Nigel Farage targets Scotland with boast of success in European elections
Undaunted by the hostile welcome in Edinburgh last month and his thwarted campaigning in Aberdeen on Tuesday, the Ukip leader insists his party will take a Scottish seat in next May’s European elections. Read more…
Scotland would keep UK welfare system for five years after split, say experts
Independent Scotland would be heavily dependent on UK system until at least 2019, advisory group concludes. Read more…
RBS rejects joint proposal by US private equity firms JC Flowers and Apollo, but will contact other bidders in next few days
Royal Bank of Scotland has narrowed a shortlist of prospective bidders for hundreds of branches it must sell, with JC Flowers and Apollo dropping out of the race, sources familiar with the matter said.
The part-nationalised bank told the US private equity firms this week that their joint proposal had not been successful, the sources said. RBS is expected to contact other bidders in the next few days.
RBS has to sell 315 branches as a condition of receiving a £45.8m bailout during the 2008 financial crisis that left it 82% owned by the government. A planned £1.65bn sale to Santander collapsed last October.
A proposal from several of Britain’s biggest investment firms, fronted by former Tesco finance director Andrew Higginson, remains in the running, one of the sources said, along with a proposal from US private equity firms Centerbridge Partners and Corsair Capital. Virgin Money is waiting for a response to its proposal from RBS.
RBS may finalise a shortlist next week but the timetable for an eventual sale remains uncertain given the different types of proposals being considered.
RBS is preparing the business, code named Rainbow, for a stock market flotation but is open to the idea of having cornerstone investors on board before an initial public offering. The bank has said a sale this year is now unlikely, meaning it will have to ask European regulators to extend a December 2013 deadline.
UBS is advising RBS on the sale. RBS, UBS and JC Flowers declined to comment on the process.
Apparently William Hague and the French have got their way, after all, and can now supply advanced weapons to the “moderately mad mullahs”, as your cartoonist Steve Bell aptly describes the likely recipients of the UK and France’s military largesse. You report (UK forces EU to lift arms embargo on Syrian rebels, 28 May) that 25 EU governments were opposed to, and only the UK and France were in favour of, supplying weapons to the “moderates”. Nevertheless, in the interests of “unity” the 25 conceded to the two. What does this say about European democracy? It will surely reinforce the view of those cynics who claim that, in the last analysis, EU governments will always be subservient to the interests of the US, whatever EU citizens may wish.
According to UN reports, the “truly mad mullahs” – that is, the al-Nusra brigades – are doing at least 75% of the fighting, so the advanced weapons will not for long remain in the hands of the so-called moderates. So we have the extraordinary situation that the UK government will supply weapons that will inevitably fall into the hands of people inspired by the same fanatical jihadist Islam as those responsible for the Woolwich atrocity.
Is there any chance that our parliament can reverse this decision to further stoke the fires of conflict in the Middle East? Here is a chance for those who oppose the EU on the grounds that it undermines British democracy, namely the anti-EU Tories and Ukip, to demand a vote on whether it is in the UK’s best interests for Syria to further descend into a sectarian hell, as has happened in Libya.
Dr David Hookes
•?It is nearly a century since Britain and France decided, in the Sykes-Picot agreement of 1916, how to carve up the Arab areas of the Ottoman empire between them. For much of that century there have been wars in the region: British suppression of revolts in Iraq, repeated Israeli-Arab wars resulting from the disastrous division of Palestine, the Lebanese civil war, the two Gulf wars and now a civil war in Syria. Whether due to malevolence or incompetence, the actions of Britain and France have led to continual bloodshed, and they ought to have learned their lesson by now that they are incapable of doing any good. Instead they claim to be entitled to send arms to selected rebels in Syria now that the EU arms embargo on Syria has not been renewed. That was of course the same policy as the US adopted in Afghanistan, where the result of 30 years of internecine warfare is a weak and corrupt government which may soon be swept away.
