Keesing’s Record of World Events (Formerly Keesing’s Contemporary Archives 1931-2014)
Volume 60 (2014), Issue No. 9 (September), Page 53575
In a record turnout of 84.6 per cent of the registered electorate, a referendum in Scotland on Sept. 18 resulted in voters rejecting by a margin of more than 10 per cent a proposal that Scotland should become an independent country, thus endorsing the “ Better Together” campaign headed by former Labour Chancellor of the Exchequer Alistair Darling. On Sept. 19 the leader of the “Yes” campaign, Scotland’s first minister and leader of the Scottish National Party (SNP), Alex Salmond, accepted the verdict of voters but declared that “for Scotland the campaign continues and the dream [of Scottish independence] shall never die”. He also announced his intention to vacate the post of first minister and the SNP leadership. In welcoming the outcome, UK Prime Minister David Cameron confirmed a pledge given by the pro-union parties that Scotland would be granted greater devolution if it voted “No”, combining it with a promise of devolution for England, Wales, and Northern Ireland. [For recent background see pp. 53527; 53424-25; 53249; 53194.]
Of the 32 council areas that formed the voting districts, only four voted “Yes”, namely Glasgow (the largest in number of voters), Dundee City, North Lanarkshire, and West Dunbartonshire. The 28 districts that voted “No” included areas that were regarded as heartlands of the SNP in terms of its victory in the 2011 elections to the Scottish Parliament [see p. 50470], whilst the “Yes” side polled strongly in working class areas historically controlled by Labour, notably in Glasgow. “No” votes were cast in the Orkney, Shetland, and Western islands off the northern and western coasts of Scotland, so that there was no need for locals in favour of the union to press for another referendum on the islands’ status in an independent Scotland [see pp. 53527; 53249].
Having once shown a 20-point lead for the “No” side, opinion polls had steadily narrowed in August, until a survey by YouGov published by the Sunday Times on Sept. 7 for the first time gave the “Yes” side a 51-49 per cent lead. The alarm in the pro-union camp was immediately apparent on Sept. 8 when former Labour Prime Minister Gordon Brown, still a member of the House of Commons (the lower chamber of the bicameral UK legislature), set out a plan, apparently endorsed by the major parties, for Scotland’s existing powers over education, health, and policing to be expanded speedily after a “No” vote to include almost all other areas of domestic policy, including taxation and expenditure. On Sept. 10 Cameron, Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg (leader of the Liberal Democrats), and opposition Labour leader Ed Miliband all hastened to Scotland to make pleas for the preservation of the union. Speaking in Edinburgh (the Scottish capital), Cameron declared that he would be “heartbroken” if Scotland voted for independence.
Early on Sept. 19, immediately after the “No” victory had been declared, Cameron announced that greater powers would be devolved to the Scottish Parliament, as promised in the latter stages of the campaign; but he also asserted that changes were required in the constitutional status of England, Wales, and Northern Ireland within the UK. He said that these included stripping Scottish legislators in the UK Parliament of voting powers over exclusively English issues, asserting that this change “must take place in tandem with and at the same pace as the settlement for Scotland”. Cameron’s statement was seen as an immediate betrayal by Salmond, who said that Scotland would be “incandescent” if the promise of speedy additional devolution was not honoured. For good measure, he accused the UK establishment of “tricking” the Scottish people into voting “No”.
For the UK coalition government of the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats, there was a major political problem in that many backbenchers, including some in the Labour Party, were averse to additional devolution for Scotland without comparable change for England (and also for Wales and Northern Ireland). A key element in this debate was the perception that annual financial transfers to Scotland from the UK exchequer under the longstanding Barnett formula were unfairly large. The Labour leadership therefore came down in favour of an all-party constitutional convention to consider all the issues at stake.
|Question: Should Scotland be an independent country?|
|Votes||% of vote|
|Turnout: 84.59 (4,283,392 registered voters).|
|(Source: chief counting officer, Scotland.)|
In further shocks for the Conservative Party on the eve of its annual conference [see below], Mark Reckless on Sept. 27 became the second Conservative MP to defect to the anti- EU UK Independence Party (UKIP), following the departure of Douglas Carswell in August [see p. 53526]; on the same day Brooks Newmark resigned as a junior Conservative minister over a sex scandal [see below]. Like Carswell, Reckless said that he would contest a by-election for his seat in the House of Commons, in his case for the Rochester and Strood constituency in Kent in south-eastern England. The defection was a further major boost for UKIP leader Nigel Farage, as he attended the party’s annual conference in Doncaster. [For 2013 UKIP conference see p. 52910.]
Brooks Newmark ( Conservative) resigned on Sept. 27 as minister for civil society in the cabinet office, having been informed that the next day’s Sunday Mirror would publish details of a sting operation in which a male reporter posing as a female party supporter had persuaded him to email “selfie” photographs in which he was displaying his genitalia. A married man with five children, Newmark expressed regret at having behaved so foolishly. The new Independent Press Standards Organisation (IPSO), which had been set up in June as the successor to the Press Complaints Commission (PCC) [see p. 53314], launched an investigation into whether the Sunday Mirror exposé amounted to unfair entrapment.
