By Matthew Barrett
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An intriguing report in the Independent on Sunday today contains some pretty positive news - and some pretty awful news.
We are told that details of an agreement on the referendum for Scottish independence will be announced in the next few days. The "Scottish Government" and the Government have agreed terms which will mean there will be a simple yes/no independence question on the ballot paper. That's the good news.
The bad news is what Alex Salmond will get in return: the precedent of votes for 16 and 17 year olds. He knows that even if he is defeated resoundingly, on the scale of the AV referendum, he will be able to introduce votes for 16 year olds for Scottish Parliament elections from 2015 onwards - because if they can vote for or against Scottish independence, why on earth should they not be able to vote in Scottish elections?
If they can vote in Scottish elections, the Welsh Assembly will follow suit (although perhaps not so the Northern Ireland Assembly), and, with many Labour MPs already supporting the concept, Parliament will have to reduce the voting age to 16 for there to be any conherence in British elections.
One could point out that most 16 year olds don't work, and therefore don't have the same stake in society (especially in tax affairs), but I'm not particularly concerned with the issue itself - yet. My primary objection to this new votes-at-16 move is that it has come about from deals behind closed doors to sort out the terms of a distasteful referendum.
If the voting age is to be lowered, it should come about as a result of general acceptance in society, a campaign from backbenchers in Parliament, and/or being prominently placed in the manifesto of a winning party - all of which would follow a period of serious consideration of the issue. As it is, we are set to introduce a major constitutional reform quietly, and because the quixotic Salmond thinks it will help his campaign to break Britain up.
Perhaps some comfort could be taken from two facts. Firstly, Mr Wilson lowered the voting age for the 1970 election, believing 18-21 year olds would vote Labour. He then lost the election. Secondly, a poll conducted by the Mail on Sunday last weekend showed that only 26% of voters who will be 16 and 17 at the time of the referendum support independence.
By Joseph Willits
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In yesterday's Adjournment debate before the start of the Christmas recess, a mix of topics were raised by MPs.
Chris Skidmore MP (Kingswood), who also wrote on ConservativeHome yesterday about making history a compulsory subject for under-16s, spoke of the study of history reaching a record low. Skidmore said that "in 77 local authorities fewer than one in five pupils is passing history GCSE". Despite these figures already being low enough as it is, there was a need to break them down, he said, "because in places such as Knowsley under 8% of pupils are passing history GCSE".
"Often it is the Daily Mail or academics who discuss what type of history should be studied in schools, whose history should be studied, how history should be studied in the curriculum, whether we should have a narrative form of history or a more interpretive form of history that looks at sources, and whether history should be seen as a framework of facts."
Whilst this debate was important, he warned of history "becoming a subject of two nations" and Britain's isolation in Europe, if people were not united in the view "that history is a crucial subject that binds us as one nation".
By Joseph Willits
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With the results of the Scottish Conservative party leadership elections expected later today, David Cameron has paid tribute to outgoing leader Annabel Goldie, and her contributions to both Scotland and the party.
“Annabel did a great job in her six years of leadership of the Scottish Conservatives. Throughout, I found her a complete pleasure to work with: straightforward, hardworking, passionate about her politics and packed full of common sense. I also really appreciated the strong support she gave me.
“Annabel has been a no nonsense breath of fresh air in Scottish politics, and I pay tribute to the way she fought the campaign for the Scottish Parliament. She will continue to be a formidable presence as an MSP and I know she will carry on fighting for causes close to her heart, like supporting families, tackling drug abuse and keeping Scotland in Britain”.
Alex Johnstone, who speaks for the Conservatives in the Scottish Parliament on Transport, Infrastructure and Climate Change, made an interesting speech on the Scottish economy on Thursday.
Mr Johnstone said:
"The first myth is that Scotland is somehow insulated from the worst rigours of the recession in a way that other parts of the United Kingdom are not. It is true that statistics can be used to show that Scotland has been slower to enter recession, but I strongly believe that it is the nature of the Scottish economy that made that the case—it was always going to be thus. Scotland's economy is disproportionately dependent on the public sector. Without wishing to enter into any arguments about whether that is a good thing or a bad thing, members will understand that an economy that is dependent on the public sector will be slower to enter recession than one that is more dependent on the private sector. However, the sad consequence of that is that, although we are slower and later to enter recession, there is a strong likelihood that we will also be slower and later to emerge from that recession. That is why the issues that we are discussing today are important. We need to think now about that recovery phase and put in place measures that will underpin the rise in our economy at that point.
