Boris Johnson’s new business secretary will take charge of a crucial UN climate summit in Glasgow later this year.
Alok Sharma is the new president of the COP26 talks that will see world leaders and delegates congregate in the Scotland.
will take over preparations after the sacking of former clean growth minister
Claire O’Neill a fortnight ago.
talks in November are the most important since the Paris Agreement to curb
global warming was secured in 2015.
Tensions between Holyrood and Westminster
have been raised over policing costs.
emerged this week that an alternative venue in London was being lined up to
host the conference.
Number Ten dismissed arrangements as standard contingency planning, but concerns have been raised that the location could be switched.
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has promised to work “closely and constructively” with Johnson’s administration over the summit.
She said it was “silly” to suggest there were problems between the two governments over the summit.
But she also accused the PM of “playing politics with the biggest issue
of our time”.
In a tweet, O’Neill welcomed the new appointment, saying: “Alok is a very good person who I am sure will get to grips quickly with the challenge…”
Sharma, the MP for Reading West, is a trained as an accountant and worked in banking before entering politics ten years ago.
Sharma was international development secretary for the last six months, and has had several junior ministerial roles including at the Foreign Office.
Christian Aid’s global climate lead,
Dr Kat Kramer, said taking on the task of ensuring the crucial talks succeed
“is a huge responsibility for the UK and its role on the global
“It would have been a big task had Alok Sharma been in post from the beginning, rather than coming in late in the process.
“It’s now vital he works very
closely with the backing of the Prime Minister to both get other countries to
commit to new pledges to tackle the climate crisis but also put the UK’s own house
in order and enact policies to accelerate UK decarbonisation.”
Three people have died after a commuter train derailed in Aberdeenshire.
One of the victims was the driver of the ScotRail service, the operator confirmed.
Six other people are in hospital with minor injuries after the train came off the tracks in an area hit by heavy flooding.
Police believe everyone onboard the train is accounted for, but said a full search of the area would take some time.
The Wednesday morning crash sent plumes of smoke into the sky that could be seen for miles and prompting a massive emergency response.
The derailed five-carriage train, which left Aberdeen at 6.38am on its way to Glasgow, left the tracks near 10am close to Stonehaven.
ScotRail turned its logo black across its social media feeds as a mark of respect to those who lost their lives.
The operator said: “We are working closely and quickly with the emergency services on the incident near Stonehaven. British Transport Police has sadly confirmed three fatalities, including our own ScotRail driver, and multiple other injuries.
“Our thoughts are with those who have been affected by this tragic event.
“The railway in Scotland is often referred to as a family, and it’s one that is hurting today.”
An investigation involving police and rail operators is under way to establis the cause of the incident.
It’s thought flooding may have been a contributing factor after Network Rail earlier warned of landslips in the area.
Chief Superintendent Eddie Wylie, from British Transport Police, said: “This is a tragic incident and first and foremost our thoughts are with the families and friends of those who have very sadly died this morning.
“We remain on scene alongside our emergency service colleagues, and a major incident operation has been under way.
“I would like to reassure the public that this was not a busy service, and from CCTV enquiries and witness statements we believe all passengers have been accounted for.
“However, once the area has been made safe then a full and thorough search will be conducted, which is likely to take some time.”
Normally a train with five carriages could carry upwards of 1300 people, but social distancing measures brought on by the pandemic has cut that number significantly.
A centre was set up in Aberdeen for friends and families to get more information on anyone who was on the train, but hasn’t been heard from since the derailment.
NHS Grampian set itself up at Midstocket Church in Aberdeen, saying it would “provide help and support and a direct link with the emergency department at Aberdeen Royal Infirmary.”
It discouraged anyone from heading straight to the hospital looking for anyone.
“My deepest condolences are with the loved ones of those who lost their lives in this tragic incident,” the First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said.
Local MP Andrew Bowie said the River Carron burst its banks and caused flooding in Stonehaven, but added the water receded quickly as the stormed slowed.
