Chancellor Rishi Sunak has warned that plans to hold a second Scottish independence referendum in the near future risk dividing the UK at the “worst possible time”.
With just days to go before the Holyrood elections, Mr Sunak urged voters to reject calls for independence from the UK as the country recovers from the coronavirus pandemic.
It came as the Scottish National Party (SNP) were shown be on course to seize a slim majority in this week’s crucial elections, with Nicola Sturgeon suggesting she alone could offer “serious leadership” for Scotland.
A majority victory for the SNP would present a political nightmare for Boris Johnson by putting the issue of Scottish independence firmly back at the forefront of British politics.
Ms Sturgeon said on Sunday that her opponents were “vying for second place [and] openly saying they have got no plan for government”.
‘Widespread misunderstanding’ on economic facts for Scotland, think-tank claims
There is “widespread misunderstanding” of economic facts among Scottish voters and confusion over the SNP’s plans for independence, a pro-union think-tank has claimed.
A poll conducted by Survation for the think-tank These Islands found 57 per cent of those who supported independence believed the Scottish government’s annual GERS figures were “made up by Westminster to hide Scotland’s true wealth”.
The annual figures are used to calculate Scotland’s fiscal deficit and are published by the Scottish government.
Overall, a net figure of 30 per cent said they agreed that the GERS (Government Expenditure and Revenue Scotland) figures were “made up by Westminster to hide Scotland’s true wealth” while 30 per cent disagreed.
On the SNP’s currency plans, 35 per cent of the poll’s respondents said they did not know what the SNP’s policy for currency in an independent Scotland is.
Some 25 per cent said they believed it was to “keep the pound indefinitely” and 17 per cent said it was to “keep the pound until a new Scottish currency is adopted”.
In 2018, the SNP’s Sustainable Growth Commission set out plans to keep the pound during a transition period, with a separate Scottish currency a possibility after six economic tests are met.
“This survey reveals for the first time the true scale of what amounts to a fact-denial epidemic in Scotland,” Kevin Hague, chairman of the think-tank, said.
“We have been tracking the spread of economic disinformation in the Scottish independence debate for some time now, but we are still shocked by these findings.”
Scottish Lib Dem leader makes direct appeal to supporters of other parties
Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie has issued a direct appeal to supporters of other parties to back him in this week’s Holyrood election in order to “build bridges to rebuild Scotland”.
“The pandemic has torn through our lives. We owe it to every family who has lost someone and every child who has missed out on education to try to bring the country back together and focus on the recovery,” Mr Rennie said during a visit to Edinburgh Zoo.
“Over the course of this campaign I have been disappointed by how little the other parties seem prepared to reach out to those who don’t already agree with them.”
He added: “I want to build bridges to rebuild Scotland. If voters elect Liberal Democrat MSPs on Thursday we can make sure that the next five years are focused on recovery, not division.”
Donaldson receives early backing in DUP leadership race
Sir Jeffrey Donaldson has received “full support” from a fellow MP in his bid to become the next leader of the DUP following the depature of Arlene Foster.
“I’m delighted Sir Jeffrey Donaldson has announced he intends to stand as DUP party leader and as the leader of Unionism on this our Centenary day,” Gavin Robinson, MP for East Belfast, said on Monday.
“As I discuss our vision for the future in the coming days with colleagues, he will have my full support.”
PM says he understands ‘strength of feeling’ around football protests
Boris Johnson has said he understands “people’s strength of feeling” on football and club ownership following protests at Manchester United’s Old Trafford stadium which led to a Premier League game with Liverpool being postponed.
“I don’t think it’s a good idea to have disruptive behaviour, demonstrations of that kind,” Mr Johnson said.
“But on the other hand, I do understand people’s strength of feeling. And I think that it’s a good thing that we have been able to do things that make it pretty clear that the European Super League is not going to be appreciated by the people of this country, or by this government.”
You can find his comments in full below:
Salmond’s Alba Party says Scotland should leave UK without taking share of tax debt
Scotland should be able to leave the UK and become independent without taking on a share of the UK’s debt, Alex Salmond’s Alba Party has claimed.
