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Reform Scotland News: 24 May 2010

Reform Scotland

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Daily Political Newspaper Summary: 24 May 2010

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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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In addition to the newspaper stories outlined below, further news coverage can be found online at BBC News Scotland, STV News and Sky News. 

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Politics

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Calman: The coalition government is reportedly preparing to table a ‘slimmed down’ Scotland Bill, which will deny Holyrood major new tax-raising powers. Senior government sources have said the bill could end up dropping controversial proposals by the Calman Commission. (Scotsman page 1, Kenny Farquharson in Scotland on Sunday page 16, Joan McAlpine in Sunday Times page 27) 

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Spending Cuts: George Osborne will today ­signal the “age of plenty is over” and the unpopular work of introducing spending cuts to trim Britain’s £156 billion ­deficit will begin with a £6bn reduction this year. While the Chancellor has agreed to spare the Scottish Government’s ­budget for 2010, a source close to First Minister Alex Salmond recognised it was pain deferred rather than ­avoided as Scotland’s share will ­simply be piled on top of the cuts it can expect in 2011. (Herald page 1, Times page 1, Erikka Askeland comments in the Scotsman page 20, Scotland on Sunday page 12, Times page 1, Telegraph page 1, Guardian, FT page 1, Courier page 12, Sunday Herald page 8) 

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Scottish Conservatives: The political inquest into the Scottish Conservatives’ performance at the General Election has taken on a sharper edge after Lord Forsyth branded its result “disastrous” and claimed the party’s influence in Scotland was now “marginal”. The assessment from the former Scottish Secretary follows that of Lord Tebbit of Chingford, the party’s ex-chairman, who called for the Conservatives to “pack up” north of the Border and for a new centre-right party to be formed. (Herald page 6, Times page 9, Courier page 3, Sunday Herald page 4, Sunday Post page 15) 

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Eamon Butler comments in the Scotsman and Alan Cochrane comments in the Telegraph on why the Scottish Conservatives need a more charismatic leader. (Scotsman page 29, Alan Cochrane page 12) 

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Gordon Brown: It has emerged that the former Prime Minister, who resigned only two weeks ago, has asked to be given a role in Labour’s campaign for next year’s Scottish Parliament elections. The approach from Mr Brown, who has been living quietly with his wife Sarah and their two sons in North Queensferry in Fife, has been revealed by Iain Gray, Labour’s Holyrood leader. (Times page 9, Scotland on Sunday page 1)

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Queen’s Speech: A near final draft of the Queen\’s speech was leaked and provided the first concrete indication of how the coalition government intends to legislate over the 18-month period which constitutes the first year of new governments. With next year\’s Queen\’s speech scheduled to take place in the normal November slot at the end of the next parliamentary year in 2011, the items the Queen will read out on Tuesday will occupy the government until then. The leak, seen by two Sunday newspapers, confirmed the presence in the government\’s programme of a parliamentary reform bill, which would bring forward proposals on fixed-term parliaments and recalling MPs. The bill could also be the vehicle for a referendum on voting reform. (Guardian page 1, Scotland on Sunday page 5) 

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SNP: SNP ministers could represent the UK Government in European talks under plans drawn up by the new Tory-Lib coalition pact. UK ministers have told First Minister Alex Salmond that they will look favourably on calls from the SNP to play a key role in international negotiations on fisheries in Brussels. The new move to allow Scottish ministers a greater role in international talks is being seen as a further shift in the relationship between Holyrood and Westminster. (Scotland on Sunday page 1) 

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Iraq War: Labour’s internal feud over the Iraq war was rekindled yesterday as leading candidates for the leadership were accused of undergoing a "Damascene conversion" after finally admitting the conflict had been a "mistake". Both Ed Balls and Ed Miliband used interviews to distance themselves from a conflict which was opposed by thousands of the same Labour members who will be voting in the forthcoming leadership campaign. Their comments prompted a terse reaction from leadership favourite David Miliband who said yesterday that Iraq should not become an issue in the race. (Scotland on Sunday page 2, Sunday Herald page 1)

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Quango boss: Between September 2002 and February 2006, Ron Culley, as the then chief executive of Scottish Enterprise Glasgow, charged nearly £25,000 on his personal expense account, enjoying some 158 dinners, lunches or functions on his publicly-funded credit card. (Scotland on Sunday page 7, Sunday Times page 4) 

