Scottish independence: will the tabloid dogs bark?
Ahead of the referendum on Scottish independence, the country's tabloids are sitting on the fence
SINCE The Sun proclaimed that it had won the 1992 general election for John Major, support from the tabloid press has been regarded as a crucial part of a successful political campaign.
In the run-up to the referendum on Scottish independence, which takes place in September, the biggest selling Scottish red-tops have yet to nail their colours to the mast.
The Daily Record, once the biggest selling paper in the country but now eclipsed by the Scottish Sun, is a staunch Labour supporter, and has therefore backed the pro-Union No campaign.
But Julian Calvert, a senior lecturer in journalism at Glasgow Caledonian University, says that the anti-independence movement should not take the support for granted.
“The Record’s stance is not clear-cut,” he wrote, in a column reproduced on TheWeek.co.uk. Calvert notes that recent coverage has spoken warmly of Alex Salmond and the ‘Yes’ campaign, while dismissing Cameron as a “Tory toff” and his colleagues as a “Con-Dem Cabinet of elitists”.
Still, he says, outright backing for independence would be a big surprise.
“Despite the paper’s obvious discomfort about the prospect of being seen as on the same side as old Etonian Tories,” he writes, “it’s still very hard to see it taking the plunge into the Yes camp.”
There’s doubt too about the stance of the new market leader, the Scottish Sun. The paper has previously backed Salmond, but, Calvert says it may find it harder to call on its readers to “vote yes in an emotive issue where views are very entrenched.”
With polling showing a clear lead for the No campaign, he says, it would be more in character for the Murdoch-owned paper to back the likely winner.
Scottish independence pros and cons: key questions answered
THE Treasury has said that it will stand behind all existing UK Government debt, regardless of how it might be shared between an independent Scotland and the rump UK after this September's referendum.
The pledge is "aimed at removing the risk of default from any debt-sharing dispute between Scotland and the rest of the UK," the BBC reports. Doubts about who would be responsible for servicing the debt could have led to increased borrowing costs as the referendum approached.
The allocation of debt is one of many points of contention between the pro-independence and pro-Union camps. As the referendum approaches, we answer the key questions about Scottish independence and the issues it raises for the UK, Scotland and the wider world.
When did Scotland become part of the UK?
The acts of union between Scotland and England were passed in 1706, taking effect on 1 May, 1707. On that day, the Parliament of Great Britain was formed and set up shop in the Palace of Westminster.
Why did each side agree to the Union?
The English were keen to make sure Scotland didn't choose a different monarch to the one sitting on the English throne. Meanwhile, the Scots were seriously "cash-strapped" after an "economically disastrous scheme to attempt to colonise the Isthmus of Panama in the late 1690s", says the Daily Telegraph.
What question will voters be asked at the referendum?
This bit is simple. There will be one question with a 'yes or no' answer: "Should Scotland be an independent country?"
Why is it being held on 18 September?
The all-important date was chosen – after much deliberation – by the Scottish National Party's leader Alex Salmond. The BBC says the chosen day took into account factors such as Scottish winter weather, the UK party conference season and public holidays. It notes that 2014 is the 700th anniversary of the Battle of Bannockburn in 1314. Salmond may be hoping Scottish republicanism will be stirred by commemorations of Robert the Bruce's famous victory over the English army.
Who is eligible to vote?
The simple answer is everyone over the age of 16 who lives in Scotland. That means the 800,000 Scots who live in other parts of the UK won't be able to vote, and the 400,000 people from elsewhere in Britain who live in Scotland will. All the main players agree this is "the fairest way" to do things, the BBC says.
Who are the politicians backing?
It won't surprise you to learn that the SNP wants independence. The Scottish Greens also want to break free from the UK as does independent MSP Margo MacDonald. Labour, the Tories and the Liberal Democrats all want to maintain the Union.
What about foreign politicians?
Many international leaders, particularly those facing separatist movements within their own countries, are openly hostile towards Scottish independence. With one eye on Catalan nationalists, the Spanish prime minister Mariano Rajoy has insisted that an independent Scotland could not expect automatic membership of the EU. "It's very clear to me, as it is for everybody else in the world, that a country that would obtain independence from the EU would remain out of the EU," he said. "That is good for Scottish citizens to know and for all EU citizens to know."
Would an independent Scotland keep the pound?
