Sturgeon won’t rule out consultative independence vote

The First Minister said a ballot could be held without Westminster's consent provided it's ruled as legal.

Nicola Sturgeon won’t rule out holding a “consultative” referendum on independence without Westminster’s consent – but only if the courts ruled the move would be legal.

The First Minister said a ballot “to establish the opinion of the Scottish people” could potentially be held if it becomes “necessary”, stressing the matter had never been tested in court.

But she indicated it would only be attempted as a last resort, arguing that the “outcome would be uncertain” and warning there are no “shortcuts or clever wheezes” to independence without, ultimately, winning the UK Government’s cooperation.

The FM was unveiling her next steps as she attempts to secure a second independence vote as the UK prepares to leave the EU at 11pm on Friday.

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Speaking in Edinburgh, Sturgeon said Britain’s withdrawal from the European Union meant “the UK that Scotland voted to remain part of in 2014 – a UK inside the EU – will no longer be a reality”.

The SNP leader stated this represented a “material change in the circumstances that prevailed in 2014”.

Sturgeon called Brexit a “pivotal moment” of “real and profound sadness… tinged with anger”.

But she said her message was one of “hope of a different and better future for Scotland”, adding: “After tonight, that future is only open to us with independence.

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“Our task is to persuade a majority of people in Scotland to choose it.”

The First Minister insisted: “There is a mandate from the public and from the Scottish Parliament for a referendum.

“The SNP has won three successive parliamentary elections on the commitment to give people the choice and this week the Scottish Parliament has endorsed that position.

“That the Tories are set on blocking a referendum only shows their contempt for democracy in Scotland.

“And – somewhat counter productively for them – it serves to illustrate how unequal this supposedly equal union is.”

‘The issue of whether the specific constitutional reservation in the Scotland Act puts any form of independence referendum outside the powers of the Scottish Parliament – or instead leaves open scope for a non-binding consultative vote – has never been tested in court.’  

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon

However, she said that she would do a “disservice” to independence supporters to “pretend there are shortcuts or clever wheezes that can magically overcome the obstacles we face”.

She said the legality of any referendum “must be beyond doubt” and accepted the possibility that a vote might not be held this year, as she has said she wants.

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Authority to hold an independence referendum is reserved to Westminster, and Boris Johnson refused a request from Sturgeon for a transfer of powers to hold a vote.

The FM said winning the Prime Minister’s agreement to hold an independence ballot remained the “best way” to achieve a vote.

But the FM continued: “The issue of whether the specific constitutional reservation in the Scotland Act puts any form of independence referendum outside the powers of the Scottish Parliament – or instead leaves open scope for a non-binding consultative vote – has never been tested in court.  

“That means it cannot be said definitively that it would not be legal, but equally it cannot be described as being beyond legal doubt. 

“If a proposal for a referendum on that basis was brought forward it would be challenged in court.

“If a court ruled that it was legal, it wouldn’t be a ‘wildcat referendum’ as our opponents like to brand it – it would be within the remit of the Scottish Parliament.

“Now, should the UK Government continue to deny Scotland’s right to choose, we may reach the point where it is necessary for this issue to be tested.”

She added: “I am not ruling that out. 

“But I also have to be frank. The outcome would be uncertain. There would be no guarantees.

“It could move us forward – but equally it could set us back.

“So my judgment at this stage is that we should use our energies differently.” 

Among a number of new measures, Sturgeon announced she would be asking the UK’s electoral watchdog, the Electoral Commission, to re-test the question used in the 2014 referendum for prospective use in a new vote: ‘Should Scotland be an independent country?’

She said she wanted to build the “political case” for independence, saying her government would invite all of Scotland’s MPs, MSPs, MEPs and council leaders “to come together to endorse a modern Claim of Right for Scotland through a new constitutional convention”.

The Claim of Right in 1989 was part of building the case for a Scottish Parliament and declared the “sovereign right of the Scottish people to determine the form of government best suited to their needs”.

The SNP leader also pledged to double the party’s campaign spending to support independence campaigning, while the Scottish Government will publish a new series of paper to inform the public on how independence could work.

The announcements follow a fortnight where the Scottish Parliament voted in favour of the principle of a referendum and a new YouGov poll showed 51% support for independence – although only 34% support for holding a vote in 2020.

 

Ex-FM tells Sturgeon and Salmond to stop fighting

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Scottish port aims to ‘lead world’ in hydrogen technology

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

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Highland port unveils ambitious plans.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gerrard ready to redecorate Ibrox as Premiership title looms

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

Rob Casey via SNS Group

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Man accused of two attempted murders in 14 months

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

© Google Maps 2020
Cole appeared via video link at the High Court in Glasgow.

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

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

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

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

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

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

The indictment states Mr Warnock has since passed away.

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

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

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


Online child sex abuse and fraud soars during pandemic

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Towns lose gas supply for second time in month

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

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

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

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

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

It said another update would be issued at 1.30pm.

