Answering the ‘English Question’ is the key to Cameron staying on as Britain’s PM

WHISPS of highland mist still swirl over Scotland’s great referendum result – and will continue to do so for some considerable time, in my humble estimation – but glimmers of clarity are breaking through the haze.

Possibly the harshest lesson from it goes out to the Catalans, Basques, Bretons, Cornish and any of the European Union’s minor players and it is: if you’ve any pipedreams of secession,  Brussels will blow them to smithereens.

On the lighter side, rumours Prince Franz of Bavaria, heir to the Stuart dynasty, will replace The Queen as Scotland’s monarch have been, well scotched, so to speak, and – three cheers! – Piers Morgan is leaving Britain (or so he said).

The unctuous chat-show host promised he’d shove off as his personal thank-you if the No vote prevailed. It did, so I suggest Rockall would be a fitting destination, since it’s uninhabited and he can talk to himself all day long and discover what we all know: he’s a snotty, egotistical bore.

Other oddball news: CNN’s exit poll called the referendum result 58% to 52% in favour of Yes. Not only a wildly inaccurate projection, it casts doubt on Americans ability to master simple percentages – unless, that is, 5.5 million folk do comprise 110% of Scotland.

Meanwhile, Labour leader, Ed Miliband, apparently represents a Scottish constituency in Doncaster North (yes, you heard it right).

FINGER PAINTING: But Miliband's picture of himself as a British PM didn't inspire Labour's faithful in Manchester last week

FINGER PAINTING: But Miliband’s picture of himself as a British PM didn’t inspire Labour’s faithful in Manchester last week

The Yorkshire town was ceded to Scotland more than 900 years ago as part of the Treaty of Durham, after King David pillaged large areas of northern England and Doncaster remained in Scottish hands for 21 years, until Henry II reclaimed it in 1157.

The treaty, however, was never formally revoked, which will come as a thunderbolt to many proud Tykes I know, who’d always believed they were inhabiting God’s Own County, not some Celtic Gibraltar.

Absurd as this situation may seem, though, it might do Ed a power of good. As the representative of an ostensible Scottish constituency in England, he’ll still be able to vote, if – as that semi-Jock, David Cameron, has threatened – Scots MPs in Westminster will be barred from voting on matters affecting only the English.

This, you see, is the Prime Minister’s canny solution to the arcane West Lothian Question, as posed by Left-wing firebrand, Tam Dalyell, the then Labour MP for the Scottish seat.

In a 1977 House of Commons debate on devolution, he asked, ‘For how long will English MPs tolerate at least 119 Honourable Members from Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland exercising an important, and probably often decisive, effect on English politics, while they themselves have no say in the same matters in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland?’

That idiosyncrasy has assumed fresh gravitas, as the Scottish Parliament is poised to receive extensive new powers – including setting its own levels of income tax and VAT – so Cameron has delegated sorting out the ‘English Question’ to his ex-Foreign Minister, William Hague, and a draft bill is due by January 25, aptly Robbie Burns Night.

Legislation can then be passed before next spring’s UK General Election.

Behind this haste to beat the May 7 polling deadline lies a fiendish Tory plot, one that’s left Miliband ambushed and outraged,  casting a shroud over the Labour’s Party annual knees-up, last week in Manchester.

A nobbled Ed complains Cameron is ‘playing politics’ following the Scottish No victory, but isn’t that exactly the rough, old trade both chose to follow.

WRONG CALL: According to CNN, Scotland's Yes voters were about to win the referendum 58%-52%

WRONG CALL/MUDDLE MATHS: According to CNN, Scotland’s Yes voters were about to win the referendum 58%-52%

Miliband’s dread is if Labour wins only a narrow majority in the next parliament, thanks to retaining its 40 MPs north of the border, he’ll be a stymied, partial PM, his writ on domestic policy extending no further than England (that’s presuming Welsh and Northern Irish MPs also get the block put on them).

Additionally, the ploy could outflank UKIP, the self-styled English liberation army, even if it forces a constitutional crisis the like of which a country that doesn’t even boast a written constitution has never seen.

Unsurprisingly, Conservative MPs – especially the unhinged, Eurosceptic fringe – are salivating like rabid dogs over the prospect of English votes for English laws, since all but nine of Cameron’s current crop of 304 represent constituencies in England against Labour’s total of 256 spread across the UK.

Nor are some Labourites blind to the idea of ‘freedom’ for England, a question Miliband dodged 13 times on last Sunday’s BBC1 Andrew Marr show.

Former minister, Ben Bradshaw, called for the party to ‘grasp the nettle’ of English home rule, adding there was an ‘innate and accurate feeling’ in the country that the ‘imbalance is unfair.’

Meanwhile, most Tories also want to see an end to the Barnett Formula or block grant, another piece of hoary, esoteric legislation that leaves the average voter utterly bamboozled.

As Chief Secretary to the Treasury from 1974 to 1977, Joel Barnett – an accountant by trade and now Lord Barnett of Heywood and Royton – was Denis Healey’s bagman in the Callaghan government and tasked with the job of adjusting the amount of Whitehall largesse doled out to the UK’s four regions.

I won’t trouble you with the gobbledygook of the Formula, since, like me, you’d suddenly be overcome with the desire to have a siesta or commit hara-kiri. The net result, though, is Scotland receives over £1,600 per head more than England and even the now ancient peer admits it’s unfair and should be scrapped or revised.

OCH AYE TO DONNY: According to history, Doncaster - Miliband's parliamentary seat - is still part of Scotland

OCH AYE TO DONNY: Legally, according to historical treaty, Doncaster, Yorkshire – Miliband’s parliamentary seat – is still part of Scotland

Cameron says he won’t touch it. But, should his stewardship extend beyond 2015, my bet is he’ll face a full-blow revolt from his own backstabbers if it isn’t at least tinkered with.

