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“The Union is a fantastically strong institution — it’s helped our country through thick and thin,” he said. “I think what people really want to do is see our whole country coming back strongly together, and that’s what we’re going to do.”

Together, perhaps, but not with Scotland’s leader. For his first trip to Scotland this year, Johnson chose a sparsely populated group of islands hundreds of miles from the seat of Scottish political power in Edinburgh; he did not meet with Scotland’s top elected official, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon.

Divergent approach

One of the many lessons from the pandemic in the UK has been the starkly different governing styles of the country’s political leaders.

Johnson, despite being educated at England’s most elite establishments, has made a career of playing the klutzy everyman. It’s a routine that works great for photo ops — the infamous zipline mishap during the 2012 Olympics, as London mayor, was a highlight — but perhaps not so well for global pandemics.
Masks rule goes into effect in England as Boris Johnson calls anti-vaxxers 'nuts'
Long before Johnson himself contracted Covid-19, he told a group of journalists with a mischievous smile that he had recently visited a hospital and “I think there were actually a few coronavirus patients, and I shook hands with everybody, you’ll be pleased to know.”
Johnson faced particular ridicule for confusing advice about reopening. He told Brits on May 10 that if they could not work from home, they should now be “actively encouraged to go to work” but that they should also “stay alert.”

Sturgeon was not impressed. “I don’t know what ‘stay alert’ means,” Sturgeon said at the time, adding that she had asked the British government not to deploy that slogan in Scotland.

When Johnson’s government introduced new rules that allowed residents to visit certain countries without quarantining on return, Sturgeon called the decision-making process “shambolic.” Unlike Downing Street, she refused to allow unrestricted travel from Spain.

Nicola Sturgeon's tartan face mask has become a sartorial statement.

Another area of divergence has been over the issue of face coverings — Sturgeon made them mandatory in shops here a full two weeks before Downing Street followed suit with a similar ordinance for England. Sturgeon’s tartan face mask has become a sartorial signature.

Johnson has not resisted masks with the zeal of US President Donald Trump, but he is more often seen without a face covering, even indoors, than with one. His visit to Orkney drew a small protest; one man heckled, “Where’s your mask, Boris?”

Perception of power

To an outsider (and in fact to many Brits), the division of power in the UK can be confusing. Boris Johnson is Prime Minister of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, but since the late 1990s, much power has been transferred to the UK’s constituent nations — a process known as devolution.

This means many policy decisions concerning health, education, and transportation for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are taken not in London, but in Edinburgh, Cardiff and Belfast. It has not been unusual to see a grand policy announcement emanating from Downing Street, only to find a postscript explaining that the rule only applies to England.

“This is really the most significant time where devolution has been the most obvious to the ordinary citizens,” the pro-independence pollster Mark Diffley said on a typically rainy summer day in Edinburgh.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon gives a coronavirus briefing n Edinburgh.

That perception is evident on the streets of Scotland’s capital. “London is too choppy, too changing its mind all the time, can’t make out what it wants to do,” said Karen Miele, 58, from Edinburgh. “Does it want to help people? Does it want to put the economy first? Or does it just not care? Doesn’t know what it’s doing.”

Andrew MacDonald, 21 from Linlithgow, said that his view of Sturgeon has “definitely gone up” over the course of the pandemic. “I think Nicola has done the right thing in trying to keep the politics out of it, and go with the science first and foremost throughout the whole thing,” he said.

Despite this perceived divergence in approach, Covid-19 outcomes — so far, at least — have not been so dissimilar. In fact, the death rate in Scotland has only been slightly better than in England. For every 100,000 people, 77 in Scotland have died and had Covid-19 listed on their death certificate, versus 86 in England.

“There are important differences in the approach, and also important differences in the public perception of the approach,” said Linda Bauld, professor of public health at the University of Edinburgh.

