SNP conference opportunity for Michael Yellowlees

Michael Yellolees

When the SNP conference closed in Perth earlier this month the last person on the platform wasn’t First Minister Alex Salmond or even his deputy, Nicola Sturgeon. Instead the honour fell to young Scottish singer-songwriter Michael Yellowlees.

The Dunkeld-born Edinburgh University student had been handpicked by SNP chiefs to bring proceedings to a close at Perth Concert Hall with his new single Scotland is Ours. John Landau once claimed to have seen the future of rock and roll in Bruce Springsteen and it was another, somewhat more unlikely, John who was responsible for plucking Yellowlees from obscurity.

The young musician’s road to Perth began at a party meeting. Yellowlees explained: “I am a member of the SNP and I was invited to perform Scotland is Ours at a local party meeting. Our MSP is [finance minister] John Swinney and he liked the song and spoke to me about the possibility of performing it at the conference.

“A few weeks later I received a phone call from the conference organiser asking if I would like to perform the song at the conference.”

Spurred on by this, Yellowlees recorded the song and had a cd version produced for sale at the event. He is also in the process of recording his debut album which he hopes to have ready for release in November. While Scotland is Ours is very much in the folk-rock tradition he describes his other material as: “eclectic, some folk, some more rocky tracks and others bluesy.”

His debut single may lyrically be unashamedly political but the story behind the track is a deeply personal one. The words were written as a tribute to Yellowlees grandfather, John Cullen, a lifelong supporter of Scottish independence, who died in April. Adding to the poignancy it was Yellowlees father Robbie who helped him finish writing the song.

Yellowlees said: “One afternoon my dad came round and he helped finish the lyrics with a few lines that really worked.”

He is aware that his appearance is great exposure for an artist who has spent much of the last few years honing his musical skills as a busker. He clearly hopes that it will lead to increased interest in his forthcoming album and subsequent tour.

As for the big moment itself Yellowlees admited that performing this particular song in Perth could prove cathartic for him. He said: “My granddad never missed a [SNP] conference and this is my first one so yes it will be emotional being there.”

With the 2014 independence referendum and Glasgow Commonwealth Games on the horizon there could be a market for the track with its tartan This Land is Your Land feel, a comparison the artist acknowledges. Michael Yellowlees may be a name we are hearing a lot of over the next few years.

Original here

SNP hit back at Lib Dems over home rule

The SNP have once again slammed Lib Dem plans for extra powers for Holyrood as an alternative to independence.

In the wake of Lib Dem leader Willie Rennie’s conference address in Dunfermline, which highlighted the party’s home rule policy, on Saturday a SNP spokesperson said:  “The Lib Dems have been proposing Home Rule for one hundred years – how many more talking shops do they need?

“Far from being a way to achieve more powers for the Scottish Parliament, people are becoming increasingly aware that a No vote will roll back the achievements of devolution through continued Westminster austerity.

“Only a Yes vote can protect policies such as free personal care and free tuition, by giving Scotland the economic powers that can maximize the benefit of our vast natural and human resources and allow us to flourish.”

In his address Mr Rennie stressed that he saw home rule as a viable option saying: “Scotland has an alternative.

“If we want to keep our influential place in international bodies, but with strong domestic powers, people don’t have to look very far from this room.

“Home rule for Scotland in a federal United Kingdom keeps us as a powerful force for good in the world.”

Under the proposals a swathe of extra constitutional and financial powers would be devolved to Scotland from Westminster. Mr Rennie hailed the plan and said that it: “puts the Lib Dems, once again, ahead of the debate.”

The chairman of the committee responsible for the home rule proposals, Sir Menzies Campbell MP, claimed that they were a natural progression from the current devolution set-up. He said: “Since 1999 when devolution was in its infancy the Scottish Parliament has matured and grown in strength and authority.  The time has come for it to move to a fully-fledged partner as a Home Rule Parliament within a federal United Kingdom.

“With home rule and federalism the Scottish Parliament would have permanent powers, not powers on loan.  This would give us the mature constitutional authority required to work in partnership with the rest of the UK’s parliaments and assembles.”

The Lib Dems policy will not be able to be considered until after the 2014 independence referendum as there will be no second question regarding extra powers for the Scottish parliament.