What there is no escaping, however,  is the notion of federalism taking root in the minds of British voters, who are fast concluding all regions of the UK can achieve more for them if they have governments or assemblies to fight their personal corner.

Labour, the midwife of devolution, is none too chuffed about the prospect and Miliband studiously avoided it when addressing the faithful last Wednesday in what should have been a rousing, final, pre-election call to arms.

In a 78-minutes long speech, so insipid it made Gordon Brown appear positively charismatic, Red Ed concentrated almost solely on the National Health Service and – by his own, embarrassed admission – there were too many glaring, policy omissions

But he’s really a highly cerebral, decent bloke, who’d make a great Prime Minister, Labour insiders insist.

The problem is he has less than eight months to convince voters of that. And, so far, many fear – rather than welcome – the prospect.

Bruiser Brown saves the peace of the Union, but Cameron and Miliband go to war

SO you though it was all over – Squire Cameron magnanimous in victory and a crestfallen Alex Salmond falling on his sword as First Minister and Nationalists’ clan chieftain, after No voters won by a convincing 10% majority to keep Scotland British.

But, if you imagine business would return to usual, you’d be daydreaming. Because the ‘afters’ of the Scottish referendum are already rumbling. And, what’s more, they’ll only worsen.

Salmond’s departure – he’ll quit in November at the SNP conference, though remain a member of Scotland’s parliament – was entirely predictable, even though he’d always denied defeat would force him to stand down.

However, the wee man was going nowhere until he put the boot into Cameron and Labour leader, Ed Miliband, vowing he’d ‘hold their feet to the fire’ if they didn’t deliver on the ‘staying home’ prezzies they’d promised if the Scots rebuffed independence.

The problem is Cameron immediately let the cat out of his goodie-bag, saying concessions would  be tied to new rights for England, Wales and Northern Ireland, too…one of which would bar Scottish MPs in Westminster voting on English matters – answering the so-called West Lothian Question.

Miliband is understandably furious, because, should he win next May’s general election, what use will his 40 Jocks be in the House of Commons if he can’t legislate for the whole UK?

And there was me thinking the acrimony would be largely confined to north of the border, between the Yea and Nay camps.

NO VOTE STAR: Unionists were in panic until ex-PM Gordon Brown entered the fray

NO VOTE STAR TURN: Unionists were in panic until ex-PM Gordon Brown entered the fray and saved their day

The last fortnight of campaigning strongly suggested that, as the hustings degenerated into the bitterest, nastiest and most vindictive clash in modern, political history.

Many commentators claim the pivotal moment came in the second debate between the cocky, would-be laird of Scots and Better Together leader, Alistair Darling. Broadcast by the BBC, to my mind the audience were so brazenly pro-Yes, they sounded like the Nats’ vision of their promised tartan army.

Having been done up like a stuffed haggis in the earlier TV joust, Salmond turned the rematch into the verbal equivalent of a Saturday night brawl in a Sauchiehall Street boozer, as the quietly articulate Darling was outshouted by the baying mob.

From here on in the opinion polls went haywire – one overturning a No lead of 20-odd points into a Yes edge of plus six – as did many Nats’ nutters, intent on making the streets no-go areas for No proponents.

Melodramatically draped in saltire flags, pride and prejudice – against the despised English – were the home rulers’ battle cries and anyone defying the Braveheart call branded unpatriot.

So pro-No faithful were harried and harassed, their meetings disrupted by gobby hecklers; Union sympathisers were cowed into keeping shtum; Miliband was forced to abandon a walkabout in Edinburgh; and, as threats peppered the air, Respect MP, George Galloway – no cringing violet when vitriol is flying – claimed he was ‘promised a bullet.’

‘This is Salmond’s Scotland,’ said the firebrand defender of Islam. ‘He’s responsible for this hysteria, but we have to keep hatred and violence out of this debate.’

Yet, despite the eyes of the world watching, any condemnation of the ruffians in his ranks was absent from Salmond, a man whose mouth rarely shuts.

YES-TERDAY'S MAN: A dour Alex Salmond concedes his independence pipedream has gone up in smoke

YES-TERDAY’S MAN: A dour Salmond concedes his independence pipedream has gone up in smoke and says he’s quitting as First Minister of Scotland

Truth be told, winning at any cost was all that mattered to his Team Scotland. And, if it meant gloves off and Queensbury Rules be damned, anyone was fair game, especially the BBC’s Political Editor, Nick Robinson.

Allegations of intimidation came thick and fast from those in ‘fear of the consequences’ from the Little Scotlanders of the SNP government.

‘Stuff and nonsense,’ blustered Salmond, continuing, in the best traditions of a snake-oil salesman, to flog a panacea for all Scots’ ills, despite every shred of evidence contradicting his evermore outlandish claims.

Inflated with braggadocio, the First Minister brushed aside petty-fogging details, like the Bank of England vetoing an Anglo-Scottish sterling zone, no automatic entry into the European Union – underscored on Tuesday again by Spain – and his wee army being barred from NATO.

All Tory-orchestrated phooey, insisted Salmond, as billions flooded out of his future Xanadu, financial institutions made plans to scarper over Hadrian’s Wall, while retail bosses warned Scots faced skyrocketing prices in the event of independence.

But, while Salmond’s glib claims that what lay ahead was a Celtic Norway – egalitarian, inclusive, environmentally green, business-friendly and a bastion of peace – resonated with a sometimes volatile, mainly male constituency, women proved more sanguine.

Worried about prices and jobs, the lasses weren’t for reeling blindly into the great unknown and neither were many of the bairns, fresh-faced 16 and 17-year-olds, handed the vote by Salmond on a bet they’d back him.