Boost for independence

The question for Sturgeon — and the fear for Johnson — is whether this positive regard for her stewardship of the pandemic will transfer into political support for the cause of Scottish independence, which remains the bedrock goal of her Scottish National Party.

The last time Scots formally voted on independence, in 2014, “no” won out by more than 10 percentage points. Much has since changed. In the 2015 UK general election, the SNP went from six seats at the House of Commons in Westminster to 56 — taking all but three Scottish constituencies. Scots voted heavily against Brexit in 2016.

The renowned pollster John Curtice, of the University of Strathclyde, told the BBC on Thursday that support for independence has been surging for about and a year, and is now going up even among those Scots who voted for Brexit.

The latest polling, Diffley said, “would suggest that support for independence is higher than it has been for actually a really, really long time.”

That’s a problem for Johnson, leader of a party whose full name is the Conservative and Unionist Party. By visiting Scotland, Johnson hoped to underline the benefits to Scots of the 300-year-old union with England — he was keen to point out that it was the Treasury in London that saved thousands of Scottish jobs with its generous furlough scheme, for example.

But Conservative prime ministers have historically enjoyed little support in Scotland, and Sturgeon joked on Twitter that Johnson’s visit didn’t do her any harm.

The SNP had promised a new referendum on independence before next year’s Scottish parliamentary elections. That’s now been put on hold, because of the pandemic.

Tommy Sheppard, an SNP MP for Edinburgh East, thinks independence is a "matter of time."

For SNP members of parliament like Tommy Sheppard, who represents Edinburgh East, it is only a matter of time. “Those who wish to see Scotland become an independent country welcome as many trips as possible by Boris Johnson to Scotland, because every time he sets foot in Scotland, support for independence increases,” he said.

The pandemic response, he believes, has opened many skeptical Scottish eyes to the real differences between Scotland and England.

“They’re aware of that in the way they never were before. And they are perhaps open to the possibility of what an independent Scotland could do if it had the political power to act.”

This story has been updated to correct the death rate in England.



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Israel is winning on the world stage, but losing the plot at home

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“Let us pause for a moment to appreciate this remarkable day. Let us rise above any political divide. Let us put all cynicism aside. Let us feel on this day the pulse of history,” he said last Tuesday. “For long after the pandemic is gone, the peace we make today will endure.”

The normalization deals were the latest feathers in the cap of a leader who’s been on a diplomatic winning streak lately. From the outside, Israel projects the image of a small but mighty country punching far above its weight on the global stage, an innovative “start-up nation” whose thousands of tech firms attract billions in foreign investment each year.

At home it’s a different story, however. The second wave of coronavirus infections in Israel long ago eclipsed the first, forcing the country into a second general lockdown that has shuttered schools, restaurants, entertainment venues and more. And while the coronavirus may be the most pressing challenge facing Netanyahu right now, it’s far from the only one. The 70-year-old leader is being attacked from both left and the right, not only for his handling of the public health crisis, but also for mismanagement of the economy, his response to his criminal trials, and more.

“We have a dysfunctional government, good at producing ceremonies in the White House, bad at running a country,” said opposition leader Yair Lapid. “This is the worst failure Netanyahu ever experienced and we are experiencing it with him … or because of him.”

At home, weekly protests have swelled outside the Prime Minister’s residence in Jerusalem, where thousands of people have come out and called on Israel’s longest-serving leader to resign. The angry crowd, undeterred by a steady barrage of attacks from Netanyahu’s political allies, hold signs that read “Crime Minister” and “Bibi Go Home.” This past weekend, in the first protest since Israel reimposed a general lockdown, eleven protesters were arrested, police said.

Unemployment remains near 19%, according to the Israel Unemployment Service, and an already fragile economy will suffer another blow during the current lockdown. (The Central Bureau of Statistics, which uses a different set of criteria for determining unemployment, says the current rate is between 10.4% and 11.8%.)

