The election without a race is about to pick up speed

Plenty at stake in the final few days before Scotland goes to the polls.

The five main party leaders put their cases forward during STV's live debate. Kirsty Anderson via STV
The five main party leaders put their cases forward during STV's live debate.

It has been a strange election and not just because the usual artificiality of staged photo-ops has taken on a slightly surreal quality in the age of Covid.

No, it’s more the odd feeling that this is a campaign in name only.

I can never recall a previous hustings in which the opposition parties all agree that they have no chance of winning.

It is an election without a race. It seems the point of the poll is to anoint the governing party.

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Normally when the stakes are high, turnout is high. Knife-edge calculus encourages a stampede to the polls. Remember 2014 and that independence referendum and the 85% turnout? Some local authority areas actually hit 90%, such was the level of engagement.

So a key test on Thursday will be turnout. Anything short of 60% and I think it is worth concluding that the Apathy Party has been the big winner. In fact, it is probably worth emphasising that apathy normally plays a big part in these elections.

In 1999, at the first set of Holyrood elections, turnout was only 59%. And even that is something of a high, for it fell to 49% four years later, then picked up to 51.8% in 2007, falling back to 50.4% in 2011 and 55.6% in 2016. Hitting a modest 60% would therefore actually set a record.

The polls suggest a number of things. First, the SNP will win and the only question is whether they win an outright majority or will need the help of the Greens to deliver a parliamentary majority for indyref2.

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And then there is the race for second.

A hardening of unionist anger post-2014 has played well for the Tories and disastrously for Scottish Labour.

Anas Sarwar’s approval ratings are running ahead of support for his party, so he has a job to ‘seal the deal’ with some on the unionist side that would see Labour win second place. If that happens, it would be job done and a firm base on which to build, even although it is likely to be a poorish performance in historical terms.

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Anas Sarwar is aiming to steer Scottish Labour into second place.

For Douglas Ross and the Scottish Tories it is a case of holding second at all costs. It probably doesn’t help that the UK Conservative Prime Minister is currently fire-fighting on a whole host of ‘sleaze’ issues from his expensively refurbished bunker in SW1.

Scottish Tory strategists must be frustrated by the daily news reminders that Boris Johnson just can’t shake off a cloak of scandal engulfing his office. Thankfully those same strategists will feel vindicated in keeping him well away from the campaign trail.

STV
Douglas Ross is aiming to be the main opposition leader.

‘Crisis looms’

He will, of course, be a huge figure in the post-election politicking for the polls all suggest that by the week’s end we will be in a full-blown political crisis and one with potentially huge constitutional implications.

The SNP government will demand the right to stage a mutually agreed legal referendum on Scottish independence. Johnson and Sturgeon will then play out a high-wire act in which it is difficult to see both of their reputations remaining intact.

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The Prime Minister has a number of options. Ignore the indyref demands. Or he could grant a Section 30 order and gamble on winning a subsequent poll. More likely is that he will ignore the demands and hope that if the Scottish Government press ahead with their own poll, the issue becomes mired in debates about legislative competence and ends up in the courts.

Jane Barlow via PA Ready
Boris Johnson will aim to fend off’s Nicola Sturgeon’s push for a second independence referendum.

Law and politics are uncomfortable bedfellows, but the ability of the Scottish Government to press ahead in a legal way might come down to how judges view attempts by Holyrood to stage a new poll irrespective of the express disapproval of the Westminster parliament.

The glow of an expected SNP victory will not last long for Nicola Sturgeon. Covid remains a huge issue and kickstarting economic recovery a priority all political parties agree on. Until the country is in a position of relative safety on the Covid front, there won’t be a referendum.

That does not mean that it won’t be a live issue. Pretty quickly the First Minister will have to spell out what the next steps will be on the road to another poll. For one, the broader Yes movement will demand this.

She is unlikely to come under any pressure from her own troops on the holding of indyref2. If, however, the insurgent Alba Party win seats at the election, she will be kept on her toes on that front. The polls suggest that this is unlikely.

You don’t need to be Mystic Meg to see that the First Minister would see the election of her predecessor as a cause for some irritation, for Alex Salmond will be demanding action with his very first intervention in the chamber.

Alba Party
Alex Salmond: Will the former first minister be returning to parliament?