NO TO YES: Pro-Union fans celebrate their great referendum victory

NO TO SAYING YES: Pro-Better Together fans jubilantly celebrate their great referendum victory

They, too, were fearful, since many saw their futures south of the border, as millions of Scottish migrants had during three centuries of Union.

Salmond’s game was probably up a week ago, but it’s impossible to pinpoint the exact time when canny heads overcame passionate hearts.

That Scotland came so close to secession, however, should be an object lesson to the smug, Westminster elite, who only awoke last month to danger signals flashing red for the two years since Cameron gave Salmond a free hand to call the shots.

Why, for instance, wasn’t the big question ‘Do you want to stay in the Union of Great Britain and Northern Ireland?’ instead of ‘Do you want an independent Scotland?’

As Sky TV pundit, Adam Boulton noted, ‘Saying yes is a lot easier than justifying saying no.’

And why – as many MPs ask – did the Prime Minister give Scotland’s chief mischief-maker so long to get his ducks in order, when a quick plebiscite would have guaranteed the Unionists an easier fight?

A further query exposes yet more Establishment folly: why was Darling, the last Labour Chancellor and a highly cerebral nice guy, tasked with taking on a bumptious tub-thumper like Salmond?

Fortunately for the Three Stooges – Cameron, his Lib-Dem sidekick, Nick Clegg, and geeky Miliband – cometh the moment, cometh the man, even if he was yesterday’s man.

It was only when that old bruiser, Gordon Brown, took a grip on the panicky Yes camp and infused real passion into it that traditional, but wavering Labour voters were hauled back from the brink of putting their Xs in the Yes box.

Britain has much to thank the failed Prime Minister for keeping the Union together and however good a bruiser Salmond is, he’s savvy enough to realise he more than met his match in Brown…and it was time to quit.

Why the UK repels all boarders from the Euroland of no borders

AFTER losing Calais – England’s last possession in France – in 1558, just before a lethal dose of flu did for her notoriously bloody reign, Queen Mary I bemoaned, ‘When I am dead, you will find Calais engraved upon my heart’.

British monarchs aren’t often remiss at losing things. That said, fumbling King John dropped the crown jewels in The Wash, while Britain lost its American colonies under George III and Lord North was forced to quit as Prime Minister (David Cameron take note if the Scots vote ‘Aye’ in Thursday’s referendum).

Meanwhile, for four-and-a-half centuries Calais hasn’t featured on UK plc’s bucket list… until now. And it’s not that we want it back – it’s the French who want us back.

Not, I hasten to add, to repossess our ancient toehold in continental Europe, but to help stem a near floodtide of illegal immigrants using the port as a springboard for cross-Channel flits to what they perceive as the Eldorado of Ingleterre.

A dozen years ago, when a similar crisis exploded over the refugee camp at Sangatte, the French government shut it and disperse the mainly Kosovan occupants besieging the Eurotunnel entrance.

However, that typical example of quick-fix, Gallic short-termism was no solution to the challenge of what to do with displaced people from greatly afflicted, far-off lands, believing only the West – especially Britain – offered hope and salvation.

Hence, all France achieved was to move the problem a few kilometres down the coast where it resurfaced in Calais.

GATECRASHERS: Angry asylum-seekers and illegal migrants try to storm a barrier at Calais

GATECRASHERS: Angry asylum seekers and illegal migrants try to storm a barrier at Calais

So now ugly, daily scenes there see wannabe migrants – estimated at 1,500 and mostly Eritreans, Somalis, Sudanese and Afghans – try to clamber aboard lorries, caravans, booze-cruise vans and even into the boots of tourists’ cars, desperate to bid au revoir to France and hello to Britain.

Pouring in at an accelerating rate, they are overwhelming police, infuriating once sympathetic locals and fuelling a far-Right backlash.

Meanwhile, despite advanced detection technology – including carbon dioxide and heart-beat sensors, plus sniffer dogs – each day the situation worsens and 10 to 15 migrants evade the security cordon and make it through.

In their frenzied lust for freedom, the stateless ones have also refined their tactics. Last week, at least a hundred stampeded through the port, overwhelming guards and forcing one ferry to pull up its ramp and stop loading vehicles.

Freight trucks are the prime target. En route to the embarkation quays, they are pelted with stones to slow them down, so escapees can more easily scramble inside or beneath.

Truckers, who face hefty fines in Britain if caught with migrants hiding in their cargo bays, are retaliating, many now using refrigerated vehicles with stronger walls and padlocked doors.

‘But such lorries are more expensive to buy and run,’ complained a Turkish driver.

As Calais – which sees 12 million tourists and 1.9 million trucks pass through each year – hunkers down under siege, it, too, is counting the cost.

UK MUST PAY: Local mayor, Natacha Bouchart says Calais's problem is caused by Britain's 'soft' welfare state

UK MUST PAY: Local mayor, Natacha Bouchart, says Calais’s problems are caused because Britain is ‘too soft’ 

And its authorities are in no doubt about who should bears responsible for that: Britain.

Mayor Natacha Bouchart says, ‘We want the UK Government to think about the its rules, which are possibly the best in Europe for immigrants. Britain must be less soft.’

That’s why she wants the UK to foot the £12M bill for security her council pays, without a euro’s assistance from the French government or Brussels.

In actuality, Britain has contributed £3M to tighter controls at Calais and Immigration Minister, James Brokenshire, has offered to send 20 kilometres of 3.3 metre-high steel barriers, recently used at the NATO summit in Wales

The British government, he points out, also takes a tough line on illegal immigrants, denying them the right to rent homes, open bank accounts or obtain driving licences.

Still, Madam Bouchart’s anger is understandable. She’s lumbered with someone else’s problem and has enough of her own, running a town of 75,000 citizens, where unemployment is soaring.

