Prime Minister Theresa May was asked in a weekend interview whether she would block a second independence referendum.
It was hardly likely she would have answered with a straight “No”. That would have been to hand a gift to the SNP and invite the immediate charge that the wishes of Scotland were being suppressed by a hard-line Conservative leader in the style of Mrs Thatcher. Angus Robertson, the SNP leader at Westminster, would have lost no time in demanding an immediate retraction.
Instead, she recast the question, and by doing so lobbed it over the net to First Minister Nicola Sturgeon. “I don’t think,” she replied, “it’s a question of whether there could be a second referendum, it’s whether there should be a second referendum.” She added that “if you look at some of the results that are now coming out of polling in Scotland, they suggest that the Scottish people don’t want there to be a second referendum”.
Nicola Sturgeon has argued that the EU referendum result, under which a majority of people across the UK voted to leave but a majority of Scots voted Remain, portends a signal change to the terms under which Scots voted to remain part of the UK. And it is widely held that the First Minister would not contemplate pressing for a second referendum unless she was confident that there would be a Yes vote for independence.
Put so baldly, there would thus seem to be a case for the UK government to answer. But there is a bigger, and an altogether more nuanced, picture to consider. A fair proportion of those in Scotland who voted Leave in June were thought to be SNP supporters. And while the initial reaction to the EU referendum result appeared to favour a second independence vote, this does not look to have been sustained. Indeed, far from there being a persistent clamour, many in Scotland show signs of referendum fatigue. There seems little appetite for such a vote and very little at all for the bitter and divisive campaign that dominated Scottish politics in the year leading up to September 2014.
At the same time, several leading SNP figures have expressed misgivings about a second referendum. These range from the former Scottish health secretary Alex Neil to former party leader Gordon Wilson. He has warned members against starting a premature “feeding frenzy” over a second independence referendum, and argued that the SNP administration should focus instead on forging a “Celtic corridor” that will keep the country in the single market after Brexit. The lack of appetite among most Scots for another independence referendum means, he declared, that it is “no longer on the cards”.
These are potent points coming from sources at the heart of the SNP and ones to which the First Minister would be wise to listen as part of the party’s renewed “conversation” with Scottish voters about a second referendum. The remarks of the UK prime minister she may choose to brush aside. Those from within her own ranks are altogether less easy to dismiss.
We must act over child cancer surge
Is modern life killing our children? Analysis by the charity Children with Cancer suggests that in just 20 years the number of cancer cases in children has leapt by 40 per cent due to pollution, pesticides and gadgets.
Around 4,000 children and young people develop cancer each year and it is the leading cause of death in children aged one to 14 in the UK. Cases of colon cancer in children are up 200 per cent, while thyroid cancer cases have more than doubled.
These increases may in part be attributed to population growth and improved detection procedures. But Professor Denis Henshaw, the charity’s scientific director, argues that the figures cannot be explained by improvements in cancer diagnosis or registration alone – “lifestyle and environmental causal factors must be considered.” He cites burnt barbecues, the electric fields of power lines, and hairdryers as contributing to the rise. Many items on the list of environmental causes, he adds, are known to be carcinogenic, such as air pollution, pesticides and solvents.
Now it’s by no means clear how much weight should be assigned to those factors as causes of cancer. But the figures are disconcerting, not least because it is very difficult to avoid many of the everyday features that this research highlights. But it would be wrong to give up in despair. Many major improvements have been achieved in reducing toxic car emissions and in promoting healthier lifestyles. The report itself reinforces the need to ensure new “lifestyle improvement” products are given careful scrutiny. And more immediately, we need detailed and thorough research – and targeted action to follow.