Flash flooding has created disruption in parts of Scotland as thunderstorms caused torrential downpours overnight.
An amber warning was declared for the country’s east coast on Tuesday night until 9am on Wednesday, as adverse weather wreaked havoc in towns and cities.
A major incident was declared in Fife, where a number of schools closed, and people were evacuated from their homes.
A landslide meant hundreds of people had to be rescued at Pettycur Bay Holiday Park.
Adverse weather caused a pile-up at one of Victoria Hospital’s car parks, scenes which were described as “upsetting” by Monica Lennon MSP.
Heavy rain was felt across Fife, East Lothian, Midlothian, Falkirk, Edinburgh and West Lothian during Tuesday night and early hours of Wednesday.
Locals said the storms in the capital were “like nothing they had ever seen”, as thunder and lightning rumbled across the city.
Meanwhile, the weather has caused severe damage on the A68 at Fala, Midlothian, which Amey maintenance crews are working to repair.
Amey added: “A diversion has been established and an investigation is taking place into the full extent of the damage.”
Further north Perth experienced the adverse weather, with the local authority closing off a number of roads on Wednesday morning.
Perth and Kinross Council described several roads as “impassable”, including Feus Road, Marshall Place, Wallace Crescent, Crammond Place, Crieff Road, Glasgow Road and the A912 at Bogle Bridge.
The council said surface water has been causing problems at a number of other locations, while Perth High School has closed due to flooding.
Flooding has also caused difficult conditions in Aberdeen, with pictures showing deep surface water on the roads. A number of schools have also been closed.
STV meteorologist Sean Batty said: “The east of the country has experienced some horrendous conditions overnight with frequent lightning, hailstones and torrential downpours.
“It looks like Scotland has experienced over 1500 flashes of lightning through these storms with around 300-400 across the Lothians, Edinburgh, Fife, Falkirk and Clackmannanshire.
“I’ve not seen rainfall totals this high for a long time, with some of the heaviest downpours around Edinburgh, West Lothian, Falkirk, Perth, west and central Fife.
‘It looks like Scotland has experienced over 1500 flashes of lightning through these storms with around 300-400 across the Lothians, Edinburgh, Fife, Falkirk and Clackmannanshire.’
Sean Batty, STV meteorologist
“From what I can see, it looks like 110mm of rain has fallen on the eastern side of Loch Leven in Scotlandwell and Kinnesswood. This is over a month’s worth of rainfall for this part of Fife.
“Heavy falls occurred in Perth city centre which has had around 80mm of rain from the storms, roughly what we’d expect in five weeks at this time of year. In one hour alone over 40mm of rain fell in the city, which is an astonishing amount of rain in that duration. That’s two thirds of a month’s rain in an hour.
“Falkirk was also badly affected by the storms with a month’s worth of rain falling here overnight.
“Edinburgh city centre had around 50mm, while further west in Ingliston there’s been 60mm. Around the capital is a good example of how rainfall can vary wildly in thunderstorms with Hermiston just two miles away from Ingliston getting 25mm.
“It’s an even bigger contrast to the east where Gullane only had 3mm and Haddington 2mm.”
The storms are expected to continue to track north and east through Wednesday morning to clear most of the mainland.
Shetland and Orkney will see these storms throughout the morning and into the early afternoon before easing.
More thunderstorms may develop later in southern areas and across the Highlands, Moray, Aberdeenshire and Perthshire.
Travel disruption was seen throughout eastern parts of the country, with ScotRail services delayed and in some instances cancelled.
In Perth trains were unable to run towards Inverness or depart south because of flooding in the station.
Boli Bolingoli’s shorts may have been eye-catching, his £2000 suitcase remarkable and his Balenciaga hoodie designed to draw comment, but his facemask was the piece making a statement.
As the Celtic defender was pictured on a flight to Spain he was dressed like he was following the rules like the rest of us. The reality is that he was gambling with the immediate future of Scottish football.
