europe, Scotland, society, UK Politics, World Politics

Sturgeon has total power over UK’s fate after Brexit

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When the major blow of Yes Scotland’s defeat set in during the aftermath of 2014’s Scottish independence referendum, many believed that the SNP would become a paralysed, lost cause from then on. Few would have thought that, under the sturdy leadership of the formidable Nicola Sturgeon, the Scottish National Party would regain its position in dominating Scottish decision-making. However, Britain’s surprising verdict on EU membership has proven that Sturgeon’s contingent isn’t just controlling Scottish politics.

Rated by Forbes magazine as the most powerful woman in Britain after Queen Elizabeth II, not to mention the 50th most influential in the entire world, Brexit is changing Nicola Sturgeon and her party’s fortune. Perhaps next year’s rankings will have Sturgeon placed higher. I certainly wouldn’t argue with it. But whilst Brexit is stripping the good fortune of many British politicians, such as that of the precariously placed Jeremy Corbyn, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon and her party has only gained a position of greater power.

Given that victory for the Leave campaign in last week’s EU referendum was largely down to English votes, protest by many passionate internationalists and keen Scottish nationalists has dominated headlines. Scotland’s intentions evidenced by last week’s vote – of more than 70% support for Remain in many areas north of the border – has clearly shown that policy should take a different direction here.

After arguing consistently that a Brexit is not in the interests of the people of Scotland, the Scottish First Minister’s gargantuan new task is to rescue Scotland from the effects of Vote Leave. But the flipside is that this gives the SNP an exceptional political advantage. Nicola Sturgeon is in total control of Scotland’s future within the EU, and that influence does not span across issues with regard only to Scotland. In the likely event that the SNP leader is unable to forge a deal granting European Union membership to Scottish citizens alone, it will be Nicola Sturgeon who is in charge of deciding whether or not the United Kingdom really is united, refuelling her independence crusade.

The volume of influence that the Scottish First Minister now brandishes places Scotland in a very strong position at the fiery EU negotiating table. The events of this week have shown that the First Minister will remain silent at her peril. The Brexit result which hoped to bring increased sovereignty for the entirety of the UK has in turn weakened ties between Westminster and its sibling Scottish parliament at Holyrood.

Since 2007, the SNP has been the major force in Scottish politics, standing as the party of traditional social democracy, and, of course, independence. However, Sturgeon’s position as a key player in international affairs has become stronger thanks to a victory for Vote Leave. The triumphs of Johnson, Gove and Farage in terms of the European Union have not translated into triumphs for the UK’s union. For a Brexit has all the more accentuated the deep political crevasses which set apart the different components of the UK.

It seems that David Cameron has made a fatal error by underestimating the challenges of keeping Britain in the European Union, not to mention the challenges of keeping Britain on side with his party’s government. A harsh split, further nursed by the Prime Minister’s Friday morning resignation, threatens the future of Conservative party politics. The Labour party is no safe haven either. Ravaged by a leader deemed unable to take it to its peak in a possibly imminent General Election, Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership looks tenuous.

71669140_jpg_galleryNicola Sturgeon is no fool. Her party has seen numerous victories of late, and her ability as a skillful tactician is more obvious than ever before. The aforementioned failings highlighted by the shock of Brexit have only widened Sturgeon’s stage as an influential policymaker. In recent days, SNP support has surged, an effect similar to that achieved by the Party during the aftermath of the 2014 referendum. Inner party turmoil certainly doesn’t riddle the SNP. Sturgeon’s socially democratic force is one of the only ones avoiding a rift with its clear-cut policy, and this is one of its grandest assets.

The SNP is a decisive and strategic band, a tidal wave which now seems to dwarf the fragmented Labour and Conservative parties at Westminster. Sturgeon isn’t right-wing populism, Sturgeon isn’t scaremongering, and Sturgeon isn’t austerity. Faisal Islam of ITV remarked this morning that it is Nicola Sturgeon who has “the most thought out plan” for Brexit. In a likely snap general election, the First Minister is sure to pick up some of the votes of those who have become dismayed by the Tories’ and Labour’s endless internal strife. Her shrewdness and sharp-witted nature are her doubtless fortes which have been brought to light all thanks to Brexit. As long this adeptness does not fail, the SNP will call the shots in Scottish politics, and indeed in European relations, for many months and years to come.

With the failings of the UK Parliament parties in producing constructive political change, as well as a vote for Brexit which ignores Scottish votes, Sturgeon’s movement for independence may, too, build in strength and support. A reassessment of relations between the UK and EU has brought the question of national sovereignty back into the political arena. Aims of the Smith Commission evidently haven’t gone far enough, and in ways akin to the post-Brexit case, Scotland’s opinions are becoming drowned out. The contrast in opinions over the EU between England and Scotland serves to demonstrate exactly why Scotland is growing tired of the talking shop that is Westminster. Sturgeon has the ultimate upper hand over the future of the United Kingdom, and Sturgeon’s movements may well provoke a breakup.