However, the simple fact is that, as we enter the recession, public expenditure that has already been allocated is more significant to the Scottish economy during this current year and, therefore, underpins the economy at a time when shrinkage is taking place. Sadly, the problem is that, once recovery begins, the green shoots—if I may be allowed to use that phrase—will appear too late in Scotland, and public expenditure will be depressed, which will mean that the Scottish economy will suffer from a lack of resource at a time when growth is beginning to develop in other places. However, I agree that well-placed public expenditure remains extremely important through that phase."
The Labour Government at Westminster, which has massively expanded public sector jobs in order to create a client voter base, should pay heed to Mr Johnstone's shrewd analysis.
It was Scottish questions yesterday.
Shadow Secretary of State for Scotland David Mundell asked about the block grant:
"Largely as a result of this Government’s reckless tax and spend approach, the Scottish block grant has, indeed, grown to twice the size of 10 years ago. Despite some implausibly optimistic forecasts in the Budget, it is clear that the Treasury is now on course to run out of money, yet all the First Minister has done is attempt to persuade the Government that no cut at all can be made to the block grant. Has the Secretary of State informed the Treasury that, following this development, the Chancellor now looks like only the second most deluded politician in Scotland?
Mr. Murphy: That is entirely pleasant. I wonder whether the hon. Gentleman has entered himself for the gold medal in that particular competition following his celebration of the 30th anniversary of Mrs. Thatcher’s ascent to power and the disruption of Scottish industry. I am glad to see him in his place following his celebration of that anniversary and Scotland’s commiseration of it over the weekend.
In the previous recessions of the 1980s and 1990s, a generation of young people were abandoned to a life of poverty and a life on benefit. It is our intention to do, wherever possible, the exact opposite to what the Tories did, so that a generation of young people are not abandoned to a life of unemployment free of any hope.
David Mundell: The Secretary of State can resort to all the old mantras that he wants, but they will do him no good because the public know where the buck stops for this crisis. Does he really disagree with the view of the Centre for Public Policy for Regions that the years of the Scottish Executive coffers being full to overflowing thanks to block grant increases are over? Will he confirm that, as a direct result of Labour’s financial mismanagement of the UK, up to £4 billion in real terms will have to be cut from the Scottish budget over the next four years? Is it not about time that he and his Prime Minister finally took responsibility for Labour’s catastrophic economic failures and, in particular, the damage that they have done to Scotland’s public finances?
Murdo Fraser MSP, Deputy Leader of the Scottish Conservative and Unionist Party, has tabled several questions to the Scottish Parliament Corporate Body about hanging a portrait of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II in the Scottish Parliament.
There are, of course, portraits of the Queen in Westminster and Boris Johnson has just unveiled a portrait of her in the London Assembly.
Mr Fraser commented:
“As our Head of State, I think it is only right that we have a portrait of The Queen hanging in a prominent part of the Scottish Parliament, such as in the Main Entrance or the Garden Lobby. When you visit public buildings throughout the world you invariably see a portrait of the country’s Head of State, and it seems extraordinary that we no such portrait at present in our own Parliament.
The Queen inspires many people across the world and is a leading example to us all of dignity, courage and goodwill. I am sure that everyone in the Scottish Parliament connects with these principles and I hope the Scottish Parliament Corporate Body look positively at this proposal.
If we are able to have marble cubes, rugs on walls and misshaped green bronze sculptures in the complex, then I am sure that a portrait of our Head of State is also possible.
We are celebrating ten years of devolution this summer and I think a permanent portrait of The Queen in the Scottish Parliament would be a great addition to our Parliament. Scotland is a proud nation and many people are proud of our Queen and of her affection for Scotland.”
