Tagged: Scottish independence referendum

County Durham – Food and clothing appeal

A market place will be turned into a foodbank collection point next month (Friday, July 10).

The Unite Community will be holding a donation event for County Durham Foodbank and the County Durham Socialist Clothing Bank in Durham Market Place on Friday, July 10 – the day before Durham Miners’ Gala.

The move was inspired by an event in Glasgow following last year’s Scottish independence referendum, staged to highlight the impact of austerity cuts.

A Unite Community spokesman said: “On the Saturday, over 100,000 people will take part in Durham Miners’ Gala in a huge demonstration of solidarity.

“We are asking them to extend their solidarity by a day to help out those desperately struggling or unable to make ends meet.”

The collection will run from 10am to 3pm.

http://northstar.boards.net/thread/130/county-durham-food-clothing-appeal

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Northumberland is dying on its feet

A stark warning has been issued about the future of Northumberland, which has been described as a political no man’s land that is dying on its feet.

It was delivered by the Labour MP for Wansbeck, Ian Lavery, after official figures revealed it to be one of the worst-performing economic areas in the whole of Britain.

Its perilous state was shown in the ‘gross value-added’ (GVA) statistics for 2013, which detail the value of wages and profits from goods and services produced.

For Northumberland, the figure is just £13,481 per head of population, the fifth worst in Britain, and dwarfed by the highest figure of £135,888 in inner London west.

Mr Lavery said at the root of the worrying figures was the fact that traditional heavy industries like mining have never been properly replaced, while the county struggles to compete with Scotland, which gets much more Government financial help.

“We have some great small businesses here but they are not on the same scale as mining,” he said.

“We’re a political no-man’s land. I really fear for the future. People need to be encouraged to invest here and it should be made a special case. It’s dying on its feet.”

His comments were echoed by fellow Northumberland MP Blyth Valley’s Ronnie Campbell, who said the figures showed how the county had been abandoned by successive governments of all colours.

“To put it right we need to be made a special case,” he said.

“We don’t want to be a basket case. They have to come up with a new Barnett formula which benefits this region.”

There had been talk of scrapping the Barnett formula, a local authority funding mechanism which favoured Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland when drawn up 34 years ago to provide a boost to economies there, which were then struggling.

However, in the run-up to the Scottish independence referendum, in what was seen as an attempt to ensure a ‘No’ vote victory, all three major parties vowed to continue it.

Mr Campbell said as a result of the extra cash, Scotland can offer more inducements to new companies to invest there.

It’s only 50 miles up the road. When the Barnett formula was drawn up, it was done to help Scotland, which was struggling. Now it isn’t and we are, it should be redrawn to help us.”

North East Chamber of Commerce Policy and Research Manager Mark Stephenson said:

For many years we have campaigned about the lack of fairness of the Barnett formula, which seems to be having an increasingly negative impact on the GVA figures.

“Northumberland has many excellent businesses and a thriving tourism offer, but it is one of the counties that has been adversely impacted by the public sector cuts.”

Meanwhile Mr Lavery said: “When people talk about the North East they think of what Newcastle and Sunderland are getting, they think of Nissan and the Tyne and Wear Metro.

“But Northumberland is a million miles away from this.

“The best thing about this county is the resilience of its people.

“They will deliver if given the opportunity; they just need equal opportunities.”

Across the region the GVA per head stands at £17,381, compared with £40,215 in London. Only Wales, at £16,893, and Northern Ireland, at £17,948, have lower figures.

Tyneside performs best in the North East, with a GVA per head of £20,514, although this is still some way below the UK average of £23,294.

Source –  Newcastle Evening Chronicle,  12 Dec 2014

DWP Accused Of ‘Breathtaking Arrogance’ Over Work Programme Devolution

> DWP are apparently more important than national governments now…

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has been accused of breaking the “letter and spirit” of the Smith Commission, after it emerged that lucrative Work Programme contracts are to be extended.