More interestingly, the future of Scottish Labour looks grim. The European Union question may well change opinions of the Holyrood party whose support has plummeted over recent years. Yesterday it was widely reported that the Scottish Labour leader, Kezia Dugdale, will consider support for independence. But this is surely a political death of Sturgeon’s arguably inadvertent making. Dugdale’s extreme desperation for votes in tandem with growing support for the nationalist cause could mean that even the skeleton of Labour’s Scottish branch is no longer safe from a painful fracture. If her strategy is to support independence, Dugdale risks splitting her party between nationalists and unionists, only playing into Sturgeon’s hands.

The European Union debate has questioned not only UK sovereignty, but also the sovereignty of the separate nation states which make up the UK. Recent events have shown clearly that the politics of England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland are vastly different.

With Sturgeon ceasing the opportunity for using this as a vehicle for constitutional change within Scotland, it is easy to see that the Scottish First Minister’s actions over coming months will largely determine also the United Kingdom’s fate. Along with the most prominent of British and EU officials, it is the Nicola Sturgeon who will have one of the most influential seats at the Brexit negotiation table. Whilst both major political parties within Westminster are fast collapsing, diseased by pathogens of indecisiveness and disarray, it is Nicola Sturgeon’s party which remains dead set on its policy. The First Minister of Scotland only has Westminster to thank for her unprecedented leverage. After the breakthrough of devolution in 1999, along with an intense referendum discussion two years ago, few could have foreseen Scotland continuing to pose such a huge threat to the longevity of the UK.

Read more from Robert Guthrie

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society, UK Politics

Sadiq Khan’s victory shows that Londoners are not naïve

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In his inauguration speech at Southwark Cathedral this morning, Sadiq Khan revelled in the possibilities of a London for all. The son of a Muslim bus driver who grew up on a London council estate has proven that Europe’s largest city is now an epicentre of inclusive and progressive politics. The ten week campaign for the London mayoralty between Khan and his Tory rival Zac Goldsmith has certainly shown that Londoners are not naïve. Instead, the realpolitik Khan has triumphed. Running a campaign which categorically marginalised those of ethnic minorities, the trajectory of Goldsmith’s popularity continued to plummet throughout the campaign. Khan’s unarguable success has punctuated the huge failings of the racially motivated Tory campaign, and has laid the foundations for a city of increased unity.

Branding Khan as a supporter of Islamic extremism and consistently scaremongering the city is what fundamentally caused Goldsmith’s campaign irreparable damage. The Conservative campaign within London this year was unforgiveable, and taught a hard-hitting lesson to those who seek to abandon political pragmatism. A racial crevasse in London would serve to diminish chances of prosperity and unity across London, instead of nurturing the accepting and just culture upon which the city prides itself.

One of the most incomprehensible failings of the Goldsmith campaign is that the Tories never sought to please all Londoners, with marginalising policy. Instead of adopting an ideologically driven, resolute campaign, Khan’s strength was his ability to focus on the real issues concerning the majority. His motto ‘a mayor for all Londoners’ only accentuates this. It seems that through such blatant flaws over the party’s isolating campaign, the Conservatives were always doomed. Their game of unfairness and backward politics meant that a Labour victory was effortless. David Cameron’s willingness to endorse such a divisive standpoint during Prime Minister’s Questions is nothing short of mindless. Cameron’s ease in remarking that Britain would “pay the price” for the election of Khan, whilst the Conservatives insist on supporting a “big society” is scandalous. Marginalising the chances of Conservative gains with even the most successful and high-earning minority ethnic citizens is a foolish move. And the fact that the Conservative party failed to realise its shortcomings with regard to such racially divisive politics is ludicrous. It is further atrocious that many Conservatives themselves refused to condemn Goldsmith’s brutality en masse.

The fact that Khan capitalised on the failings of Goldsmith is not the only reason for his landmark win. As a true Londoner, many believe that Khan will not only seek political advantage through the mayoralty. Freezing Transport for London fares, keeping rents low, and raising the profile of environmental sustainability are issues important to one and all. One of his greatest assets is his status not as a star or a personality, but as a genuinely ‘normal bloke.’ Khan understands the real issues affecting Londoners. His ability to take everyone into account and defy the divisive politics of Goldsmith has led to an unquestionable victory.

In a political world where populist politics from the right of the spectrum is becoming the norm and achieving great support, Sadiq Khan’s natural, left wing win must be refreshing for many. It is a resonant statement that loud-mouthed politics such as those of Trump or Farage have not succeeded within London. Perhaps this is due to Goldsmith’s persona, never really presenting himself as someone who is casually outspoken like many right-wing populists. Or perhaps such divisive politics have failed within a city as multi-cultural as London purely because of its cultural smorgasbord. It is clear, though, that the Tory campaign has taken its focus on defying extremism too far this time. Khan’s politics of optimism have clearly trounced those of hatred. We must be always heavy-handed on dealing with extremism, but presenting such an controversial campaign in a patchwork city like London has fallen monumentally flat.

