Nicola Sturgeon calls for immediate transfer of all tax powers to Scotland.

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Screenshot_1Nicola Sturgeon calls for immediate transfer of all tax powers to Scotland – even though it would open up a £7.6BILLION black hole in the country’s budget.

Nicola Sturgeon tonight backed the immediate transfer of all tax powers to Holyrood in a move that threatens a multi-billion pound cut to Scotland’s budget.

The First Minister was forced to admit her MPs would vote for fiscal autonomy as early as next year, despite the catastrophic collapse in North Sea oil revenues.

Such a move would leave a massive £7.6billion black hole in Scotland’s finances, triggering either higher taxes, deeper spending cuts or unsustainable borrowing levels.

Miss Sturgeon struggled once again in a TV election clash screened by the BBC, just a day after she faced an audience backlash by refusing to rule out a snap second referendum on independence.

She walked into a trap set by Labour leader Jim Murphy, who pointed out that one of the SNP’s biggest supporters, billionaire Jim McColl, admitted Scotland is not ready for fiscal autonomy.

But asked when she wants full tax powers, Miss Sturgeon said ‘as soon as possible’.

‘As Scotland’s voice in the House of Commons, if the SNP is there in numbers we will be arguing for as many powers to come to Scotland as quickly as possible,’ she said.

‘I would like it as quickly as the other parties agree to give it.’

Asked by Murphy ‘would your MPs vote for it next year?’, the First Minister replied: ‘I would vote for it, would you support it?’

To applause, the Labour leader swiftly responded: ‘No I wouldn’t.

‘Absolutely not, and let me tell you why. This is the idea that we cut ourselves off from sources of taxation across the UK.

After the difficult time that Aberdeen and the north east of Scotland been through, the idea that we voluntarily give up the pooling and sharing of resources, the ability to transfer money across these islands – I don’t think it makes sense.’

The debate was held in Aberdeen University’s Elphinstone Hall, and was chaired by the BBC’s James Cook – who has been the victim of ‘Cybernat’ abuse in recent days.

Miss Sturgeon, Mr Murphy, Tory leader Ruth Davidson and LibDem leader Willie Rennie – who all took part in an STV debate the previous night – were joined by UKIP’s only elected politician in Scotland, MEP David Coburn, and Scottish Green co-convener Patrick Harvie.

During the one-hour clash:

  • Mr Rennie, who openly admitted the LibDems had broken a promise not to raise tuition fees, cautioned Miss Sturgeon against breaking her promise that last year’s referendum was a ‘once-in-a-generation’ vote.
  • Miss Davidson was forced to accept the UK Government could not stand in the way of another referendum.
  • Mr Harvie called for the end of North Sea oil extraction – in a city where thousands of workers rely on its future.

Much of the debate focused on the SNP’s support for ‘full fiscal autonomy’, which former First Minister Alex Salmond has described as ‘home rule’ and critics have branded ‘independence by the back door’.

It would see the devolution of every tax – including North Sea oil revenues – and leave only defence and foreign affairs reserved to Westminster, ending the generous Barnett Formula that funds Scotland.

Scottish Government official annual accounts show how Scots contributed £400 extra in taxes than the UK average last year, but received an additional £1,200 in public spending.

Last month, the highly-respected Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) predicted that a ‘fiscally autonomous’ Scotland would have a massive £7.6billion black hole in its finances.

That is the difference between the estimated budget deficit for the entire UK in 2015-16 of 4 per cent of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and Scotland’s budget deficit of 8.6 per cent.

According to the independent Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR), offshore revenues are expected to shrink to only £600million in 2016-17. That is a staggering 13 times smaller than the most optimistic figures Alex Salmond based his independence blueprint on.

Speaking after the debate, Tory leader Ruth Davidson said Miss Sturgeon’s election campaign is ‘beginning to unravel’.

One member of the audience warned the First Minister that she ‘doesn’t speak for everyone’ in Scotland.

In the earlier STV debate on Tuesday, Miss Sturgeon said next month’s General Election is not a ‘re-run’ of the referendum, but pointedly said ‘that’s another matter’ when asked about her Holyrood manifesto for 2016. Her weak response was met with audible groans from the audience.

During the show, the SNP leader insisted: ‘I do accept the result of the referendum. There is a triple lock on this.

‘Before it is inserted in the manifesto, public opinion has to change, and then people have to vote for the manifesto if it is in it, then people have to vote for independence.’

Pressed on whether the Tories would block another referendum, Miss Davidson said: ‘I do not see an area where if the circumstances arose again that we would.

‘However, we would feel a betrayal very deeply when we were promised time after time by Nicola, by [Deputy First Minister] John Swinney, by all her MSPs, MPs, MEPs and councillors that this was ‘once in a generation’ and we were told by the end of the campaign it was ‘once in a lifetime’.’

Mr Murphy said: ‘You don’t get a mandate from an opinion poll, you get a mandate from a manifesto and you have gone from being a proud co-leader of the big Yes campaign to being the head of the ‘maybes ayes, maybes naws’ campaign.’

Mr Rennie said: ‘Just imagine if we had a different vote last September.

‘I think there would be blind panic as a result of what has happened in the North Sea.

‘Nicola Sturgeon has got a nerve to continue to argue for a policy that was soundly trounced in the referendum.’

UKIP’S Scottish leader David Coburn was last night branded a ‘disgrace’ by Nicola Sturgeon for comparing one of her ministers to convicted terrorist Abu Hamza.

The First Minister rounded on the MEP after the Scottish Daily Mail revealed how he made the comparison when referring to Muslim minister Humza Yousaf.

Mr Coburn was also roundly booed by the audience in the BBC leaders’ debate as he claimed ‘open door immigration’ has contributed to the rise in food banks, and demanded a cut in foreign aid because most of it ‘goes to dictators’.

In a fierce exchange, Labour leader Jim Murphy told him: ‘Don’t demonise immigrants. How dare you?’

Source:  ALAN RODEN

 

Sturgeon hints at second independence referendum after 2016.

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Leaders debateRuth Davidson and Jim Murphy probably did best. Nicola Sturgeon did not crash, not by any means, but she certainly did not shine in the way she did last week, when novelty and outsiderhood – two qualities she cannot deploy in Edinburgh – were working in her favour.

The key clash was between Sturgeon and Murphy, and in the opening exchanges, as I said earlier, they were deadlocked. But, when they came back for round two, Murphy probably prevailed. The argument about whether or not Labour would work with the SNP is essentially a silly one, because of course they would. It’s just an argument about whether it’s best to admit it; a dispute, in other words, between a pluralist, pragmatist approach, and conventional “no compromise” electioneering. But Murphy’s “Don’t be ludicrous” putdown seemed to clinch it.

SturgeonMurphy was also robust on the subject of cuts. I’ll have to check exactly what he said about the possibility of no further cuts under Labour after 2016. Some colleagues seem to think he went further than Ed Balls, although the Institute for Fiscal Studies has said that Labour could largely avoid further cuts after 2015-16 because of its proposed slower pace of deficit reduction.

Davidson was the most combative of the four leaders. Partly because she had the ideological space on the right all to herself, she was able to make an impact. But it was not just that; it was the fact that she was willing to engage with questions, and answer them directly (eg, on a pact with Ukip) that made her sound refreshingly more candid than her English colleagues. And when did you last hear any politician make the case for user charges, as she did with prescriptions?

It is never good to go into a debate as the frontrunner and that was partly’s Sturgeon’s handicap. But she may have also stumbled over a second referendum. For some time now it has been clear that the SNP’s promise of no further referendum for a generation meant no such thing, but this evening Sturgeon hinted that the SNP would propose one in their manifesto for the 2016 Scottish elections and then seek to hold one in the event of victory. There are plenty of people currently planning to vote SNP who do not support independence, and such blatant “neverendum” talk could put them off.

 

Source: Andrew Sparrow

Tony Blair attacks SNP and second indyref: case for leaving UK has collapsed along with the oil price.

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Tony BlairTony Blair has hit out at the SNP and the idea of another Scottish independence referendum as he joined Labour’s election campaign trail.

The former Prime Minister said that the economic case for leaving the UK had “collapsed along with the oil price”.

He also claimed that the Conservatives planned public spending cuts would be “dwarfed by the SNP cuts necessary to keep the Scottish economy afloat” if Scots had decided to go it alone.

In a speech in the north of England he also predicted that “reason” would drive Scots voters back to Labour and argued against “periodic” votes on independence.

His intervention was designed to praise Labour leader Ed Miliband’s decision not to back a referendum on the UK’s European Union membership.

Mr Blair told an audience in his former constituency of Sedgefield that the rise of China and other emerging economic powerhouses meant that the case for Europe had never been stronger.

David Cameron’s pledged EU referendum in 2017 was “risky” and could damage the economy, he said.

