Sturgeon challenged over ‘husband’s WhatsApp messages’

SNP chief Peter Murrell is alleged to have sent messages that suggest 'pressurising' police over the Alex Salmond case.

SNP: Nicola Sturgeon with husband and party chief exec Peter Murrell. Getty Images
SNP: Nicola Sturgeon with husband and party chief exec Peter Murrell.

Nicola Sturgeon has faced questions about WhatsApp messages allegedly from her husband, SNP chief executive Peter Murrell, in which he seemed to suggest putting pressure on police over the Alex Salmond case.

At First Minister’s Questions, Ruth Davidson challenged her over the issue after the messages purportedly from Mr Murrell to an unknown person were leaked.

The First Minister refused to say if the messages were from her husband due to the ongoing police probe into how the communications were obtained.

Sent at the start of the year, around the time criminal proceedings were beginning against Salmond, one message appears to suggest it would be a “good time to pressurise” police about the case.

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Another suggests London’s Metropolitan Police should open a second investigation into the former first minister.

Mr Murrell’s message reportedly read: “The more fronts he is having to firefight on the better for all complainers.”

Davidson, who is the stand-in at Holyrood for Scottish Tory leader Douglas Ross, attacked Sturgeon over the Holyrood inquiry into her government’s botched handling of harassment complaints made against Salmond in 2018.

She asked why the FM had chosen to “break her word” to parliament that her government would cooperate fully and be as transparent as possible with the inquiry.

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Davidson accused the Scottish Government of a “shabby abuse of power” due to key documents being withheld or heavily redacted.

Sturgeon hit back that any files that had not been provided were due to legal restrictions and said the government had supplied the special committee of MSPs with “a thousand or more pages of material”.

She denied her administration is “obstructing” the inquiry – a claim made earlier this week by the committee’s convener and SNP MSP Linda Fabiani, who said the inquiry “simply cannot proceed” at present due to a lack of evidence.

In a letter to the Court of Session, Fabiani appealed directly to access the “essential” evidence currently caught up in legal wrangling.

The First Minister was pressed by Davidson on the WhatsApp messages apparently sent by her husband in fiery exchanges on Thursday.

The Scottish Tory MSP asked: “Are these messages genuine or not?”

Sturgeon refused to say, arguing: “The obtaining of these messages is currently a matter, as I understand it, of a police investigation.”

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She added: “I do not think it is reasonable for me to be asked questions about things that other people might or might not have done.

“Call the people who the messages are purported to come from and ask them the questions.”

The messages were revealed in the Daily Record by East Lothian MP and Salmond ally Kenny MacAskill, who says he was leaked them anonymously.

Davidson insisted the police probe concerns how the messages were provided to MacAskill and “does not preclude” the First Minister admitting whether they are genuine or not.

Thursday’s row at FMQs also comes after Conservative MSP Oliver Mundell was rejected from the Holyrood chamber for accusing the First Minister of “lying” to parliament.

Regarding the committee’s work, on January 17 Sturgeon told MSPs: “The inquiries will be able to request whatever material they want, and I undertake today that we will provide whatever material they request.”

Mundell refused to apologise for branding the FM a liar in the chamber, which is deemed unparliamentary language, saying it was the “most appropriate” term to use.

On this issue, Davidson asked the First Minister what had made her “break her word” to MSPs.

Sturgeon said she took the inquiry “very seriously”, adding that the Conservative accusations were “not an accurate characterisation of the position”.

The First Minister said “a thousand or more pages of material” and “ten hours of oral evidence” have already been provided by Scottish Government officials to the special cross-party committee.

She added she was herself ready to give oral evidence at any point but has not yet been asked.

The inquiry has decided not to invite any more oral witnesses until it has the evidence it says it needs.

The FM said she had already personally written a submission to the inquiry “months ago” but it has not yet been published.

She went on: “As I understand it the only material that hasn’t been provided is material where there are legal reasons why it cannot be provided, including the issue of legal privilege…

“The idea that the SNP or the Scottish government is trying to obstruct this committee bears no scrutiny whatsoever.” 

But Davidson said the First Minister could furnish the committee with the evidence it wants “with the snap of her fingers” and condemned “the shabby abuse of power that this affair has revealed”.

The Tory group leader added: “We have the head of the civil service having to be recalled to the inquiry because she can’t remember or won’t answer key questions.

“A tranche of government emails related to the inquiry deleted, committee hearings having to be suspended because they can’t continue due to obstruction, and the committee chairwoman having to write to the courts to get information that the First Minister promised 18 months ago that she would undertake to provide.”

Sturgeon said that as the inquiry dealt with her own conduct, she had recused herself from any role in deciding which government materials are provided and how they are presented.

The FM continued: “I stand ready any time – today, next week, the week after that – to turn up at this committee and give evidence to it orally.

“I have not had an invitation to do that yet.

“The committee can convene this afternoon and I will answer questions for my conduct before that committee.

“The committee has now for two months been in possession of substantial written evidence from me personally.

“That has not been published and that is entirely the committee’s decision.

“But it is a bit galling for me to hear, often members of the committee from the Conservative benches, somehow saying I am not answering questions.”

The special committee was set up in early 2019 after the Court of Session ruled the way the Scottish Government dealt with harassment complaints against Salmond had been “unlawful”, “procedurally unfair” and “tainted with apparent bias”.

The Scottish Government was forced to pay the former first minister more than £512,000 in damages.

The harassment claims were made in 2018 – shortly after the Scottish Government changed its complaints procedure – but dated back to Salmond’s time in Bute House in 2013.

While not directly related, it went on to trigger Police Scotland’s separate investigation into the former First Minister, and ultimately, a criminal trial.

Salmond was cleared of 13 charges of sexual offences by a jury in the High Court in March.

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.”


Bayoh inquiry ‘will have 50,000 documents to scrutinise’

Sheku Bayoh died in May 2015 while being held by police officers.

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Sheku Bayoh's family believe race played a part in his death.

An independent public inquiry into the death of a man who was restrained by police will have to scrutinise around 50,000 documents, it is believed.

Sheku Bayoh died in May 2015 while being held by officers who were responding to a call in Kirkcaldy, Fife.

The 32-year-old’s family claimed race played a part in his death and they criticised the subsequent investigation.

Lord Bracadale, retired senator of the College of Justice, will lead the inquiry, with Michael Fuller and Raju Bhatt as assessors to support him.

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In an opening statement published on the inquiry website he said: “It has now been over five years since the death of Mr Bayoh and I, and my team, are conscious of the length of time this has hung over all involved, particularly the Bayoh family.

“We will work with determination and focus to ensure the work can be completed as quickly as possible.

“It is, however, at this stage impossible to say how long the inquiry will take.

“It is only from today, the setting-up date of the inquiry, that we are allowed by law to start ingathering the evidence.

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“Preliminary discussions with some of the organisations involved lead us to believe that we will have in the region of 50,000 documents to scrutinise.

“This will clearly take some time for my team to get through.”

He added: “After we have considered all the documentary evidence and conducted further investigation, the inquiry will hold public hearings where we will call witnesses to give evidence.

“Again, it is not possible at this stage to say when this will happen; how many witnesses will be called; or how long the hearings will last.

“First, we must work our way through the documentary evidence and make necessary further inquiries.”

The inquiry was announced last November by Justice Secretary Humza Yousaf with its scope determined in May this year.

On Thursday, he said: “The family of Mr Bayoh have shown remarkable dignity and perseverance during their five-year wait for an inquiry into the death of Sheku.

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“I hope that today’s announcement gives them comfort and reassurance that the circumstances surrounding his death will be examined in a public and transparent manner.

“Lord Bracadale and I worked closely together in selecting the assessors and we agreed that Mr Fuller and Mr Bhatt would provide extensive levels of experience and expertise to the inquiry.

“The formal start of the inquiry is a key milestone and I am confident the assessors will ably assist the chair to consider issues relevant to the terms of reference.

“The inquiry will examine the circumstances leading up to the death of Mr Bayoh, the post-incident management process and subsequent investigation.

“The inquiry will also establish the extent to which Mr Bayoh’s actual or perceived race played a part in events, if any.”

A statement from lawyer Aamer Anwar on behalf of Mr Bayoh’s family was expected later on Monday morning.


Majority of food and drink firms ‘unprepared for Brexit’

Industry body Scotland Food and Drink said the industry feels it is in a 'perilous position'.

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Brexit: Food and drink businesses feel 'unprepared for Brexit'.

Almost three-quarters of Scotland’s food and drink businesses feel unprepared for Brexit and any resulting disruption, research has found.

Scotland Food and Drink said with a month to go until the transition period ends, the industry feels it is in a “perilous position”.

The industry body has written to Prime Minister Boris Johnson seeking urgent action and assurances around trading arrangements once the transition period ends on December 31.

With many of the new trading rules still unknown, coupled with businesses fighting to survive the impact of the pandemic, the industry has called for a six-month grace period to adjust to whatever the new trading rules are – in particular on the requirement to issue millions of new export certificates for food products.

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Industry leaders will meet Victoria Prentice, a minister in the UK Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, on Tuesday to discuss the issues.

James Withers, chief executive of Scotland Food and Drink, said: “With only one month to go until the end of transition, Scotland’s food and drink industry finds itself in a perilous position.

“Without the reassurances we have asked for, particularly the six-month grace period on export paperwork, there is huge concern among our members and the wider industry that the impact of Brexit could cost millions and tip many businesses over the edge.

“In reality, the Brexit transition period hasn’t actually happened. Businesses have had to focus on surviving the Covid-19 pandemic and, with one month to go, we still don’t know what exactly we’re preparing for. Is it a deal or no-deal?

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“Even without the added financial and logistical pressures of coronavirus, preparing for a completely unknown set of trading regulations and the biggest trading upheaval of a generation is a hugely challenging ask.

“At a time when our industry is still struggling with the £3bn hit of coronavirus, we now risk putting businesses to the wall by not providing time to implement the new regulations.

“It is unacceptable and entirely avoidable.”

The poll of 170 Scotland Food and Drink members found 72% feel unprepared for Brexit.

The body said the EU is the destination for 70% of Scotland’s food exports and the largest market for Scotch whisky.

It has made a number of other requests to the UK Government, including for a commitment to bring forward a package of financial compensation for producers, processors, manufacturers and distributors who encounter losses due to border or market disruption.

It has also asked ministers to finalise arrangements to ensure a smooth passage for seafood consignments across the Channel, and to add food and drink sector roles to the Scottish Shortage Occupation List.

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A UK Government spokesman said:  “The UK Government is working closely with the devolved administration in Scotland and taking steps to ensure we are ready for the end of the Brexit transition period, regardless of the outcome of trade negotiations.

“We are investing £705m in jobs, technology and infrastructure at the border, and providing £84m in grants to support the customs industry.

“With just a month to go, everyone must take action now to prepare, so we are intensifying our engagement with industry through the Brexit Business Taskforce and our public information campaign.”


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.”


Two officers sustain injuries after protests at Celtic Park

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

Alan Harvey via SNS Group
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 Neil Lennon to resign. 

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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.

Celtic Football Club 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.

In a statement, Celtic Football Club 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.

“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.

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“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.

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

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“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.”


Two-thirds would support charge for single-use plastics

A scheme similar to the 5p charge for carrier bags would be welcomed by 66% of Scots, a survey has found.

Rosley Majid / EyeEm via Getty Images
Charge: Two-thirds of Scots would support carrier-bag style charge.

Two-thirds of Scots would support a carrier bag-style charge for single-use plastics, according to a new survey.

The poll for Zero Waste Scotland highlights that reducing harm to the marine environment was cited by 89% of those backing the move.

It found 66% of respondents would support introducing fees, similar to the carrier bag charge, to cut down their use.

Iain Gulland, Zero Waste Scotland chief executive, said: “It is clear from these results that people are worried about the impact single-use plastic items have on our environment.

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“These items can last for decades and the damage they can cause to wildlife is shocking.

“We have to find ways to cut down the stream of items we are sending into what should be pristine habitats and the consultation offers a valuable way for people to contribute to the discussion around market restrictions.”

The YouGov poll had 1004 respondents and work was undertaken between September 29 and October 1.

It comes as the Scottish Government consults on further steps to reduce the consumption of single-use items.

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Views are being sought on the introduction of new legislation to restrict the supply of a number of items including plastic plates, straws, cutlery and balloon sticks.

Reusable alternatives would continue to be widely available.

It could see the introduction of market restrictions on items most commonly found on beaches in Europe.

Catherine Gemmell, Scotland conservation officer for the Marine Conservation Society, said: “Our volunteers have been on the frontline dealing with single-use plastic and other litter washing up on beaches around Scotland for over two decades. We have to stop single-use plastic at its source.

“It’s encouraging to see so many people in this survey link the single-use plastic issue to the negative impact it has on Scottish seas and wildlife.

“Now, we’re asking them to go one step further and respond to the Scottish Government consultation and add their support for banning several single-use plastic items.”

All retailers in Scotland must charge a minimum of 5p for each new single-use carrier bags.

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The law came into effect in October 2014 and with an aim to encourage bag reuse and reduce litter.


