Majority of Scots back independence in boost for Sturgeon

Nicola Sturgeon, the Scottish First Minister, is pictured at Holyrood on December 1 - Ken Jack/Getty Images Europe
Nicola Sturgeon, the Scottish First Minister, is pictured at Holyrood on December 1 - Ken Jack/Getty Images Europe

A clear majority of Scots now support Scottish independence, according to a new poll which will provide a boost to Nicola Sturgeon’s hopes of breaking away from the UK.

The Ipsos survey found 56 per cent of people now backed the “Yes” campaign while 44 per cent supported “No”, when undecided voters were excluded.

Support for the “Yes” campaign has risen by six points since the company’s last poll on the issue conducted back in May.

Meanwhile, the survey also found a majority of voters in Scotland intended to vote for the SNP at the next general election.

Some 51 per cent of people backed Ms Sturgeon's party while the Scottish Tories were on 13 per cent of the vote and Scottish Labour were on 25 per cent.

Ms Sturgeon has said she wants to use the next election as a "de facto referendum" on Scottish independence.

You can follow the latest updates below. 

04:06 PM

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03:18 PM

Border Force to strike over Christmas

PCS workers in the Border Force are to strike over Christmas in a row over pay, jobs and conditions, the Public and Commercial Services union has just announced.

Mark Serowtka, general secretary of the PCS, announced this afternoon the union's members in Border Force will strike on December 23-26 and December 28-31.

You can read the full story here.

03:16 PM

Rishi Sunak's tough new laws to stop strike disruption could include NHS workers

Ambulance workers and paramedics could be banned from striking after Rishi Sunak pledged “tough” new laws to tackle a wave of public sector strikes.

A Whitehall source said ministers were looking at “all the options”, and that a ban on emergency NHS workers from taking industrial action is among the most “extreme” of these.

More likely is the legal imposition of a minimum level of service that the NHS and other public services must provide during strikes.

Another idea is a ban on coordinated strikes between public sector unions.

You can read the full story here.

02:51 PM

Tories putting up membership fees

The Conservative Party is hiking membership fees after a fall in donations - a move that has drawn ire from some Tory MPs.

It is understood that the fee for new members will increase from £25 to £39 per year as the party attempts to pad its coffers ahead of the next general election.

Rishi Sunak, the Prime Minister, is pictured leaving 10 Downing Street today - Rasid Necati/Anadolu Agency
Rishi Sunak, the Prime Minister, is pictured leaving 10 Downing Street today - Rasid Necati/Anadolu Agency

A Conservative Party spokesman said: "An increase to the membership fee, which has been frozen for 16 years, has been agreed.

"Existing members will see their membership fee frozen in 2023 and the new membership fee remains substantially cheaper than Labour’s."

02:43 PM

Frances O'Grady accuses PM of 'attempting cheap political pot shots'

TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady accused Rishi Sunak of "attempting cheap political pot shots" with his warning about tough new anti-strike legislation.

She said: "The right to strike is a fundamental British liberty. With inflation running at 11%, Rishi Sunak wants to make it harder for working people to win better pay and conditions.

"Public sector workers would love to be able to deliver minimum service levels. But 12 years of Conservative cuts and mismanagement have left our public services falling apart at the seams.

"Rather than attempting cheap political pot shots, the Government should be getting around the table and negotiating with unions about pay. So far, ministers have seemed more interested in sabotaging talks than trying to resolve disputes."

02:39 PM

No10 unable to say what new strike laws will be

Downing Street has declined to provide any details on the Prime Minister's promised “new tough plans” to tackle planned strikes.

The Prime Minister’s Official Spokesman said Government work on new measures was "ongoing" but declined to provide any timeline for any laws.

He said the Government was "certainly not planning to stop the minimum service legislation".

On the plans, the spokesman said: "We keep the powers under review and obviously in light of what we are seeing with effectively rolling strikes, the Prime Minister thinks it is right to push ahead with new powers."

No details about what the powers might be were forthcoming.

