How Brexit shapes peoples views on Scottish independence

Three polls of how people in Scotland would vote in another independence referendum have been published since the UK left the EU single market and Customs Union at the turn of the year.

Like every other poll since last June, all three put Yes ahead of No.

However, they do not suggest that the UK’s exit from the EU single market resulted in any further increase in support for independence.

Indeed, at 53% the average level of support for Yes was slightly down on the 55% recorded by the same three polls at the back end of last year.

That said, the three polls show how Brexit continues to influence people’s views on independence. On average, only 39% of those who voted Leave in 2016 say they would vote Yes, compared with 59% of those who backed Remain.

Given that Scots voted in 2016 by 62% to 38% in favour of remaining in the EU and that, according to Panelbase, would now vote by a similar margin in favour of rejoining the EU, the UK government’s Brexit policy does not help it in its attempts to persuade Scots of the merits of sticking with the Union.

The same Panelbase poll, conducted for the Sunday Times, also confirms previous polling evidence that more voters believe that an independent Scotland would have handled the pandemic better (42%) than reckon it would have been handled worse (23%).

Crucially, one in five (20%) of those who voted No to independence in 2014 believe it would have been better. This perception helps explain why support for independence is now three points above the 50% level at which it stood immediately prior to the first lockdown last March.

Whatever the current state of the polls, Unionists might hope that, whatever the arguments about Brexit and coronavirus, voters will eventually feel the emotional pull of being part of Britain.

However, Panelbase’s poll suggests that while 41% of Scots would be upset if Scotland left the Union, rather more, 48%, would be pleased. As many as one in three (33%) say they feel Scottish but not British.

Against this, though, some still have doubts about the economic case for the Union.

Rather more believe that an independent Scotland would be financially worse off (42%) than reckon it will be better off (36%). And while 88% of No supporters believe that Scotland would be worse off under independence, only 71% of Yes supporters think it would be better off.

There may be some potential here for Unionists to win back voters to their side of the argument.

In the meantime, polling done for The Sunday Times in England, Wales and Northern Ireland suggests that there is a widespread awareness of the recent swing against the Union north of the border.

Nearly half of voters (49%) in both England and Wales think it is likely that Scotland will become independent in the next 10 years – as do 50% of Scots themselves. In Northern Ireland, as many as 60% hold that view.

Throughout the UK, many more believe that Scotland will become independent during the next decade than say the same about Northern Ireland. Scotland is now widely regarded as the weakest link in the Union chain.

But it appears that there is now as much support in Northern Ireland for holding a ballot on its constitutional status as there is in Scotland for holding a referendum on independence.

In Scotland, 50% think there should be a referendum in the next five years, while 43% are opposed – a result that matches the findings of other polls last year.

Meanwhile in Northern Ireland, 51% would like a border poll within that timeframe while 44% are opposed, even though the same poll suggested that the outcome would be a narrow majority in favour of staying in the UK.

Some commentators have expressed the hope that, divisive as it was, the 2016 Brexit referendum would be the last such ballot to be held in the UK.

However, it seems that referendums are still regarded as an attractive way forward by those who wish to see constitutional change in Britain.

John Curtice is Professor of Politics at Strathclyde University, and Senior Research Fellow, ScotCen Social Research and “The UK in a Changing Europe”.

Covid: Shut schools like systematic neglect to disadvantaged pupils

Keeping schools shut during the Covid pandemic is “almost like systematic neglect” to disadvantaged pupils, a head teacher has said.

Cardiff head Armando Di-Finizio said there was a “fair degree of trauma” among pupils because of the lockdowns.

One expert said children from disadvantaged backgrounds were falling furthest behind academically.

The Welsh Government said it ensured vulnerable children could continue to attend school.

Before the pandemic the proportion of pupils receiving free school meals who achieved five or more GCSEs was 32% lower than the figure for other pupils in Wales.

At Eastern High School, where 47% of children receive free school meals, Mr Di-Finizio said the challenges of lockdown were greater for pupils who may not have support or structure at home for learning.

