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British Party Leaders Head To Scotland As Vote Tightens

London (AFP) — The leaders of Britain’s three main political parties announced a last-minute trip to Scotland on Tuesday to boost the campaign against independence after a surge in separatist support ahead of next week’s referendum.

Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron and opposition Labour leader Ed Miliband agreed to skip their weekly debate in the House of Commons on Wednesday and instead head north, reflecting a new sense of urgency in the unionist camp.

Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg, the deputy prime minister in the coalition government, will also hit the campaign trail after opinion polls suggest the break-up of the 300-year-old union is now a real possibility.

“There’s a lot that the political leaders disagree about but there’s one thing that we all agree about passionately and that is that our United Kingdom is better off if we stay together,” Cameron told reporters.

“So tomorrow the right place to be isn’t in Westminster at prime minister’s questions, it’s being in Scotland listening to people, talking to people.”

With just nine days to go until the referendum on September 18, the campaign to keep the UK together is scrambling to adapt to a narrowing of the polls, which had indicated an easy victory for their side as recently as last month.

A YouGov poll at the weekend put the pro-independence “Yes” camp ahead for the first time, while another on Tuesday put the two parties neck and neck.

In response, the three unionist parties unveiled a timetable for the transfer of new powers over income tax and welfare spending to the devolved Scottish government, and said work would begin immediately after a “No” vote.

But First Minister Alex Salmond, the leader of the Scottish National Party (SNP), dismissed the initiative as a “back-of-an-envelope non-plan”.

And he said the “extraordinary, last-minute” trip by Cameron, Miliband and Clegg would not help their cause.

“The ‘No’ campaign think that they are losing this campaign — and these hugely distrusted Westminster leaders trooping up to Scotland is only going to boost that process,” he said.

Cameron’s Conservatives are not popular in Scotland — they have just one Scottish member of parliament out of 59 and he is trusted by just 23 percent of Scots, according to a recent YouGov poll.

Miliband’s Labour party has a stronger presence Scotland, but he has the same dismal personal rating.

“The message of this extraordinary, last minute reaction is that the Westminster elite are in a state of absolute panic as the ground in Scotland shifts under their feet,” Salmond said.

– ‘Too close to call’ –

The YouGov poll on Sunday put the “Yes” camp ahead by two points, a major development given that the same polling company put them 22 points behind one month earlier.

Another poll on Tuesday by TNS Scotland confirmed the two sides were neck and neck, putting the “Yes” camp on 38 percent and the “No” side on 39 percent.

“This poll reveals a remarkable shift in voting intentions. It’s too close to call,” said TNS Scotland head Tom Costley.

The polls show Labour voters in particular are shifting towards independence, prompting former Labour prime minister Gordon Brown to launch a six-day tour of campaign events.

Cameron had been taking a back seat but the polls have changed the political landscape, prompting a rare show of unity with his rivals — although they are not expected to share a platform when they are in Scotland.

The blue and white Scottish saltire flag was hoisted over Cameron’s Downing Street office on Tuesday, as Miliband urged public buildings across Britain to fly the standard to send a message to Scots to “stay with us”.

The latest polls sent the pound tumbling to a 10-month low against the dollar, amid continued uncertainty about the effect that independence would have on the British economy.

The SNP say Scotland would keep the pound, but the unionist parties in London say this will not be possible — a view reinforced by the governor of the Bank of England.

“A currency union is incompatible with sovereignty,” Mark Carney told a meeting of trade unions in Liverpool, northwest England, on Tuesday.

AFP Photo/Ben Stansall

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Prince William, Kate Expecting Second Child: Palace

London (AFP) — Britain’s Prince William and his wife Kate are expecting their second child, Kensington Palace announced on Monday less than 14 months after the birth of Prince George.

The couple, known as the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, are “very pleased” and William’s grandmother Queen Elizabeth II is “delighted”, a spokesman said.

Kate, 32, is again suffering from hyperemesis gravidarum, a form of very acute morning sickness that caused her to be hospitalized when she was pregnant with George.

She is currently being treated by doctors at the couple’s London home in Kensington Palace, the spokesman said.

The duchess was due to attend an official engagement in Oxford on Monday but cancelled because of her illness and William, also 32, attended alone.

“Their Royal Highnesses The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge are very pleased to announce that The Duchess of Cambridge is expecting their second child,” the palace announced.

“The Queen and members of both families are delighted with the news.”

Prime Minister David Cameron was among the first to offer his congratulations to the couple, saying he was “delighted by the happy news that they’re expecting another baby”.

– Heir and spare –

William and Kate’s first child, George Alexander Louis, was born on July 22, 2013 in London’s St. Mary’s Hospital, weighing eight pounds and six ounces (3.8 kg).

As third in line to the throne and the first child of a celebrity couple, George’s arrival sparked a media frenzy and prompted messages of goodwill from around the world.

The new baby will be fourth in line to the throne, pushing William’s younger brother Prince Harry down the line of succession into fifth place.

William and Kate made no secret of wanting another child and it is the convention in aristocratic and royal families to have at least two.

One is the heir and the other a “spare” who can inherit the family title and estate in case the heir dies.