The Smith Commission, set up in the wake of the Scottish independence referendum, recommended that control over the Work Programme should be devolved to Holyrood “on expiry of the current commercial arrangements”.

However, it has now emerged the DWP has taken the decision to extend the contracts without the consent of the Scottish Government, despite cross-party agreement powers over the back-to-scheme scheme would be devolved.

Commercial contracts are due to expire in 2016 and this is when the Scottish Government expected powers to be devolved, until they learned yesterday that the contracts are to be extended for a further year.

The Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations (SCVO) said it is “utterly appalled” and “completely dismayed” by the decision, highlighting figures showing only 18% of job seekers find work through the scheme.

The SNP said the decision could leave unemployed Scots stuck with a Work Programme, dubbed ‘workfare’ by opponents, that “simply isn’t working for Scotland” until as late as 2019.

> It simply isn’t working for anyone, anywhere… except the companies with the lucrative contracts, of course.

SNP MSP Linda Fabiani, a member of the Devolution Committee, said: “Westminster’s Work Programme simply isn’t working for Scotland – and the sooner it is devolved, the sooner we can get on with putting this right.

“Tory plans to stand in the way of progress break the letter and spirit of the cross-party Smith Commission agreement. As SCVO make clear, there is ‘no justification’ for this.”

She added:

“The Smith Commission could not have been clearer – devolution of the work programme should happen as soon as the current contracts expire; but instead Westminster is extending the existing contracts.

“The UK Government sought Scotland’s agreement while the Smith process was underway and the Scottish Government is clear it does not agree with the extension.

“Quite why the UK Government thinks it is acceptable to completely ignore the Smith Commission proposals and press ahead with its failed scheme is baffling.

“The UK Government should apologise and immediately reverse this decision”.

Skills Secretary Roseanna Cunningham accused the UK Government of “breathtaking Arrogance” and has written a letter of complaint to Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith.

The ink is barely dry on the Smith recommendations and already the Tories are breaking both its word and its spirit”, she said.

Smith is explicit. Devolution of the work programme should happen as soon as the current contracts expire. Instead of honouring that, within just a couple of days of Smith, they are extending the contracts.

“That is breathtaking arrogance.”

Scottish Secretary Alistair Carmichael said the decision to extend the contracts was taken “long before the Smith Commission was even set up”.

Mr Carmichael said:

“This was a decision that was taken in August, so some of the breathless commentary about this being a dreadful decision that was designed to thwart the will of the Smith commission is not justified because, frankly, this decision was taken long before the Smith commission was even set up.

> If the decision was taken in August, thats a little over three months ago. I know a week is supposed to be a long time in politics, but even so…

In any case, shouldn’t they have held fire until after the Scottish referendum ?

“Although these contracts have been extended from 2016 to 17, this again is an area where the two governments should be sitting down and the Scottish government should be saying to the UK government, ‘we have done some thinking on this. This is what we want to do with our new welfare system, now how can that be represented with the contractual arrangements that you’re putting in place’.

A recent ICM poll shows 63% of Scots want to see full devolution of tax and welfare powers to Holyrood.

Source –  Welfare Weekly, 04 Dec 2014

http://www.welfareweekly.com/dwp-accused-breathtaking-arrogance-work-programme-devolution/

Scottish Independence Referendum has Berwick braced for changes ahead

One week from polling day across the border, Berwick is braced for problems ahead if there is a Yes vote for Scottish independence.

With opinion polls indicating that next Thursday’s referendum is too close to call, the establishment of a separate sovereign state north of Lamberton has suddenly become a realistic prospect.

 Berwick MP Sir Alan Beith believes the result “could have profound consequences for Berwick and the Borders.”

But on a visit to the Berwick Advertiser office this week, Ayton-based Scottish government minister Paul Wheelhouse insisted cross-border ties would be largely unaffected by independence.