Mr Di-Finizio told Wales Live he did not think the balance was right “between those who are genuinely vulnerable” with the virus and young people who are vulnerable in terms of their welfare and wellbeing and their academic progress.

“I think there would have been other ways to handle this because we are seeing students struggling because of it and the attainment gap is widening for this generation,” he said.

“It’s almost like systematic neglect of young people that is going on day after day, week after week, month after month.

“We have to somehow pull this back because I do wonder one day, how the children will look back and judge us in terms of our responses.”

Another concern since the pandemic began, he said, was the fact the number of child protection cases at his school has doubled.

“I don’t want to sound alarmist, but I do believe it will take a number of years for us to unpick the traumas that young people go through because we don’t know yet just what this lasting impact will be,” he added.

Welsh Chief Inspector of Schools Meilyr Rowlands, has previously said there was evidence of widening inequality in performance as a result of the pandemic.

Social Sciences Prof Chris Taylor, from Cardiff University, said this gap was continuing to widen.

“Closing schools exposes and accentuates the deep disadvantage that many families have across Wales in the different circumstances that they’re in,” Prof Taylor said.

Home learning reduces the ability of schools “to provide that level playing field” for educational opportunities.

“Instead, we’re relying on what families and households can produce and provide to support that learning,” he said.

Prof Taylor added some children would “feel like they’ve left school at the age of 14 or 15, instead of 18” in terms of their learning, and the focus for them should be preparing for the next step in their education rather than exams that are not going to happen this summer.

He said some pupils who may have been planning to leave school at 16 should remain in education until they are 18 to “remedy some of the missed opportunities”, and that summer school and activities should be put on to help address isolation.

Siân Gwenllian MS, Plaid Cymru’s education spokesperson, has called on the Welsh Government to publish a plan on how pupils will be helped to catch up with “lost education”.

“Those children in more deprived areas have been doubly disadvantaged – coronavirus has been more prevalent in these areas, meaning they will have lost more school prior to the lockdown, and these children are less likely to have the means to access online learning,” she said.

A Welsh Government spokesman said it had provided “more than 130,000 [electronic] devices” since the start of the pandemic for pupils’ home learning.

“We’ve also recruited more than 1,000 teaching and support staff to provide additional support for learners who may have missed out on teaching time due to the pandemic,” he said.

The government has ensured vulnerable children, as well as children of critical workers, could continue to attend school throughout the pandemic, he added.

RAF veteran Stanley Booker, 98, awarded Legion DHonneur

A 98-year-old RAF veteran who survived “brutal interrogations” by the Nazis during World War Two has been awarded France’s highest military honour.

Former squadron leader Stanley Booker, from Bracknell in Berkshire, was 17 years old when his plane was shot down over northern France in June 1944.

Mr Booker was imprisoned until May 1945 and later received an MBE for his post-war work with British intelligence.

He has now been awarded the Legion D’Honneur by the French government.

Armed forces charity the Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Families Association (SSAFA) said Mr Booker, who was born in Gillingham, Kent, “richly deserved” the medal.

He trained as an observer in Wales before joining 10 Squadron as a navigator flying on Halifax bomber aircraft.

When Mr Booker’s plane was shot down, the aircraft’s pilot and wireless operator were killed, while other crew members escaped by parachute and went on to find refuge with the French resistance.

SSAFA said he was hidden by members of the resistance, but betrayed to the Gestapo by a Belgian traitor.

The charity said Mr Booker was captured and put through “brutal interrogations” before being interned at Fresnes prison to the south of Paris, where he was denied prisoner of war status.

On August 15, five days before the liberation of the French capital by allied forces, Fresnes inmates were taken to Buchenwald concentration camp in Germany before being transferred to Stalag Luft 3 camp in Poland.

A few weeks later, the prisoners were forced on a three-week march back to Germany, where Mr Booker remained until the war in Europe ended in May 1945.

Barry Dickens, chairman of SSAFA Berkshire, said Mr Booker had “packed more into the first 20 or so years of his life than most would in their whole lifetime”.

