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REFORM SCOTLAND NEWS: 04 October 2010

Reform Scotland

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Daily Political Newspaper Summary:

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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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Benefits Cut: David Cameron has announced that middle class benefits will be cut in an effort to reduce the deficit. Mr Cameron described the planned cuts, which are part of George Osborne’s spending review, as “refreshingly radical”, while Iain Duncan Smith, the Work and Pensions Secretary described the idea of people earning over £50,000 a year claiming benefits as “completely bonkers”. Meanwhile Yvette Cooper, the shadow Work and Pensions Secretary, claimed that the cuts amounted to a “massive assault on families” and that the possibility of means testing would put off middle and low income families from applying for support. George Osborne defended the cuts and reaffirmed his commitment to deficit reducing policies, arguing that if he did otherwise the result would be market instability, increased debt service payments and a halt to economic recovery. The Herald’s editorial argues that while it may be true that cuts are essential for growth, the recovery must be quick enough for private sector growth to fill the gap created by public sector job losses. (Scotsman page 1, Press and Journal page 11, Telegraph page 18, Herald, editorial page 14, page 6, Guardian page 1, Courier page 1)

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MoD Records: The Ministry of Defence has admitted that it regularly wipes the records of British service personnel upon their return to the UK from Afghanistan, leading to allegations of a ‘cover-up’  by a solicitor employed to represent Iraqis claiming to have been abused by British forces. Although the MoD says it does not have the capacity to keep the records, Phil Shiner, from Public Interest Lawyers, described the practice as “reckless” and pointed to the example of a British Army Officer throwing a laptop containing pictures of dead Iraqis overboard on a ferry last year as an example of the suspicious context of the decision. (Telegraph page 12, Press and Journal page 12)

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Scottish Conservatives: The Conservative Party in Scotland is set to perform a major policy U-turn and go into the Scottish election offering to form a coalition to get into government at Holyrood. The Scottish Tories are prepared to talk with the other major Scottish parties in an attempt to gain power next year, with Alex Salmond\’s Scottish National Party emerging as their favoured partner. Meanwhile, Scottish Labour leader Iain Gray has signalled he would also consider entering a cross-party coalition at the Scottish Parliament, though he would prefer to lead a minority administration if he fails to win outright in May. The dramatic shift in the Tories\’ policy comes at the start of their national conference in Birmingham and as they prepare for major structural change that will see the Scottish party distance itself from London and get the power to elect its own leader, in sole charge north of the Border, instead of answerable to Prime Minister David Cameron. (Scotland on Sunday page 1, Daily Express page 4)

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Terror Alert: The UK Foreign Office has upgraded its assessment of the threat posed by terrorist groups to European states. They claim that there is a “high risk” of attack, rather than the previous description of a “general threat”, after British intelligence officials uncovered an apparent al-Qaeda plot. The planned attack is thought to have been similar to the Mumbai shootings, with simultaneous actions planned in both France and Germany, prompting Home Secretary Theresa May, to back the US’ call for vigilance. (Herald page 1, Scotsman page 6, Telegraph page 1, Press and Journal page 10, Guardian page 1)

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Sheridan Trial: Tommy and Gail Sheridan will appear in front of Glasgow’s High Court today to face allegations that they lied under oath during the defamation case launched by Mr Sheridan against the News of the World in 2006. If upheld, the perjury charges could result in up to 10 years in jail, after one of the longest running cases of its kind in Scottish legal history. Mr Sheridan launched the original defamation case in response to allegations made by the tabloid about his personal life but has since been accused of convincing a witness to lie to the court. (Herald page 5, Scotsman page 6)  

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Preventing Strikes:  Business leaders have called for changes to union voting laws which would make it harder for workers to strike. The proposed measures include increasing the necessary voting threshold for planned strikes up to 40%, allowing the use of temporary workers to replace striking employees as well as increasing the period of notice required before workers strike, in response the planned mass disruption by unions. Unions pointed out that the UK already has some of the most stringent anti-strike laws in Europe, and described the measures advocated by the CBI as “a fundamental attack on basic rights that are recognised in every human rights charter.” The Government said it has no plans to amend union legislation, while Boris Johnson broke from the government stance, backing the CBI. (Scotsman page 8, Telegraph page 1)

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Commonwealth Games: A Scots official has warned that the Delhi Commonwealth games are susceptible to disaster, and says it will be “miraculous” if the next 11 days of completion are free from a “major hitch”. The games’ organisers have been accused of not preparing for the games properly and misjudging the amount of time necessary to have the infrastructure in place and working soundly. The comments follow a spectacular opening ceremony launched by Indian President Pratibha Patil and Prince Charles to welcome the 6000 athletes who will compete. (Scotsman page 10, Herald page 3, Press and Journal page 5)