01:51 PM

'The Conservative Party must now reconnect with the public we serve'

Matt Hancock, the former health secretary, said he believes the Tories "must now reconnect with the public" as he announced he is standing down at the next general election.

He said in his letter to Rishi Sunak: "The Conservative Party must now reconnect with the public we serve. There was a time when I thought the only way to influence the public debate was in Parliament, but I've realised there's far more to it than that.

"I have increasingly come to believe that for a healthy democracy we must find new ways to reach people - especially those who are disengaged with politics.

"The revival of modern conservatism over the next decade will I suspect take place as much outside Parliament as in it."

01:32 PM

Matt Hancock to stand down at the next election

01:28 PM

SNP secures majority support in general election poll

A majority of voters in Scotland intend to vote for the SNP at the next general election, according to a new Ipsos poll.

The survey found that 51 per cent of people support Nicola Sturgeon's party while the Scottish Tories were on 13 per cent of the vote and Scottish Labour were on 25 per cent.

The numbers represent a boost for Ms Sturgeon who has said she wants to use the next election as a "de facto referendum" on Scottish independence.

She has argued that if the SNP secure a majority at the election it should be treated as a vote in favour of independence.

01:13 PM

Poll: Support for Scottish independence increases

Support for Scottish independence has risen by six points since May, with 56 per cent of Scots now saying they would vote "Yes" on breaking away from the UK if a referendum was held tomorrow.

A new Ipsos poll put "Yes" on 56 per cent and "No" on 44 per cent when undecided voters were excluded.

12:57 PM

Rishi Sunak 'shocked' by Baroness Mone allegations

Rishi Sunak said it was “absolutely right” that Tory peer Baroness Michelle Mone was taking a leave of absence from the Lords following allegations linking her to a firm awarded contracts for personal protective equipment (PPE).

The PM said he was “shocked” to read reports alleging that the peer and her children secretly received £29 million originating from the profits of the PPE firm – claims she has denied.

At Prime Minister’s Questions, Mr Sunak said: “Like everyone else I was absolutely shocked to read about the allegations.

“It’s absolutely right that she is no longer attending the House of Lords and therefore no longer has the Conservative whip.”

Lady Mone’s spokesman said she was taking a leave of absence from the House of Lords “in order to clear her name of the allegations that have been unjustly levelled against her”.

12:38 PM

Stephen Flynn tells Rishi Sunak support for Scottish independence is increasing

Stephen Flynn, the new SNP leader in Westminster, told Rishi Sunak that he needs to "up his game" as he suggested that support for Scottish independence is increasing.

Mr Flynn told the Commons: "In the last 15 minutes a poll has landed which shows that support for Scottish independence has now hit 56 per cent. Support for the Scottish national party sits north of 50 per cent.

"So in that contest, can I ask the Prime Minister does he consider that increasing energy bills on energy rich Scotland by a further £500 will cause those poll numbers to rise or to fall?"

Mr Sunak replied: "What we are delivering for households across the United Kingdom including those in Scotland is £55 billion of support with energy bills. It will save a typical homeowner about £900 on their bills this winter... that is an example of the United Kingdom and the Union delivering for people in Scotland."

12:32 PM

New SNP Westminster leader grills Rishi Sunak on 'achievements'

Stephen Flynn, the new leader of the SNP in Westminster, has asked his first question at PMQs. (He was elected to the role last night).

He asked Rishi Sunak: "What does he consider to be the greatest achievement of the Conservative Party in government since 2019?

"Leaving the single market and customs union, ending freedom of movement, denying Scotland her democracy or getting the Labour Party to agree with all of the above?"

Mr Sunak said: "The answer to his question is actually very simple., The things that we are most proud of in the last couple of years is making sure that we protected this country through the pandemic, with furlough and with the fastest vaccine rollout."

12:19 PM

PM issues warning to trade union bosses

Sir Keir Starmer challenged Rishi Sunak on delays to the Government's anti-strike legislation.

