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How luxury brands still lure Chinese shoppers despite slowdown

By Rebecca Bailey Sipping champagne and nibbling fried dumplings, Shanghai’s rich and influential posed by Louis Vuitton signs at a runway afterparty –- a lavish affair designed to win customers in China’s crucial market. China is the world’s biggest spender in the luxury sector, accounting for half of global sales. But as its post-pandemic recovery falters, consumption has flagged, sending jitters through the industry. For years, wealthy Chinese tourists had travelled to Europe to shop at its boutiques, but when the Covid-19 pandemic struck, the country introduced draconian restrictions that stopped them from leaving the country. The measures also threw the world’s second largest economy into a slowdown that it is struggling to recover from, with consumer confidence hit and attitudes towards high-end purchases starting to shift. Now, as China emerges from its coronavirus haze, luxury brands are trying to woo its shoppers back. Shares in Gucci owner Kering tumbled in April after it reported sales in the first quarter had fallen by 11 percent, citing tough market conditions in China. “Gucci will… not be alone here as other brands have also been feeling the pinch from China’s domestic spending,” Fflur Roberts, head of luxury at Euromonitor International, told AFP. Brands with a strong presence in China like Louis Vuitton are staging special events and handing out perks to VICs –- an acronym for Very Important Clients. Louis Vuitton described its “Voyager” show in Shanghai last month as the “next chapter in a strong, longstanding relationship” with China. Its leading pieces –- boldly coloured dresses marked with large cartoon-like animals -– were a collaboration with contemporary Chinese artist Sun Yitian, with the brand hailing “the tremendous stylistic vitality” of the country’s youth. Hollywood A-listers Cate Blanchett and Jennifer Connelly strode down the runway to their seats before the show began, as did Chinese megastars and brand ambassadors Liu Yifei and Jackson Wang. At the afterparty, influencers and VICs, many dressed head-to-toe in Louis Vuitton, mingled under flashing neon street signs, sampling fancified Chinese street food from stalls bedecked with the brand’s logo. ‘More cautious consumers’ Louis Vuitton’s parent company LVMH is among the fashion houses so far proving fairly resilient in the face of China’s economic headwinds. While its first quarter results showed its slowest rate of growth in years, the brand said that sales to domestic and overseas Chinese customers increased by about 10 percent. Prada and Hermes’s first quarter results both beat analysts’ expectations, posting 18 and 17 percent rises in sales, respectively. Overall, however, the market has slowed down, with consultancy firm Bain & Company forecasting single-digit growth in the Chinese luxury market in 2024 compared to 12 percent last year. “The economic downturn is impacting Chinese luxury consumers’ confidence,” said Lisa Nan, correspondent for Jing Daily, which reports on the Chinese luxury sector. “We are facing much more cautious and value-driven consumers, that also check the handbag’s second-hand market value before making a purchase.” Travel, not bags Post-pandemic, there has also been a shift in consumer tastes and priorities. Near Shanghai’s Wukang Mansion, a landmark regularly swarmed by influencers, a woman surnamed Liu said that while she occasionally bought designer items, she would never go line up for a bag. “I like travelling a bit more,” she said. “I’m not so crazy about brand names.” That’s a trend evident in a report on high net-worth individuals’ preferences compiled by research firm Hurun. “There is a significant shift towards experiential luxury rather than luxury goods,” said Nan of Jing Daily. During the pandemic, the absence of high-spending Chinese tourists hit Europe’s luxury goods sector hard. Some of that spending transferred to China, as global brands focused on organising events and creating goods more tailored to their biggest market. Euromonitor International’s Roberts said the outlook for the luxury market remained “challenging”, and that brands should “err on the side of caution”. “That said, China is still home to over 2.5 million people with a net wealth over $1 million,” she added. On a sunny day in central Shanghai, passers-by clutched their designer handbags as they went shopping. “Some people say that if you buy classic styles, they may appreciate in value and it can be an investment,” said a 28-year-old media worker named Winnie carrying a Dior bag. “But for me… it’s not an investment. As long as I like it, it’s fine.” “I think China is still in a period where (European) brands are important,” Jennifer Sheng, a woman in her 60s, told AFP. In her eyes, the allure of owning designer products remained strong. “Twenty years, thirty years ago, we didn’t have anything,” Sheng said. “We want to have these things.” Support HKFP | Policies & Ethics | Error/typo? | Contact Us | Newsletter | Transparency & Annual Report | Apps Help safeguard press freedom & keep HKFP free for all readers by supporting our team

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Olly Alexander addresses ‘extreme’ remarks on Israel’s inclusion in Eurovision

