The push for independence is turning off Scots business – Financial Times

Scots business has not been wholly opposed to secession from the UK. Large figures in a relatively small world, such as Sir Brian Souter, the bus and train entrepreneur, and Tony Banks, developer of a large care home business, have been enthusiasts for the cause. But most business people have been sceptical, though quietly so.

To take up arms against nationalism and, by opposing, hope to diminish it has been generally seen as ill-advised. Some are in retail businesses and feel a need to avoid giving offence. Others rely on government contracts. Those in the media can fear being thought biased. All these factors deter critics of independence from speaking out.

The few who do speak, tweet or post, talk of some harassment, as I have found in conversations — usually anonymous, at their request — with many business people. One forceful tweeter against the Scottish National party, who also asked to remain anonymous, lost the board membership of a charity due to feared loss of government support. Another instanced a friend who said open opposition would force him to fire 50 workers, as loss of government work would follow.

Still another, a financier with a large farm, told me he was constantly investigated by various authorities, while a nationalist neighbour’s farm attracted no attention. If true, these episodes are enough to discourage most people from further complaint. They are also grossly undemocratic.

Business scepticism is based largely on the economic case against secession. As the May 6 election for Scotland’s parliament approaches, a raft of reports are warning of a period of austerity, inflicted not by Westminster — a constant theme in SNP rhetoric — but by an independent Scottish government.

The party’s present economic programme is based on work by the SNP-funded Sustainable Growth Commission, published in 2018. It advises retaining sterling as Scotland’s currency for up to a decade after independence, a policy much disliked by party activists. It would mean Scotland had a currency over which it had no control — and thus could not, as it might wish to, devalue.

The independent state would lose subsidies from the UK Treasury amounting to £1,633 a year per person, according to a Financial Times analysis. Annual tax rises or spending cuts equivalent to £1,765 per person would be needed to reduce a budget deficit, currently running at almost 10 per cent of annual economic output, to the EU’s 3 per cent ceiling.

Another report, from the Institute for Government, estimated that unpicking Scotland’s 1707 union with England and negotiating EU membership could take a decade. A hard border between Scotland and the rest of the UK, which takes around 60 per cent of Scottish exports, would be “the inevitable result” of Scottish EU membership, the report said.

Many business people believe Nicola Sturgeon, Scotland’s first minister, is ill-disposed to business. One entrepreneur who set out to her the economic downsides of secession got the reply: “I am a conviction politician.” The pursuit of independence trumps all else.

This scorn makes business people angry. They think they are cast as Scots Scrooges, indifferent to poverty and inequality. Jim McColl, founder and chief executive of Clyde Blowers Capital, an engineering and investment group, says: “There’s a feeling that people who have businesses don’t want social programmes. Business people do want these — they’re all for levelling up. But you can’t fund all the social programmes without business thriving.”

The gulf between business and pro-independence politicians is arguably wider than ever. But Sturgeon is right: “conviction politicians” who seek fundamental constitutional change must possess a rare belief in self, party and people. Such a belief must shrug off ordinary people’s daily concerns.

Sturgeon’s steely determination has been strengthened by an inquiry that cleared her of misleading the Scottish parliament. Yet qualms in her party persist. In a leaked video of briefings given by two SNP ministers to activists, one conceded that the currency issue could hobble a post-independence government. The other told his audience not to be pulled into a discussion on currency, but state that the SNP believed in keeping sterling and move on.

Her latest challenge is from her one-time mentor, now embittered opponent Alex Salmond, first minister from 2007 to 2014. He portrays his new Alba party as a way of increasing support for nationalism, but it may hurt the SNP’s chances of winning an outright majority in the Scottish parliament.

Business people are rarely political zealots. Scots in business, inventors, economists and philosophers have changed the world — but that was mainly in the 18th and 19th centuries, when Britain and its empire, in which Scots were hyperactive, were growing strongly. Now, most find the grind of maintaining and developing complex companies enough of a day’s hard work.

In Walter Scott’s novel Rob Roy (1817), a Glasgow merchant, Baillie Nicol Jarvie, scornful of opponents of the union with England, says “it’s an ill wind blaws naebody gude . . . what was ever like to gar [make] us flourish like the sugar and tobacco trade? Will onybody tell me that, and grumble at the treaty that opened us a road west-awa’ yonder?”

