How each election can be a vote on independence and the right to choose

The best way to demonstrate majority support for Scottish independence is a referendum. But in the wake of the Supreme Court judgement and with Westminster’s continued denial of Scottish democracy, that ain’t happening any time soon. So, with support for independence rising, how can we allow people to express their view?

Much has been said recently about the pros and cons of using an election as a de-facto referendum. Some have argued that the next Westminster election should be a vote on independence. Others have argued that a Holyrood election would be the better option. But why don’t we use both?

For too long we’ve been chasing the next election, hoping it would be the vote which delivers independence. We need a longer-term plan which uses each and every democratic event as a stepping-stone towards independence.  

Of course, the next Westminster election should be about independence. More precisely, it should be about how Scotland becomes independent and what that looks like.

Scottish independence requires two things. One, majority support in Scotland. Two, a negotiated settlement with the British State. Until we can demonstrate the first, we won’t get the second.

The Supreme Court has exposed a gap in the British constitution. There is no way for people in Scotland to consent to staying in or leaving the union without the sanction of Westminster. To be clear, the Court did not say we shouldn’t be able to choose, simply that the current statutes do not allow for it.

Front and centre of our next election manifesto should be a demand to fix the broken British constitution by updating the current devolution settlement. The Scottish Parliament now needs the very powers the Supreme Court ruled it does not have to determine Scottish opinion and a mechanism for negotiating change with the UK.

This is a different proposition from a section 30 Order. It is not about asking permission on a one-off basis to determine public opinion, but about enshrining the right to choose within the competence of the Scottish Parliament. It would in effect give legal expression to the Claim of Right for Scotland.

Making this the central focus of our campaign would present our argument as one of democracy, as well as self-determination. It would demonstrate a determination to exhaust every opportunity to allow the British state to respect democratic norms, and assist in garnering international support.

Clearly, the outcome of the next Westminster election is unknown, but it is probable that the Conservatives will lose. This opens up the prospect of change, and we need to be agile enough to take advantage of new opportunities that may come our way.

It’s possible we can build support amongst other parties for a proposal to give the Scottish Parliament this power. It is entirely consistent with the principles of devolution which other parties say they are committed to. And the parliamentary arithmetic may afford us more leverage at Westminster than ever before, despite our previous electoral success in Scotland.

If we achieve this reform, we could then go forward and exercise this new power at the earliest opportunity. If we are thwarted in our objective, at least we will have been seen to have exhausted every last possible mechanism to gain our independence by consent.

This would then tee up the next Holyrood election, scheduled for May 2026, as an opportunity to mobilise people in support of a vote for independence. We could re-purpose that election as an effective referendum. The franchise is more inclusive, the voting system is fairer and, most of all, the focus is all about how Scotland, rather than the UK, is governed.

In the meantime, we still have an argument to win. This is the year where we should consolidate majority support for independence, maintaining polling levels above 50% and nudging support towards 60% to bolster the case.  But support cannot be fuelled by indignation alone. We need to complete our prospectus for what independence looks like. We need a rational and compelling narrative, completely related to the social and economic crises of 2023.     

Our opponents will continue to attempt to undermine support for independence by pointing to problems with devolved services. Sometimes criticism will be valid, but often they will lie. And, of course, always pretending there are no constraints on what we can do.

Where we already have the power, we’ve used it to make far better, fairer decisions. If we can do this with one hand tied behind our back, imagine what we could do if the Westminster straitjacket was undone. We need to explain, perhaps more than ever, that independence is essential to tackling the biggest challenges we face. In doing so we will need to be bold and ambitious, offering a vision of a new Scotland that will inspire and mobilise its citizens.

Scottish independence is necessary to protect workers’ rights

Remember last year? Hogmanay cancelled as we worked through what was to become the last Covid lockdown. Little did we know then what 2022 had in store for us.

What a difference a year makes. Covid is still with us but the restrictions have gone. And on top of that we have a whole bunch of new problems threatening to tear families and communities apart.