Alex Salmond was "pilloried" for the assumption - stated in the White Paper - that Scotland will be allowed to keep sterling. Salmond says David Cameron would be "in breach of undertakings to the Scottish people" if he refuses to allow an independent Scotland to join a sterling currency union, the Guardian reports. But the Chancellor, George Osborne, has made it clear that it is "highly unlikely" that Scotland will be allowed to keep using the currency after independence. Former prime minister Gordon Brown has also said that Scotland "could not force the UK into a currency union against its will".
What about the euro?
The currency issue is further complicated by the desire for a newly independent Scotland to join the EU, but opt out of the Euro. Salmond says there's "no prospect" of Scotland joining the Euro, but experts believe it may be forced to use the European currency. Professor Jo Murkens, an expert on Scottish independence and European constitutional law, told the Scottish Express: "Every new applicant state has to commit themselves in law to adopting the euro. There have been no opt-outs. It is a condition of membership."
How would the UK's national debt be shared?
Another thorny issue raised by the separation of the two countries is the amount of the UK's £1 trillion national debt that will be inherited by Scotland. The White Paper says Scotland will likely take on a share amounting to between £100bn and £130bn. As a proportion of GDP – gross domestic product, which is boosted in Scotland due to income from North Sea oil – the document says this is “less than the debt of the rest of the UK expressed in the same terms”. Alex Salmond has said that he may not agree to taking on Scotland's share of the national debt if Scotland was not allowed joint control of the pound.
How would Scottish independence affect UK defence policy?
The SNP has previously said it wants Britain's nuclear submarines – currently stationed at the Faslane Naval Base – out of Scotland as soon as the ink drys on the charter of independence. The White Paper softens that position by saying the Scottish government will want Trident out of Scotland by 2020. And rather than a concrete deadline, 2020 is an 'aim and intention', indicating the SNP is willing to compromise further, The Guardian says. Salmond also appeared to "soften" his hardline stance on nuclear-armed vessels using Scottish waters and ports. He said Navy ships from Britain and other Nato countries would still be able to use them under a "don't ask, don't tell" policy similar to that operated by Denmark and Norway. Not surprisingly, the UK government called the shift in position a "major dilution" of the SNP's pledge to create a nuclear-free Scotland.
What else will change in an independent Scotland?
The White Paper sets out a broad range of social and political changes, including:
- Thirty hours of childcare per week in term time for all three and four-year-olds, as well as vulnerable two-year-olds.
Housing benefit reforms, described by critics as the "bedroom tax", to be abolished, and a halt to the rollout of Universal Credit.
Basic rate tax allowances and tax credits to rise at least in line with inflation.
A "triple-locked" pension system designed to guarantee income keeps pace with the cost of living
Minimum wage to "rise alongside the cost of living".
But what of the bigger picture? The concept of Great Britain is threatened by Scottish independence, according to the BBC's Andrew Marr. In a recent interview with Salmond, he suggested independence would mean the end of Great Britain. Salmond hit back, saying: "The state we currently live in is not Great Britain, it's the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. 'Britain' won't disappear as a geographical expression any more than 'Scandinavia'."
What happens if it's a yes vote?
Alex Salmond and the SNP will hold a very large party. After that, a constitutional settlement will need to be drawn up and that could take some time, says the BBC. It will lay out the terms of independence and resolve some of the questions mentioned above. Salmond has said he wants to declare Independence Day in March 2016 and hold elections to an independent Scottish parliament in May.
And if it's a no vote?
Salmond has described the referendum as a once-in-a-generation event. It seems everyone involved in the process wants to abide by the referee's decision and avoid the prospect of what long-suffering residents of Quebec call the "neverendum".
Will Salmond's political career be over if it's a no vote?
"Don't bet on it," says his biographer David Torrance in the Daily Telegraph. A yes vote of between 35 and 40 per cent of the vote would allow Salmond to "point to progress" and hang on as the SNP's leader. The Telegraph points out that "more powers will still be on their way north", even if independence is rejected on 18 September. The Scotland Act, signed into law last year, will allow MSPs to set income tax rates and let the Scottish Parliament borrow more money. If the no vote does prevail it "raises the prospect of prolonged bartering between Holyrood and Westminster", the paper says. Indeed the Scottish Liberal Democrats have already called on the SNP to "embrace devolution" if the country rejects independence rather than acting like "reluctant bystanders" in any talks.
Standard Life warns it could quit an independent Scotland
STANDARD LIFE has become the first significant Scottish business to warn that it could leave Scotland in the event of independence.
