Scotland’s future on a ‘knife edge’: Nicola Sturgeon admits SNP hopes of majority will go down to wire as Boris Johnson blasts her plan for new independence referendum as ‘irresponsible and reckless’

Nicola Sturgeon was today aiming to push ahead with plans for a second Scottish independence referendum as Boris Johnson set himself on course for a dramatic constitutional clash with her in his defence of the Union as the tight election count resumed in Scotland today. 

The tense parliamentary contest looked on track for a record turnout, despite fears that the pandemic and poor weather would dent voter numbers – with the Scottish National Party leader admitting her hopes of a majority were on a ‘knife edge’, but it is ‘almost certain’ the SNP will win its fourth term in power at Holyrood.

Ms Sturgeon said ‘when the time is right’ she will offer Scots ‘the choice of a better future’ in a second referendum on independence – but Mr Johnson hit back, insisting he would not back the ‘irresponsible’ move, and senior minister George Eustice warned it was the wrong time to be considering another plebiscite.

Achieving the 65 seats needed for an outright victory in Scotland could make it harder for the PM to refuse, but if the SNP falls short of that target it could still achieve a majority for a referendum with the help of the Greens.

With 49 of the 73 constituency results declared in Scotland by noon today, the SNP had 40 seats, Liberal Democrats four, Conservatives three and Labour two. 

The SNP made it to 40 seats this morning as they held Aberdeenshire East in the only result declared so far on Saturday. Gillian Martin retained her seat with 18,307 votes, with Conservative candidate Stewart Whyte taking second place on 16,418 votes. The Liberal Democrats won 3,396 votes and Labour 2,900.

Some constituencies are still to be counted today, when the crucial regional list results of 56 regional MSPs will also be declared. Traditional overnight counts were abandoned after Thursday’s election due to Covid-19. 

Ms Sturgeon, who comfortably defeated Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar to claim Glasgow Southside yesterday, said afterwards: ‘My focus, if we are re-elected as the government, is to get back to work to steer the country through the crisis and into recovery.

‘That remains the case. But once the crisis is over, and if there is a majority in the parliament for an independence referendum, people should have the right to choose our future. Scotland’s future should always be in Scotland’s hands.’

Speaking about the prospect of winning an overall majority, the SNP leader said: ‘It’s certainly not impossible, but nor is it guaranteed.

‘That was always going to be on a knife edge, it comes down to a small number of votes in a small number of seats, so at this midway point it is certainly still there as a possibility, but I have never taken that for granted.

‘It is a long shot, to say the least, in a PR (proportional representation) system, to win a majority – you effectively have to break the system. I would like to do it, but I have never been complacent about that.’

It comes as Labour this morning blamed the pandemic for ‘restricting’ the opportunities’ for its politicians to campaign across Britain after the Conservatives racked up a string of stunning poll victories in the local elections.

Labour will hope for better results today after a bruising Friday. With results in from 84 of 143 English councils, the Tories had a net gain of seven authorities and 173 seats, while Labour had a net loss of four councils and 164 seats.

In London’s mayoral contest, Labour’s Sadiq Khan goes into today with a lead of 24,267 first preference votes over Tory rival Shaun Bailey after the first seven constituencies declared, a closer contest than many had predicted.

Labour was thrashed in the Hartlepool by-election, with Jill Mortimer securing a majority of almost 7,000, while Tory Ben Houchen won a second term as mayor of Tees Valley with a whopping 73 per cent share of the vote.

And the Tories gained control of a series of councils, including Northumberland, Nottinghamshire, Dudley, Harlow and Nuneaton and Bedworth – reversing the mid-term slump often suffered by governing parties.

With the Conservatives also winning seats across the West Midlands, senior figures were confident that the region’s mayor Andy Street will secure a second term in office when returns there are announced today. 

Meanwhile counting began of the 714,745 votes cast in the Greater Manchester Combined Authority Mayoral elections this morning, with incumbent Andy Burnham widely expected to win the poll. Burnham won 63.4 per cent of the votes cast in 2017 and turnout is up around 5 per cent on the last election, to 34.7 per cent.

The outcome of the first round of voting is expected around 3pm, although with Mr Burnham running for a second term and nine candidates in all, the election could go to a second round, with second preference votes also then counted to decide the winner.

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Joe Biden hits out at ‘irresponsible’ Trump over failure to share national security information | US News

US President-elect Joe Biden has said the lack of information provided to his team by the Trump administration is “nothing short of irresponsible”.

The Democrat said those working on the transition ahead of his inauguration next month were still not getting the defence and national security details they needed – more than a month after his election win was declared.

