Diary: Skintland? Alex Salmond is quick to rise to the bait


The current issue of The Economist magazine carries a warning to Scotland of the potential cost of independence, illustrated on the front cover by a spoof map of "Skintland", with its capital renamed "Edinborrow" and the islands to the north "Orkward" and "Shutland".

This has drawn furious condemnation from Alex Salmond who claimed that "it insults every single community in Scotland" – ignoring the point that it is a warning of what Scotland would be like, rather than a comment on Scotland as it is now.

They should have called it Thin Skinland.

The roof falls in on Osborne's Budget

Stealing metal has become such a lucrative trade that the government changed the law last month, in what was seen as a somewhat half-hearted attempt to thwart the thieves. They made it illegal for scrap metal dealers to pay cash, though oddly they exempted "itinerant collectors" – or rag and bone men – as if they did not actually want to end the trade in stolen metal but to redirect it. It took then an alert vicar from Oxfordshire to point out that George Osborne's recent Budget has made sure that the Treasury will profit from the commonest and most distressing form of metal theft.

Osborne is imposing VAT on alterations to listed buildings, many of which are churches. One of the commonest forms of metal theft is from church roofs. Each time a church roof is stripped of its lead, parishioners have to scrape together the cash to replace it. Now they have will have to find an extra 20 per cent, to pay Mr Osborne's VAT. The Reverend David Randell's parishioners are trying to raise the cash for a new roof after thieves climbed up on St Mary's in Overthorpe, near Banbury, and removed £100,000 worth of lead. As he told the Oxford Times: "The Government is gaining from our misfortune."

An e-petition on the Downing Street website calling for Osborne to think again has attracted nearly 12,000 signatures in less than two weeks. Yesterday, Labour's deputy leader, Harriet Harman, said: "In his Easter message, David Cameron told the nation that the values of the church make our country what it is, but this year's Budget threatens churches."

Communication breakdown

Trade unions should generally avoid trying to tell Labour MPs what opinions they can or cannot hold, and the Communications Workers Union would be well advised not to take up one of the resolutions on the agenda of its annual conference, published yesterday. Last July, the Equalities Commission controversially threw its weight behind four Christians who were appealing to the European court against rulings by British judges. Two wanted to wear crosses at work, two objected to working with gays.

The Equalities Commission's decision was applauded in a Commons motion signed by 19 MPs from various parties, including Joe Benton, the MP for Bootle, who has enjoyed financial backing from the CWU. Gay activists in the union want that support cut off on the grounds that he supports "legalised discrimination".

Joe Benton has somewhat archaic views on social and moral issues. He is 79 and a practising Catholic, but his opinions are what they have always been throughout the 20 years that he has had CWU backing. There is no point in pressuring him to change them now.

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