Separate currency in an independent Scotland would be ‘worth 20 per cent less’ than the pound, economist says – The Times

Scottish independence would lead to a sharp fall in exports to England and hit household incomes, with the SNP’s planned separate currency worth about 20 per cent less than the pound, a leading economist has suggested.

Tony Mackay, who advises the World Bank, the Asian Development Bank and the European Commission, said “there can be no doubt that an independent Scotland could be economically viable”, but voters deserve objective analysis about its implications.

In a paper for The Sunday Times, Mackay, who advised the government of Bosnia-Herzegovina after its independence from Yugoslavia, said: “The bottom line is that average incomes in Scotland would be lower. Many people would be unaffected but those working in export industries and the public sector would be. Foreign holidays, including…

Will Nicola Sturgeon respond to the plight of 51,000 destitute Scots or simply stoke the uncivil war over independence? – The Scotsman

I have rarely been so angry about a news item. Two days after Nicola Sturgeon boasted of her historic election victory, promising a second referendum – “it’s the will of the country”, she said – a report revealed the harrowing truth about Scotland under a nationalist government.

The National Institute of Economic and Social Research – a respected independent research body – said that there are now 51,100 Scots living in extreme poverty. Destitute. Nearly five times the number there were in March 2020.

Destitute evokes of images of Victorian levels of poverty, with families surviving on nothing but foraged scraps of food. It is reminiscent of the Great Depression of the 1930s, where desolate men wandered Britain in search of work, any work, to feed their children.

It says homeless, hungry, dirty for lack of water and soap. It reeks of despair. And 51,100 of our fellow Scots are living in such poverty, defined as a single person with an income of less than £70 a week or a couple with less than £100. Your neighbour could be destitute, the mum at the school gate you say hello to every morning, your son or daughter.

My anger went off the scale on Thursday, when another body, the Legatum Institute, found that Scotland has the poorest performing education sector in the UK. And on the same day, this newspaper revealed that the Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA) consistently downgraded the results of the poorest candidates compared to the richest pupils.

Poverty in Scotland doesn’t just affect your daily life, it damages your future too…

But why am I so frustrated? Poverty is not a new phenomenon. Nor is the postcode lottery of education. I still recall, with a shudder, my weekly supermarket trips in the 1980s, where I prayed I would have enough money in my tattered purse to buy the cheap sausages, mince and tatties that were my family’s staple diet. And Scots long told ourselves that our schools were the best and most egalitarian in the world, when the reality was often so very different.

I am angry because since 1999 Scotland has had one of the most powerful devolved legislatures in the world. Our Scottish Parliament and its 129 MSPs (whose basic salary is £64,470 a year) are responsible for every aspect of our daily lives, from health and transport to housing and education.

The Scottish government has power over income tax and some social security and, thanks to the generous Barnett Formula, Scotland receives 30 per cent more UK government funding for public services than England.

Scotland is rich nation. Our parliament is powerful. Yet one in four of our children live in poverty. One million people live in relative poverty after housing costs. And 51,100 of our fellow Scots are destitute.

It would be churlish, partisan even, to lay the blame for this astonishing failure of governance at the door of Holyrood alone. A decade of right-wing austerity, Brexit and now the pandemic has made tackling poverty even more challenging than when it was Blair’s, then Brown’s, defining mission. But the plain truth is that the SNP government, which has now been in power for 14 years, cares more about the constitution than it does about child poverty.

It masks its indifference with eye-catching yet ultimately empty gestures like baby boxes, a gift that costs £9 million a year. Free prescriptions, that most middle class of benefits, cost around £60 million. Or to put it another way, they both add up to £1,350 a year for every person destitute in Scotland today.

But Scots are trapped by their political masters in an endless debate about process. Securing a second referendum, which will rip Scotland apart, is Nicola Sturgeon’s main aim. Constitution, constitution, constitution the Parliament’s mantra.

Progress is not defined by how well our most powerless communities are doing, but by how much power politicians can grab for themselves.

But don’t heed me, I am partisan. I believe we achieve far more by the strength of our common endeavour than we do alone. I think our parliament, that I campaigned for, should be focused on making lives better now, not arguing for more division.

Listen instead to Professor James Mitchell of Edinburgh University. He is one of the most respected academics of his generation. He is an expert on Scotland’s constitution and public policy. He is measured in his analysis, rigorous in his research. Even-handed in his commentary.

Earlier this week he said that the Scottish Parliament – and by extension the Scottish government – had failed to improve lives.

“They are not really addressing poverty with the kind of focus that the language, the rhetoric, would suggest,” he told ITV’s Representing Border.

“I don’t think you can get away with the argument, all the time, that it’s somebody else’s fault – you have it in your gift to do a lot, let’s see if you can get on with it.”

There are 51,100 Scots desperate for Sturgeon and the Scottish Parliament to get on with it. And millions more fed up that their country is being split asunder by politicians encouraging them to take sides in a not-so civil war.

No party has an overall majority in the sixth session of the Scottish parliament. People voted for independence, for the environment, for the union. My 16-year-old grandson voted tactically; my 82-year-old mother voted with her heart. But above all else, people voted for their parliament to make Scotland a better place.

Our MSPs have the resources they need and the power they crave. The next five years will tell us if they have the best interests of the Scottish people at heart, or if they only care about themselves.

‘Unusual infections’ found at Royal Aberdeen Children’s Hospital – BBC news

A small number of “unusual infections” have been identified in patients at the Royal Aberdeen Children’s Hospital.

NHS Grampian said it is investigating the causes, and whether there is any link to the hospital environment.