Scottish politics was recast in 2014 and the attitudes on both sides of the independence issue have hardened in that time. So much so that it seems the country is split into two tribes who are prepared to dispense with how they view the record and competence of parties and leaders. It is their attitudes on the constitution that seem to matter above all else, it is that factor that drives how they cast their vote.

When will the result be known?

The votes will be counted on Friday but it will be Saturday before the final result is known. And then we will in all likelihood be in the most acute political crisis of the devolved era with Holyrood pitted against Westminster in a show of strength over the country’s future.

This is uncharted territory and it is bound to be messy and protracted and bitter. It could well involve the courts and be played out against a wall of noise and mass street protests in images more redolent of Catalonia than Scotland.

The future is fraught with danger for Nicola Sturgeon too. The last issue she wants to contend with is a defeat in the courts for any Holyrood-backed referendum or be placed in a political position where she can’t deliver what the wider Yes movement wants. That could lead to a fractured movement and a concentration not on independence but on the tactics of those who back such a move.

Unionists will be aware that if those arguing for independence lose their discipline, then the constitutional status quo might get a shot in the arm. At the very least, the breathing space created by a fractious Yes movement would give time for pro-union parties to decide what their next move should be.

Douglas Barrie via PA Media
Independence has dominated the headlines during the campaign.

I can’t help but think that the lack of any serious thinking on the union side of the debate has ceded quite a bit of ground to the Yes campaign. Voters are always more likely to have an instinctive sympathy for an option of change versus no change.

Events. The dread of the politician. And for Boris Johnson and Nicola Sturgeon there are a whole host of them heading their way


Glasgow Covid cases rise is ‘red flag’, says health expert

Professor Linda Bauld said the surge in coronavirus cases in Glasgow 'needs to be dealt with'.

SNS Group via SNS Group
Warning: Rise in coronavirus cases in Glasgow.

The rise in coronavirus cases in Glasgow is a “red flag that needs to be dealt with”, a senior health expert has warned.

It comes after a third of the 345 new cases of Covid-19 recorded in Scotland on Wednesday were found to be in the city.

Pollokshields, in the southside of Glasgow, has the highest transmission rate in Scotland – 575 per 100,000, which is just slightly higher than in Easterhouse, in the east end of the city.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has said that the situation in Glasgow is being monitored “very closely”, amidst concern over the so-called Indian variant.

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Lockdown restrictions are set to be eased for most of Scotland from Monday, with Glasgow due to be moved into level two.

Speaking on the BBC’s Good Morning Scotland programme, Linda Bauld, professor of public health at the University of Edinburgh, said that a “robust response” is needed to the rise in cases.

Asked if she would advise the Scottish Government against moving Glasgow to level two, she said: “I’m not privy to all the information that they are, it’s for them to make that decision.

“But we do need a robust response and I suppose we’ll hear from them in the next few days what that decision is.”

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Professor Bauld continued: “We need to benefit from the progress that we’ve made and not put it at risk.

“And in the past, and this is just a historical point, we perhaps have not acted early enough to get on top of outbreaks.

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Linda Bauld, professor of public health at the University of Edinburgh.

“So, as I say nationally, I remain optimistic, but I think this is just a red flag that needs to be dealt with.”

Professor Bauld said that a local approach to identify cases should be the first step in tackling cases in the city.

“I would say it’s for policy colleagues to decide what happens,” she explained.

“There’s over 600,000 people living in Glasgow City local authority, it seems perhaps premature to say – once again remember Glasgow has been hard hit with restrictions in the past – okay the whole city can’t move.

“I think a localised approach really, as I say, concentrated identification and support of cases is the first step.

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“But obviously others will be making those decisions.”

Professor Bauld indicated that her message to people would be to use caution as more is opened up from next week.

She said: “We’re moving completely in the right direction, we want to keep moving in that direction.

“We don’t want to take a step back and that means that we all need to try and follow the guidance and when more things open next week, do that really, really cautiously and just make sure that we don’t have more community transmission.”


Protesters block van in bid to stop immigration removals

Around 200 protesters are at the scene in Pollokshields, with chants of 'these are our neighbours, let them go'.

Protesters have gathered in Glasgow to demonstrate their opposition to a raid by the Home Office.

