SNP boosted by record £1m donation

Alex Salmond's party receives £1m donation from EuroMillions winners.

Alex Salmond's run of good luck shows no sign of ending. This morning the Scottish National Party (SNP) announced that Chris and Colin Weir, who won the £161m EuroMillions jackpot in July, have donated £1m to the party. It's the largest donation in the SNP's 77-year history and will be ring-fenced to fund the party's referendum campaign. The party's coffers had already been swelled by a £918,000 bequest from Edwin Morgan, Scotland's former Makar (poet laureate).

Mrs Weir said:

We have been supporters of the SNP for a long time but this is about more than party politics.

Every society, every country should have the right and the opportunity to determine its own path. That's something I've believed in strongly for a long time.

We want to give the people of Scotland a fair chance in the referendum campaign that's why we are supporting the SNP now and into the independence referendum.

The only people with the right to decide Scotland's future are the people of Scotland themselves and we want to support the SNP and the referendum campaign in helping Scotland make that decision fairly.

The couple called on the SNP to "go full steam ahead for independence". It's a reminder of one of the biggest advantages the SNP have over their opponents. The referendum will be the most important political event of their lives and they will throw everything they have at the campaign. In the meantime, the question remains: who will lead the No campaign?

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Why Theresa May won't exclude students from the net migration target

The Prime Minister believes the public would view the move as "a fix". 

In a letter to David Cameron shortly after the last general election, Philip Hammond demanded that students be excluded from the net migration target. The then foreign secretary, who was backed by George Osborne and Sajid Javid, wrote: "From a foreign policy point of view, Britain's role as a world class destination for international students is a highly significant element of our soft power offer. It's an issue that's consistently raised with me by our foreign counterparts." Universities and businesses have long argued that it is economically harmful to limit student numbers. But David Cameron, supported by Theresa May, refused to relent. 

Appearing before the Treasury select committee yesterday, Hammond reignited the issue. "As we approach the challenge of getting net migration figures down, it is in my view essential that we look at how we do this in a way that protects the vital interests of our economy," he said. He added that "It's not whether politicians think one thing or another, it's what the public believe and I think it would be useful to explore that quesrtion." A YouGov poll published earlier this year found that 57 per cent of the public support excluding students from the "tens of thousands" target.

Amber Rudd, the Home Secretary, has also pressured May to do so. But the Prime Minister not only rejected the proposal - she demanded a stricter regime. Rudd later announced in her conference speech that there would be "tougher rules for students on lower quality courses". 

The economic case for reform is that students aid growth. The political case is that it would make the net migration target (which has been missed for six years) easier to meet (long-term immigration for study was 164,000 in the most recent period). But in May's view, excluding students from the target would be regarded by the public as a "fix" and would harm the drive to reduce numbers. If an exemption is made for one group, others will inevitably demand similar treatment. 

Universities complain that their lobbying power has been reduced by the decision to transfer ministerial responsibility from the business department to education. Bill Rammell, the former higher education minister and the vice-chancellor of Bedfordshire, said in July: “We shouldn’t assume that Theresa May as prime minister will have the same restrictive view on overseas students that Theresa May the home secretary had”. Some Tory MPs hoped that the net migration target would be abolished altogether in a "Nixon goes to China" moment.

But rather than retreating, May has doubled-down. The Prime Minister regards permanently reduced migration as essential to her vision of a more ordered society. She believes the economic benefits of high immigration are both too negligible and too narrow. 

Her ambition is a forbidding one. Net migration has not been in the "tens of thousands" since 1997: when the EU had just 15 member states and the term "BRICS" had not even been coined. But as prime minister, May is determined to achieve what she could not as home secretary. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.