It would be a rare Glasgow merchant who spoke in these terms today, not least because sugar and tobacco were products of slave labour. But many would quietly admit that the union opened Scotland up, and fear that independence, coupled with Brexit, would to some degree close them off from their large and lucrative market to the south.

 

Revealed: Edinburgh City Council’s £5.5m external legal advice bill – The Scotsman

Edinburgh’s secret legal bill of almost £5.5 million has seen the public purse pay to defend cases such as the baby ashes scandal and the child abuse inquiry, it can be revealed.

In total, £5,478,126 was spent by Edinburgh City Council in relation to seeking external legal advice on a range of issues over the past five years, with the majority of the cost coming straight from the public purse.

Legal advice from expensive external lawyers – a common requirement for councils when defending themselves or pursuing companies or individuals in court – has been sought by the council on several high-profile issues, including the Mortonhall baby ashes inquiry and the Edinburgh Tram Inquiry.

Reacting to the total cost, Scottish Liberal Democrat candidate Alex Cole-Hamilton said the council must be “prudent with taxpayers’ cash”.

The Edinburgh Western candidate said: “Everyone knows that the tram inquiry had lawyers rubbing their hands with glee, but these figures show that there have been a number of occasions in which the legal bills have added up too.

“There will obviously be occasions when it is appropriate for the council to seek specialist external counsel, but it doesn’t display a lot of faith in the local authorities’ own legal department if so often they have to receive outside advice.”

Scottish Election 2021: SNP campaign ad invokes spirit of Braveheart, Princess Merida and North Korea – Edinburgh Evening News

All it needed was grainy images of stormtroopers goose-stepping in the background but in a grim party election broadcast, the message from the SNP on Tuesday was clear: jackbooted or not, Scotland is being ground into the dirt by English Conservative oppressors.

Maybe the wannabe Alan Parker director realised that would be going too far but, presented by an actor resembling free-spirited Princess Merida from the cartoon movie Brave, they might as well have gone the whole hog and got a job lot from Mel Gibson to include evil English knights from Braveheart or a few tricorned redcoats from The Patriot for good measure.

But I suspect thoughtful SNP supporters would have winced at a sequence with multiple television screens showing blurry images of First Minister Nicola Sturgeon which was more like North Korean TV or something from the 1954 dramatisation of 1984 with Peter Cushing. For Alex Salmond-supporting Alba-nonis, telescreens from the Big Sister House will have confirmed everything they have been saying about the personality cult now gripping the party.

The tone was like that of the 1986 Aids public information film, except the message was “Don’t die of ignorance, vote SNP”. It’s all a far cry from the “joyous and inclusive” independence campaign of 2013-14.

It’s not so inclusive if you’re in the half of the population which doesn’t want another referendum anytime soon, and definitely not if you are in the 29 per cent of Edinburgh people who voted Conservative in 2017.

Those not pledged to the Dear Leader see a Scotland which benefits from Union, in which every £100 raised in tax is matched by £137 of public spending, with precisely £1633 more per head spent here than the UK average. Sixteen per cent of all jobs in Edinburgh are supported by the UK furlough scheme.

According to the Financial Times, an independent Scotland would face tax rises or spending cuts equivalent to £1765 per person to hit the three per cent deficit target needed to qualify for EU membership. Maybe the EU would ease the rules to, say, five per cent, but that would still mean having to find around £1,000 a person, and at the same time set up a central bank in which international lenders had instant faith in the government’s control of spending.

But according to Princess Merida, only sunshine and happiness lies ahead for the wee toddler projected behind her, a tot who actually faces a future in which the continued decline of school standards means the education they will receive will not be good as their parents received and significantly worse than their grandparents. Still, they got a baby box.

We now know from the Alba campaign launch that if last weekend’s polls are borne out then on day one of the new parliament the arguments will start in earnest between a majority SNP and Alex Salmond’s new ultras demanding instant delivery of a referendum process against Ms Sturgeon’s more cautious approach. The scene is being set for years of nationalist bickering about how independence should be delivered, not how services can be improved.

There is no majority for independence, there is no majority for another referendum, and the vote duplication between the SNP and Alba proves only that if anything is broken in Scotland it’s the electoral system.

Election 2021: Edinburgh Southern candidates clash over leaflet listing SNP ‘achievement – Edinburgh Evening News

An SNP candidate has been accused of misleading voters over a list of Nationalist achievements in an election leaflet.