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

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

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


Supergroup forms to back Doddie Weir’s mission against MND

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Bruce MacGregor of Blazin’ Fiddles (Mike Rushby Photography)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

British Gas engineers strike again after rejecting pay offer

The GMB said its members had voted by almost 4-1 against a revised offer, and walked out on Friday for four days.

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British Gas owners Centrica said over 80% of its workforce has agreed to the new terms.

British Gas engineers have launched a fresh wave of strikes after overwhelmingly rejecting an offer aimed at resolving a dispute over pay and conditions.

The GMB union said its members had voted by almost 4-1 against a revised offer, and walked out on Friday for four days.

Repeated strikes in recent months have left a huge backlog of servicing call-outs.

National officer Justin Bowden said: “A revised British Gas offer at Acas for the field staff bargaining group has been overwhelmingly rejected by GMB members in a very big vote.

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“Strike days 27 to 30 will go ahead, followed by action for the rest of this month.

“British Gas didn’t take ‘fire and rehire’ off the table, the main obstacle to a possible settlement.

“This huge vote to reject the offer by gas and electrical engineers shows that there will be no resolution until the company do so.”

Chris O’Shea, chief executive of British Gas owners Centrica, said: “There is a job for everyone at the end of this difficult process, but we must change.

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“Over 80% of our workforce have agreed to the new terms and understand that our company needs to adapt to protect 20,000 UK jobs.

“Whilst we’ve reached collective agreements with the majority of our trade unions, we have been unable to secure an agreement with the GMB despite two extensive rounds of talks and making significant concessions.

“We’ll now talk directly to those colleagues who have not yet agreed their new contracts and we will go the extra mile to try and avoid the need to dismiss and re-engage.

“My hope is that, through individual consultations, all remaining colleagues will choose to stay with us and help us deliver both the transformation of Centrica, and the net zero transition that our country needs.

“We will move forward and create the Centrica of the future, because we have a responsibility to reverse our decline and protect and grow jobs.

“This includes the recruitment of an additional 1000 engineering apprentices that we can now take on as a result of making changes to our contracts.”

Newly published advice appears to contradict Salmond claim

The Scottish Conservatives said the four documents released on Thursday fall far short of what was demanded.

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Salmond: Claims contradicted.

Newly released Scottish Government legal advice appears to contradict Alex Salmond’s claim of a plot to delay a civil case in the hope it would be overtaken by criminal proceedings he faced.

But the Scottish Conservatives said the four documents released on Thursday fall far short of what the Scottish Parliament and Salmond inquiry demanded, and called on the Scottish Government to “end the secrecy” and release all the advice.

The documents relate to the botched investigation into allegations of sexual harassment by the former first minister.

A successful judicial review by Salmond resulted in the investigation being ruled unlawful and “tainted by apparent bias”, with a £512,250 payout being awarded to him for legal fees in 2019.

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Salmond was acquitted of 13 charges following a criminal trial last year.

Giving evidence to a Holyrood inquiry into the government’s handling of complaints last Friday, he claimed the Scottish Government hoped a criminal trial would “ride to the rescue” and prevent its unlawful investigation of him suffering a “cataclysmic” civil court defeat.

Explaining his belief that a looming criminal trial was the reason the government did not admit defeat in the case sooner, Salmond said: “Conceding in October [2018] would be embarrassing, it would be difficult, but it wouldn’t be as cataclysmic as an open court case in January [2019].

“What other motivation could there possibly have been than the belief that something might happen and intervene which meant that the judicial review never came to court?”

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He added: “If the criminal case had been advanced, then the civil case wouldn’t have gone ahead pending the outcome of the criminal case.

“Many people seemed to invest a great deal of hope that the criminal case would ride to the rescue, like the cavalry over the hill, and the civil case would never be heard.”

In a document dated September 4 2018, Roddy Dunlop QC and Solicitor Advocate Christine O’Neill, counsel for the Scottish Government, said they could see strength in the argument that the criminal investigation may “make the entire petition pointless”.

He wrote: “If there is a criminal conviction then surely this case will not proceed; and if there is a trial and an acquittal then the Ministers would be faced with a very different situation than that which presently obtains.”

Deputy First Minister John Swinney released a first batch of legal advice on Tuesday under threat of a no-confidence vote and further documents were published on Thursday evening.

However Swinney said the newly released documents make clear that delaying the case – known as sisting – was only considered as an option in order to minimise the impact of the case on the ongoing police investigation.

In a letter dated September 17 2018, the Lord Advocate said that the other option would be reporting restrictions and that this would be preferable.

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He said: “I am satisfied that, if reporting restrictions are competent, these would adequately protect the public interest in any future criminal proceedings.

“On that basis, that would clearly be the preferable and appropriate route, since it would enable the issues raised by the petition to be addressed whilst protecting any future criminal process.”

The Scottish Conservatives have lodged votes of no confidence in Swinney and First Minister Nicola Sturgeon.

Scottish Tory leader Douglas Ross said: “The limited documents that John Swinney has just published falls far short of the demands of the Scottish Parliament and of the Salmond inquiry.

“There is still nothing for the whole month of November.

“This is not good enough. End the secrecy and release all the legal advice.”


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