These are the questions Mr Fraser tabled:
"To ask the Scottish Parliament Corporate Body why there is no portrait of Her Majesty the Queen Elizabeth II in the Scottish Parliament complex"
"To ask the Scottish Parliament Corporate Body what consideration it has given to hanging a portrait of Her Majesty the Queen Elizabeth II in the Scottish Parliament complex"
"To ask the Scottish Parliament Corporate Body if it will agree to hanging a portrait of Her Majesty the Queen Elizabeth II in the Scottish Parliament complex"
Quite right too.
At First Minister's Questions today Annabel Goldie, who leads the Conservatives in the Scottish Parliament, asked what contact Alex Salmond has had with Gordon Brown (an issue that David Mundell, the Shadow Secretary of State for Scotland, raised yesterday).
It turns out that the Prime Minister and First Minister last met face-to-face in the House of Commons on 28 April 2008 (to discuss the strike at Grangemouth Oil Refinery).
Annabel Goldie - who is rightly appalled - has issued a press release:
"It beggars belief that the Prime Minister and the First Minister have never met to discuss ways of helping Scotland through Labour's recession.
Mr Salmond indicated at FMQs today that the last time he had any meeting with the Prime Minister was almost a year ago.
To make matters worse, Alex Salmond clearly attempted to blame Gordon Brown for blocking any face to face discussions. The First Minister stated that he was 'more than willing to meet the Prime Minister' but one wonders what he has done to facilitate such a get together. It takes two to tango.
Instead of picking fights with each other the Prime Minister and the First Minister should be working together to help Scotland weather Gordon Brown's economic storm. Surely the best interests of the nation should come before petty party politics?
If David Cameron becomes the next British Prime Minister he has vowed to work constructively with the First Minister of Scotland whichever party he or she may be from.”
David Mundell has also commented:
"During Scottish Questions at Westminster yesterday I asked the Scottish Secretary Jim Murphy when the Prime Minister and the First Minister had last met. Jim Murphy replied: 'I do not keep the Prime Minister's diary'.
I find it staggering that the Secretary of State for Scotland neither knows nor seems to care whether his boss is engaging with the First Minister of Scotland.
The British government and the Scottish Government must put aside petty differences and work together in the best interests of Scotland, especially during Labour's recession."
Oral questions were put to the Scottish Office yesterday.
Wellingborough MP Peter Bone asked a bold question about the Barnett Formula:
"Mr. Peter Bone (Wellingborough) (Con): What recent discussions he has had with the Chancellor of the Exchequer on potential changes to the Barnett formula. 
Mr. Bone: I am not entirely sure that that answers my question. My constituents pay the same taxes as the people of Scotland, yet receive £2,243 a year less public expenditure. Why should every man, woman and child in my constituency pay an extra £2,200 to subsidise the Scottish Government?
Mr. Murphy: That is not the case at all. The four nations of the United Kingdom are, of course, stronger together. We gain great strength from the cohesiveness of that unique union of the United Kingdom. I think the hon. Gentleman would do well to reflect on the fact that there is higher spending on policing in England, that the rate of growth in health spending is 7 per cent. in England while in Scotland it is 4 per cent. and that Sure Start is available in England and not in Scotland, and so much else besides. Of course, it is an issue for the Scottish Government and the Scottish Parliament how they allocate the specific funding available to them."
Shadow Minister for Scotland Ben Wallace offered a stout defence of the Union:
"It is perhaps tempting to remind the House of the Scottish National party’s military adviser, Colonel Crawford, who once proposed chemical weapons as a cheaper alternative to the nuclear deterrent in Scotland. May I urge the Minister not to waste any time or money on making unlikely and unnecessary plans for Scottish independence, which would see the demise of the defence industry in Scotland, and may I remind the House that our Army is better because of Scottish soldiers, and Scotland is safer because of the British Union?
Mr. Murphy: The hon. Gentleman is correct: Scotland is stronger because of the Union and the United Kingdom. There is remarkable pride and passion across Scotland about the enormous contribution made by Scots as part of the United Kingdom armed forces. We will continue to oppose plans by the SNP, of course. Much more important is the fact that the vast majority of Scots refute the suggestions from the SNP that we should break up Britain and destroy the UK armed forces."
The British Armed Forces most certainly do benefit from the brave service of Scottish people.