Prices in the supermarket seem to go up every week. Staying warm needs a small fortune.  The cost of living is spiralling out of control. And the economic crisis is turbocharged by the political incompetence of a Tory government playing the political equivalent of musical chairs.

Ordinary workers are on the frontline. Many of those who worked so hard to get us through the pandemic, especially in the public sector, have seen their pay cut in real terms by the double whammy of austerity and inflation. In these circumstances, industrial action was almost inevitable. Trade unions were formed to defend ordinary working people from the ravages of the capitalist economy. They were never going to be more relevant than during a cost-of-living crisis.

Sadly, whether it’s nurses in England and Wales, or RMT strikes across Network Rail, the UK Government has used these strikes as a political football to attack workers who are only trying to get a better deal for themselves during a Tory-made cost of living crisis. They seem determined to out-Thatcher Thatcher. Their actions designed to provoke, goad and undermine unions, while doing nothing to resolve the disputes.

In Scotland, where many in the public sector already earn more than their counterparts elsewhere in the UK, the Scottish Government has engaged positively with trades unions. As a result, they have reached agreement in some pay disputes already, and are continuing to negotiate others.

The response to the strikes is very much a tale of two governments. Don’t just take my word for it. Roz Foyer, General Secretary of the Scottish Trade Union Congress says that while the Scottish TUC has robust discussions with the Scottish Government, they listen and work with them, unlike the Government in Westminster who continue to introduce strike-breaking legislation.

As we head into 2023, it’s incumbent on all of us to make sure that our vital public sector workers know how much they are valued. And this needs to be reflected in their pay packets and working conditions.

However, there is an uncomfortable reality we need to face. The Scottish Parliament has little flexibility over its budget. It has no control over the movement of capital or labour. It cannot continue to mitigate Tory policies forever. And it cannot pay our workforce what it would like to.

To do all that, the Scottish Government would need to have the powers of a normal independent country. Why shouldn’t it? That is now the big question that those who support the union need to answer.

It is clear people want change. But it is not enough just to want it. We need the means to make it happen.  And that means we need to revisit the debate on Scotland having the political capacity to achieve what the people who live here want. Never has the argument about our constitutional future and the type of country we aspire to be, been so intertwined.

COP15: UK Government failing to turn global promises into domestic action for nature

The UN’s COP15 biodiversity summit is now over, with a global biodiversity framework now agreed. It’s being called “a first step in resetting our relationship with the natural world” and includes commitments to restore on 30% of degraded ecosystems on land and sea by 2030; 30% of terrestrial and marine areas conserved and managed by 2030; and halting and reversing nature’s destruction by 2030. 

A much less discussed COP than Glasgow’s COP26 conference last year, the global ambition for nature is now set. Now it’s time for countries to deliver on the promises they’ve made on the international stage. We have no time to lose if we are to meet these targets in eight years’ time. 

Across the Scotland and the rest of the UK, action means ensuring that nature loss is both halted and reversed. To protect and restore our precious species, habitats, and ecosystems. And to ensure that our best ally in the fight against climate change – nature itself – can flourish.

The problem? Here in the UK, we have one of the most nature-depleted countries in the world. The UK Government has made no progress on its own commitment to restore 30% of land for nature by 2030. And, according to environmental groups, its nature restoration ambition will mean there’s less wildlife in the decades ahead than there is today.

The stark contrast between the Scottish Government’s leadership on tackling nature loss – and UK Government’s complete failure of leadership is plain to see. Scotland was one of the first countries in the world to declare a joint biodiversity and climate emergency. And now the Scottish Government is taking action to tackle the nature emergency with the powers at its disposal.

Meanwhile, at Westminster, the UK Government’s (Environment Act) targets, won’t deliver on the pledges made at COP15. Put simply, they are too weak. There’s no overall target to improve water quality. No target to improve the condition of protected nature areas. And they won’t help us to protect 30% of land and sea for nature by 2030.