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Economy

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Bank Bailout: Britain’s banking industry could require continued financial support, of up to £25 billion a month, in order to avoid a second financial crisis according to a New Economics Foundation report. The think-tank claims that despite the £1.2 trillion of public money paid to keep the banking system from collapse, there still remains the possibility of a funding crisis reoccurring when the funding is withdrawn, and so urges financial reform. However the report has been met with scepticism by economists as well as members of the banking industry, with an RBS spokesperson arguing that banks had already started work to improve international liquidity, and a Treasury official claiming that the Government was working “to reduce the systemic risk the financial sector poses to the economy.” (Scotsman page 2, Press and Journal page 17)  

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Energy Investment: George Osborne is expected to announce increased investment in the UKs green energy and medical science industries, in a move which should benefit Scotland’s economy. In what he characterises as a move away from Britain’s reliance on the financial services industry, the Chancellor aims to target investment at areas with the maximum potential for growth such as renewable energies and carbon-capture and storage. Around half of the £2 billion in spending is expected to go to Scotland. (Scotsman page 4)

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Pensions: Up to 80% of worker’s pensions payments are lost in fees and commissions, according to a BBC Panorama investigation. £7.3 billion is taken from pension payments every year as levies, with UK pension funds around half those of European counter-parts, due to increased short-term trading in the funds, and an ensuing increase in commission payments. (Telegraph page 4) 

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Impact of immigration: Latest official data show the number of UK-born workers fell by 654,000 between 2008 and 2010, while FT calculations based on the dates for the same period, show the number of working migrants has risen by 139,000- some 100,000 born outside the European Union and the remainder within. A wide-ranging FT analysis of the impact of immigration on jobs, wages and public services also highlights the potential economic cost of the attempt by David Cameron to slash net migration to 1990s levels. (FT page 1)

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Justice

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Police Complaints: The number of people who feel the police mishandled their complaints has risen by 20% in the last year, prompting police Complaints Commissioner Professor John McNeill to call for changes in the way complaints are handled. Professor McNeill called for the focus in dealing with complaints to shift from blame to learning and wants a review of police force complaints procedure. (Herald page 9, Scotsman page 15, Press and Journal page 13)

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Local Government

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Council Tax: Scottish Labour leader Iain Gray has faced criticism from the SNP after admitting that if elected he would remove the current freeze on council tax. Mr Gray described the freeze as unsustainable, and said he favours giving councils the power to increase the charges again. The SNP however said he had made a “disastrous blunder” and accused him of wanting to “hammer Scots families and pensioners”. (Herald page 6, Scotsman page 11, Telegraph page 1, Press and Journal page 1, Times page 13, Sunday Times page 1, Daily Express page 10, Sunday Herald page 1)

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Council Blunder: South-Lanarkshire Council could face a vote of no confidence after it emerged that they had miscalculated the scale of budget cuts by as much as £40 million. After an August announcement proposing cuts of £120 million over the next three years, council officials had to reassess their figures in light of North Lanarkshire’s cuts, with the new sums amounting to £80 million, £40 million less than the original proposal. Though the new levels of spending reduction will mean less redundancies, South Lanarkshire council has faced criticism from Labour over its handling of the issue, combined with the row over SNP group leader Anne Maggs allegedly claiming expenses on a first class rail ticket amounting to £249 whilst being driven in a car for free. (Herald page 4)

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Health

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Breast Cancer App: A breast cancer charity has launched an ‘app’ for smart phones which aids women in checking for breast cancer. The programme was developed in light of the news that 47% of women in Scotland do not check their breasts regularly, and will help women learn about the factors linked to breast cancer as well as to remind them to carry out checks. Around 1,000 people a year die of breast cancer in Scotland, making it the most commonly diagnosed cancer in the country (Herald page 7, Scotsman page 13, Press and Journal page 4). 

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Alcohol Warning: A children’s charity has warned that NHS Scotland is not doing enough to reduce drinking in Scotland, putting children at risk. As the government launches Alcohol Awareness Week, Children 1st says that 80,000 children are living with alcoholic parents and so is demanding immediate action. The charity says that Scotland underestimates the effect on children of adults over-drinking and has called for increased support to be made available to parents to encourage responsibility. (Herald page 10) 

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Education

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Graduate Tax: Almost 2/3s of Scots are opposed to the introduction of a graduate tax, according to a recent poll. 64% of respondents said that university graduates should be taxed the same amount as others earnings the same wage, with 26% supporting the introduction of a higher rate to be imposed on graduates. The move had been proposed as a means of addressing university funding problems. (Scotsman page 7)