Earlier this month, a body set up to consider the reform of Scottish devolution ruled out handing over full financial powers to Scotland. Sir Kenneth Calman's body indicated that such a move would be inconsistent with the Union. A full report will come out next year.
Yesterday the subject was raised in the House of Commons. Shadow Scottish Secretary David Mundell backed the interim report:
"We share the Secretary of State’s welcome for the Calman commission. Does he note the contrast between the application and thoroughness of the interim Calman report and the so-called national conversation, which appears to be little more than a taxpayer-funded blog site for insomniac nationalists? Does he share my disappointment not only with the content but with the tone of the First Minister’s response to the interim report? Will he therefore use his best endeavours to persuade the First Minister that now is the time to show that he is man not a mouse—to use the First Minister’s own analogy—by abandoning the national conversation, which does not have the support of the Scottish Parliament, and by engaging, as many in the Scottish Government wish to do, in the Calman process?
Mr. Murphy: The hon. Gentleman is right to say that it is both surprising and disappointing that Scottish Government Ministers will not give evidence to the Calman commission. Of course, Scottish civil servants cannot give evidence to the Calman commission. He is absolutely right to say that if the Scottish Government continue to wish to see this process provide the high-quality outcome that we all want, that position should change
over the next few months. The hon. Gentleman is right: there are a number of insomniac SNP supporters across Scotland at the moment. That is partly because their economic dream has turned into a nightmare and their ambitions of Scotland being just another Iceland are really a nightmare come true."
Over to you - this is a subject that ignites great passions on ConservativeHome. Please play nicely!
Comments on this post are now closed.
“Scottish Conservatives support a Scottish Climate Change Bill with meaningful targets for reductions in carbon and other emissions. We look forward to scrutinising this Bill in Committee.
“We particularly welcome provision within the Bill for Scottish Ministers to bring forward mandatory annual targets which are essential if we are to make serious progress towards the 80% figure. However it is important that the Parliament is able to properly scrutinise this secondary legislation, which is why it is a good idea to set up a Scottish Committee on Climate Change to advise on these targets.
“It remains important that this Scottish Bill is developed alongside the UK Climate Change Bill, especially with regard to the Scottish targets on aviation and shipping.”
The UK Government has set a target of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 80 per cent by 2050, which the Conservative Party officially supports.
Member for the Highlands and Islands Sir Jamie McGrigor made an excellent speech. He bemoaned the impact of fuel prices and discards on the industry:
"I am grateful for the chance to speak once again in a fisheries debate. However, rather than speak about fish, I wish to speak about the people who fish for them and the people on the mainland whose jobs depend on the industry: we should never forget that for every job at sea there are four on land. Fishing is one of Scotland's most important primary industries, so it is absurd that the Scottish fishing fleet, which has done more for conservation measures than any other fleet in Europe, has continually to bear more pain than any other fleet in the EU.
I am well aware of the impact that the meteoric rise in fuel prices—which doubled between 2007 and 2008 from 30p to 60p a litre for marine diesel—had on the fishing industry, particularly on smaller vessels, many of which simply had to stop fishing. Fuel prices have since reduced, but we must ensure that our Government is better prepared should that happen again, especially as fishermen from other member states received direct help with their fuel costs through de minimis aid payments, which also put our fishing people at a competitive disadvantage.
Others have mentioned the appalling waste and the damage to the marine environment that are caused by discards. Can anyone member justify throwing dead fish back into the sea? It makes a mockery of the CFP."
Surfing around the Scottish Parliament website (which is an ineffably cool thing to do) one learns rather interesting things about how that legislature works. Of particular interest is the Private Bill:
"A Private Bill is introduced by a promoter (who may be an individual, a company or a group of people), for the purpose of obtaining particular powers or benefits in addition to, or in conflict with, the general law. Private Bills generally relate to development projects (e.g. construction of a railway), land, property, or status.
A Bill is introduced by being lodged with the clerks of the Parliament. The promoter must also lodge accompanying documents explaining the background to the Bill and its purposes.
A copy of the Bill and accompanying documents will be available for inspection in each of the Parliament's partner libraries in the area affected by the proposed Bill and, where possible, on the Parliament's website.