Original here

SNP point to nuclear free future

Bill Kidd MSP (Credit: Scottish Parliament)

The SNP have welcomed a report from the Westminster Scottish Affairs Committee which states that an independent Scotland could become nuclear free “within months”.

The party leadership will be keen to use the report to reassure backbenchers after the resignation of MSPs John Finnie and Jean Urqhart over the party’s decision to end its opposition to NATO membership.

Bill Kidd MSP, who is a member of the international group a member of the Council of Parliamentarians for Nuclear Non-proliferation and Disarmament, hailed the report. He said: “These findings are to be welcomed, and only enhance the case for an independent Scotland where we can move forward towards a country free from Trident nuclear weapons.

“Trident is not wanted in Scotland, and never has been – yet the UK government are proposing to waste £100bn dumping another generation of Trident nuclear weapons on the River Clyde. With independence, we can ensure that Scotland’s shre of the money wasted on Trident is diverted to building a stronger and fairer society.”

The debate over whether the party should change its stance to NATO dominated the first half of last week’s SNP conference in Perth. Two days of fringe meetings and lobbying culminated in a fiery debate on Friday afternoon where the new policy was passed by a narrow margin.

The subsequent resignations from the party of Finnie and Urqhart had sparked fears that other MSPs such as Kidd, Jamie Hepburn and Sandra White, who all opposed the motion, could follow suit.

However, party chiefs will be hopeful that the report will appease disgruntled members with its statement that: “The Committee has heard in evidence that nuclear weapons in Scotland could be disarmed within days and removed within months.”

Kidd also raised the issue of an independent Scotland having a written constitution which would prohibit nuclear weapons, an idea that was floated in Perth. Kidd said: “A key advantage of independence is that it is the only constitutional option which gives Scotland the powers to have Trident removed from Scottish waters. And the SNP also propose a specific ban on basing nuclear weapons in Scotland in the written constitution of an independent Scotland.

Original here

Scottish independence: Salmond faces questions over EU membership

First Minister Alex Salmond clashed with Labour leader Johann Lamont and her Lib Dem counterpart Willie Rennie over the issue of whether an independent Scotland will automatically be a member of EU should Scots vote for independence in 2014.

Ms Lamont went on the attack citing comments from the president of the European commission, Jose Manuel Barroso, which had been reported as suggesting that an independent Scotland would have to reapply for membership.

The Labour leader at Holyrood asked whether Mr Barroso was wrong to say this. Mr Salmond responded by accusing the Labour leader of misquoting EU officials.

Mr Salmond went on to defend his government’s stance on EU membership stating that a post-independence Scotland would still be part of the EU and would not have to apply for membership in the same way as a country outside the EU such as Turkey would.

He said: “Scotland is not an accession state; we’ve been members of the European Union for 40 years.
“We are not in the position of a country which is not part of the European Union, and that means of course there have to be negotiations, but the crucial point is that these negotiations take place from within the context of the European Union.”

When his opportunity to question the first minister arrived, LibDem leader Willie Rennie asked if Mr Salmond had considered the consequences if his view on the subject was wrong. He said: “Could we be forced to join the Eurozone and the Schengen agreement? Could we lose the European rebate? These are serious questions which voters deserve legitimate and expert answers to. It is unacceptable to ask people to vote for independence on the basis of an assessment cobbled together by the SNP.”

Mr Salmond countered by claiming that, contrary to claims made by Unionist politicians, no one in Europe wants to force Scotland out of the EU.

The argument flared up as it emerged that Scotland could find itself outside the EU if it remains part of the United Kingdom. A survey called Transatlantic Trends, conducted by the Washington-based GMF think-tank has shown that the majority of UK citizens believe that membership of the EU is not good for the domestic economy.

The figures show that only 40 percent of Britons now believe the EU is good for the British economy. With Prime Minister David Cameron seemingly committed to holding a referendum on EU membership when the opportunity arises there appears to be doubt over Scotland’s on-going EU membership regardless of the independence referendum result.


Original article here –

Alex Orr interview

Alex Orr looks like a PR man’s ideal election candidate.  Tall and tanned, when we meet him, he is dressed in a smart suit and drinking a latte.  Which is less surprising, perhaps, when you find out that Orr is both a PR man and a candidate on the Lothian list for the SNP.