The UK Government must therefore urgently publish a clear pathway to meet its commitments. It must also scrap the Retained EU Law Bill, which seeks to undemocratically wipe away the last vestiges of EU environmental protections in UK law. And, most importantly, it must support the Climate & Ecology Bill.

By enacting the Climate & Ecology Bill, we would have a science-led plan to help us solve the climate-nature crisis. A plan that will reduce the UK’s full greenhouse gas emissions in line with the best chance of limiting global heating to 1.5C. A plan that will mean we have reversed nature’s destruction by the end of this decade. A plan that commands the support for the public, via a temporary citizens’ assembly to help decide the fairest way forward.

The Bill is already backed by hundreds of scientists, NGOs, community groups and businesses. Zero Hour, the campaign for the Climate & Ecology Bill, is now calling on all politicians to get behind this serious environmental plan. A plan that treats the crisis for what it is – an environmental emergency.

As Rishi Sunak said at COP27, “there’s no solution to climate change without protecting and restoring nature”. So I ask my colleagues, across the political spectrum, to support the Climate & Ecology Bill and work together to enact this crucial law.

And as the snow settles after COP15, it’s essential to lock the pledges the UK Government is making into law. We have a vanishingly small window to act, but there’s still time to do so.

Edinburgh East MP urges pensioners not to miss out on £324 cost-of-living payment

Tommy Sheppard MP is urging all pensioners on low-incomes to make sure they’re signed up for Pension Credit to ensure they receive a special cost of living payment.

As the Tory-made cost of living crisis continues the Edinburgh East MP warned households could miss out on the vital payment if they don’t apply soon.

In May 2022, the UK Government announced a Cost-of-Living Payment to be paid to those in receipt of Pension Credit and other qualifying benefits. To be eligible for the payment, an older person must have been entitled to a Pension Credit payment (or later found to be entitled to a payment) between 26 August and 25 September. 

Applications for Pension Credit can be backdated by three months – those who begin the claiming process by Sunday 18 December and are successful can be eligible for the second Cost-of-Living Payment of £324.00. 

Applicants can begin their application 4 months before they reach pensionable age and apply anytime afterwards and can do so online, by post, or over the phone.

Commenting, Tommy Sheppard MP said: 

“As the Tory-made cost-of-living crisis continues to ravage household finances, more and more people are set to see a reduction in their living standards, particularly those on lower incomes.

“Increasing food bills, rents, mortgage payments and energy prices are all heaping on the pressure, and pensioners especially can be vulnerable this winter. 

“Pension Credit is money to which people are entitled, and I would urge all low-income pensioners in Edinburgh East to make an application today.  

“Organisations such as the Citizens Advice can assist with applications, and the extra cash can go a long way in alleviating some of the stress and worry over the colder months.” 

Apply here: https://www.gov.uk/pension-credit/how-to-claim

9,005 Families in Edinburgh to Receive Child Payment Increase

ALL ELIGIBLE FAMILIES WITH CHILDREN UNDER-16 ELIGIBLE FOR SUPPORT

The Scottish Child Payment has been increased from £20 to £25 per week per child, meaning 9,005  families in Edinburgh are set to receive a boost to their household incomes from the Scottish Government.

Eligibility for the payment – which is only available in Scotland – has also been extended, meaning eligible families in Edinburgh with children under the age of 16 can now apply for the Scottish Child Payment.

Tommy Sheppard is encouraging families in Edinburgh East to apply for the support.

Commenting, Tommy Sheppard MP said:

“The extension of the Scottish Child Payment could be a turning point for families in Edinburgh East and across Scotland as the support is extending from £20 to £25.

“We have already heard from anti-poverty charities about how the payment has been ‘game-changing’ for families with children under-6, and now as the support is extended to families with children under-16 more will have extra cash in their pockets to get through this Tory-made cost of living crisis.

“The Scottish Child Payment is only available in Scotland and demonstrates how the SNP Scottish Government is building a social security system based on fairness, dignity and respect.