“We encountered obstruction from the political leadership of that department [the Pentagon],” he said, adding: “And the truth is many of the agencies that are critical to our security have incurred enormous damage.

“Many of them have been hollowed out – in personnel, capacity and in morale.”

Joe Biden said the US intelligence community had been ‘hollowed out’ under Trump

President Donald Trump has had a tempestuous relationship with the US intelligence community since his election, going so far as to suggest he trusted Vladimir Putin more than his own intelligence services regarding Russian interference in the 2016 election.

Intelligence briefings for presidential candidates and incoming administration officials in the US are done at the courtesy of the sitting president, but Mr Trump continues to contest Mr Biden’s victory on Twitter.

Despite Mr Trump’s claims, Mr Biden has been formally elected by the members of the US electoral college and is set to be inaugurated on 20 January – just 23 days away.

The Trump administration only authorised cooperation with the Biden transition team on 23 November. Earlier this month, the Biden team said Pentagon officials were resisting their requests for information.

The Pentagon previously disputed these claims, with a senior official last week stating it had conducted 163 interviews and responded to 181 requests for information for the incoming administration.

They added that the Department of Defence would continue to provide information and meetings, although Mr Biden’s latest comments suggest that this has not been happening to his team’s liking.

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Trump vetoes $900bn pandemic relief package

Speaking to the CBS News podcast Intelligence Matters, former CIA officer and intelligence briefer David Preiss explained how the briefings were aimed at preventing candidates saying something “galactically stupid on the campaign trail” that could get in the way of their own foreign policy should they win.

In a long interview, Mr Preiss added that he was “very worried” about the relationship between the intelligence community and the White House under another Trump administration, but added that he was hopeful the relationship could be re-established under Mr Biden.

“It appears that he was a respectful recipient of the intelligence information he had,” Mr Preiss said, adding “most of the signs are positive that Joe Biden understands the role of intelligence in a democratic society and understands how to use it effectively as a senior policymaker”.

“We don’t know what all of his priorities would be, but it wouldn’t surprise me if one of those priorities would be to, in a sense re-establish the groundwork, re-establish the foundation [of the relationship between the White House and the intelligence community],” he added.

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Brexit: No-deal navy threat ‘irresponsible’, says Tobias Ellwood

Brexit: UK-EU talks continue as Navy boats put on standby

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Relative of youth detention worker with coronavirus says she was unfairly labelled ‘irresponsible’

An immediate family member says the youth detention supervisor who tested positive to COVID-19 this week has been “dehumanised” politically for the sake of a few sound bites.

Speaking exclusively to ABC News, he defended her actions in turning up to work while infectious.

The 77-year-old woman from Ipswich was criticised by the Queensland Premier and Chief Health Officer for working five shifts at the Wacol Youth Detention Centre in Brisbane while she was sick, forcing the centre into lockdown.

The close family member, who did not want to be identified, said the experienced supervisor had no reason to believe she was infectious.

“She had a headache on the second-to-last day she worked, and a headache and a bit of a sore ear on the last day.

“It seems that it’s been pretty much portrayed as someone who’s been quite irresponsible and has knowingly gone to work symptomatic and infectious and risked other people’s lives.”

The woman worked five shifts at the detention centre not knowing she had COVID-19.(ABC News: Joshua Robertson)

Source of infection remains a mystery

The man said he had been in frequent contact with the woman, who remained in hospital as more than 500 of her colleagues underwent testing.

“She seems to think that she’s on the other side of it but you know, we’re not really sure,” he said.

How the woman contracted the virus remains a mystery to health authorities and the family.

“She hasn’t been out and about in the community in any great way, pretty much just in and out of work,” the family member added.

The ABC understands Queensland Health is awaiting genomic testing to see whether the woman’s case is linked to the two Logan women who returned from Victoria last month.

two women in scrubs and PPE holding test tubes surrounded by cars
Testing is yet to determine the source of the woman’s COVID-19 infection.(ABC News: Brendan Esposito)

So far, 56 inmates at the youth detention centre have been tested and have shown no signs of infection.

“That’s the only thing that we can logically think that it could be related to because she works in an environment where there is quite a high representation of detainees from that Logan area and staff as well,” the woman’s relative said.

He said while the family was not looking for an apology from authorities, they felt it important the Government remembered each case was more than a statistic.

“Don’t forget, don’t dehumanise people and forget that they are victims now themselves and they need our care and consideration right now,” he said.

‘I don’t blame this person’

Griffith University virologist Nigel McMillan said he felt for the woman and that it made sense she was not showing signs of illness.

“Around 80 per cent of people who have this virus are asymptomatic, so they don’t even think they need to get tested,” Professor McMillan said.