One newspaper headline called Bolingoli “Celtic’s Covidiot”. His decision to fly abroad on his two days off, fail to quarantine or tell his employer about his trip, and then play against Kilmarnock on Sunday, was proof positive that moronavirus is a clear and present threat to the health of the national game.
The First Minister had made her unhappiness and annoyance clear when the ‘Aberdeen Eight’ were caught out in breach of the rules last week.
The revelations about Bolingoli’s trip took things a step further. Scottish Conservatives leader Douglas Ross may be a qualified referee but Nicola Sturgeon was every bit the official in charge when she told clubs they were on a yellow card and “next time it will be red because you will leave us with absolutely no choice”.
Within hours Celtic and Aberdeen’s next two matches were called off, with Scottish football’s Joint Response Group saying the decision was made when “a request was received” from the Scottish Government. This wasn’t a request so much as an offer they couldn’t refuse.
So was it a public health decision or a punishment? It was a bit of both.
A local lockdown in Aberdeen city meant that the Dons’ game was never certain to go ahead, especially after their players had caused the postponement of last Saturday’s match against St Johnstone.
Celtic’s match against St Mirren being shelved is probably best filed under “something had to be done” in the wake of Bolingoli’s transgressions. The fact that Celtic and Aberdeen were then scheduled to meet on Saturday made a second postponement an obvious choice.
The action won’t end there, and the response to these incidents will signal a significant change in the footing of the SPFL and the SFA as they look to protect the game from itself and from the doomsday scenario where the government stops all football again.
Until now, the effects of the pandemic have been dealt with by the Joint Response Group, set up by the league and governing body to pool their efforts to help clubs through a health crisis and its potentially devastating financial impact. It’s been Hampden in rescue mode: benevolent, supportive and protective.
The Scottish Government’s warning will change the emphasis. The JRG’s work will continue but the job of policing the game will now become an equal priority.
Players endangering the careful planning won’t go unchecked now and the SFA and SPFL will now have to reach for the rule books to show everyone that they are doing what they can.
Bolingoli has been fined by the police and will be heavily disciplined by his club for actions Celtic boss Neil Lennon described as “rogue”, “selfish” and “stupid”. Aberdeen have been adamant that they will take action on their players.
That won’t be enough. Reports on Wednesday have the SPFL looking to ratify new rules and powers to allow it to deal with these sorts of issues and the sanctions it could impose might be limitless.
That would be too late for the existing cases but it would be no surprise if the SFA’s compliance officer brought charges against Bolingoli and the eight from Pittodrie. In addition to the famous rule about bringing the game into disrepute, the governing body has one that compels players to “act in the best interests of Association Football”. It’s hard to imagine the Celtic player finding a lawyer willing to tackle that one.
It’s how the SPFL deal with clubs that will make for interesting reading. Missed and late tests will no longer be tolerable and major rule breaches will be considered disastrous but the league will have to decide if it has an appetite for calling clubs to account and how that might be achieved.
Celtic and Aberdeen have been appalled, angry and apologetic about the embarrassing behaviour of their players. There’s no suggestion they have been lax in their approach to the problem, nor that there’s any fault in the safety protocols at either club.
The SPFL is, of course, entitled to assign responsibility and impose sanctions as a deterrent. With so much at stake and after such high-profile breaches of trust it’s almost expected that it does. But to hold the clubs responsible even if they have taken all precautions isn’t popular among the clubs. We know this from failed moves to bring in such “strict liability” where offensive behaviour and racist or sectarian songs are sung.
There’s no guarantee the league will decide to go down that road but their next steps will be decisive in whether or not there’s a smooth return to competition or a shambles that leads to shutdown.
In normal circumstances Bolingoli would have a key role to play on Celtic’s left flank, using his abilities to help the team transition from defence to attack. Instead, his decision to disregard the rules has prompted a shift in attitude from all concerned with the Premiership and that change in tack could yet prove devastating.