•?A soldier is hacked to death on the streets of London by jihadists. Days later, William Hague persuades the EU to end Syria’s arms embargo so we can provide weapons which will certainly fall into the hands of jihadists – who will, in turn, pose an even greater threat to democracy and human rights than Assad. It would be interesting to know which government, interest group or weapons supplier is jerking the Foreign Office’s chain.
•?It is not without irony that while the ink is still drying on the recently brokered arms trade treaty, the UK and France have pressured other EU member states to lift the arms embargo on Syria. It is quite unclear how the foreign secretary believes flooding the war-ravaged region with more ammunition will help broker peace, and even less clear how he intends to ensure that the weapons stay in the “right” hands. Notably, however, the UK and France are the only member states so assured that arming the rebels is the way forward for Syria. Is it simply a coincidence that they are also the largest two arms manufacturing countries in the EU?
David Martin MEP
•?In these days of unprecedented domestic austerity, it must be relevant to ask how much it will cost the taxpayer to arm the Syrian rebels – contrary to UN and EU policy – and indeed how many Syrians we might now expect to kill for the money?
•?There seems to be a civil war in Iraq, Mr Hague. Should we send in weapons?
Jon Pain, who worked at Financial Services Authority until 2011, takes new role overseeing regulatory affairs at bailed out bank
A former regulator is joining Royal Bank of Scotland in a newly created role overseeing regulatory affairs and conduct as part of the effort by the bailed out bank to clean up its reputation in the wake of the Libor rigging scandal.
Jon Pain, who was at the Financial Services Authority for four years until 2011, is joining the bank in August as head of conduct and regulatory affairs. He will become one of the most senior executives at the bank, joining the executive committee (just below board level) and potentially earning millions of pounds a year.
Stephen Hester, the RBS chief executive, said: “The creation of this position sends a clear message about how we want to do business – serving customers well, completing our return to a safe and conservative risk profile, and generating sustainable returns for shareholders.
“If we achieve these objectives, and do so in the right way, RBS will become a really good bank.” Hester is keen to oversee the privatisation of RBS, possibly next year.
Pain is joining from accountants KPMG where he was partner for financial services after leaving the FSA as a managing director of supervision in 2011. Before that he had worked for Lloyds from 1973 until 2008.
Pain is among a number of officials who left the FSA before it was carved up in April to become the Financial Conduct Authority overseeing most elements of City behaviour, allowing the new Prudential Regulation Authority to regulate the biggest banks.
His appointment comes in the wake of big banks are facing damage to their reputations from mis-selling scandals and penalties for bad behaviour, such as the £390m fine RBS received for rigging Libor.
Barclays recruited the former FSA boss Hector Sants into a top role overseeing regulation at the start of the year while HSBC has also made changes to its compliance and regulation divisions since it was fined a record £1.2bn for money laundering by US authorities.
Pain’s appointment is the latest in a string of management changes by Hester as a result of the decision to move finance director Bruce van Saun to run the US operation Citizens ahead of its partial stock market flotation next year. Van Saun is being replaced by head of risk Nathan Bostock.
In 2010 when Sants had quit the FSA – before changing his mind and then finally quitting last year – Pain had reportedly been expecting to have replace him, on an interim basis.
Nationalists who would deny prisoners a vote in the independence referendum are being craven and dishonest
The social responsibility contract that many leftwing unionists would like to conclude with the Scottish nationalists is as yet unwritten. Several of the details and clauses are still taking shape in our heads but, 16 months away from the independence referendum, a broad outline is being formed. It looks something like this: in return for you pledging to deliver a truly enlightened, compassionate and inclusive democracy, we will set aside our misgivings about the economy in an independent Scotland and conceal our anxiety over our pensions and savings. We will take deep breaths and cross the Rubicon with you, or at least the Firth of Forth.
There is a number written on our hearts that is the price many of us may be willing to pay for the privilege of being counted among the first generation of an independent Scotland. And it is a lot more than George Osborne’s scrawny £1 valuation of the cost of separation. (Is there no end to the hidden shallows of Better Together?) The esteemed political and economics commentator Daniel Finkelstein, writing in the Times last week, probably spoke for many when he stated: “I am not very convinced by the competing claims about the money gained or lost in the event of a split. They seem the unprovable assertions of people whose guesses coincide suspiciously with their prejudices.”
