Leaders: To stay or not to stay not the Scottish question

THE ECONOMY needs to be fixed and matters of new powers for Holyrood make talk of independence an unwelcome distraction
Nicola Sturgeon speaks at the launch of the party's political manifesto. Picture: AFP/Getty ImagesNicola Sturgeon speaks at the launch of the party's political manifesto. Picture: AFP/Getty Images
Nicola Sturgeon speaks at the launch of the party's political manifesto. Picture: AFP/Getty Images

The latest official figures have shown that unemployment in Scotland jumped by 20,000 from December to February.

The Scottish jobless rate stands at 6.2 per cent, higher than the UK average of 5.1. Not only that, the increase in out-of-work Scots accounts for virtually the entire rise in unemployment across the UK.

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These statistics are deeply worrying – and even more so when you consider that recent job losses have not been included in the calculations. Only this week it was announced that another 200 manufacturing posts are being axed in Falkirk, while Aberdeen is set to share the loss of 280 oil workers with London.

Industry experts have suggested the situation, which some fear could plunge the nation back into recession, should “focus minds” for politicians in the Holyrood election campaign. Some chance.

Once again, the agenda is today dominated by the constitution – an issue that is not even on the table for this election but which has never gone away.

The SNP manifesto launch did outline the Nationalists’ proposed programme for a third term in government, and there were impressive initiatives within it. However, the desire for a second independence referendum could not be concealed and the circumstances that would trigger a second referendum received a further airing.

Despite previous claims that the vote was a “once in a generation” event, Nicola Sturgeon could not resist going off-script about a second referendum, to underline “if we do succeed” with “when we do succeed”. The SNP leader also vowed she would put the case for independence back on the table this summer if the party retains power.

We would all benefit from a moratorium on the constitutional debate until this election is over, because there are other crucial matters at stake – not least what can be done to reverse rising unemployment.

On 5 May we will be voting to decide who should be handed control of the devolved powers that actually allow us to do something about the nation’s current predicament, but instead we are being sidetracked by an issue that should be set aside for another time.

Ms Sturgeon has said herself that a re-run of the independence referendum would only be pursued if it can be demonstrated over a sustained period that there is a clear majority in favour of Scotland leaving the UK. This situation does not exist at present, and there is very little evidence to suggest that going back to the polls any time soon would offer a different result to the one returned in September 2014.

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Inevitably, opposition parties are also getting caught up in this issue, at times through reaction, but at other times through choice as a means of mobilising unionist support ahead of the election.

Can we please park this issue for the time being, and focus on some serious debate about the matters that really count this time around? With only two weeks of campaigning left, surely that’s not too much to ask.

For one’s a jolly good fellow

The Queen becomes a nonagenarian as she celebrates her birthday today. To mark the event, she kicked off celebrations yesterday with a visit to local posties in Windsor, followed by opening a new bandstand in nearby Alexandria Gardens. Today she will round off the evening by setting fire to a beacon on a new Commonwealth walkway in the town.

It’s true that she has two birthdays – today, the anniversary of her birth, and her ‘official’ birthday in June – and it’s possible we may see a great deal more fuss about the official version. However, it does seem fitting that the pomp and ceremony have been kept relatively low-key in comparison to previous milestones during her 64-year reign.

Most recently there was a great deal of fanfare to mark her diamond jubilee in 2012, and again when she overtook Queen Victoria as Britain’s longest-serving monarch last year. We have seen no shortage of hoorah over her longevity in recent times, with street parties, marching bands and grand receptions being staged for her 80th birthday.

The royal family has its critics, of course, but the UK as a whole seems at ease with the monarchy – even an independent Scotland was to keep her as ‘Queen of Scotland’. This is largely down to Her Majesty’s conduct. She was born into privilege but throughout her life has demonstrated how important it is to demonstrate dignity and respect.

It has been said before that she deserves a rest from official duties, but there is no indication that she feels this way inclined. Although she has scaled back her commitments, her drive and dedication are remarkable for a 90-year-old. Let’s hope she finds some time to relax and reflect today.