Olly Alexander has said he respects fans’ right to boycott the Eurovision Song Contest over Israel’s inclusion but feels some of the language used against contestants has been “very extreme”. The Years & Years singer, who will represent the UK at the competition taking place in Malmo, Sweden next week, rejected calls for him to withdraw from the contest amid the conflict in the Gaza strip earlier this year. In a new BBC documentary which follows the 33-year-old as he prepares for the show, he has opened up about making the “very hard decision” to continue with the competition. In the documentary, titled Olly Alexander’s Road To Eurovision ‘24, the singer says: “A lot of the contestants and myself have been having a lot of comments that are like ‘You are complicit in a genocide by taking part in Eurovision’ which is quite extreme. It’s very extreme. “I understand where that sentiment is coming from but I think it’s not correct. “It’s an incredibly complicated political situation, one that I’m not qualified to speak on. “The backdrop to this is actual immense suffering. It’s a humanitarian crisis, a war. “It just so happens there’s a song contest going on at the same time that I’m a part of.” He continues: “People are in despair and want to do something. “People should do what’s right for them. “If they want to boycott Eurovision if they don’t feel comfortable watching, that’s their choice, and I respect that. “Eurovision is, it’s meant to be like an apolitical contest, but that’s like a fantasy.” In the programme, the singer says he is taking everything “day by day” as he admits it is a “very hard decision”. “My plan is to just focus on putting on a good performance in Malmö”, he adds. “My team, everyone’s worked so hard, and we’re in the final stretch now.” Following the outbreak of the Israel-Hamas war, Queers for Palestine circulated a letter signed by actors Indya Moore, Brigette Lundy-Paine and Maxine Peake calling for Alexander to stop participating. In March, Alexander along with Irish hopeful Bambie Thug and Danish entrant Saba as well as other Eurovision artists released a joint statement, backing “an immediate and lasting ceasefire” but refusing to boycott the event. That same month, Israel unveiled its new entry as Hurricane, performed by singer Eden Golan. Her original track, October Rain, had caused controversy as the lyrics were thought to reference the Hamas attacks of October 7 before being changed following the backlash. Last month, Jean Philip De Tender, the deputy director general of the European Broadcasting Union who organise Eurovision, said he understands that the song contest takes place “against the backdrop of a terrible war in the Middle East” and this has provoked strong feelings, but criticised artists being “targeted” on social media. De Tender added: “While we strongly support freedom of speech and the right to express opinions in a democratic society, we firmly oppose any form of online abuse, hate speech, or harassment directed at our artists or any individuals associated with the contest. “This is unacceptable and totally unfair, given the artists have no role in this decision.” Alexander is set to perform his dance-infused track Dizzy on behalf of the UK for Eurovision audiences during the first semi-final on Tuesday. However, he is already through to the final along with the other members of the “big five”, France, Germany, Italy and Spain, as well as last year’s winner Sweden. The new BBC documentary, which will air on BBC One on Tuesday, will explore the highs and lows of his journey to the competition including releasing his song, performing at Eurovision pre-parties and the press attention. Olly Alexander’s Road To Eurovision ‘24 is available on iPlayer from 6am on Sunday and will air on BBC One on Tuesday at 10:50pm.

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Identities revealed of three charged over disappearance of Perth brothers Callum and Jake Robinson in Mexico

Camera IconRobinson brothers – missing in Mexico. Pictured is Callum Robinson (left) with brother Jake (right) Credit: Instagram/Instagram breakingIdentities revealed of three charged over disappearance of Perth brothers Callum and Jake Robinson in Mexico Dylan CapornThe NightlyMay 5, 2024 7:12AM Topics Share to FacebookShare to TwitterEmail UsCopy the Link

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Woman’s body found over precipice in Tobago

TOBAGO police are trying to determine the identity of a woman, whose body was discovered over a precipice in Mt St George, on May 4. Reports are that around 10.56 am, a Hope man was driving his Nissan Navara along SawMill Trace when he spotted the body of a woman over a precipice. The man, who was with his girlfriend, made a report and Insp Alicia Piggott and other officers visited the scene. The officers observed that the woman was wearing a green top and her underwear was pulled down slightly on her leg. The woman’s feet were bare and there was blood on her face and on the roadway. District Medical Officer Dr Okali visited the scene and ordered the body be removed to the mortuary of the Scarborough General Hospital pending an autopsy. A senior officer told Newsday that based on what they observed the victim’s death may be classified as a murder. “When we assessed the situation, we don’t make classifications until autopsies are done but based on what we have seen it may be our (Tobago’s) seventh murder (for 2024),” he said. Officers from the Homicide Bureau are investigating. Six shot in Speyside drive-by Meanwhile, six people are receiving treatment at the Roxborough Hospital following a shooting in Speyside on May 3. Police said around 11.55 pm, a group of people were standing on the southern side of the roadway outside the Nine’s Bar, Windward Road, when a white Nissa Tiida pulled up alongside the group. Several gunshots were then heard. Officers from the Charlotteville Police Station visited the scene. During the gunfire, a 29-year-old man, of Campbleton Road, Charlotteville, suffered wounds to his left foot and hand, while a 36-year-old woman, of the same address, received injuries to both hands. A 20-year-old Mason Hall woman received wounds to her right leg and back while a 35-year-old woman of Kilgwyn Bay Road, Bon Accord, received injuries about her body. Also injured in the shooting were a 43 year-old man, of Lucy Vale, who received gunshot wounds to the left side of his buttocks and a Speyside man who was wounded about his body. Sgt Sheppard is investigating.