As media coverage intensifies and the referendum race enters the home straight, international journalists and TV news crews from around the world have been descending on Berwick in droves to gauge opinion in England’s most northerly town.

Business leaders in north Northumberland are waiting and watching with interest. Many of them fear for the future, but most are unwilling to comment publicly about potential problems independence would cause.

Sir Alan Beith, however, repeats Unionists warnings today about currency, border controls and cross-border public services.

There might be Scottish pounds after independence, but their value would fluctuate below or above that of the English pound,” he writes. “It really would be like changing holiday money, but on an everyday basis.”

He also warns that border checkpoints could not be ruled out if Scotland opts for independence.

If one of our two nations was in the EU and the other was not, border control would be necessary,” he writes.

“If the UK government had no confidence in the Scottish government’s immigration or security policy, border controls could become necessary.”

Sir Alan also believes cross-border public services would be put at risk.

He states: “It is quite difficult to overcome cross-border bureaucratic obstacles within a single state, but I believe it would be a lot more difficult across a boundary between two sovereign states.”

Mr Wheelhouse, acknowledges that cross-border concerns have been raised by voters on the Scottish side of the border. But the SNP politician, who says he often shops in Berwick, is confident existing arrangements between the Borders and Northumberland would be largely unaffected by independence.

We have a good story to tell in terms of those relations, and the continuing nature of an open border,” he said.

“Different tax arrangements are common place across Europe in terms of cross-border working and there have been no problems there.”

He also believes an independent Scotland would “hopefully” be able to continue the current relationship between the two health services on either side of the border.

But many members of the public in the Berwick area are unconvinced.

Andrew Martin, 46, from Tweedmouth, fears for Berwick’s economy.

“If Scotland gets its own tax raising powers and decides to set taxes at a lower rate or reduce its own VAT, goods and service would be cheaper just a few miles to the north,” he said.

Berwick has always been the communication hub for the north of Northumberland and the south east of the Scottish Borders. If things are different on either side of the border it causes a real issue.

“I don’t think the impact on north Northumberland has been properly explored.

“A Yes vote could benefit us on this side of the border. But a No vote and a new devolution plus arrangement could have a real impact.”

So Berwick would benefit from a Yes vote?

“It would really depend whether or not Scotland could raise the funds required to balance the books. If not, tax and VAT would go up. Alex Salmond looks towards Norway, but the have an income tax rate of 50% and a higher rate of VAT.”

Some small businesses in the Borders are understood to have already registered a new address in Northumberland to guard against the prospect of being entangled in red tape in the event of a Yes vote and the potential for economic problems in immediate aftermath.

But on the Northumberland side of the border, most business leaders are simply waiting and watching with interest.

Terence Pardoe is chief executive at Coastal Grains. Based at Belford, the co-operative stores and markets grain for members on both sides of the border.

We have no view on it until there is a vote one way or another and then have to see what transpires and how it may affect us,” he said.

If there is a Yes vote, there will have to be a period of re-organisation, and we do not yet know what will be involved in the transfer of centralisation. If there is a No vote, then the assumption is that nothing will change to affect the business.

“It would therefore be a waste of time planning something which we do not know how it will evolve.”

Very few business leaders are prepared to express their fears publicly. Indeed, one of the biggest employers in Berwick told the Advertiser this week that it was company policy not to comment about a “current political event”.

But the Scots who live in Berwick are happy to have their say.

Marion Black, 56, is a Scot who has lived in East Ord for 27 years. She would be undecided if she did have a vote. She also believes the potential implications for Berwick, if Scotland does opt for independence, have been exaggerated.

I don’t think much would change,” she said. “We’ve had stories like this before. When free personal care for the elderly and free tuition fees were introduced under devolution, people said there would be an influx of people moving from Berwick to Scotland and that house prices would up over the border. But it never happened. The impact won’t be as big as people say.

“In the short to medium term, I don’t think independence would have a big impact.