Held in Birmingham on Sept. 28Oct. 1, the annual conference of the Conservative Party began amidst shock over the defection of another Conservative MP to UKIP and the resignation of Conservative minister Brooks Newmark over a squalid sex scandal [see above]. As proceedings unfolded, however, the conference was seen by commentators as a generally successful exercise in promoting the party’s credentials for re-election in the general elections to be held in May 2015, notably in the stress laid by Prime Minister Cameron and Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne on the UK’s strong economic recovery in 2014. There was also satisfaction at the vote against independence in Scotland [see above].
The opposition Labour Party held its annual conference in Manchester on Sept. 21-24, seeking to generate political momentum at its last such gathering before the general elections to be held in May 2015. However, opinion polls gave the party only a narrow lead over the main ruling Conservatives, whilst Labour leader Ed Miliband trailed well behind Prime Minister Cameron in individual competence ratings. At the conference, moreover, Miliband gave what was generally regarded as an unimpressive address on Sept. 23, not least because in his unscripted delivery he forgot to include intended sections on the issues of the UK deficit and immigration.
Prior to the conference, Labour MP Jim Dobbin, 73, died on Sept. 6 while on a Council of Europe visit to Poland. A by-election was subsequently called for Oct. 9 in his north-western constituency of Heywood and Middleton in greater Manchester, where he had won a majority of 5,971 votes in the 2010 general elections. The by-election would be held simultaneously with one for the Clacton parliamentary seat occasioned by the defection of Conservative MP Douglas Carswell to UKIP.
Labour’s parliamentary candidate in Woking, Vicki Kirby, was suspended from the party on Sept. 19 for posting anti-Israeli comments on her Twitter social networking site on the internet. Her comments included an assertion that “we invented Israel when saving [the Jews] from Hitler, who now seems to be their teacher”, and that she would teach her children “how evil Israel is”.
Prime Minister Cameron on Sept. 1 announced new security measures in response to the threat posed by the involvement of UK nationals in warfare by the Islamic State (IS) in Iraq and Syria, following the raising of the UK terrorism threat level from “substantial” to “severe” on Aug. 29 [see p. 53526]. Proposed steps to stop UK Muslims travelling to conflict areas received broad support within the ruling coalition and from the opposition Labour Party. However, Cameron’s call for a temporary ban on UK nationals being able to return to the UK from such areas gave rise to civil liberties concerns focusing on the potential illegality of depriving jihadi fighters of their UK citizenship and thus making them stateless.
As well as proposing to authorise the confiscation of the passports of persons intending to travel to conflict areas as jihadists, Cameron envisaged the enactment of temporary powers to prevent UK nationals who had fought for extremist groups abroad from returning to the UK. He also proposed that the terms of the terrorism prevention and investigation measures (TPIMs) introduced in 2011 to replace control orders [see p. 50246] should be amended to allow the home secretary to send terrorist suspects into “internal exile” in the UK, away from their home communities. It was reported that over 60 jihadists had been arrested after returning to the UK from Syria and Iraq, out of an estimated total of 1,000 who were believed to have travelled to fight abroad.
In raids in east London on Sept. 25, counter-terrorism police arrested nine men, including Muslim preacher Anjem Choudary, the former leader of the Al-Muhajiroun radical Islamist movement banned in 2004, which had operated under various names since then [see pp. 53424; 50779; 49646; 49279; 47383; 46271; see also pp. 52692-93 (Belgium)]. Only 15 minutes before his arrest, Choudary had posted a message on his Twitter account on the internet predicting a “big battle” between Muslims and Christians in Syria, in which Muslims would “prevail”.
Recalled from its summer recess, the House of Commons on Sept. 26 approved by 524-43 with 69 abstentions a government motion authorising immediate UK participation in US-led air strikes against forces of the militant Islamic State (IS) in Iraq, which had begun in August [see pp. 53594-95; 53535-36 (both Iraq)]. The motion gave no authorisation to the deployment of UK ground troops in Iraq nor to air strikes on IS targets in Syria in light of uncertainty as to the legality of the latter, whereas the government of Iraq had specifically requested UK strikes. In August 2013 similar uncertainty had impelled the Commons to vote against a government motion authorising UK participation in proposed US-led military action against the Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad [see p. 52848].
Those voting against the motion on Sept. 26 included 23 Labour MPs, six Conservatives, and one Liberal Democrat. Labour MPs who abstained included Rushanara Ali, a Bangladeshi-born Muslim, who resigned as shadow education minister in order to be able to disregard her party’s support for the motion. Prior to the session, Prime Minister Cameron had on Sept. 24 addressed the UN General Assembly in New York and had condemned the “shocking barbarity” shown by the IS. He had been referring in particular to the beheading by the IS in Syria earlier in the month of UK aid worker David Haines [see p. 53593 (Syria)].
The Office for National Statistics (ONS) on Sept. 30 revised upwards, from 0.8 to 0.9 per cent, its calculation of the growth of UK GDP in the second quarter of 2014, whilst revising downwards, from 0.8 to 0.7 per cent, its GDP growth figure for the first quarter and so leaving the projected GDP expansion rate for 2014 as a whole at 3.2 per cent [see p. 53485]. The revisions were attributed by the ONS to the adoption of an EU-wide method of calculation, in which illegal activities such as drug-dealing and prostitution were included.
