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Patricia Ferguson

Could Scotland negotiate EU membership ‘from within’?

It has long been claimed by nationalists that Scotland would continue to be a member of the EU after independence. They argue that, once the referendum produced a ‘yes’ vote, it would simply be a question of negotiating ‘from within’. However, there have been many questions asked about the validity of this policy; and now the President of the European Council seems to throw further doubt on it.

Herman Van Rompuy EU Treaties would 'no longer apply'

Herman Van Rompuy
EU Treaties would ‘no longer apply’

What has brought the matter once again to the fore were comments Herman Van Rompuy made in connection with the proposed independence referendum in Catalonia; it too wants independence – from Spain. He said that any previously agreed EU treaties would no longer apply. The full text of what he said is as follows: “If a part of the territory of a member state ceases to be a part of that state because that territory becomes a new independent state, treaties will no longer apply to that territory. In other words, a new independent state would, by the fact of its independence, become a third country with respect to the Union and the treaties would, from the day of its independence, not apply anymore on its territory.”

His words may have been referring to another country – but they have given fuel to opposition parties in Scotland who now claim the position of the Scottish Government was untenable. For example, Patricia Ferguson, who speaks for Scottish Labour on European and External Affairs, claimed of the First Minister that “the most senior officials in the European Union are contradicting his assertions yet he just sticks his fingers in his ears and asks people to ignore the facts.”

Meanwhile, the Scottish Conservative leader, Ruth Davidson, noted that an independent Scotland “wouldn’t call the shots in negotiating entry to the EU, nor would it get any special treatment. It would join the back of the same queue as every other country.”

The situation in Catalonia may be different: the Spanish Government is vehemently opposed to the independence referendum there. The UK Government in London has taken a very different line.

When Nassim Nicholas Taleb wrote his book ‘The Black Swan’ a few years ago, his argument was the people and politicians make presumptions about the future based the notion that events will move smoothly on from what’s been seen in the past. The trouble, as he saw it, is that things don’t happen like that. Very few people foresaw the financial collapse of 2008 and the consequences that would flow from it. In the same way, no-one really knows what future an independent Scotland would have…or as Robert Burns put it:

The best laid schemes o’ mice an’ men
Gang aft a-gley,
An’ lea’e us nought but grief an’ pain,
For promised joy.

St Andrews University has many students from outside Scotland

The question of whether to charge students from England, Wales and Northern Ireland if they go to a Scottish University after independence has been rumbling on for a couple of years or more. From the moment the policy began to diverge between the Scottish and English higher education systems, there has been a certain tension. At present, students from the rest of the UK are charged fees – while their Scottish counterparts and those from elsewhere in the EU are not. Therein lies the rub!

The White Paper

The White Paper

When the Scottish Government’s ‘White Paper’ on independence was published, it was clear that the policy would remain in place. Now the Deputy First Minister has developed the policy, insisting that it was not discriminatory and was nothing to do with nationality, something which raised a few opposition eyebrows.

The EU rules prevent states from discriminating on the grounds of nationality. However, the same rules do not apply within member states. So while Scotland has to give free university education to EU students from outside the UK, placing them on par with Scottish students, it can impose tuition fees on students from England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

Nicola Sturgeon Defended the policy of charging fees

Nicola Sturgeon
Defended the policy of charging fees

But if Scotland votes to leave the UK, what then? Under European laws, Scottish ministers would have to make an “objective justification” for keeping the status quo. Speaking before the Scottish Parliament’s European and External Relations Committee, Nicola Sturgeon argued that the Government believed that it could be done “because of the particular circumstances of the geography of Scotland and the rest of the UK and the policy that exists in other parts of the UK.” If Scottish universities did not charge students from the rest of the UK, she added, then Scotland risked “crowding our own students out of access to university”.

However, the Labour MSP, Patricia Ferguson, told the Deputy First Minister that “the only rationale you have offered so far is nationality. You cannot discriminate against other members of the EU based on their nationality. I’ve heard no other rational for discriminating against students from the rest of the UK other than the fact that they’re not Scottish and where they live there happens to be a fee payment.”

