which the other parties do not agree with. This is the system of checks and balances which any administration should be subject to. But otherwise, minority administrations are no more unstable than coalitions. Indeed they should be more stable because they do not contain so many political differences.

It was an absolute nonsense in Edinburgh, for instance, to have the SNP sharing power with the Liberal Democrats when the SNP did not agree with the council’s most important project, the trams. The result was confusion and disaster.

The experts also say that minority administrations are open to blackmail by independent councillors or small parties. And it is true that Margo MacDonald did squeeze money out of the SNP government for Edinburgh and the Greens occasionally won concessions like committee chairmanships or a larger home insulation programme. But such deals also go on inside coalitions, only they are done in secret.

The experts say minority administrations are not a clear form of government. Not so. Nothing could be clearer. The largest party forms the administration. It runs the day-to-day affairs of the council, chairs the committees, supervises and directs the council officials. But on policy matters and on crucial decisions it has to win over a majority of councillors in the open forum of the council chamber.

It seems to me that single-party minority administrations are the way forward in a political world which is becoming more issue-orientated. People are no longer as willing to join parties as they once were. The political tribes are breaking down. Floating voters want to make up their own minds on each issue separately: on public sector cuts, on welfare reform, on nursery education, on free care for the elderly, on tuition fees, on nuclear power, on public versus private transport. And they want to see a proper open debate on these issues, not an announcement after some horse-trading in the back rooms of the City Chambers or in St Andrew’s House or in Downing Street.

So let’s have less talk of “rainbow coalitions” or Unionist pacts or Keep-someone-out deals. Instead, let’s have open councils and honest administrations held properly to account.

<em>Picture: Willem van Bergen</em>

Picture: Willem van Bergen

Today the Scottish parliament’s health committee is due to start hearing evidence on the Alcohol (Minimum Pricing) (Scotland) Bill. We’ve been here before, of course, although the last time the health committee discussed the issue, circumstances were very different.

Then, the health secretary Nicola Sturgeon was trying very hard to build a consensus with other political parties so that she could get the measure passed as part of the wider legislation that was to become the Alcohol etc. (Scotland) Act 2010. As we know, this she failed to do.

This time, with a majority in the Scottish parliament, Ms Sturgeon probably doesn’t have to worry about making friends with the other parties. Presumably, however, she would still like to have cross-party backing – if nothing else, to give the likely new law more legitimacy and to make its passage through parliament a bit easier.

So far, that’s not looking too likely. Although the Lib Dems have changed their pre-election position and have withdrawn their opposition, Labour and the Tories remain intransigent.

I, for one, find this more than a little depressing. I really believe that Scotland needs this legislation and I fear that those who oppose it have (often understandable) vested interests, or that they are missing the wider point.

Scotland has an alcohol problem: nobody is denying this, not even those who oppose minimum pricing. The evidence is plentiful and compelling. I’m not going to relist all the frightening statistics about numbers of alcohol-related deaths, A&E visits and illness, nor the social and economic consequences – the devastating effects on communities and families – because I don’t think anyone disputes them. Suffice to say it’s a major, major problem.

Lots has already been done, and is being done, to try to alleviate it – for example, changes in licensing laws and crackdowns on promotions. These are good measures, but they don’t go far enough. We need to do more, and I would argue that minimum pricing would be a step in the right direction.

So why do I think this? Perhaps strangely, it’s not primarily because of the research that’s been done on the effects of pricing. The modelling done at Sheffield and elsewhere, showing that consumption would go down if prices went up, might be perfectly valid – but it’s not, for me, the most compelling reason.

Looking at the personal experiences of other jurisdictions is rather more persuasive. Tonight, the health committee members will sit in an evening session to hear evidence via video conference from Professor Timothy Stockwell of the University of Victoria in British Columbia. Professor Stockwell has become a bit of a poster boy for those in favour of minimum pricing since his visit to Scotland last year. I attended one of the events at which he related the Canadian experience, where a form of minimum pricing has been in place for more than 20 years. Many different forms, as it happens, as each Canadian province applies its own rules.

Of course the circumstances aren’t identical – Canada has a state monopoly on alcohol, and I don’t hear anyone suggesting that for Scotland – but to say we can’t learn from the experience would be narrow-minded, to put it charitably.