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Scottish elections: Labour are to target four ministers at the next Scottish Parliament elections as part of a high-profile strategy to undermine the SNP hierarchy and tie up its scarce resources. Health Secretary Nicola Sturgeon, Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill, Minister for Parliamentary Business Bruce Crawford and Schools Minister Keith Brown have been put at the top of a Labour hit-list for next May. Ms Sturgeon, Mr MacAskill and Mr Crawford all won first-past-the-post seats in 2007 from Labour with majorities of less than 1400, while Mr Brown defended an SNP seat by just 490 votes. Based on its performance in the General Election and fresh boundary changes, Labour believes it can regain all four seats. (Sunday Herald page 4, Jenny Hjul comments on ministers in the Sunday Times page 26) 

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Property windfall: A former SNP minister has been criticised after making almost £35,000 profit by selling his publicly funded second home. He is the first MSP to sell his second home since it was announced that claims for mortgage interest on properties will end in 2011. (Sunday Herald page 16) 

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Scottish Secretary: Jason Allardyce interviews the new Scottish Secretary Danny Alexander. (Sunday Times page 9)

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Transport 

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BA strike: A five day strike by thousands of British Airways cabin crew will go ahead today after what the Unite union called a "catastrophic" breakdown of talks. Tony Woodley, joint leader of Unite, said last night there was no chance of resuming negotiations following talks with the airline. Mr Woodley briefed union officials yesterday morning but was "gloomy" about the chances of resuming negotiations. Unite is now pressing ahead with the first of three five-day walkouts. (Scotsman page 1, Herald page 1, Times page 6, Telegraph page 1, FT page 2, Courier page 1, Press and Journal page 1) 

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Local Government

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Housing plans: Ministers are to unveil a new plan to try and tackle the effects of public spending cuts on Scottish housing. Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon and Housing Minister Alex Neil are to announce the start of a "wide ranging discussion" about the country\’s housing policy. The Housing Policy Reform document will meet "head-on" the prospect of a "sustained and substantial squeeze on public spending", the Scottish Government said. It is hoped the new document will encourage debate on what the Scottish Government\’s housing priorities should be. (Sunday Herald page 4)

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Council pensions: Scotland’s local authorities are spending a record proportion of their income on gold-plated pensions for their staff. Almost a third of the £2.1 billion raised from council tax is siphoned into workers’ retirement schemes. Only two years ago the proportion was a quarter. In some areas the situation is even worse. In Orkney, a staggering 69 per cent of all council tax goes towards paying local authority pensions. Senior council workers can pick up huge pension payouts. One retired executive in Strathclyde is being paid a staggering £94,000 a year. Every householder in the country is now paying the equivalent of £273 a year towards footing the bill for the retirements of council employees. (Sunday Post page 1) 

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Health

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NHS: The possible increase in VAT from 17.5 per cent to 20 per cent will reportedly cost the NHS in Scotland over £26 million.  Chancellor George Osborne is widely expected to announce the hike in VAT in his emergency Budget, due to be held on June 22, in a bid to cut the crippling UK deficit. Figures obtained by SNP MSP Dr Ian McKee show that the increase will hit health services across the country. NHS boards will have to find an additional £23.4 million from their annual budgets to pay for the additional VAT on supplies; while NHS special health boards, such as the Scottish Ambulance Service, will see their costs soar by £3.1 million each year. (Sunday Post page 3)

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Attacks on staff: Seven of Scotland’s 14 health boards have reported a rise in assaults on NHS staff, prompting calls for workers to be offered greater protection. Figures obtained by Labour under a freedom-of-information request found that the biggest increase in assaults was in Lothian, from 1,261 in 2008 to 1,877 in 2009. Last year Glasgow recorded 2,789 assaults on NHS workers, the highest in Scotland. (Sunday Herald page 22) 

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Education

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Expulsions: The number of times violent or abusive pupils are suspended or expelled from primary and secondary schools in Glasgow has plummeted to its lowest-ever level. New figures show the number of incidents that led to a pupil being suspended in schools run by Glasgow City Council last year dropped by nearly one-quarter. In 2008/09, there were 3985 exclusion incidents between August and March, which fell to just 2984 in 2009/10 – a drop of 25%. (Herald page 1) 

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Curriculum for Excellence: All parents of children beginning secondary school in Scotland are to receive a letter from the Education Secretary in a bid to allay fears over the controversial new Curriculum for Excellence, which has come under fire from teachers. Addressed to all parents and carers of pupils about to go into the first year, it is intended “to tell them about the good things in Curriculum for Excellence, to reassure them about this programme and to make sure they are engaged with it”, Mr Russell said. “Parents and children need the assurance that this is very, very good in terms of the education objectives we have been talking about,” he added. (Times page 10)