Immigration officials for the UK Border Agency had moved on a property on Kenmure Street in Pollokshields on Thursday morning before protesters blockaded an enforcement van.

Police were called in to provide support and surrounded the van, while the gathered crowd could be heard chanting: “These are our neighbours, let them go.”

A spokesman for Police Scotland said: “Around 9.55 am this morning, Thursday, 13 May, 2021, police were called to support colleagues at the UK Border Agency at an address in Kenmure Street, Pollokshields, Glasgow.

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“A number of protesters are now at the location. Officers are at the scene and enquiries are continuing.”

SNP MP Alison Thewliss, who represents Glasgow Central, tweeted that she would be taking the matter up with UK Government ministers.

She wrote: “This is absolutely awful, but heartened to see local residents in Pollokshields standing up for their neighbours and refusing to accept the brutality of the @ukhomeoffice.

“I am taking this matter up with Ministers. Not in our name.”

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Mohammad Asif, director of the Afghan Human Rights Foundation, was one of what he said were hundreds of neighbours protesting against the action.

The 54-year-old said: “We’re here against the hostile environment created by the Tories and the British state.

“The same people who run from the British and American bombs put at the back of the van right now. And they are about to be deported.

“And it’s on Eid you know… the guys are not even allowed to pray. How do you do that in a democratic society? It’s a sad day.”

Mr Asif, who left Afghanistan as a refugee himself in 2000, said the atmosphere amongst the protesters was peaceful.


Party leaders sworn in at start of new Holyrood term

Returning and new members are being sworn in following last week’s Scottish Parliament election.

The Scottish Parliament via The Scottish Parliament

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon and Scotland’s other party leaders have been sworn in as MSPs.

Returning and new members of the Scottish Parliament were sworn in on Thursday morning following last week’s Holyrood election.

Outgoing Presiding Officer Ken Macintosh, who decided not to stand in the election, ran proceedings, which require MSPs to pledge their allegiance to the Queen before they are allowed to undertake any parliamentary duties or receive their MSP salary.

If the oath or affirmation is not taken within two months, they will lose their seat.

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The First Minister made an affirmation, followed by Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross and Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar taking the oath.

Beforehand, Sturgeon said the SNP “pledges loyalty to the people of Scotland in line with the Scottish constitutional tradition of the sovereignty of the people”.

Ahead of his affirmation, Scottish Greens co-leader Patrick Harvie said he wanted to reassert that his party’s “allegiance lies with the people of Scotland who elected this Parliament and who are sovereign, and we look forward to the day when they can choose their own elected head of state”.

His fellow Greens co-leader Lorna Slater also chose to affirm.

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Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie was the last party leader to be sworn in and he took the oath.

The rest of the MSPs are being sworn in in alphabetical order.

Ariane Burgess, who gave her affirmation in Gaelic, said beforehand she believes “the people of Scotland are sovereign”.

A number of MSPs will take their oath in a language other than English, including Scots, Gaelic, Urdu, Orcadian, Doric and even, in the case of Zimbabwe-born North East Green MSP Maggie Chapman, Zimbabwean Shona.

The oath will be followed by the election of the new Presiding Officer, who will take charge of proceedings in Parliament for the next five years.

No MSP has yet signalled their intent publicly to stand for the position, which requires elected members to renounce their party affiliation and act cross-party for the duration.

Parliamentary arithmetic could prevent some MSPs from putting themselves forward for the position, given the SNP is just one seat short of a majority.

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If the SNP puts someone forward, it would drop further away from the 65 MSPs needed to pass legislation on its own – whereas the chamber would be tied if an opposition MSP takes the role.

Friday will see the election of deputy presiding officers, who do not have to relinquish their party affiliation.


Footballers ‘suffer in silence to save their careers’

David Cox has suffered abuse on and off the pitch since first talking about attempts to end his life.

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Footballers won’t talk about their mental health problems in case it damages their careers, a striker who suffered abuse following suicide attempts has warned.

David Cox says many professional players are suffering in silence because they fear being released by their clubs or left unable to secure new contracts.

Cox recently announced his retirement after accusing a fellow player of mocking his mental health issues during a game.

He left the match in question at half-time, with an investigation ongoing into the alleged comments, which are strongly denied by the other player.