It is continuing to admit and treat children as normal but said it is taking a “very precautionary approach”.

This includes changing some processes in theatres and considering the relocation of some procedures.

An NHS Grampian spokesman said: “We have identified a small number of unusual infections in patients treated at RACH.

“This may lead to a delay for a very small number of patients, for which we apologise.

“We are communicating directly with both patients and staff about this.”

Covid in Scotland: Three million people receive vaccine – BBC news

More than three million people in Scotland have now received a first dose of the Covid Vaccine.

The Scottish vaccine rollout has now reached two-thirds of the eligible population.

The programme is currently moving through those aged 40 to 49 years old. More than 50% of this age group has come forward to receive a first vaccination.

In total, 3,003,339 people have now received a first dose.

A second dose has also been given to 1,599,519 members of the population.

Scotland’s chief medical officer, Dr Gregor Smith, said: “It is down to the enormous efforts of our vaccination teams around the country.

“Everyone has a role to play in helping to bring this virus under control and we want to see our high uptake rates continuing through all the age groups.”

Dr Smith said that, “supplies permitting”, he expected that all adults in Scotland would be offered a first dose by the end of July.

Why things could be about to get worse for Nicola Sturgeon – The Scotsman

It might be a different world to how most Scottish people see things or what they face every day, but believe me it is challenging – and it’s just about to get even more difficult.

As I anticipated in this column last week, Labour leader Anas Sarwar, being a Glasgow Southsider, has decided he will indeed stand against Sturgeon in her constituency of that name.

It is a strong statement of intent and I applaud him.

It matters not if he wins – although I would not be so foolish as to rule the possibility out – the election has not even started in earnest and he already deserves medals pinned to his chest because his decision means the SNP will have to redeploy its resources to protect the leader, so there is no unfortunate – and highly embarrassing – slip-up.

It means also that Sturgeon herself will have to spend more time in a constituency that she is so often criticised for neglecting, meaning she will not be free to roam Scotland encouraging others.

The requirement to defend her own patch is not the only worry. The SNP has been in power for nearly 14 years and a consensus is now fast developing that, like so many parties who remain in power for more than a decade, it is showing signs of hubris, arrogance and decay, which inevitably leads to mistakes.

The Hate Crime Bill, passed last week, will, I believe, prove to be a serious misjudgement that will eat into voter support. Already the polls are now trending away from the SNP and Sturgeon’s personal rating is falling.

Even when things go wrong or matters take a turn for the worse, the SNP refuses to accept the reality of how bad something is. Scotland might be suffering and in real pain, but blaming Westminster comes first.

We have the worst drug deaths in Europe, but Westminster will be blamed. Official Scottish Government reports tell us life expectancy is actually declining in 40 per cent of Scotland’s local authorities, but Westminster will be blamed.

Impartial statistics tell us Scottish homeless people are three times more likely to die than those in the rest of the UK, but Westminster will be blamed. Every measure of poverty in Scotland – such as child poverty – is worse in Scotland than England.

Yet no matter that in drugs, life expectancy, homelessness and poverty the economic and welfare policies are broadly the same on either side of the border. The difference is that on top of the basics, our devolved powers allow the Scottish Government to do things differently – but clearly worse.

Westminster is not responsible for the SNP’s poor management of drug rehabilitation, public health initiatives, business support and housing policy – only Nicola Sturgeon is.

Scotland offers more benefits and subsidy – like free personal care introduced by Labour and the Liberal Democrats – and the money that goes to Scottish local authorities is determined in Holyrood – yet Scots face greater healthcare risks than others in the UK and average life expectancy is not lengthening like it is in England.

But it is in the economy that Scots have to especially worry – this is where the incompetence of the SNP really takes off and it is here the greatest threat to Nicola Sturgeon could arise.

We all know about failure of the BiFab yard and Prestwick Airport and Ferguson Marine and the windowless Ferries that have yet to sail.

The costs of those gambles by the SNP Government runs to more than £200 million – a large sum in anyone’s language. Now there is a new bigger scandal lurking – the underwriting of the Lochaber smelter, which could amount to a staggering £600 million charge to the Scottish taxpayer

The financial issues are complicated and much has yet to unfold, but what we do know is that in 2016 Nicola Sturgeon’s Government loaned the Indian steel tycoon Sanjeev Gupta £7 million to buy the Clydebank and Dalzell steel plants. That loan has never been repaid, with the Scottish taxpayer still being on the hook.

Another of the Gupta Group’s purchases in 2016 was the aluminium smelter in Lochaber along with its adjacent power plant. To enable this deal to occur, the SNP Government provided a 25-year guarantee of 80 per cent of the value of a power supply contract between the smelter and the power plant worth around £575m.

Given the aluminium smelter employs around 100 people, that is a guarantee worth over £5m per job. In 2019 Margaret Hodge MP, former Labour head of the UK’s Public Accounts Committee, suggested the large financial risk that taxpayers were forced to take to safeguard such a small number of jobs was “bonkers”.

Critically the SNP failed to extract any guarantees from Mr Gupta that he would actually build the factory. Instead Gupta used the Scottish Government guarantee to sell hundreds of millions of pounds of bonds, via the now bankrupt finance firm Greensill, to Swiss fund manager GAM.

Were Gupta’s firm to default and the Scottish Government guarantee be called in, the losses would come out of the UK Government-funded Scottish capital budget – used primarily to build hospitals and schools in Scotland.

Events are moving fast and the financials could implode within days – just as the election campaigns kick off. The First Minister may think matters cannot get worse. Mr Gupta might be about to disprove that theory.