Friday, 29 May 2015

Deeper Water for Memo Leak MP

Alistair Carmichael to face legal

action over Frenchgate memo leak

Alistair Carmichael, Scottish Secretary, Quality news image uploaded March 31 2015
Campaigners vying to oust MP Alistair Carmichael over a controversial leaked memo have submitted an election petition at the Court of Session.
The People Vs Alistair Carmichael, a non-political group, have raised the legal action in a bid to overturn the MP's election victory in Orkney and Shetland in the wake of the 'Frenchgate' revelations after raising more than £40,000 through a crowdfunding website.
The campaign, backed by island residents, wants to hold Mr Carmichael "accountable for his behaviour before, during and after the election campaign".
Mr Carmichael has admitted responsibility for the memo, leaked just days before the general election, which wrongly alleged that First Minister Nicola Sturgeon wanted David Cameron to remain in power.
The Orkney and Shetland MP, who previously denied any knowledge of the memo, has since apologised to both Ms Sturgeon and the French ambassador to the UK after a Cabinet Office investigation into the leak concluded he "could and should have stopped the sharing of the memo".
Meanwhile, Mr Carmichael, who narrowly held onto his seat by 817 votes, has rejected calls to step down while the Scottish Lib Dems say he will face no disciplinary action.
A crowdfunding campaign, calling for "honesty in politics", was started on Tuesday by Orkney-based campaigner and writer Fiona MacInnes.

Lib Dem: Commons would empty 'very fast' if lying MPs had to quit

Read More
The campaign aims to raise £60,000 for legal fees. On Friday it was sitting at £43,000, easily surpassing the £6000 required to lodge the petition within the allotted 21-day period following an election.
The petition was submitted to the Petitions Department of the Court of Session in Edinburgh on Friday.
Ms MacInnes said: "We are totally overwhelmed with the whole thing, the speed of it all - we jammed the website when it first went up.
"Minute by minute people are putting in what they can, with people from all over Scotland recognising this issue isn't just local - it is much bigger than that."
She added that the money raised on the crowdfunding website has gone towards launching the petition, as well as ongoing legal costs following that.
She said: "The funding is related to the costs of legal action under the Representation of the People's Act - which isn't free and costs a substantial amount of money.
"The first hurdle for us to pass is around £5000-£6000 to take up a legal petition over it. The people taking forward this are regular constituents who are taking the financial responsibility, and we just don't have this money on our own.
"We have now funded enough for that, but then we have to buy legal representation, which again is a significant amount."

Shetland MSP Tavish Scott backs Carmichael in election memo row

Read More
Ms MacInnes added: "We have to have the petition signed and got to Edinburgh by the deadline tomorrow [Friday] - with our lawyers having only three days to have it drafted up.
"If we raise more money than we need to then we plan give the excess money to food banks across Scotland.
"Equally, as in any legal issue the case could be thrown out after the petition, therefore we would give the money to food banks then also."
On Tuesday, police revealed they had received a complaint over the leaked memo and are investigating the matter.
A Police Scotland spokeswoman said: "A complaint was made and police inquiries are ongoing to establish if there is any criminality."

Wednesday, 27 May 2015

Scottish Mandate Yields Small Results

SNP dissatisfied with devolution of 

powers outlined in Queen's speech

Nicola Sturgeon says general election results were mandate for measures beyond those recommended by the Smith commission and contained in the Scotland bill

Nicola Sturgeon (right) visiting a gardening project at a housing association development in Craigmillar, Edinburgh.
Nicola Sturgeon (right) visiting a housing association development in Craigmillar, Edinburgh. She said it was clear ‘the priorities this UK government have outlined in the Queen’s speech are not the priorities of the Scottish government’. Photograph: Andrew Milligan/PA

