Murray: Voters’ priorities could change after coronavirus

Labour's only Scottish MP believes there could be a 're-calibration' of what the Scottish electorate deems important.

The shadow Scottish secretary has said “all bets are off” regarding Labour’s chances in next year’s Holyrood elections.

Ian Murray, the only Labour MP in Scotland, said there could be a “re-calibration” in the priorities of Scottish voters following the coronavirus outbreak.

The perspective of the Scottish electorate could change following the pandemic, the Edinburgh South MP believes, shifting away from the constitutional issues which have featured in recent elections north of the border.

He said: “I feel that what this crisis has done from a political perspective is re-calibrated everyone’s focus on what’s important.

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“That’s about community, public services, the security of the world of work, the fragility of the economy, education, what’s most important to families and businesses across the country.

“What this crisis hasn’t shown, is that arguments around the constitution help anyone.”

Mr Murray said the Scottish Labour Party would need to do three things to boost their chances in the poll.

Firstly, they would need to be clear on their position on Scottish independence, along with providing an alternative – with senior party figures in Scotland and the rest of the UK favouring a federal style of governance.

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They would also need to “relentlessly expose” why the Scottish Labour Party was against the idea of independence.

The shadow Scottish secretary said that Scottish leader Richard Leonard had a “real opportunity” in next year’s election with a new deputy leader in Dumbarton MSP Jackie Baillie and a new leadership at UK level.

He added: “The conversations I’ve had with various people in the Scottish Labour Party has shown everyone is up for that fight.”

At December’s election, Labour dropped six seats north of the border on a night that saw the Tories race to an 80-seat majority, a result Mr Murray said was the fault of UK leaders and not Mr Leonard.

He said: “Was Richard responsible for this campaign? You can argue strongly that he wasn’t, for a number of reasons.”

One of those reasons, according to the MP, was the intervention of John McDonnell during the summer of 2019, which saw the then shadow chancellor say a Labour government would not block a second vote on independence despite the anti-referendum position of Scottish Labour.

Another cause of the loss in Scotland, he said, was the lack of clarity from Jeremy Corbyn on whether he would do a deal with the SNP.

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Mr Murray said: “I don’t think that was ruled out by the UK Labour Party as quickly and as emphatically as it should have been.”

Sturgeon to announce £100m fund to help hard up Scots

First Minister will say that problems with poverty and inequality are not "inevitable or insoluble".

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Sturgeon: Set to announce £100m funding.

A £100m fund will be set up to help hard up Scots this winter.

Nicola Sturgeon will announce, with the support including direct payments of £100 to all families with children in receipt of free school meals.

The First Minister will say the coronavirus pandemic has shown that it should no longer be accepted that problems with poverty and inequality are “inevitable or insoluble”.

The action comes in the wake of the Covid-19 crisis, which has seen many lose their jobs or have their incomes cut.

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The new £100m winter fund for low income households will provide those in need with cash to help “pay their fuel bills and make sure children don’t go hungry”, Sturgeon will tell the SNP annual conference.

In addition to this, it will help pay to get older people connected online and provide help for the homeless.

While the First Minister will stress Scotland does not have to be independent for the SNP government to “start doing the right things”, she will complain that Westminster’s control over much of the social security system north of the border makes it harder for ministers to act.

Following Covid-19, Sturgeon will insist her party wants to rebuild the country “with kindness, compassion, fairness, equality and enterprise at its heart – and not one made in the image of Boris Johnson and his band of Brexiteers”.

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She will state: “We must make sure we are working to the right plan, with all the tools we need to do the job.”

In February, the Scottish Government is bringing in a £10 week a payment for children in low income families – with Sturgeon to say that Scotland is the “only part of the UK” to take such action.

But she will add: “I know that for families struggling now, February is still a long way off.

“So I am announcing today a £100m package to bridge that gap, and help others struggling most with the impact of Covid over the winter months.

“It will include money to help people pay their fuel bills and make sure children don’t go hungry.

“It will offer additional help for the homeless, and fund an initiative to get older people online and connected.

“And, most importantly of all, it will provide a cash grant of £100 for every family with children in receipt of free school meals.

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“The money will be paid before Christmas and families can use it for whatever will help them through the winter. That could be food, new shoes or a winter coat for the kids.