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Car clubs, lift sharing and on-demand bus services can play a key role in tackling climate change – Richard Dilks

As the dust settles on a tumultuous week in Scottish politics, it is worth bearing in mind what started the whole thing. It already seems like a long time ago, but the end of the Bute House Agreement – and ultimately the resignation of Humza Yousaf – was at least in part sparked by a row over the scrapping of climate change targets. The decision by the Scottish Government to ditch its key goal on reducing emissions was described variously as humiliating, deeply disappointing and one of the worst environmental decisions ever made at Holyrood. If John Swinney does become the next First Minister of Scotland, the science tells us that he must turn around Scotland’s record of underachievement and overpromising on climate change action. The writing has been on the wall since before Chris Stark, outgoing chief executive of the UK’s statutory Climate Change Committee (CCC), warned in March that Scotland’s goal of cutting 75 per cent of emissions by 2030 was no longer credibly achievable due to the lack of progress in recent years. Accompanying the decision to scrap the target was a package of policies set out by Net Zero Secretary Màiri McAllan, the foremost of which was a ‘route map’ to cutting the number of car kilometres driven by 20 per cent by 2030. We have been waiting for this route map for a long time. The car kilometres driven target – one of a handful in the world – is both ambitious and logical. Yet it also needs real commitment, real policy change, to deliver on. If you want to actually hit a target, you must have a committed plan of credible action to achieve it. Get our weekly opinion newsletter for expert analysis from The Scotsman’s team of columnists Yet nowhere in the latest document is there a mention of the potential of shared transport, which covers things like bike-sharing schemes, car clubs, lift sharing, on-demand bus services and e-scooters. This is worrying and a huge missed opportunity. I say that based on our years of Scottish evidence – much of it funded by the Scottish Government – on shared transport’s ability to deliver a host of benefits including a reduction in driven kilometres, a boost to people’s activity levels and more public transport use. Our latest research on bike-sharing schemes in Scotland estimates that they collectively contribute to a reduction of approximately 1,408 tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions by providing an alternative to car travel. Our most recent study on Scottish car clubs, meanwhile, finds that members drive around 180 miles a year less than they did before joining. It’s not difficult to join the dots: expand such schemes, and the total car kilometres driven nationally will fall. We have the data and the human stories to show why this is a missing piece of the jigsaw in the race against the climate, environmental, cost-of-living and health crises that Scotland is facing. Yet the Scottish Government lacks a plan on shared transport. Should Swinney succeed Yousaf, the crisis facing Scotland’s emissions and environment will loom large in his in-tray. By turning towards sustainable options such as shared transport, Scotland can progress on multiple fronts at the same time – which is just what it needs. Richard Dilks is chief executive of CoMoUK, the UK’s national charity for shared transport

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SNP and Tories’ problems stem from being in power for far too long – Scotsman comment

As Scotland prepares to usher in its third First Minister since the last Holyrood election, a number of Conservative MPs are apparently considering whether to oust Rishi Sunak and replace him with their party’s fourth leader since the last Westminster vote. Clearly, the appetite of some Tories for political chaos is such that they are not to be outdone. The two parties are, to an extent, victims of their electoral success. The SNP have been in power since 2007 and the Conservatives since 2010, too long for both and it shows in a number of ways, most of them bad. One might have thought that staring electoral disaster in the face would rally Tories to their leader. Instead, some have clearly forgotten they are members of the same party with internal feuds now seemingly more important than even attempting to stand up to Labour. With their opponents beset by bickering, Keir Starmer and co appear set to walk into power without actually spelling out much of a compelling vision for their government. Simply ‘not being the Conservatives’ may be enough. That should worry thoughtful Tories. As Gerald Ratner – whose infamous joke about his jewellery firm’s “total crap” sherry decanters backfired spectacularly – would agree, once the public sees a brand as toxic, its reputation can be hard to recover. With the rise of the Reform party, the Conservatives could be on the cusp of a historic slide akin to the Liberals in the early 20th century unless they get their act together. An election defeat could be the wake-up call they need to switch from immigration-focused politics to core issues like the economy, NHS and education. Get our weekly opinion newsletter for expert analysis from The Scotsman’s team of columnists Launching his leadership bid, John Swinney spoke refreshingly of working to create a “vibrant economy” and how he wanted his ministers to be “focused on the delivery of services on which the public depend: on health, on education, on housing, on transport”. However, 17 long years in power have taught us that the nationalists often talk a good game without actually ‘delivering’. Policies like free tuition and free prescriptions are less about education and health and more about creating a sense of difference with England – essentially, they are about independence. General election 2024: Will Rishi Sunak call a summer election? So measures that benefit the middle classes who could afford to pay continue even as universities face serious and growing funding problems and the NHS teeters ever closer to collapse. The SNP appears powerless to address these problems partly because it dares do nothing to damage the image of Scotland that it has been trying to create. Scrapping free prescriptions for all – but retaining them for those who can’t afford to pay – would probably be a sensible step as it would provide funds to ease the NHS crisis. But, unfortunately, ‘independence says no’. Other struggling public services are similarly affected by such SNP paralysis. The longer the nationalists remain in power, the worse the situation will become. The Conservatives and SNP have been in power for far too long. Even their own supporters are starting to see it.