Mr Sunak said: "Hard working families right now in this country are facing challenges. The Government has been reasonable. It has accepted the recommendations of a pay review body, giving pay rises in many cases higher than the private sector.

"But if the union leaders continue to be unreasonable then it is my duty to take action to protect the lives and livliehoods of the British public and that is why since I became Prime Minister I have been working for new tough laws to protect people from this disruption.

Rishi Sunak, the Prime Minister, addresses the House of Commons during PMQs
Rishi Sunak, the Prime Minister, addresses the House of Commons during PMQs

"That is the legislation he is asking about, will he now confirm that he will stand up for working people and that he and his party will back that legislation?"

Sir Keir replied: "He is obviously not heard what his Transport Secretraryt said about that legislation this morning..."

Mark Harper had told the Transport Select Committee he was unsure when the draft laws would be debated by MPs.

12:13 PM

'Labour should stand up for working people'

Turning to the Government's climbdown on onshore wind, Sir Keir Starmer said: "I noticed there was another U-turn last night, this time on wind farms. Actually I agree with that one but is there no issue on which he won't give into his backbenchers?"

Rishi Sunak used the opportunity to criticise Sir Keir over public sector industrial action.

The Prime Minister said: "Labour should stand up for working people. If he is strong that's what he should do."

12:09 PM

Rishi Sunak blasts Labour record on house building

Sticking on the issue of house building, Sir Keir Starmer said: "Why would he rather cripple house building than work with us to get those targets through?"

Rishi Sunak replied: "We are not going to work with the Labour Party on housing. You know why? We will have a look at their record on housing. In London the former Conservative mayor in five years nbuilt 60,000 affordable homes. The current Labour mayor? half of that amount."

Sir Keir claimed the PM was "too weak to stand up to his own side on behalf of the country".

12:07 PM

Sir Keir Starmer labels Rishi Sunak the 'blancmange prime minister'

Sir Keir Starmer used his first question to challenge Rishi Sunak over the Government's decision to water down its house building target.

The Labour leader said that the Government had committed to building 300,000 homes a year but the PM had "broke that promise by scrapping mandatory targets".

Sir Keir said told Mr Sunak that "his backbenchers threatened him and as always the blancmange prime minister wobbled" and he had "sold out the aspirations of those who wangt to own their own home".

Sir Keir Starmer, the Labour leader, is pictured during PMQs in the House of Commons this afternoon
Sir Keir Starmer, the Labour leader, is pictured during PMQs in the House of Commons this afternoon

Mr Sunak hit back and accused Sir Keir of "engaging in petty personality politics, not focused on the substance".

The PM said that the Government is "protecting the character of local communities" and protecting the green belt.

12:03 PM

PM 'believes strongly in the United Kingdom'

Philippa Whitford, an SNP MP, asked Rishi Sunak if he "still believes the UK is a voluntary union" in the wake of the Supreme Court's ruling that Holyrood does not have the power to hold a second referendum on Scottish independence without the permission of the Westminster government.

Mr Sunak said he respects the court's decision and that he "believes strongly in the United Kingdom".

12:00 PM

Rishi Sunak greeted by loud cheers

Rishi Sunak has now entered the House of Commons ahead of PMQs.

He was greeted by loud cheers from Tory MPs as he took his place on the Government frontbench.

11:59 AM

House of Commons filling up ahead of PMQs

The House of Commons is now steadily filling up ahead of Prime Minister's Questions.

Suella Braverman, the Home Secretary, and Dominic Raab, the Deputy Prime Minister, are both sat on the Government frontbench.

Rishi Sunak is yet to appear in the chamber.

11:43 AM

Pictured: Rishi Sunak leaves No10 ahead of PMQs

Rishi Sunak, the Prime Minister, leaves 10 Downing Street this morning ahead of PMQs - James Manning/PA
Rishi Sunak, the Prime Minister, leaves 10 Downing Street this morning ahead of PMQs - James Manning/PA

11:38 AM

What to expect at PMQs

Rishi Sunak will head to the House of Commons at noon for Prime Minister's Questions on the back of three Government climbdowns in three days.

On Monday we had the Government caving into Tory rebels on ditching mandatory house building targets and then on Tuesday we had the decision to lift the ban on new onshore wind farms, also after a Tory revolt on the subject.

Then today it was announced that the Government is scrapping the Schools Bills, its flagship education legislation (see the post below at 10.46).

Taken together, critics are likely to claim that the Government is having a bit of a meltdown. Plenty for Sir Keir Starmer to choose from when he launches his weekly attack in just under half an hour.

11:18 AM

Mark Harper dodges question on driver-only trains

Mark Harper was pressed by Labour MP Ben Bradshaw on claims that the Rail Delivery Group’s offer to the RMT union - aimed at resolving the rail strikes - was conditional on accepting driver-only operated (DOO) trains at all companies apparently at the insistence of Downing Street.

Mr Bradshaw asked Mr Harper: "Has the issue of driver-only trains been introduced by Number 10 or the Treasury at the last minute? It wasn’t on the table before."

The Transport Secretary refused to be drawn as he told the Transport Select Committee: "We’re very clear we need to see reform. On the specifics about detail, detailed negotiations are taking place between employers and trade unions. It’s not the Government’s role to micromanage the detail of the reform."

10:46 AM

Government drops flagship education legislation

A flagship piece of education legislation has been dropped by the Government after running into opposition in Parliament.

The Schools Bill, which had already been stripped of key elements, will not progress, Education Secretary Gillian Keegan said.

The legislation was originally intended to cover issues including school funding, the regulation of academies, tackling truancy, ensuring the welfare of home-educated children and banning unsuitable teachers.

She told MPs the Schools Bill, which has already been gutted during its passage through the House of Lords, "will not progress".

10:42 AM

'It will have to be done at other times of the year'

Transport Secretary Mark Harper said the walkout by Network Rail workers between Christmas Eve and December 27 will cause "more inconvenience to passengers" because it means planned maintenance work will have to be rescheduled.

He told the Transport Select Committee: "One of the things that Network Rail is now looking at, given the strikes that were called by the RMT on Network Rail, is looking at that £120 million worth of essential maintenance work to see the extent to which that’s affected.

"Of course, even though that may not impact passenger services, it absolutely will affect the reliability of the railway. Of course it’s done at Christmas because – although I recognise it sometimes causes inconvenience to people at Christmas – it is done then because that is the least busy time.

"If that work isn’t done at the Christmas period, it means it will have to be done at other times of the year, which will cause more inconvenience to passengers."

10:18 AM

Mark Harper defends slow progress on draft anti-strike law

Mark Harper was told that legislation can be rushed through Parliament when necessary as he was grilled on the slow progress being made on the Government's proposed anti-strike law (see the post below at 10.10).

The Transport Secretary told the Transport Select Committee: "You are right, usually with legislation that is pushed through rapidly, it tends to have to be pushed through when there is cross-party agreement on that legislation and that I don't think is the case here."

Mr Harper said it is his "firm intention" to resolve the current industrial dispute on the railways as he said walkouts will cause an "enormous inconvenience for passengers, particularly over Christmas".

10:10 AM

Transport Secretary unsure when draft anti-strike law will be debated by MPs

Mark Harper said he does not know when the Government's Transport Strikes (Minimum Service Levels) Bill will be debated by MPs as he argued that even if it was passed quickly it would not help deal with the current wave of industrial action.

The Bill would impose requirements to run a minimum level of service during strikes on transport networks. It was promised by the Tories back in 2019 but is yet to receive its second reading in the Commons - the first hurdle it must clear on its path to becoming law.

Asked when the second reading could take place, Mr Harper told MPs on the Transport Select Committee: "The Bill has been introduced in Parliament, it hasn't yet had a second reading. I can't give the committee a specific time on that."

He said the legislation would help in the "medium to long term" but it is "not a solution to dealing with the industrial action we see at the moment".

