Johnson refuses Sturgeon’s request for indyref2 powers

The Prime Minister said a new independence vote would cause continued 'political stagnation'.

Indyref2: Request for Section 30 powers refused. Getty
Indyref2: Request for Section 30 powers refused.

The Prime Minister has formally refused the First Minister’s request for powers to hold a second independence referendum.

In a letter, Boris Johnson told Nicola Sturgeon the 2014 independence vote was “once-in-a-generation” and said a new referendum would “continue the political stagnation that Scotland has seen for the last decade”.

He said he had “carefully considered” the case she had made for referendum powers to be transferred to Holyrood under Section 30 of the Scotland Act.

But the PM said both Sturgeon and her predecessor Alex Salmond had made a “personal promise” that the referendum in 2014 was a “once in generation” event.

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The First Minister said Johnson’s letter showed he was “terrified of Scotland’s right to choose” and insisted the PM’s refusal “will not stand”.

Johnson said: “The UK Government will continue to uphold the democratic decision of the Scottish people and the promise that you made to them.

“For that reason I cannot agree to any request for a transfer of power that would lead to further independence referendums.”

He added: “Another independence referendum would continue the political stagnation that Scotland has seen for the last decade, with Scottish schools, hospitals and jobs again left behind because of a campaign to separate the UK.

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“It is time that we all worked to bring the whole of the United Kingdom together and unleash the potential of this great country.”

Responding to the letter, Sturgeon tweeted: “It will not stand.”

In a further statement, the First Minister said: “The Tories are terrified of Scotland having the right to choose our own future.

“They know that given the choice the overwhelming likelihood is that people will choose the positive option of independence.

“The Tories – and their allies in the leaderships of Labour and the Lib Dems – lack any positive case for the Union, so all they can do is try to block democracy.

“It shows utter contempt for the votes, views and interests of the people of Scotland and it is a strategy that is doomed to failure.”

She continued: “It is not politically sustainable for any Westminster government to stand in the way of the right of the people of Scotland to decide their own future and to seek to block the clear democratic mandate for an independence referendum.

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“The problem for the UK government is that the longer they try to block a referendum, the more they demonstrate that the Westminster union is not a partnership of equals and the more support for independence will grow.

“It will also mean for the Tories that the loss of half of their seats suffered at the recent general election – fought by them on the sole issue of opposition to an independence referendum – will be only the start of their road back to political oblivion in Scotland.

“In short, as well as being unsustainable, the position set out today by the UK government is also an entirely self-defeating one.”

The FM continued: “One thing, though, is clear – the people of Scotland will get the right to decide our own future in an independence referendum.

“The Westminster union cannot be sustained without consent. Democracy will prevail.

“The only question is how long it will take the Tories and the rest of the Westminster establishment to accept that inevitability.”

She added that the Scottish Government will “set out our response and next steps later this month” and ask MSPs “again” to endorse the principle of holding a second referendum.

The First Minister formally wrote to request Section 30 powers in December, in the wake of the general election result which saw the Conservatives win a Commons majority but also gave the SNP 80% of Scotland’s seats.

She has said she wants to hold a new independence plebiscite in the latter half of 2020, while the UK is still expected to be in a standstill transition arrangement with the EU.

In 2016, the SNP won the Holyrood election and became a minority government on the vow to hold a fresh independence vote if there was a “material change of circumstances” such as Brexit taking place against the wishes of Scottish voters.

The party says it therefore has a mandate for an independence referendum which it claims has been reinforced by a vote in the Scottish Parliament and by SNP victories in Scotland in the last two general elections and last year’s European election.

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Senior figures in Scottish Labour, which lost of six of its seven seats in the general election, have openly discussed backing a second independence vote in the wake of the result on December 12.

Commenting on Johnson’s letter, party leader Richard Leonard said: “I have long argued that the future of Scotland will be won and lost in Scotland, and not on the banks of the river Thames.

“Boris Johnson’s decision to block a second independence referendum in perpetuity does not change this and it is spectacular naively to think this will close the issue down.

“It will only inflame the debate, as Boris Johnson’s history of demagoguery and division shows he is well practiced in doing.”

He added: “The people of Scotland rejected independence in 2014, but Scotland remains divided.

“I believe that home rule within the UK is the only viable option that stands a chance of healing the divisions in our society.”