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Greens could refuse to prop up Swinney government if he shifts SNP to centre ground

The Scottish Greens could refuse to support some aspects of a John Swinney government’s policy priorities if he attempts to shift the SNP back towards the centre-ground – leaving his new administration dependent on unionist parties. Mr Swinney is set to secure the keys to Bute House when nominations close at 12pm on Monday for the SNP leadership when he is expected to be the only name in the running. That essentially makes him the next first minister in waiting after Humza Yousaf’s resignation. In his pitch to SNP members on Thursday, Mr Swinney pledged to unite his party and strongly hinted at a move away from working closely with the Greens, seen by some as on the far-left, to shifting back to the centre left of Scottish politics. In his speech in Edinburgh, the former SNP deputy first minister said that “only the SNP stand where the majority of people want their government to be, in the moderate centre-left of Scottish politics”, adding “that is where I stand”. He said: “If elected by my party and by parliament, my goals as first minister will come straight from that moderate centre-left tradition – the pursuit of economic growth and of social justice.” That vow was a huge hint that he intends to move away from the SNP being aligned with the Greens, who do not take a traditional approach to economic growth – something the Scottish Government has received criticism for during its co-operation agreement with the Greens. In a further veiled dig at policies brought forward in partnership with the Greens to tackle the climate crisis, Mr Swinney insisted that “we need to recognise that the pursuit of net zero has to take people and business with us”. He added: “When resources are limited, they must be used forensically to make the greatest impact on the challenge we face.” Yesterday, Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross urged the potential future first minister to rule out a deal with the Scottish Greens, who he called “extreme” and “anti-economic growth”. It remains unclear whether a key role in Mr Swinney’s Cabinet for Kate Forbes, who the Greens have made no secret they will not work with over her socially conservative views on equalities, would sway their support for the new administration. On Thursday, SNP Net Zero Secretary Mairi McAllan, who introduced Mr Swinney on stage as he launched his leadership bid, confirmed the Scottish Government will not pursue the inclusion of glass bottles in a future deposit return scheme – a key principle sought for by Greens co-leader Lorna Slater, who was previously responsible for the policy. SNP backbencher Fergus Ewing, a key critic of the Greens and the Bute House Agreement, told The Scotsman that his “message to John Swinney” was to “stop being afraid of and forever pandering to these extremists”. He added: “The extremist Greens leave a legacy of disaster behind them of dud, damaging policies. “The SNP Government must now scrap the remaining Green party-inspired policies that would cause even more misery and mayhem such as the heat in buildings bill which would see non-compliant homes becoming unsaleable, and mortgage interest rates in Scotland higher than rest of the UK.” Mr Ewing suggested that the Greens “cannot in practice bring down a minority SNP government”, warning that “they would then lose half their vote by infuriating the SNP voters who in the 2021 election gave them their second votes”. He added: “Their MSPs would then be wiped out. We should simply ignore the Greens. Let them go back to their wine bar to prepare for the revolution.” But a Scottish Greens source has told The Scotsman that a move to the centre is “what we worried about when Humza ended the Bute House Agreement”. The source added that “some in the SNP appear to be in panic mode about the election, but this just sounds like net zero pledges would get watered down even more”. The Greens insider suggested that the former coalition partners may not back up key priorities if they “do not chime with what our MSPs were elected to fight for”. The source added: “If the SNP moves too far to the right, they would need to look elsewhere to get their policies and budgets passed. We are not here to simply endorse an SNP minority government. “John has a history of working with pretty much everyone in government so perhaps he would look to other parties for some things he knows he wouldn’t be keen on. That is up to him. “The Greens are still committed to the principles that were put into the Bute House Agreement. If the SNP is no longer fussed about them, they will need to think about the support they get for getting things done.” Polling expert Mark Diffley said that Mr Swinney “has set his stall out quite clearly” on wanting to hone in on core policy areas but warned “that’s easier said than done in a minority government”. He said: “The whole idea of the Bute House Agreement was to make their lives as easy as possible and they obviously don’t have that kind of benefit anymore. “There will be more focus on what polling tells us are the key considerations that voters have. “People want the economy to improve, particularly at a time where people have been and many still are, going through the cost-of-living crisis. They also want to see better public services, most specifically the NHS.” Mr Diffley said Mr Swinney is likely to be “laser-focused on the key issues” that matter to the public, but warned that “their performance over recent times has deteriorated”. Recent polling shows that only 36 per cent of the public think the Scottish Government is doing a good job on education and the NHS, with Mr Diffley stressing that was “considerably higher in the days of Nicola Sturgeon”. The polling expert also warned that polling from November shows that 61 per cent believe the SNP is divided, up from just 34 per cent in the space of 12 months. Mr Diffley suggested that public perception of division “highlights the challenge that Swinney will have”, as he looks to “reset the agenda and focus on core issues”. The Scottish Greens have not yet decided how to approach a government headed by Mr Swinney. The Perthshire North MSP has worked closely with the party before and played a key role in drawing up the Bute House Agreement under Ms Sturgeon’s administration. If the Greens were unable to support a minority SNP Government, Mr Swinney would need to appeal, potentially on a policy-by-policy basis, to Labour, the Conservatives and the Lib Dems, in order to pass legislation and budgets at Holyrood. A spokesperson for the Scottish Greens said: “The leader of the SNP is a decision for SNP members. “The Scottish Greens remain committed to the progressive values and climate action that were at the heart of the Bute House Agreement, and will continue working to deliver these through the Scottish Parliament and councils across the country. “Once a vote is scheduled to elect the next first minister our MSPs will meet to discuss our next steps.”