“However, the Scottish Government continues to work with one hand tied behind its back by a UK government which is preparing to inflict austerity 2.0 on families across Scotland.

“There is only one way we can escape the chaos of Westminster and build a fairer, more equal Scotland and that is by becoming an independent country.”

Apply here: https://www.mygov.scot/scottish-child-payment

Local Campaign Opposes Controversial Student Housing Development

Proposed development

The Save Jock’s Lodge campaign, a grassroots campaign group opposing the controversial plan to build a major student accommodation development at Jock’s Lodge, is holding a public meeting so that local residents can learn more about the proposal and how to register their concerns.

The meeting will take place on Monday 17 October at 7:30pm, and will be held at Northfield-Willowbrae Community Centre. All local residents are encouraged to attend.

The proposal itself would involve demolishing a popular pub at the historic crossroads in the east of the city to make way for a seven storey block of student flats. The pub, currently called the Willow and previously known as Jock’s Lodge, is much-loved in the area for its beer garden, food and family friendly atmosphere. The group’s research has found that there has been a pub on the site for at least 150 years.

The Jock’s Lodge application would join eight other student accommodation blocks within a mile’s radius which have already been built or have planning permission. This would tip the number of student bedrooms in the area to over 2000, which the group says represents overconcentration. There are also fears this development would accelerate the already changing the character of the neighbourhood due to the increasing transient population.

The Save Jock’s Lodge campaign already has the backing of Edinburgh East MP Tommy Sheppard and local Craigentinny-Duddingston councillor Danny Aston.

Commenting, Tommy Sheppard MP said:

“I’ve repeatedly spoken out against the dramatic increase of student accommodation developments which have grown like a rash in Abbeyhill and Meadowbank over the last few years. This one at Jock’s Lodge would take the number of student bedrooms in the area to over 2000.

“Too many potential good housing sites have already been taken by student accommodation developers. This one would involve the loss of a popular local pub too.

“I held a surgery at the church opposite a few weeks ago where nearly 50 people turned up to express their concerns about this. That number is completely unprecedented. Local people are understandably really angry about this. Our message is clear: enough is enough.”

Cllr Danny Aston added:

“I’ve received so many emails about this and it’s not hard to see why. As well as the loss of an excellent and historic pub, and the sheer number of student developments in the area, people are also very concerned about a number of other issues.

“The seven storeys proposed by Alumno the developer will completed dominate the main approach to this crossroads from Willowbrae Road and from Portobello. The junction is currently composed of historic stone buildings, including the B-listed church and C-listed Piershill tenements. This huge, bland modern block will ruin the historic character of Jock’s Lodge. And a lot of folk are understandably worried that it will add to congestion at what is already a very busy junction.

“Alumno hasn’t submitted their detailed application so far so it isn’t yet possible to submit a formal comment. I’d urge local residents to come along on Monday, share their opinions and find out how to make their views known when the time comes.”

Tommy Sheppard MP Invites Public to Event to Help with Cost of Living

Tommy Sheppard, MP for Edinburgh East, is hosting a free advice event with key local and national organisations to help constituents through the current cost of living crisis.

Confirmed attendees include: Home Energy Scotland, Citizens Advice Edinburgh, Age Scotland and the Edinburgh Food Project. It will take place on Tuesday, October 4 at Richmond Craigmillar Church, 227 Niddrie Mains Road, EH16 4PA, and will run on a drop-in basis from 2pm to 4pm.

Commenting, Tommy Sheppard MP said:

“Every day people are waking up to reports that the cost of living crisis is spiralling out of control – with each headline more worrying than the last. I’m determined to do everything I can to help those in Edinburgh East who are struggling, and ensure they have the information they need to tackle the rising cost of living.

“From practical ways to save money on your energy bills to pointing you towards extra money you may be eligible for, the organisations invited have been chosen to cover a range of problems that local residents might be facing right now.

“The measures introduced by the UK government to tackle this emergency have fallen far short of what is needed to help ordinary families get through the winter. Therefore, the work done by these organisations will be even more important in the coming months as more people see their incomes slashed by rising energy bills and Brexit price rises.