Our social responsibility contract would enjoin the nationalists to go the extra mile in delivering a society where the weakest and most vulnerable in our communities are not always presumed to be the authors of their own misfortune. It would be an eternal rebuke to the English Conservatives’ mantra of “self-help” that, in recent times, has metamorphosed into “help yourselves” when applied to the banking chiefs and speculators whose avarice wounded Britain far more deeply than a million so-called benefit cheats.
The chasm that now exists between how Scotland chooses to approach a social ill such as long-term unemployment and that which holds sway in the heartlands of Conservative England was exemplified by Charles Moore recently writing in the Spectator.
Mr Moore is among that organ’s most readable contributors, though his attitude towards the working class and benefits was depressingly emblematic of current Tory thinking. “Its [the working class] more enterprising members have become middle class and the rest have discovered that they can live by not working,” he wrote. The only deduction we can draw from this is that Mr Moore believes all remaining working-class people to be benefit slaves.
Those who subscribe to such a view also deem income from benefits as somehow “unearned”, yet there is very little “unearned” about it. The benefits system in this country is the national insurance that most claimants and their families have been paying into for generations in spite of scandalously low wages, the threat of summary dismissal and poor working conditions.
As such, they are far more entitled to their benefits than the unearned bonuses of those who speculate with other people’s money or who inherit land that was fraudulently annexed centuries ago. It is a belief that is fundamental to my political and social credo and one that I assume is shared, give or take the odd nuance, by the SNP government.
It comes as a shock then to discover that in one crucial and fundamental area of social care the SNP resembles the “swivel-eyed loons” of the Tory shires. For it is the nationalists’ stated desire that not a single citizen resident in a Scottish jail come the morning of 18 September 2014 should be permitted to participate in that day’s momentous referendum. In this, they have adopted a more reactionary position than even the Westminster Tories who may yet be forced by Europe to extend suffrage to some prisoners.
Behold this from our deputy first minister, Nicola Sturgeon, doing her best Michael Howard impersonation: “Right now, convicted prisoners who are serving prison sentences do not get to vote, and I do not consider that there is a good argument for changing the position for the referendum.”
This is the same woman whose recent speeches have all been stitched together with the thread of “social justice”. Yet what is “social justice” if it does not also extend to the wretched people who are currently enduring spells at Her Majesty’s pleasure?
Ms Sturgeon doesn’t need me to tell her that around “half of Scotland’s prison population comes from 15% of Scotland’s poorest council wards”, for these are the words of Kenny MacAskill, the justice minister.
What Ms Sturgeon does require to be told is that many of the rest of us have not thus far encountered a spell in the pokey for assorted concealed delinquencies only through fortunate circumstance and the prayers of countless grannies, aunties and mums.
The SNP’s unyielding attitude to votes for prisoners is as nonsensical as it is puzzling. Scotland’s jail population is proportionately among the highest in Europe, with a large number being repeat offenders. Yet surely there is a civilising agent in being permitted the right to vote. By extending this to prisoners, we are enlisting them in the democratic process; by denying them it, we are alienating them and dehumanising them still further.
The SNP need to understand that in a fully joined-up commitment to social inclusion they can’t simply omit one of the difficult areas, such as prisoners’ rights. They all come as a package and if one falls they all fall.
The nationalists want the rest of us to overcome our fear of the unknown and help them to create a better and more just society in an independent Scotland. Yet by denying this basic human right to Scotland’s prisoners, they are petrified of backing their own instincts. That makes them both dishonest and craven.
Winston Churchill, as home secretary, said: “The mood and temper of the public in regard to the treatment of crime and criminals is one of the unfailing tests of the civilisation of a country.” One hundred and three years later, his words are convicting Nicola Sturgeon and her scared party.