10:00 AM

Government decision on new coal mine due this week

A delayed decision on whether to approve plans for a controversial coal mine on the edge of Whitehaven in Cumbria could come as soon as today in another test for Rishi Sunak's leadership.

The decision is due to be made on or before December 8, after the original deadline was pushed back several times, and there is a growing expectation that the announcement will be made today.

The plan is backed by some Tory MPs but it has also drawn significant criticism from environmentalists.

09:36 AM

Transport Secretary urges RMT to call off Christmas strikes

Mark Harper, the Transport Secretary, is giving evidence to the Transport Select Committee this morning and he started by making a statement on the RMT's industrial action.

He said he is "very disappointed that the RMT have turned down the offer that they have been made, it was an improved offer”. He said that "it is not just a pay dispute it is about reform of the rail industry".

He told MPs he is continuing to "urge the unions to keep talking, put those deals to their members... and call off the strikes before Christmas which are going to be so damaging to individuals and businesses across a whole range of sectors".

09:21 AM

'People can come up with whichever term they want'

Steve Barclay was asked if he agreed that the NHS is now in a state of "crisis".

The Health Secretary told the BBC: "People can come up with whichever term they want. We all recognise as a result of the pandemic there are huge pressures on the NHS..."

08:52 AM

Health Secretary signals Government will not budge on pay offer for NHS staff

Steve Barclay, the Health Secretary, has signalled the Government is not willing to improve on its current pay offer to NHS staff.

Asked the question during an interview on BBC Radio 4 Today programme, he said: "There is a range of issues that impact on the morale of staff and I am very open to discussing those with the trade unions, I have made that clear, there is no preconditions from the Government in terms of that.

Steve Barclay, the Health Secretary, is pictured in Westminster this morning - Leon Neal /Getty Images Europe
Steve Barclay, the Health Secretary, is pictured in Westminster this morning - Leon Neal /Getty Images Europe

"But in terms of pay specifically, we have an independent process through the pay review body that looks at these issues in the round..."

Asked again if the Government could improve its offer, Mr Barclay repeated that pay rises are a matter for the independent pay review body. The Government's current offer to NHS staff is broadly 4.75 per cent.

08:41 AM

'The trade unions are saying those things wouldn’t be covered'

Steve Barclay said that "in terms of what will be covered by the [ambulance] strikes, we’re discussing that with the trade unions, they have said that they will cover life-threatening conditions".

Asked if this included falls, he told Sky News it "tends to be less those sort of cases, they’re usually called a cat(egory) three".

He said that "at the moment the trade unions are saying those things wouldn’t be covered" but "the indication from the trade unions" is that things like heart attacks would be covered.

08:32 AM

Health Secretary defends Rishi Sunak over onshore wind climbdown

Rishi Sunak last night lifted the ban on new onshore windfarms in the face of a Tory revolt and said he would consider lower energy bills for communities who support them.

The Prime Minister agreed with rebel MPs that decisions on whether turbines can be erected will revert to local communities (you can read the full story here).

Steve Barclay defended the PM for bowing to the pressure from the Tory backbenches as he said it is "important that we listen to colleagues".

The Health Secretary, asked if Mr Sunak is really in charge of the Government, told Sky News: "You can see, actually, the fact that the Prime Minister has taken a very strong stand in terms of the priority of getting inflation down."

He added: "I think it’s important that we listen to colleagues, that is our parliamentary process. It’s important that we do these things with local consent."

08:24 AM

Pay rise in line with inflation for whole public sector 'would cost £28bn'

Delivering pay rises in line with inflation across the whole public sector would cost the Government £28 billion, Steve Barclay has said.

The Health Secretary told GB News: "It’s not reasonable to expect a further £28 billion in pay uplifts in line with inflation.

"It’s because there are many other pressures within the NHS that we need to address to get those patient backlogs down, to address the operations that people are waiting for, to address the pressures of 8am on primary care when people are trying to phone a GP.