Edinburgh Southern candidate Catriona MacDonald boasted in the flyer: “Voting SNP has delivered…..” with a dozen bullet points including “Short-term let regulation” and “Free bus travel”.

But Edinburgh Southern’s Labour MSP Daniel Johnson said both these claims were “straightforwardly not true”.

Legislation to license short-term lets and allow specified areas to be declared control zones in a bid to tackle the problem of Airbnb-style accommodation was dropped amid criticism shortly before the election with a promise to bring it back in the next parliament.

Free bus travel for over-60s was introduced by the Labour-led coalition in the first term of the Scottish Parliament when Sarah Boyack was Transport Minister. Legislation was approved earlier this year for free bus travel for under-19s, a key demand of the Greens in last year’s budget negotiations, though it has yet to come into effect. And as part of ths year’s budget deal with the Greens the SNP agreed to expand it to anyone under 22.

Mr Johnson said the Nationalists regularly claimed credit for Labour’s introduction of free bus travel for the over-60s and claimed they had blocked attempts to regulate short-term lets under the planning bill. He said Ms MacDonald “might want to check what actually happened”.

Nicola Sturgeon snubs cross-party group of Lothian MSPs over request for meeting about Eye Pavilion – Edinburgh Evening News

Nicola Sturgeon has snubbed nine Edinburgh and Lothian MSPs over their request for a meeting about the Scottish Government’s decision to scrap plans for a new eye hospital in the Capital.

The MSPs from four different parties wrote to the First Minister in February after a debate in the Scottish Parliament about the government’s decision to scrap plans for a new hospital to replace Edinburgh’s Princess Alexandra Eye Pavilion.

They voiced “deep concern” at the proposal to disperse services and the potential loss of a centre of excellence and world-class services.

But now the MSPs have received a reply – more than six weeks after they wrote – which makes no mention of the request for a meeting.

Signed by a civil servant it simply repeats that the government has asked NHS Lothian to review eye services and consider making use of the new elective care centre to be built in Livingston; that it recognises the current Eye Pavilion will need investment to maintain it; and that while it recognises the importance of centres of excellence, it believes more services can now be delivered in the community.

Lothian Tory MSP Miles Briggs said it was “extremely concerning” that ministers were being so dismissive of people’s real concerns and legitimate questions

He said: “The First Minister has completely dodged the request from opposition MSPs to meet virtually to discuss the urgent need for a new eye hospital in Lothian.

“SNP ministers are not willing to engage with MSPs from all four opposition parties to get the best possible outcome for patients in the Lothians.

Edinburgh Southern Labour MSP Daniel Johnson said: “It’s very disappointing to receive such a late and dismissive response. Since we wrote the letter we have heard from a huge range of different people expressing real concerns about the impact of losing the Eye Pavilion and raising very serious questions about this dispersed model.”

He said there were worries about people with reduced eyesight having to get to Livingston, specialists having to travel around from centre to centre and the loss of a world-class centre for ophthalmic research.

“We need answers to those questions. I would have thought at the very least a meeting was warranted.”

Lib Dem Alex Cole-Hamilton, MSP for Edinburgh Western said pre-election restrictions on government activity might explain the failure to hold a meeting at the moment.

But he said: “It is deeply frustrating, given the level of public anger around this, that the government have waited all these weeks to write back to us.

“It may be the pre-election rules inhibit such a meeting at this time but they should have stated that in the letter. I hope they understand the weight of public feeling around the Eye Pavilion.”

And Lothian Green MSP Alison Johnstone said: “It would be helpful to meet with the First Minister so she is aware of the strength of feeling as demonstrated by constituents to their representatives in Lothian.

“We’ve had lots of personal testimonies from constituents that is really strong and would make you think twice.”

Airports raise concerns around pandemic recovery after Scottish Government’s ‘scarce engagement’ – Edinburgh Evening News

Airport bosses have been left fuming over a lack of urgency and transparency from the Scottish Government around a planned pilot testing scheme last year which was quietly binned in December.

Edinburgh Airport and AGS Airports, which owns Aberdeen and Glasgow airports, were forced to submit two freedom of information requests in order to discover why plans to pilot a double test regime whereby passengers are tested on arrival and five days later were dropped.