Analysis by STV’s political editor Colin Mackay

Leaders: Boris Johnson and Nicola Sturgeon meeting in Edinburgh last year.

The Prime Minister rejects another independence referendum and the First Minister rejects his rejection.

That pretty much sums up where we are in Scotland’s constitutional debate today: no further forward.

After the general election, a month ago, Nicola Sturgeon wrote to Boris Johnson setting out her case for another independence referendum. It was accompanied by a 38-page document including draft legislation for transferring the powers to hold that vote from Westminster to Holyrood.

A detailed response was promised, although so far it has come in the form of a short letter saying no. The Prime Minister’s letter says Nicola Sturgeon made a “personal promise” that the 2014 Independence Referendum was a “once in a generation” vote.

Nicola Sturgeon did use those very words in her 2013 speech to SNP conference: “We have a once in a generation opportunity to chart a new course for our country.” That was what the Tories said throughout the general election campaign. The regular response from the SNP was that things have changed since the Brexit vote.

Scotland’s constitutional future has long been the defining issue in Scottish politics, that is not going to change anytime soon. It took an election to break the deadlock on Brexit and it might take another election to clear the way on indyref2.

This will be at the heart of the 2021 Scottish Parliament election.  The Scottish Tories claimed the union was on the ballot paper in Scotland last month, but it seems it is on the ballot paper at every election in Scotland, next year more than ever.

FM ‘hopeful’ outdoor meeting rules will be relaxed

Nicola Sturgeon hopes to make some 'relatively minor but important' changes to lockdown restrictions next week.

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Nicola Sturgeon said she hopes to relax the rules around outdoor meetings next week.

Speaking at her daily coronavirus briefing, the First Minister said she was keen to allow people to meet a loved one, but cautioned people not to get carried away as Scotland emerges from lockdown.

Outdoor meetings of four people from two households are scheduled to be allowed between March 15 and April 5 in the Scottish Government’s roadmap out of lockdown.

Sturgeon said changes to the current rules – which allow the meeting of two adults from two households for exercise – could be announced in the coming days.

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She said: “I am hopeful that next week we might be able to make some relatively minor, but I think important, changes to the rules around our ability to meet people outdoors and also to how young people are able to interact with their friends outdoors.

“I think it’s really important that we don’t get carried away yet.

“The overall stay-at-home message needs to stay for a bit longer so that we don’t send our progress into reverse, but I am very keen that within that we should all get a bit more opportunity to see a loved one, as the first steps we take out of this lockdown.”

Sturgeon also announced that Scotland has recorded 11 deaths from coronavirus and 498 positive tests in the past 24 hours.

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It brings the death toll under this measure – of people who first tested positive for the virus within the previous 28 days – to 7409.

She said the daily test positivity rate is 3.1%, up from 2.5% the previous day.

There are 666 people in hospital confirmed to have the virus, down 52 in 24 hours, and 64 patients are in intensive care, down three.

By 8.30am on Friday, a total of 1,717,672 Scots had received their first coronavirus vaccine, an increase of 29,064 from the previous day.

Meanwhile, a total of 108,197 have had their second jab, with 8,139 getting this on Thursday.

Sturgeon said 96% of 65 to 69-year-olds had had their first dose of the vaccine, along with 39% of 60 to 64-year-olds, 33% of 55 to 59-year-olds and 27% of 50 to 54-year-olds.

Sturgeon also said routine testing was now available for people without symptoms in food production and processing businesses – such as dairies, abattoirs and meat and seafood processing plants.

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She said these workplaces had a higher risk of transmission, due to factors such as the cold temperature and limited ventilation.

Scottish port aims to ‘lead world’ in hydrogen technology

The Port of Cromarty Firth aims to build a facility to produce and distribute the element.

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Highland port unveils ambitious plans.

A Highland port has unveiled ambitious plans to lead the world in hydrogen technology – with the help of whisky.

The Port of Cromarty Firth aims to build a facility to produce and distribute the element.

The idea is that green hydrogen, created with power from windfarms, will ultimately help Scotland “de-carbonise” its economy.

The North of Scotland Hydrogen Programme will produce and distribute hydrogen locally and as far as Europe.

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One aspect of the project is to provide distilleries in the region with hydrogen.