“Families will know best what they need. That’s not for government to decide.”

She will declare: “Initiatives like this are not just about providing practical help to those who need it most – they are an expression of our values and of the kind of country we are seeking to build.”


Community testing could become more ‘routine’ in new year

Testing trials are being carried out in communities in central and western parts of Scotland.

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Coronavirus: Community testing trials under way in parts of Scotland.

Coronavirus testing trials in communities will inform plans to carry out asymptomatic tests “more routinely in the new year”, the First Minister has said.

The scheme is being piloted in a number of locations in central and western parts of Scotland, where Covid rates “continue to be of concern and are higher than the national average”.

Mobile testing units have opened in Alloa in Clackmannanshire, in Dalmarnock and Pollokshields in Glasgow, in Stewarton in East Ayrshire and in Girvan in South Ayrshire.

“The lessons that we learn from these trials will then inform our plans to expand community testing much more extensively and much more routinely early in the new year,” Nicola Sturgeon said at Monday’s coronavirus briefing.

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She added: “We do hope that identifying more people who are positive will help us ensure that they are not spreading the virus and that’s why we are currently focusing these trials – these pilot programmes – on areas with high prevalence.

“So if you live in one of these areas, I would encourage you to come forward for testing.

“You give yourself the chance of finding out if you have the virus if you don’t yet have symptoms but you’re also helping that collective effort to try to break the chains of transmission.”

Scotland recorded three deaths of people with coronavirus and 369 positive cases in the past 24 hours.

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However, Sturgeon said there had been a “technical issue” with the reporting systems overnight meaning the figures reported may be “slightly lower” than expected.

When does Sturgeon decide to start living dangerously?

The First Minister will be under pressure to deliver a second independence referendum after next year's election.

Nicola Sturgeon may need a plan B to hold indyref2.

Today, Nicola Sturgeon addresses the SNP conference. Like so much of life at the moment, even that will be a strange affair. No packed hall, no obligatory standing ovation, no raucous cheering as the backdrop accompanying the bongs on the evening news programmes.

There will be spending announcements, including financial help for poorer families, and an outline of the agenda on which the party will contest next May’s Holyrood election.

With the polls suggesting those elections are a foregone conclusion in terms of who will win, the only real post-pandemic question for the First Minister is what she will do to deliver a second independence referendum if there is a majority for one next year.

Now, of course, that, constitutionally speaking, is not in her gift. Westminster has to consent to such a poll and the Prime Minister has made clear he will say no.

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Which means that come April, when a campaign of sorts will be underway, Sturgeon will spend much of it being dogged by the question, what do you do when the UK Government says no?

She has been here before. The question was posed at the UK general elections in 2017 and 2019 when the SNP was clear about their ambition for a second referendum. How many mandates does the SNP leader need before she decides to live dangerously?

The frustration of Yes supporters is increased by the belief that next time victory will be theirs. The post-2014 narrative has not gone well for the advocates of the status quo.

The Conservatives have won three UK general elections whilst being supported by only one in four Scots who voted in last December’s poll. And Scotland has left the EU despite a convincing majority in favour of remaining.

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In 2014, the debate around the economics of independence and in particular the currency question acted as a break on the surge for Yes as risk averse voters in middle-class areas opted to say ‘better together’.

As I see it, pro-Union politicians have three new problems post-2014.

First, much of the current debate is on whether the devolved settlement is capable of bridging the ‘democratic deficit’ that devolution was meant to straddle. Brexit suggests not.

If a second poll is fought predominantly on the alleged dysfunctionality of the governance arrangements of the UK, then that is far stronger ground for Yes than having to explain away how they will plug the financial black hole once Scotland accepts her share of the UKs financial liabilities.

Unless the pro Union parties can reframe the debate, they run the risk of fighting on ground more advantageous to the proponents of change.

Second, the pro-Union position has become predominantly identified with the Scottish Conservative and Unionist Party, who now form the official opposition to the SNP at Holyrood. Alistair Darling’s leadership of the Better Together campaign does seem a lifetime ago.

With Scottish Labour a much diminished force compared to six years ago, there is an added danger that a second poll becomes a surrogate contest in asking voters to choose between independence and the SNP and the status quo and the Conservatives. The lack of a Labour voice in such a dynamic can only benefit the Yes side.

