Tom Richmond: Why the Scots need to be careful what they wish for over SNP and independence

AS the Tories descend into civil war over the EU referendum and Boris Johnson's cynical calculations ahead of the next Tory leadership contest, it overshadows the party's success in calling the bluff of the Scottish Nationalists.

What are the true independence intentions of Nicola Sturgeon, Scotland's First Minister?


The Government set out details of the sweeping new financial powers that intends to devolve to Holyrood – the Scottish Parliament – in time for the 2017-18 election so the Scots can have a greater say over determining their destiny.

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Even though details on welfare spending are still to be signed off, I thought that this is what the Scots wanted following the independence referendum 18 months ago. Obviously not.

Scotland’s Finance Secretary John Swinney – the de facto Chancellor north of the border – said rather churlishly that it would require a “leap of imagination” for these changes to be put in place by next year. And the grievance politics continued at Prime Minister’s Questions when Angus Robertson, the SNP’s leader at Westminster, complained about the Treasury’s negotiating tactics before accusing the Tories of planning to cut taxes for Scotland’s high-earners in next month’s Budget.

For once, David Cameron’s reply captured the public mood in these parts: “No more grievance, no more fussing about process, no more arguments about the arrangements: now is the time to get on and govern.”

Too right. The longer that the SNP are allowed to procrastinate and wriggle out of their obligations – the party’s economic policy is effectively bankrupt following the collapse of North Sea oil revenues – the greater their dependence on English taxpayers to continue subsidising “free” university tuition for students, “free” personal care for the over-65s and “free” services on this, that and t’other.

The money still has to be generated from taxpayers – the word “free” is perhaps the biggest misnomer in politics and it would be helpful to all if it was replaced by the term “subsidised”.

It’s genuine advice – for free – that I hope Mr Cameron accepts in the spirit in which it was intended. In the meantime, I, for one, hope the EU referendum does not distract from the devolution of these financial powers to Scotland.

For, when Scotland gets the chance to judge the SNP on its financial management, I suspect the clamour for independence, and the break-up of the United Kingdom, will disappear in a flash.

GIVEN her dismal response to the winter floods, I’d like to think that Environment Secretary Elizabeth Truss had been pre-occupied with standing up for Britain’s farmers.

Not a bit of it.

It emerged this week that farmers had to borrow £17.8bn last year because of cashflow problems, a state of affairs not helped by the latest chaos to afflict the Rural Payments Agency over the processing of subsidies.

Even though Ms Truss says normal service should be resumed by the end of March, after appearing to blame everyone apart from herself, National Farmers Union president Meurig Raymond said that this situation “can’t go on”.

I agree – but just what will it take for Ms Truss to resign and save Defra, and the Government, from further embarrassment? I’m not sure farmers can afford to wait until the post-referendum Cabinet reshuffle.

I THOUGHT it was totally disrespectful of Tory MPs to jeer Nick Clegg when the former Lib Dem leader questioned David Cameron over the EU referendum and renegotiation. Without the Sheffield Hallam MP’s steadfast support during the coalition, the Tories would have struggled to win last year’s election – which paved the way for the historic vote on June 23.

Just what has happened to respect? To me, this is far more important than the debate about the sartorial elegance, or otherwise, of Jeremy Corbyn and Boris Johnson.

I’M indebted to Lib Dem peer William Wallace for this helpful suggestion as the Northern Powerhouse hits the buffers in the week that it was confirmed that London’s new Crossrail line will be named in honour of Queen Elizabeth II.

Lord Wallace of Saltaire has proposed that Northern Crossrail – reference to the much-delayed rail improvements between Yorkshire and the North West – be renamed “The George Line after the king we are likely to have by the time it is completed”.

Good idea. Any alternatives?

AS Rotherham is, once again, shamed by the latest sex grooming scandal, and the criminal failure of the authorities to take the allegations of victims seriously, can anyone explain who nominated the now former council leader Roger Stone for an OBE in 2009, who approved it and why has he not been stripped of this gong which now besmirches the entire honours system?

I don’t know how he, and others in office at the time, can sleep at night.

WITH fears growing about the future of 3,000 community pharmacies because of a £170m funding cut, the Rother Valley MP Kevin Barron made a key point.

The Labour backbencher told Parliament that pharmacists do not work for the National Health Service, but that 90 per cent of their income comes from the NHS and that proposed contractual changes are “outrageous”.

He was supported by Tory MP 
Julian Sturdy who said a pharmacist in his York Outer constituency is having to “cut staff and the apprentices he is training, as well as reduce opening hours and stop the free services, such as the deliveries to housebound patients”.

Is this what the Government wants?

I hope not.

AS much as I admire Olympic cycling champion Victoria Pendleton, I hope she gives up on her foolhardy request to ride a racehorse at the Cheltenham Festival before she is seriously injured.

This exercise is little more than a publicity exercise for one online bookmaker, and it takes years of riding, from Pony Club to the point-to-point sphere, for an amateur jockey to be good enough to compete at jump racing’s Olympics. By reserving a place for Pendleton, now dubbed ‘Victoria Falls’ after last week’s clumsy mishap at Fakenham, she is denying the chance for a rider steeped 
in the best interests of riding to compete at Cheltenham. 
As such, I hope she saves herself from further embarrassment – and tears.