While there is no denying the world is seeing a mass shift in demographics, the mayor misses the point: the EU’s Schengen Agreement – from which Britain opted out – renders Euroland practically borderless.

Therefore it’s entirely possible for sinister people traffickers to transport their human cargoes thousands of miles, through several conjoined states, without ever encountering a frontier post.

Schengen was meant to be a pillar of freedom, whereby citizens could travel across the EU unhindered by visa checks. But, its theory long ago parting company from reality and the treaty has become a millstone round the EU’s neck.

Since the European Court of Human Rights bans nations from returning shiploads of illegals back to whence they came, many states on Euroland’s periphery cynically play pass the asylum seeker to their next-door neighbour.

Italy and Greece comprise two main gateways into Europe from Africa and Asia.

Yet, instead of processing incomers on arrival, as the 1990 Dublin Convention demands, both tacitly usher the unwanted away, hinting Britain and Germany might be more conducive destinations.

RETURN TO SENDER: Lord Michael Howard, former UK Interior Minister, says countries must process immigrants where they land in the EU

RETURN TO SENDER: Lord Michael Howard, former UK Interior Minister, says countries must process immigrants where they land in the EU

Sharing the mayor of Calais’s frustration, former Tory leader Lord Michael Howard last week noted, ‘The general principle that every member state of the European Union has subscribed to is that people fleeing persecution should apply for asylum in the first safe country they reach.’

At least during Howard’s term as Home Secretary (Interior Minister) in the 1990s there was accord that Britain would repatriate asylum seekers who’d managed to cross the Channel back to France, where their applications for sanctuary would be assessed.

The French eventually wearied of this ‘return-to-sender’ policy, which was why, in 2012, the then president, Nicholas Sarkozy, threaten to ditch Schengen and all the unforeseen, unintended consequences it’s thrown up.

Now, only the Europrats of Brussels can resolve the problem, either by demanding EU states take full responsibility for policing the desperate souls when they fetch up on their shores or by beefing up border checks, irrespective of what Schengen says.

My guess is they’ll do neither. So Britain will continue to repel all boarders and Calais will remain an expensive open prison for the great stateless ones and dispossessed.

If Obama doesn’t want to be remembered as President Pushover he has to act NOW!

ANYONE got a strategy? Because they’re been hunting all over the White House for one. Either someone can’t remember where they filed it or nothing has yet magically emerged from Barack Obama’s gazing into his navel.

In actuality, the president fesses up to the latter predicament. When it comes to dealing with the barbarous jihadis of IS – the Islamic State formerly known as ISIS or ISIL – his legendary intellect is out to lunch or on the golf course, where he prefer to spend time nowadays.

Apart from pleading perplexity, Obama validates his inertia, saying, ‘You don’t play whack-a-mole wherever these terrorist organisations may pop up.’

That sentiment chimes with the recall of former US Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton.

Chronicling her time in office in her recent memoir, Hard Choices, she said Obama’s pro-isolationist foreign policy was, in his words: ‘Don’t do stupid sh*t’ (or, in polite conversation, substitute ‘stuff’ for excrement).

As the woman who could become America’s first female head of state noted witheringly, ‘Great nations need organising principles and ‘Don’t do stupid stuff’ is not an organising principle.’

And neither are IS your average bunch of Islamo-fascist headbangers. With hi-tech US weaponry seized from the Iraqi army, they’ve already carved out a tranche of Syria and Iraq the size of Britain and proclaimed it a Sharia ‘caliphate’, slaughtering thousands of Christians, Yazidis and anyone else who disagrees with their warped worldview.

From ransoms – France is said to have paid $58M, Switzerland $12.4 and Spain $11M – bank robberies, taxes and extortion IS has amassed a war chest of $2-billion they intend to use to reconquer all former Muslim lands, from the Balkans to Andalusia and including pseudo-secular Turkey.

STRATEGY SEEKERS: Obama and Cameron ponder the IS threat at the recent NATO summit

STRATEGY SEEKERS: Obama and Cameron ponder the IS threat at the recent NATO summit

With at least 500 Britons in their ranks and more Europeans queuing to join the carnival of carnage, intelligence sources have no doubt IS poses a clear and present danger to the West. It is, they say, only a matter of time before battle-hardened jihadis drift back home and wreak havoc.

Meanwhile, as the waiting continues for the tumblers in Obama’s brain to clunk into place, the free world must kick its heels, festering – or apoplectic, as his generals are reported to be – and hoping against hope no more Westerners are decapitated, as journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff were so gruesomely slain.

However, midway into his final term in office, Obama remains as gung-no as his predecessor, G ‘Dubya’ Bush, was gung-ho. Yet, as history testifies, neither formulated coherent foreign policies to deal with the charnel house that’s the Middle East.

Obama insists he was elected to extricate America and its allies from conflicts and, in 2008 when he first won election, the war-weary West was grateful to hail a leader who vowed to close the book on military adventures in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Mainly due to IS atrocities and the dread of what may follow, the public mood is shifting from indifference to belligerence, even if the world’s most powerful commander-in-chief – a tag that sits uncomfortably with Obama’s peacenik default setting – doesn’t see it.

ON THE MARCH: Fighters from IS already control a huge swathe of Iraq and Syria

ON THE MARCH: Fighters from IS already control a huge swathe of Iraq and Syria

True, he’s sent a squadron of fighter jets to hamper IS progress and is arming the Kurds, albeit with pretty unsophisticated Eastern European hardware, as they manfully defend their stronghold in northern Iraq against the barbarians at their gates.

Shamefully, that’s the current extent of Obama’s bellicosity, even if he does warn, ‘Those who make the mistake of harming Americans will learn that we will not forget, and that our reach is long and that justice will be served.’