“I love Berwick and I love living in Berwick. People don’t always move or change their life solely for economic reasons.”

It’s nice in a way because I’m interested in the debate, but I don’t have the responsibility of making up my mind. My heart says yes, and my head says no. If I did live in Scotland I’d be torn.”

Stephen Hope was born in Edinburgh but now lives and works in Berwick. He is employed by his dad at the Sporran Gift Shop on Church Street, selling Scottish memorabilia to the tourists.

Independence could be bad for Berwick,” he said. “But it would depend on the strength of the currency Scotland chooses to use. If it is a weak currency, though, the Scots would come over the border to do their shopping, so that might benefit Berwick. it is hard to say. But if I was up there I’d definitely vote No.”

Source – Berwick Advertiser,  13 Sept 2014

“You would vote for independence too,” says North-East based Scot

With the Scottish independence referendum only days away, journalist and university lecturer Neil Macfarlane explains why he would vote yes. And why he thinks you would too

I’m a Scot who lives in the North-East. There are loads of us – chuck a paper aeroplane out your front window and you’ll probably hit one. I’ve lived happily here for years, but it won’t surprise those who know me that I would like Scotland to vote yes to independence next week.

I hope this happens because I don’t think the three main Westminster parties represent my politics any more. I like the idea of getting rid of nuclear weapons, of universal education, and I worry about the future of the NHS and the welfare state.

I think it’s sensible to increase immigration to help reverse decades of emigration by Scots like me and my family. I feel uncomfortable about parties of all stripes blaming foreigners and the poor for all problems.

I think the UK government and media is too focused on London. I think many people in the North-East feel the same about these issues.

I don’t know for sure if an independent Scotland would be richer or poorer but I do think it would be governed by people with its interests at heart. I like England and English people very much and I don’t think Braveheart is a good film.

My generation (mid 30s) are among those most likely to vote Yes. The media often explain this away by pointing out we were impressionable teens when Braveheart was released. It’s a funny observation – comfortingly so for some – but not quite right. There’s a more crucial formative figure than William Wallace.
Margaret Thatcher came to power only months before I was born, and was Prime Minister for over a decade as I was growing up in Edinburgh. It didn’t make sense that this could happen when it seemed to me that everybody I knew voted against her.
I remember my dad ranting at the telly and the chants of “milk-snatcher” in the playground. I still remember the day the teacher announced her resignation. The entire class of 11-year-olds erupted in celebration, on their knees with clenched fists, or jumping on their chairs. No one complained about young people being disengaged with politics in those days – we didn’t have the choice.

Thatcher remains the longest serving Prime Minister of my lifetime, yet she was repeatedly rejected by the people of Scotland at the polls. When our teachers taught us about democracy, and how generations had fought and died to preserve it, something didn’t fit.

By the way, feel free to swap “Scotland” in the paragraph above for “Middlesbrough“, “Sedgefield“, Sunderland” or “Bishop Auckland“.

Pretty much all of this applies to the North-East, too. Sometimes people dismiss the independence movement by asking if there should also be separation for the North-East, for Manchester, or Liverpool.

Personally, I don’t see why not – if that’s what the people want. But the argument misunderstands what Scotland is. It is not a region of a country. It is its own country and always has been.

The United Kingdom only came into being 300 years ago as an agreement between two nations to form an alliance. Scotland was not conquered. Its remarkable achievements in science, philosophy, engineering, literature and statecraft had been established for centuries before 1707, and that spirit later combined with the same from England, Wales and Northern Ireland to make the union thrive.

This time last year most Scots liked the idea of the UK being a partnership of equals, and a sizable majority were happy enough to keep it that way. That has now changed.

The No campaign has been horrendously misjudged. Scots always believed they could be independent, but most doubted if they should. The Conservative-Labour-Lib Dem Better Together campaign then set about claiming that Scotland would collapse into disarray if left to its own devices. The campaign was dubbed “Project Fear” – by the No camp themselves.