Finance and banking jobs in Scotland would be at risk if major firms opt to pursue larger markets in England, warns Treasury
The Treasury has claimed that thousands of Scottish banking and finance jobs could shift to England after independence because major Scottish finance firms would want to chase much larger markets in England.
The warning from Sajid Javid, the economic secretary to the Treasury, came as his department published a study outlining how Scottish independence could cause significant risks for mortgages, insurance products and pensions from increased regulation, borrowing and business costs for the finance sector.
The most serious impact could be on Scottish banks and insurance firms, such as RBS and Standard Life, Javid said, because independence would end the “seamless”, fully integrated single market for financial services across the UK.
The report, the latest UK government critique of independence, pointed out that about 85,000 people in Scotland were directly employed in the financial services sector, with a further 100,000 employed indirectly, comprising about 7% of jobs in Scotland. In 2010 the sector contributed about £9bn to the Scottish economy.
A senior Treasury source admitted there was a high degree of uncertainty about whether independence would necessarily increase the costs of mortgages, pensions and insurances to Scottish customers.
While the analysis paper warned that 2 million Scots would have to move their savings from UK-run ISAs, losing tax relief and potentially incurring increased savings costs, the official acknowledged that the Scottish and UK governments would have “a huge interest in making this work” for the mutual good.
But about 90% of the business for Scottish financial services is outside Scotland, with 84% of Scottish banks’ mortgages sold in the rest of the UK, which would leave the industry with substantial questions if the country voted for independence in September 2014.
Even if Scotland did share sterling under a currency union with the UK and had the Bank of England as its central bank, Scotland would be forced under European law to have a separate financial regulatory system and its own deposits guarantee fund, to compensate savers if a bank crashed, which would drive up their costs and damage profitability.
“If you’re a Scottish-headquartered financial services company, at the moment, you’ve a seamless market of 65 million people. Post-independence your home market is going to be 5 million and your neighbouring market is a foreign country [and] is going to be 60 million people,” Javid said.
“You’re going to have to make a choice: which one are you going to focus your resources on and which one is going to give you more profitability and better results? It’s obvious between 5 million and 60 million where the choice would lie, and that’s bound to have an impact on Scottish jobs and it’s bound to have an impact on the availability of products in Scotland.”
Backed by Michael Moore, the secretary of state for Scotland, Javid said these Scottish lenders could also face higher borrowing costs and further pressure from shareholders to cut operating costs.
If these businesses shifted many of their operations to England, “it’s bound to have an impact on the general availability and choice of financial products for ordinary Scots both for mortgages, insurance and investment products”, the minister said.
John Swinney, the Scottish finance secretary, dismissed the report, asserting that Scotland’s wealth and expertise in financial services would provide a great deal of security for the industry and the economy.
“The Treasury’s creative accounting on behalf of the no campaign simply does not add up. It does not reflect the reality of how financial services operate or stand up to expert scrutiny.Constructed on a AAA credit rating that has since been shredded, this is just the latest attempt to attack an independent Scotland’s ability to be an economic success story,” Swinney said.
“The Tory government and their Lib Dem followers will use this paper to make all sorts of implausible claims about things like mortgages, when the reality is that many countries around Europe, including those of similar size to Scotland, have substantially cheaper mortgage rates than the UK.”
Martin Gilbert, chief executive of Aberdeen Asset Management, told a conference in London that the near-demise of RBS and Bank of Scotland had put an Exocet into the Scottish financial system and made it tougher for the independence vote. “Independence is all about North Sea oil,” he added.
After independence Scottish banks may have trouble matching the Financial Services Compensation Scheme’s guarantee
Bank customers and pensioners in Scotland would be less well protected if the country voted to leave the UK, a report warned on Monday.
The analysis, part of the Treasury’s look at devolution’s impact, says an independent Scotland could have significant difficulties providing standalone protection to match the current Financial Services Compensation Scheme (FSCS), which protect deposits in UK banks up to £85,000.