The chief executive of the SQA has said she “regrets” how young people were left feeling over their downgraded exam results, but insisted the controversial moderation system used was “fair”.
Fiona Robertson appeared before the Scottish Parliament’s Education Committee on Wednesday following the government’s U-turn that will see all downgraded results withdrawn and replaced by teachers’ estimates.
Ms Robertson said everyone at the Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA) was “keenly aware of the concerns from young people” expressed over the past week.
In her opening remarks to the committee, she said: “On the basis of the commission that we received from the Scottish Government, there was a clear and unequivocal case for some moderation.”
The appeals process would have dealt with any “anomalies” in the moderated results, she said, while the SQA’s equalities impact assessments showed the results were “fair”.
Last Tuesday, around 138,000 school pupils received the results of their National, Higher and Advanced Higher courses after an exam-free year due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Pupils held a protest at Glasgow’s George Square, whilst Scottish Labour tabled a motion of no confidence in education secretary John Swinney – which is set to be debated on Thursday.
Jamie Greene, the Scottish Conservatives’ education spokesperson, said to Ms Robertson: “I listened with intent to your opening statement but there’s one word I didn’t hear, and that’s the word ‘sorry’”.
Ms Robertson responded: “It was difficult to see the reaction to last week’s results.
“But we were asked to fulfil a role and part of that role was to maintain standards across Scotland.
“I fully appreciate that, as I highlighted in my opening statement, young people felt that their achievements had been taken outwith their control.
“I absolutely get that and of course I regret how young people have felt about this process.”
Scottish Green MSP Ross Greer asked if one of the SQA’s statisticians had resigned as the moderating system was being developed and if this was because they had concerns about the system.
She confirmed one person had resigned, but said: “I’m not privy to the full details of that particular individual.
“It probably wouldn’t be fair for me to go into that in fairness to them.”
Scottish Labour’s Iain Gray asked if the SQA signed off on a moderation system “in the sure and certain knowledge that pupils in those schools with a poorer past performance would be more heavily impacted”.
Ms Robertson said the moderation process was based on data but “the extraordinary circumstances of the year meant that we were awarding on a basis that I think we would all agree were not ideal because of the cancellation of exams”.
The SNP’s Alex Neil raised what he called the “human cost” of the system, saying he had heard from the family of a young woman who had been left “distraught” by a downgraded result and refused to eat or leave her room for three days.
Referring to previous committee meetings which raised concerns about the methodology, he said: “The SQA absolutely refused to listen to the committee’s point about the need to consult on the methodology before it was approved.
“I think everybody and their granny knew that if you used the record of local schools you’d end up with the situation we ended up with – where the moderation process led to two and a half times the downgrades in the poorest areas than happened in the more affluent areas.”
Ms Robertson said: “Where there are lessons to be learned we will learn them.”
It is a simple question and it is one that John Swinney is no doubt ponderingin private. For this has been no one-week crisis but a narrative played out over many months with probing questions being met with repeated ministerial assurances that the exams award system for 2020 would be fair and robust.
Yesterday’s climb-down was complete and as embarrassing as it gets for a politician in the mea culpa stakes.
Last week his defence of what he buried yesterday was, to use a favourite word of this crisis, ‘robust’. Even more robust was the First Minister’s defence in a BBC interview in which she seemed impatient and annoyed with the very suggestion the SQA had presided over a shambles rooted in injustice.
The apologies have been fulsome and the U-turn dizzying if only because the overall appearance is that saving face politically has been as much a factor as addressing injustice.
Having placed tens of thousands of young people in a state of abject fear, the impression that is given is that with a change of heart and a gorging on humble pie then we can now all move on.
Now the constant calls for ministers to quit can be a wearying business in the political world. Any aggrieved voter will inevitably call for a ministerial head and a public inquiry thrown in for good measure when they are the subject of perceived wrong doing.
Backbench parliamentarians no one has ever heard of make the resignation call hoping they will see their name in print. Front-benchers inevitably overuse it, most frequently when a story is running on empty.