In fact it was through his work that Orr first became interested in the SNP.  He said:-

“I ran the media campaign for Scotland FORward, which was the referendum  campaign in 1997 seeking a yes-yes vote for the Scottish Parliament. Through meeting a lot of individuals from the SNP, such as Alex Salmond, I  became quite convinced that independence was the way forward for Scotland.”

Orr joined the party in 1998, and soon became heavily involved. He stood for election to The City of Edinburgh Council for the first time in 1999, and as a candidate for Holyrood in both 2003 and 2007. He is now a member of the party’s National Executive Committee, helping to shape strategy on policy.

On the SNP’s strategy for the May election, Orr is adamant that the party should draw heavily on its record in government.

“The main campaign point we are fighting on is the record of the  SNP.  Despite being a minority administration, the SNP have managed to fulfil 84 out of 94 manifesto commitments.  We will also put forward to the people that we have a great track record; for example on abolishing prescription charges, 1000 more police on the streets, freezing council tax, and abolishing tuition fees.  We are going forward on that record. We are saying, look what we have achieved so far and what we can achieve if we are successful in the election.”

Orr also feels his party have a strong team in key positions.

“We have a fantastic First Minister at the moment in Alex Salmond . We have a fantastic Health secretary in Nicola Sturgeon, and one of the great triumphs at the moment is that health is not such a major issue because many of the issues that have dominated in the past, such as MRSA, have been addressed by Nicola as Health secretary. Kenny MacAskill has worked tirelessly as Justice Secretary – crime figures are falling, and we have extra police on the streets. Additionally we have John Swinney, and, through helping small businesses and  managing effectively the budget, we are in a position where unemployment in Scotland is falling in comparison to the rest of the UK.”

Of course, being a party in government leads to difficult and unpopular decisions having to be made. The most controversial of those made by the SNP since 2007 is undoubtedly the release of Lockerbie bomber, Abdelbaset al-Megrahi. Whilst conceding public opinion is divided on the issue, Orr is adamant that the Justice Secretary acted correctly.

“Something like the Megrahi decision was very controversial, and you have to respect people who opposed that. For us as a party, on legal grounds there is a well accepted principle of compassion within the Scottish Legal system – which we are abiding by. There was nothing untoward in that decision and, if anything, it reinforced our position as a compassionate society.”

Looking to the future, Orr’s major hope for the next parliament is that it delivers an independence referendum.

“My hope is that the parliament, which is maturing, can move onto the next level. We have moved on from the union to devolution and my hope is that we can move onto an independence referendum within the term of the next parliament and that we can become an independent nation on equal footing with other nations.”

Mindful of the rocky road the proposed referendum has travelled so far, Orr makes a plea to potential MSPs of all parties:

“I hope we move out from tribalism of politics, where all the other parties vote down the referendum for party political reasons and the people of Scotland have an opportunity to vote on it.”

Warming to the theme, Orr thinks Holyrood would benefit from an injection of fresh blood to revitalise the parliament.

“I also hope we have more people in the parliament who come from outwith a narrow political sphere. I hope we have more characters coming into parliament with experience outside politics. My examples of that would be people like Robin Harper, who came from teaching, or Ian McKee who had experience as a GP, or Jim Mather who had tremendous business experience.”

To wind up, Orr returns to party politics.  He anticipates a close battle with Labour for electoral success, but is confident his party will prevail.  He told us:

“I think this is obviously going to be a very tight election.  However I think that the SNP will win this election and will have the most number of seats. However it is going to be very, very tight.”

Original article here –

Sketch – The strange case of the Gray hard man

By Andy Mackie


Celebrity dancer Anne Widdecombe once said that there was ‘something of the night’ about Michael Howard. That being the case then many would say there is something of wet afternoon in Saltcoats about Scottish Labour leader Iain Gray.  With a Scottish election coming up that could be a serious problem for the Labour party’s hopes of forming the next administration.

As recently as last month a poll in the Scotsman found that fewer than 20% of the public could identify Gray’s picture. Set against the high profile of the SNP’s slick Eck – first minister Alex Salmond – Grays facelessness must be a major worry to party strategists. History tells us that, other than John Major, boring leaders do not win elections.