The promoter must individually notify anyone considered to be directly affected by the Bill of the Bill's purposes, its date of introduction, and where to seek further information. They must also place a notice in two newspapers which circulate in the area concerned."
Five MSPs are appointed to a Private Bill Committee to consider the Bill. Anyone can object to the Bill.
The most interesting revelation in the quotation above is that Private Bills do not have to relate to development projects. Whatever the original intended purpose of Private Bills, is there scope for enterprising individuals to draft more far-reaching legislation for the Scottish Parliament to consider?
Would any lawyers / experts care to shed some light on this?
Highlights of Annabel Goldie's contribution to Holyrood debate on ten years of Scottish devolution and why Scottish Tories are joining with the LibDems to back a new Labour-inspired Constitutional Commission. The Commission's website sets out four main aims:
There are two approaches to Scotland's constitutional status: "The minority Administration, comprising the Scottish National Party as the Scottish Government, seeks independence; the majority presence in the Parliament, comprising the Labour Party, the Scottish Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats, supports our continuing partnership with the United Kingdom. The minority view—the SNP view and the nationalist conversation—is all about tearing up our constitution and ripping Britain apart. My desire—our desire and the majority desire—is to build on what we have and take it forward."
Devolution is good for Scotland, independence would be harmful: "During the Scottish Parliament elections, I argued that being part of the United Kingdom opens doors for Scotland, that it gives us influence in world affairs and that that influence, if wisely exercised, gives us authority in world affairs. At the same time, devolution has responded to our country's desire for a greater say over its domestic issues. As a Scottish Conservative, I am driven by an overarching goal of creating a strong and prosperous Scotland within a strong and prosperous United Kingdom. I am driven by what unites us in these isles, but the nationalists are driven by a desire to divide the nations of the United Kingdom. Rejecting independence is not anti-Scottish or unpatriotic; it is quite simply wanting the best for our country. I say clearly to Alex Salmond—wherever he is—that the Scottish National Party does not have the monopoly on Scottish patriotism. It is a proud and deep emotion, shared by millions of people outwith the Scottish National Party. Our saltire and the lion rampant are the symbols of our nation, not the badges of nationalism."On working with Scottish Labour and the Scottish LibDems to defend majority support for the Union: "This tripartite agreement is significant. Strengthening devolution while continuing to secure the position of Scotland within the United Kingdom is not just an honourable but a highly important commitment. It is bigger than any one political party, because it dwarfs party politics. We are talking about shaping the constitutional direction of travel of our nation for the future, not just because it is sensible and pragmatic to do that eight years on, but because it overwhelmingly reflects what Scotland wants to happen. Today's debate gives Scottish parliamentary breath to that overwhelming public aspiration. I thank Jack McConnell for his initial support of the process and I thank my counterparts, Wendy Alexander and Nicol Stephen, for the constructive discussions that have brought us to the stage of agreeing the need for an independently chaired commission to review devolution in Scotland."
Shadow Secretary of State for Scotland David Mundell responds to the independent report on the May 2007 Scottish elections fiasco:
"The Secretary of State’s apparent suggestion that everybody is to blame, and that therefore no one is to blame, simply will not do. It is time for the Scotland Office to take responsibility for failing the people of Scotland. The right hon. Gentleman is also the Secretary of State for Defence, and today he has been forced to come to the House to defend his predecessor, who is, disappointingly but perhaps not surprisingly, absent. However, the right hon. Gentleman has scant chance of success, because there can be no defence to the conclusion of an independent reviewer, who says that both the Scotland Office—the Scotland Office, Mr Speaker—and the Scottish Executive were frequently focused on partisan political interests in carrying out their responsibilities, overlooking voter interests and operational realities. Furthermore, what was characteristic of 2007 was a notable level of party self-interest evident in ministerial decision making.
Does the Secretary of State agree that such behaviour is tantamount to attempting gerrymandering in the worst traditions of Tammany hall politics, and that it demonstrates complete contempt for the democratic process, laying bare the inner workings of the Labour establishment for all to see? Is not the position rendered even worse by the fact that the former Secretary of State was also Labour’s Scottish election co-ordinator?