“Congratulations. I hope it’s a girl. An heir and a spare! So he’s sorted, isn’t he,” remarked one well-wisher outside Kensington Palace.

– Solo trip in question –

Kate’s morning sickness raises questions about whether she will be able to attend her first official solo trip abroad to Malta later this month.

She was due to represent the queen on September 20 and 21 as the Mediterranean islands celebrate the 50th anniversary of their independence from Britain.

A Kensington Palace spokesman said the duchess’s plans would be decided on a “case by case” basis.

Kate has been increasing her public profile since she married Prince William in a lavish ceremony in April 2011 that was watched by an estimated two billion TV viewers.

A “commoner” by birth who met the prince at university in Scotland, she appears to have moved effortlessly into her royal role and has become hugely popular with the public, as well as a global style icon.

But the couple have worked hard to keep their family life private, after the press intrusion that dominated the final years of William’s mother Diana, who was killed in a car crash in Paris in 1997 as her car was chased by paparazzi.

Kensington Palace did not say when the new baby was due, although experts say hyperemesis gravidarum usually occurs in the first three months of pregnancy.

Hyperemesis gravidarum is the Latin name for a severe form of morning sickness and affects around one in 200 pregnant women, according to Britain’s National Health Service (NHS).

Symptoms can include persistent vomiting, dehydration, tiredness and dizziness, and hospitalization may be needed in severe cases to treat dehydration with intravenous fluids for a few days.

The royal couple currently live in London after several years spent in Wales while William worked as a Royal Air Force (RAF) search and rescue helicopter pilot.

William’s office announced last month that he was taking on a new full-time role next year with the East Anglian Air Ambulance (EAAA), a charity which provides emergency helicopter cover across eastern England.

AFP Photo/John Stillwell

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United States Gathers Allies To ‘Destroy’ Islamic State

By Alice Ritchie

Newport (United Kingdom) (AFP) — The United States urged Western allies at a NATO summit Friday to unite in a coalition that could “destroy” Islamic State militants in Iraq and Syria.

“There is no time to waste in building a broad international coalition to degrade and, ultimately, to destroy the threat posed by ISIL,” Secretary of State John Kerry and Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said in a joint statement.

The remarks followed talks chaired by the United States and summit hosts Britain with defense and foreign ministers from Australia, Canada, Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, Poland, and Turkey.

The United States has conducted air strikes in northern Iraq in recent weeks, allowing Kurdish and Iraqi forces to regain ground lost against the jihadists.

But Washington has sought support for a broader international effort at the NATO summit here in Newport, south Wales.

The wider 28-nation military alliance is willing to help if there is a request from Baghdad, likely providing training and coordination with other countries’ efforts against IS, Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen told reporters.

Rasmussen said he “warmly welcomed” efforts by the United States and its allies, saying: “I think the international community has an obligation to do all it can to stop this dangerous terrorist organisation.”

He said NATO nations had also agreed to exchange more information on foreign fighters returning from Iraq and Syria to Europe and the United States, amid fears they will carry out attacks on home soil.

Pressure to act has intensified since the beheadings of U.S. and British journalists were revealed in videos showing a militant speaking in British English.

In response to the U.S. call for a coalition, British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond said his country had made “no commitment to take part in any air strikes as yet”.

“But we’ll certainly consider that possibility if we think that it is the best and most effective way to support a credible and inclusive Iraqi government,” he said.

The first step would likely be to arm Kurdish fighters who are already confronting IS, something that London is “actively” considering.

Hammond added: “The clear message coming out of here is that we have to have a comprehensive response to the ISIL (IS) challenge.”

France, Europe’s other main military power, is also keeping its options open.

President Francois Hollande told fellow leaders on Thursday they should be “ready to tackle all aspects of the struggle against IS, including the military one but also working with neighbouring countries on the issue of foreign fighters”, a diplomatic source said.

– ‘No boots on the ground’ –

IS, formerly known as ISIS or ISIL, caught the world by surprise when it swept across northern Iraq from Syria and declared an Islamic “caliphate” in territory straddling the two countries.

Referring to the beheadings of journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff, British Prime Minister David Cameron said NATO leaders were “united in condemnation of these barbaric and despicable acts.”

“They should be very clear, these terrorists. Their threats will only harden our resolve to stand up for our values and to defeat them,” he told the summit.

Cameron has also been pressing his allies to honor a commitment made by the G8 last year not to pay ransoms, warning that they only helped the kidnappers.

Amid reports that hostages from France and Italy have been released after money changed hands, he said such payments were “deeply regrettable” and “utterly self-defeating.”

Kerry reassured the meeting on Friday that there would be “no boots on the ground” in the U.S. strategy against IS, saying that was a “red line for everybody here.”

But he said “there are many ways in which we can train, advise, assist, and equip,” and urged those present to consider what they would be willing to contribute so the United States could have a plan at the U.N. General Assembly meeting later this month.

The formation of a new Iraqi government will be critical, Kerry and Hagel said, adding that the United States was hopeful this could happen “over the coming days.”

NATO allies could help by offering military support, stopping the flow of jihadist foreign fighters, taking action against IS funding and addressing the humanitarian crisis, they said.

AFP Photo/Justin Tallis

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