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And then there is the question, who leads? A Conservative politician leading the No side would reinforce the view that unionism is best identified with the Conservative cause, a proposition many who voted No in 2014 would find hard to accept.

Then there is a simple question for the No side. What are you offering? The Vow in 2014 was an 11th hour response to a surge for Yes. It was not part of a carefully crafted strategy where leaders decided to play a strong hand to maximum advantage. I see no signs of serious thought about crafting a new pro-Union agenda outwith some references to federalism by some Labour figures.

All of the above is not lost on Yes supporters, hence their desire to get on with it. Those in the wider Yes movement, already impatient with the First Minister, will not settle for fighting talk ultimately defined by inaction.

With every passing month of 2021, Covid will diminish as a vaccine programme is rolled out. By the third quarter of next year it might be in the last throes of affecting our lives in the way it has.

Until it is beaten it will remain the SNP leader’s number one priority. However, at that point she needs a Plan B on IndyRef to implement. 

Her instincts are cautious, shying away from organising a Holyrood-inspired plebiscite which may titillate constitutional lawyers and frame the case for change around pursuit of a poll that could be mired in debates about illegality.

Doing nothing in 2021 is not an option and she knows it. Then again the given in this conundrum is that Boris Johnson will continue to say No. Will he?

If his party goes down to a large defeat next May he may be forced to abandon the pre-election rhetoric realising you cannot imprison yet another Holyrood mandate in the safety deposit of Westminster sovereignty.


Couple wed in hospital in ceremony organised by staff

The couple decided to tie the knot after Rory's health worsened, seeking help from his nurses to pull off the big day.

Rebecca Macadam via

A young couple have married in hospital in a ceremony organised by staff in just two days. 

Rebecca Macadam, 23, and Rory Wilson, 24, decided on Wednesday they wanted to wed after Rory’s health began to deteriorate. 

Rory requires a multivisceral transplant and has been waiting in hospital to travel to Cambridge for assessment before he can be placed on the organ transplant list. 

The couple from Falkirk had originally planned to save for a wedding after becoming engaged two and a half years ago, but sought help from Rory’s nurses at Edinburgh Royal Infirmary after his condition worsened. 

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“They’ve known Rory for five years because he had two liver transplants back in 2015. He’s like their ward son,” Rebecca explained.

Rebecca Macadam via

“The past couple of weeks have been quite touch and go, he’s had involvement from the palliative pain team and there wasn’t much that Edinburgh could do in terms of his condition.

“One thing that he wanted to do was get married and the nurses and the coordinators and everybody decided to help make that happen.”

Rebecca quickly ordered a wedding dress online which arrived on Friday morning and borrowed her late Nana and Grandad’s rings for the ceremony while the couple’s were being delivered. 

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With just six guests allowed at the wedding, Rory and Rebecca each invited their parents and brothers to witness their union at the hospital.

Meanwhile staff busied themselves decorating a bay for the couple in under 24 hours. 

“The coordinators of the liver transplant team organised everything from balloons to the buffet and decorations. One of them even got me a garter,” Rebecca laughed.

“They did so much in such little time, I honestly don’t know how they did it to be honest, they wouldn’t let me see the room they decorated, I was kept in the dark.”

Rebecca Macadam via

On their wedding day, Rory, dressed in a tartan tie, stood waiting for Rebecca to walk up the aisle as staff looked on. 

Rebecca said there wasn’t a dry eye in the house as they became man and wife. 

“It wasn’t the wedding we had planned, but it was definitely something really special for us.” she said.

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“Our whole relationship, the hospital has kind of third wheeled it, so it was very fitting to have all his nurses who have looked after him for a good five years be there as well.

“It was very emotional, I don’t think there was a dry eye.”

Rebecca Macadam via

Following their wedding, the couple hope Rory can travel to Cambridge in the coming days before being placed on the organ donor list for the liver and small bowel transplant he desperately needs. 

Rebecca is thankful they were able to celebrate their special day together and are hoping for a brighter future as man and wife. 

“Two weeks ago we didn’t think he would still be here. You never know what’s around the corner.”


