Alex Salmond seems to be edging closer to a win as the referendum approaches. Photo: Getty
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Scotland poll puts Yes vote nearly neck-and-neck with Union support

A poll on Scottish independence for the Times has found the Union "on a knife edge" with the Yes campaign only three points away from victory.

A YouGov poll for the Times on the Scottish independence referendum has caused some rather hysterical headlines today. The paper itself splashed with "Victory in reach for Salmond, poll shows", and described the Union as being "on a knife edge" because of what the figures showed. There are only 16 days to go until the vote, and this latest poll has put support for independence at 47 per cent, against 53 per cent for those who wish to remain in the UK.

Here's what the polling looks like:

YouGov polled 1,063 adults in Scotland between 28 August and 1 September.

The Times article analysing this polling points out that, "after months of stagnation, support for separation has risen by eight percentage points in a month". Another YouGov poll at the beginning of last month put the Yes campaign at 41 per cent support, it then jumped a fortnight later to 43 per cent, so there has been a clear rise in recent weeks in support for independence, at least according to the polls.

Peter Kellner, the president of YouGov, has stressed today that this poll's results should not be dismissed. He has written on the YouGov website today:

Over the next 16 days, we shall find out whether the momentum of the past month is sustained, or if the ‘yes’ vote has peaked following the second television debate. But even if ‘no’ finally wins the day, it now looks less likely that it will win by a big enough margin to deliver a knock-out blow to supporters of independence.  If the final vote is anything like our current poll figures, I would not bet much against a second referendum being held within the next 10-15 years.

This is an interesting conclusion. The Better Together campaign, even if it continues to be confident of a referendum No vote, will worry about the "neverendum" scenario, where the Yes campaign loses by so little that it would lead to another independence referendum. I also hear from a Labour aide to an MP in a seat in the north of England that there is concern among representatives of northern seats that such a close result in the referendum will lead to northern regions in England envisaging more autonomy for themselves. Such a close vote, even if – as is still widely expected – Scotland remains in the Union, may still have a great deal of constitutional implications.

Anoosh Chakelian is senior writer at the New Statesman.

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Donald Trump wants to terminate the Environmental Protection Agency - can he?

"Epa, Epa, Eeeepaaaaa" – Grampa Simpson.

 

There have been countless jokes about US President Donald Trump’s aversion to academic work, with many comparing him to an infant. The Daily Show created a browser extension aptly named “Make Trump Tweets Eight Again” that converts the font of Potus’ tweets to crayon scrawlings. Indeed, it is absurd that – even without the childish font – one particular bill that was introduced within the first month of Trump taking office looked just as puerile. Proposed by Matt Gaetz, a Republican who had been in Congress for barely a month, “H.R. 861” was only one sentence long:

“The Environmental Protection Agency shall terminate on December 31, 2018”.

If this seems like a stunt, that is because Gaetz is unlikely to actually achieve his stated aim. Drafting such a short bill without any co-sponsors – and leaving it to a novice Congressman to present – is hardly the best strategy to ensure a bill will pass. 

Still, Republicans' distrust for environmental protections is well-known - long-running cartoon show The Simpsons even did a send up of the Epa where the agency had its own private army. So what else makes H.R. 861 implausible?

Well, the 10-word-long statement neglects to address the fact that many federal environmental laws assume the existence of or defer to the Epa. In the event that the Epa was abolished, all of these laws – from the 1946 Atomic Energy Act to the 2016 Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act – would need to be amended. Preferably, a way of doing this would be included in the bill itself.

Additionally, for the bill to be accepted in the Senate there would have to be eight Democratic senators who agreed with its premise. This is an awkward demand when not even all Republicans back Trump. The man Trum appointed to the helm of the Epa, Scott Pruitt, is particularly divisive because of his long opposition to the agency. Republican Senator Susan Collins of Maine said that she was hostile to the appointment of a man who was “so manifestly opposed to the mission of the agency” that he had sued the Epa 14 times. Polls from 2016 and 2017 suggests that most Americans would be also be opposed to the agency’s termination.

But if Trump is incapable of entirely eliminating the Epa, he has other ways of rendering it futile. In January, Potus banned the Epa and National Park Services from “providing updates on social media or to reporters”, and this Friday, Trump plans to “switch off” the government’s largest citizen-linked data site – the Epa’s Open Data Web Service. This is vital not just for storing and displaying information on climate change, but also as an accessible way of civilians viewing details of local environmental changes – such as chemical spills. Given the administration’s recent announcement of his intention to repeal existing safeguards, such as those to stabilise the climate and protect the environment, defunding this public data tool is possibly an attempt to decrease awareness of Trump’s forthcoming actions.

There was also a recent update to the webpage of the Epa's Office of Science and Technology, which saw all references to “science-based” work removed, in favour of an emphasis on “national economically and technologically achievable standards”. 

Trump’s reshuffle of the Epa's priorities puts the onus on economic activity at the expense of public health and environmental safety. Pruitt, who is also eager to #MakeAmericaGreatAgain, spoke in an interview of his desire to “exit” the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement. He was led to this conclusion because of his belief that the agreement means “contracting our economy to serve and really satisfy Europe, and China, and India”.

 

Rather than outright closure of the Epa, its influence and funding are being leached away. H.R. 861 might be a subtle version of one of Potus’ Twitter taunts – empty and outrageous – but it is by no means the only way to drastically alter the Epa’s landscape. With Pruitt as Epa Administrator, the organisation may become a caricature of itself – as in The Simpsons Movie. Let us hope that the #resistance movements started by “Rogue” Epa and National Parks social media accounts are able to stave off the vultures until there is “Hope” once more.

 

Anjuli R. K. Shere is a 2016/17 Wellcome Scholar and science intern at the New Statesman

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