Restaurant owners, frustrated as they face a closure that threatens their livelihoods, smashed plates on the floor in protest. Some are more defiant, saying they plan to keep their businesses open.

“No one is caring for us, we have to​ care for ourselves,” restaurateur Yoni Salomon told Israel’s Kann News. “We won’t let anyone take our most basic rights — there is no sense in this closure and I’ll deal with the fine.”

It’s not just restaurateurs defying government lockdown orders. Israeli police handed out almost seven thousand fines​ for violating the restrictions over the holiday of Rosh Hashanah, according to police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld.

Exemplary leadership from the top has also been noticeably lacking. Despite Netanyahu stressing the importance of wearing masks and social distancing, some of his ministers have been photographed without face coverings during cabinet meetings, and two of Netanyahu’s aides have ​been accused of violating quarantine regulations ​within the last week.

The lockdown restrictions themselves are a study in bureaucratic legalese, often adjusted and tweaked at the last second so as not to anger Netanyahu’s ultra-Orthodox coalition partners, or any other group with its own interests and goals that the Prime Minister decides he cannot afford to offend.

The current Israeli government is the largest in the country’s 72-year history, a so-called unity government bringing together — at least in theory — the two main political parties: Netanyahu’s Likud party and alternate Prime Minister Benny Gantz’s Blue and White party. The bloated political Frankenstein, with 34 ministers and 8 deputy ministers, was fabricated with bits and pieces broken off from existing ministries to create additional jobs for politicians to fill, such as the position of alternate Prime Minister and the Ministry of Higher Education and Water Resources.

And yet despite the government’s size, it remains almost exclusively a one-man show. Netanyahu didn’t even notify his Foreign Minister or Defense Minister​– who happens to be Benny Gantz — about the agreement with the United Arab Emirates until it was announced publicly, claiming he was concerned they would leak the news.

This government, specifically designed to handle the coronavirus crisis, was officially sworn in on May 17. ​On that day, Israel recorded just 11 new cases of Covid-19, according to Ministry of Health data. There were 44 patients on ventilators and 3,403 active cases across the country, out of a total of 16,617 cases.

READ: Full text of the Abraham Accords and agreements between Israel and the United Arab Emirates/Bahrain

At the time, critics quipped that the government could put a government minister next to each patient on a ventilator.

Four months later, Israel’s unity government has abjectly failed in its self-declared primary mission. As of Wednesday morning, there were 54,322 active cases in Israel out of a total of 200,041 cases since the beginning of the pandemic.

The Ministry of Health recorded 6,861 new cases Tuesday, with 171 patients on ventilators. Across the country’s beleaguered hospital system, 634 patients were in serious condition.

“Israelis are extremely pessimistic as a result of the corona crisis, and the perceived mismanagement of the economic and health aspects of the crisis,” said Yohanan Plesner, President of the Israel Democracy Institute (IDI). A former politician, Plesner said he’s never seen anything like the problems within this current government.

A recent survey from the IDI showed that Israelis overwhelmingly support the normalization agreement with the United Arab Emirates, but that hasn’t translated into a sense of trust in government or confidence about the future of the country. Approximately two-thirds of Israelis believe the national mood is either moderately pessimistic or very pessimistic, according to the survey results, conducted by the Midgam Institute and prepared by the Guttman Center for Public Opinion and Policy Research. ​

“Supposedly, this should have been a national unity government that is steering us out of the crisis, creating the necessary reforms to prepare us for the post-corona era; instead it’s a government that is in total paralysis,” Plesner said.

And yet Netanyahu displayed his brash brand of confidence last Thursday, when he tried to assure Israeli citizens that they’re in good hands. “The main thing I am telling you is that health and the economy are in our hands. This is the time for responsibility — personal responsibility and mutual guarantee. We will defeat the coronavirus but only together will we do so,” Netanyahu said.