“Modest and unassuming his survival after bailing out of his stricken aircraft is a testimony to his courage, fortitude, and strength of character,” he added.

Manchester Arena Inquiry: Failures fundamental and chronic

A “fatal cocktail” of security failures contributed to Manchester Arena being unsafe on the night it was bombed, the inquiry into the attack has heard.

John Cooper QC, representing 12 bereaved families, told a hearing the failures were not “slight or marginal”, but “fundamental and chronic”.

He said “ignorance”, “poor training”, “complacency” and “turning a wilful blind eye” may have all contributed.

Earlier, Pete Weatherby QC said the attack had been “readily preventable”.

Twenty-two people were killed and hundreds more injured when Salman Abedi detonated a bomb in the City Room foyer of the Manchester Arena as fans left an Ariana Grande concert on 22 May 2017.

Lawyers for bereaved families were giving closing statements in the phase of the inquiry looking at security arrangements at the arena.

Mr Cooper said there were many reasons for the “fundamental and chronic” security failures, such as “ignorance, passivity, poor training, complacency, turning a wilful blind eye, dereliction of duty…. a failure to take responsibility and the overriding drive to penny pinch”.

He added the mistakes represented a “virulent and ultimately fatal cocktail”.

Austin Welch, speaking for three bereaved families, told the inquiry the failures of British Transport Police, security firm Showsec and arena operator SMG all “contributed to the City Room being unsafe”.

“Their failures enabled Abedi to carry out his murderous plans unchecked… and contributed to the deaths,” he added.

Earlier, Mr Weatherby, representing seven bereaved families, said it was not individual failings at the heart of the tragedy, but the fact there is currently no clear standard of protective measures with which those responsibility for safety had to comply.

A plan for a law to improve venue safety has been paused due to Covid-19, but he said a failure to set out a timetable for change showed a “complete lack of commitment” by the government which “increases the risk of further outrages”.

He said the “loss of 22 innocent lives must lead to real change without further delay”, as “reasonable and proportionate measures” could have stopped the attack which he saw as “a foreseeable and readily preventable outrage”.

Asked for a response by the BBC, a Home Office spokesman said the government “remain absolutely committed to delivering a Protect Duty as soon as possible to prevent more families losing loved ones in senseless attacks”.

“We have temporarily paused the launch of the consultation in light of the coronavirus outbreak as it is vitally important that businesses are able to meaningfully contribute to the process to ensure we get this right,” he added.

Mr Weatherby also said there must not be too much blame placed on “young inexperienced security stewards” who were “poorly trained and barely supervised” and police officers, who were “poorly briefed and trained and completely unsupervised”, adding that the question to be asked was “how were their failures allowed to happen?”

Duncan Atkinson QC, representing six bereaved families, added that there had been a “scandalous state of affairs” in relation to risk assessments at Manchester Arena.

He said the evidence showed SMG and Showsec “prioritised commercial concerns above security and compliance with the law”, and said risk assessments had become a “tick box exercise” divorced from the national terrorism threat.

Both those claims were denied by the companies earlier in the inquiry.

The inquiry continues.

Islington stabbing: Teenager dies, man arrested

A teenage boy has died after he was stabbed in Islington, north London.

The Met Police said officers were called to Holland Walk at about 17:30 GMT to reports of a stabbing.

Paramedics and the air ambulance attended but despite efforts to save him, he was pronounced dead at the scene. His next of kin have been told.

One man has been arrested on suspicion of affray. A Section 60 – allowing officers stop and search powers – has been granted until 07:00.

Anyone with information has been urged to contact the police.

Five-month-old baby in pram killed as van mounts pavement in Waterbeach

A five-month-old baby was killed after a van mounted the pavement and crashed into his pram.

Louis Thorold died after the van left the road, having collided with a car on the A10 in Waterbeach, Cambridgeshire at about 15:30 GMT on Friday.

His mother Rachael Thorold, 36, who was pushing the pram, is in hospital.

Louis’s father Chris Thorold said in tribute to his son: “You were only with us for a short time, but you made us the happiest people in the world.”

