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Nicola Sturgeon independence finances in doubt as black hole lingers: 'Serious questions'

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Nicola Sturgeon blasted for endless quest for independence

Questions have been “raised” over the legitimacy of independence in Scotland and the financial plans for it. It comes as Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon was shut down by the Scottish Labour leader after she suggested independence could pave the way to relieve the country of the cost of living crisis. Anas Sarwar parried Ms Sturgeon’s invitation to join her calls for Westminster to devolve powers that would allow Holyrood to legislate for a windfall tax.

Hitting out at her, he criticised the SNP for failing to back Labour’s plan for a specific tax on oil and gas companies, despite its motion put forward in the House of Commons calling for a windfall tax on any company which benefited from increased profits connected to COVID-19 or the conflict in Ukraine.

Mr Sarwar then accused the First Minister of making the cost-of-living debate about the constitution, and called on her to use devolved powers already at her disposal.

While Scotland’s independence debate has not gone away, it briefly took a back seat amid Russia’s ongoing full-scale invasion of Ukraine.

But, with Scottish political outfits addressing their members in conferences last week, the issue of a UK-breakaway has resurfaced.

Nicola Sturgeon: The Scottish First Minister's independence plans were thrown into question

Nicola Sturgeon: The Scottish First Minister’s independence plans were thrown into question (Image: GETTY)

Anas Sarwar: The Scottish Labour leader rejected the SNP's calls for support

Anas Sarwar: The Scottish Labour leader rejected the SNP’s calls for support (Image: GETTY)

Scotland currently has a huge deficit, the figure more than doubling to £36.3billion, or 22.4 percent of GDP in 2020-21 — the highest yearly increase since devolution.

Despite this, figures in the SNP, like Finance Secretary Kate Forbes, say the deficit should not be an obstacle to making the case for independence.

But others, like John Lamont, the Scottish Conservative MP for Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk, say the deficit throws any independence plans into extreme doubt, with suggestions that plans are fully costed “raising serious questions”.

He told Express.co.uk: “They [the SNP] seem to think they can set up an independent country within 18 months if they were to get the outcome of the referendum that they wanted.

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Scottish independence: The country is currently split over whether to breakaway from the UK

Scottish independence: The country is currently split over whether to breakaway from the UK (Image: GETTY)

“But when you look at the evidence of the transfer of youth and welfare powers and how they’ve run the Scottish economy in terms of the deficit, it does raise questions about whether they’d be able to do it within that time scale, or indeed be able to do it within any sort of reasonable cost.

“I think the deficit the SNP has run up is around £36.3billion in 2021, which is 22.4 percent of GDP.

“That figure is just eye-watering.

“If they’re not able to take on the extra powers they’ve been given and they’re running the economy in that way it does raise serious questions about what a costed independence plan would look like.”

Last week, speaking during the Scottish Green Party’s conference, co-leader Lorna Slater confirmed that Ms Sturgeon was continuing with her aim of holding a referendum in 2023.

The Greens last year entered a formal agreement with the SNP, referred to as the Bute House Agreement.

It effectively props up the SNP’s pro-independence agenda — the Greens being the only other major political party to support a breakaway.

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John Lamont: The Scottish Tory questioned whether independence plans were costed

John Lamont: The Scottish Tory questioned whether independence plans were costed (Image: GETTY)

Indyref2: Sturgeon is pushing ahead with her plans to hold Indyref2 in 2023

Indyref2: Sturgeon is pushing ahead with her plans to hold Indyref2 in 2023 (Image: GETTY)

Ms Slater also suggested Scotland would be in a better position to welcome Ukrainian refugees if it were independent.

But Mr Lamont said comments like that were “unhelpful” given the wider humanitarian crises, and that the UK was doing all it could in the current situation.

Scotland’s finance secretary suggested that independence was a chance for “having the levers, the full control to manage our fiscal sustainability.”

Late last year, she said: “It is not an obstacle to making the case for independence because deficits across the world have risen exponentially and having the highest deficit in Europe does not seem to be an obstacle for the UK government.