However, the Deputy First Minister replied by insisting that 2it’s not about nationality, it’s about the fact that we have a set of circumstances flowing from geography and the cross border flows of students between Scotland and the rest of the UK and the consequences for Scottish education of a policy decision taken at Westminster to charge its own students for access to university. That raises implications for Scottish universities and that is the objective justification for the position we have taken.”

She told MSPs that the proposals were necessary because of the close geographical links between Scotland and England and the Westminster policy of charging for tuition fees. If Westminster axed its policy on such fees, she was “pretty sure” Scotland would change its policy too.

labour3Scottish Labour yesterday challenged the Tories to explain their u-turn on mandatory sentences for knife criminals.

Labour also highlighted the Tories record on jobs and warned of the Tories ‘lost generation’ of unemployment.

Before the election campaign started the Tories promised that their “proposal for two year mandatory sentences would actually mean two years”. However, the Tory manifesto makes no such promise, staing on page 19 that “The public expect knife carriers to go to jail and we, whilst recognising the sentencing discretion of the courts, will ensure that our reforms reflect this.”

In contrast, Scottish Labour has pledged to introduce a mandatory minimum custodial sentence of six months for knife carriers.

Scottish Labour’s candidate for Glasgow Maryhill and Springburn, Patricia Ferguson, said:

“The Tories have either lost the plot or their election strategy has descended into utter chaos.

“The people of Glasgow have long memories and remember the last time the Tories were in: the unemployment, the lost generation. We cannot afford to go back to those days – not now, not ever.”

Speaking about the Tories u-turn on mandatory jail sentences for knife criminals, Ms Ferguson, added:

“The Tories have performed the most spectacular u-turn on knife crime. Before the election campaign they were banging on about tough sentences but their manifesto makes no such commitment.

“People in Glasgow want tough action on knife crime, not more weasel words from politicians.

“It is high time the Tories came clean with Glasgow voters. It is only Labour that can be trusted to crack down on knife thugs.”

Scottish Labour also said yesterday that the SNP’s Early Years announcement showed the Nationalists playing catch up on Early Years policy, but warned that with the SNP record of broken promises in education the SNP cannot be trusted to deliver.

Labour’s manifesto announced on Tuesday had a commitment to a common package of support measures, prior to birth and until the age of three, including provision for expectant parents during pregnancy and additional support for young mothers.

Labour’s candidate for Eastwood Ken Macintosh said:

“Improving the prospects for our youngest children is vital for the future of Scotland. Labour have already committed to providing a common package of support measures, from before to birth until the age of three, as well as expansion of family centres, and increasing nursery places for vulnerable two-year-olds.

“The SNP as usual are playing catch up but more concerning is their record on failing to keep their early years promises.

“In 2007, the SNP promised in their manifesto to deliver access to a fully qualified nursery teacher for every nursery age child but this has not been delivered and parents and children have been let down.

“The SNP have not put their commitment to education in general and that’s why we have 3000 fewer teachers in our schools as well as 1000 fewer classroom assistants.

“Labour will deliver in the early years and in our schools because we clearly see that it is vital for Scotland’s future.”

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Annabel Goldie <em>Picture: Wsdouglas</em>

Annabel Goldie Picture: Wsdouglas

Conservative ambitions in Glasgow have been on the slide for more than 50 years – so much so that they are now as low as they have ever been. But not even the most pessimistic of Tories could have envisaged the appalling start to their campaign in the city that they have already had to endure.

Even though parliament was only dissolved last week, the Conservatives have already lost two candidates. This makes three in total since October.

However, it is the resulting fallout that will trouble party strategists the most, as this could cost the party hundreds of thousands of pounds in donations as well as the vital help of dozens of activists.

The first problem was with Ivor Tiefenbrun, who had to resign last October as the candidate for Maryhill and Springburn after calling Scots “thick”.

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He was replaced by senior Edinburgh Conservative Iain Whyte. Mr Whyte is a member of NHS Lothian and he thought he could stand down from the health board for the election then join back up again if, as he expected, he failed to get elected.

Then he found he couldn’t do that and, if he left the health board, he wouldn’t be able to get back on. So, rather than stand in a hopeless seat and lose his place on the health board, he quit the constituency.

But the worst development for the party came with the sacking of Malcolm Macaskill, the top Conservative candidate on the Glasgow regional list.