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Euan McColm: John Swinney is a changed man from the one once labelled incompetent’ as SNP leader

During the launch of his campaign to replace Humza Yousaf as SNP leader, John Swinney was asked about remarks made by pollster Professor Sir John Curtice. A couple of days earlier, Curtice had been asked about the politician’s previous spell at the head of his party between 2000-04. “Some of us,” he’d replied, “remember John Swinney when he was SNP leader, and he wasn’t really that good at it.” I remember it, vividly, and Swinney wasn’t the total incompetent it’s now, generally, agreed he was. Swinney inherited from Alex Salmond an SNP that was entirely dysfunctional. Warring groups – gradualists who favoured a slow-and-steady move towards independence and fundamentalists who demanded radical (if not always clearly defined) action to break the Union – spent more time attacking each other that holding the then Labour-Liberal Democrat administration at Holyrood to account. A small group of what I remember being utterly exhausting arseholes were relentless in their efforts to undermine Swinney. These obscure, unreasonable and childishly petty figures from the fundie faction – geed-up by senior MSPs, bitter that gradualist Swinney had taken control of their party – briefed against the leader, made public demands for his resignation and, eventually, launched a challenge against his leadership putting up Bill Wilson (a scientist or “mouse poo expert” as the tabloids of the day had it) as their candidate. Swinney saw off his challenger (Wilson was later to be elected to Holyrood where, during his four-year term, his talents were ignored by the SNP leadership) but there was no way of concealing from voters that his party was so bitterly divided as to be unsuitable for government. When Swinney was ousted, after a poor showing for the SNP in the 2004 European Parliamentary Election, he left returning leader Alex Salmond a party in better shape, organisationally, than the one he’d previously led. Swinney modernised internal party democracy, fixing serious flaws in the SNP rule book such as a particularly bonkers bit that permitted branches to split, on a whim, and for each new branch to be given an equal vote in party elections. This rule had allowed factions to maximise their voting power and led to a number of experienced gradualist candidates being scuppered by fundamentalists. The John Swinney who – acts of God, notwithstanding – will soon be Scotland’s seventh First Minister is a different man to the one who led the SNP 20 years ago. As he said in his answer to that question, he’s been through a lot since then. The SNP’s current decline may be unstoppable but his colleagues are correct to think Swinney presents their best chance of slowing it. Having first met him quarter of a century ago, I know Swinney a little. He’s clever, affable, and – rare among SNP politicians – regarded with a degree of respect by his contemporaries in other parties. He has always been a more ruthless (a necessary quality) politician than his reputation suggests and he has – or certainly once had – pretty good instincts about voters’ priorities. The SNP rose to power in 2007 by connecting with the people of middle Scotland, those on neat estates with that old-fashioned but entirely noble ambition of doing a bit better for themselves than the generation before in the hope that their kids would do better still. Announcing his candidacy on Thursday, Swinney said he stood on the mainstream centre left of politics; that’s where the people are and that’s where his party had to be. Having identified the problem – the SNP’s drift away from the voters on whom it depends – how, then, does Swinney fix it? It’s abundantly clear to all but the most unthinking partisans that the SNP’s refusal to accept the result of the 2014 referendum did not advance the cause of independence. A decade of shouting at the people that they were wrong and insisting that they wanted another referendum, when the people had repeatedly said they did not, simply cemented positions. The SNP has spent 10 years massively irritating the very people it needs to win over if it is ever to achieve a solid, stable majority in favour of leaving the United Kingdom. No senior SNP figure truly believes there will be another independence referendum any time soon so Swinney should level with his members and try to persuade them that actually doing – and not just talking about doing – the difficult stuff of government must be his priority. Swinney should end the ridiculous war footing assumed by the Scottish Government in all its dealings with Westminster. Scotland currently has two governments and Swinney should have the confidence to be seen working with the Scotland Office for the benefit of the country. If I were him, I’d invite Scottish Secretary Alister Jack for tea and make damned sure that nobody briefed anything negative about it. Swinney needs to persuade some very sceptical people that his party is not merely a grievance machine. The other key challenge facing Swinney when it comes to trying to reconnect with voters is how he handles ongoing controversy over gender ideology and the clash between women’s rights and the demands of some trans activists. Nicola Sturgeon’s support for reform of the Gender Recognition Act was deeply unpopular with voters and played its part in her becoming so divisive a figure that even she recognised her time was up. Humza Yousaf took the decision to kick the Greens out of government after a straw-that-broke-the-camel’s-back moment when their co-leader Patrick Harvie’s refusal to accept Dr Hilary Cass’s extensive review of NHS service for gender-confused children and young people as a “valid” scientific document infuriated SNP backbenchers. Swinney needs to get his lines ready on these issues, which aren’t going away. At the same time, Swinney must try to unite a party bitterly divided over independence strategy and gender issues. Can the man SNP members hounded from office 20 years ago achieve all that and save his party?

