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REFORM SCOTLAND NEWS: 13 SEPTEMBER 2010

Reform Scotland

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Daily Political Newspaper Summary: 13 September 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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Budget cuts: Chancellor George Osborne is only weeks away from announcing the spending targets that every government department will have to comply with from April next year. Three months on from the general election, Mr Osborne has told close colleagues that he knows the game has changed. From wide-ranging national and international support on the urgent need for Britain to begin reducing the record deficit, Mr Osborne and his Treasury team are reportedly aware they are beginning to look ideologically isolated. (Sunday Herald page 25)

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TUC: Union leaders have called for a campaign of mass civil resistance in response to planned £2.5 billion cuts in sickness benefits. Government attempts to reduce the £155 billion deficit through benefit cuts were described as “eye-wateringly unfair” by TUC General Secretary Brendan Barber, arguing that the cuts endanger the prospects of economic recovery. Leaders including Bob Crow, Mark Serwotka and Brendan Barber called for a campaign of civil resistance including sit-down protests on roads, mass industrial action and publicity-grabbing campaigns. Conservative MSP Alex Johnstone responded by accusing Bob Crow of losing touch with public sentiment and calling for public unity rather than “unpleasant threats”. The Scotsman editorial argues that although the public appreciate the necessity of cuts, their scale is “hard to swallow”, leading the coalition to a point of “maximum danger”. It criticises the union resistance plans, arguing their credibility can only be maintained through constructive efforts to highlight where spending must be maintained, rather than resisting all budget reductions. (Scotsman page 1, editorial page 28, The Herald page 6)

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Shipyard job losses: Business and Union leaders have warned that the cancellation of a £5 billion order for 2 new aircraft carriers could lead to the closure of Clyde warship building yards, as well as to the loss of more than 6,000 jobs and £200 million in damage to the Scottish economy. The possible loss of £1.25 billion in contracts already awarded for the construction of the HMS Queen Elizabeth and HMS Prince of Wales has led to a united response from Scottish politicians, with Nicola Sturgeon, who is due to meet the other party leaders today, describing the possible cuts as “crazy” due to the loss of jobs and skills that they could entail. Defence Secretary Liam Fox is expected to make a decision on the contracts in October. (The Herald page 1, The Scotsman page 9)

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Lockerbie bomber: Alex Salmond has told US Senators that he is ending correspondence with them regarding the release of Lockerbie bomber Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed al Megrahi, accusing them of losing credibility and being “unable or unwilling” to understand the legal difference between compassionate release and the UK’s Prisoner Transfer Agreement. Mr Salmond’s letter comes in response to correspondence from US Senators Robert Menendez, Kirsten Gillibrand, Frank Lautenburg and Charles Schumer which suggested commercial interests played a part in influencing the Scottish Governments decision to release Mr Megrahi. Mr Salmond has asked for recognition from the Senators that the government had no contact with BP in formulating its decision, and that it had opposed the transfer agreement unless it excluded Mr Megrahi. Representatives of Senator Menendez are expected to meet with both SNP and Labour officials this week. (The Herald page 2, The Scotsman, page 14)

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Foreign Secretary William Hague is threatening to strain transatlantic relations by refusing to co-operate with a US Senate team investigating the release of the Lockerbie bomber. (Sunday Times page 1, FT page 6)

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External consultants:  Finance Secretary John Swinney has called for a crackdown on public bodies hiring external consultants. Quangos, agencies and councils have given millions of pounds of taxpayers’ money to firms owned by their former managers. Many of the contracts were awarded to companies set up by individuals who used to be on the same public body’s payroll without a tender process. The Scottish Government pays around £100 million per year to ‘consultants’. Hugh Henry, Labour convener of Holyrood’s public audit committee, said: “It looks to me like an ‘old pals’ act. I will be writing to Audit Scotland.” (Sunday Herald page 1, Paul Hutcheon page 6)

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David Mundell: David Mundell, Scotland’s only Conservative MP, reportedly declared his spending returns were “complete and accurate” without checking the relevant forms and invoices. It later emerged that Mr Mundell broke the spending limit on the last leg of his campaign with an invoice that was wrongly accounted for. Mr Mundell has now asked the Court of Session for permission to correct the error, and has also asked to be excused from the legal consequences of breaking electoral law. In the worst-case scenario he could be expelled from Parliament, forcing a by-election. The Lord Advocate, Elish Angiolini, head of the prosecution system, has asked the Court to delay any decision until Dumfries & Galloway police conclude an investigation into the case. (Sunday Herald page 12) 

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Chauffeured limousines: Labour councillors in Glasgow have been criticised for using chauffeur-driven cars to take them to pop concerts, luxury restaurants, football matches and private gyms. Representatives took chauffeur driven cars from Glasgow City Chambers to Central Station, the main railway terminal – a five-minute walk from the council offices. Glasgow City Council has until recently provided a £300,000-a-year fleet of VW Phaetons for its elected representatives. A spokesman for Glasgow City Council said: “During the last financial year, the procedures in place to record and charge car use meant that costs were recovered in full from the office that made each booking. “This means that the length of time a car and driver were booked out for did not necessarily indicate the length of time a member made use of the car for. We now aim to capture more information about each journey, who travelled and why.” (Sunday Herald page 20)