Sticks and stones, Mr. President. And we’ve heard your vacuous sabre-rattling before, apropos the ‘red line’ threat to obliterate the chemical weapons arsenal of Syria’s Bashar Assad, but which the Demon of Damascus continues to use on the sly.

The plain, if unpalatable truth is that from Day 1 of his Oval Office tenure, Obama has never put a foot right in the Middle East, the planet’s most viciously volatile region and he’s daily exposed as President Pushover for his indecision and ineptitude.

And, much as I take no pleasure in repeating it, a year ago I wrote here, ‘After seeing the hope that began as the Arab Spring lurch into an Islamic Winter and now a serial bloodbath, what is not required is a vacillating, over-conciliatory, moralising poseur, who talks the talk but patently fails to walk the walk.

Under Obama, Iraq has fragmented into its component parts, the Shia government’s authority extending little further than Baghdad, while only the plucky Kurds withstand the scourge of IS.

After three years of grisly civil war, over 200,000 deaths and two million made refugees, Syria is a multi-dimensional bloodbath, though the loathsome Assad regime remains in situ, propped up by an unholy alliance of Russia, Iran and Hezbollah.

Meanwhile, Libya – where US Ambassador, Chris Stevens, was murdered by Islamic fanatics in 2012 – is ungovernable, as tribal factions compete to grab the oil wealth.

And Obama trying to arm-twist Israel, the only sane nation in the region, to stomach the demands of Hamas’s terrorist thugs only resulted in exposing the White House’s emissary, John Kerry, as a diplomatic dunce.

Though by far not the last piece in the mangled Middle East jigsaw, much against Obama’s wishes the army stopped Egypt becoming another Sharia paradise by toppling the Muslim Brotherhood, even if it was victorious in a travesty posing as a democratic election.

Fast forwarding to last week’s NATO summit in Wales, topping the agenda of the 28 member states was Russia’s incursion – invasion more like it – of Ukraine and Afghanistan’s future, following the withdrawal of all foreign troops by the end of 2014.

It was also patently clear the heat was on a equivocating American leader to find a strategy to crush IS.

Hence Obama’s sounding out UK Prime Minister David Cameron on transforming the RAF’s recce sorties over Iraq into strike missions, though that isn’t likely to happen unless British MPs agree it.

So, as the clock ticks down on his reign, the 44th US President faces being remembered as the man whose dithering made the world a far more dangerous place.

Only if he finds the will – and a strategy – to act decisively can he avoid that ignominy.

Obama needs to do that now. Dilly-dallying any longer will be too late.

Scots will take a heart-over-head risk if they think Smart Alex will deliver

YOU’VE got to admire Alex Salmond’s balls, or cojones if you’re a Spanish reader.

The Scottish Nationalist Party (SNP) boss was hands-down winner of last week’s debate against Alistair Darling, ex-Chancellor of the Exchequer and empowered by the ‘No & Better Together’ campaign to keep the 307-year Union alive.

Either that, or the BBC – which televised the joust – had a cunning plan to fill Glasgow’s iconic Kelvingrove Hall with wildly partisan ‘Yes’ voters, who, at times, almost raised the gilded rafters with whoops of joy as their man thundered and harangued his way to victory.

Maybe schemers at the Beeb had calculated that if Scotland votes for independence in 20 days’ time, Salmond will deliver on his promise of a Scottish Broadcasting Corporation, so they can ‘free-transfer’ Newsnight’s grating Kirsty Wark back to whence she came.

Meanwhile, having been roundly trounced in last month’s Sky TV debate by Darling’s intellectual grasp of financial realities, it was clear from the outset Salmond was hell bent on turning Round Two into the verbal equivalent of a bar-room brawl.

ALLTO PLAY FOR: Pro- independence chief, Alex Salmond (left) and Better Together spokesman, Alistair Darling have drawn 1-1 in the TV debates

ALL TO PLAY FOR: Pro- independence chief, Alex Salmond (left) and Better Together spokesman, Alistair Darling have drawn 1-1 in the TV debates

Arrogant, indignant, abrasive and smugly contemptuous, the man who would be Laird of Scots merely bulldozed aside his opponent’s cogent ripostes with bluster, if not Braveheart bravura, dismissing glitches – such as a liberated Scotland’s currency – as minor impediments, if not trivialities.

Besides, according to him, it’s all been sorted.

So forget all three Westminster party bosses and the Governor of the Bank of England vetoing the GB£ as a go-it-alone Scotland’s currency – while Spanish Prime Minister, Mariano Rajoy, effectively kyboshed any pipedreams of Scots joining the euro – Salmond is adamant he’ll be sticking with sterling.

A win in the September 18 plebiscite will be a mandate from the ‘sovereign will of the Scottish people’ to demand it, announced Smart Alex haughtily, disdaining Darling’s rhetorically query, ‘What about the sovereign will of the people in the rest of the UK?’

Despite waves of approval flooding over him from the Glaswegian faithful, Salmond exposes his economy naivety by stating the good, old £ was an international currency that could be traded by anyone.

Absolutely. But, as Darling pointed out, so is the US dollar and Russian rouble.

NO GO: One voter signals his pro-Union sympathies with tea and a T-shirt

NO GO: One voter signals his pro-Union sympathies with tea and a T-shirt

However, whichever foreign currency the born-again nation choses, it wouldn’t have a central bank to back it up and could be mashed into neeps and tatties by speculators.

A lack of economic nous was spectacularly absent from the brash, tub-thumping, populist, even if an audience that could have been hand-picked by SNP apparatchiks salivated all the more over his gall.

Ditto with the party line on North Sea oil, Salmond emphasising, ‘It cannot be regarded as anything other than a substantial asset.’

Again, absolutely. But, as Darling tried to explain to deaf ears, the SNP has inflated the fossil fuel’s revenue to the tune of £5-billion a year to support its profligate spending plans. And, anyway, it’s a diminishing asset, with experts predicting oil revenues will tumble sharply in the next 20 years and could vanish by 2050.