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Speaking to Scotland Tonight before quitting the game, the 32-year-old said: “If someone feels like they want to come out and speak, it’s going to be in the back of their mind that it will affect their life in football.

“Unfortunately, there are always going to be managers, clubs or staff who look as that as a problem.”

Cox first spoke about his mental health issues in a newspaper interview seven years ago.

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David Cox in action for Cowdenbeath last year.

He revealed he had made attempts to end his life and, since then, has received horrific abuse on and off the pitch.

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“I heard a few things from the stand after I told my story,” he said. “I remember one of the shouts was to ‘do it properly this time’.

“I’m no angel on the park and I’ll say things, but when it comes to personal stuff there needs to be a line.”

The well-travelled striker has played for a number of Scottish clubs and believes some have refused to renew his contracts because of his health issues.

“Some clubs have been absolutely amazing with me, really good,” he said. “But I’ve also been at clubs where I’ve been pushed out because of my mental health.”

Craig Foy via SNS Group
David Cox celebrates scoring against Rangers in the Scottish Cup in 2019.

Scotland Tonight – on STV at 7.30pm on Thursday – will take a closer look at the darker side of the beautiful game, asking what’s being done to help players who are struggling to cope.

Last week, a charity told STV News that it had helped five players who considered ending their lives over the past year.

Libby Emerson, from BackOnSide, said: “The abuse players get if they talk about their mental health is wrong and it needs to change.”

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She said it was “hard” for the charity to gain access to players, adding: “A lot of clubs don’t realise there is a mental health issue going on.

“If a player broke his leg on a pitch, they’d get support in an instant and doctors to look after them.

“But when someone says their head’s a bit broken, it’s just ignored.”

One Scottish Premiership club told Scotland Tonight that football as a whole was getting better at dealing with mental health, but accepted that more needs to be done.

Allan Burrows, chief executive of Motherwell FC, who have experienced suicide among former players and fans, said: “I think we’ve made improvements, but we’ve got a lot of work still to do.

“We need to continue to talk about it and raise it as an issue. It needs to constantly be the message; you need to constantly push it all the time.

“We will continue to do that as a club. I hope other clubs will continue to do so as well and other sports and other outlets will continue to do it.

“And if we all do that, and we all try and take it more seriously, then hopefully we can stop this other pandemic that is going on in Scotland at the moment.”


Rangers ask fans to follow Covid guidelines when celebrating title

The club has urged supporters to be "safe and sensible" this weekend.

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Rangers will lift the Premiership trophy on Saturday at Ibrox.

Rangers have asked their supporters to make sure that they follow Covid guidelines and restrictions when they celebrate the club’s league title win this weekend.

Steven Gerrard’s side will lift the Premiership trophy on Saturday after the conclusion of their match against Aberdeen at Ibrox, and the team could complete an unbeaten league season.

Police Scotland has already warned against large gatherings after a fan group organised a title day march from Ibrox to George Square, while justice secretary Humza Yousaf urged Rangers fans to celebrate at home this weekend.

In a statement on the club’s website, Rangers warned that the dangers of Covid-19 were still present despite some restrictions being lifted across the country, and asked the team’s fans to behave accordingly.

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It read: “It’s a day to enjoy and to celebrate the achievements of our club, and the title win by Steven Gerrard and his team. However, we are cognisant that the battle against Covid-19 is far from over and that the virus is still live. It hasn’t gone away.

“Please celebrate this historic day for our club in a safe and sensible manner, respecting public safety- adhering to the current government guidelines and restrictions which are still in place.

“In particular, please be mindful of the government guidelines regarding gathering in large numbers. If possible, please celebrate within your own community.”

The request comes a day after Police Scotland launched an investigation into the lighting of fireworks outside Livingston’s Tony Macaroni Arena while Rangers played there on Wednesday night.

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A group of 200 fans gathered to watch Steven Gerrard’s team from a hill just outside the ground in West Lothian.

Sergeant Jim Gowling said: “An investigation is under way after several pyrotechnics were let off during the Livingston v Rangers game. 

“The inquiry will involve officers reviewing extensive CCTV footage to identify those involved in this reckless and dangerous behaviour.” 


Woman in critical condition after attempted murder bid

The 45-year-old was rushed to Dumfries and Galloway Royal Infirmary with life-threatening injuries.