A four-month feasibility study is due to begin this month backed by funding from Pale Blue Dot Energy, ScottishPower, Glenmorangie, Whyte & Mackay and Diageo.

The partners hope it could be operational within two years. It is unclear at this stage how many jobs could be created.

The port’s chief executive Bob Buskie said the project would help Scotland establish itself as a global leader in a technology still in its infancy.

Ex-FM tells Sturgeon and Salmond to stop fighting

Henry McLeish says there is 'no serious path' to the current First Minister's resignation.

Danny Lawson via PA Media
Alex Salmond and Nicola Sturgeon have both appeared in front of Holyrood committee.

A former first minister for Scotland has said Nicola Sturgeon and Alex Salmond must stop “knocking hell out of each other in public”.

Labour’s Henry McLeish said there is “no serious path” to the current First Minister’s resignation.

Giving evidence at the Scottish Parliament committee inquiry into the Scottish Government’s botched investigation into allegations of sexual harassment against him last week, Salmond said there was “no doubt” his successor as First Minister broke the ministerial code but stopped short of saying she should resign.

Appearing before the committee on Wednesday, Sturgeon rejected his accusations and said she felt “let down” by his “absurd” claims of a plot of SNP figures against him.

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The committee was set up after a successful judicial review by Salmond resulted in the Scottish Government’s investigation being ruled unlawful and “tainted by apparent bias”, with a £512,250 payout being awarded to him for legal fees in 2019.

He was acquitted of 13 charges of sexual assault following a criminal trial last year.

A separate inquiry is investigating if Sturgeon breached the ministerial code, which she denies.

The Scottish Conservatives have said they have lodged votes of no confidence in Sturgeon and Deputy First Minister John Swinney, though there is no timescale for these to be debated.

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McLeish told BBC Radio Scotland: “The First Minister, I think, has rebutted most of the challenges, the assertions, the allegations that have been made.

“In my view there is no serious path to the First Minister either resigning or suffering with a vote of no confidence in the parliament.

“What we should be doing now is for both the committee of inquiry at Holyrood and the separate inquiry into the breach of the ministerial code to be completed as soon as possible, get on with the election and get Scotland back to some normality.

“That’s a long shot in a way but we can’t continue to see two distinguished, prestigious people knocking hell out each other in public – that’s got to be left behind.

“I hope at the end of all of this the parliament and the government learn lessons. That’s the important thing. There are reforms required and that should be the first priority after we get this initial mess sorted out.”

McLeish became First Minister in 2000 but had to resign the position just over a year later having become embroiled in an expenses row about a failure to declare subletting a floor in his Glenrothes office – dubbed Officegate.

Gerrard ready to redecorate Ibrox as Premiership title looms

Rangers are just four points away from being crowned domestic kings for the first time in a decade.

Rob Casey via SNS Group

Rangers boss Steven Gerrard admits he is looking forward to doing some home improvements around Ibrox.

Rangers are just four points away from being crowned domestic kings for the first time in a decade with title number 55.

Gerrard, who’s been named manager of the month for February, said he’s looking forward to replacing banners describing his side as ’54-times champions’.

They could even have their hands on the trophy at long last as early as Sunday if they beat St Mirren tomorrow and Celtic slip up at Dundee United 24 hours later.

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That would deny Gerrard’s squad the chance to celebrate together on the field, with many fans preferring the dream scenario of seeing their side finally smash Celtic’s reign of dominance on their bitter rivals’ home patch when they head to Parkhead on March 21.

But Gerrard is only bothered about the fact the title party takes place – not the time or the venue.

And once the celebrations are over, he is looking forward to getting his DIY kit out.

He said: “Fans are entitled to think what they want. People will want it to happen for their own satisfaction.

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“For me it’s about becoming champions as quick as we can in any way we can do that.

“The important thing as a group is to just keeping winning football matches and it will happen when it happens.

“I totally respect that some fans might want to win it this way or that way – but I don’t think anyone will complain when we get this over the line.

“The important thing is to get that trophy back, get 55, knock all the 54s off the walls – that’s the main thing for me, adding to the wonderful history of this club.

“If it happens on Sunday, in April, or May, I don’t care so long as it happens.”

Gerrard knows the Ibrox faithful are ready to explode into scenes of jubilation having seen a group of supporters gather outside the Tony Macaroni Arena to set off a spectacular firework display during Wednesday’s win at Livingston.