Then there was Salmond’s claims that cuts in the English NHS budget were impacting adversely on Scotland.

What he neglected to mention was that health is the responsibility of Scottish ministers in the devolved Scottish parliament. Besides, as Darling noted, spending is actually increasing in England, with corresponding extra cash – via the block grant or Barnett Formula – going to Scots.

On nuclear weapons, Salmond repeated his vow to expel those pesky, Trident-toting subs from their Faslane base within five-and-a-half years, even if it took two decades to move the warhead storage facility from nearby Coulport.

While I’ve never quite understood the Left’s obsession with nuclear disarmament – especially since the East-West ‘You nuke us, we nuke you’ stalemate stopped the Cold War overheating – this would be at the direct cost of 8,000 jobs and countless others dependent on the shipyard workers’ spending.

YES WE CAN: Kids in the frontline of the 'go-it-alone' campaign - but the odds are still against them winning

YES WE CAN: Kids in the frontline of the ‘go-it-alone’ campaign – but the odds are still against them winning

It might also cause a rethink in Defence Ministry plans to move the entire Royal Navy submarine fleet to Faslane, along with the countless fresh jobs it creates.

Salmond’s fuzzy solution is to establish ‘very substantial’ onshore employment in that area and create a ‘considerable’ Scottish navy.

Cost? And in what currency? Who knows?

And thereby the Nats’ case for independence is exposed for what it is: the Scots, a small, feisty and highly inventive nation, are being asked to take a massive leap of faith into the great unknown, based on the say-so of a man who seems to struggle with elementary maths.

As a mere Sassenach, with no part to play in Scotland’s decision on its future, I respect Salmond’s fervour, but I question his judgement and some of the ploys his Nats have used to tilt balloting rules in their favour.

The 400,000 expat Caledonians living south of Hadrian’s Wall – who’d add 16% to the turnout – are barred from voting, yet the franchise is extended to home-based 16-year-olds, with negligible experience of life and probably less of economics.

So, as crunch time approaches, what it boils down to is whether Scots buy into Salmond’s patriotically brazen, heart-over-head vision of a liberated, real-time Brigadoon or decide that remaining part of the UK is less chancy and there’s strength in numbers.

Even after last week’s TV browbeating of Darling, the bookies still make the ‘No & Better Together’ campaign 1/6 favourites, though pollsters say that with 10% of the electorate refusing to state a choice, the referendum’s outcome is too close to call.

‘There remains a chunk of voters who flatly refuse to tell us anything and they hold the true balance of power,’ says Martin Boon of ICM Research.

For a variety of commercial, financial and emotional reasons – not merely being historically joined at the hip for three centuries – I’d prefer Scotland remains part of the UK, as, I guess, would most of the English, Welsh and Northern Irish.

Nor would I be wooed by the sweet talk of an egotistical English political hustler, who wanted to annex England from the rest of the UK.

I trust the majority of commonsensical Scots will share that view in 20 days’ time.

Why the West’s Muslims must lead the fight against the enemy within

THE video – filmed somewhere in Iraq or Syria – is beyond gruesome as it begins with journalist, James Foley, kneeling impassively before a knife-wielding man garbed in black, like a ninja assassin, a ski-mask covering his face.

Moments later the 40 year-old US reporter, who went missing two years ago, is beheaded in what his captors blandly described as an ‘execution’.

Another American newsman, Steven Sotloff, who went missing in Syria, is facing a similarly grim fate, as are up to 20 other Westerners, who have disappeared in the Middle East.

Whether you believe in capital punishment or not – I don’t, but that’s a debate for another day – this was anything but an ‘execution’.

Foley’s decapitation was an act of unspeakable barbarity; a celebration of butchery carried out by a piece of scum who desecrates the title: ‘human being’

The slaughterer said he was ‘sending a message to America’, the fabled Great Satan of Islamo-fascism’s warped mythology.

Meanwhile, to add further shock to the horror show is news that the killer speaks with a distinctive London accent and is said to be called ‘John’.

There’s no doubt Brits are among the homicidal filth parading under the black banner of the Islamic State (IS), formerly known as ISIS or ISIL, with Western intelligence sources estimating their number as high as 600.

Apparently, they are also the most bloodthirsty and take huge delight in their grisly handiwork.

VIDEO NASTY: The IS thug identified in some media outlets as a Brit named 'John', prepared to behead US journo, James Foley

VIDEO NASTY: The IS thug identified in some media outlets as a Brit named ‘John’, prepared to behead US journo, James Foley

A 16-year-old girl from the Midlands recently tweeted a photo of herself against a backdrop of severed heads, while a dead IS fighter was identified as English by his Liverpool Football Club season ticket and another by his membership card from an Ealing, West London, gym.

So, I’d wager, somewhere in Britain an impressionable kid, perhaps from a decent, god-fearing, Anglo-Asian family, will have seen the monstrous clip online and thought, ‘Hey, that’s cool and I want to be part of it, to fight, kill and die, if necessary, for the cause.’

Precisely what cause justifies such evil, perverted lunacy is beyond all comprehension. Equally so is the reason why some Muslim teens, brought up with all the advantages and values the UK provides, are drawn to it, like the student from Bristol, who chose IS, jihad and killing over studying medicine to save, not take lives.

What the cause demands, though, is chillingly transparent and intended to be delivered in stage payments of savagery.

IS is on a genocidal roll, proclaiming a Sharia ‘caliphate’ across the huge swathe of Iraq and Syria it now controls, where the bloodiest excesses of medieval cruelty are visited upon any man, woman or child who won’t embrace their fanatical take on Sunni Islam.