He added: “I am aghast at some of the arguments used as to why having such a vote is ‘a great idea for democracy’. Apparently we should have a referendum because its 40 years since we last had a vote. That is seriously an argument for doing something of this magnitude and risk? ”

Referencing Scotland, he said: ” So should we do the same for NATO? Or have periodic referendums not just in Scotland but all over the UK just to check popular feeling?”

He added that there should only be an EU referendum if it was genuinely a national priority to leave Europe if the UK’s went unmet.

At the start of his speech Mr Blair said there was a “Herculean task” to face down independence.

He added: “The economic case for separation was always weak… now that case has collapsed along with the oil price.”

He went on: “The reality is that, had Scotland voted to exit the UK, it would now be in economic trauma… Never mind Tory cuts, they would be dwarfed by the SNP cuts necessary to keep the Scottish economy afloat.”

He also suggested that the rest of the UK would have suffered following independence, “relegated” from the “premier league of nations”.

On his party’s current struggles north of the border, Mr Blair said that Scottish Labour had a “great” case to make, adding he was optimistic “that in the end reason breaks through”.

But he was forced to say he backed Ed Miliband “100 per cent” following questions over why the two men were not sharing a platform.

Mr Blair said the Labour leader was campaigning in the West Country, adding: “We are a party that can do more than one thing at once.”

Scource: The Herald Scotland.

Scottish Secretary Alistair Carmichael: ‘I know who wrote Nicola Sturgeon memo but I’m not telling’

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SturgeonA SCOTLAND Office civil servant was behind the leaked memo that claimed Nicola Sturgeon wants David Cameron to remain as Prime Minister.

Scottish Secretary Alistair Carmichael has fingered an official in his own department for writing the note.

But the Lib Dem refused to name the individual now at the centre of a Whitehall inquiry and a furious political row.

Carmichael, who remains in charge of the Scotland Office during the general election campaign, said yesterday: “I know the person involved but I’m not going to go beyond that.

“This is not somebody in public life, it’s a civil servant – so he’s entitled to the inquiry being done properly.”

The leaked memo claimed that First Minister Sturgeon privately told French ambassador Sylvie Bermann the SNP would rather see a Tory government – and that she didn’t see Labour leader Ed Miliband as “prime minister material”.

Sturgeon immediately dismissed the report as “100 per cent untrue” and called for a high-level probe into the leak.

And responding to Mr Carmichael’s comments, the First Minister said: “I think Alistair Carmichael really needs to question his whole approach to politics if he thinks dirty tricks and smear campaigns are just how things are done in elections.

“I take a very different view. I think elections should be a battle of positive ideas and that’s how I’ll continue to campaign.”

The UK’s top civil servant, Cabinet Secretary Sir Jeremy Heywood, has since launched an inquiry.

Sturgeon has accused Whitehall of “dirty tricks” over the leaked memo.

And yesterday, SNP depute leader Stewart Hosie said Carmichael’s admission that he knows who the culprit is had to be reported to the investigation.

Hosie said: “Alistair Carmichael is a UK Cabinet Minister and so must be in no doubt about the seriousness of the probe now ordered by the UK’s top civil servant.

“If Mr Carmichael has information about who produced a document containing this false account or indeed about who then leaked it – whether it is from within his own civil service department or elsewhere – then he must provide that information to Sir Jeremy Heywood as a matter of urgency.”

Carmichael said it was “absolutely right” that Heywood had launched an inquiry into the leak – but he flatly refused to identify the civil servant who drafted the document.

The Scottish Secretary acknowledged that the inquiry may take some time to report but said: “I see no reason it shouldn’t be done fairly quickly.”

He added: “These conversations take place between government officials and diplomats all the time and it’s important people can have confidence in the confidentiality of them.

“The Cabinet Secretary is the person to hold an inquiry and it’s important that he gets on to do his job now.

“This is routine procedure within government when these things happen.

“It’s absolutely not my job to tell him how to do his.

“I can’t second-guess what he’s going to want to ask or do.

“I don’t think the inquiry should be conducted through the pages of news-papers or television screens.”

Carmichael said he was first made aware of the leaked memo on Friday afternoon when he was contacted by a journalist from the Daily Telegraph.

He added: “The first time I saw the memo was in the pages of the Telegraph.”

Asked if the memo was an example of “dirty tricks” during the election campaign, Carmichael said: “These things happen from time to time. I think it’s regrettable.”

He added: “I have no idea what Nicola Sturgeon said. We had a third-hand account of it.

“But we know Nicola Sturgeon would like to have the Conservatives in Government on their own at Westminister.