The party announced the new policy after figures published in October last year showed the UK government gross debt reached more than £1,876bn – in part due to massive spending during the coronavirus pandemic.
Mr Salmond, a former SNP leader, has urged his former party to adopt this stance on what Alba called a “clean break settlement”.
The policy stands in contrast to SNP proposals published in advance of the 2014 referendum in the white paper on independence, which said that a separate Scotland would take on a “negotiated and agreed” share of the UK debt.
However, Alba notes that “as a percentage of GDP the debt has doubled since the financial crisis of 2008 when the government and Bank of England embarked on wholesale quantitative easing”.
“That debt is largely owed by one branch of government (the Treasury) to another (the central bank) and therefore forms no legitimate liability for the Scottish or any other people,” the party claimed.
Alba has also made clear it “rejects entirely any obligation to share debt accrued through central bank money printing and sees no role for Scotland on paying interest on that debt”.
Tories face ‘tough fight’ to win Hartlepool by-election, PM says
Boris Johnson has said that the Conservatives face a “tough fight” to win Hartlepool in a highly-anticipated by-election this week.
During a visit to a fish and chip restaurant in the constituency, the prime minister was asked if he was concerned whether interest in his childcare arrangements or his flat refurbishment might affect the vote.
“I have always believed that it was going to be a tough fight and I still believe that is the case,” Mr Johnson said.
When asked if he was worried he might have a negative effect on the election, he added: “I think that people will focus on the issues that matter to them.
“That is the vaccine rollout, the chances of our economy bouncing back really strongly in the second half of this year, what we are doing to make sure that happens.”
PM insists government is doing ‘everything we can’ for Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe
Boris Johnson has insisted that the UK is doing “everything we can to look after the interests” of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe after Iranian state TV suggested that Britain could pay back a £400m military debt to secure her release.
“There are two entirely separate issues,” Mr Johnson told reporters during a campaign visit to Hartlepool.
“We of course make sure that we do everything we can to look after the interests of Nazanin and all the very difficult dual national cases we have in Tehran.”
Starmer: ‘I will take full responsibility for election results’
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer has said he will “take full responsibility whatever the outcome” ahead of the local and devolved elections this week.
“I will take full responsibility for the results in the elections this week, I will take full responsibility for everything that the Labour Party does,” Sir Keir told reporters during a visit to Lewisham.
“We have had a fantastic team of candidates and people out there, members and supporters, having conversations on the doors.
“We’ve got a number of days to go but I will take full responsibility whatever the outcome.”
The Labour leader also rejected suggestions that questions over Boris Johnson’s refurbishment of his Downing Street flat and allegations of Tory “sleaze” were “party politics”.
“It’s very good to see senior Conservatives recognising the seriousness of the situation that the prime minister could be in and the implications of breaching ministerial code,” he said.
“Over the last week or so, some people have said holding the government, holding the prime minister, to account, is somehow party politics.
“This demonstrates that it isn’t – there’s a shared, cross-party need to uphold standards in public office, and I think other senior Conservatives should follow suit now.”
PM braces holidaymakers for disappointment with return of foreign travel
Boris Johnson has braced holidaymakers for disappointment by warning that while “some opening up” for foreign travel is likely later this month, the government will be “cautious” about the number of countries on the quarantine-free “green list”.
The prime minister added that the UK would risk “an influx of disease” if ministers lift all restrictions too soon.
Our deputy political editor, Rob Merrick, has the full story below:
ICYMI: Johnson under pressure as British voters back second independence referendum
Boris Johnson is under pressure to allow a second Scottish independence referendum if the SNP secure a majority at Holyrood this week, as a poll has found British voters believed it would be wrong to deny a fresh ballot.
Some 41 per cent of UK adults believe Mr Johnson should allow another vote within four years if there is a pro-independence majority in the Scottish parliament, while just 33 per cent oppose the idea, according to a BMG poll for The Independent.
Our Whitehall editor, Kate Devlin, has the full story below: