David Cameron, Nick Clegg and Ed Miliband before the Queen's Speech on June 4, 2014. Photograph: Getty Images.
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Party leaders unite to promise more powers for Scotland

Labour, the Tories and the Lib Dems issue joint declaration on "further strengthening" the Scottish Parliament. 

There is no majority for Scottish independence, a situation that is unlikely to change before next month's referendum, but the polls have long shown popular support for greater powers to be transferred to Holyrood. With this in mind, and ahead of tonight's TV debate between Alistair Darling and Alex Salmond, the three main party leaders and their Scottish equivalents have united to promise further devolution in the event of a No vote. 

Here's the joint declaration they've just released:

Power lies with the Scottish people and we believe it is for the Scottish people to decide how Scotland is governed. 

 

We believe that the pooling and sharing of resources across the United Kingdom is to Scotland's benefit in a partnership of nations in which distinct national identities can flourish and be celebrated. 

 

We believe that Scotland and the United Kingdom as a whole have been strengthened since the advent of devolution. 

 

We support a strong Scottish Parliament in a strong United Kingdom and we support the further strengthening of the Parliament's powers. 

 

The three parties delivered more powers for Holyrood through the Calman Commission which resulted in the Scotland Act 2012. 

 

We now pledge to strengthen further the powers of the Scottish Parliament, in particular in the areas of fiscal responsibility and social security. We believe that Scotland should have a stronger Scottish Parliament while retaining full representation for Scotland in the UK Parliament. That can bring people together from all of Scotland, from civic society and every community. 

 

The Scottish Labour Party, the Scottish Conservative and Unionist Party and the Scottish Liberal Democrats have each produced our own visions of the new powers which the Scottish Parliament needs. 

 

We shall put those visions before the Scottish people at the next general election and all three parties guarantee to start delivering more powers for the Scottish Parliament as swiftly as possible in 2015.

 

This commitment will deliver a stronger Scottish Parliament in a stronger United Kingdom.

 

Signed by:

 

Johann Lamont, Leader of the Scottish Labour Party

 

Ruth Davidson, Leader of the Scottish Conservative & Unionist Party

 

Willie Rennie, Leader of the Scottish Liberal Democrats

 

Ed Miliband, Leader of the Labour Party

 

David Cameron, Leader of the Conservative Party

The move is designed to counter the nationalist claim that the only way to guarantee new powers for the Scottish Parliament is to vote for independence. In this respect, it is the reverse of the intervention launched by the economic spokesmen of the three main parties earlier this year when they announced that the UK would deny an independent Scotland permission to use the pound. Having focused on what the country couldn't do after separation (resulting in a largely negative tone), the leaders are now emphasising what it could do as part of the union. 

The Yes campaign will undoubtedly reject their words as too vague (and there are significant divisions between the parties over how far future devolution should go), while others will question why this positive message wasn't delivered earlier in the campaign. But as Darling prepares for what will be a testing debate with Salmond, their intervention will help to shore up his position. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Levi Bellfield, Milly Dowler and the story of men’s violence against girls

Before she was so inextricably connected to the phone hacking scandal, Milly Dowler was one of many women maimed and killed by a violent man.

The name Milly Dowler has meant phone hacking since July 2011. The month before that, Levi Bellfield (already imprisoned for the murders of Marsha McDonnell and Amelie Delagrange, and the attempted murder of Kate Sheedy) had been convicted of killing her, nine years after her death. But almost immediately, she became the centrepiece of Nick Davies’s investigations into Fleet Street “dark arts”, when it was revealed that News of the World journalists had accessed her voicemail during the search for her.

Suddenly her peers were not McDonnell, Delagrange and Sheedy, but Hugh Grant, Leslie Ash, Sadie Frost, Jude Law. People she could only have known from TV, now her neighbours in newsprint. Victims of a common crime. She had attained a kind of awful fame, and remains much better known than McDonnell, Delagrange and Sheedy.

There is a reason for that: with Milly Dowler, there was hope of finding her alive. Weeks of it, the awful hope of not knowing, the dull months of probability weighing down, until finally, in September 2002, the body. McDonnell, Delagrange and Sheedy were attacked in public places and found before they were missed. It is not such an interesting story as the schoolgirl who vanishes from a street in daylight. Once there were some women, who were killed and maimed by a man. The end.

Even now that Bellfield has confessed to kidnapping, raping and killing Milly, it seems that some people would like to tell any story other than the one about the man who kidnaps, rapes, kills and maims girls and women. There is speculation about what could have made him the kind of monster he is. There must be some cause, and maybe that cause is female.

Detective Chief Inspector Colin Sutton (who worked on the McDonnell and Delagrange murders) has said insinuatingly that Bellfield “dotes on his mother and her on him. It's a troubling relationship.” But it was not Bellfield’s mother who kidnapped, raped, killed and maimed girls and women, of course. He did that, on his own, although he is not the first male killer to be extended the courtesy of blaming his female relatives.

Coverage of the Yorkshire Ripper accused his wife Sonia of driving him to murder. “I think when Sutcliffe attacked his 20 victims, he was attacking his wife 20 times in his head,” said a detective quoted in the Mirror, as if the crimes were not Sutcliffe’s responsibility but Sonia’s for dodging the violence properly due to her. Lady Lucan has been successfully cast by Lucan’s friends as “a nightmare” in order to foster sympathy for him – even though he systematically tried to drive her mad before he tried to kill her, and did kill their children’s nanny, Sandra Rivett. Cherchez la femme. Cherchez la mom.

I know little about Bellfield’s relationship with his mother, but one of his exes spoke about him earlier this year. Jo Colling told how he had terrorised her while they were together, and stalked her after she left. “When I knew he was with another woman and not coming home it was a relief, but now I know what he was capable of, I feel guilty,” she said. “I did get an injunction against him, but it only made him even angrier.”

Colling fears that she could have prevented Bellfield’s murders by going to the police with her suspicions earlier; but since the police couldn’t even protect her, it is hard to see what difference this could have made, besides exposing herself further to Bellfield’s rage. Once there was a woman who was raped, beaten and stalked by the man she lived with. The end. This is a dull story too: Colling’s victimisation is only considered worth telling because the man who victimised her also killed Milly Dowler. Apparently the torture of a woman is only really notable when the man who does it has committed an even more newsworthy crime.

Throughout his engagements with the legal system, Bellfield seems to have contrived to inflate his own importance. Excruciatingly, he withheld his confession to murdering Milly until last year, leaving her family in an agony of unknowing – and then drew the process out even further by implicating an accomplice, who turned out to have nothing at all to do with the crime. He appears to have made the performance into another way to exercise control over women, insisting that he would only speak to female officers about what he did to Milly.

It is good that there are answers for the Dowler family; it is terrible that getting them let Bellfield play at one more round of coercions. And for the rest of us, what does this new information tell us that shouldn’t already be obvious? The story of men’s violence against girls and women is too routine to catch our attention most of the time. One woman killed by a man every 2.9 days in the UK. 88,106 sexual offences in a year.

Once there were some girls and women, who were tortured, stalked, kidnapped, raped, killed and maimed by a man. Dowler, McDonnell, Delagrange, Sheedy, Colling. More, if new investigations lead to new convictions, as police think likely. All those girls and women, all victims of Levi Bellfield, all victims of a common crime that will not end until we pull the pieces together, and realise that the torture, the stalking, the kidnaps, the rapes, the killing and the maiming – all of them are connected by the same vicious logic of gender. Then, and only then, will be able to tell a different story. Then we will have a beginning.

Sarah Ditum is a journalist who writes regularly for the Guardian, New Statesman and others. Her website is here.