In other upward revisions of GDP growth figures, the ONS said that expansion of 1.6 per cent had occurred in 2011 and of 0.7 per cent in 2012. It also reported that in the depths of the UK recession GDP had contracted by 5.3 per cent in 2009, not 5.2 per cent as previously published, although it confirmed that the recession in 2008-09 was the deepest since records began in 1948.
A report by the Metropolitan Police on Sept. 1 on the “plebgate affair” of September 2012, in which then Conservative chief whip Andrew Mitchell had been accused of calling police officers in Downing Street “fucking plebs” when they refused to let him take his bicycle through the main gate [see pp. 53314; 53196; 53139; 53033-34; 52226-27], confirmed that police officers had colluded to make false accusations against Mitchell.
The independent commission established by the government in September 2012 under Sir Howard Davies to inquire into UK airport capacity, particularly in London [see p. 52228], announced on Sept. 2 that the proposal to build a new London airport in the estuary of the River Thames, favoured by mayor of London Boris Johnson, had not been included in its shortlist of options, mainly on grounds of cost. The three options being studied for new airport capacity by 2030, on which the commission would report after the May 2015 general elections, were additional runways at Heathrow and Gatwick airports, to the west and south of London respectively, and the extension of one of Heathrow’s two existing runways so that it could operate as two separate runways.
Home Secretary Theresa May on Sept. 5 announced the appointment of Fiona Woolf, the current lord mayor of the City of London, to head an inquiry into the record of UK public institutions in protecting children from abuse. She replaced May’s initial appointee, Baroness (Elizabeth) Butler-Sloss of Marsh Green, who had quickly stepped down because of her potentially conflicting family connections [see p. 53484]. Woolf herself came under scrutiny because of her links with Lord (Leon) Brittan of Spennithorne, who had been drawn into controversies over past paedophilia when he was home secretary in 1983-85 [ibid.].
The autumn conference of the Green Party of England and Wales, held in Birmingham on Sept. 5-8, accentuated the party’s move to the left under the leadership of Natalie Bennett since 2012 [see p. 52228]. She pledged to call in the 2015 general elections for a substantially higher national minimum wage, the renationalisation of the railways, and the exclusion of private companies from the National Health Service (NHS). She also lambasted tax-evading companies as “parasites” and confirmed the party’s opposition to hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) to release natural gas from shale rock. [For 2013 autumn conference see p. 52911.]
The 146th annual conference of the Trades Union Congress (TUC), held on Sept. 7-10 in Liverpool under the slogan “Britain needs a pay rise”, backed a motion calling for an increase in the national minimum wage for adults to £10 an hour (US$1.00=0.6188 UK pounds as at Sept. 8, 2014), from the £6.50 rate currently in force [see p. 53249]. The conference was addressed on Sept. 9 by Mark Carney, the governor of the Bank of England (the central bank), who cautioned that the UK economy could not afford a general wage rise until 2015. TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady responded that Carney had “recognised the pain felt by British workers from pay cuts deeper than any since the 1920s”. [For 145th conference see pp. 52910-11.]
It was announced on Sept. 8 that the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, respectively Prince William, the elder son of heir to the throne Prince Charles, and the former Catherine (Kate) Middleton, were expecting their second child. [For birth of Prince George in July 2013 see p. 52798.]
Lawyers for Australian national Julian Assange of the WikiLeaks whistleblowing organisation on Sept. 12 appealed against a Swedish court’s decision in July to uphold an arrest warrant seeking his extradition to face sexual assault charges [see p. 53484]. Assange remained in the Ecuadorian embassy in London, where he had taken refuge in June 2012 because he feared that he would be extradited to the USA to face espionage charges if he went to Sweden [see also p. 53527].
Mayor of London Boris Johnson was on Sept. 13 selected as the Conservative parliamentary candidate for the west London constituency of Uxbridge and West Ruislip in the May 2015 general elections, having applied for the candidacy in August [see p. 53526].
Local officials who resigned in the wake of the Jay report on Aug. 26 on extensive sexual abuse and exploitation of under-age girls in Rotherham in 1997-2013 mainly by men of Pakistani background [see p. 53527] included the Labour leader of Rotherham council from 2003, Roger Stone, and the council’s chief executive from 2009, Martin Kimber. Having initially resisted pressure to resign, South Yorkshire’s police and crime commissioner, Shaun Wright, who had been responsible for children’s services in Rotherham in 2005-09, did so on Sept. 16, as did the current director of children’s services, Joyce Thacker, on Sept. 19.
Three Afghani nationals who claimed to have operated as spies for UK forces in Afghanistan began a high court action in London on Sept. 16 seeking a ruling that the UK authorities should protect them from revenge attacks by the Taliban, notably by providing them with safe places to live in Afghanistan. One of the three men claimed that two of his sons had been killed by the Taliban because of his links with the UK military.
Last article pp. 53526-27.