Mr Macaskill was sacked by the party last week after it emerged he had been twice declared bankrupt.

However, that was only the start of the Conservative problems. Mr Macaskill has been working for the party for many years, is well liked and respected with Glasgow Conservative circles, and his sacking angered many of his friends and colleagues.

Among this number were Tom Coakley, a former footballer turned millionaire, and John McGlynn, an airport car park magnate. Both threatened to withdraw funding from the party which, in Mr Coakley’s case, was substantial.

Although he hadn’t yet started donating, Mr Coakley had promised to give the party £100,000 every year for ten years.

Many of Mr Macaskill’s friends and supporters were suspicious about the timing of the sacking. Had Mr Macaskill been sacked in January, the party might have had to run the nominations again for the regional list. But, with the sacking taking place so close to the submission date for nominations, the Conservative leadership was able to just promote Ruth Davidson, the second-placed person on the list, giving her a virtually guaranteed seat in parliament in May.

Ms Davidson is an aide to the party leader, Annabel Goldie, and some of Mr Macaskill’s friends believed he had been edged out to make sure Ms Davidson was elected.

All these problems have exaggerated the already serious issues the Conservatives have with activists in Glasgow, with some party members now saying they will refuse to go out and canvass for a party which has treated one of its own candidates so shabbily.

One senior figure in the party said: “It is imploding at a local level. It is in meltdown. Some people are not going to work for the party during the campaign because they don’t like the way Malcolm [Macaskill] was treated, others are angry because of the way it was handled and others maybe feel they would have stood on the list had they known that Malcolm wasn’t going to be a candidate.”

It is understood that the Conservative Party official nomination papers listing all the candidates fighting in Glasgow – which included Miss Davidson but not Mr Macaskill – were submitted just three hours after the news of Mr Macaskill’s sacking was made public.

The source said: “Had it been done in January, they might have had to re-run the (selection) process but, by doing it now, so close to the elections, they don’t have to do that.”

The Conservative source also stressed that the likely loss of the donations from Mr Coakley and Mr McGlynn would provoke anger from party bosses in London. “If it had just been the loss of an MSP candidate, London wouldn’t have noticed,” he said.

But he added: “The loss of someone who was prepared to donate £100,000 a year for ten years. London will sit up and take notice, and they won’t be happy.”

A Conservative spokesman insisted that the departure of Mr Whyte was straightforward and was purely the result of the rules governing NHS boards, and he refused to say anything about Mr Macaskill’s sacking.

The Labour Party, however, was quick to intervene in an attempt to exploit the Tory problems.

Patricia Ferguson, Labour’s candidate for Maryhill and Springburn, said: “I am delighted that Labour has seen off two Tory candidates for our part of Glasgow – we hope to do the same when the next comes along.”

And Stephen Curran, Labour candidate for Glasgow Southside, added: “The continuing drip-drip of bad news from the Scottish Tories shows the turmoil at the heart of their campaign. To lose three candidates in a row is a disaster for them.

“People in Glasgow remember what the Tories did to our city the last time, but the reason so few support them now is because of their policies today.”

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Laurel & HardyLast week, I began this sketch with a complaint about having to listen to porkies in Parliament. By a curious, almost cosmically mystical coincidence, it was also one of those rare occasions in which I thought Labour leader Elmer Fudd had made a good point. Oh, I should have known better. Silly, silly, silly me. But one desperately wants to be fair to the hopeless clot.

Readers will recall his claim that the youth employment agency, Skills Development Scotland, was going to rebrand itself as Scotland: The Works, at a cost of £0.5 million for new notepaper and £1.7 million for marketing. Elmer had the documentation and everything. Unfortunately, he might as well have brandished a bookie’s line, as the organisation had already rejected the name-change idea.

Flustered, Elmer later said he had another document showing it had indeed changed its name – while the organisation said it hadn’t – but declined to provide this in public, perhaps (and, in the absence of any better explanation, I am guessing here) because the Labour mole who leaked it might be identified. Or perhaps because the name-change couldn’t possibly be true.