Scots were told: You can’t keep the pound, you can’t stay in the EU, your aspirations are pipe dreams and we’ll rebuild Hadrian’s Wall to keep you out when it all goes wrong.

Their latest effort was billboards claiming: “Vote no if you love your children.” The polls are at 50:50, are they saying half the people in Scotland hate their kids? It’s so long since the Scots heard the positive case for the union, they’re beginning to suspect there isn’t one.

In the face of this onslaught, the Yes campaign has flourished. Grassroots activists have packed out town halls across the country making their case, bloggers have amassed followings to make newspaper editors cry with envy.

People who have never voted are being helped to register, and volunteers are putting on buses to give them a lift on polling day. Discussion on social media is dominated by funny, spiky, imaginative Yes voters.

There are touring arts festivals. Millions have been inspired by the idea that Scotland could become a fairer, more successful country, and by the promise of progressive policies that would never be offered by three Westminster parties all fighting over the same ground.

This isn’t petty nationalism. It is an inclusive movement. Every resident will be given a Scottish passport on day one of independence. One of the most high profile campaign groups is English Scots for Yes, who give away teabags branded: “Have a cuppa, vote yes.” There are groups for African Scots, Italian Scots,Polish Scots. I am proud of the fact I don’t get a vote but those who live in Scotland do, regardless of where they were born.

It’s even spreading beyond the border. A recent poll showed an even higher proportion of people in the North-East back Scottish independence. I’ve lost count of the number of times friends have asked: “Can we come too?

The response to all of this has been a wishy-washy offer of more powers for the Scottish parliament, without saying exactly what those powers might be. This was George Osborne’s first intervention since he announced Scotland couldn’t keep the pound – a move which actually caused an increase in support for independence. At this point, the Chancellor could knock on every door in Scotland offering a free carwash, foot rub and £1000 cash and the polls would still rise for Yes.

While the SNP published a manifesto for Scotland’s future a year ago, Labour and the Tories are now trying to scramble a response with only days to go. Why not before now? Perhaps because they weren’t listening, because it’s too far away, because there are too few voters… because it was never a priority for them.

It’s a feeling the Scots, and we in the North-East, know all too well.

Source –  Northern Echo, 11 Sept 2014

Poll suggests people are relaxed about Scottish Independence…but want more power for the regions

A vote will take place later this month that will affect everyone in the UK – but only a tenth of us will actually get the chance to go to the polls.

Whether the Scottish Independence referendum results in a yes or a no vote – and the latest reports are that the vote could still go either way – the decision taken by 5.2m Scots will have implications for the other 58m people who live in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

After trailing for most of the concern, the SNP appears to be gaining momentum ahead of the vote on September 18. A yes vote would make the North East a border region for the first time in hundreds of years, and even a vote to retain the union is likely to be so close that it will be followed by calls for greater devolution to the nations of the UK.

Any move in that direction would inevitably result in new calls to consider the essential contradiction of the devolution agenda followed by the Labour Government of the late 1990s: giving the Scottish and Welsh, and later the Northern Irish, the power to run their own affairs, but still having English matters decided by MPs from the UK as a whole.

The Scottish independence debate has also revived calls for greater power to be devolved from Whitehall to the regions. The North East decisively voted against a regional assembly in a referendum held in 2004 but all the main political parties will go into the next election promising to give more powers to the different corners of England.

In the latest poll run by Other Lines of Enquiry North, using their in-house Panelbase service, they asked people both in the North East and nationally for their thoughts on Scottish independence, whether England needs the same devolved powers as the other home nations and whether the regions should have more say over their affairs.

When asked whether people were worried about the impact of a yes vote in the Scottish Independence referendum, our respondents seem fairly relaxed:

57% of people nationally and 54% in the North East were not worried and only 33% both nationally and locally were concerned.