The pensions and savings firm, which has had its headquarters in Scotland for 189 years, is drawing up contingency plans to potentially relocate funds, people and operations to England if Scots vote to leave the UK in September.
In its annual report, published today, Standard Life's chairman Gerry Grimstone said Scotland had been a great base for the company but added "if anything were to threaten this, we will take whatever action we consider necessary - including transferring parts of our operations from Scotland - in order to ensure continuity and to protect the interests of our stakeholders".
BBC business editor Robert Peston says this could extend to shifting the headquarters from Edinburgh to London.
The firm said the contingency plans were a "precautionary measure" to ensure continuity of its competitive business position and to protect the interests of its stakeholders in the event of a "Yes" vote.
The company said it was unable to fully assess the impact of independence on its four million UK customers, its 5,000 Scottish-based employees and its 1.5 million shareholders.
It cited uncertainties about the future currency, how interest rates would be set, how financial companies like Standard Life would be regulated, how savings and pensions would be taxed, and under what timetable Scotland could join the EU.
The firm insisted that it had a "long-standing policy of strict political neutrality" and at no time would it advise people how they should vote.
Nevertheless, Peston says the firm's intervention in the Scottish independence debate is "particularly significant" because it is a symbolically important company in Scottish financial history and is regarded as a great success.
"Although Standard Life's location is not vital to Scottish prosperity," says Peston, "the threat of tens of billions of pounds of funds and thousands of highly-skilled jobs flowing across the border are bound to have an electrifying impact on the independence battle."
Cameron and Salmond to hold rival North Sea oil meetings
THE North Sea oil industry is high on the agenda in Aberdeenshire today as David Cameron and Alex Salmond stage "rival" Cabinet meetings within a few miles of each other.
The two meetings coincide with a major report on the oil and gas industry, published by Scottish businessman Sir Ian Wood, and is only the second time since 1921 that the UK Cabinet has met in Scotland.
The Prime Minister is expected to emphasise the economic benefits of Scotland remaining part of the UK, promising to fast-track Wood's plan to increase North Sea revenues by £200bn.
Wood, the former chairman of energy services company Wood Group, says North Sea operators needed to work together to boost production, and called for a powerful new regulator to co-ordinate action in the UK's economic interest.
Cameron will argue that only the UK in its current form can afford the tax incentives the industry requires to make the hard-to-reach oil reserves that remain profitable.
Writing in today's Daily Telegraph, Ed Davey, the Energy Secretary, said: "Because of the size and diversity of the UK economy, we can provide the stability, certainty and levels of support that a smaller country would struggle match."
Meanwhile, Salmond and his ministers will hold a Cabinet meeting and public meeting about independence a few miles south of Aberdeen in Portlethen.
The First Minister has accused Cameron of "talking so much hooey" and claims Westminster has "swallowed" up North Sea oil revenues for 40 years instead of investing them in an oil fund as Norway has done. He described Westminster's track record as "abysmal", while praising Norway's as "excellent".
He added: "When we take control of Scotland's resources then I think we'll set about emulating what's happened in Norway as opposed to looking to the rather dismal record of London control."
On 18 September, Scots will take to the polls to answer "yes" or "no" to the question: "Should Scotland be an independent country?"
David Bowie spots the danger: Scots' Yes vote gathers strength
DAVID BOWIE was, as ever, ahead of the game last night when he finished his Brit acceptance speech, delivered by Kate Moss, with the call: "Scotland - stay with us."
The latest polls suggest that, with seven months to go before the referendum, those who want Scotland to stay in the United Kingdom are losing their grip.
The majority of Scots are still saying they will vote No to independence in September, but that majority is slipping all the time.
The very latest poll, conducted by Survation, shows the gap between the Yes and No campaigns has reduced to just nine points. The No - or pro-union - campaign has fallen to 47 per cent, while the Yes – or pro–independence – campaign is up to 38 per cent.
What is significant is that the poll was conducted after Chancellor George Osborne warned – to the fury of the Scots Nationalists - that Scotland would not be able to keep the pound if it votes to go independent, and European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso raised equally awkward questions about whether an independent Scotland would be able to stay in the EU.
The new poll suggests that what might have been perceived – south of the border - as serious evidence that an independent Scotland is unrealistic, has simply fired up those Scots tempted but unsure about independence.
Scotland's deputy first minister Nicola Sturgeon said the poll result was "exceptionally encouraging", adding: “It is clear that there has been a severe backlash to George Osborne’s bluster and threats on the pound - with more than half of the No campaign’s lead wiped out in just three weeks.