To be fair, if the organisation was using expressions like “visual identity transition” and “brand migration plan”, then it should be wound up and its top staff imprisoned indefinitely. At any rate, in future, rest assured I’ll preface any backing for Mr Fudd with the words “Assuming he’s got his facts right … “.

It’s correct to say that it was a lovely sunny day outside today at Holyrood. There were rozzers everywhere. Unable to get into my usual cark park at Holyrood Palace, I hailed a constable. “Good morning, orifice. What’s afoot?” “Prince Charles is here. And your tax disc needs renewing.” “Splendid. Keep up the good work.” Embarrassing or what?

Meanwhile, in the Hall of Embarrassments, or Parliament debating chamber, we waited for Fudd’s latest offering. Really, he has only two choices: more of these truth-free “scoops” (anyone remember Balmoralgate?); or blaming the Eck for minor earthquakes in the Andes, adolescents with skin complaints and the fact that a lavatory in a Glasgow hospital was blocked for 15 minutes.

He began: “Presiding orifice, this week no surprises, no leaked documents” – no apologies – “just the Scottish Government’s own official figures on how many new teachers have found jobs.” Very few, according to Elmer, and that was “a disgrace”. It’s certainly odd that, at a time of UK-wide fiscal crisis and harsh cutbacks in spending, someone can’t get a job in the public sector. It’s mystifying.

First Minister Eck Salmond said 90 per cent of new teachers were finding jobs, and that pedagogical unemployment was lower in Scotia than the rest of the UK. Elmer said most of those finding jobs were supply teachers, sitting at home waiting for the phone to go.

Eck said the only way you could change the situation was to take funding away from other sectors. Where would Mr F suggest? The NHS? “[The] position of the Labour Party … is that we should increase all funding everywhere. And that is simply an extraordinary, untenable and ridiculous position.”

Eck accused Elmer of “crocodile tears”, adding that, oddly enough, the lowest rates of new teacher employment were in areas with Labour cooncils.

Elmer was irate. “Don’t accuse me of crocodile tears!” Oh, all right. Crocodile tears. Damn. Forgot already.

“It’s a Salmond shambles,” the leading Fuddite added. Ah, the old alliteration gambit. Shouldn’t that be a Shalmond shambles, Mr Moneypenny? Fudd’s fantastical floccinaucinihilipilification (real word: the act of describing something as worthless) continued with this bombshell analysis: “Is this the First Eck’s message to young people: if you want to be a teacher or nurse, emigrate?”

Why just a nurse or a teacher? Anybody would want to emigrate from this nuthouse of a country.

In Bedlam Avenue, meanwhile, Tory leader Annabel Goldie peeked out from her suburban hedge and demanded: “So what on Earth is going wrong in Kinloch Rannoch?” Good Lord, I’ve no idea. What was this? Something out of Take The High Road? She went on: “Why is the health secretary refusing to speak to the people of Kinloch Rannoch?” Nicola Sturgeon, the health secretary under advisement, looked totally fogged.

Eck looked equally baffled, but averred that community representatives from the aforementioned Kinloch R had met the parliament’s health committee. Karen Whitefield (Lab), meanwhile, was bawling away like a demented infant, forcing Alex “Hercules” Fergusson, the presiding orifice, to bring down his mighty club and warn: “I have had enough individual interventions from sedentary positions for the time being, thank you.” From her arse-based perspective, Karen looking guilty. By her side was Cathy Craigie (Lab), who was even worse. What a horrible high-pitched noise. She sounded like a sozzled Stan Laurel sitting on a tack after inhaling a large dose of helium.

Not all Labour MSPs are as bad. True, in front of these two harpies sat David “The Thug” Whitton, Duncan “Disorderly” McNeil, and Helen “Two Braincells” Eadie. But behind Karen and Cathy sat Richard Simpson, Malcolm Chisholm, Patricia Ferguson, Pauline McNeill, and that wee studenty wife, an aisle of sanity in the chaotic sea of bile around them. Wendy Alexander, meanwhile, just sits and reads the whole time.