Israel is going into a second nationwide lockdown over Covid-19

Netanyahu boasted about making peace with two Arab nations in 29 days, from August 13th to September 11th. During that same time period, approximately 62,000 thousand Israelis were diagnosed with Covid-19, while 446 citizens died of the disease. But when Netanyahu was asked last week who should shoulder the blame for the failure to contain the virus, he responded, “There are no failures, only achievements.”

The comment marked a strikingly different tone from that of President Reuven Rivlin just a few days later, when Israel’s head of state offered a forthright apology to the nation for the failure of the country’s leadership to lead.

“I know that we have not done enough as a leadership to be worthy of your attention. You trusted us and we let you down,” said Rivlin. “You, the citizens of Israel, deserve a safety net that the country gives you. Decision-makers, government ministries, policy implementers must work for you and only for you — to save lives, to reduce infection, to rescue the economy. I understand the feeling that none of these were done satisfactorily.”

If Israel’s public health policy is under fire, its economic policy-making is even more sclerotic. The last national budget was passed in 2018, and Netanyahu and Gantz were unable to reach agreement on a new one last month, so they decided instead to simply postpone for a few months in the interests of keeping their government afloat. The head of the budget division in the Ministry of Finance quit his job, joining his counterpart at the Ministry of Health’s public health division, who walked out a few months earlier. Both wrote fiery resignation letters critical of the country’s leadership or lack thereof.

And yet from the lofty position of Israel’s Prime Minister, ​none of the above counts as the number one problem. Netanyahu’s biggest issue is the fact he has been charged with bribery and fraud and breach of trust. He continues to maintain his innocence, attacking the attorney general, investigators, and the judicial system, accusing them of an attempted coup driven by the left-wing and the media.

His trial begins in earnest in January, when a panel of judges will begin hearing from witnesses. It is hard to imagine a White House ceremony big enough to draw attention away from those criminal proceedings.​​​

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Pelosi wrestles with House factions ahead of Supreme Court confirmation fight

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Both factions see their priorities as key to delivering Democrats sweeping power in the House, Senate and White House next year. Whether Pelosi can keep her sprawling caucus from splintering in the month before the election will be critical.

“Leadership has to try to tend to the many different voices in a big very tent. And I understand that,” said Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.), a senior member of the House Oversight Committee.

“But I think this goes beyond an issue of politics,” Connolly added. “It’s about the future of the country. And that’s why I favor robust action that would have been considered really out there — bold — a few years ago.”

Since the death of the liberal icon on Friday, Pelosi has carefully sought to temper progressive expectations about the Supreme Court fight without dampening their enthusiasm — and risk depressing voter turnout on the left over the issue.

Liberal Democrats, both in Congress and leading grassroots groups across the country, have been incensed as they watched Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) lock down support for a vote before the election or during a lame duck that could give the court a conservative majority for decades.

Cash is flooding in, and protests have lined the streets of Washington. Activists and even some elected Democrats have begun to talk seriously about packing the courts or an end to the Senate filibuster — historic institutional changes that establishment Democrats have long rejected.

Some chatter even emerged on the left of pursuing the impeachment of a Trump appointee like Attorney General William Barr in a last-ditch attempt to slow the process, though progressives in Washington have been far more restrained in their messaging. Senior Democrats have also repeatedly privately dismissed the idea, saying it wouldn’t work anyway.

“We’ve got to talk about what’s at stake now, what’s at stake in the lives of millions and millions of people,” said Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) when asked about liberal calls for court-packing or ending the filibuster. “Health care is on the ticket once again. … This fight touches the lives of every single person in this country.”

The most progressive voices in the party, including Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), have clearly articulated their support for Senate Democrats to ultimately strike back, such as eliminating the legislative filibuster and adding justices to the court.

“Frankly, I think if Vice President Biden wants to accomplish anything significant in his term, that is what is going to be necessary,” the liberal Democrat told POLITICO. “If I’m Joe Biden and I completely shut down the possibility of expanding the court, I would seriously question what you can even accomplish as president.”

