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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Antony Blinken: US will respond to reckless Russian acts


The US secretary of state has told the BBC that the US will respond to reckless or aggressive acts by Russia.

Antony Blinken said the US was focused in US state actions – such as the treatment of opposition figure Alexei Navalny, the Solar Winds hack and election interference.

“We would prefer a more stable and predictable relationship,” he said.

Mr Blinken was in the UK for a meeting of foreign ministers of the G7 group of industrialised nations.

A communique issued after the two-day talks criticised Moscow for its “irresponsible and destabilising behaviour”, particularly against Ukraine, and for cyber-attacks.

Back in February US President Joe Biden said, in more headline-grabbing terms, that he had made it clear to President Vladimir Putin “that the days of the United States rolling over in the face of Russia’s aggressive actions… are over.”

His predecessor Donald Trump had at times seemed to avoid criticising the Russian leader.

Mr Blinken told BBC Radio 4’s Today Programme that the Biden administration was not trying to hold China back, stressing that the US was in favour of upholding a rules-based international system.

He said countries needed to look very carefully to see if China was investing in their strategic assets.

The US has started formally withdrawing its troops from Afghanistan after almost 20 years. Mr Blinken said the US was “staying in the game” however, remaining engaged with the country.

He said Afghanistan’s neighbours might now have to “step up” and use their influence to try and keep it on a positive path.

Asked about a possible trade deal with the UK and the situation in Northern Ireland, Mr Blinken said peace in Ireland remained something that the administration was very focused on.

The secretary of state said that for President Biden it was important that “whatever is done, whatever we do, the gains of the Good Friday Agreement are sustained and we have the political and economic well-being of Northern Ireland in mind”.

Joe Biden has previously said that Brexit must not endanger the Good Friday Agreement.

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George W. Bush speaks out, rips ‘reckless behavior of some political leaders’ after Capitol mayhem


Former President George W. Bush condemned the “insurrection” in Washington D.C. Wednesday and blamed “some political leaders,” after demonstrators broke into the U.S. Capitol building, prompting members of Congress and others to evacuate or shelter in place.

“I am appalled by the reckless behavior of some political leaders since the election and by the lack of respect shown today for our institutions, our traditions, and our law enforcement,” Bush said in a statement. “The violent assault on the Capitol – and disruption of a Constitutionally-mandated meeting of Congress – was undertaken by people whose passions have been inflamed by falsehoods and false hopes.”

LAWMAKERS, AIDES AND OTHERS SHELTERING INSIDE CAPITOL DESCRIBE CHAOS; AT LEAST 1 DEAD

President Trump delivered a speech to supporters in the nation’s capital earlier in the day, doubling down on unproven claims that the 2020 presidential election was rigged against him.

Former US President George W. Bush speaks during the funeral service of late Civil Rights leader John Lewis at the State Capitol in Georgia on July 30, 2020.  (Photo by ALYSSA POINTER/POOL/AFP via Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

Later in the afternoon, Capitol Police struggled with protesters for hours after a mob broke in to protest President-elect Joe Biden’s expected Electoral College validation Wednesday. A joint session of Congress had to be adjourned early and postponed as members evacuated, wearing gas masks, to undisclosed locations. Images show that authorities barricaded doors to protect aides, journalists and others inside as an angry mob clashed with police in the halls.

At least one person died from a gunshot wound, according to police.

U.S. Capitol Police with guns drawn stand near a barricaded door as protesters try to break into the House Chamber at the U.S. Capitol on  Jan. 6, in Washington. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

U.S. Capitol Police with guns drawn stand near a barricaded door as protesters try to break into the House Chamber at the U.S. Capitol on  Jan. 6, in Washington. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)
(AP)

At least one protester made it to the dais at the head of the Senate floor. Another posed for a photo behind House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s desk. Senators described in shocked tones how Vice President Mike Pence was rushed to safety when the perimeter was first breached.

“Insurrection could do grave damage to our Nation and reputation,” Bush continued. “In the United States of America, it is the fundamental responsibility of every patriotic citizen to support the rule of law.”

GOP POLITICIANS CONDEMN VIOLENCE AT CAPITOL, CALL FOR AN END TO RIOTS

He concluded with a message to Americans still upset with the 2020 election results.