Annabel was on up on her sensible brogues again: “The question I asked was about out of hours GP cover.” Good. Glad we cleared that one up. She wondered how many other rural areas were as unmedicated as Kinloch Rannoch. “Does he know?” Loud groans from the Nats’ front bench, possibly at the absurdity of the increasing number of “does he know” questions. “How many elderly men in the Anstruther area have syphilis? Does he not know? Eh? Eh?” Or it might have been, as the Eck explained, that the out-of-hours farce was created by the previous Labour administration.

The aformentioned Pauline M, one of those Labour MSPs with some dignity about them, rose to raise concerns about events in Gaza, a politically generous gesture since it risked making Scotland look like a normal country that might have a view on international affairs. She explained this by pointing out that “the First Eck is responsible for the general welfare of all Scots”, some of whom (one in her constituency) were involved.

Eck said he’d already sent a stiff letter to the Israeli ambassador (a missive treated, one imagines, with the same rapt attention as a letter to the Treasury). For this, and other gestures of disapprobation, he won sporting applause from Pauline and some of her colleagues.

Tory deputy leader Murdo Fraser asked the Eck about plans for another Homecoming in 2014. Eck thanked Murdo – normally a stickler for Queen, Union, and Glasgow Rangers – for his interest and drew attention to his recent press release, in which he stunned the nation by saying Bannockburn should be the centre of the celebrations. Eck said this made sense, since it would be the 700th anniversary of “a pivotal moment in Scottish history”.

Murdo then produced his hidden dagger and made a point about Nat ministers allegedly conspiring to dump a tourism boss. Shocking business. All together now: “Assuming it is true!” Eck said it was pish, and had more fun with Murdo’s press release, which called Bannockburn a significant Scottish victory against the English”. You could see Labour hackles rising at the very idea. Eck concluded: “Can I welcome Murdo to the cause?”

Murdo smiled wryly. Ten minutes later, outside in the sunshine, the Labour MSPs were cheesing away for a group photo. A tourist asked me: “What are they doing?”

“It’s for a progamme called Crimewatch,” I explained. “They’re among the suspects in The Case of the Missing Name-Change.”

<em>Picture: Quinet</em>

Picture: Quinet

Brollies up, ladies and gents, as we prepare to be sprayed with more immature ordure in the baby of parliaments, the numpty nursery, the kindergarten of cack. Actually, I do a disservice to many MSPs with these childish ascriptions. But, speaking personally, I can’t wait for the summer holidays. The toll of hearing retold porkies, unabashed hypocrisy, and hateful claptrap has been heavy on my soul.

I turned up at the national nuthouse, expecting the usual text: “You control nothing, Salmond, but it’s still all your fault.” The SNP, always tactically bonkers, never point out the asburdity of this, instead committing the hideous error of trying to convince everyone that they are indeed in control of the country, and that they’re doing a good job in their suits and everything. They’re as much in control of Scotland as Peru is of the European Union.

Labour leader Elmer Fudd, rebranded from Iain Gray, waddled into the chamber like a hamstrung llama and offered the following hee-haw: “What would the First Minister think of a Government organisation which plans to spend £0.5 million on a ‘visual identity transition’?” Eh? Well, this at least was something different.

First Minister Eck Salmond, known to himself as Leader of All Scotia, replied in a tired voice that he was sure Mr Fudd was going to explain “to a startled chamber” what this meant.

Mr F did just that: a “visual identity transition” was quango-speak for a £0.5 million name-change for a youth employment organisation, Skills Development Scotland, which was now going to be called – wait for it – Scotland: The Works. Gordon H. Bennett. Asked Elmer: “Why are they wasting our money on this?” Good question.

Eck declined to answer it, but took the opportunity to point out that SDS, or S the W as I suppose we must now call it, had exceeded its target of 20,000 new apprenticeships.

Fudd said the organisation was also planning to spend £1.68 million on a “marketing and brand migration plan”. Greeugh! What awful “mumbo-jumbo”, as the leading Fuddite correctly called it, adding: “Let’s not forget that this is the organisation that booked Paul McKenna for unemployed youngsters. Maybe they’re going to get him back to hypnotise the First Eck into handing this cash over.”

Retorted Eck: “Can I just say to Elmer Fudd that the Paul McKenna joke was not very effective the first time he told it some months ago. It’s less effective now that it’s been recycled.”