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Scottish Parliament at 25: Even a parliament with poor stewardship is better than no parliament at all

When I recently interviewed an expert on tackling domestic violence, she compared the various nations and regions of the UK for prevalence of abuse. After listing the worst-performing areas, she added: “That’s not including Northern Ireland of course – things are way worse there.” The reason for this, she suggested, was that the suspension of the Northern Ireland Assembly from 2022 meant no real policy changes could be implemented, and as such matters like dealing with domestic violence bumbled along without meaningful intervention. The absence of a sentient and political arrangement meant Northern Ireland didn’t even get to be at the bottom of the league table – they were in a disaster division all of their own. In contrast, the Scottish Parliament had passed a new law to ramp up action on domestic abusers, extending it to deal with those engaged in coercive and controlling behaviour. She said that while incidents in Scotland were still far too high, it meant progress was being made in protecting victims, usually women, and bringing their abusers to justice. There was a genuine feeling among those working with victims that it would help reduce cases and make Scotland a safer place. So while it is easy to criticise the functions and performance of Holyrood as it approaches its 25th birthday, we need only glance across the water for some context. Properly tooled-up, the Scottish Parliament is one of the most powerful devolved institutions in the world. It has significantly more heft and influence than its Welsh counterpart, and means that Scots have more access and control over democracy than any other British voters. The bones of contention ought not to be with the powers it does or does not have – but how they are used. I have noticed an increasing noise among Scotland’s pro-union community, of which I am a part, to shut down Holyrood and return to the pre-1999 state of play where we are governed like most of the rest of Britain, by Westminster alone. It’s not just a social media campaign – prominent Conservative Lord Frost regularly highlights the SNP’s failings, and suggests a clawing back of controls to Westminster as a solution. In my view, he confuses poor governance and policy choices by Scotland’s government with the powers of the parliament. After all, there has been no lack of shambolic decision-making from the UK Government in recent years. A list including elements of Brexit, half-baked rail projects, NHS waiting lists and immigration policy all point to a moribund Tory government flat out of ideas. And when it is replaced by Sir Keir Starmer’s Labour later this year, he too will make a litany of mistakes and mis-steps. When highlighting these, nobody will suggest shutting down Westminster as a remedy. It will be understood that this is a government which has won a democratic vote fair and square, and the country just needs to suck up the consequences of its choice. So it should be in Scotland. I have some sympathy with those who say all the Scottish Parliament can ever do is buttress the SNP’s case for constitutional separation. That has, after all, been the motive of those running the show for the last 17 years. Too often the occupants of Bute House have used it as a bully pulpit on matters beyond their remit. Never-the-less, over its short life, the parliament has been transformative in terms of the policies it has delivered, whether you agree with them or not. Is there a parent of teenagers in Scotland over the last decade or so not grateful for free university tuition? People said that was a cynical ploy by the SNP to buy the votes of middle Scotland, and it certainly worked. It opened the door for many to vote for the SNP for the first time. It also opened the door to higher education for so many Scots for whom it would not have been possible financially had they lived in England. Great in the short-term, but it has crippled universities financially, forcing them to take more international students to balance the books, often in the place of domestic school-leavers. It could be catastrophic in the long-term. For every investment in lifting children out of poverty there has been a tax increase on hard-working Scots on middle incomes. For every free bus ticket for a young person, there’s an islander stranded because their ferry isn’t working. And for every feather in the cap of green activists, there’s a working-class motorist who can no longer afford to drive into their own city centre because of contentious low-emission zones. That’s the political debate. The Scottish Government has got