But the Ibrox boss has urged fans to stay safe and abide by Covid-19 rules as they gear up to party.

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He said: “We all have to continue to try and abide by the rules and respect social distancing.

“I know a lot of rumours are going about but my job is to focus on the game and try and get three points. People have to understand the situation our fans are in and what they’ve been through and the priority is that they stay safe.

“The fans are the priority here and we totally understand and we can certainly relate to how they’re feeling at the moment.

“We know there’s a real excitement and rightly so. We want them to really enjoy this time and really revel in the moment.

“The fireworks display was impressive, for sure, and I got a bit of a fright. It went on for some time – and some of my players were dodging them when they landed on the pitch.

“So we would say try and keep them away from the pitch so we can focus on the job we’re trying to do.

“But we totally understand the excitement levels and it’s fantastic what’s happening at the moment – and we need to enjoy every single day.

“The important thing for us is to stay focused and try and get over the line as quick as we can. We’ve got an opportunity to make this 99.9% done and that’s what we want to do.”

Rangers have come a long way since losing to Hamilton exactly 12 months ago.

It appeared at that point Rangers might never overturn Celtic’s grip on power.

But Gerrard said: “Losing to Hamilton in the manner we did wasn’t a good day or good time and it’s not a game we’re proud of at all but what we’ve done over the last 12 months has been super-impressive and the players deserve all the credit for that.

“Football is a funny game and can change at any given moment – and that’s what happened from that day.”

Prince Philip moves back to private hospital after procedure

The Duke of Edinburgh underwent a procedure at St Bartholomew’s Hospital on Wednesday.

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Prince Philip has been in hospital since February 17.

Prince Philip has been transferred back to King Edward VII’s Hospital in London having had a “successful” procedure for a pre-existing heart condition this week.

The Duke of Edinburgh, the Queen’s husband, was admitted to hospital on February 17, after feeling unwell.

He spent 13 nights at King Edward VII’s in central London before being moved to St Bartholomew’s Hospital on Monday.

On Wednesday, the 99-year-old underwent a procedure and was to remain in hospital for “treatment, rest and recuperation”.

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The Duke’s 100th birthday is three months away and has battled an infection since being in hospital.

Buckingham Palace said: “Following The Duke of Edinburgh’s successful procedure at St Bartholomew’s Hospital on Wednesday, His Royal Highness has been transferred to King Edward VII’s Hospital this morning.

“The Duke is expected to remain in hospital for continuing treatment for a number of days.”

Man accused of two attempted murders in 14 months

Leonard Cole denies two attempted murders and trying to pervert the course of justice.

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Cole appeared via video link at the High Court in Glasgow.

A man has been accused of trying to kill two men more than a year apart

Leonard Cole appeared via video link to face the allegations at the High Court in Glasgow.

The 22-year-old is first charged with the attempted murder of Shaun Charles in Greenock, Inverclyde on June 9, 2018.

The accusation includes claims he repeatedly struck the man with a machete.

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Cole is then accused of a second murder bid in Port Glasgow, also Inverclyde, on August 27, 2019.

He is said to have acted with another individual in attacking Reece Warnock with claims the man was punched, kicked and struck with a knife.

The indictment states Mr Warnock has since passed away.

Cole faces further charges of having a machete, a knife, attempting to pervert the course of justice as well as failing to attend a court date in October 2019.

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His QC Thomas Ross pleaded not guilty on his behalf. The advocate also lodged special defences of self defence and incrimination.

Lord Fairley continued the case until a further hearing in May.


Online child sex abuse and fraud soars during pandemic

Police also record a rise in public nuisance, neighbour disputes and noise complaints.

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Online fraud was up more than 43%, the new figures show.

Online child sexual abuse and fraud increased sharply during the pandemic in Scotland, according to latest figures.

Police Scotland said there was a 43.4% increase in fraud between April and December compared to the same period last year and a 13.4% increase in the online abuse.

The statistics are covered in the force’s 2020-21 latest performance report and also show a 1.8% increase in domestic abuse crimes.

This is despite overall recorded crimes reducing from 187,334 during the same period last year to 174,999.

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The number of 999 calls received reduced by 5.1% but 101 calls increased by 3.4%.