Hence, the spate of beheadings, disembowelments and crucifixions, the stonings to death and burials alive of minority unbelievers – including toddlers and women, who, if not murdered, are taken as sex slaves – like Christians and Yazidis, refusing to renounce ancient faiths that predate Islam.

The Kurds, Muslims whom IS considers heretics, currently stand as a bulwark against the advancing horde. But, lacking the hi-tech American weaponry IS filched from a craven Iraqi army in hasty retreat, tough Kurdish Peshmerga militia are left fighting a see-saw battle against an implacable foe.

Which is why even that most dovish of US presidents, Barack Obama, has been forced to send in fighter jets – supported by RAF planes, acting as ‘eyes in the skies’ – to curb what seems like an inexorable IS advance.

However, we are witnessing only phase one of the fanatics’ master plan.

Through its brotherhood of terror, IS’s aim is to extend the ‘caliphate’ westward and – mimicking Osama Bin Laden, whose Al-Qaeda cutthroats seem pussycats in comparison – its manifesto includes the return of Andalucía, formerly the Moorish province of El Andaluz.

Last week four civilians were found murdered in Egypt’s Sinai desert, their headless corpses the hallmark of IS, and its henchmen are said to be operating alongside Hamas in Gaza.

FLAG OF HATE: Copycat versions of IS's hideous black flag are said to have been flown in London and elsewhere in Europe

FLAG OF HATE: Copycat versions of IS’s hideous black flag are said to have been flown in London and elsewhere in Europe

In the harshest reality check so far from a European leader, UK Prime Minister, David Cameron, warned, ‘The West is embroiled in a generational struggle against a poisonous brand of Islamic extremism that will bring terror to the streets of Britain unless urgent action is taken to defeat it.’

Cameron predicted the struggle will last ‘the rest of my political lifetime,’ adding, ‘The creation of an extremist caliphate in the heart of Iraq and extending into Syria is not a problem miles away from home…it is our concern here and now.

‘Because if we do not act to stem the onslaught of this exceptionally dangerous terrorist movement, it will only grow stronger until it can target us on the streets of Britain. We already know that it has the murderous intent.’

Cameron’s warning, though, maybe too late: IS’s tentacles already snake into Europe, where copycat versions of its dastardly flag have been unfurled in pro-Hamas demonstrations in France, Germany, Holland and the UK.

Meanwhile, an estimated 260 IS thugs are said to have already returned to Britain, some vowing to raise the black standard over Big Ben.

And therein lies Britain’s dilemma. Because, in common with the rest of Europe where there are large, Muslim minorities, the nation is now in the front line of potential terror attacks from an enemy within.

Porous borders, an undermanned frontier security force and police intimidated by accusations of Islamophobia don’t instil confidence, either.

But, mindful of the harm being done to Islam’s image, moderates in the UK’s Muslim community have now said they will assist anti-terrorism officers in identifying those in their midst who harbour only hatred for the country that nurtured them.

Mohammed Shafiq, chief executive of the Ramadhan Foundation, said, ‘We are ready to support the police and intelligence agencies in their work to defeat terrorism and protect our nation.’

Those are wise and welcome words.

Because Britain’s population of approximately 3,000,000 Muslims, which can be very vocal when it wants to be, needs to stand up and be counted upon as never before in the war against the most evil scourge to plague the world since Nazism.

Memo to Bardem and Cruz: Sound off when you really know what you’re talking about

IN her ignorance, Penelope Cruz probably best summed up a tranche of addled opinion of the latest Israel-Hamas war, admitting in a letter to USA Today, ‘I’m not an expert on the situation and I’m aware of the complexity of it.’

This mea culpa was a backtrack on an earlier, incendiary ‘open letter’ she’d co-signed – along with a host of other right-on, Spanish showbiz luvvies – written by her actor husband, Javier Bardem, which essentially laid the entire blame for the fighting on Israel and lambasted Europe for ‘allowing genocide to happen.’

Renowned for his fiery radicalism, Bardem damned the conflict as ‘a war of occupation and extermination against a people without means, confined to a minimum of land, without water and where hospitals, ambulances and children are targets and alleged terrorists.’

Without understating the unimaginable horrors suffered by Gaza’s innocents, the actor’s sanctimonious rant was as misguided as the countless Hamas missiles that annihilated their own people and a shameful distortion of reality, while wilfully flouting facts.

Why, for instance, didn’t Bardem mention nearly 3,000 rockets fired at Israeli civilians, deliberately intended to incite retaliation; the millions of dollars of Israeli-supplied cement, electricity and water meant for civilian purposes, but diverted to construct a labyrinth of terror tunnels; Hamas using civilians – even reporters – as human shields and hospitals as HQs; ambulances hijacked to ferry fighters and missiles launchers; or that there’s nothing ‘alleged’ about Hamas being a gang of homicidal terrorists, because the UN, US and the EU long ago judged them so?

NO CRUZ CONTROL? Spanish actress, Penelope Cruz, and her husband, Javier Bardem, tried to backtrack over their Gaza 'genocide' accusation

NO CRUZ CONTROL? Spanish actress, Penelope Cruz, and her husband, Javier Bardem, tried to backtrack over their Gaza ‘genocide’ accusation against Israel

At least, the gobby thespian fell short of seconding Spanish writer, Antonio Gala’s viciously anti-Semitic tirade in El Mundo, reprising the 1492 expulsions by proposing Spain’s 50,000 Jews be kicked out, since ‘it is though they were not made to co-exist’.

Gala’s rabid racism, though, is not unusual in a nation of forty-five million, with an inglorious history for persecuting minorities, particularly Jews.

In a 2008 survey by the independent Pew Research Centre on global attitudes to anti-Semitism, Spain saw the worst and highest recorded rise in Europe, where the study reported unfavourable views of Jews had doubled from 21% in 2005 to 46% among Spaniards.