But Ocasio-Cortez has also made a concerted effort to stay on message with the Democratic party leadership in the crucial final run-up to the November election.

Over the weekend, Ocasio-Cortez appeared alongside Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) in a New York City press conference, where both insisted that Democrats would keep their options open. And Ocasio-Cortez also said even though Biden hasn’t embraced far-left ideas like court-packing, he is at least “open” to different ideas and she thinks he is “calculating correctly.”

The demands of the far left could hardly look more different than the centrist wing of the Democratic Party, which is more worried about holding onto their seats in November. They say the party’s only response should be talking more about the threats to Americans’ health care — repeating the playbook that helped propel the party back to power in the House in 2018.

And most centrist Democrats have little interest in heeding demands of outside liberal groups and even some members, which they fear will cause lasting damage to the institution and may only backfire the next time the Republican party seizes power.

“We have to focus on right now and protecting health care today,” said Rep. David Cicilline (D-R.I.), who leads the caucus’ messaging arm. “If we’re privileged enough to win the House, the Senate and the White House, we’ll have lots of opportunities to talk about solutions. But right now, we need to call out the president for what he is attempting to do.”

Moderate Democrats were privately furious that some of their more liberal counterparts, like Judiciary Chair Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.), would float the idea of expanding the court in retaliation for Republicans ramming through a new Supreme Court justice this year.

And even publicly, some congressional Democrats argue that the vocal calls for scorched-earth tactics right now could have unintended consequences for the party.

“Why provide anybody any ammunition at all to attack us for something that is speculative?” said Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.), a member of the Judiciary Committee. “The Republicans would love nothing more than to shift this into an academic discussion about the number of times that the Supreme Court’s size has changed.”

Pelosi refused to rule out extreme dilatory tactics like impeachment during an interview on ABC on Sunday, saying the House will use “every arrow in our quiver” to stop Republicans from confirming President Donald Trump’s third high court nominee. But Democrats privately shut down the idea of pursuing impeachment. And Pelosi has repeatedly tried to shift the focus to what the Supreme Court fight means for preserving or destroying Obamacare.

Pelosi and Schumer circulated talking points encouraging Democrats to frame the Supreme Court fight in those terms. And Pelosi has repeatedly emphasized the success of Democrats’ almost singular health care message in 2018.

Pelosi speculated that Republicans and Trump were rushing to fill the high court vacancy to strike down the Affordable Care Act, a move she predicted would backfire on the GOP like the party’s effort to dismantle the law in 2018. The Supreme Court is slated to hear arguments in the Trump administration’s challenge to Obamacare the week after the election.

“You overturn the Affordable Care Act, you overturn preexisting conditions, 2018 will be a way of life for Republicans,” Pelosi told Democrats on a private call Tuesday, according to sources on the call.

Many moderate Democrats have already made health care a top issue in their reelection campaigns this fall.

But they’ve also begun to feel the intense pressure on another issue: economic relief for tens of millions of Americans who’ve been left struggling as the U.S. economy sputtered over the last six months due to the pandemic.

“People in my district are worried about their pocketbooks and their kids,” Rep. Elissa Slotkin (D-Mich.), a frontliner, said in an interview Tuesday. “And while they feel very strongly about the importance of a lifetime appointment … they want to know when the next Covid emergency relief bill is gonna be here, they want to know how they can get masks and supplies to keep their businesses open, they want to know what’s happening with unemployment.”

Democrats in the most competitive races have begun vocally pressing Pelosi and her leadership team for more dramatic steps on a coronavirus relief package. More than 20 Democrats, including Slotkin, signed a bipartisan letter to Pelosi and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) on Tuesday urging them to keep lawmakers in Washington until a relief bill can be passed — even if it means less time to campaign before November.

“This should be our number one priority in the coming days,” lawmakers wrote in the letter, which was first reported by the New York Times and obtained by POLITICO.