things right and got things wrong. Every five years, the people have the power to give their verdict on these choices, and make changes accordingly. I personally find it astonishing they haven’t yet applied this power to the SNP. But that’s democracy. I would use the parliament’s powers to lower the tax burden on people and businesses and drive economic growth at every turn, in the cities and the countryside. Others would hike taxes further and plough the money into whatever anti-poverty measure happened to be in fashion at that moment. The powerful parliament would cater for either strategy, and it’s not the system’s fault if those in power choose one over the other. Even the parliamentary terms themselves have been subject of debate. There used to be elections every four years, which was then upped to five in order to avoid a collision with the 2015 General Election. Former Labour leader Kezia Dugdale wrote through the week that she wanted that brought back down again. Yet, when researching the same article I referenced above on domestic abuse, I spoke to a former senior police officer and poverty expert who said the opposite. Five-year terms weren’t long enough, he argued, as deeply effective policies designed to turn round decades of decline and cultural behaviour needed longer to bed in. The idea of implementing something, then having it ripped up by a new sheriff in town five years later, was wasteful and ruinous. The public haven’t been routinely asked about their views in relation to the Scottish Parliament. My own company conducted some polling on this matter last year, asking more than 1000 Scots what their constitutional preference would be between full independence, more or fewer powers for Holyrood, or a full-scale reverting of political control to Westminster. The results demonstrated that people just aren’t all that sure. None of the preferences recorded more than 30 per cent in support levels, including 23 per cent who wanted full powers, in essence Scottish independence, and nine per cent who wanted Holyrood shut down. And yet there can be a feeling among political and media classes that Holyrood just lacks something. I’ve heard anecdotally from MPs in the Conservatives, Labour and the SNP that, once they’ve breathed in the Westminster life, they see coming back to Edinburgh as a downgrade. The grandeur of the Houses of Parliament, the theatre of the Commons’ green benches, and the buzz of London’s political life is not replicated in Scotland’s capital. Even when huge stories break, the television footage from the Scottish Parliament shows ghostly corridors, a handful of casually-dressed staffers milling about without urgency, and just a sense that – in comparison – Holyrood seems little more than a town hall. The pub in parliament, affectionately nick-named Margo’s after the late Margo MacDonald, can sometimes bring itself to an atmospheric climax on the odd Thursday night before term concludes. But it’s no rival to Westminster’s network of hostelries, inside parliament and out, which brim with activity and conniving on what seems like a 24/7 basis. Perhaps that is why Scottish MPs – even the nationalist ones – grump about coming back up the road. If even the pro-independence politicians prefer London, you know there’s an issue. Yet it is worth remembering that the parliament is a political scion – and its next quarter of a century will likely look much different. There is some distance to travel, but the 2026 election surely won’t return the SNP in the large numbers they have enjoyed since 2007. That will lead to a different approach. It’s hard to imagine Labour not having some kind of controlling stake in the government, which will arrive on the back of the party having been in power in Westminster for two years. We haven’t had such a shared dynamic since 2006, and it will likely herald a new way of doing things. You might not agree with Labour policies at that point, but expect a more joined-up relationship when it comes to developing devolved and reserved policy. In theory, that should deliver smoother results for the electorate. If the SNP does manage to shake itself up and get back into power, it will be more grievance and wedge-driving between Scotland’s and England’s governments. That’s what the people will have voted for – we’re just going to have to like it. Because as the situation in Northern Ireland has proved, even a parliament with poor stewardship is better than no parliament at all. Adam Morris is the former head of media for the Scottish Conservatives and director of Shorthand PR

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Scotland needs new ‘Union of the Nations’ to break free from independence debate – Henry McLeish

