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Daily Political Media Summary: 30 November 2009

Reform Scotland

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Daily Political Media Summary: 30 November 2009

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All newspaper references refer to Scottish editions. Where there is a link to a newspaper’s website, the relevant page reference is blue and underlined. 

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Economy

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Recovery: Scotland is said to be starting a slow and patchy recovery from the deep recession of the last 18 months. However, the country will continue to underperform the UK for the next year as a result of weakness in its service sector economy, according to research by the Ernst & Young Scottish ITEM club. (Press and Journal page 16, Scotland on Sunday page B1, Sunday Herald page 52) 

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Financial services sector: Scotland’s financial services sector has been condemned to a “lost decade” of zero growth as a result of the near collapse last autumn of its two largest banks, RBS and HBOS. The dire prediction came from the Ernst & Young Scottish Item Club which, in its closely watched annual forecast for the Scottish economy, reveals an unexpectedly sharp slump in the output of Scottish financial firms. Using figures from the Scottish Government’s quarterly GDP series, the Item Club said output from the financial services sector in Scotland slumped by 8.4% in the year to June 30, 2009. (Sunday Herald page 50) 

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SMEs: Royal Bank of Scotland has launched a charter for small and medium sized enterprises that it claims will bring immediate help to around 20,000 start-ups annually amid persistent claims that banks are not doing enough to help businesses. The giant bank, which is 70 per cent owned by the government, has tried to demonstrate its commitment to SMEs with the first formal statement of the core business principles it will apply. (Herald page 26) 

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North Sea tax breaks: Business leaders will pile pressure on Energy and Climate Change Secretary Ed Miliband today for tax incentives to breathe new life into the North Sea oil and gas industry. Mr Miliband is making his first official visit to Aberdeen more than a year after his appointment. (Press and Journal page 1) 

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Transport 

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Edinburgh trams: The capital\’s main shopping street reopened to traffic yesterday for the first time in eight months following the completion of the latest phase of tram works. Buses and taxis have returned to Princes Street, Edinburgh, in time for the busy Christmas shopping period. (Scotsman page 9, Daily Record page 6, BBC, STV)

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GARL: The decision to scrap the Glasgow Airport Rail Link was “clearly political”, Labour finance spokesman Andy Kerr has said. Finance Secretary John Swinney removed the project from his draft budget because of a funding shortfall of £170 million, but Mr Kerr says no effort was made to find alternative funding. He hit out after receiving an answer to a parliamentary question to Transport Minister Stewart Stevenson in which he asked what work the Scottish Futures Trust had done to find finance for the project.

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Steven Vass writes in the Sunday Herald on how the relationship between Scottish business and the SNP might be affected after the ‘Big Six’ associations have also come out against the Scottish Government’s decision. (Herald page 6, Sunday Herald page 46) 

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Local Government

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Council powers: SNP ministers are considering taking responsibility for social care for the elderly away from local authorities and handing it to the NHS. The move comes just days after education secretary Fiona Hyslop revealed the Scottish Government is considering taking education away from councils and raises new questions over the future of local government in Scotland. (Scotsman page 1) 

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Health

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Cancer deaths: Scotland has the highest death toll from throat cancer in Europe fuelled by binge drinking, smoking and obesity, according to new research. Scientists studying 34 European countries found that the UK had the worst mortality rates for oesophagus cancer, which develops in the tube carrying food from the throat to the stomach. Alcohol, tobacco consumption and obesity are all risk factors for the cancer, for which death rates have increased among middle-aged woman across Europe. (Daily Express page 10, Sunday Herald page 12) 

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Obesity: Two-thirds of men and more than half of women are overweight, figures have revealed. Tory MSP Jackson Carlaw said the ‘appalling’ statistics had disclosed the scale of ‘Scotland’s obesity epidemic.’ The figures from 2008 showed 66.3 per cent of men aged 16-64 and 59.9 per cent of women in this age range were overweight. (Courier page 10, Scotland on Sunday page 3)

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NHS charges: Most hospital patients may have to pay for their living costs while they are being treated because the NHS can no longer afford free universal care. Lord Sutherland, the original architect of Scotland’s free personal care policy, now says that the NHS cannot indefinitely guarantee treatment to all, free at the point of delivery, and that a system of means testing may be required. The former principal of Edinburgh University said all but the poorest patients would be charged for their living costs. (Sunday Times page 10) 

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Education

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Highers: Pupils are being forced to drop out of Higher exams because teachers are under pressure to maintain pass rates, a senior academic has claimed. Mark Priestley, senior education academic at Stirling University, says it is becoming accepted practice to "bump" borderline candidates into a lower qualification, meaning pupils effectively repeat a year.  Dr Priestley has interviewed dozens of teachers and is finding large numbers encouraging poorer Higher candidates to switch to the Intermediate 2 course. (Scotsman page 10, Mark Priestly comments in the Scotsman page 11) 

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Schools and local authorities: Labour, the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats said they would unite to prevent the SNP carrying out its threat to bring schools under central government control. The move comes after the Scottish Government said it was considering ripping up its controversial funding agreement with local authorities, accusing them of failing to implement its manifesto pledges to reduce class sizes and maintain teacher numbers. The threat followed the publication last week of figures showing a dramatic decline in teacher numbers this year — a fall of 1,348 compared with 975 last year. Labour’s shadow minister for schools, Ken Macintosh, branded the row over failing teacher numbers as a desperate attempt to deflect pressure from education secretary Fiona Hyslop. (Sunday Post page 2, Sunday Times page 2) 