"We are investing in our paramedics. We’ve got 3,000 a year in training but it’s right that we do that alongside the discussions on pay."

08:15 AM

Health Secretary praises PM for 'standing his ground' on union pay demands

Rishi Sunak has "stood his ground" in the face of trade union demands for large pay rises, the Health Secretary said.

Steve Barclay told GB News this morning: "Part of the reason that we are facing the strikes is because the Prime Minister has stood his ground in terms of saying that we have a process through the independent pay review bodies, we have honoured those recommendations in full.

"In addition last year we also at a time when the rest of the public sector had a freeze we recognised the particular pressures that the NHS had faced that’s why there was a three per cent increase last year, that is on top of accepting in full the pay review body process this year. It is important that that is the process."

08:11 AM

Army could be drafted in to help during ambulance strikes

Armed forces personnel could be brought in to help run ambulance services during strike action later this month, the Health Secretary has suggested.

Asked if the Army could be drafted in to help, Mr Barclay told Times Radio: "We will look at all the contingencies we have for the risk that you say which is there is a risk if we can’t get ambulances to people.

Steve Barclay, the Health Secretary, is pictured in Westminster this morning - Leon Neal /Getty Images Europe
Steve Barclay, the Health Secretary, is pictured in Westminster this morning - Leon Neal /Getty Images Europe

"But at the same time I recognise that through the constructive engagement we are having with the trade unions they themselves are saying because they recognise their duty of care that they want to respond to the life threatening calls as well.

"So I am hugely grateful for the fact that they recognise the importance of that. We want to work with them. We recognise it is not just pay, there are many other factors that impact conditions for our paramedics."

08:06 AM

'Hugely important' ambulances arrive 'quickly'

Steve Barclay, the Health Secretary, said it is "hugely important" that ambulances arrive "quickly" as the nation braces for walkouts later this month.

He told Times Radio: "It is hugely important that people get their ambulances quickly and that is why we have accepted in full the pay review body recommendations. It is also recognising that the huge pressures that have been placed on our NHS as a consequence of the pandemic that last year we also gave a three per cent pay rise when the rest of the public sector had a py freeze.

"I hugely value the work that paramedics do and I think everyone recognises the massive pressures there has been as a consequence of the pandemic."

07:59 AM

Ambulance strikes could put lives at risk, suggests Health Secretary

Steve Barclay, the Health Secretary, has suggested that people with non-life threatening conditions who are made to wait for an ambulance for six or more hours during strike action later this month could be put at risk of dying.

Ambulance workers will continue to respond to life threatening emergencies during strike action but the exact detail of what will be covered is still being finalised.

Mr Barclay was asked during an interview on Times Radio about people who are not in an immediately life threatening condition but it could become life threatening if they had to wait six or more hours.

Asked if he could guarantee that those people would be seen promptly enough to save their life, he said: "I share the concern and that is basically why I don’t want these strikes to happen and I stand ready to continue talks with the trade unions, my door is open, I am very keen that we continue that dialogue because the risk you identify is the key one and the trade unions have said, and we have got further talks with officials tomorrow on what are called the derogations, which bits of the service that they will offer.

"They have said that they will continue to offer life threatening service so that is the Cat Ones, there is a question in terms of whether they will cover all the Cat Twos, thoise are the emergency responses to things like heart attacks and strokes so hugely important that those are also covered.

"But as you say, what are referred to as the Cat Threes and the Cat Fours which are not the life threatening or the emergency responses but still very important clearly if those are not covered because of the strikes then that places huge pressure and of course we can look at what contingency plans we can put in place but they are never going to cover the same amount as having 3,000 ambulances on the day which is roughly what we have on a typical day."

07:55 AM

Good morning

Good morning and welcome to today's politics live blog.

There is a busy day ahead in Westminster with Health Secretary Steve Barclay on the morning media round, Transport Secretary Mark Harper facing a grilling in front of MPs from 9.30am and then Rishi Sunak will be in the Commons for PMQs at noon.

I will guide you through the key developments.