Approaching the 25th anniversary of the founding of the Scottish Parliament, a reset of politics and governance is long overdue and more important to the nation than a new SNP leader, despite his decency and public service. A new messenger but what about the message? For Labour and the other traditional parties, there is an opportunity to write a new chapter of devolution, building on the current questioning mood of the electors and acknowledging that, after years of SNP rule, Scotland is being left behind as the failures of the Sturgeon era are revealed. Evidence abounds that since the independence referendum in 2014 – a result too close for many – and the dramatic outcome of the 2015 general election – where the SNP, building on the momentum of the referendum, won a remarkable 56 out of the 59 parliamentary seats in Scotland – the SNP, though still popular, has become a different party. Wiser counsels outwith the SNP will recognise the Churchill quote describing Russia as “a riddle, wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma”. Is this the SNP today? After a decade of losing focus, the SNP is disconnected from mainstream opinion, divorced from the cost-of-living crises, detached from an agenda of issues that Scots are struggling to deal with, and delusional about how close Scotland is to being turned into Denmark or Finland or Norway. There is no doubt that the shrinking coterie of advisers around Nicola Sturgeon was becoming more defensive, isolated and, alongside the Greens, was embracing an agenda of issues, however worthy, that was alienating supporters, confusing voters, and sidelining a smorgasbord of issues and priorities affecting the nation. Get our weekly opinion newsletter for expert analysis from The Scotsman’s team of columnists After the 1998 Scotland Act, it was hoped that there would be a new politics in Scotland. That hasn’t happened. Tribalism and toxic politics dominate. Our Parliament has failed to create any genuine sense of unity of purpose, with all the parties continuing the worst instincts and behaviour of Westminster. This in turn has polarised the electorate. All parties are to blame. There is, however, no doubt that the SNP’s obsession with Independence has allowed few concessions to non-believers and led to a failure to reach across the aisle and build consensus, coalitions and common purpose in parliament and the country. For far too long, the SNP has been campaigning when they have been governing. The new SNP leader should recognise the need for change. Poll: Fewer than half of Scots believe Scottish Parliament has served them well First, Scotland is stalled, just going nowhere. In key public policy areas such as health, education, industrial strategy, housing and renewables, progress has been limited. Local government has been undermined. Tory austerity hurts, but this does not explain Scotland’s decline. Second, on independence little if any progress has been made since the Salmond years ended in 2014, the dial hasn’t moved. Third, the nation and Scots are deeply and often more bitterly divided now than they have ever been since 1997: there is no settled will. Fourth, the Scottish Government has indulged recently and excessively in victimhood and scapegoating, primarily aimed at the Tories, London, England or Westminster – this is the refuge of nationalism not patriotism and the basis of revenge and identity politics – and populism. Fifth, relationships with the Westminster government are at an all-time low. It takes two to feud, but struggles between unionism and nationalism, ending up in the courts, may serve the political interests of the SNP and the Conservative party, but do nothing for Scotland. The Johnson, Truss and Sunak eras have been damaging, disrespectful of Scotland, and have treated devolution to the four nations with contempt. The last ten Tory years have undermined the reputation of the Union, a key issue in shaping the Scottish mood. But regardless of Scotland’s final solution to the Scottish or British question, England, as a physical and political entity, will still exist. But in this period of change there are real opportunities for Labour in what will be an election year with the prospects of a new government at Westminster. A new chapter on devolution must be written. A “product not just a process”. A union of the nations, not just a union of the Crowns and Parliaments. A transformation of how the Union works. And where the pride and passion for an ancient and ambitious nation is worthy of more respect. Under Anas Sarwar, Labour has got closer to cracking the electoral code required to break the SNP’s grip on the electorate. Keir Starmer must listen. Labour must escape the gravitational pull of Westminster thinking, embracing Scottishness and patriotism; taking the long view and putting nation-building first; freeing the Scottish Parliament from the tyranny of one-party domination. This is a challenging agenda. Support for Independence has remained steady, despite declining SNP poll numbers. This could be interpreted in different ways, especially where little effort has been made to make devolution an exciting, intelligible, attractive, lasting, acceptable and durable alternative to independence. For the SNP, which has turned to national pride in an era of populism, independence has become a simple answer to a complex question. Post-Brexit, the importance of national feelings must never be underestimated. But put simply, independence has never been forensically tested. Sarwar is now addressing this issue. We need an extensive refashioning of the Union; a bolder embrace of nation-building in Scotland; a progressive public policy agenda; and much needed substance and shape to the idea of what devolution could mean and what it could deliver for Scotland, and the Union. A new debate could free Scotland from an increasingly insular and divisive future. This is a wake-up call to progressives in all parties who are frustrated and disappointed about the progress Scotland has made over the last 25 years. The obsessional pursuit of a single policy of such enormity – independence – creating an atmosphere that is intensely partisan, divisive, and intolerant of other views or ideas, is preventing Scotland moving on. Henry McLeish is a former First Minister

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