REFORM SCOTLAND NEWS: 08 November 2010

Reform Scotland

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Daily Political Newspaper Summary: 8 November 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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Unemployment Reforms: The UK coalition government has faced criticism from welfare campaigners over its planned unemployment reforms, which will reportedly force those without jobs to take up unpaid manual labour. Iain Duncan Smith, the Work and Pensions secretary, is expected this week to announce plans to force long-term unemployed people who are deemed to have lost their work ethic into 4-week community service programmes.

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Whilst Danny Alexander, the Treasury secretary, yesterday attempted to characterise the plans as a sanction against those who were not taking advantage of available support to find jobs, welfare campaigners claimed that the planned reforms will actually make it harder for the unemployed to find jobs, and that they amounted to forcing the poor to pay for an economic crisis they did not cause. John Dickie, of the Child Poverty Action Group, said- “Expecting people to work 30 hours for no extra money is insulting. If the Government wants to provide employment for the unemployed to help them back into work, it should do so with genuine jobs that comply with minimum-wage legislation.” Mr Alexander has been forced to deny claims that the Government was treating the unemployed like criminals doing community service. 

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The Herald’s editorial argues that whilst the policy may appeal to Tory right-wingers, it ignores the reality that there are 4 people chasing each job vacancy, and may actually lead to fewer jobs due to the availability of a pool of voluntary unpaid workers. (Herald page 1, Scotsman page 1, 27, Scotland on Sunday page 5, Daily Express page 4, Courier page 11, Press and Journal, FT page 3, Daily Record page 2, Daily Mail page 4, The Time page 1) 

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RAF Bases: Scotland’s political leaders united yesterday in their protest against possible plans to close the RAF base near Lossiemouth, which could lead to the loss of £90.3 million a year to the local economy. Between 6,000 to 7,000 protestors gathered to voice their fears over the effects of closing the base, which First Minister Alex Salmond described as a cause of national importance. The protests, which involved all Scotland’s political parties, follow the news that RAF Kinloss will almost certainly close due to Prime Minister David Cameron’s decision not to renew Britain’s nimrod fleet. (Herald page 5, Sunday Herald page 7, Scotsman page 4, Sun page 2, Daily Express page 5, Daily Telegraph page 1, Courier page 10, Press and Journal page 1, Daily Mail page 2, Times page 23)

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Alcohol Pricing: The SNP will make a last-minute appeal to opposition parties to vote for its flagship minimum unit pricing of alcohol policy before the vote later this week. Although Nicola Sturgeon made a plea, backed by 160 experts, to Labour, the Liberal Democrats and the Conservatives in the Sunday Herald, it is thought that the attempt will be in vain and that the opposition will block the plans. Ms Sturgeon said “Scotland cannot afford- in human or economic terms- to allow this to continue. I call on MSPs to put aside political differences and grasp this opportunity to support minimum pricing. It is the right thing to do.” Although this appeal is thought to be unlikely to succeed, MSPs will vote this week to stop supermarket customers from getting loyalty card points for alcohol purchases or from buying alcohol in ‘3 for 2’ offers, through the Scottish Alcohol Bill. Eddie Barnes argues in Scotland on Sunday that although the minimum pricing laws are unlikely to pass, the reforms still amount to the biggest change in drink laws for a generation. (Herald page 6, Scotland on Sunday, page 1, page 2, Sunday Herald page 5, Courier page 1, Press and Journal page 8, Scotsman page 29, Daily Mail page 4, page 14, The Times page 12)

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Phone Hacking: Prime Minister David Cameron was facing increased pressure after Andy Coulson, his director of communications, was called in by police to answer questions over his part in the phone hacking scandal, which took place whilst he was in charge of the News of the World. Though Mr Coulson denied any knowledge of phone hacking, an article by the New York Times earlier this year alleged that the practice was much more widespread than had previously been admitted. (Scotland on Sunday page 7)

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Energy Fund: First Minister Alex Salmond has written to Prime Minister David Cameron to demand the release of £191 million he claims is owed to Scotland as part of a fossil fuel levy. Mr Salmond claims that Mr Cameron has attempted to impose conditions on the fund, which he claims was originally additional to the Scottish budget. Writing in Scotland on Sunday, the First Minister described the proposed changes to the fund as a “gigantic ruse and a blatant betrayal”, and claimed the UK government’s behaviour undermined its ‘respect’ agenda towards Scotland. (Scotland on Sunday, page 5, page 16)