Sturgeon profile: She became First Minister following the failed 2014 referendum

Sturgeon profile: She became First Minister following the failed 2014 referendum (Image: Express Newspapers)

The annual Government Expenditure and Revenue Scotland (GERS) report, compiled by Scottish government statisticians showed how public finances were affected by the pandemic, noting that a rise in spending reflected the costs of health and economic interventions.

But opposition parties said the report underlined the importance of staying in the UK.

Scottish Labour highlighted that total spending was equivalent to £18,144 per person – £1,828 per person greater than the UK average, while revenue raised in Scotland was £382 less per head.

And the Scottish Tories calculated that this “union dividend” — the combined value of higher spending and lower revenue — had increased to £2,210 per person.

Lorna Slater: The Scottish Greens entered an agreement with the SNP last year

Lorna Slater: The Scottish Greens entered an agreement with the SNP last year (Image: GETTY)

This week, Tony Blair’s former political strategist, John McTernan, turned attention to the large amount of money Scotland would lose if it were to leave the UK.

Speaking to GB News, he said: “It’s clear the nationalists can’t work out the answer to the question, how can Scotland lose £15billion a year of a fiscal transfer from the UK without massive cuts?

“More is spent on public service in Scotland. There’s raised taxation, they now can’t fill it with oil revenues because the oil is now running out and the SNP is committed to keeping oil and gas in the North Sea.”



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'Have to kick the pedal to the metal' Ex-Ukrainian leader slams Macron tank aide hesitancy

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Ex-Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk sat down on LBC Radio to discuss NATO leaders. NATO has been allying themselves with Ukraine, sending help and weaponry and taking fleeing Ukrainian refugees. NATO members held a conference on the Russian invasion earlier this week to discuss more ways to help Ukraine.

Mr Yatsenyuk pushed for Macron to send over military tanks as promised, slamming him for dragging his feet, and claiming that the war in Ukraine affects the security of every European country.

Mr Yatsenyuk said: “That’s what Putin is closely watching, as for now, Putin didn’t expect this kind of unity and consolidated and concerted actions against the Russian federation.

“But you know, the time is running and we don’t have enough time to wait until some EU member states decide to supply more weapons to Ukraine.

“Or to impose tougher and stronger sanctions on the Russian Federation, so the EU has to be decisive and they have to speed up the process of new sanctions.

“And the shipment and delivery of weapons to Ukraine, because it’s not just about Ukraina and they realise it clearly, this is about the free world.

“And this is about the security of every single nation in the European Union, so the French have to kick the pedal to the metal.”

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Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky explained this week that he expected “serious steps” from Western-allied countries.

Mr Zelensky repeated the calls for a no-fly zone over Ukraine to be imposed by NATO forces and complained that the Western allies had not yet provided Ukraine with sufficient planes, up to date modern anti-missile systems, tanks or anti-ship weapons.

Mr Zelensky added: “At these three summits we will see who is our friend, who is our partner and who sold us out and betrayed us.”

President Zelensky also expressed that he was grateful for the support Ukraine was continuing to receive from individual NATO member countries from around the world.

Mr Zelensky added: “But NATO has yet to show what the alliance can do to save people,” he said. “It feels like we’re in the grey zone between the West and Russia, but we’re protecting all our and your shared values.

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Mr Johnson added: “We’ve got to tighten the economic vice around Putin, sanctioning more people today, as we are, sanctioning the Wagner Group, looking at what we can do to stop Putin using his gold reserves, and also doing more to help the Ukrainians defend themselves.”

Foreign Secretary Liz Truss has been playing an active role in trying to de-escalate the war with Russia by imposing tight sanctions on Russia to try and stop Putin’s warpath of destruction.

Ms Truss has warned that infighting between NATO countries at the moment could be highly detrimental for progress in ending the war.

Mr Truss said: “Russia’s targeting of critical national infrastructure is calculated and dangerous.

“It shows Putin is prepared to risk lives to sow division and confusion among allies.”



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Brexit news: What happens when Article 16 is triggered?

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After Britain’s exit from the European Union (EU) was confirmed, the two parties have been attempting to renegotiate terms for a special Brexit deal relating to Northern Ireland. Coined the Northern Ireland protocol it’s been a point of contention that’s led to threats from each side of triggering a mechanism called Article 16. But what is it?