An independent Scottish retail banking sector would be dominated by two large banks – Bank of Scotland and Royal Bank of Scotland. If one of these were to fail, the report suggests, almost all of the costs for compensating depositors would fall on the remaining firm, and that could lead to more concern among deposit-holders.
The report – the Scotland Analysis Paper on UK Consumer Protection – says: “As was clear from the 2008 financial crisis, where there are doubts about the ability of the sector to meet claims through the compensation scheme, it can be necessary for governments to step in to guarantee deposits in order to prevent deposit flight.”
The Treasury also warns that the UK’s Pension Protection Fund (PPF) would not cover Scottish pension-holders post-devolution. Such schemes are mandatory under EU law, so an independent Scotland could need to create a guarantee fund.
The report says this would be difficult as Scotland is home to only a small number of the UK’s defined benefit schemes, which help fund the PPF through a levy.
In conclusion, the report argues it would be less efficient and cost-effective for Scotland to replicate current UK consumer protection schemes.
“Should Scotland become independent, it would be more expensive to achieve a level of consumer protection equivalent to that which currently exists,” the report says.
This is the Treasury’s third foray into the implications of Scottish independence. Last month it questioned if a formal currency union with an independent Scotland would suit all the UK. George Osborne suggested a new sterling currency union could be too risky, prompting SNP leader Alex Salmond to tell to tell the chancellor to “grow up”.
Ukip members are more Rotary Club malcontents than fascists; more pin-stripe shirt rebels than blackshirt bullies
The irony police were quickly on the scene this morning after Ukip’s leader, Nigel Farage, went on BBC Radio Scotland to denounce the demonstrators who disrupted Thursday’s impromptu press conference in Edinburgh’s Old Town as “fascist scum”.
It’s the kind of mindless labelling which will probably fill both sides with righteous indignation. “Fascist” has been a label of abuse between, and within, political parties since 1945 when Hitler’s toxic brand followed Mussolini’s into the graveyard of history. It is a form of radical and authoritarian nationalism that suppresses rival ideology and individualism, seeking to harness the nation behind the power of the state.
Its most successful exponent in Europe was General Francisco Franco, who led an abortive coup against Spain’s hapless republican government in 1936 and, after a savage three-year civil war in which clerical reaction and half-baked mystical fascist ideology were harnessed to the cause, died in his bed only in 1975. Ukip is not exactly in the old monster’s league and Farage’s less than austere lifestyle will not endear him to austere and high-minded reactionaries.
In reality, there was unlikely to have been a single fascist in sight on the Royal Mile when the police had to rescue the Ukip leader from 50 or so noisy young people. Farage certainly isn’t remotely a fascist by any reasonable test. Proper fascists, more likely to be found in the old National Front, the fractious BNP or the English Defence League (EDL), would soon take care of him. “All mouth and no trouser,” the self-styled hard men must mutter as they watch him on Question Time.
But not fascist either were the kids accusing him of the usual clutch of thought crimes, racism, homophobia, anti-semitism and being scum himself as well as being a “bawbag”. It’s a left-leaning charge sheet and comes as a package. Anti-semitism is a new one on me, but a Ukip councillor (“I’m not racist’) was caught posting anti-Jewish and anti-Muslim sentiments the other day, so that must be it.
Bawbag is broad Scots for being an annoying and useless person as well as slang for scrotum. Nowadays, it is also a brand of colourful boxer shorts of the kind Farage probably does not wear, being sartorially conservative – blazer or pin-stripe suit and regimental tie – in ways more consistent than his politics and policy prescriptions usually are.
Some of the protesters were clearly nationalist, a point confirmed by the invitation to “shove the union jack up your arse”. But others probably just don’t like his brand of Thatcherite free market populism any more than they liked it when a puzzled Margaret Thatcher failed to persuade most Scots that their greatest economist – Adam Smith – had the answer to their problems.
But there was no violence on Thursday, another indication that wholesome student protesters, not “fascist scum”, were the driving force in Edinburgh.