From the Canadian example, it would appear that minimum pricing is most effective when it is index-linked and where it is accompanied by other policies such as incentives for low-alcohol products. But the effects of increased prices are clear. In British Columbia, where the government monopoly has set minimum prices for more than two decades, only spirit prices have been updated in line with the cost of living. Here, a 10 per cent increase in minimum price has shown decreases in ethanol consumption ranging from 1.5 per cent for beer to 8.9 per cent for wine, and 3.4 per cent for all drinks.

In Saskatchewan, however, which adjusts minimum prices to take inflation into account, and which prices high-strength alcohol more prohibitively, a 10 per cent increase led to an overall reduction of consumption of 5.2 per cent. In addition, a reduction of taxes on low-alcohol beer, combined with a reduced tax on low (up to 4 per cent) beers, mean that the latter now account for more than a third (37 per cent) of the beer market.

So far, so convincing – to me at least. But still, that’s not my main reason for believing that a legal minimum price is the right thing to do. In my view, it’s vital that the Scottish parliament passes this legislation because it sends out the right message. You can argue all you like that it will benefit only the supermarkets, who will be able to charge more for products, or that it will be difficult to police, or that it won’t actually help the health of all of those who are drinking dangerously or riskily. But the fact is that we need change at a cultural level, and legislation is one of the levers to help accomplish this.

Scotland as a whole needs rehab – and while legislators don’t take the opportunity to send out a clear message that drinking can be dangerous, then they are copping out.

This is why the alcohol industry – much of it at any rate – is against minimum pricing. What they don’t want is a clear governmental message that their product can be harmful – and who can blame them, as that’s how they make their money? And they have a good point in many cases – minimum pricing would have no actual effect on top-of-the-range malts, for example, because they already cost more per unit than even the wildest dreams of the pricing advocates. But the message that sends out – that alcohol can cause harm – could cause sales to take a hit.

What’s more, if Scotland pushes ahead with this, then she certainly won’t be alone. Other parts of the UK are already signalling pretty strongly that they are likely to follow suit, such as Northern Ireland (a fellow nation with an alcohol problem). Look at what happened with the ban on smoking in public places. Once a couple of jurisdictions introduced it, then much of the rest of the world followed like a set of dominoes.

Alcohol is different to smoking, of course – drinking in moderation can even confer health benefits, unlike the evil weed. So it’s understandable that the alcohol industry does not want to be (low) tarred with the same brush.

Our politicians don’t have the same excuse, however. I do them the justice of not assuming that they have opposed and continue to oppose the SNP’s plans simply on party political grounds. Their reasons for opposition might feel perfectly valid and justifiable to them.

But they are missing the bigger picture. As Professor Stockwell said at that meeting in September, the eyes of the world are on Scotland. Scotland has a long tradition of health and public health innovation – here’s hoping our politicians don’t lose sight of that.

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The A9 at Drumochter <em>Picture: Richard Webb</em>

The A9 at Drumochter Picture: Richard Webb

At long last, after numerous promises and commitments, we now appear to have a timetable for dualling the A9 – the most ambitious, expensive, but also the most overdue transport project in Scotland.

However, although we may now have a timetable, it doesn’t mean that it is going to happen soon. According to unconfirmed reports, the A9 between Perth and Inverness is to be dualled by 2025.

While this would be tremendous news for Inverness in particular and for the Highlands in general, it does mean 14 years of roadworks, traffic lights, delays and queues on this 113-mile route.

It will be a huge project to dual the entire length to Inverness. There are some decent sections of dual carriageway already, but they are few and far between – sometime very far between – and there are miles and miles of single carriageway, often going through difficult terrain which will need significant investment of time and money to dual.

Some estimates put the cost at £4 billion, but that may be conservative. The cost by 2025 could be double that – making it by some margin the most expensive single transport project in Scotland.

This is a road which should, ideally, have been dualled many years ago – not just because the long stretches of single carriageway interspersed by short dualled sections make it one of the most dangerous trunk roads in the country. But also because the recent growth of Inverness into one of Scotland’s biggest and most important cities now makes it imperative.

The SNP has promised for the last two elections to dual the A9, but the scale of the project has always been so daunting that no one was willing to put a timetable on it.

There was never much chance of a Labour-led administration committing to it, because its electoral focus was always skewed towards Scotland’s centre and west – hence the M74 extension.

The Lib Dems were concerned about keeping their Borders supporters happy – hence the Waverley line.