“Everyone is welcome and encouraged to attend, help and support is available.”

More details: tommy.sheppard.mp@parliament.uk

Liz Truss’s fuel bill plan is just Robin Hood in reverse

The last item of parliamentary business of Boris Johnson’s premiership was a debate on sewage pollution. Fitting, don’t you think? After all, more than anyone he turned our political discourse into a cesspit, setting mendacity as standard and jettisoning integrity and morality as he went. So, farewell then, Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson. You won’t be missed. 

But could the next one be even worse? Liz Truss emerged victorious this week from a long Tory leadership race that was tedious and terrifying in equal measure. Early signs aren’t promising. 

Rarely has there been such a mismatch between the problems facing a government and their prescription for dealing with them. Truss seems ideologically opposed to the measures necessary to tackle the cost-of-living crisis. 

Her mantra of tax cuts may have won votes from the small clique of middle-aged right-wing people that comprise the Tory rank and file, but it makes absolutely no sense in the real world. The Tory party was founded to give voice to the rich and powerful, and Liz Truss is taking them back to their roots. That’s why she will protect those with capital and penalise those without. 

Her attitude to energy prices is a case in point. Of course it’s right to freeze energy prices. If we don’t, millions will face extra hardship, small businesses will go to the wall and inflation will run rampant. But the freeze should be paid for by taxes on the obscene profits corporations are now making, rather than by consumers. 

The Truss plan protects profits, keeps siphoning money out of the real economy to be accumulated as private wealth, and places a future burden on all of us to fund it. And those who are worst off, on low and fixed incomes, will pay the biggest proportion of their income in future bills. It’s basically Robin Hood in reverse. 

It doesn’t have to be this way. Instead, the UK government should do four things. First, levy a windfall tax on excess profits of the giant corporations and use it to peg domestic energy bills. Second, uprate social security payments generously. Third, bring in a more extensive business support programme to help small business meet rising costs. And fourth, use an emergency budget to fund cost-of-living wage increases for public sector workers. 

The Tories won’t do this of course. Nor will they devolve economic powers to Scotland to allow us to take a different approach here. So, the Scottish Government will do what it can, and commendably has already done a lot. Freezing rents, outlawing evictions, increasing child payments to low-income households, increasing free school meals and other measures will help people here. But we still have no control over most social security, business taxes, government borrowing, and the essential levers we need to manage our economy. 

There is a way to make sure government policy serves the people rather than the corporate elite. To have the capacity to deal with rising living costs and the increasing poverty and inequality that follows. we need independence.

The arguments in the Supreme Court next month about having another referendum matter.  As a normal independent country we could be sure to have both the agency and the will to make the changes necessary to protect the people the Tories keep letting down.

Edinburgh Festival: Big Fringe companies’ attacks on organisers are sad to see

I was at Murrayfield last Friday. The opening event of the Edinburgh International Festival was quite possibly the best thing I have ever seen on stage.

A collaboration with Adelaide saw dozens of Australian circus athletes and dancers present a stunning physical display: elaborate choreography with jaw-dropping strength and skill. Bodies climbed over each other, sometimes stacked four up, to make living sculptures, amplified by precision lighting and video projection.

All throughout the National Youth Choir of Scotland vocalised a dramatic soundscape, sounding sometimes Gaelic, sometimes Arabic, always intensely human.

It was brilliant in concept and execution. But perhaps the most wonderful thing of all was that, despite what must have been a massive budget, it was free to go.

And thousands of local people went. This is the sort of thing that only happens when artistic ambition combines with public funding. We should be proud it happens here.

The international festival delivers the prestige stuff, but it’s the Fringe that fills the city. More than 3000 shows, tens of thousands of performers and crew, and hundreds of thousands of punters combine to bring Edinburgh alive. The world’s largest festival of the arts is back for its 75th year.

As ever, what makes it aren’t the names you have heard of, it’s the ones you haven’t. The city is host to a massive cultural experiment, a cauldron of creativity.