Farage was careful not to blame the SNP for the stunt when he called on Scotland’s first minister, Alex Salmond, to condemn the anti-English sentiments of his tormentors. Ukip has Scottish members – I have met some – but Farage is determined to show that his brand of British nationalism can attract votes in Scotland as it has modestly proved it can in Wales and Northern Ireland, the latter potentially more fertile ground because it has much in common with the aggrieved tone of lower middle-class Unionism.
In another sense, too, Nigel Farage started this ruck himself. At a Westminster press gallery lunch last month, he went out of his way to denigrate Salmond as a political fantasist who campaigns for an independent Scotland while wanting to stay inside the EU, which – says he – denies the nation states of Europe their sovereign independence. “Dreamland,” he called it. The remarks earned him some media attention in Scotland.
To some rival politicians the similarities between the pair are more striking, with both engaged in “stop the world I want to get off” politics and dreaming of unfettered national self-determination as the remedy for their people’s woes, but usually duck the hard choices and risks that accompany these legitimate aspirations. Alistair Darling, leader of Scotland’s Better Together campaign, made the comparison at the gallery lunch.
Farage himself says his party would not exist, nor need to exist, if the Tory party had remained true to Thatcher – it was launched in 1993 as her rejection of John Major was becoming evident and sterling’s ejection from the EU’s exchange rate mechanism prompted a surge of anti-Europeanism in the Tory ranks that split the party and helped Tony Blair to win three terms. David Cameron’s failure to win a majority or govern with authority has unleashed the genie again.
So Ukip is partly a protest vote – the current repository of “sod them all” disaffection – and partly a revolt of the Tory grassroots against the perception that it is led by a metropolitan elite that does not understand or care about them. In varying forms it is visible in all parties and – five years into a major economic downturn – in most advanced industrial states.
Will it become a permanent fourth party in British politics or fade when one or other of the big parties acquires another transformative leader? Impossible to say in this time of flux. Will it perform a reverse takeover on the Tories, as the populist Reform party did in Canada? Ditto.
But compared with the Golden Dawn party in Greece – who do have fascist credentials – and other fringe parties evident in hard-hit areas of the EU, Ukip is pretty mild. It contains some nasty people, but plenty who are just fed up or cross, often with good reason: the recession has hit them and their neighbours hard. They rightly resent being snootily dismissed by Cameron as “fruitcakes”.
The mood is more Rotary Club than Mussolini’s blackshirts or the brownshirt bullies who terrorised the streets before Hitler came to power. Farage is a free market man, not a statist. He believes in abolishing all sorts of intrusive state action – health and anti-speeding measures, as well as propping up venal banks. He wants to cut taxes, though he also wants to spend a lot on better public services, too. Nostalgia for a lost or never-was past is his currency.
Ukip – which some liken to the French shopkeeper revolt of the 1950s led by Pierre Poujade – insists it struggles to identify and expel nasties who get through its rudimentary selection net, which is (a point of honour) locally devolved. Given that its candidates did better than expected in the 2 May county elections we can expect more.
But it won’t be like Hitler’s Night of the Long Knives in 1934 when the brownshirt SA’s leftwing faction was butchered. Britain has no right to assume it will never be spared those sort of politics – no one has. But we are not there yet.
Nationalists should be making an equitable immigration policy a central policy plank
One by one, the few remaining ties that bind us with England are being loosened. For those of us who have cherished our shared heritage with our southern neighbours, the first two weeks in May have been dismal ones. The success of Ukip in the English local elections might have been inevitable, but even so, the procession of grotesques who staggered out of our television screens and into our living rooms the other week made you wrap your coat more tightly about yourself and steal a glance at the clock counting down the days to the referendum on Scottish independence. It seems the English people and their political classes are in thrall to a party that has only two policies: fear of immigrants and loathing for Europe and which is led by a chap who, it seems, has never stopped celebrating winning the Butlins 1983 Arthur Daley lookalike contest. How on earth did proud England ever let it come to this?