Police Scotland
Critical: Woman in hospital after being struck by car.

A woman is in a critical condition in hospital after being hit by a car in an attempted murder bid. 

On Wednesday around 8.15pm, the 45-year-old was struck by a car on Whitesands, Dumfries. 

Emergency services attended and the woman was taken to Dumfries and Galloway Royal Infirmary with life-threatening injuries, where she remains in a critical condition.

A 26-year-old woman was also struck by the car but did not sustain any serious injuries.

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A 35-year-old man has been arrested in connection with the incident and enquiries are ongoing.

Anyone with information or dash-cam footage that could assist the investigation is asked to contact police on 101, quoting reference number 3169 of May 12.


Painter and decorator caught with £2m of cocaine in van

Richard Eadie was caught with the drugs on the M74 near Abbington, Lanarkshire in 2019.

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Drugs haul: Cocaine worth £2m seized from van.

A painter and decorator was caught with £2m of high-purity cocaine after a motorway swoop by police.

Richard Eadie was caught with the drugs on November 15, 2019 on the M74 northbound near Abbington, Lanarkshire.

Prosecutor Lindsey Dalziel told how police were “suspicious” when they clocked boxes in the front of the hired Ford Transit van given the space in the back.

They had already received a tip-off that drugs were on board.

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Police went on to discover 20 taped blocks inside each holding 1kg of cocaine.

The drugs had a purity as high as 76% with a potential value of between £1.6m and £2m.

On Thursday, Eadie of Garthamlock, pled guilty at the High Court in Glasgow to being concerned in the supply of cocaine.

His QC Thomas Ross told the hearing: “In terms of the value, he understands that prison is inevitable.”

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Eadie had been on bail, but, deferring sentencing for reports, judge Lady Stacey told him: “You will be remanded in custody.”

The case was adjourned until next month.


Appeal after man found seriously injured near busy road

The 56-year-old was discovered at around 5.45am on Thursday in Grangemouth

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Injured: Man rushed to hospital after being found near busy road.

A man is in a critical condition in hospital after being found seriously injured in Grangemouth.

The 56-year-old was found on Abbots Road at the junction with Newlands Road and Newhouse Road in the town at around 5.45am on Thursday. 

He was taken to Forth Valley Royal Hospital where he is in a critical condition. 

A Police Scotland spokesperson said: “Around 5.45am on Thursday May 13, we received a report that a 56-year-old man had been found with injuries on Abbots Road at the junction with Newlands Road and Newhouse Road, in Grangemouth. 

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“He was taken to Forth Valley Royal Hospital where he is described as being in a critical condition.

“Enquiries to establish the full circumstances are ongoing. Anyone who was walking or driving in the area and saw the man between 4pm yesterday and 5.45am this morning is asked to contact police with information on 101, quoting reference number 0417 of May 13.”


Voters go to the polls in Airdrie and Shotts by-election

Polling stations will open on Thursday for the North Lanarkshire seat to replace incumbent SNP MP Neil Gray.

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Vote: Public go to the polls.

Voters are going to the polls in a by-election to choose a new MP for the Airdrie and Shotts constituency.

Polling stations will open on Thursday morning in the North Lanarkshire seat in the race to replace incumbent SNP MP Neil Gray.

Gray stepped down to contest the same seat in the Scottish Parliament election, and became an MSP last week.

The two elections were not held on the same day due to concerns about coronavirus and the possibility of voter confusion because of the different ballot systems used in Westminster and Holyrood elections.

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Gray held the seat for the SNP in the 2019 general election, taking 45% of the vote, with Labour coming second on 32%. This gave the SNP a majority of 5201 votes.

Modern studies teacher Anum Qaisar-Javed is the SNP candidate, facing Labour councillor Kenneth Stevenson.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon campaigned in Airdrie and Shotts with Ms Qaisar-Javed on Wednesday, alongside the SNP’s Westminster leader Ian Blackford.

Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar was also on the campaign trail on Wednesday with Mr Stevenson.

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The other candidates standing for the seat are Stephen Arrundale, Scottish Liberal Democrats, Ben Callaghan, Scottish Conservatives, Martyn Green, Reform UK, Donald Mackay, UKIP, Neil Manson, Social Democratic Party and Jonathan Stanley for the Scottish Unionist Party.


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