April 21: The rise of the SNP and Ukip

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IT is clear that the Scottish National Party’s spending proposals would be financially calamitous for the whole of the United Kingdom, even though Nicola Sturgeon sought to strike a more conciliatory tone at yesterday’s launch of the SNP election manifesto.

Scotland’s First Minister is clearly in denial about the true state of the economy – the country does not have money to burn – and she has made no secret of her desire to see Ed Miliband replace David Cameron as Prime Minister and to oppose, for example, the renewal of the Trident nuclear deterrent.

Yet, while the SNP’s emergence as a major force at Westminster is likely to make it even more difficult for a strong and stable government to be formed after May 7, Britain’s political leaders only have themselves to blame for the current state of play. Like David Cameron, whose chances of victory remain compromised by the Conservatives haemorrhaging support to Nigel Farage and Ukip, Labour is now paying a heavy price for successive leaders – Ed Miliband included – taking the party’s core supporters in Scotland for granted.

However, while Ms Sturgeon and Mr Farage are both proving to be effective at winning over the disillusioned because each recognises that they are not contenders to be Prime Minister, it is also important that speculation about coalitions and other post-election machinations does not become as distracting as the TV leadership debates of 2010.

The fact of the matter is the option of a coalition government is not on the ballot paper. And, with just over two weeks to polling day, the onus is on the Conservatives and Labour to go on the offensive and make a far more positive case to the whole country than they have done so far. For, at present, Mr Cameron and Mr Miliband resemble leaders being buffeted by events rather than shaping the agenda. It does not bode well for the future.

The peacemaker

Yorkshire politican like no other

ROY MASON, who has passed away at the age of 91, was a Yorkshire politician like no other. A proud son of Barnsley who began work as a miner at the age of 14, he became one of the country’s youngest MPs before his career culminated with the toughest job in politics – Northern Ireland Secretary – at the height of the Troubles.

For, while Lord Mason will always be synonymous with Barnsley and a remarkable rise through Labour’s ranks which would not be possible today because of the reluctance of parties to select truly local candidates, his three turbulent years at Stormont in the late 1970s left an indelible mark which never left him.

Long after his Cabinet career ended with the downfall of the Callaghan government in 1979, Lord Mason of Barnsley was protected by armed police and it caused the Labour peer great angst when his security status was downgraded.

Here was a peacemaker and pragmatist who was ahead of his time in realising that security on the ground was critical to bringing about a lasting political settlement that would take another three decades to achieve.

For, even though his appointment was greeted by a fresh outbreak of riots that he witnessed from an Army helicopter flying over a burning Belfast, it was testament to his shrewdness that he won the grudging respect of bitter enemies Ian Paisley and Martin McGuinness who would later put their differences aside in order to lead Northern Ireland’s devolved assembly. The tragedy is that so much blood was

spilt before Lord Mason’s vision came to fruition and peace prevailed.

Queen’s landmark

50th year of business awards

AS the Queen begins a landmark year of events which will culminate in her 90th birthday on this day in 2016, it is particularly fitting that there is such a strong Yorkshire representation among the latest businesses to be honoured by Her Majesty for excellence.

Now in its 50th year, the Queen’s Awards continue to represent the very best of Britain. Not only do they champion those enterprises which have become world leaders, but they also reward those that are ahead of their time when it comes to the development of cutting-edge technology.

There is another reason why these awards are so important to their recipients.

Unlike the traditional honours system which recognises the achievements of hundreds of individuals, today’s accolades acknowledge the contribution made by everyone, from the boardroom to the factory floor. For, without such firms looking to the future, Britain would be a much poorer country.