“The one thing that matters more than anything else to the Nationalists is getting independence and they would see that as an opportunity to create a wedge between Scotland and the rest of the United Kingdom.”

Scottish Labour deputy leader Kezia Dugdale said last night: “The last 24 hours have been dominated by suggestions that Nicola Sturgeon wants David Cameron to remain Prime Minister.

“The real question is, what does David Cameron want?

“And it’s pretty obvious what the answer to that one is.

“It’s not really a surprise that David Cameron wants the SNP to do well.

“It would be strange if he didn’t because he knows his best chance of clinging on to power is Scotland voting SNP on May 7.”

 

Scource:  Torcuil Crichton , Alan McEwan

New female osprey takes over nest at Loch of the Lowes

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OspreyA new female osprey has set up nest at the Scottish Wildlife Trust reserve at Loch of the Lowes.

Staff at the reserve near Dunkeld had been awaiting the return of “Lady”, the female which has nested at the site for 24 consecutive years.

However, a younger bird has instead moved in and mated with the resident male, known as “Laddie”.

Rangers at the reserve said Lady may yet return, but would face a competition for her nest and mate.

Lady would be 30 this year, and is thought to be the world’s oldest breeding osprey, having reared 50 chicks at Loch of the Lowes.

Scottish Wildlife Trust Perthshire ranger Charlotte Fleming said everyone at the reserve was “so excited” by the new development.

She said: “Many people have been asking if this means that our famous osprey – affectionately known by many as Lady – will not return this year, but we simply do not know.

“There is still a possibility that she will return – and dramatic scenes could unfold if Lady were to begin to compete for her nest and her mate.”

A webcam set up to cover the nest attracted more than a million viewers from 96 different countries last year.

Scource: BBC Scotland

UK’s online spying habits are legal but require overhaul, says government

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GCHQAn inquiry by the UK government into the bulk interception of communications data has cleared the country’s spy agencies of wrong-doing. The report by the Intelligence and Security Committee (ISC) said that the UK’s spies “do not seek to circumvent the law,” and that their activities do not constitute “blanket surveillance” or “indiscriminate surveillance.” However, the report condemns the legal framework surrounding digital surveillance in the UK, saying it is “unnecessarily complicated and – crucially – lacks transparency.”

“The current, overly complicated, legislation.”

The inquiry by the ISC was launched in 2013 after leaks by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden revealed the extent of online surveillance by both the US and UK. “In a democratic society,” says the heavily-censored report, “those powers cannot be unconstrained: limits and safeguards are essential.” The report concludes that its findings are “reassuring,” but that they “do not obviate the need for a thorough overhaul of the current, overly complicated, legislation.”

The ISC states that the bulk interception of data by GCHQ and other UK spy agencies is necessary not only to investigate specific threats, but also discover new leads. GCHQ reportedly targets a “very small percentage of the ‘bearers’ that make up the internet” (these bearers are described as international fibre optic cables carrying up to 10 gigabits of data per second), and that only a “very tiny percentage” of communications that are collected are actually opened by analysts.

“fewer than *** of *** per cent of the items that transit the internet are read.”

However, it’s difficult to judge just how small this percentage actually is, as any concrete figures are censored. For example, the report says with regards to the interception of messages: “In practice, this means that fewer than *** of *** per cent of the items that transit the internet in one day are ever selected to be read by a GCHQ analyst.”

A separate report from the UK’s Interception of Communication Commissioner’s Office (IOCCO) also published today offers a little more insight. It says that in 2014, the UK issued 2,795 warrants to intercept communications data, that is, to open up and read a message’s content. Of these, says the IOCCO, 60 were “interception errors,” a category that includes mistakes ranging from “over-collection” to “unauthorized selection.”

Access to Communications data was authorized half a million times

In 2014, however, the UK also saw more than half a million authorizations (517,236) for police and law enforcement agencies to access “communications data.” In the ISC’s report this category is defined as “the details about a communication – the ‘who, when and where’ – but not the content of what was said or written.” The IOCCO says that although there were “some examples where [these] powers had been used improperly or unnecessarily,” on the whole it was happy that there was no “significant institutional overuse” of communications data.

The report by the ISC also said that a small number of staff at intelligence agencies in the UK had been dismissed for inappropriately accessing data. One GCHQ staff member is mentioned as being “dismissed” for “misusing access to GCHQ’s systems,” while an undisclosed number of individuals from other agencies have been “disciplined – or in some cases dismissed.” Lord Butler of Brockwell, one of the ISC members, said that there were only “very small single figures of abuse.”

Scource: The Verge

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