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Papal visit: Pope Benedict XVI’s four-day visit to Britain this week will be a moment of history as it is the first time a head of the Roman Catholic Church has paid a state visit to the country since Henry VIII broke with Rome in 1534. But while there will be plenty of pomp and ceremony on his journey through Edinburgh, Glasgow, London and Birmingham, there will be much tension, too. The Pope’s arrival is overshadowed by the crisis over paedophile priests, strained relations with the Anglican Church and opposition to Vatican policy on homosexuality and abortion. (FT page 2)

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Eddie Barnes comments in Scotland on Sunday on the Pope’s visit and his meeting with the First Minister. (Scotland on Sunday page 13)

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The BBC is deploying up to 400 people to cover the Pope’s visit to Britain this week- more than it sent to the World Cup in South Africa. Mark Thompson, the corporation’s director-general, has ordered up to 300 staff to cover the first day of the trip alone, when the Pontiff arrives in Edinburgh. (Sunday Times page 5)

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Church of Scotland: The Church of Scotland is facing a revolt over plans to allow the ordination of gay ministers. A secret ballot of senior members has found that congregations are deeply divided over whether homosexuals should be allowed to join the clergy.  (Sunday Times page 1, page 9)

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Independence referendum: SNP MEP Alyn Smith said the First Minister should have been brave enough to give the Referendum Bill a “square go” by tabling the legislation for a vote at the Scottish Parliament.  It is the first time Mr Salmond has been openly contradicted by an SNP parliamentarian over strategy for many years, but his view is shared by many others in the party, including at least one Holyrood minister. (Telegraph page 2)

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Economy

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Wind-farm investment: Spanish energy company Iberdrola is expected to announce billions of pounds of investment in Scotland’s renewable energy industry today, possibly creating a new wind turbine factory in Dundee on top of the current £164 million expansion of Whitlee windfarm, near Glasgow. The company, which owns Scottish Power, had already pledged to invest £4 billion in its British operations over the next 3 years, with a high proportion coming to Scotland. The planned Dundee factory could create 1,000 highly skilled jobs and is part of increasing links between Scotland and Spain’s autonomous Basque region, which is Spain’s most prosperous region. Alex Salmond is expected to meet Iberdrola’s Chairman and Chief Executive today. (The Herald page 4)

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Transport 

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Trams probe: Labour and Conservative MSPs are calling for Transport Minister Stewart Stevenson to appear before the Public Audit Committee to answer questions on the construction of Edinburgh’s tram system. MSPs are seeking accountability from ministers over figures indicating that 70 per cent of the tram project’s £545 million budget has been spent with only 22 per cent of the work completed. (The Herald, page 6)

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M74 progress: The M74 Motorway extension in Glasgow is expected to open 9 months ahead of schedule, aiding the SNP in their re-election campaign. The £455 million project is the most expensive stretch of road in the UK and is expected to help regenerate economically-deprived areas in the south and east of Glasgow, as well as to boost infrastructure in preparation for the 2014 Commonwealth games. (The Herald page 9)

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Health

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Elderly care cuts: Former First Minister Henry Mcleish called for councils to avoid “austerity mania” after fears that UK Chancellor George Osborne’s Comprehensive Spending Review would leave them unable to fund free personal care for the elderly. This came in response to CoSLA, the umbrella group for Scotland’s local authorities, warning that it did not have “a clue” how to fund the care, and arguing that future care may be reliant on either direct charges or increases in taxation. Mr Mcleish pointed out the care kept many elderly people out of hospital, and argued “care free at the point of need can stand examination by anyone” in terms of value for money and public utility. (The Herald, page 6)

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Education

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Languages in schools: Primary teachers in two local authorities in Scotland are to access language courses which allow staff to learn Spanish or French on iPods in their own time. Coffee Break Spanish and its sister course in French have been available on iTunes for three years, but have now been rewritten for teachers in North Ayrshire and East Dunbartonshire to offer them a chance to learn a language in an effort to increase the number of pupils achieving qualifications in languages. A review of teacher training is examining whether language teaching should be a compulsory part of primary training. A lack of uptake in languages by secondary school pupils resulted in the Scottish Government creating a new Scottish Baccalaureate to recognise achievement in languages. (Scotland on Sunday page 5)

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Robert Gordon University: The first two years of degree courses at a Scottish university have been axed in a unique move to save money and remove overlap in education. Undergraduate applicants to courses in building and photography at Robert Gordon University (RGU) in Aberdeen are turned away and told to complete an HNC qualification at Aberdeen College before they enter the third year at the university. Previously universities have operated a system where successful HND or HNC candidates can enter the third year of a degree. However, this is understood to be the first time the college course has fully replaced first and second year. Rob Wallen, principal of Aberdeen College, said: "The 2+2 arrangements provide great flexibility for students – they do not need to commit to a four-year degree at the outset but can achieve a vocational HND qualification and then decide whether to take the two additional years to obtain a more academic degree qualification.” (Scotland on Sunday page 7)