Police said Ms Thorold, who is currently on maternity leave from her role as a planning policy manager for Elmbridge Borough Council in Surrey, was in a critical but stable condition.

The Renault Master van driver and the driver of the car, a grey Mazda 2, suffered slight injuries.

Mr Thorold, the finance director of Marshall Aerospace, said he “cannot describe how heartbroken we are that [Louis is] gone”.

He added: “You are such a happy little boy and your joyful smile and laughter will never leave us.

“Your ma-ma is fighting to stay with us and we are praying that she will make it through.

“You will always be in our hearts and do not worry, I am taking care of all your animals.

“We love you so much and we know you will now be safe with granny, grandad and great grandpa in Heaven.

“Take care my little Lou, sweet dreams.”

A Cambridgeshire Police spokeswoman said inquiries were ongoing and no arrests had been made.

The force has appealed for witnesses or dashcam footage.

Det Sgt Mark Dollard called it an “extremely tragic and sad incident” and sent the family “our deepest condolences”.

“While it is too early to say how the collision happened, I want to remind all road users of their responsibilities to drive with care,” he added.

Covid: Hays Travel to close 89 shops as lockdown delays bounce back

Travel firm Hays Travel is to close 89 of its 535 shops following a review into its take over of Thomas Cook.

The Sunderland-based firm bought the collapsed company in October 2019 and deferred a review into the performance of its shops until 2021.

A Hays Travel spokeswoman said the third national lockdown and travel ban meant “the company had to act”.

She said 388 staff affected by the closures would be offered “alternative work options” to minimise redundancies.

Chief operating officer Jonathon Woodall said the “first priority” was to “look after our customers” and ensure “the highest standards of customer service”.

He added that the firm was “continuing with our robust two-year business plan and continue to be ready for the bounce back when it comes”.

Dame Irene Hays, owner and chair of the Sunderland-based firm, said it was “always our intention to review the performance of our shops at the end of the licence period”.

“We had hoped the business would bounce back in January and it has not,” she said.

“We have done everything we could to safeguard jobs and the business thus far, and we have come up with a range of options for those at risk of redundancy to help as many colleagues as we can.”

Options for staff include working from home or filling vacancies in other shops.

The spokeswoman said the firm employed about 7,700 people, many of whom were “working from home taking bookings for holidays for 2021 and beyond”.

The company has yet to confirm which of its locations will be affected.

Jenners: Buildings owner says store will remain despite Frasers move

The owner of the Jenners building in Edinburgh has promised that it will remain a department store – despite the departure of its current tenant, the House of Fraser.

Frasers Group said it would cease trading at the site on 3 May, with the loss of 200 jobs.

The building is owned by Danish billionaire Anders Holch Povlsen.

A company spokesman said it would continue as a store and that “advanced” talks were taking place with operators.

The Jenners building has occupied a prime location on Princes Street for 183 years.

It was bought by Mr Povlsen – who is one of Scotland’s biggest landowners – in 2017, reportedly for £53m.

The store is currently operated by the Frasers Group, which owns the commercial rights to the Jenners trading name.

It said it would be quitting the site in May after the two sides were unable to come to an agreement.

A Frasers spokesman claimed that the landlord had not been able to “work mutually on a fair agreement”.

He said this had led to “the loss of 200 jobs and a vacant site for the foreseeable future, with no immediate plans.

“Our commitment to our Frasers strategy remains but landlords and retailers need to work together in a fair manner, especially when all stores are closed.”

However, Anders Krogh Vogdrup – the director of AAA United, which owns the Jenners building – said it had given Frasers a substantial rent reduction and rent-free periods to cover the lockdowns.

“Frasers has made the decision that it does not wish to continue in occupation,” he said.

“This will see the end of the 16-year association between House of Fraser and this building, but not of the 180 years of Jenners department store.”

Mr Vogdrup told BBC Scotland that it had bought the Jenners building “out of passion for its architecture and history”.

“We have been sad to read on social media that we are to close the department store, as that is not the case,” he said.