A total of 1,993,318 calls were recorded during the period to both numbers.

People contacting the non-emergency line had to wait longer during the pandemic for a response (2 minutes and 37 seconds on average) but Police Scotland said calls to 999 were prioritised, with an eight-second, average response time.

Deputy Chief Constable Fiona Taylor said: “Officers and staff continue to play a key role in the national effort to combat the spread of coronavirus, while they face the same personal and professional challenges as their fellow citizens.

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“Our service centres are operating successfully with reduced capacity due to physical distancing requirements, while also coping with increased call demand from the public seeking guidance on coronavirus related issues.

“While some callers using the 101 non-emergency number have had to wait longer than normal to have their call answered during this time, emergency 999 calls are prioritised and I am grateful to the officers and staff for their commitment to public service.”

The data also shows large increases in incidents of public nuisance (up from 56,936 to 123,979), neighbour disputes (16,021 to 22,930) and noise complaints (43,288 to 51,277).

Ms Taylor added: “The public health crisis continues to influence the needs of our communities, however it may be years before we fully understand the impact of coronavirus on crime and policing demand in Scotland.”


Towns lose gas supply for second time in month

Properties in Aberdeenshire and Moray have no gas again, supplier SGN said.

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SGN said it didn't know when the problem would be fixed.

Two towns have lost their gas supply for the second time in just over a month.

More than 4000 homes in Hunty, in Aberdeenshire, and Keith, in Moray, were cut off during freezing weather in February.

Gas supplier SGN confirmed properties in the towns were without gas again on Friday, and said it didn’t know how long it would take to fix the problem.

It said another update would be issued at 1.30pm.

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SGN said: “We’re aware properties in Huntly and Keith are without gas. Our engineers are on site investigating the cause of this issue.

“We know it’s not easy being without your gas supply and we’re extremely sorry for this disruption.

“We’ll be doing all we can to restore everyone’s supplies as soon as possible.”


Supergroup forms to back Doddie Weir’s mission against MND

Grammy award-winning violinist Nicola Benedetti and songstress Julie Fowlis are among 40 musicians who feature.

Andy Gotts via Innes and Campbell / My Name’5 Doddie via Innes and Campbell
Nicola Benedetti and Doddie Weir: The former sportsman revealed in 2017 that he has the illness.

A supergroup has formed a ‘musical scrum’ to back a Scottish rugby hero’s mission to tackle a deadly disease.

Grammy award-winning violinist Nicola Benedetti and songstress Julie Fowlis are among 40 musicians who feature on a song to raise money for Doddie Weir’s motor neuron disease charity.

The former sportsman revealed in 2017 that he has the illness.

He created the My Name’5 Doddie Foundation to help finance the research and quest for a cure.

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The emotive and powerful musical piece ‘Doddie’s Dream’ was composed by an old friend, Bruce MacGregor of Blazin’ Fiddles.

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Bruce MacGregor of Blazin’ Fiddles (Mike Rushby Photography)

Money raised from the single, which is officially launched next week, will go to the foundation.

It was recorded remotely in an array of locations across Scotland, Ireland and the US.

Irish accordion legend Sharon Shannon and fiddle and accordion duo Aly Bain and Phil Cunningham are among the other contributors.

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Mr MacGregor wrote the piece because he was inspired by Doddie’s positivity and by recent fundraising events.

He said: “I was lucky enough to play a bit of rugby and even managed to squeeze into a squad with Doddie at student level.

“I’ve been so inspired by the big man’s approach to dealing with this disease – he’s incredible.

“Whilst cycling by Loch Ness as part of Doddie Aid, I had this idea of doing a charity single with a host of fellow musicians playing along with me and the Blazers.

“The tune has a real positive lift to it and, hopefully, it fits in with that amazing collective spirit that was on display during Doddie Aid.”

Julie Fowlis said: “It’s an amazing line-up, with loads of iconic Scottish bands and players, so it’s a huge privilege to be part of it all.”

The foundation, which was launched four years ago, strives to help fellow MND sufferers and fund research into the currently incurable disease.

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In January, the Doddie Active-Inter District Challenge was launched and attracted more than 30,000 participants – running, walking and cycling to rack up miles for their chosen district and ultimately raising more than £1million.

The song and video will be available online from next week.

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