Initially officials in the civil service had told the airports they were unable to say whether the plans had been rejected for several weeks despite having recommended them for refusal within days, with the FOI request required to find out the reasons why the plans were dropped.

The airport proposals were rejected on the basis of “considerable concerns” about removing quarantine for travellers but said it was “beneficial to explore a pilot approach”.

Glasgow’s filthy streets and graffiti risk shaming Scotland at COP26 climate summit, council bosses warned – The Scottish Sun

SCOTLAND risks being shamed on a global stage by filthy streets when the nation hosts the UN’s showpiece climate summit, city bosses were warned today.

Shocking images reveal piles of rubbish and graffiti-scarred buildings near venues and hotels where 30,000 delegates, top politicians and the world’s media will gather.

Campaigners are now demanding a clean-up before the COP26 event in Glasgow in November.

Businessman James Mortimer, 76, said: “It’s a disgrace. We don’t want to show ourselves up.”

Mr Mortimer, a leisure tycoon, was among the politicians, campaigners and business leaders who issued a rallying cry for a blitz on rubbish and graffiti-scarred buildings.

Stark images reveal the extent of urban decay months before COP26 shines a global light on Scotland’s biggest city.

Mr Mortimer, who said rats have been spotted in the litter-strewn city centre, said: “It’s a disgrace. The city has deteriorated so badly. There’s vermin running about the streets.

“They’re coming out looking for food because there is nobody in the offices and shops. November isn’t far away and we don’t want to be giving ourselves a showing-up.”

Mr Mortimer, who owns private members club 29, said: “It’s great the world is coming to see us but we need to get together and get the city tidied up.”

And Tory MSP Liz Smith said: “It’s hardly the impression our host city wants to be giving COP26 delegates and others coming here for this huge event.

Nicola Sturgeon accused of ‘failing’ on pledge to close poverty education gap as worrying Higher figures revealed – The Sun

NICOLA Sturgeon has been accused of “failing miserably” on her pledge to close the poverty attainment gap — as figures revealed a hidden divide in the grades of the richest and poorest kids.

Rivals slammed the First Minister as official stats show pupils in the most deprived areas were twice as likely to fail a Higher than get an A grade in 2019 — the last pre-virus normal exams.

Some 35 per cent of Highers sat in the disadvantaged areas were failed, while only 16 per cent got top marks.

In contrast, 37.9 per cent in affluent areas managed to land As.

The Scottish Government stats — uncovered in a freedom of information request by Glasgow college lecturer James McEnaney — give a gap of 21.9 points between those achieving A grades in the most and least deprived, up from 20.3 five years ago.

Tory education spokesman Jamie Green hit out: “Pupils from deprived backgrounds are being left behind and missing out on future opportunities because the SNP have failed miserably to reduce the attainment gap, as Nicola Sturgeon promised to do five years ago.”

SNP Health Minister admits coronavirus ‘mistake’ in transferring hospital patients to care homes – Daily Record

SNP Health Minister admits covid mistake in transferring patients to care homes

SNP Health Secretary Jeane Freeman has been slammed by opponents after admitting her biggest error during the covid pandemic was to move older people from hospital into care homes without proper precautions Nicola Sturgeon’s Cabinet Secretary for Health made the startling admission in an interview with the BBC’s Nick Robinson.

SNP Health Secretary Jeane Freeman has been slammed by opponents after admitting her biggest error during the covid pandemic was to move older people from hospital into care homes without proper precautions

Nicola Sturgeon’s Cabinet Secretary for Health made the startling admission in an interview with the BBC’s Nick Robinson.

In a clip released before an upcoming interview Freeman said: “We didn’t take the right precautions to make sure that older people leaving hospital going into care homes were as safe as they could be and that was a mistake.”

Care homes were at the forefront of the battle against coronavirus with some residences reporting dozens of deaths in the early stages of the pandemic when 900 elderly people were transferred untested from hospitals to residential settings.

Glasgow’s £2million wage bill for 16 senior council workers – Glasgow Live

Glasgow’s £2million wage bill for 16 senior council workers

Almost £2million was paid in wages to just 16 senior Glasgow City Council workers. Chief Executive Annemarie O’Donnell earned an annual salary of £182,161, closely followed by three of her executive directors, Maureen McKenna (education), George Gillespie (land and environment) and Richard Brown (development and regeneration) – each on £142,862 a year.