But for once the calls are understandable. In a system of parliamentary accountability it is ministers who are answerable even for the incompetence of others that they have the ability to influence if not control.
In any system of scrutiny, where a minister signs off on a system which he or she subsequently admits is not fit for purpose, there has to be a sanction commensurate with the shambles of their creation.
In this context, if the exams crisis of 2020 is not a resignation issue for the cabinet secretary then what is? If there is no end-game beyond criticism in parliament then we may as well admit that the principles of scrutiny and accountability are but mere pawns in a game.
Minsters can get themselves into trouble for various reasons. Sometimes they are run by their civil servants particularly if they are lazy and are never on top of a problem. If they are naive or have no foresight as to how a developing issue might play out then that issue can come back and bite them where is hurts.
None of these shortcomings apply to John Swinney, a politician of huge experience with an instinctive feel for what could go wrong. And yet by his own admission, he failed. That failure was as serious as it gets on his watch and the consequence is that his authority is gone, completely and possibly forever.
There are moments when a politician becomes so wounded that their ability to do the job is disabled because they are ultimately defined, consumed and buried by the crisis they have sponsored.
This is never an edifying sight when applied to conscientious and hard working public servant like Swinney, but he is long enough in the tooth to know that by limping on he does so as a much diminished figure. If your authority goes as a minister your opponents scoff not merely in opposition but in jest. You cease to be taken seriously.
Now it looks likely that the education secretary will survive tomorrow’s vote of no confidence. The Scottish Green MSP Ross Greer says his party will vote with the Government to ensure John Swinney escapes parliamentary censure.
Greer is an impressive younger politician in a party who very quickly said to the Government, if you sort the crisis on our terms you have our support. Swinney it appears duly agreed.
The problem with the position of the Scottish Greens is that they see this as an injustice to be put right without ever embracing the concept that the sponsor of the injustice should be the subject of any meaningful sanction.
Their intervention is rooted in a fix not in the sound principle that ministers whose failure is absolute should pay an absolute price. In that regard they have failed to discharge the most basic function of an opposition party.
I first met Mr Swinney over 30 years ago and he is a politician I have always regarded highly. In the political jungle where it is easy to locate one’s baser instincts he has always tried to play fair. Ruthlessness and cynicism are frequently virtues in this world and for the most part his reputation as a good guy is well deserved.
Forget Swinney the politician for a moment. Swinney the man will be wrestling with that most draining of contests, the struggle with his conscience.
I cannot believe that his instincts are anything other than to resign. The brake on any decision will be that this is not an opportune time given the unprecedented times in which we live.
A crisis, bigger than the one that he helped create, may paradoxically be his saving grace.
Britain has officially fallen into recession after the pandemic sent the economy plunging by a record 21% between April and June.
The Office for National Statistics (ONS) confirmed the mammoth second quarter contraction, the worst in western Europe, and the UK’s nosedive into recession after a 2.2% fall in the first three months of 2020.
The last time Britain was in recession was during the financial crisis in 2009.
Chancellor Rishi Sunak said the figures “confirm that hard times are here”.
“Hundreds of thousands of people have already lost their jobs, and sadly in the coming months many more will.
“But while there are difficult choices to be made ahead, we will get through this, and I can assure people that nobody will be left without hope or opportunity.”
A recession is defined as two successive quarters of decline in gross domestic product (GDP).
But monthly figures showed the economy bounced back by 8.7% in June, following upwardly revised growth of 2.4% in May, as lockdown restrictions eased.
The ONS said the economy was still a long way off from recovering the record falls seen in March and April after tumbling into “the largest recession on record”.
Jonathan Athow, deputy national statistician at the ONS, said: “The recession brought on by the coronavirus pandemic has led to the biggest fall in quarterly GDP on record.
“The economy began to bounce back in June, with shops reopening, factories beginning to ramp up production and house-building continuing to recover.
“Despite this, GDP in June still remains a sixth below its level in February, before the virus struck.
