A majority of people back Scottish independence, says poll

Alex Salmond says that David Cameron's "dictatorial" intervention has increased support for independ

A referendum on Scottish independence, currently scheduled for autumn 2014, may still be a way off, but public opinion is moving in the right direction for the SNP if a Sunday Express poll is to be believed. It found that 51 per cent of people in Scotland back independence. This follows a New Statesman poll earlier this week which found 44 per cent of the Scottish public in favour.

Speaking on the Andrew Marr Show this morning, Salmond had his own theory on why this could be:

I think that some of that increase in support for independence is a reaction against the sort of dictatorial line we've been getting from some of the pronouncements from Downing Street.

I think the prime minister would do well to perhaps listen to the voice of the people and try to conduct this debate with a bit more positivity.

However, this might not be the only reason. Notably, the poll used Salmond's preferred referendum question -- "Do you support Scotland becoming a country independent from the rest of the United Kingdom?" -- which has come under fire for being loaded, as the phrasing is designed to invite a positive answer. (Political Scrapbook pointed out this week that schoolchildren are taught that these types of questions are wrong).

Interestingly, although Salmond criticised Westminster, he also appeared to suggest that Scotland would remain part of the UK, even if people vote for independence:

The Queen will still be our head of state ... I don't think it would be a good idea to talk about United Kingdoms when what we're actually talking about is political independence for Scotland.

He also renewed calls for a third option of devo-max to be added to the ballot paper. Cameron has indicated that devo-max, which involves greater economic rather than political freedom, would be inconsistent with remaining in the UK.

Samira Shackle is a freelance journalist, who tweets @samirashackle. She was formerly a staff writer for the New Statesman.

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Autumn Statement 2015: George Osborne abandons his target

How will George Osborne close the deficit after his U-Turns? Answer: he won't, of course. 

“Good governments U-Turn, and U-Turn frequently.” That’s Andrew Adonis’ maxim, and George Osborne borrowed heavily from him today, delivering two big U-Turns, on tax credits and on police funding. There will be no cuts to tax credits or to the police.

The Office for Budget Responsibility estimates that, in total, the government gave away £6.2 billion next year, more than half of which is the reverse to tax credits.

Osborne claims that he will still deliver his planned £12bn reduction in welfare. But, as I’ve written before, without cutting tax credits, it’s difficult to see how you can get £12bn out of the welfare bill. Here’s the OBR’s chart of welfare spending:

The government has already promised to protect child benefit and pension spending – in fact, it actually increased pensioner spending today. So all that’s left is tax credits. If the government is not going to cut them, where’s the £12bn come from?

A bit of clever accounting today got Osborne out of his hole. The Universal Credit, once it comes in in full, will replace tax credits anyway, allowing him to describe his U-Turn as a delay, not a full retreat. But the reality – as the Treasury has admitted privately for some time – is that the Universal Credit will never be wholly implemented. The pilot schemes – one of which, in Hammersmith, I have visited myself – are little more than Potemkin set-ups. Iain Duncan Smith’s Universal Credit will never be rolled out in full. The savings from switching from tax credits to Universal Credit will never materialise.

The £12bn is smaller, too, than it was this time last week. Instead of cutting £12bn from the welfare budget by 2017-8, the government will instead cut £12bn by the end of the parliament – a much smaller task.

That’s not to say that the cuts to departmental spending and welfare will be painless – far from it. Employment Support Allowance – what used to be called incapacity benefit and severe disablement benefit – will be cut down to the level of Jobseekers’ Allowance, while the government will erect further hurdles to claimants. Cuts to departmental spending will mean a further reduction in the numbers of public sector workers.  But it will be some way short of the reductions in welfare spending required to hit Osborne’s deficit reduction timetable.

So, where’s the money coming from? The answer is nowhere. What we'll instead get is five more years of the same: increasing household debt, austerity largely concentrated on the poorest, and yet more borrowing. As the last five years proved, the Conservatives don’t need to close the deficit to be re-elected. In fact, it may be that having the need to “finish the job” as a stick to beat Labour with actually helped the Tories in May. They have neither an economic imperative nor a political one to close the deficit. 

Stephen Bush is editor of the Staggers, the New Statesman’s political blog.