So at least the SNP administration does seem to appreciate the need to keep the Highlands connected to the rest of Scotland.

“For too long people in Perthshire and the Highlands have had to face single carriageways and a higher risk of accidents,” said Pete Wishart, the SNP MP for Perth and North Perthshire. “I look forward to next week’s infrastructure plan and hope we will see a clear plan for the A9.”

SNP Highlands and Islands MSP John Finnie added: “As one of Europe’s fastest growing cities, improving the transport links to Inverness is essential. This would be a major win for the North of Scotland.

“The SNP has an excellent track record of improving infrastructure across the country with the completion of the M74 and progress on the M8.”

But Labour MSP Dave Stewart couldn’t resist the opportunity to be churlish. “It would be quicker sending a space probe to Mars and back before the SNP manage to finally dual the A9,” he said. “They have been full of big promises but have continually let the Highlands down.

“It was a key manifesto commitment in 2007 and John Swinney has been holding the chequebook ever since. It will be almost 20 years since the Nationalists’ promise and final delivery. Meantime, the lack of infrastructure development and delay has held back the Highlands economy. It is another example of the SNP failure of deliver on public projects.”

Mr Stewart’s comments might be worth something had the Labour-led administrations of 1999 and 2003 done anything to take forward the dualling of the A9.

Instead, with massive amounts of new money coming in every year, the Labour-led executives chose to prioritise the M74 from Glasgow to the border and ignore the demands of the A9.

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a9_drum2

Holyrood debating chamber <em>Picture: Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body – 2011</em>

Holyrood debating chamber Picture: Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body – 2011


12.15am update
And we’re off. The telethon that is coverage of the Scottish General Election has begun.

BBC Scotland’s Brian Taylor, in bebraced splendour, is taking us through his notional holds – an enlivening thought at midnight.

The talking heads are gamely doing what they can given the lack of any exit polls or results.

STV’s doing a nice canter round the great and the good at the counts. Apparently, it’s early days and we don’t know anything yet. Riveting stuff.

Back on the Beeb, Michael Moore looks like he knows he’s going to spend the night getting kicks in the happy sacks. The only thing that’s missing from his miserable fizog is a ball gag. On STV, Jim Wallace looks flustered and baffled but then he always does.

Key insight from Douglas Alexander: “The night is young.” No flies on him. He’s keeping his spirits up by sticking it to the Lib Dems.

At the Caley Merc electoral hub, we’re being kept awake by the prospect of seeing wur Hamish on the telly. There’s a bottle of whisky to the member of our mature electoral team who can text him the dirtiest joke and get him to corpse on air.

<em>Picture: Gorriti</em>

Picture: Gorriti

By James Browne

According to a TNS-BRMB poll for STV, the SNP and Greens are on course for a total of 69 seats in the Scottish Parliament, giving pro-independence parties an absolute majority.

But before independentistas crack open the Smoked Salmond cocktails (one part champagne, one part Ardbeg and a dash of Diet Irn Bru), it’s worth noting that everyone – left, right, Nationalist, Unionist, Green, orange and pink – is pouring buckets of cold water on the survey.

It might be a “rogue poll”. It is out of sync with others. No poll can ever give a truly accurate picture of how the constituency seats will play out. There might be huge variations in who actually bothers to vote. And nobody is sure how the constituency/list balance will work for the SNP. Remember: the Holyrood setup makes it very hard for any one party (especially the SNP) to gain total control.

Well, we shall see.

Only an idiot would make predictions this close to polling day. But I feel that makes me particularly qualified to make predictions: Labour are about to have a huge can of whupass opened all over them and the Lib Dems will be marginally less extinct than Liopleurodon pachydeirus.

In the meantime, let’s indulge in what Peter Snow would have called “just a bit of fun”.

If the pro-independence parties: the SNP, Greens and, please God, Margo, are in the driving seat they should go for the referendum on Day One.

The Lib Dems (or Lib Dem if things go really badly for them) will be busy licking their wounds and wondering why they sold their souls for a referendum they could never win on a voting system they don’t want.

Labour will be busy looking for a Scottish leader. The far from prodigious pool of talent on the Scottish benches should make this an entertaining spectator sport, rich in comedic possibility. The “big hitters” brought in to boost the campaign – Gordon Brown and Ed Balls – show that Labour is the party that charm forgot.