A lot works, a lot doesn’t. And from failure performers learn and improve. That’s the opportunity of the Fringe. There’s nowhere else in the world they can take an idea and perform it night after night to different audiences, refining it until it works.

It’s been three years since the city bustled like this. In the darkest days of the pandemic, it seemed like it might never again. Artists and venues were hit hard. Sheer determination brought things back to life.

This month’s festival isn’t the same as the last. 2019 broke all records. Coming back after Covid and in the middle of a cost-of-living crisis, those new records were always safe. Yet the size of this year’s Fringe is on course to be more than 80 per cent of the pre-pandemic peak. That’s an amazing comeback.

Sadly, in three years many people who made shows happen have left: retiring, changing industries, or exiled by Brexit. It’s been a nightmare for many venues to recruit technical and front-of-house staff with experience. The Fringe as an entity has lost a big slice of its collective memory.

So, it saddens me when some of the bigger commercial operators attack the organisers, looking for someone to blame lower ticket sales on. Bounce-back will take more than a year and there will be bumps in the road. Success requires the myriad venues and performers that make up this amazing festival working together, not taking chunks out of each other.

Importantly we need to rebuild anew. The economic potential of this great event needs to be harnessed for all the people who live here. The festival needs closer links with the city and its communities. That’s why the rethink of values which the Fringe Society is promoting is so welcome.

Edinburgh is the world’s biggest festival. It could be the most diverse and the fairest too.

Tory Leadership Race Reveals Just How Foul The Conservatives Really Are.

It’s a bit like watching a dysfunctional family on the other side of the street fight amongst themselves. They’re all as bad as each other. There’s no way you can intervene, except to try to get the whole lot evicted because of the harm they are doing to the neighbourhood. And so, the Tory leadership election trundles on, oozing with bad intentions.

The most remarkable thing is that Johnson is still Prime Minister. Lying to parliament. Breaking the law. Protecting his mates. Disowned by his party. But still, he occupies Number Ten. And they let him.

Rather than do the right thing and remove this man from office, the parliamentary Conservative Party shamefully enables his delusions. He still believes he is the victim here.

In truth, they have been saved by the summer holidays. Parliament takes a break next Thursday and returns on September 5. They are hoping Johnson can do no further harm in the time he has left and that, by the time we’re back, someone else will be in charge. Boris will be consigned to the backbenches.

The early stages of the Tory leadership race are over and those whose only intention was to set a marker for the future excluded. But the process so far tells us a lot about the nature of the Conservatives in Britain today.

Most alarming is the race to the right with candidates vying to see who can be the most illiberal and regressive. Not one of them will review deporting refugees to Rwanda, an ugly policy which is a stain on Britain’s humanitarian credentials. Not a single voice is heard in dissent from these wannabe Tory leaders. It’s foul.

In part, this is because they all have an eye to the final ballot of 160,000 Tory members. These are a group of people quite unlike the population they live amongst. They are older, whiter, better-off and, for the most part, more reactionary.

You might think the best leader would be the one who will tell this privileged elite like it is. But not a bit of it. Contestants are pandering to every prejudice. I am convinced that, were equal marriage not now the settled position of the body politic, that would also be firmly in their sights.

To make matters worse, social prejudices are combined with economic illiteracy resulting in drivel about tax cuts and smaller states. Some on the hard-right are quite serious about this, others just parroting what they think their Tory base wants to hear.

If these ideas gain traction, they spell more trouble for those already at the sharp end. Suella Braverman, knocked out yesterday, said Universal Credit should be taken off part-time workers to make them work more hours.

Let’s just unpick that. The people she had in mind were mothers with children (single people don’t get UC), working for wages so low they qualify for state support. That was her target.

The Tory small state means fewer health workers, teachers, police officers. Weakened protection for you and your environment. A squeeze on wages while prices soar and the rich pay less tax.

We do not need to put up with this anymore. Now is the time to choose a different course. Now is the time for independence.