Nicola Sturgeon has said that “dramatically changed political circumstances in Scotland”, which saw the SNP win 56 out of 59 seats in the general election, amounts to “a mandate for substantial further powers beyond those recommended by the Smith process” and thus contained in the draft Scotland bill.
The rudiments of the new Scotland bill confirmed in the Queen’s speech, including powers to raise 40% of taxes and decide about 60% of public spending, appear to follow faithfully the draft legislation laid out by David Cameron in Edinburgh in January. That was based on the recommendations of the cross-party Smith commission, which was convened to agree more powers for Scotland in the wake of last September’s closely-fought vote to reject independence.
At the time, the SNP dismissed the clauses Cameron put forward as watering down the Smith agreement in key areas, and on Wednesday the SNP’s Westminster leader, Angus Robertson, reiterated that “anything less than implementation of the Smith commission in full would be a breach of faith”. But, echoing Sturgeon, he added: “The Tories must also respond to the election result and react positively to proposals for a transfer of powers beyond Smith, a position which won overwhelming support in the election.”
Following its landslide victory across Scotland earlier this month, the SNP believes it now has an electoral mandate for the far more ambitious set of powers detailed in its manifesto, including the power to increase the minimum wage in Scotland at a faster rate than the UK, control national insurance rates, introduce separate equality policies and set other business taxes independently of the Treasury, and will continue to push for those.
The SNP manifesto also included the flagship policy of full fiscal autonomy, which the Institute for Fiscal Studies estimated would leave a £7.6bn “black hole” in Scotland’s finances.
While none of these elements were included in the Queen’s speech, it did cover allowing the Scottish parliament to set thresholds and rates of income tax on earnings in Scotland and keep all income raised in Scotland, giving Holyrood control over the first 10 percentage points of standard rate VAT revenue raised in Scotland, new welfare powers worth £2.5bn, and devolution of air passenger duty. It also stated that a new fiscal framework for Scotland would be negotiated alongside the bill.
Robertson also said the SNP would seek urgent clarity on legislation relating to “English votes for English laws” and, during the Commons debate following the speech, SNP MPs expressed concern that the Conservatives intended to amend their voting rights using the standing orders of the House rather than a full bill. In an interview with the Guardian before the general election, Sturgeon insisted that it was “not just legitimate … but absolutely essential” that Scottish MPs had the right to vote on issues with a “knock-on effect” on Scotland, such as the NHS budget.
Labour’s shadow secretary of state for Scotland, Ian Murray, described the tabling of the Scotland bill as a “significant moment” and insisted that his party would work to ensure that the now infamous “vow” of more powers for Scotland, made by the Tory, Labour and Lib Dem leaders in the days before the referendum vote, was kept in full.
Murray reiterated Scottish Labour’s commitment to keeping to the Barnett formula, after a reduction in how much money the devolved Scottish government receives was signalled in the Queen’s speech. He added: “The test now for the Tories is if they can deliver the devolution Scotland wants without leaving Scotland worse off.”
Sturgeon said: “It is abundantly clear that the priorities this UK government have outlined in the Queen’s speech are not the priorities of the Scottish government.”