Four-day working week should be examined, say SNP members

Calls for ministers to review working practices in Scotland, including a possible move to a shorter working week.

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SNP: Calls for a possible shift to a shorter working week.

SNP members have called on ministers to instigate a review that could bring about a four-day working week in the event of independence.

A motion at the party’s annual conference, this year being held virtually due to the Covid-19 pandemic, passed by 1136 votes to 70.

Contained in the resolution was a call for ministers to review working practices in Scotland, including a possible shift to a shorter working week.

The resolution states: “Conference calls on the Scottish Government to undertake a review into how working practices should be adapted to meet the needs of the future economy, including the possibility of a four-day working week and more support for people to work from home or closer to home, with a view to reform when Scotland gains full control of employment rights.”

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Party member Lee Robb made the case for a reduced working week while speaking in favour of the motion on Monday.

He said: “The coronavirus pandemic has upended the way we live our lives but so too has it given us the opportunity to reset and rethink how we work.”

Employees who work a four-day week are “happier, healthier, more productive, less likely to take time off sick and less likely to be burned out by the end of the week”, he said.

In Denmark, Mr Robb claimed productivity did not drop when the reduced week was trialled.

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He said: “Danish workers work around four hours per week less than we do in the UK yet their productivity is still around 23% higher than ours.

“Now, that tells us a few things, but it certainly tells us that many UK businesses are asking their employees to throw dead time at their jobs – where they’re not adding to the productivity of the company – and it’s to the detriment of mental health, to the detriment of a work life balance that’s healthy.”

A report released by the Autonomy think tank earlier this year found around 500,000 jobs in the UK would be created as a result of a shift to the shorter working week in the public sector.

With workers remaining on full pay despite reducing their hours, the initiative would cost £9bn Autonomy said, equivalent to 6% of the total wage bill.


Woman to send hundreds of Christmas cards to care homes

Andrea Fraser aims to brighten up Christmas Day for elderly people who may not have visitors.

SWNS via SWNS
Andrea is wanting to brighten up Christmas Day for elderly people.

A woman is planning to send hundreds of Christmas cards to care home residents facing loneliness due to coronavirus restrictions.

Andrea Fraser, 28, aims to brighten up Christmas Day for elderly people who may not have visitors.

The trainee lawyer, from Leith, Edinburgh, usually collects presents for children in need during the festive period.

But this year she has turned her attention to care home residents – many of whom have been at direct threat from Covid-19 and have had to self-isolate.

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Andrea is planning on sending hundreds of Christmas cards to care home residents.
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Andrea is also looking to send cards to elderly people living alone across the city and has had more than 3000 requests – and offers to help from as far away as Australia.

She has organised seven collection and drop-off points around Edinburgh for those wishing to take part in writing and donating cards for the elderly this Christmas.

The card stations are currently at the post box on Leith Walk, Morrisons in Portobello Road and the little book cupboard St Mary’s School on Leith Links.

‘This year, more than ever and due to the extraordinary measures care homes are having to take to limit visitors, I believe more people than ever will be experiencing loneliness.’

Andrea Fraser

Andrea said: “This year, more than ever and due to the extraordinary measures care homes are having to take to limit visitors, I believe more people than ever will be experiencing loneliness.

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“So I have been determined to be better organised and try to beat my previous record of 300 Christmas cards.

“I got posting again in local Facebook groups and it really just took off. The community response has been incredible.

“I have lots of boxes of blank cards that people can fill out, so I will drop them off at different collection points around the city.

“It’s impossible to tell at the moment how many I have, but it’s a lot. It’s amazing how generous the community is.

“I have had offers to make cards, crochet cards, have children make cards and even an offer from a Portobello resident who is currently living in Australia. It has been amazing.

‘I will make sure to come up with a certain way to quarantine the cards before they are handed to residents for safety reasons.’

Andrea Fraser

“I will make sure to come up with a certain way to quarantine the cards before they are handed to residents for safety reasons.”

She came up with the idea of delivering cards to the elderly last year while she was making shoeboxes of gifts for children.

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With some of the money left over from fundraising for young people in need, she decided to buy cards for those in the older generation who are prone to loneliness.

Andrea said: “It was a bit last minute last year, but with the little money I had left from the children campaign I managed to get around 300 cards delivered.