What is Article 16?

The UK and EU agreed to the creation of the Northern Ireland protocol, in October 2019.

By allowing goods to flow freely between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland the deal removed the threat of a hard border.

But the arrangement has also resulted in what’s been labelled as an ‘Irish Sea border’.

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Goods that now arrive into Northern Ireland from the rest of the UK are subjected to more stringent checks and controls.

In the scenario that either the UK or EU feel that the protocol is leading to significant issues or hampering their capacity to trade, then they have the option of activating Article 16.

The component sets out the process for taking unilateral “safeguard” measures, which in reality would amount to suspending parts of the deal.

Specifically, Article 16 says safeguard measures can be taken if the protocol is leading to serious “economic, societal or environmental difficulties” that are liable to persist.

He said: “Triggering Article 16 now would severely disrupt the unity of the UK and EU response to the war in Ukraine.

“It is thus perhaps not surprising that key US figures chose this week to restate that any uncertainty around the stability of the Good Friday Agreement would hinder a future UK-US trade deal.”

In recent months talks between Foreign Secretary Liz Truss and her EU counterpart Maros Sefcovic have stalled, leading to calls from Brexiteers for the UK to act.

However, Professor Menon cautioned that triggering Article 16 won’t “rid” Britain of the protocol.

He added: “I think the British Government if it triggers Article 16 will do something relatively small and contained.

“And then there’s not a massive bust-up. You don’t end up getting rid of the protocol. You end up with months if not years of negotiations, mediation and arbitration.

“So, it’s a way of doing something but it’s not a way of solving anything. In a sense you’re still stuck with the protocol and you’re still negotiating about the future of the protocol.”

In essence, were Article 16 to be triggered it wouldn’t have a huge impact on the ground.

Many of the checks on goods flowing from Britain to Northern Ireland have already been unilaterally suspended.

Triggering the mechanism itself would only start a formal dispute process that requires both sides to go into talks to resolve.



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NATO slammed as former US Army chief exposes ‘two big issues’ in united Russia response

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US Army vice chief of staff general Jack Keane, sat down on LBC radio to talk about the NATO conference which took place earlier this week. Mr Keane discussed the possibility that Putin could deploy chemical biological weapons on the battlefield. Russian President Vladimir Putin has already used the highly condemned thermobaric weapons since the war started just over a month ago.

The US Army chief acknowledged there had been no public policy declaration on the consequences Putin would face if he was to take such a barbaric action.

Mr Keane said: “Listen I was very disappointed by the NATO summit.

“I totally applaud the fact that they’re going to increase by 40k troops in Eastern Europe.

“And they’re increasing sanctions and it seems like a sense of unity.

“But on two big issues, it’s got to be disappointing, there’s no NATO public policy declaration.

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Mr Keane added: “At the end of that summit to deal with this particular issue, chemical biological weapons and nuclear weapons which the Russians have been waving in front of our face now for almost 30 days.

“What we need is… Think policy statement, not something that’s left to a reporter to ask a question on.

“And then you get a statement that you just repeated, which leads to more confirmation than anything else.

“A much better statement, using my words… I don’t want to put words into other people’s mouths.

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“But with me, the use of any form of WMB would be unacceptable.

“We will not let it stand, it will result in decisive consequential actions and all options are on the table.

“Words to that effect, in a public policy statement, and we didn’t get it and it’s really unfortunate.

“And what it does it leaves in the minds of Putin and his  leaders just what would the reaction be, ambiguous like that and I think it’s very unfortunate.”

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Fear of the Russian military deploying chemical biological weapons has been heightened.

Ukrainian outlet InformNapalm has warned that: “Our conclusions may sound premature or too apocalyptic, but after the missile attacks and bombing of civilian infrastructure in Ukraine, which the Russian army resorted to, we believe that it is necessary to make these data public and try to thwart any such intentions of Russia.”

And NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said in Brussels on Thursday: “We’ve tried to be very clear about the gravity of the use of any such chemical weapons.

“These are agents that should never be employed and certainly not on the battlefield, as we are concerned Russia might.”



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