At least a dozen Democrats are also privately discussing joining a GOP discharge petition that would force a vote on additional aid for small business grants, known as the Paycheck Protection Program. That includes Rep. Abigail Spanberger (D-Va.), Anthony Brindisi (D-N.Y.) and Jared Golden (D-Maine) — all facing tough reelection battles this fall.

In one sign of hope, Pelosi told her members in a private call on Tuesday that she’s still pushing to secure a pandemic aid package with GOP leaders — regardless of the intense discussions over the court across the Capitol — with hopes of delivering relief before the election.

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) told members on Tuesday they should be expected to remain in town next week and he is keeping the schedule open for a potential vote.

“Getting into these beltway arguments, in this bubble, when people are hurting, small businesses are going out of business every day for good. … What are we quibbling about here?” said Rep. Kathleen Rice (D-N.Y.), referring to the debate over court-packing and nuking the filibuster.

“There’s still an alarming rate of Covid positive tests in this country. I just think it’s a little premature to talk about what Democrats are gonna do in the Senate in January.”



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Dido Harding Has Been Asked By MPs To Reveal The Evidence Behind Pub Closures

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Coronavirus testing chief Dido Harding is being asked by MPs to provide the evidence behind the new 10pm pub curfew and the decision to only allow table service.

Mike Wood, the chair of Westminster’s largest cross-party interest group, the all-party parliamentary group for beer, said pubs could be financially crippled by the government’s decision to shut them early.

He suggested that if there is evidence from NHS Test and Trace justifying the move, it would be fair for publicans to be able to see it.

On the idea that the disease spreads in pubs, Wood said: “We do need to see the information that they have got that shows why this is much more likely.

“The overwhelming majority of pubs are taking a lot of measures to reduce the risk and increasing cleaning.

“I’ve written to Baroness Harding on behalf of the APPG to ask for more detail on what Test and Trace has shown.”

The APPG has 22 members from across the Commons and Lords and a representative from most political parties. It aims to support the pub and brewing industry.

Wood said the new rules announced by the government would put enormous pressure on pubs, many of which are already in financial difficulty after being closed for so long.

In some small rural areas, he said rather than the reduced hours being the difficulty, it is likely to be impossible to set up table service because of the size of their premises and staffing. He said they might have no alternative to close.

The Treasury may also need to step in to help struggling pubs by extending a grant scheme for the retail and hospitality sector that was delivered through local authorities in April and May, he suggested.

“We are going to need to consider what more is needed because this is going to be lasting much longer than we hoped it would.

“Most of them are operating on a fraction of their former business, few of them are not even breaking even,” he said.

Boris Johnson said in the Commons today reducing pub opening times was a difficult decision but the evidence showed the disease has spread between people at night when more alcohol has been consumed. He said this move could drive down the R-number.

Toby Perkins MP, who chairs the separate all-party parliamentary group for pubs, is also calling on the government to release more information on how they made their decision.

The Labour MP wants ministers to explain to MPs in the Commons what Test and Trace has revealed.

“There are a lot of pubs that have gone to tremendous efforts to be socially distancing and safe places.

“I’d be interested to see the evidence for this. Has the government picked up from actual evidence that people were being careful at the start of the night but less as the drinks flowed?

“The department for health has the data in terms of track and trace and if this decision has come from that then that would be interesting but it’s really a case of them telling us on what basis the decision has been made, then we can scrutinise.”

Outside of Westminster, groups representing the pub trade were also urging government to rapidly release the basis on which the decision over pubs had been made.

Tom Stainer, CAMRA chief executive, said the government’s decision would punish thousands of responsible publicans across England who are providing safe environments for their customers.

“CAMRA is calling on the government to publish the evidence that pubs or restaurants are the source of more transmissions than other sectors across the country – if they aren’t, then why are they being singled out for nationwide restrictions?” he said.

 

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