“We fought to keep the current tenant and we are now in advanced talks with other partners.”

He said their “first priority” was to keep it as a department store, while there were also plans to turn some unused parts of the building into a hotel.

“The Jenners department store and building is the jewel in the crown of Edinburgh,” he added.

“We are not turning it into a hotel. It will remain a department store.”

He also expects the Jenners name will remain on the side of the building.

Mr Povlsen, whose parents set up Scandinavian fashion company Bestseller, is believed to be worth £4.5bn. As well as owning Bestseller he is a major shareholder in online retailer Asos.

He has previously revealed plans to use parts of the Princes Street building for a hotel, with the rest reserved for retail.

The plans included the restoration of the building’s Victorian facade and central atrium, which is a three-storey, top-lit grand saloon. A rooftop restaurant and bar would overlook nearby St Andrew Square.

Mr Vogdrup said the plans to refurbish the store were now on hold due to the current economic climate.

Jenners has dominated Edinburgh’s main shopping thoroughfare since the mid-19th Century.

It was opened in 1838 by local drapers Charles Jenner and Charles Kennington, who found themselves out of work after being sacked for taking a day off to go to the races in Musselburgh.

Initially called Kennington & Jenner, the boutique store proved popular for keeping the people of Edinburgh in fine silks and linen, which could normally only be found in London.

By 1890 the shop had changed name to Charles Jenner & Co and had expanded to adjoining buildings, making it one of the biggest stores in Scotland.

But just two years later fire destroyed the shop and ambitious plans – backed by the local council – were launched for a new look Jenners.

Celebrated architect William Hamilton Beattie, who also designed the Balmoral and Carlton Hotel, was brought in for the redesign.

Charles Jenner died in 1893 before the work was completed in 1895.

In 1911 the popular store was given a Royal Warrant.

After struggling in the the 21st Century, the Jenners brand was sold to rivals House of Fraser for £46m in 2005.

In 2018, House of Fraser was bought by Mike Ashley’s Sports Direct group.

Libby Squire murder trial: Accuseds behaviour frightening

A man accused of murdering a student is “utterly disgusting” but there is no evidence he killed her, jurors heard.

Libby Squire, 21, disappeared after she was refused entry to a Hull nightclub on 31 January 2019 and was found seven weeks later in the Humber Estuary.

Pawel Relowicz, 26, denies raping and killing her before dumping her body.

Sheffield Crown Court was told witnesses had heard screams after the defendant had left the student at Oak Road playing fields.

Giving evidence in court, the Polish-born butcher admitted he was driving around the student area of Hull on the night Ms Squire went missing because he wanted “to find a woman for sex or to commit voyeurism on that street”.

Mr Relowicz confirmed his previous offences of voyeurism, outraging public decency and burglaries, including stealing sex toys and women’s underwear.

Questioning him, his defence barrister Oliver Saxby QC asked: “Do you accept you have a problem?”

He replied: “Yes.”

Mr Relowicz said it was “difficult for me to accept I had a problem” due to him having a young family and feared his wife “would have left me” if she found out.

Outlining the defence case, Mr Saxby told the court: “How he has behaved, what he has done – it is utterly disgusting.

“Let me spell it out. He has violated homes; he has violated the intimate possessions of student girls; he has violated intimate moments.”

The barrister described the defendant’s behaviour as “so gross” and “extremely frightening”.

However, Mr Saxby added there was “no evidence of any sort of violent attack” on Ms Squire.

Mr Relowicz told the court he had seen Ms Squire, a philosophy student originally from High Wycombe in Buckinghamshire, on the pavement of Beverley Road “crying and shouting” and he said he “wanted to help her”.

When asked by Mr Saxby whether he had raped and killed Ms Squire, then put her body in the river, he replied “no” to all of the questions.

The defendant said Ms Squire got out of his car on Oak Road and he drove off leaving her at the scene.

But later he said he went back to Oak Road to find Ms Squire as he was “worried about her” and thought she had gone home when he could not see the student.

They also heard he lied to police and felt bad for cheating on his wife.

The trial continues.