Maybe so, but I was with Fudd on this. Branding, rebranding and so forth was the leitmotif of the New Labour era. Now the New Nats are at it, and there’s just nae need. I don’t know if the Eck knew much about this instance but, if not, he should do his nut and cancel the whole ridiculous exercise.

Apart from anything else, how does it always cost so much just to change some headed notepaper and the sign above the door? Nonsense, all of it and – at a time of cuts – criminal nonsense.

After their traditional general election massacre in Scotland, the Tories are thinking of rebranding – disguising more like – themselves. Name-changes might included The Scotch Persons’ Party, Patriots for Powerlessness or, with respect to deputy leader Murdo Fraser’s mad outburst the other day, Spirit of Bannockburn. The last named needn’t be a problem. Most of their members will assume it celebrates Edward II.

Twin-set diva Annabel Goldie, in a refreshing change for Holyrood, sought not to blame Britland’s economic woe on Eck, calling it instead “Labour’s mess”. But the Tory leader asked of the top Nat: “What is he going to cut and when is he going to cut it?” Oh, they love cutting, your Tories do. Can’t wait.

Eck said an independent review was under way, but added that manically slashing and burning right away was not the way forward.

Annabel, with a machete stuffed in her suspender belt, was not impressed, saying: “The First Eck is like a man who refuses to fix a dripping tap then wonders why the house is flooded.” Plumbing the depths there, gal.

Lib Dem leader Tavish Scott said the SNP Government, “backed by the Tories” (loud laughter, given the irony of a Lib Dem making such an accusation), were limiting the measures needed to tackle climate change.

Eck said the target of a 40 per cent reduction in harmful emissions by 2020 had been agreed by the whole Parliament, and compared with 34 per cent set by Westminster, where the Lib Dems now had so much influence.

Tavish: “But Mr Eck is not in charge of the UK.” Not yet anyway.

Sarah Boyack (Lab) got on her green rocking horse to call for the boiler scrappage scheme to be extended, prompting Eck to express confusion at some Labour representatives (Baker, R., Kerr, A., and McNulty, D.) calling for cuts to be implemented immediately, while others were forever demanding increased spending on this, that and, arguably, the other.

Pauline McNeill (Lab) demanded the implementation of proposals from the Calman Commission, which considered with a half-open mind every constitutional option except independence – making it the Calman Omission – and whose recommendations may now include Scotia having control over drink-driving. Well, whoop-de-doo.

Oh, and there was some kind of income tax scam. Said Pauline: “If the First Minister continues to reject the principle of devolving tax powers” – loud laughter – “does he not miss making this Parliament accountable for what it spends?”

The Nat laughter concerned the Lib Dem-style divergence between Labour in London (Labour Lite) and its boorish Scottish branch (Labour Lout). Eck pointed oot that, when in power, the UK Labour Government had rejected nine of the 23 Calman proposals, many dealing with finance, and had stopped, for example, Scotland getting 50 per cent of the proceeds from tax on dividends and savings.

Sandra White (SNP), who missed her true vocation as a launderette manageress, said the general election results showed Scotland and England were two different countries. Well spotted, San. The only way to a fairer society, she said, was to get an independent Scotland. Can’t argue with that. Unless, of course, you’re Scottish and, by definition therefore, a total arsehead.

Eck said it would be good if Scots could get the Government they voted for instead of one that other people voted for. Er, didn’t the Scots – see definition of arsehead above – vote Labour?

Hugh O’Donnell (Lib Dem), addressing the subject of violence against teachers, said of Eck: “I’m sure he would agree with me that even just shouting can be a form of abuse in any workplace.”

I think this was aimed at Eck, who turned it on its heid, assuming Hugh was attacking the Labour benches “for shouting during First Minister’s Questions”.

Actually, apart from Karen Whitefield, aged four and a half, and the usual harpies – and, unusually, Patricia Ferguson – they were a bit quieter than usual. I don’t know if someone had had a word. Certainly, I noticed Karen nervously looking towards the presiding orifice, Alex “Hercules” Fergusson, every now and again. It reminded me of the way Manchester United players look nervously towards their own Alex Ferguson, whenever they’ve muffed a chance. I wonder if Parliament’s manager fancies loaning our own Wean Looney to England for the World Cup?