Confidence in Scots businesses falls but vaccine offers hope

The Business Barometer from Bank of Scotland Commercial Banking found optimism sat at -38% for Scots firms.

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Business: Vaccine prospect sees business confidence soar across UK.

Confidence in Scotland’s businesses fell by ten points in November – but saw a dramatic rise amid coronavirus vaccine announcements, according to a new survey.

The Business Barometer from Bank of Scotland Commercial Banking found optimism sat at -38% for Scots firms.

However, the report tracked a dramatic increase across the whole UK in business confidence after the announcement that the Pfizer and BioNTech vaccine has 90% efficacy against Covid-19.

Fraser Sime, regional director for Scotland at Bank of Scotland Commercial Banking, said: “Confidence has faltered on the backdrop of a tightening of restrictions across large parts of Scotland.

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“However, the roll-out of vaccines looks increasingly likely to happen in the coming months, and December’s barometer will provide an indication as to how the ongoing development of the Covid-19 exit strategy is affecting companies’ confidence.

“We’ll continue to be by the side of Scottish businesses as we work together to emerge successfully from the pandemic.”

The barometer questions 1200 businesses monthly and provides early signals about UK economic trends both regionally and nationwide.

Companies in Scotland also reported lower confidence in their own prospects, down six points month-on-month at -27%.

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For the month as a whole, UK business confidence registered at -21%, down three points on October.


Coronavirus: Two more dead as cases rise by 746 in Scotland

According to information reported by NHS boards across Scotland, more than 1000 people are in hospital with Covid-19.

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Covid-19: The fight to stop the spread of the deadly virus goes on.

A further two people have died in Scotland after being diagnosed with coronavirus, the Scottish Government has confirmed.

Total confirmed cases of the virus has risen to 94,689 – a jump of 746 in the past 24 hours.

The official death toll in Scotland now stands at 3722, however weekly figures on suspected Covid-19 deaths recorded by National Records of Scotland suggest the most up-to-date total is at least 5380.

Of the new cases reported on Sunday, 229 are in the Greater Glasgow and Clyde region, 159 are in Lanarkshire, 78 are in Lothian, and a further 78 are in Ayrshire and Arran.

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The remaining cases are spread across seven other health board areas.

According to management information reported by NHS boards across Scotland, 1049 people are in hospital with confirmed or suspected Covid-19 – a decrease of 28 overnight. Out of those, 76 patients are in intensive care.


Blackford: Government in a panic over support for independence

SNP's Westminster leader urged members to come together and focus on pushing to leave the UK.

Jeff J Mitchell via Getty Images

The UK Government is in a “panic” over recent support for Scottish independence, the SNP’s Westminster leader has said.

Ian Blackford told party faithful to “keep the faith” at the annual conference – this year being held virtually because of the Covid-19 pandemic – urging members to come together and focus on pushing to leave the UK.

Blackford compared the record of Westminster in the past 20 years, citing the Iraq War, Brexit and the bedroom tax, with the history of the Scottish Parliament, with free prescriptions, tuition fees and the upcoming Scottish Child Payment raised as examples of Scotland being a “fairer and more equal place to live”.

In recent months, polls shifted to show support for independence, with survey results rising as high as 58% when undecided voters are removed, according to an Ipsos Mori poll for STV in October.

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“That diverging tale of two parliaments has led to an inevitable conclusion – poll after poll shows that a settled majority now believes that all decisions and all powers should now be trusted to the people of Scotland,” he said in an address from his home in Skye.

“That is why the Tories are in a panic, they are unwilling to accept the truth that a majority of Scotland’s people now want an independent future.

“Instead of listening to the will of the Scottish people, the Tories are attempting to deny democracy and destroy devolution.”

Blackford insisted that no prime minister or UK government will be able to force Scotland to stay in the union “against our will”.

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He added: “Denying democracy is a political position that can’t and won’t hold.

“It’s a position that will crumble under the weight of votes in next year’s Scottish election.”

The Westminster leader also issued a call for unity and focus among party members, the day after one of his MPs questioned the handling of internal debates within the party.

In an interview with the Times on Saturday, Joanna Cherry called for an end to the “cult of leader” within the SNP and pushed for a more “collegiate” approach to policy decisions.

Blackford said: “We have all come a long way – and we are now within touching distance of independence. But just as we have travelled all this way together – we can only complete this journey together.

“My message to all of us is this: Keep heart, keep the heid and keep the faith. A new Scotland – fairer, greener and European – is now ours to win.”


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