According to Pew, only 37% of the Spanish viewed Jews favourably, in contrast to 50% in Poland, 64% in Germany and 73% in Britain.

A later poll by Spain’s Education Ministry stoked further consternation, revealing more than 50% of students between 12 and 18 said they would not want to sit next to a Jew in class.

The level of Spanish anti-Semitism was abetted by the then far-Left prime minister, Jose Luis Zapatero, sporting a Yasser Arafat-style scarf and regularly attacking Israel at pro-Palestinian events, which usually descend into vitriolic Jew-bashing.

Zapatero was also reported to have stated that he ‘understood the Nazis’ when it came to ‘the Jewish question.’

But, while Zapatero ignored protests from angry US legislators, Bardem’s inflammatory bombast has provoked worldwide outrage, not least from fellow Oscar winner, Jon Voigt, who accused the Spaniard of ‘stupidity’ and fanning the flames of anti-Semitism.

Using the platform of the Hollywood Reporter, he provide Bardem, Cruz & Co with a history lesson about Arab attacks on Israel since 1948 ‘when the country was created through the United Nations, including the 1967 and 1973 wars. And when Israel was not fighting a major war, it was defending itself against terrorist campaigns.’

Voigt, a non-Jew and father of Angelina Jolie, called on the purblind celebs who signed ‘that poison letter against Israel’ to ‘examine their motives’, adding, ‘Can you take back the fire of anti-Semitism raging all over the world now?’

And, for extra measure, he reminded them, ‘You had a great responsibility to use your celebrity for good. Instead, you have defamed the only democratic country of goodwill in the Middle East: Israel.’

Days later, then, Bardem followed his semi-repentant wife in performing verbal acrobatics, saying he regretted using the word ‘genocide’, claiming his diatribe was only directed at Israel’s government and military.

‘I have great respect for the people of Israel and deep compassion for their losses,’ he added, hoping to wipe the plate clean of slurs.

SPAIN'S SHAME: Zapatero - in a 'terrorist chic' scarf - presided over a country with Europe's highest level of anti-Semitism

SPAIN’S SHAME: Zapatero – in a ‘terrorist chic’ scarf – presided over a country with Europe’s highest level of anti-Semitism

At least it dawned on him to withdraw any allusion to ‘genocide’, a highly emotive and abused term that – quoting Chambers dictionary – specifically refers to ‘the deliberate extermination of a racial, national, religious or ethnic group.

Nothing diminishes the carnage of Gaza… lifeless children, weeping parents, buildings reduced to rubble. But, despite Hamas’s unverified claims of 1,875 deaths – 430 of whom they said were under 15 – it was not a genocide.

Meanwhile, the terror group’s arithmetic is being contested by Israel and independent arbitrators, whose initial estimate states at least 900 Hamas fighters perished in Operation Protective Edge.

So onlookers shooting from the lip, while ignoring – or, in the case of Cruz, being ignorant of – salient facts make a mockery of their own, ill-informed opinions.

As the fog of war temporarily cleared during a 72-hour truce broken – again! – by Hamas, other, too, might be rueing their rush to judgement, including the Obama administration.

Last week the State Department’s kneejerk reaction to an Israeli attack on a rocket launcher, said to have killed 10 in a UN school, was to brand it ‘disgraceful’.

New evidence, backed by photos, strongly points to the missile strike hitting the road outside, where a crater is plainly evident, and that dead bodies were moved into the school by Hamas – with the corpse of a small girl added to hype the PR impact.

After the two, previous Hamas-Israel wars, it should be patently obvious to sensible, fair-minded folk that there are no depths to the terror gang’s skulduggery.

Even Judge Richard Goldstone was forced to retract the ‘findings’ of his notorious report on the 2009 conflict, admitting later, ‘If I had known then what I know now, the Goldstone Report would have been a different document.’

However, the blinkered Left – and its dimwit celeb cheerleaders – only see and hear what they want to, blurring fallacy into ‘fact’.

BARDEM BASHER: Oscar winner, Jon Voigt, trashed the Spanish star and his actress wife for '

BARDEM BASHER: Oscar winner, Jon Voigt, trashed the Spanish star and his actress wife for their ‘poison-pen letter against Israel’

And their abiding, pathological, obsessive prejudice against Israel now openly spills over into old-fashioned Jew-hatred, as forests of placards spelt out so unambiguously in so-called ‘peace marches’  across Europe during recent weeks that morphed into attacks on innocent Jews.

Bizarrely, I find it implausible how the Left’s saintly bigots can defend Islamo-fascists, like Hamas, whose cherished wish is to slaughter Christians, Jews and gays, subjugate women and refashion the world according to a loony, 7th Century religious dogma.

Also, I have to wonder why these self-styled do-gooders, wrapped in their ‘terrorist chic’, keffir scarfs, don’t give a hoot about Christians crucified in ISIS’s new ‘caliphate’ across Iraq and Syria – or Yazidis facing genuine genocide – Russia grabbing a huge chunk of Ukraine, China murdering Tibetans wholesale or Iran persecuting opponents of its crackpot regime.

If they do, then where are the demos?

And, lest I forget the useful-idiot apologists for Islamic savagery – Jimmy Carter, Paddy Ashdown and Baroness Warsi take note – forever claiming Israel’s defence of its citizenry only serves as a recruiting sergeant for Muslim extremism, the simple answer is: it doesn’t, as history is my witness.

Maybe they should share their judgemental folly with relatives of the victims of 9/11 (2001), the Madrid bombings (2004), 7/7 (2005) and the countless other terror outrages to see how their inanity is viewed.

So, yes, certainly protest the hideous death toll in Gaza, but, instead of continually castigating Israel, point an accusing finger at who’s really to blame – Hamas.