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Flexible teaching approach: Des McNulty, Labour’s Education spokesman in Holyrood, dismissed the SNP policy to encourage local authorities to retire 500 mature teachers and replace them with this and last year’s models. Margo MacDonald MSP comments in the Sunday Post that the SNP needs a more flexible approach to the teaching crisis. (Sunday Post page 16) 

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Politics

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Homecoming: First Minister Alex Salmond reopened Burns Cottage yesterday following a £1 million restoration, which included transforming the old Burns Museum into an "education pavilion" and landscaping the surrounding area. Speaking about the success of the Scotland\’s Year of Homecoming, Mr Salmond hailed the initiative, which was aimed at encouraging people to visit Scotland, as a "great success story". (Scotsman page 1

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Independence referendum: Alex Salmond will today claim that the only chance for constitutional change in Scotland will be for politicians in Holyrood to back his party\’s independence referendum bill. He will argue that a majority of Scots want constitutional change and that the unionist Calman Commission route will deliver nothing new for Scotland. Opposition party leaders last night confirmed their intention to vote down a referendum bill at the earliest possible stage. (Scotsman page 4, Herald page 1, Iain MacWhirter in Herald page 13, Telegraph page 1, Alan Cochrane in the Telegraph page 5, Press and Journal page 8, Courier page 1, Daily Record page 2, Daily Mail page 1, Allan Massie in Daily Mail page 15, Daily Express page 4, Sun page 2, BBC, STV, Scotland on Sunday page 1, Duncan Hamilton in Scotland on Sunday page 19, First Minister Alex Salmond in Scotland on Sunday page 18 , Sunday Post page 15, Sunday Herald page 18, Sunday Times page 1, Jenny Hjul in the Sunday Times page 22)

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Constitutional reform: Reform Scotland’s Chairman Ben Thomson had an article in Saturday’s Scotsman commenting on the UK Government’s white paper responding to the Calman Commission recommendations and looking ahead to the SNP Government’s White Paper on an Independence Referendum. (Scotsman)

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Internet smears: A former aide to a Holyrood minister could face legal action after he used the internet to attempt to smear political rivals. Mark MacLachlan was employed as an aide to constitution minister Mike Russell in his role as an MSP. The 46-year-old stepped down from his post on Friday after party officials discovered he had used an internet blog to make "inappropriate" comments about the personal lives of members of other political parties. (Scotsman page 5, Herald page 6, Telegraph page 7, Daily Mail page 7, Times page 1, Magnus Linklater in the Times page 4, Press and Journal page 8, Scotland on Sunday page 1, Sunday Herald page 5) 

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Minimum alcohol pricing: Two former Labour health ministers have criticised their party\’s leadership in Scotland for opposing the introduction of minimum pricing for alcohol. Malcolm Chisholm, the Labour MSP for Edinburgh North and Leith, has been joined by his predecessor as health minister, Professor Susan Deacon, in calling for a change of heart over the policy.

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The Scotch Whisky Association has slammed as "crazy" its continued need to fight against minimum pricing for alcohol and a resulting slump in tax receipts in a period of chronic austerity for Britain. Gavin Hewitt, chief executive of the SWA, which was boosted last week by Labour\’s refusal to back the SNP\’s flagship proposal for minimum pricing, said the last thing Britain needs amid a burgeoning public sector deficit was a big reduction in tax income. (Scotsman page 6, Press and Journal page 9, Courier page 3, BBC, Scotland on Sunday page B3, Iain MacWhirter in Sunday Herald page 7, Sunday Post page 15, Sunday Times page 11) 

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Des Browne: Des Browne, the former Scottish and Defence Secretary, has announced he will stand down at the General Election after almost 13 years as an MP. The former human rights lawyer said he was giving up his Kilmarnock & Loudoun seat, which he holds with a majority of 8,703 over the SNP, “with some reluctance”, but planned a new career in conflict resolution and nuclear disarmament. (Sunday Herald page 20)

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Labour official: Labour’s top official north of the Border has been reprimanded over alleged “boorish” behaviour as a councillor. Scottish General Secretary Colin Smyth was ordered out of a meeting of Dumfries & Galloway Council after he disrupted a debate on childcare after other councillors voted to remove him. (Sunday Herald page 5)

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Scottish style: Pete Irvine writes the essay of the week on what is Scottish style and what St Andrew’s Day and the Homecoming mean for Scottish culture. (Sunday Herald opinion page 1)

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Scottish Tories: David Cameron has been urged by a senior and influential Conservative to look at creating a breakaway Scottish Tory party. Tim Montgomerie said the radical move should be considered as the Scottish Tories were making ‘limited’ progress under leader Annabel Goldie. (Sunday Herald page 1) 

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By-election defeat: Willie Sawyers, the SNP’s organisation convener, said the efforts by activists in Glasgow during the North East By-election came ‘too little and too late’ to make any difference. Despite a six-month campaign, the SNP were out-polled three to one by Labour, who took the seat with a majority of 8,111. (Sunday Herald page 13)