Its strategists might also take some time out from trying to tell the difference between their humerus and illium to ponder the wisdom of the parliamentary “Unionist alliance” to thwart the SNP. Traditionally, Labour voters (as opposed to activists) view the Tories as the enemy, not the Nats.

And the Labour message that David Cameron wants us to vote SNP to hurt Ed Miliband is flawed and facile. The problem is that if enough Scots vote for pro-independence parties then Cameron ceases to be our problem.

It was all summed up for me by this Labour press release: “Alex Salmond’s obsession with independence puts recovery at risk.” it was prefigured by “Balls:”. Indeed…

The Tories will have a cracking Scottish election in their terms, which means not losing too many seats and remaining on the periphery of Scottish life.

In short, the Unionist parties will be in disarray. The Scottish people will have clearly shown that they reject the Westminster way of doing things. Scotland will have shown its distaste for Tory (and Lib Dem) government.

If that STV poll is right, then there will never be a better moment for an independence referendum.

But it’s only a rogue poll, of course.

Probably…

Taxes and opinion polls dominated the political chatter yesterday, as the final poll results were published, the leaders debated on STV, and Labour and the Conservatives attacked the SNP’s plan to fund Scottish independence.

Our penultimate word cloud showing the hot topics of the day in yesterday's political press releases. Common non-policy words were removed, the bigger the word, the more it appreared.

Our final word cloud showing the hot topics of the day in yesterday's political press releases. Common non-policy words were removed, the bigger the word, the more it appreared.

Our cloud shows tax, council, independence and percent, received high usage as the Scottish Conservatives said that only they can protect Scotland from “dangerous and costly excesses of nationalism”, and claimed the SNP’s plans to take Scotland out of Britain could mean a basic rate taxpayer paying almost half their earnings in tax.

Commenting on figures published in yesterday’s Daily Mail, Annabel Goldie, Scottish Conservative leader, said:

“Alex Salmond would turn Scotland into the highest taxed part of Britain. His dangerous plans to rip Scotland out of the UK would hammer hard working Scots, rip our country apart and decimate our economy.

“The Scottish Government’s own figures show that separation means up to a 12p hike on income tax, pushing the basic rate to 32p.

“Added to the SNP’s madcap plans to introduce a local income tax – which the report they tried to cover up said would be 4.6p – and then national insurance contributions on top of that, then it is clear the bill for divorce from the UK would cripple basic rate taxpayers in Scotland.”

Labour’s finance spokesperson, Andy Kerr, said of the report:

“This is a damning reminder of the SNP’s economic madness but we cannot forget that Alex Salmond is using the courts to hide his tax plans from the Scottish public.

“On the big economic decisions, the SNP have called it wrong time and time again and the financial crisis showed how flawed the SNP’s economic approach is. The choice in this election is between two visions for Scotland – Labour’s plan for jobs or the SNP’s plan for independence.”

The SNP laughed off this figure, claiming it was based upon an out-of-date figure of £3.8 billion in the 2010 Government Expenditure & Revenue Scotland (GERS) report.

The Tories and Labour use the £3.8 billion figure, which also reflects capital investment, to claim an income tax rise of 12 pence in Scotland. They then add to this the existing basic rate of income tax of 20p, national insurance contributions of 12p, and the rumoured 4.6p local income tax figure.

An SNP spokesperson said:

“The Tory figures are unutterable garbage – an embarrassing effort from an embarrassing party.

“On the basis of the Tories’ absurd figures, the UK basic rate of income tax would be 63 per cent, and the higher rate would be 83 per cent. And that is before the plans of the Tories, Labour and Lib Dems for a real increase in the real council tax of between £200 and £300.

“Labour’s panic and desperation in this campaign is revealed by the fact that they are actually recycling this Tory garbage – another example of the unholy Labour/Tory alliance.”

People, greens, and votes are the next most prominent in the cloud with the final poll results released and the final televised leadership debate airing last night on STV – both boosting the occurrences of percent along with the taxation debate.

The Scottish Greens launched a final push for the Holyrood election, urging Scots to give the party their second votes on Thursday.

Patrick Harvie said:

“While others have run campaigns based on fear and empty promises, Greens have set out a consistently practical and positive programme for the next parliament. Our campaign has made cast-iron promises on keeping tuition free, on insulating every home in Scotland, and bringing in fairer taxes to cut household bills for most Scots and to invest in our essential public services. The polls suggest that more and more Scots are planning to give their second votes to their local Green candidates on Thursday, and we could be on the brink of winning seats in every region.