Sunday, 24 May 2015

They Call it Hypocrisy

Carmichael must abide by his own code

The SNP has today cited a newspaper column written by Alistair Carmichael - where he highlights the need for MPs "to tell the truth" -to abide by his own code and stand down from being the MP for Orkney and Shetland.
The uncovering of this column published in the Shetland Times in 2010 comes as pressure increases on Mr Carmichael to resign, following the revelation on Friday that he was responsible for leaking the false memo about Nicola Sturgeon's conversation with the French Ambassador - and then covered up the truth from the people of Orkney and Shetland until after the general election.
In a further blow it has emerged that the last remaining Lib Dem MP in Scotland also supported an Early Day Motion on the right of recall for MPs who are found guilty of serious wrongdoing to stand down and face a by-election.
Commenting, Mike McKenzie, SNP MSP for the Highlands and Islands, said:
“Just when Mr Carmichael thought things couldn’t get any worse he has been caught in breach of his own code – and this further deepens the credibility crisis he now finds himself in.
“Mr Carmichael’s newspaper column in the Shetland Times, where he cites the dangers of political smears and the need for MPs to be truthful - along with his support for the right of constituents to recall their MP - leaves his position increasingly perilous.
“Mr Carmichael misled his constituents during an election, and the only way that he can relieve the pressure he is under is to stand down.
“There are also questions for Scottish Lib Dem leader Willie Rennie and indeed former Lib Dem UK leader Nick Clegg to answer - what did they know, and when did they know it?
“We need to know the answers to these questions - especially now that we know the Lib Dems aren't prepared to take any action at all.
“Had Alistair Carmichael admitted the truth before polling day, he would have been a discredited candidate and the result may well have been different - it's possible he would have gone the same way as every other Lib Dem MP in Scotland and been turfed out by the voters.
"Mr Carmichael's majority plummeted from nearly 10,000 to just over 800, and there appears to be a very strong reaction in Orkney and Shetland against him this weekend. The people in his constituency deserve to know the whole truth, and in my view would be best served by Mr Carmichael standing down."
Danus Skene, SNP candidate for the Northern Isles for the General Election, said that the people of Orkney and Shetland have been left with an MP of questionable integrity.
Mr Skene said:
"Mr Carmichael has now admitted responsibility for the authorisation of the leak. This amounts to an admission that he lied. He could and should have come clean at the time. This would have been before the election, and before the expenditure of time and money pursuing an enquiry to establish the truth.
“As it is, the people of Orkney and Shetland were kept in the dark by a cover-up, and find themselves to have elected an MP of questionable integrity whose standing in the Commons is fatally undermined. We in the Isles cannot consider ourselves to be effectively or honourably represented.
"It is appropriate that Mr Carmichael should be pressed by so many of his constituents to consider whether his career as MP is over. Orkney and Shetland need and deserve effective representation. We have an extensive and distinctive agenda concerning fisheries issues, the future of renewables, transport links and the future of the oil and gas industry. We must also address the challenges faced across the country concerning the need to end the UK Government's failed austerity programme.
"The SNP in the Isles stands ready to contest any new election to select an appropriately focussed MP of integrity. We will present a prospectus that seeks to promote prosperity, fairness, and good government."

Friday, 22 May 2015

Lib Dem Shame

Lib Dem minister Alistair Carmichael ordered leak of Sturgeon conversation with French ambassador

The leak came at a crucial time during the election campaign

A Liberal Democrat minister ordered a civil servant to leak a memo recounting a conversation between the French ambassador and Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, he has admitted.
Alistair Carmichael described the move, made during the general election campaign, as an “error of judgement which I regret”.
The leaked document contained a second-hand account of the conversation and claimed that Ms Sturgeon had said she would prefer David Cameron as prime minister compared to Ed Miliband.
Both Ms Sturgeon and the French ambassador denied the version of events presented in the document.
“I had not seen the document before it was published in the Daily Telegraph, however I was aware of its content and agreed that my special adviser should make it public,” Mr Carmichael said in a statement.
“I should not have agreed this. It was an error of judgement which I regret. I accept full responsibility for the publication of the document.
“I have written today to the First Minister and to the French Ambassador to apologise to them both; had I still been a Government Minister I would have considered this to be a matter that required my resignation.”

Nicola Sturgeon:ç
"I accept his apology, but the real issue is that he should be apologising to the people of Orkney and Shetland, because he clearly contested the election on false pretences." 