A man sitting in an office with a computer showing an illustration of the COVID-19 virus
Queensland virologist Nigel McMillan says 80 per cent of people with COVID-19 have no symptoms.(ABC News: Liz Pickering)

“It’s no surprise that people don’t realise they have the virus or have such mild symptoms they think going to work is not a problem, so I don’t blame this person in any way.

“It’s quite surprising in the case of the young ladies from Logan that they were out in the community for eight days and we saw limited transmission of the virus — that has not been the case in Victoria.”

Queensland Chief Health Officer Jeannette Young has said it could take up to a week for genome testing results to determine whether the woman got the virus from a known cluster or an unknown source.

Professor McMillan said genome testing was “pretty advanced technology”.

“It takes that long [a week] to process the sample and get the sequence out,” he said.

“The genome testing is a more forensic detective tool that Victoria has used to track back their current outbreak to a couple of incidents in a quarantine hotel.”

He said sequencing the genome of the virus delivered a fingerprint that could be tracked back to a primary case.

“We have not done much genomic testing in Queensland before, but in Victoria, it has been an important tool to trace their outbreaks to hotel quarantine breaches.”

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Bags of poo dumped in Adelaide reserves as ‘irresponsible’ dog owners multiply

Plastic bags filled with dog poo are being dumped by owners with increasing frequency across Adelaide’s recreation parks, leaving it to unimpressed volunteers to collect the waste.

From Belair National Park to Mount Osmond and Brownhill Creek, the owners of excited dogs have been dutifully bagging their pets’ faeces, but leaving the packages on the ground, on posts, or even hanging in trees.

“Sometimes I think they intend to pick it up on their way back, but they often come back on a different route, and sometimes they actually hang them in trees,” Friends of Mt Osmond Conservation Park secretary Christine James said.

She said there had been up to three times more bags dumped in the park since coronavirus restrictions came into effect earlier this year, leaving more people seeking outdoor exercise.

A bag of poo left hanging in a tree at Belair National Park.(ABC Radio Adelaide: Regan Footner)

Leavings up in Brownhill Creek

Brownhill Creek Association Community Liaison Officer Ron Bellchambers said there had been a 20 per cent increase in the number of poo bags in the popular park.

“Whether they forget to collect their poo bag or can’t be bothered is an interesting question,” he said.

He added there had been about a 30 per cent increase in visitor numbers to Brownhill Creek since COVID-19 restrictions began.

“Perhaps there is a disproportionate number of poo bags being left due to an increase in new visitors who have yet to develop a sense of caring for the park,” Mr Bellchambers said.

Calls for more bins

Friends of Belair National Park president Mike Cerchez said he had seen filled bags dumped right next to where owners’ cars were parked because they did not want to take them with them.

The volunteer of 30 years in the 840-hectare park said there used to be bulk bins, but they were abused by people dumping mattresses and other junk and were eventually removed.


“There’s just nothing for people to put rubbish in and obviously they just don’t want to take them home again,” Mr Cerchez said.

Ms James also believed bins were the solution and wanted them installed at the entrances to the Mount Osmond park.

At Brownhill Reserve, however, filled poo bags have been sighted less than 100 metres from a rubbish bin.

‘Leave no trace’

A National Parks and Wildlife Service SA spokeswoman said rangers had noticed increased bag dumping due to the large rise in the number of people visiting parks over the past few months.

“The visitor increase is likely due to COVID-19 travel restrictions and recent school holidays,” she said.

She said it was the responsibility of dog owners to take their waste with them “in the same way that campers or people having a picnic are expected to take their waste with them when they leave”.

A woman holding dogs on a leash and man with an umbrella walk before a sunset with the city behind them.
The Government spokesperson said many park visitors did the right thing and took poo bags with them.(ABC Radio Adelaide: Malcolm Sutton)

The spokeswoman said the only exception to this were locations where cafes operated.

“Additionally, bins in natural areas are likely to be disturbed by weather and animals, potentially contaminating our parks and reserves with refuse,” she said.

She said littering was an offence and that dog owners had “legal responsibilities”.

“All park visitors are expected to adhere to the ‘leave no trace’ principle and take away whatever they take in with them,” she said.

‘Take your poo home’

Mr Bellchambers said it was “wonderful to see people enjoying parks in increasing numbers and receiving the physical and mental health benefits of connecting with nature”.

“Certainly this supports a case for properly funding our National Parks and Wildlife Service and maintaining our parks,” he said.

Ms James was also happy to see an “enormous” increase in the number of people walking in parks — but she’d rather they only left footprints.

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