Elaborating on the importance of the second vote, he added:

“The second vote is vital. It might not tell you who governs Scotland. But it’ll certainly tell you who they have to govern with. That can only mean one of the coalition parties or the Greens. If you want a Scottish parliament that builds a positive alternative to the coalition’s ideological cuts agenda, only a second vote for the Greens can deliver it.”

Yesterday’s TNS-BRMB poll for STV – released to coincide with the final televised debate – shows the Scottish Greens up from 5 per cent to 8 per cent on the regional list, the best result yet for the party during the 2011 election campaign.

The SNP also welcomed the poll which shows them ahead of Labour in the constituency vote by 18 points. Scottish National Party depute leader and deputy first minister Nicola Sturgeon said:

“This is an excellent poll – it indicates that people want to re-elect the SNP government and Alex Salmond for first minister because they want to achieve the five-year council tax freeze, protection for Scotland’s health budget, and retention of the 1,000 additional police officers that the SNP have delivered.

Emphasising caution against complacency, she added:

“We are taking nothing for granted. People support our record, team and vision for Scotland – many for the first time – and we will work harder than ever before to achieve the re-election of the SNP Government and Alex Salmond for first minister on Thursday.”

Scottish Labour’s deputy leader Johann Lamont said:

“With over half of all voters undecided how they will vote, this poll show it is all to play for.

“The SNP are arrogantly slapping themselves on the back before a single vote has been cast, but the only poll that matters is polling day and every hour between now and polling day Labour will be fighting for every vote.”

Whereas Liberal Democrat campaign chair George Lyon reflected on his party’s poor scoring – they came in 4th behind the Conservatives – saying:

“Pundits are always interested in polls ahead of elections. What Liberal Democrats are focused on is the poll on 5 May.”

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The 2011 election campaign is in its final days, and our word cloud clearly shows that the issues dominating the first day of the final week are a council tax freeze and Scotland’s problem with alcohol.

A report by BMA Scotland which reveals that GP consultations where alcohol was a factor are costing the NHS an estimated £28 million a year in Scotland, has draw comment from Labour, the Lib Dems and the Scottish Conservative parties, lifting both alcohol and consultations to prominence on the Cal Merc cloud.

A cloud of the most common words across May 2nd's politicalpress releases. The most common non-policy related words were removed. The larger the word, the more it was used.

A cloud of the most common words across May 2nd's political press releases. The most common non-policy related words were removed. The larger the word, the more it was used.

Liberal Democrat justice spokesperson Robert Brown said:

“The cost of alcohol abuse in Scotland is huge. It not only has an impact on public health as these figures reveal but can have a damaging effect on wider society. There needs to be stringent action in Scotland to tackle the root causes of alcohol abuse to reverse these worrying figures.

He went on, adding:

“We need to focus on early intervention when tackling alcohol abuse issues, specifically working with families with complex needs and parents with substance misuse problems.”

The report showed that on one day in April, alcohol was a factor in more than 5,500 consultations in general practice – equating to 6 per cent of all GP consultations.

Murdo Fraser, Scottish Conservative health spokesperson, said:

“It is never pleasant to see these figures and they confirm once again what a problem Scotland has with alcohol. Put simply, Scotland has a drink problem and urgent, effective action is required to tackle it – to change our culture and to better educate people, particularly youngsters, about avoiding the pitfalls of alcohol abuse.

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“We must ensure that those underage find it more difficult to purchase alcohol to begin with, rather than focusing all our attention on initiatives that deal with after the event. Many responsible businesses comply with the law in selling alcohol and we would rather the irresponsible licence holders who sell to underage buyers were made to pay.

“The SNP’s indiscriminate blanket minimum pricing, which had no evidence base, would penalise responsible drinkers, harm the Scotch whisky industry, cost jobs and was probably illegal, was never the answer.”

Scottish Labour’s candidate in Clackmannanshire and Dunblane, Dr Richard Simpson, said:

“These figures confirm that alcohol abuse is a major problem in Scotland and reducing the level of problem drinking should be a priority for all political parties in Scotland.