Alex Salmond at the Helm

SNP secures Westminster debate on 

Trident safety

Alex Salmond set to lead debate in Commons following allegations that UK’s nuclear deterrent is a ‘disaster waiting to happen’

Royal Navy's Trident-class nuclear submarine Vanguard
Royal Navy’s 16,000 ton Trident-class nuclear submarine Vanguard. Photograph: PA

The Scottish National party has secured an adjournment debate in the first week of the new parliament to ensure that allegations by Faslane whistleblower William McNeilly are not “swept under the carpet by the Ministry of Defence”.
The newly appointed SNP foreign affairs spokesperson Alex Salmond will lead the debate in the Commons next Thursday in the wake of claims that Britain’s nuclear deterrent is a “disaster waiting to happen”.
Able Seaman McNeilly, 25, is in the custody of Royal Navy police after he went absent without leave from Faslane naval base last week following the publication online of his 18-page report which included details of 30 alleged breaches of safety and security.
Salmond said that the debate would ensure that the allegations remained in the public domain. “The SNP will continue to keep the pressure on the government until we are satisfied that not only have they have investigated Mr McNeilly’s claims thoroughly and have acted on the findings but that those findings are put into the public domain.”
Brendan O’Hara, the SNP’s newly elected MP for Argyll and Bute, which includes Faslane, added: “The debate next Thursday allows us to address the very serious allegations made by Able Seaman William McNeilly and prevent them from being swept under the carpet by the Ministry of Defence.”
He continued: “We insist that the MoD make a formal statement on this matter at the earliest opportunity as there are now serious questions over the safety and security procedures currently operating at HMNB Clyde, Faslane and on the submarines that carry these nuclear missiles.”
McNeilly was apprehended at Edinburgh airport on Monday night after flying in from an undisclosed location in Europe. He has since been moved to a military establishment in England.
McNeilly is understood not to be under arrest or in custody. He remains technically on duty and so is required to remain at the establishment for the time being. Provision has been made for his family to join him from Belfast.
He will be offered legal representation, either by a naval barrister or a civilian lawyer of his own choosing, if the naval police decide that there is a case to answer. The Guardian has learned that at least two experienced human rights lawyers have offered to assist him.
McNeilly is expected to be charged with military infractions including going absent without leave, but the Ministry of Defence has already said that he will not be prosecuted under the Official Secrets Act.
If he is found guilty, it is likely to result in incarceration in a military prison, though the discretion to impose a lengthy sentence is believed to be limited.
In the online dossier, McNeilly claimed it was more difficult to get into some nightclubs than to gain access to Britain’s nuclear programme facility. Referring to a chronic shortage of personnel, he suggested it was “a matter of time before we’re infiltrated by a psychopath or a terrorist”.
He also detailed a fire on board a submarine and the inappropriate use of HMS Vanguard’s missile compartment as a gym and accused navy chiefs of covering up a collision between HMS Vanguard and a French submarine in the Atlantic Ocean in February 2009.
At first minister’s questions earlier on Thursday, SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon described McNeilly’s allegations are “deeply concerning” and reiterated calls for an inquiry.
In a lengthy statement posted on Facebook on Monday, in which he announced that he would be turning himself in to the authorities because he “lacked the resources” to stay on the run, McNeilly wrote: “Unlike some whistleblowers out there who release information without consideration, put lives at risk and reduce security: I only included essential information, I tried the chain of command route, sources were referred to by rank instead of name, there was information I never released that would’ve helped the report but it would’ve caused a security risk … My motives are clearly to protect the people and land. Whatever happens, don’t worry about me; I’ll be alright.”

Thursday, 21 May 2015

Triggering the Next Scottish Referendum

Scotland may have to leave the EU even if it votes to stay in, David Cameron confirms