“I was delivering them to homes up until 6pm on Christmas Eve, I felt like Santa.”

Andrea is currently focusing on delivering cards just in Edinburgh, but plans may change depending on how much momentum the project gathers.

She said: “It may be that we stretch further afield, or that people in other towns and cities take on a similar idea for their areas.

“Either way, it’s lovely to be able to do something that puts a smile on someone’s face this Christmas.”


More than 80 women sexually exploited by trafficking gangs

Nine of the victims were aged under 18 years, the youngest was 13 and the oldest, 56 years old.

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Scotland: 84 women sexually exploited by trafficking gangs this year.

Police have confirmed 84 women were identified as victims of trafficking and sexual exploitation in Scotland this year.

Nine of the victims were aged under 18 years, the youngest was 13 and the oldest, 56 years old.

Officers say criminal gangs are continuing to force women into prostitution despite the travel restrictions and border closures in place due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Women are being trafficked from within the UK and from countries including Romania, Vietnam, China and a number of African nations.

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Last year saw an exponential increase in potential victims of trafficking, particularly from Vietnam. Around 104 female victims of trafficking for the purposes of sexual exploitation were identified.

Trafficking has reduced in 2020 but the proportion of those trafficked to be sexually exploited has increased slightly.

In 2019, four people were jailed for a total of over 36 years for the trafficking and exploitation of ten victims for sexual exploitation and sham marriages in Scotland. One victim was sold in a busy city centre street in Glasgow for around £10,000.

‘We know there are many more victims.’

Detective chief superintendent Sam McCluskey

Several major sexual exploitation focused operations have taken place in Scotland this year.

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Three in Glasgow resulted in 13 arrests and the recovery of 25 victims.

A Police Scotland led joint operation with Romanian police resulted in 24 arrests, ten in the UK and the remainder in Romania.

Detective chief superintendent Sam McCluskey said: “Despite Covid-19 health risks and the global travel restrictions, traffickers are still plying their despicable trade in human beings.

“We believe the number of women, and girls, identified as being trafficked and sexually exploited is under-estimated. We know there are many more victims.

“Not all victims see themselves as victims. They may have made a choice to come to Scotland on a promise of a better life, fallen into the hands of traffickers and then found themselves victims of horrific deception and exploitation.

“Sexual exploitation is highly lucrative for criminal gangs. They can potentially make millions forcing people into prostitution or into sham marriages.

“Many of those being sexually exploited are advertised on websites including adult services websites.

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“People who pay for sex need to think about what they are doing. They may be responsible for the continued sexual exploitation of a woman and for directly funding organised crime.

“Landlords need to consider who is renting their property and how that property is being used.

“Local communities often provide key information to identifying potential victims and through them the traffickers.

“It’s up to all of us to spot the signs, to help those being exploited, to stand against the traffickers and to protect our communities.”

‘Commercial sexual exploitation including prostitution and trafficking are all forms of male violence against women.’

Bronagh Andrew, operations manager for TARA

Bronagh Andrew, operations manager for Trafficking Awareness Raising Alliance (TARA), said: “Commercial sexual exploitation including prostitution and trafficking are all forms of male violence against women.

“Traffickers, and others, profit from this abuse of women – women being sold on, only to exist in poverty, fear, poor health, trauma and isolation. This objectification and commodification of women’s bodies for financial gain is not only a consequence but a cause of female inequality.

“Covid-19 has not stopped the demand from men for sex.  The only thing that will is by taking robust action against those who choose to pay for sex and those who profit from the harm while we all continue to strive for gender equality.

“Throughout the pandemic, TARA and Routes Out have continued to offer safe accommodation, financial support, health services, legal advice, advocacy and emotional support to those women who need it, while they recover and heal from their experiences. 

“We continue to work closely with our partners in Police Scotland to meet the needs of this diverse group of women and help them feel believed, safe and protected.”


Two police officers hurt after protests at Celtic Park

Police were present at the scene as fans called for Celtic manager Neil Lennon to resign.

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Anger: Fans gather at Celtic Park calling for Neil Lennon to resign.

Two police officers have sustained minor injuries after angry fans gathered at Celtic Park calling for the resignation of Neil Lennon.