“Overall, productivity saw its largest-ever fall in the second quarter. Hospitality was worst hit, with productivity in that industry falling by three-quarters in recent months.”
This year 16 pairs were eligible to start school, but the parents of seven sets decided to defer their children’s start until next year.
Provost Martin Brennan said: “I am constantly surprised at the high number of twins we have heading for primary school every year.
“It often runs into double-figures.
“This year would have followed that trend apart from a number of parents deciding to defer their children’s school start until 2021.
‘I am constantly surprised at the high number of twins we have heading for primary school every year.’
Provost Martin Brennan
“As a former teacher, I am particularly pleased to be able to welcome them as they prepare to join their new classmates in their new schools.”
The rate of multiple births in 2015 – when all of this year’s twins were born – was 2.25% compared to the Sottish average of 1.15%.
The children will start primary school at St Patricks, St Francis’, Whinhill, Lady Alice and Craigmarloch.
Three sets of twins will all start Newark Primary school.
Councillor Jim Clocherty, convener of Inverclyde Council’s Education and Communities Committee, said: “The twins photo has become very much a traditional part of the first day at school for many local parents.
“Clearly, though the twins who start school on Wednesday will be facing a very different school environment than last year.
“We have done our utmost to make sure our schools are safe and welcoming for our new pupils.
“Hand sanitiser stations have been installed throughout our schools along with one-way systems and social distancing where required.
“It will be a different first day and a different school experience but I’m certain it will still be a rewarding one which leads to a successful and enjoyable school career.”
A new poll has found the majority of the country now support Scottish independence.
The YouGov survey revealed that 53% – excluding “don’t knows” – would vote in favour of breaking up the Union.
This is the fourth survey in a row to put the independence vote ahead of remain, and the highest level of support for Scottish independence ever recorded by YouGov.
The newest poll, for The Times Scotland, also marks a two-point increase in support for Scotland leaving the union, compared to YouGov’s last poll in January.
Professor Sir John Curtice, of Strathclyde University, said that although the UK Government and the Conservatives north and south of the border have been “stirred into action” by the warning signs about the future of Britain, they will be hampered by the struggles of their main opposition in the House of Commons.
He added: “UK ministers are making frequent forays north while the party’s Scottish leader, Jackson Carlaw, has made way for a successor who, it is hoped, will be better able to reverse the nationalist tide.
“Yet this frenetic activity hides a strategic dilemma for the Conservatives – they are unlikely to be able to save the Union on their own.
“They will need the help from Labour – but Sir Keir Starmer’s party currently looks like the weak link in the unionist chain.”
YouGov surveyed 1142 Scottish adults, aged 16 or older, and found that 52% of voters believe that Scotland is heading in the “right direction”, a 20-point increase on the last time the question was asked roughly a year ago.
By contrast, just 26% thought the country is going in the wrong way, compared to 41% last August.
Both Sir Keir and Boris Johnson have said they do not believe there should be another referendum in the near future, and Downing Street has briefed that the Prime Minister will not countenance another vote even if the SNP wins a majority in next May’s Holyrood elections.
Keith Brown, the SNP’s depute leader, said: “This poll shows that voters across Scotland continue to place their trust in the SNP to deliver for them after more than a decade in government at Holyrood.
“People in Scotland want an accessible government which listens to and engages with the public and that’s what they will always get with the SNP.
“The Scottish Government remains fully focused on tackling the coronavirus pandemic – but it’s now clearer than ever that people in Scotland have confidence in the SNP, and in Scotland’s ability to govern itself.
“It is now the established majority view in Scotland that we should be an independent country. Prolonging any attempt to stop people from having their say over their future is undemocratic, unsustainable and runs the risk of public opinion in Scotland turning even more sharply against the Prime Minister.
“There is now unstoppable momentum behind an independence referendum – and that will be a decision for the people of Scotland, not Boris Johnson or any other Westminster politician.”
You're up to date
You've read today's top stories. Where would you like to go next?