Independence inside UK 'is possible'

A LEADING nationalist calls today for a major change in the independence message, arguing Scotland can become independent while remaining fully within the United Kingdom.

Murray Ritchie, the convener of the Independence Convention, advocates "Independence in Britain", arguing this would be the most effective way of persuading cautious nationalists that independence will not mean border controls and Scottish passports.

Mr Ritchie, who leads the cross-party group set up to link the disparate parties and organisations all backing independence, said it would be possible to rescind the 1707 Act of Union joining the two parliaments, but keep the 1603 Union of the Crowns, giving England and Scotland the same monarchy.

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Writing in The Scotsman today, Mr Ritchie, the former Scottish political editor of the Herald, says: "True independence in Britain remains perfectly feasible. In broad terms it would mean a return to the original United Kingdom of Great Britain, and it would rectify the historic political wrong of 1707.

"If the treaty was changed to allow two independent parliaments, we could all be unionists together, just as we are European unionists together."

Mr Ritchie claimed this would destroy the "big lie" which he claims unionists make at every election - that independence would mean the destruction of the United Kingdom.

"The truth is that a Britain of independent states, united under the crown, would have no need of border patrols or passports unless the English wanted them, which is unlikely to say the least," Mr Ritchie said. He stressed this was his personal view, and said the UK could continue as a "social union", adding: "We could co-operate on defence as we share it now with the rest of Britain and Europe, but on tricky questions such as nuclear weapons or power stations, we would have the right to say no because we would be an equal partner in the UK."

His argument will provoke a fierce debate within the nationalist movement in general, and the SNP in particular.

There is an ongoing discussion within the nationalist movement, not only about converting wavering nationalists to back full independence, but also about the nationalists' approach to England. Mr Ritchie's proposal tackles both issues.

The SNP has fought under a slogan of "Independence in Europe" for several years now, and while Mr Ritchie's argument is not a massive departure in policy terms for the SNP, it does represent a radical change of emphasis. It is one, though, that Alex Salmond, the SNP leader, is not too enthusiastic about.

Mr Salmond said: "Murray is technically correct that you could have an independent Scotland within the United Kingdom. The 1707 Act of Union is the one we have our eye on. It is, after all, the British state, not the United Kingdom that is our target."

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But he stressed he did not think the SNP could ever adopt the slogan of "Independence in Britain". He said: "Really, 'Independence in Britain' would be seen as a mixed message, so I don't therefore believe that the slogan will be as successful as 'Independence in Europe'."

Mr Salmond said Mr Ritchie was wrong to stress the fear of border controls, insisting those concerns, prevalent in the 1960s and 1970s, had all but died out now.

Tories demand action to end Scottish 'bias'

THE vast majority of Conservative members want to curb the powers of Scottish MPs at Westminster, a new poll shows.

The survey, by the influential website, shows that most card-carrying Tories also want to cut Scotland's share of UK public spending.

The findings will increase the pressure on David Cameron, the Tory leader, to lift the gag he has effectively imposed on Conservative MPs who want to raise questions about Scotland's position.

Mr Cameron last week slapped down Alan Duncan, a Tory frontbencher, who suggested that the party's plan to ban Scottish MPs from voting on English laws could prevent Gordon Brown becoming prime minister.

While some Tories are keen to target Mr Brown's Scottish roots as a political tactic, Mr Cameron is worried about appearing to undermine the Union, and he has ordered MPs to keep quiet on the issue.

"There's just no long-term advantage for us in it, so it's much better that everyone just moves on," said one source close to Mr Cameron.

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But the message from the panel of 1,500 Tories - which accurately predicted Mr Cameron's election last year - is that the party's grassroots are pushing for constitutional change.

In all, 82 per cent of party members said they favour English and Welsh MPs being given sole control of laws affecting England and Wales.

And 63 per cent want the elimination of the "subsidy" that English taxpayers pay to Scotland via the Barnett Formula, which shares out government expenditure. Public spending in Scotland is now 1,500 per head higher than in England, though the SNP argues that Scotland effectively subsidises England through North Sea oil.

The question of Scotland's constitutional and financial position is rising up the political agenda as Mr Brown, the MP for Cowdenbeath and Kirkcaldy, gets closer to becoming the prime minister.

Despite Mr Cameron's warning to his MPs, some senior Tories are still pressing for the party to try to exploit what they say is English anxiety about a Scottish prime minister.

"This a real issue and it's not going away," one senior Tory backbencher said.

"We get bags of letters from constituents about this. We will be making a big mistake if we try to ignore it."


BBC's Newsnight is accused of inciting racial hatred

POLICE are investigating an item on BBC's Newsnight over claims that it incited racial hatred by broadcasting a feature in which a car bedecked in English flags was attacked by vandals in Glasgow.

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Programme-makers parked the car in the Gallowgate area, then filmed as five youths attacked the vehicle with bricks.

The piece was broadcast on 30 June after a series of incidents in Scotland that had seen people attacked for wearing English emblems. But the London-sourced stunt drew criticism that it effectively stirred up racial hatred.

A Strathclyde Police spokeswoman said: "We have received a complaint and inquiries are ongoing."

Pete Wishart, of the Scottish National Party, plans to raise the matter in the Commons today in a debate about the BBC.

He said: "The irresponsible nature of Newsnight's report only serves to show that Scotland is ill-served by a national news service produced in London. The sensationalist report contrasted sharply with a Newsnight Scotland version which was informative and measured - and at a fraction of the cost, I would guess."