PM rejects Nicola Sturgeon's plan for an EU referendum lock

Scotland may have to leave the European Union even if it votes to stay in the bloc, David Cameron has confirmed.
The Prime Minister indicated to the Daily Express newspaper that the constituent countries of the United Kingdom would not have to agree before an EU exit went ahead.
“We put forward in our manifesto the clearest possible pledge of an in-out referendum by the end of 2017. That has now been backed in a UK General Election and I believe I have a mandate for that,” he told the newspaper.
“They didn’t give Orkney and Shetland an opt-out, or the Borders an opt out [during the Scottish independence referendum] so this is a UK pledge, it will be delivered for the UK.”
Mr Cameron’s assertion is a rejection of calls from Scotland’s first minister Nicola Sturgeon, says she wants a “lock” to be put on Britain’s EU exit.
Under such an arrangement, England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland would all have to vote to leave the European Union for the UK to quit the block.
Ms Sturgeon has said a situation where the UK left the European Union against Scotland’s wishes could lead to another independence referendum.
 “If there was an in-out referendum, and clearly with a majority Tory government that must be on the horizon, and Scotland voted to stay in the EU and the rest of the UK voted to come out, I think there would be significant opinion in Scotland that we had to re-look at the issue of independence,” she told Sky News earlier this month.
“But I actually want to have an arrangement to stop that happening,” she added, a reference to her triple-lock deal.
Recent surveys conducted by all pollsters have found a strong plurality of voters in favour of staying in the European Union.
The latest survey by YouGov found that 45% would vote to stay and 36% would vote to leave. The polls are volatile, however. In January and February two surveys by Opinium and TNS-BMRB respectively found people voting to leave.

Union Support for the SNP

, Scottish Political Editor

The Telegraph

The leader of Labour’s largest trade union paymaster has warned it could start backing SNP candidates in Scotland unless Ed Miliband’s successor adopts his Left-wing policy agenda.
Len McCluskey, the general secretary of Unite, said his union will consider several resolutions from Scottish members at special conference in July that would scrap the rule meaning they can only back Labour candidates.
He said most of his Scottish members voted SNP in the general election and warned the new leader’s “challenge” to retain his union’s exclusive support is to ensure that they are “the voice of organised labour”.
But the union boss was forced to reject an attack from Jim Murphy, the outgoing Scottish Labour leader, that it would be the “kiss of death” for Labour if it bowed to Mr McCluskey’s demands and he must not be allowed to influence the selection of the new leader.

On the March......

Nicola Sturgeon, centre, is joined by the newly elected SNP MPs outside the Houses of Parliament

Saturday, 16 May 2015

England`s Remaining Empire?

 From "Bella Caledonia" blog.


First Wales, Now Berwick?