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SNP Donor Praises Coalition: Sir Tom Farmer, a significant SNP donor, has said that the UK coalition government should be “admired” for its efforts to reduce the deficit. Though seen as a key SNP supporter in the business community, Sir Tom Farmer’s praise could be awkward for First Minister Alex Salmond, who has criticised the programme of cuts introduced by the Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition. He said- “There’s no way that we should kid ourselves that we could continue spending money we haven’t got, and that’s what it comes back to.” (Sunday Herald page 11)

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Civil Service: In an attempt to reduce the size of government, Finance Secretary John Swinney will cut the number of senior civil servants by 25% over the next 4 years as part of the spending review to be unveiled next week. Other moves include merging the government’s Business and International directorates. (Scotland on Sunday page 5)

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Cities Unify: Scotland’s six cities will form an alliance against what they perceive to be an SNP bias against urban areas, in favour of its bases of political support in rural locations. City leaders will meet to discuss inter-city collaborative efforts to demand more assistance from the Scottish government in areas such as fostering economic recovery, and will request the creation of a cabinet position responsible for urban regeneration. Professor Duncan Maclennan, who will address the SCDI’s Scotland’s Cities Conference, said- “The SNP’s political strength has been in the rural areas, but there is no country now that is led by its rural economy. If we are in a global economy, how you connect to it is not exclusively but primarily through your major urban centres.” (Scotland on Sunday page 4)   

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Cabinet Split: Health Secretary Nicola Sturgeon has reportedly won her battle with Finance Secretary John Swinney over the extent to which NHS funding should be cut, ahead of next week’s spending review. Whilst Ms Sturgeon demanded that the £11 billion in NHS spending should be protected, Mr Swinney wanted the cuts, which will amount to £3.3 billion over 4 years, to be shared across all departments. (Sunday Herald page 1)

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Greens’ Strategy: Patrick Harvie, the Green MSP for Glasgow, yesterday told his party’s conference that only the Greens could offer a tax-raising alternative to the budget cuts proposed by other parties, and that Scotland needed greater powers to adopt more progressive alternatives to the methods employed by the UK government to reduce the deficit. Mr Harvie said the cuts “will hit hardest the poorest in society. They represent economic incompetence of the highest order.” The Greens are expected to make large scale gains in next year’s Holyrood elections, potentially at the expense of the Lib Dems, with Caroline Lucas, MP, insisting that they will elect MSPs from all 8 regional constituencies to the Scottish Parliament (Herald page 6, Press and Journal page 9, Scotsman page 21)

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Galloway Return: George Galloway may return to politics as an MSP for Glasgow after claiming he is under “serious pressure” to run in Scotland’s next elections. Mr Galloway said he thought 10,000 to 15,000 votes would be enough to win a seat, stating “My friends don’t think it’s beyond me. Neither do I.” (Herald page 6, Daily Record page 1)

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Circus Animal Ban: Scottish Labour will reportedly use animal welfare reform, specifically in banning animals from performing in circuses, in order to win support ahead of next year’s Holyrood elections. Critics have lobbied for the removal of animals from circuses for years, arguing that the conditions in which they are kept, transported and trained are unacceptable. A UK government consultancy found that 94% of people supported such a ban, however Labour lost power before they were able to instigate appropriate legislation. (Sunday Times, page 5)

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Economy

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Oil, Gas and Renewables: Several energy industry leaders have expressed concerns over the news that oil and gas companies will get priority over the renewable energy industry in situations where both sectors are competing to exploit a given area. A clause in some Crown Estate licences allows the licence for exploiting an area to be taken away from a wind farm operator without compensation if oil or gas firms want to drill the sea bed. Critics say that the clauses undermine both the UK and Scottish governments’ green agendas, and will discourage investors from putting money into Scotland’s renewable industries due to the potential insecurity of their investment. However, Malcolm Webb, chief executive of Oil and Gas UK, denied there was animosity between the industries and stressed the need for cooperation between different sectors in order to fulfil Britain’s future energy needs. (Scotland on Sunday, business page 6)    

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Gold Standard: The President of the World Bank has suggested that leading economies should readopt a global currency standard to guide monetary movement. Arguing for a ‘Bretton Woods II’, Robert Zoelick says that gold could be used as a reference point for “market expectations about inflation, deflation and future currency values”. His views reflect dissatisfaction with current capital market distortions, characterised by Chinese undervaluation of the renminbi. Government heads will meet in South Korea this week to discuss global currency issues. (Financial Times page 1)

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Young People Jobless: A larger proportion of low-skilled young people are unemployed than in either of the last two recessions, according to research carried out by the Financial Times. The study contradicts the claim that the recession is hitting graduates hardest, with unemployment among 18-24 year olds rising by 40% since the recession began. Professor Paul Gregg, a labour market economist, said “this is a very large group, which is very worrying for policy-makers. They are not working, they are not in school, and we are not in touch with them.  There are no connectors or levers to get them back.” (FT page 3)