Not even David Cameron’s most fervent supporters would claim that he has ever had a strong grip on the parliamentary Conservatives, but his attempts to appease the Worzel Gummidge faction on his party’s right by allowing Ukip to set his agenda on membership of the EU have been abject. And, as the Queen’s speech underlined, the spectre of Nigel Farage is also forcing Cameron to squeeze immigrants even further. At this rate, Britain will be herding all of our “bad” immigrants (Bulgarians, Romanians, Albanians and citizens of North African states) into caves and bothies.
The BBC’s vox pop on the streets of Boston, Lincolnshire, following Ukip’s local election surge made you wonder if Scots have a creator in common with these people, let alone values and heritage.
“Did you vote for Ukip?”
“Because of all those foreigners taking our jobs.”
One after another they gathered and let out the despairing howl of beaten and self-pitying people everywhere: we’re too lazy and pig ignorant to take jobs that we consider beneath us but we’ll blame the aliens anyway.
It’s easy to dismiss Ukip as one of those passing English curiosities, but watch how well they do in the 2014 European elections and count how many Tory activists vote for them.
Instead of criticising the English Tories for politicising the Queen’s speech by including a reference to defending the union, Scottish nationalists should be rejoicing and making plans to award Farage the freedom of Scotland. The Ukip leader has handed Scottish nationalists a gilt-edged opportunity to ask their fellow Scots: “Do you really want to be in a union with a country whose citizens are gathering behind this man and his policies in ever-increasing numbers?”
Now is the time for the SNP to state unequivocally a fair and just immigration system will be one of the charisms of an independent Scotland. Our current first minister and his predecessor have proclaimed Scotland as a country that is outward-looking and will open its arms to welcome people from other countries, be they economic migrants or those fleeing oppression and torture.
Until now, Scottish politicians have been able to proclaim their liberal immigration credentials secure in the knowledge that, as it is a reserved matter, they didn’t have to legislate for it. Thus our government has sought exemption (in vain) from the UK’s immigration cap and criticised the prohibitive earning requirements for people seeking to live in Scotland. I don’t doubt the sincerity of sentiments such as these, but until they are tested they will merely be well-meaning hand-wringing.
The SNP now has a game-changing opportunity to move Scotland spiritually, emotionally and ethically away from England by delivering an immigration policy that is as compassionate and open as England’s is ugly and spiteful. This should be a cornerstone of its white paper due before the end of the year.
Westminster’s immigration policy is based on the premise that England is already overcrowded. It is in a state of chaos because successive home secretaries, both Labour and Tory, have pandered to the white-van knuckle-draggers at all times. Ed Miliband accused David Cameron of trying to out-Farage Nigel Farage. Miliband, though, is a wretched and spineless politician. He was part of a Labour government that fundamentally, and unjustly, altered the status of refugees to the UK. In 2005, they announced that those granted refugee status under a UN Convention would receive five years’ leave to remain rather than indefinite leave to remain. The confusion sown by this sop to England’s swivel-eyed anti-immigrationists as the deadline to reapply approaches is total and utter.
There has been very little evidence thus far that the SNP and Yes Together have the balls to trust their instincts on the big questions. They created a new land speed record in distancing themselves from adopting a new Scottish currency and Alasdair Gray’s thoughtful essay on the undermining of Scottish culture. At times, they are afraid of their own shadows.
In an independent Scotland, we would assume that we will have an enlightened asylum and human rights policy but what will that actually mean in situations that cannot be so neatly packaged? Where will we be on rights for emerging EU states such as Croatia, Serbia and Turkey; family reunion; work permits; entry visas and indefinite or temporary leave to remain.
In a fringe speech at last year’s SNP conference, Maggie Lennon of the Bridges Programmes told delegates, including Fiona Hyslop, the culture and external affairs minister, to own this policy. “This is an issue that always has the potential to be manipulated by the media and to divide public opinion. To whom will you pander and will you have the stomach for brave policy initiatives?”
In the forthcoming referendum, Scots shouldn’t be told how much they will get in an independent Scotland; rather, they should be asked how much they are willing to give. I would give a lot to be in a country that had a progressive and enlightened policy on immigration and integration.