Is Wales part of England? Is Berwick upon Tweed? I suspect most people would answer “no” to the first, and probably “yes” to the second. With the recent successful referendum on law making powers for the Welsh Assembly, the success of Plaid Cymru, and Welsh Language Act etc – it can be said that Wales has made giant strides away from being any such thing. If it ever was.  And it shall be all the better for it.
In 1746, nearly forty years after the Union, and at the tail end of the Jacobite rebellion, the British Parliament passed the “Wales and Berwick Act”, which stated that:
“It is declared and enacted that in all cases where the Kingdom of England and England hath been or shall be mentioned in any Act of Parliament, the same has been and shall henceforth be deemed and taken to comprehend and include the dominion of Wales and Town of Berwick upon Tweed.”
In other words, whenever legislation referred to “England”, it encompassed Berwick and Wales, and for almost all intents and purposes, they were annexed to it. This act has since been repealed, and is largely irrelevant to modern Wales. But what about Berwick upon Tweed? In fact, in the case of Berwick, the British state continues to behave as if it has always been part of England. Is it? Why the need to mention it specifically?
The question of Berwick is a perennial one, rarely entering the mainstream consciousness, but always lingering in the background. It is one of those anomalies known to the few, but forever in legal limbo, like Cornwall or Shetland. There have been some reports over the past few years, about Berwick becoming part of Scotland, but these are mainly about how Scottish healthcare is better than England’s, particularly after recent brutal cuts to the NHS. England’s influence on Berwick is best summed up by what Alexander Eddington, wrote in ‘Castles and Historic Homes of the Border’ (1926):
“Berwick, by the middle of the 13th century, was considered a second Alexandria, so extensive was its commerce; in 1296, Edward I killed thousands in Berwick, [and] the greatest merchant city in Scotland sank into a small seaport.”
Unlike Carlisle, which was Scottish capital under David I, Berwick has never been completely comfortable in England and many Berwickers believe they would be better off back in Scotland. Polls held in early 2008, by the Berwick Advertiser and ITV Tonight suggest that 60-70% of people in the town want to return to being part of Scotland. This came shortly after Christine Grahame MSP lodged a motion in the Scottish parliament for the return of Berwick saying, “Even the Berwick upon Tweed Borough Council leader, who is a Liberal Democrat, backs the idea and others see the merits of reunification with Scotland.”
The response from the Scottish Liberal Democrats was confused and ill-thought out (as ever), and came from Jeremy Purvis MSP. Mr Purvis was born and raised in Berwick, but wanted the border moved twenty miles south, saying that Christine Grahame’s suggestion didn’t go far enough. He said,
“There’s a strong feeling that Berwick should be in Scotland…I had a gran in Berwick and another in Kelso, and they could see that there were better public services in Scotland. Berwick as a borough council is going to be abolished and it would then be run from Morpeth, more than 30 miles away.”
Purvis is confusing the town of Berwick, which is historically Scottish, with “Berwick Borough Council”, which dates only from 1974. Berwick Borough Council merged Berwick proper with neighbouring English council areas, which include the likes of Alnwick and Lindisfarne. Berwick has also fused naturally with Tweedmouth and Spittal, which also fogs the issue. However, few Scots consider these areas to be part of Scotland, as they are on the south bank of the Tweed, and don’t have the same connection with Scotland, unless we count the early history of Lindisfarne. At the time Berwick Borough Council was set up, Berwickshire, in Scotland, was abolished. (When Berwick was taken, Duns became the county town of Berwickshire.) Berwickshire was replaced by Border Region, but you can still see/hear the name frequently today. In East Lothian, there’s also a town called North Berwick, so called because Berwick upon Tweed was “South Berwick”. If you find this all confusing, that’s because it is. In fact, the constitutional position of Berwick is so obscure, that few people know that Berwick only officially became part of England in 1885, and even then this position was not fully enshrined in law.
Berwick was a prosperous and important town when ruled by Scotland. It had its own mint, and was a major trading port with the Continent and the Hanseatic League. It was one of four Royal Burghs in Scotland, and made a quarter of all customs revenues received north of the border. Robert the Bruce held a number of parliaments in Berwick, and issued proclamations from it. Amongst the town’s exports were wool, grain and salmon, while merchants from Germany and the Low Countries set up businesses in the town in order to trade. Under English rule, however, it was little more than a minor port and border garrison. The Continental merchants fled, and its wealth atrophied.
Berwick became part of Scotland in the 11th century, and was known as “South Berwick”. Between 1147 and 1482, Berwick changed hands no less than 13 times. In 1551, King Edward IV and Queen Mary signed a treaty which said that Berwick would be ruled by England, but would not become part of it. This ensured peace, but was not good for the town, for example, when a certain governor of Berwick begged the English parliament for help regenerating the town, he received the bizarre reply that “Berwick is in the realm but not of it”.
In 1603, when James VI of Scots became King of England, he declared the town as belonging neither to England nor Scotland but part of the united Crown’s domain. In 1639, during the Bishops’ Wars, Charles I met General Leslie at Berwick, and negotiated a settlement whereby the King agreed that disputed questions should be referred to the Scottish Parliament. From thereon in, Berwick’s absorption was a slow one.