(Interestingly, the 18-24 age group – those thought to be most in favour of independence in Scotland – were the most concerned, while the next age group up (25-34) were the most relaxed.)

The strongest vote of the three questions in our poll came when people were asked: “Do you think England should be given the same devolved powers as Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland?”

Here 60% of people nationally and 58% of people in the North East voted yes, compared to only 14% nationally and 13% locally voting no.

Such strength of feeling suggests a problem for the Government after the Scottish referendum. Even a no vote is likely to result in more devolved powers going to Edinburgh, but that would increase the calls from English activists for Scottish MPs to lose the power they currently have to pass legislation affecting England.

Finally, we asked people whether the regions of Britain should be given more devolved powers from Whitehall. Both Labour and the Conservatives have made great play in recent months of boosting the North, though cynics have suggested that all political parties are good at promising more to the regions when elections approach and less keen when the people in Whitehall is them.

Nationally 46% of people want more devolution to the regions, beating the 26% who don’t.

But this final question is the one where a significant gap emerges between our national and local respondents: in the North East the call for more local powers was much stronger, with 55% in favour of greater local accountability and only 17% against.

The  poll also showed a big divergence in different age groups, with younger people in the North East almost exclusively in favour of the region getting more power from Whitehall while opposition grew among older people from the North East who responded to the poll.

Source –  Newcastle Journal, 04 Sept 2014

Call for ‘England of the regions’

A campaign group has renewed its call for more powers to be devolved to the north.

The Hannah Mitchell Foundation, which wants an elected assembly for the north, says as the Scottish independence referendum approaches, the government should introduce an “England of the regions“.

Professor Paul Salveson, the foundation’s general secretary, has published a paper titled One Nation, Many Rivers, exploring England’s radical political history and suggesting this could form the building blocks of a new, democratic English politics.

Foundation chair Barry Winter said:

Paul Salveson calls for a genuine devolution of power to England’s regions in line with the changes taking place in both Scotland and Wales.

“His argument could not be more relevant in these fluid times.

“He recognises we have an opportunity to break with our over-centralised system and with the political cynicism it encourages.

“As England of the regions, he argues, drawing on our democratic traditions, should ensure that power is then widely dispersed.

“This is a message of hope in the possibility of positive change for a better future.”

After the foundation was launched in 2012, Labour leader Ed Miliband said the public was not interested in a “government of the north” and it was better to devolve power to local councils than create “more layers of politicians”.

Michael Knowles, from the Campaign for an English Parliament, said creating a government for the north would worsen the country’s “widening social and economic divide”.

Prof Salveson’s paper is available online at http://www.hannahmitchell.org.uk/

Source – Durham Times,  02 Sept 2014

DWP Denies Urging Staff To Vote ‘No’ In Scottish Independence Referendum

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has denied urging civil servants to vote ‘No’ in the Scottish Independence referendum in September.

A memo written by the permanent secretary Robert Devereux sent to DWP staff reads:

“It is important that, as civil servants, we understand why the Scottish independence referendum is different from elections such as a UK General Election or a European Election.

“This is because the UK government has a clear position to maintain the Union and so it is legitimate and necessary for UK civil servants to support the government in this objective.”

A DWP spokesman said the memo set out guidance to staff on how to communicate referendum information to the public. However, the PCS said it was “poorly written, ill-judged and patronising”.

PCS Scottish Secretary Lynn Henderson said:

“This is a very sensitive issue north of the border and one in which civil servants are all too aware of from both the UK and Scottish governments’ respective positions on independence. They remain bound by the civil service code.

The wording of this memo is not only clumsy but it also seeks to blame lower-graded civil servants for not understanding the instruction on how to conduct themselves as civil servants, rather than as voting citizens in a democracy. I suspect that the intent may have backfired somewhat.”

Source –  Welfare News Service,  20 Aug 2014

http://welfarenewsservice.com/dwp-denies-urging-staff-vote-scottish-independence-referendum/