Battle lines are drawn over Scottish powers…
The Scottish National Party is squaring up against Scottish business over the prospect of tax powers for the Scottish Parliament.
The SNP, shifting leftward due to the influx of tens of thousands of separatist activists and under the captaincy of new leader Nicola Sturgeon, has called for the Scottish Parliament to have the right to set the minimum wage. This is of a piece with the Nationalists’ sweeping demands to the Smith Commission on devolution, which demand that almost everything save pensions and the currency be devolved to Holyrood.
Despite having the support of some charities, whose own submission to the Commission call for a devolved minimum wage so it can “help the poor”, Ms Sturgeon faces determined opposition from business groups, and is under increasing pressure to moderates its demands after a raft of private sector groups and tax experts put up contrary proposals to the Commission.
Business argues that the mass devolution of taxes would undermine the UK single market and risk rising fuel bills, slower economic growth as well as threatening pensions and other “unintended consequences”. The Institute of Chartered Accountants in Scotland warned, in a rather Labourish fashion, that tax competition could spark a “race to the bottom” and increase incidences of tax avoidance. Other organisations all raised concerns about the impact of devolution on their section of the economy.
This outspokenness is a clear break from the months leading up to the referendum, where businesses were allegedly intimidated out of speaking up for the Union. Based on the proposals submitted, it looks as if the most powerful forces on the devo-sceptic wing of the Smith Commission will be the private sector and the Labour Party.
This contrasts both with the SNP, who want to concentrate all power in Edinburgh, and with the submissions of the Conservatives, Liberal Democrats and several Scottish Councils, who want substantially increased devolution to local authorities within Scotland.
…and for the coming elections
Not that such divisions are confined to the Smith Commission: the parties are readying their troops across a range of fronts in preparation for what could be two critically important Scottish elections.
For 2015, rumour has it that Alex Salmond intends to launch his grand Westminster return by scalping the Liberal Democrats. He is reported to be targeting Danny Alexander’s constituency of Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strethspey seat, which has been known to be vulnerable ever since Lord Oakeshott commissioned polling which showed Alexander coming third, behind the SNP and Labour, as part of his ill-fated attempt to oust Nick Clegg after the party’s Euro election meltdown.
Meanwhile, both the front runners for the Scottish Labour leadership refined their positions this week. Left-winger Neil Findlay attacked Sturgeon for having the destruction of Labour as her highest priority and pledged that Scottish Labour would “walk the walk” on social and economic policy whilst Sturgeon merely talked the talk.
Jim Murphy pledged to raise £1 million to fight the SNP if elected leader as well as to wrest more control of the Scottish party away from London, addressing outgoing leader Johann Lamont’s claims that the Scottish party was treated as a “branch office” by the national leadership.
Lidl exempts Welsh language from English service policy
Lidl has been forced to clarify that Wales gets a special exception from its rules about English-language service.
In response to an incident in Scotland where members of staff had been serving customers in Polish, the supermarket put out an initial response claiming that it was company policy for staff to serve customers in English “irrespective of their native language”. This led to claims that the supermarket had ‘banned’ Welsh.
Lidl has taken pains to refute the allegation, highlighting the use of Welsh signage in its stores. If such a policy is about effectively serving Welsh-speaking customers, rather than simply a sop to nationalist feeling, it is hard to see the case for not affording other languages the same right in areas where they are commonly spoken.
Armed PSNI arrest 12 in “proactive” investigation into republican terror group
Heavily-armed members of the Police Service of Northern Ireland’s elite anti-terror unit swooped on a bungalow in Newry last night, arresting 12 men hours after a nearby shooting, in what a police spokesman described as part of a “proactive investigation into violent dissident republican activity in Northern Ireland”.
According to the BBC the arrests are linked to the Continuity IRA (CIRA), one of several IRA splinter factions and a designated terrorist organisation which has been active since the ceasefire of 1994.
Remembrance in Scotland dogged by controversies
The run up to yesterday’s Armistice Day commemorations did not go entirely smoothly north of the border, with two separate stories relating to clashes over the event making the news.
On Sunday, a minute’s silence was interrupted by a small group of Celtic fans at Sunday’s away match against Aberdeen. Two fans from the away stands were arrested in connexion with the incident, alongside a third Celtic fan and an Aberdeen fan for other offences.
Six Celtic players lost their lives in WWI, and one earned the Victoria Cross. The club’s charitable foundation recently donated £10,000 to Poppy Scotland, and both management and fan groups have condemned the incident.
Meanwhile, the Royal British Legion Scotland has come under fire for rebranding itself ‘Legion Scotland’. Despite maintaining its original legal name the charity has adopted a truncated version for day-to-day use.
The decision to drop “Royal British” from its public brand, implemented in May of this year when nobody was paying much attention, has drawn fierce criticism both from unionists and, more significantly, ex-servicemen. Legion Scotland is accused of taking the decision without proper consultation with supporters in order “to appease Scottish nationalists”. One site claimed that it was part of “the current subliminal politicisation of everything here to obliterate all but a Scottish identity”.
In statements defending the decision the organisation has emphasised that the name is intended to help it maximise the help it can offer to Scottish personnel and distinguish it from the Royal British Legion which operates in the rest of the country.