With the Acts of Union, the border ceased to be a major political issue. However, the ’45 changed that, with many in the Jacobite camp insisting that Scotland was a separate kingdom, even if their leaders thought otherwise. And in 1746, Westminster passed the “Wales and Berwick Act” mentioned above.
However after the 1746 Act, Berwick still had a status as a “county corporate”, and returned two members of parliament. In 1885, the “Redistribution Act” was passed, which cut Berwick’s representation to a single MP, and made it part of Northumberland. Berwick was now officially in England.
The English “Book of Common Prayer” also mentioned Berwick separately until the late 19th century saying: “This book shall be appointed to be used by all that officiate in all parish Churches and Chapels within the Kingdom of England, Dominion of Wales and town of Berwick upon Tweed.”
In 1959, the Town Council of Berwick applied for new Matriculation of Arms to the Lord Lyon of Scotland. They had previously applied to the Garter King of Arms (the English equivalent), but had not approved of his design which eliminated the bears and wych elm from which the town is supposed to derive its name, and which goes back to its time as one of the four Royal Burghs of Scotland. The Matriculation says:
“The Mayor, Aldermen and Burgesses of the Borough of Berwick upon Tweed in the County of the Borough and Town of Berwick upon Tweed, acting by the Council having by petition unto the Lord Lyon, King of Arms, shown; that Berwick upon Tweed was anciently a Royal Burgh of Scotland and bore Ensigns Armorial as such, a version of which said Ensigns has been matriculated for the County of Berwick in Scotland in the Public Register of All Arms and Bearings in Scotland.”
It is worth noting here that the English spelling “borough” is used, along with English titles – Mayor and aldermen – rather than Provost and Baillies.
In 1974, Berwick Borough was merged with neighbouring English councils, resulting in the current set up. Now, the plan is to abolish Berwick Borough Council altogether and place both its Scots and English parts under Morpeth. The “Interpretation Act 1978” provides that in legislation passed between 1967 and 1974, “a reference to England includes Berwick upon Tweed and Monmouthshire”.
Modern Berwick contains many contradictions, for example, the leader of the town uses the English title “mayor”, not “provost”, but like Scottish provosts, he wears a purple gown, not a red one, as English mayors do. Furthermore, the Mayor and Corporation of Berwick are supposed to take precedence over all those in England, except London and York. Berwick is also one of a handful of “unparished” areas in England. The Tweed still falls properly under Scots Law, although this is only occasionally observed. The town has branches of the Church of England, and the Church of Scotland, the latter since John Knox himself preached there. The banks in the town are a mixture of the usual Scottish and English ones.  In sporting terms, Berwick is Scottish. Berwick Rangers play football in the Second Division, although its ground is on the English side of the Tweed, and Berwick RFC plays their rugby in the Third Division. Unlike the nearby Scottish Border towns, Berwick is mainly a football town, and Berwick Rangers’ greatest moment came in 1967 when they beat Glasgow Rangers.
The media want us think that the Berwick issue is a new one. Not at all! Alan Hughes, a Yorkshire man who is Church of England vicar of Berwick reminded us back in an interview with The Scotsman in 2007 –
“My first parish was in Edinburgh’s Wester Hailes in the 1970s. There, I met Wendy Wood, the doughty Scottish Nationalist who used to stride into Berwick, ripping up any English signs and claiming Berwick back as Scotland’s ‘lost limb’”
Wendy Wood used to move the border signs into the middle of the Tweed bridge, and wrote about Berwick extensively in her autobiography ‘Yours Sincerely for Scotland’, devoting a whole chapter to it:
“The New Bridge opened in 1928 by the Prince of Wales has the English coat of arms on the south side with an inscription giving the names of the Minister of Transport and Chairman of Councils. The north end has the arms of Scotland with an inscription saying ‘Royal Tweed Bridge opened by HRH Prince of Wales – 16th May, 1928’ News reports of the time refer to the bridge as connecting two countries […] the Scottish Land Court sat at Berwick, the local labour exchange is under Scottish administration.
Why then is the Border sign three miles into Scotland from the middle of this bridge?”
The well known poet and writer of the mid 20th century, Morris Blythman, used to write under the pseudonym “Thurso Berwick” – a name which combined the north and south of  Scotland.
The British Establishment’s main concern about Berwick is not its citizens, but the fact that its return to Scotland would affect fishing and oil/gas exploration. We have already seen the transference of a large chunk of North Sea from Scotland to England. The shift in marine boundaries is, I believe, mainly a response to Scottish self-determination, rather than the Berwick question. But if the Berwick question gained momentum, the main response would be on this front. Britain has never fought fair, and we should remember that in all things.
Scotland’s land border is better established than that of many countries. Scotland isn’t split into several pieces, like Catalonia, Kurdistan or the Basque Country. It is not a recent invention, like that of Northern Ireland or Israel/Palestine. Nor have we lost our national capital, as Brittany has, with Nantes, and the départment of “Loire-Atlantique” being officially outwith “Bretagne”. That said, I believe there is a genuine Border question when it comes to Berwick. The feeling in Berwick itself is still very mixed. Some consider themselves English, some Scottish, and some just Berwickers. However, more and more want to be back in Scotland, and there are good reasons for them to be so. Wales was once written off as a lost cause. Maybe Berwick is what John Steinbeck called an “unwon cause”.