“Far more people are likely to vote Yes on the back of the Westminster establishment’s attempted bullying rather than No.”
Another recent poll put the gap between Yes and No even tighter – at only seven points. The ICM poll conducted in late January showed 44 per cent saying they would vote No, down from 49 per cent in September. Those saying they would vote Yes were up from 32 to 37 per cent. (The don't knows remained stable at 19 per cent.)
This represented a five per cent swing towards the Yes vote - which was described as "very significant" by Yes Scotland, the pro-independence campaigners, because it now needs only a further three per cent swing, with seven months to achieve it, for the Yes vote to overtake the No vote.
One caveat regarding the new Survation poll is offered by the Political Betting website which points out that the fieldwork was conducted at at the same time that First Minister Alex Salmond was responding angrily to George Osborne's sterling threat. Given the media coverage, and Salmond's "positive ratings amongst Scottish voters", this could have influenced the response.
But Salmond's charisma and passionate belief in an independent Scotland is central to all of this – and one of the key reasons why Political Betting feels that, with bookmakers offering odds of 7/2, a flutter on the Yes campaign winning the referendum is a good bet.
As for the No campaign, there are constant mutterings that its leader, Alistair Darling, is too laid-back and colourless for what is looking like a far closer vote than anyone foresaw. Either Darling needs replacing – or the No campaign needs a serious injection of charisma.
Will Starman Bowie's intervention see the start of a celebrity campaign to keep the UK together? Or will they be frightened off by the torrent of abuse Bowie has received overnight from so-called 'CyberNats'? According to the Daily Telegraph, "F*** off back to Mars" was just one of many messages he received on social media.
Salmond: end of Scottish pound would cost UK £500m
SCOTLAND'S First Minister Alex Salmond has described Westminster's case against a currency union as "ill-thought out and misinformed".
George Osborne said last week that a vote for Scottish independence would mean walking away from the pound, while Labour and the Liberal Democrats also came out to oppose a currency union.
Salmond had vowed to "deconstruct" Osborne's case "point by point" during a speech to members of the pro-independence Business for Scotland organisation in Aberdeen today.
He told them that a separate Scottish currency would cost businesses in what remained of the UK £500m in additional transaction charges.
"My submission is that this charge - let us call it the George tax - would be impossible to sell to English business," he said.
"In fact if you remove oil and gas from the equation, Scotland is one of the very few countries in the world with which England has a balance of trade surplus."
Salmond told the BBC ahead of his speech that the pound belonged to Scotland as much as the rest of the UK.
"By suggesting otherwise, the Westminster establishment - Tories, Labour and Lib Dems - are reaping a backlash from the ordinary people of Scotland, who feel this is an attempt to bully Scotland ahead of the democratic choice we all look forward to this September," he said.
Salmond's opponents, as well as some pro-independence campaigners, have called for an alternative 'Plan B', such as a new currency, but the First Minister looks unlikely to back down from his original plans.
The currency debate is seen as a critical moment in the battle over Scotland, says the Financial Times. The newspaper adds that it is hard to resist the conclusion that Salmond's bluff has been called.
Meanwhile, Scottish government ministers have dismissed as "preposterous" comments from European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso that it would be "extremely difficult, if not impossible" for an independent Scotland to join the European Union. Barroso said that all current member states would have to approve Scotland's membership, while the Scottish National Party has insisted that no member state has said it would not.
A further potential obstacle emerged this morning when a senior Scottish legal expert told Radio 4's Today programme that Scotland's hopes of belonging to the EU in the event of separation could be taken out of the Scots' hands - because only the UK would be able to negotiate with Brussels.
Sir David Edward, emeritus professor of law at Edinburgh University and a former judge in the European court of justice, said: "My view is that if there is a Yes vote, independence doesn't immediately follow. There must be an interval before separation from the rest of the UK happens.
"During that period, there is no entity called Scotland that can negotiate with the EU....There is no such thing as Scotland at that point that could negotiate so the United Kingdom has to negotiate the terms on which the new Scotland at the moment of separation would be a member state."
Scottish independence: Osborne rules out currency union
CHANCELLOR George Osborne has ruled out a formal currency union with an independent Scotland, saying that "if Scotland walks away from the UK it walks away from the UK pound".
The Scottish government wants to retain the currency if there is a Yes vote in September's referendum, rather than having to join the euro or establish its own currency.
