Farage challenges Salmond to debate
Putting together a debate in the Scottish referendum is proving somewhat difficult. Alex Salmond insists on debating David Cameron, who has elected leader of the British state should be at the forefront of defending it. There are unionists sympathetic to this view.
Others fear that Salmond will use this to try to turn the referendum – which is a debate between Scots – into an ‘England vs Scotland’ issue. They feel that Salmond should debate Alistair Darlling, the leader of Better Together, and that by disdaining to debate Scottish unionists he’s attempting to write them out of the narrative.
Until one side blinks, there won’t be a debate. Yet a new opportunity has just arisen: Nigel Farage has thrown down the gauntlet to the First Minister and challenged him to a live debate on Scottish independence – ideally before the European elections.
The upside for Farage looks fairly simple, as it’s similar to his rationale for taking on Clegg. UKIP are very weak in Scotland. Not totally non-existent – they’re currently outpolling some of the SNP’s minor allies, not that that takes much – but still so weak that the debate is essentially risk-free for Farage. There must be precious few Scots currently in the UKIP camp who might be put off by his performance.
There are also several upsides. Attitudes to Europe are not as different to those in England as many like to think, and a debate with the First Minister would give UKIP a major boost both in visibility and credibility north of the border. This might not translate into seats or anything so dramatic, but the gains could well be worth an evening of Farage’s time. It would also boost UKIP’s national profile on an issue unrelated to Europe, highlight Farage as a man who goes where Cameron fears to tread and, with an eye on 2015, as a fixture of the UK’s electoral debate scene.
It’s more of a poisoned chalice for Salmond, whose press office dismissed the idea by describing UKIP as “an irrelevance in Scotland”. On top of any fears about helping to boost UKIP in Scotland, it would be almost impossible for him to avoid debating Alistair Darling, since no remotely credible order of priorities could place UKIP above the Better Together campaign in being worthy of the First Minister’s attention.
So this is another debate that’s unlikely to happen… but there’s one possible avenue I can see. If the current ‘Yes’ bounce were to recede, and Cameron remain firm in his refusal to debate, then Salmond might just see in Farage his back-up right-wing English straw man. A debate at the close of the race would be must-watch television, and there can be few people SNP strategists would rather have embodying the Union and all it represents than an unapologetically right-wing southern banker.
Former UUP leader brands £3,000 compensation award against PSNI ‘crazy’
Fermanagh and South Tyrone MLA Tom Elliott was attacking a ruling of ‘excessive force’ against the Northern Irish police. The former Ulster Unionist leader claimed that such a case must prompt a review of the legislation surrounding police compensation payments.
The ruling, which has unsurprisingly also been slammed by the Police Federation, was on an appeal to overturn Tyrone County Court’s decision to dismiss the claim. It was filed after a Nicola McAleer was struck on the leg by a baton by a female police officer during a disorder outside a pub. The Belfast Telegraph reports that she claimed to have been “hurt and suffered emotional distress”.
The judge did claim the PSNI officer to have been the more impressive of the two witnesses and said that he would have halved McAleer’s payment on account of her own behaviour if the law had permitted him to do so. The officer claimed McAleer had joined a twenty-strong hostile crowd who were directing abuse at four police officers.
Terry Spence of the Police Federation said the ruling sent a signal to police officers “that they cannot win under any circumstances”.
Red Road flats saved by fear of martyrs to bad architecture
One of the more eye-catching proposals to come out of Glasgow’s preparations for the upcoming Commonwealth Games have been abandoned. Five of the six remaining, locally infamous Red Row tower blocks were scheduled to be demolished in a 15 minute segment of the opening ceremony, which would have been broadcast around the world.
Yet the move, intended to symbolise Glasgow’s regeneration whilst getting rid of some civic eyesores, has been shelved after protesters, led by a former Scottish Socialist MSP, managed to get 17,000 people to sign a petition against the move. Opponents argued that a public demolition would be “insensitive” both to former residents and to the asylum seekers who live in the sixth block. The games organisers feared that protesters would make the demolition a health and safety risk.
Two detained in County Tyrone van bomb alert
In the latest reminder of the continued efforts of Republican splinter groups to return to force, officers of the PSNI have detained two men in connexion with a suspected van bomb. Officers stopped the vehicle at 2am on Tuesday, police have since removed “a substantial quantity of material”, believed by the BBC to be fertiliser, from inside. Residents were evacuated but have since been allowed to return to their homes.