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Economy Static: Scotland’s economy is still static, according to figures released by the Bank of Scotland. Although companies are continuing to hire, and there were signs of growth in the financial sector, the rate of new businesses has declined for the first time in 9 months, demonstrating that the economy is still very fragile. This news comes in contrast to the rest of the UK economy, which recorded a mild acceleration in growth. Scotland has also fallen behind the rest of the UK in accessing emerging markets in Brazil, Russia, China and India with its exports, according to an Ernst and Young survey (Telegraph page 1, Scotsman page 6, Scotsman page 35) 

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Broadband Failures: Scotland’s broadband has been hit by 5 failures in 1 week, affecting tens of thousands of people and leading to calls for a more resilient network to be put in place. The broadband failure was followed by the news that thousands of people in Orkney and Shetland went without a telephone service for 36 hours on Friday and Saturday after lightning hit a radio relay system on Tuesday. While BT said it regretted the disruptions, it maintained that its broadband system was resilient and pointed out that most Orkney residents had experienced few problems. (Herald page 2)

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Glasgow Economic Commission: Experts from both the public and private sectors will meet in an attempt to reinvigorate Glasgow’s economy, and to find new investment opportunities. The Glasgow Economic Commission, which will be made up of top academics, entrepreneurs, business leaders and trade union chiefs providing advice for free, will attempt to mimic efforts made in 2008 to improve Glasgow’s health record, but will instead concentrate on the city’s economic future. Professor Jim McDonald, who will chair the commission, said “We are extremely pleased that senior business leaders will help us with this work to grow the economy, create jobs and help the city compete internationally.” (Herald page 4) 

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Glencoe Tourism: Transport Scotland has faced criticism over news that it will have to shut the A82 road to Glencoe for 14 weeks in order to carry out £11 million worth of upgrades, due to fears that the closure will destroy the ski industry. Though the date for the construction has not been announced, there has been speculation the work will be carried out in January 2012. Andy Meldrum, who led the buyout of the Glencoe slopes has questioned why the work would come during the winter months, saying “we are obviously delighted the work is going to be done, but we just think it should be during September, October, November.” (Herald page 7) 

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Transport 

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Community Run Buses: Strathclyde Partnership for Transport is introducing plans to give local communities greater control over running buses which operate on ‘life-line’ routes, in order to save money. In an attempt to protect isolated communities from the effects of cuts in public transport, charities and voluntary groups will be given vehicles so as to take over the running of bus routes which were previously the responsibility of private companies. (Herald page 1)

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Trams: Bill Jamieson argues in Scotland on Sunday that the departure of David Mackay from his position as chairman of Edinburgh Trams presents Edinburgh’s planned tram project with a new opportunity. Mr Jamieson argues that the political in-fighting, poor communication and absence of leadership which affected Mr Mackay’s departure could be solved by a bold appointment, such as either Sir Moir Lockhead, previously of FirstGroup and with experience of both engineering and transport, or Brian Souter of Stagecoach, who has experience of growing a business and understands transport networks. Either way, Mr Jamieson says action must be taken to restore Scotland’s reputation for achieving ambitious public projects. Meanwhile, Gillian Bowditch argues in the Sunday Times that changes must be made to the contracting process in future public projects to avoid underbidding as a means to win tenders. (Scotland on Sunday Business page 4, Sunday Times page 24)

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Education

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Spending Cuts: Following changes in the way higher education will be funded in England, Mike Russell, Scotland’s Education Secretary, has said that Scottish students will need to play a bigger part in funding their own education. This news has led to concerns that the poorest students will no longer be able to afford to go to university, highlighted by a survey from the National Union of Students which demonstrates 36% of students have considered dropping out for financial reasons. Professors Diamond, Muscatelli and Downes, the principals of Aberdeen, Glasgow and Dundee Universities respectively, argue in the Sunday Herald that changes must be made to make Scotland’s university funding sustainable, and suggest that a graduate contribution is necessary to keep Scotland’s universities competitive. (Sunday Herald page 23) 

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Struggling Pupils: Pupils with learning difficulties are more likely to succeed at maths if allowed to develop their own strategies, as opposed to using formal ones, in order to solve problems, according to new research by Strathclyde University. The study demonstrates that encouraging pupils to use their own methods, such as drawing pictures or counting on fingers, can achieve better results. Dr Lio Moscardini, of Strathclyde University, explained the findings by attributing pupils’ self-taught methods to encouraging greater confidence. (Herald page 5)