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Environment, UK Politics

Climate change is coming, and the UK should be ready to face it

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Amid a season of peace to all, it is clear that even the most comforting and soothing attributes of the winter season are not currently extended to all British people. Storm Frank has taken its toll on the nation, wrecking communities and causing disparities which contrast with the usual warmth felt by many in this festive period. Those in Southern Scotland and Northern England have been forced to evacuate and close small businesses, Welsh residents have seen losses of power, and the Northern Irish impact has threatened roads and rail services. Dumfries alone has seen riverbanks burst, and as much as 120mm of rainfall in one day. The impact of climate change is undeniably becoming more apparent, and this age of natural disaster must provoke changes in the way we relieve our populations and prevent the next environmental catastrophes.

Several years ago, there were obvious opportunities to learn from previous flood disasters in Britain. 2007 saw approximately £6 billion worth of Southern English property destroyed, atrocities which provoked Sir William Pitt’s study of British flood responses. Pitt’s report emphasised the naïve outlook British governments had on dealing with mass water damage, highlighting the need for investment in new interception techniques and a detailed flood action plan. But recent developments simply lack physical and political strength, and many Pitt Report recommendations have been ignored.

The question which remains afloat in the flooding aftermath is over ways in which Britain can better respond to similar episodes in the future. Whilst numerous changes have been made, this month’s catastrophe has proven that Britain remains incapable. Cabinet sub-committees with flood responsibility have been set up and legislation in both Westminster and Holyrood has been passed to reduce flood risks.

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In Dumfries and Galloway, one of Britain’s most affected regions, Council Chief Gavin Stevenson emphasised the extent of the far and wide flood damage. Dumfries and Galloway Council’s CEO went further to explain that whilst financial aid can help flooded-out settlements, strong links and uncompromised cohesion between communities is key. Social researcher Kim Chang found that during flood disparity within Northern England in 2009 strong links between one another in communities were common in harmed areas. Seamless connections between civilians, emergency services, charities, churches, the NHS and our governments must exist for a smooth transmission of aid during environmental crises, and

In order to keep Britain buoyant in the future, both in mindset and in terms of flood resistance, it is clear also that more provision must be made for communities at risk. The Conservative government’s crippling cuts over recent years have already proven to be detrimental to many public institutions, and the UK’s flood preventions have suffered no less. The Guardian reported in December that the amount of money put towards flood resistance had decreased by 10% between 2010-2011 and 2014. In addition, criticism of the Scottish Government, with the power to regulate over flood control, has been voiced. A report by the Institution of Civil Engineers allocated a ‘C’ grade to the SNP government for flood policy. In the Westminster parliament, Chancellor George Osborne has already promised £400m for flood defence in England alone, but many experts doubt that English and Scottish allocations will suffice.

The World Resources Institute indicated in a recent study that the flood risk not just nationwide but worldwide could have increased almost three-fold by 2030. Governments are sure to be alarmed by these revelations, and solid prevention plans and increased spending seem absolutely necessary. Further to this, the Institute also revealed that whilst current flood costs amount to around £65 billion, governments of 2030 could expect a bill of as much as £340 billion. The only way leaders will survive this new environmental age is by rigorous planning and investing in safeguarding communities. Watching as preventable disasters threaten livelihoods in a supposed developed nation cannot become a convention.

In an international context, and as the Pitt Report stresses, the Tories’ cumulative £400m to be spent on English natural disasters is markedly less than neighbouring states’ provision on a grander scale. 2002 brought devastating flooding across Europe, resulting in fatalities and chaos in Austria, Germany and the Czech Republic amongst other states. The central German region of Saxony became one of the worst hit areas, prompting a governmental rethink in flood prevention. As a result, waterways were reconstructed and revamped, plans for every eventuality were outlined, and a substantial €1.3 billion was allocated, aimed at solving this ever-prominent social problem. Saxony’s neighbours have in fact blamed the region itself, with more advanced prevention systems, for increased environmental damage, showing that an increase in spending and planning is having a positive impact.

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After countless cases of devastation caused by recent flooding, it is time that our governments on both local and national levels focus on spending and cohesion to better deal with natural disasters. As the global temperature rises alongside sea levels, climate change is becoming an inexorable issue. Atrocities at home and abroad show that our leaders’ policy direction must change. Ensuring the safety of populations and communities can only come with more investment in flood defences and research. As experts predict flooding in more developing nations such as Bangladesh, Afghanistan and Cambodia with lower GDP, cooperation throughout civilisation worldwide is paramount.

With an enormous environmental strategy to develop, the need for which reinstated by flooded out Britain, we cannot wilfully watch our communities crumble. Fresh funding is urgently needed, along with unified citizens and services. Until both governments across the nation invest in new methods of protection and react to alarming research, the mood in hard-hit communities will continue to dampen. No longer can we watch citizens suffer as easy targets for the tribulations of changing climates. Storm Frank, with its seemingly harmless and cosy name, has appeared starkly different underneath its clouds.

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