Friday, 15 May 2015

New Scotland explained: Could the north of England really break away from Britain?

It would be very difficult for a number of reasons

A petition calling for the North to secede from England and become part of Scotland has got over 28,000 signatures. How practical would this be?

Where would become part of Scotland?

The Angel of the North in Gateshead, after the year's first wave of heavy snowThe authors of the original petition have drawn a line south of Sheffield, Liverpool, and Hull.
The new border would run between the River Dee and the mouth of The Humber, with the three UK regions of the North West, the North East, and Yorkshire and the Humber included.
Stoke, Nottingham, and Derby would narrowly miss out on being part of New Scotland.

Why do people want it to happen?

David Cameron hosts the first Cabinet meeting of his new Government in Downing StreetThe petitioners feel that the Government of the UK is “becoming increasingly irrelevant to the north of England”.
The only cabinet minister with a seat in the North of England is George Osborne himself, who represents Tatton and Cheshire.
“The needs and challenges of the north cannot be understood by the endless parade of old Etonions lining the frontbenches of the House of Commons. The north of England should join the newly independent Scotland and regain control over its own destiny,” they say.
The petition's success comes after an election in which Scotland was swept by an SNP positioning itself to the left of the Labour party, a stance apparently appealing to many northern cities. A poll before the election found that millions of people in England and Wales would vote SNP if given the opption.

How could the North join Scotland?

Northern secession to Scotland would face number of significant hurdles. At the very least, there is a precedent that a referendum would have to be held and won.
After a referendum, the results would have to be accepted by both the UK government and the Scottish government.
But even getting to the point at which a referendum was held would be difficult. The north as a whole has no regional assembly or parliament like Scotland in which such a debate could be conducted and separatist politicians elected to.
Realistically, individual local councils would either have to hold referenda, or a vote would have to be organised independently of the state using civil society organisations.
It would be nigh-on impossible to get all the 70+ northern local authorities to agree to the former, while the latter would probably be ignored by central government.
If a referendum was secured it would be a huge turnaround from the one held under the last Labour government where the North East rejected even having a regional assembly.
Border towns could in theory hold local referendums and secede in a piecemeal manner. Other possibilities like unilateral annexation of the North by the Scottish Parliament or armed insurrection are even more remote possibilities.

Has this ever happened anywhere before?

Ukrainian soldiers during the conflict with pro-Russian separatistsThe good news for secessionists is that transfers of territory between states have historically been fairly common. The bad news is that annexations have unfortunately have historically usually involved violence.
The most recent examples tend to involve Russia. South Ossetia, a disputed territory in the caucasus, is being absorbed into Russia after a brief war in 2008. A 1992 referendum held in the region was not recognised as valid by most countries.
The Crimea has also been annexed from Ukraine by Russia, though again under circumstances of conflict. A referendum was held in the territory in 2014, though again, it was not widely recognised.
It could be argued that conversely, many former constituent republics of the USSR were transferred to the European Union after gaining national independence.