“Our country is more important than the politics of the moment,” he said. “Let the officials elected by the people fulfill their duties and represent our voices in peace and safety. May God continue to bless the United States of America.”

President Trump repeatedly encouraged demonstrators to be peaceful and to leave the Capitol, but he also doubled down on unproven rhetoric about how the 2020 election was “stolen” and was eventually suspended from Twitter.

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Pence, who spearheaded the National Guard response to restore order rather than President Trump, condemned the mayhem and vowed that agitators would face criminal prosecution.

At 7:30 p.m., reports emerged that members of Congress were headed back to the Capitol and return to the validation debate. A Pence spokesman confirmed that the vice president had also returned to reconvene the joint session.

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‘Reckless’ Yorke Peninsula beach driver fined $1,300 after carrying eight children in ute tray



Police have fined a man who was seen in photos carrying eight children in the back of his ute along a South Australian country beach.

They allege the Nissan driver drove through the water at Wallaroo’s North Beach, on the Yorke Peninsula, while eight unrestrained children were in the ute tray on Monday afternoon.

Police said another man driving a Holden ute was “driving quickly” near people walking along the shore, causing water to splash up higher than the vehicle’s roof.

Police tracked down both drivers on Tuesday morning, with the help of Wallaroo locals, who posted photos of the incidents to social media.

“Drivers need to make better choices — if one of the children had fallen from the back of the utility, the consequences could have been tragic,” SA Police said.

The Nissan driver, a 29-year-old Para Hills man, was issued a $1,313 fine for having two or more children not wearing a seatbelt, riding in a part of a vehicle not for people and driving a vehicle without proper control.

He also received five demerit points.

The other driver, a 29-year-old man from Victoria, was issued a $287 on-the-spot fine for driving a vehicle without proper control.

‘The community are watching’

Copper Coast Mayor Roselyn Talbot said the drivers would not have been caught if not for the “diligence” of locals.

Ms Talbot said she was first made aware of the beach incidents when locals started posting photos to social media.

“The community are watching and are monitoring these sorts of things,” she said.

“I couldn’t believe, to be honest, that people were so reckless towards children they would love and care for.”

She said the behaviour was disappointing but not a common occurrence.

“The Wallaroo beach is traditionally a family-friendly beach where people like to park their cars, be able to sit, the children play cricket, and I think that we watch out for each other.

“I think the fact these people have been caught will discourage people from behaving recklessly again.”

SA Police said motorists should remember that road rules applied equally to beaches.

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Bulgarian TV presenter’s death in car crash stirs uproar over reckless driving


SOFIA (Reuters) – Bulgarians flooded social media on Monday to accuse authorities of a lax attitude to alcohol- and drug-impaired driving after a popular TV journalist was killed when his car was rammed by another vehicle running a red light at high speed.

Prosecutors said Milen Tsvetkov, 53, died after the 22-year-old driver of a high-performance car struck his vehicle in the capital Sofia on Sunday, Orthodox Easter in the Balkan country.

They said the driver was under the influence of drugs and detained for 72 hours while the Sofia City Court prepared a ruling to keep him in custody pending trial. He faces a jail term of between three and 15 years if convicted.

“Tsvetkov had stopped in his car at a red traffic light and a speeding jeep crashed into it,” a witness told local media.

The social media uproar over the death of Tsvetkov, one of Bulgaria’s most prominent TV presenters, underscored growing public concern over Bulgaria’s road fatality rate, the highest in the 27-nation European Union.

A total of 623 people were killed in car accidents in 2019, and 611 deaths the previous year, Interior Ministry data show. Last year 8,482 people were injured in road accidents.

“I hope the tragic fate of Milen Tsvetkov will finally turn into a powerful signal that ruthless measures are needed against the war on the roads,” said journalist Georgi Filipov, who was severely injured in another car crash last year.

Bribes often enable Bulgarians to escape punishment for intoxication while behind the wheel. Some politicians said after Tsvetkov’s death that a crackdown was urgently needed.

“It is time to adopt a law with a minimum sentence of 20 years behind bars if you drive drunk or drugged, without a licence, for speeding or driving an illegally tuned car to the extent that you cannot control it,” said Nastimir Ananiev, leader of the opposition Volt party.

The Bulgarian government had no immediate comment.

(This story has been refiled to fix time reference to Monday in lede paragraph)

Reporting by Angel Krasimirov



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