“Labour believes that we need to start with better enforcement of existing legislation. There should be zero tolerance of rogue retailers who break the law by selling alcohol to children. We will also take action to reduce the caffeine content of alcoholic beverages, because there is growing evidence that the combination of caffeine and alcohol is dangerous. However, we will continue to oppose the SNP’s plans for minimum unit pricing because we do not believe it is right to punish pensioners and responsible drinkers on low incomes.”

From left to right on our cloud, the term council tax freeze is clearly dominant – and five-year can be seen floating under tax – as a result of a challenge by the SNP to the Labour, Tory and Lib Dem parties to spell out how much they would increase the council tax by after their proposed freeze ends next year.

Finance secretary and SNP candidate for Perthshire North John Swinney said:

“It is time for Labour, the Tories and Lib Dems to end their silence and spell out exactly how much they would let the council tax rip after next year. The London parties all have form on imposing a council tax whammy on Scots. The Tories hiked the council tax by 40 per cent, and it went up by 60 per cent under first Labour and then the Lab/Lib Dem Executive.”

He added:

“The council tax freeze is a major issue in the election, and we will press the other parties daily to tell the people what their council tax whammy plans are.”

As part of his response to the YouGov poll in the Scotsman newspaper, first minister Alex Salmond will say:

“The council tax freeze is the big issue on the doorstep – it is hugely popular when every other bill is going through the roof, and puts clear tartan water between the SNP and the London parties. It provides vital help for families in tough times.

“People back the SNP’s record in government, and the only way for Scots to get the council tax freeze in the next parliament is to grab it with both hands by voting SNP with both votes on Thursday. Labour, Tory and Lib Dem parties are all against the five-year council tax freeze – they must end their silence before polling day and spell out exactly how much they want to hike the council tax by.”

Investment is the economic term of the day, used variously by Labour, the SNP and the Scottish Greens.

Former prime minister Gordon Brown attacked the SNP’s flagship policy of an independence referendum, saying it would lead to years of uncertainty and put off economic investment at a time we need it most.

Mr Brown said:

“In the last year, 10,000 Scots joined the dole queue when unemployment should have been falling. The urgent task is to get Scotland back to work, to create jobs, growth and investment. The SNP’s answer, as it is to everything – break up Britain.”

Explaining the risks of a referendum, he added:

“If the SNP spend the next five years making independence the dominating issue in Scottish politics, it will not be risk-free. Investors will look at the debates on what type of economy, currency, tax system, fiscal policy we have and say ‘get back to us when you have made up your mind.’

“In these fragile economic times, this distraction risks the recovery, risks investment, risks jobs, risks prosperity and risks the wellbeing of the country we all love.”

But the SNP dismissed Mr Brown’s claims as a spokesperson said:

“This is an embarrassing effort from Gordon Brown. In the Scottish Parliament campaign in 2007 – before Gordon Brown crashed the economy – he campaigned with Labour’s top business backer in Scotland, Jim Spowart, the founder of Intelligent Finance. In 2011, Jim Spowart is backing the economic record of the SNP Government, stating that we have ‘earned the confidence of the vast swathe of Scotland’s business community.’”

Name-checking several investors, he added:

“Scotland is securing global investment after investment under the SNP – including from Mitsubishi, Doosan Power Systems, Gamesa, and Amazon – and employment has increased in Scotland for nine months in a row, with a higher employment rate in Scotland than the UK as a whole.”

Finally yesterday, the Scottish Green Party began the final week’s campaign push by launching a mini-manifesto for business with policies including support for community and publicly-owned renewables, boosting construction with a house-building programme and plans to reinvigorate Scotland’s town centres.

Alis Ballance, the Scottish Greens’ top candidate for South of Scotland, said:

“During this election the Scottish Greens have consistently offered a positive vision for the future of Scotland. Our plans to support and stimulate the Scottish economy are no different. The challenges ahead for businesses are formidable: the impact of climate change, rising energy prices, and the ongoing financial crisis all threaten to eat away at profits and reduce opportunities.”

She went on to say:

“Scotland is blessed with renewable sources of energy and we can rebuild our economy around these resources. Generating energy generates revenue, and communities and local authorities around Scotland should focus on this as a source of funding to invest in social enterprises, to reinvigorate our dilapidated town centres and to support youth training programmes.

“The new era will need new financial institutions and the Scottish Government is not powerless. We can facilitate the growth of credit unions and mutual societies, and we can back the kind of capital investment that secures long-term jobs, not the short term dead end of motorway building.”

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