Gray is obviously trying to improve his image in the run up to May 5th. Unfortunately his performance in last weeks’ first minister’s questions suggests that his new image is of a faux hard man. Quizzing Eck over the NHS, always a fruitful subject for an opposition party, he started well enough pinning Eck down over waiting lists and operation cancellations. Things went awry when he offered to ‘take the first minister on any time’ over SNP and Labour’s respective records. Nothing wrong with a bit of confrontational politics it was just that Gray didn’t sound particularly convincing or threatening when he said it. Eck laughed, Nicola Sturgeon laughed and when Eck delivered his put down comparing Gray to Mr Angry even Conservative headteacher Annabel Goldie seemed to allow herself a small chuckle.

The Labour party of course still hold a sizeable lead in most polls, however, as we head into the nitty gritty of the election campaign Gray may yet find the road from Saltcoats to Bute House a rocky one.

Tartan tax

Alex Salmond and the late Donald Dewar in 1997

By Andy Mackie

John Swinney and the SNP government are set to come under attack today for letting Holyroods’ tax raising powers lapse.

The furore surrounding this has been intense and the SNP’s political adversaries have siezed upon the subject. However, getting past political bluster the decision in principle of refusing to pay £7m to maintain the ability to us e the tax raising powers is a sound one. Not least because none of the 4 major parties in Scotland have shown any inclination to use the powers.

Indeed 2 weeks ago when I wrote an article about the Scottish Green Partys’ proposal to use parliaments tax varying powers the responses I received from the major parties ranged from un enthusiastic to downright hostile. indeed the Lib Dems finance spokesman said: “The Green Party has no credibility at all. They have called for more and more expenditure but have not done as we did and identified the waste and bureaucracy that needs to be tackled. This should be the priority; not putting up taxes for low or medium earners to a grotesque amount as the Green Party are advocating.” Yet today the same Lib Dems who are part of the coalition government in Westminster are implementing swingeing cuts to jobs, public services and benefits are railing against a decision to not spend £7m to safeguard a power they have no intention of implementing.

This is not, however to let Swinney and the SNP off the hook. In his defence Swinney yesterday said that MSP’ could not be informed of every piece of information with parliament then MSP’s would need bigger briefcases. This is undoubtedly true but this was a rather large and fundamental piece of information. Furthermore it was on an issue that the SNP campaigned vigorously on back in 1997 and one which the public may well have been interested in.

It should also be noted that on November 10th, only two weeks ago, an SNP spokesperson had this to say on the tartan tax: “The SNP has no plans to implement the 3p tartan tax at present. We believe that it would have a negative effect on household budgets.” Surely the SNP press office knew that the tartan tax was not an option until at least 2013 at this point? Or was the reason they had no plans to implement it the fact that they, but not the Scottish public, knew it was not possible?

Greens back tartan tax

By Andy Mackie

The Scottish Green party is the first in Scotland to propose using  Holyrood’s tax raising powers.

A motion was passed at the party’s annual conference, held in Edinburgh at the weekend, to oppose cuts to services and to look at taxation as a tool to achieve this. Explaining this stance in the run up to next years Holyrood elections Patrick Harvie MSP said:  “We don’t want the electorate to be faced with five political parties proposing five different flavours of cuts. In doing this we have to acknowledge that, unfortunately, other ways of raising revenue have to be explored.”

Harvie acknowledged that the tax varying powers available are limited. He said: “You can only change the basic rate, I would love it if we could raise the higher rate making it a more progressive system.” Harvie added that the party would also be looking into ways of implementing local taxation. He said: “We will be looking at a broader range of local taxes that can be more progressive and ensure that those with the broadest shoulders do pay more.”

The other parties in Scotland, however, do not share the Greens enthusiasm for tax increases. Liberal Democrat Finance spokesperson Jeremy Purvis MSP said: “The Green Party has no credibility at all. They have called for more and more expenditure but have not done as we did and identified the waste and bureaucracy that needs to be tackled. This should be the priority; not putting up taxes for low or medium earners to a grotesque amount as the Green Party are advocating.”

The SNP pointed out that any tax increase would impact on all families their spokesperson said: “The SNP has no plans to implement the 3p tartan tax at present. We believe that it would have a negative effect on household budgets.”

The Scottish Labour party stopped short of ruling out the policy, a spokesperson said: “Labour will look carefully at all the evidence but there are practical difficulties with the Green’s proposals which would be hard to overcome.”

The Scottish Conservatives were unavailable for comment.