In Edinburgh today Osborne appeared to to dash the hopes of the Scottish National Party, arguing that a eurozone-style currency union would be unworkable. He will be echoed by Labour and the Liberal Democrats, the BBC reports.
The Westminster parties believe that last month's intervention by Mark Carney, the Bank of England governor, makes it plausible for them to rule out a currency union entirely.
It comes amid strong polling evidence that financial matters have become a decisive factor for voters.
Osborne told the House of Lords economics affairs committee last week that the SNP's currency plans had been "pretty effectively demolished by the Governor of the Bank of England".
He added: "It was a very non-partisan technical speech from a Canadian citizen, who pointed out that the conditions for a successful monetary union require the ceding of sovereignty and the creation of a banking union. That is why I said last year in Glasgow that I thought it was unlikely that a workable monetary union could be created."
A spokeswoman for SNP's finance secretary, John Swinney, responded to advance reports of Osborne's speech by describing it as "nothing more than an attempt by the Westminster establishment to bully Scotland, now that they have started to lose the argument on independence".
She told the Scotsman that it was "a sign of panic that will backfire badly" and added: "People know that the Westminster establishment will say one thing before the referendum but behave far more rationally after a 'Yes' vote when its self interest will lie in agreeing a currency union with Scotland."
PM invokes spirit of Team GB to fight Scottish independence
DAVID CAMERON urged Scotland to back "Team GB" and vote against independence in September's referendum.
At a speech at the Olympic Park in London, the Prime Minister said that the whole UK would be "deeply diminished" if Scotland opted to leave. He called on the English, Welsh and Northern Irish to urge Scotland to reject independence.
Cameron invoked the spirit of the Great Britain Olympic team, which won 65 medals in 2012. "For me, the best thing about the Olympics wasn't the winning. It was the red, the white, the blue," he is due to say.
"It was the summer that patriotism came out of the shadows and into the sun. Everyone cheering as one for Team GB. And it's Team GB I want to talk about today. Our United Kingdom."
The Scottish National Party's deputy first minister, Nicola Sturgeon, accused the Prime Minister of a "tawdry bid" to politicise a sporting event. She also attacked him for speaking in England not Scotland – saying he did not have the "guts" to take on First Minister Alex Salmond.
Cameron's appeal to the rest of the UK marks a "new, Canadian-style phase of the No campaign", says Herald Scotland. Pro-Union parties believe appeals from other parts of Canada were crucial to the narrow victory in the 1995 Quebec independence referendum, says the newspaper.
Around four million people over the age of 16 and living in Scotland will be able to take part in the referendum, promised by the country's ruling SNP, on 18 September.
According to a poll in The Scotsman last month, Salmond is "within reach of victory". Support for independence grew by five per cent, from 32 per cent to 37 per cent, between September and January, the largest swing towards a Yes vote recorded so far in the campaign. The poll found that 44 per cent planned to vote against independence and 19 per cent were yet to decide.
BoE's Mark Carney wades into Scottish independence debate
MARK CARNEY has "waded into the treacherous waters" of Scotland's constitutional debate by warning about the dangers of post-independence currency sharing, the Financial Times reports.
In a speech made in Edinburgh today the Bank of England governor said "a durable, successful currency union" with the rest of the UK would require some "ceding of national sovereignty".
The FT says pro-union campaigners will "seize upon" the remark as evidence that the price of a robust currency union would be "limits to an independent Scotland's fiscal autonomy".
Prior to today's speech, a spokesman for the BoE said the governor would offer a "cold analysis" of a currency union – one that studiously avoided taking sides. While Carney's speech was "scrupulously technocratic", it offered slivers of hope to both sides of the debate, the FT says.
Nationalists will be pleased with the governor's "willingness to engage seriously with the Scottish government's proposal for a post-independence pact that would allow shared use of the pound and Bank of England to continue", the FT says. They would also be encouraged by his willingness to hold a private meeting with Scotland's First Minister Alex Salmond today to discuss technical details of a post-independence monetary arrangement, a process that was started by Carney's predecessor Mervyn King.
The question of whether a currency union would continue if Scotland goes it alone, is a vexed one. The Scottish National party accepts that some form of formal fiscal agreement with London would be required for a currency union to continue. UK government ministers and some economists say London would be "unlikely to accept such a currency union" in the event of a 'yes' vote, the FT says.
Alistair Darling, former UK chancellor and head of the pro-union Better Together campaign has called the idea "increasingly dead in the water". ·