On Sunday, Celtic lost 2-0 to Ross County, knocking them out of the League Cup and ending a 35-game winning run for the Glasgow side in domestic cups.

Following the game, supporters gathered outside the football stadium in Glasgow.

More than a dozen police vans were lined up outside the main stand and a police helicopter circled overhead as fans called for Celtic manager Lennon to quit. 

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Two officers sustained minor injuries during the protests and police condemned the group for gathering in large numbers in a level four area during the coronavirus pandemic.

At her coronavirus briefing on Monday, the First Minister Nicola Sturgeon described anyone who attacks a police officer as “despicable”.

Celtic said in a statement that there was “no excuse” for violent scenes outside the stadium, adding it was “simply unacceptable” that missiles were thrown at players and management.

The club said said: “While we sincerely share the huge disappointment of all Celtic supporters, there can be no excuse for some of the violent scenes at Celtic Park this evening. The Club will be investigating these events fully.

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“For players and a management team, who have given so much in recent years and have delivered 11 consecutive trophies, to require an escort from Celtic Park while being targeted with missiles, is simply unacceptable.

“While we understand that only a small number of people were involved in this behaviour, some of the actions this evening, which have obviously left our own players shaken, cannot be condoned in any way.”

Lennon could hear the shouts as he walked into his post-match media conference and said: “It doesn’t make me feel good obviously. We are not in a good moment.

When asked what he would say to supporters outside, Lennon said: “What can I say? That’s their opinion. It’s been rumbling for a while.

“It doesn’t matter what I say or what sort of bravado I put on. It won’t wash. I have to turn it round with results. I can only do that with the players.”

‘Protests are prohibited in areas under level four restrictions and we would urge people to find alternative ways to protest to prevent the spread of coronavirus.’

Superintendent Stevie Dolan

Superintendent Stevie Dolan, Greater Glasgow Division said: “Around 4.30pm on Sunday, 29 November, a large number of fans started to gather outside Celtic Park to protest. 

“An appropriate policing response was carried out and the group has now dispersed.

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“No arrests have been made, however two officers sustained minor injuries as a result of the actions of the gathered group.

“We strongly condemn these actions and remind fans that enforcement options remain at our disposal.

“The Scottish Government regulations are clear that protests are prohibited in areas under level four restrictions and we would urge people to find alternative ways to protest to prevent the spread of coronavirus.

“Disorder of any sort will not be tolerated and appropriate action will be taken where any offences are identified.”


Criminal cash courier leaves £10,000 in bag on Glasgow train

Weijie Shi accidentally left the bag of money behind after alighting the Glasgow to Manchester service at Carlisle.

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Jailed: Wejjie Shi left a bag of criminal cash on a Glasgow to Manchester train.

A cash courier for a criminal gang has been jailed after he accidentally left a bag containing £10,000 onboard a Glasgow train.

Weijie Shi, 25, left the bag of money behind after alighting the Glasgow to Manchester service at Carlisle train station on November 20 last year, a court heard.

Passengers tried to attract his attention after spotting the unattended bag and phone which he had left on board.

After the train pulled away, Shi told a staff member he’d been separated from his belongings. He then boarded a train back to Glasgow.

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Carlisle Crown Court heard that the bag that he had mislaid was found by staff onboard the train.

When a conductor opened it to check for something that may identify the owner, he found that the bag was crammed full of cash.

British Transport Police later confirmed that the there was a total of £10,000 inside.

Shi, of no fixed address, was traced from CCTV footage and initially gave a fake name which matched a false passport in his possession.

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He later admitted charges of having an identification document with improper intention, and possessing criminal property.

Judge Nicholas Barker said Shi was clearly a “courier’ moving cash linked to crime.

However, there was no indication of who the defendant was working for and it was not revealed how the money was raised.

The court heard Shi was in the UK illegally and had not lodged an asylum claim because he was awaiting the outcome of his case.

Imposing an immediate jail term of 11-months, the judge said: “You are not of settled status.

“You have no previous convictions recorded against you in this country.

“Those who possess false identity documents in this country can expect a custodial sentence.”

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As Shi had already spent six months in custody while waiting for his case to come to court, Judge Barker told him: “It seems likely from what I have been told that your release will either be today or very soon.”


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