REFORM SCOTLAND NEWS: 22 November 2010

Reform Scotland

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Daily Political Newspaper Summary: 22 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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Tax Powers: The row over the SNP Government handing back tax-raising powers to London has been dismissed by the former trade union leader drafted in by Alex Salmond to head a review into the future delivery of Scotland\’s public services. Former Scottish Trades Union Congress General Secretary Campbell Christie stepped into the controversy over what happened to the Scottish 3p variable tax rate power, amid mounting pressure on Finance Secretary John Swinney who delivered his Budget the day before the news about the powers was revealed. The Scotland on Sunday editorial argues that John Swinney implied that he had made the decision to avoid using the tax, when in fact he had no choice, and that this demands answers.  The Greens were particularly keen to hear answers since they were planning to run in the next election on a ‘tax and spend’ agenda. (Scotland on Sunday 2, Sunday Herald page 1, Scotsman page 6, Herald page 6, Telegraph page 1, Alan Cochrane page 11, Times page 5, Press and Journal page 3, Courier page 6, Sunday Times page 2)

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Supermarket tax: Plans to introduce a ‘supermarket tax’ on large retail outlets could lead to court action, as well as jeopardising the Scottish Government’s budgetary plans. Finance Secretary John Swinney last week made the decision to increase business rates for big retailers by £60 million to help fund local authority expenditure, but has met with criticism from business leaders who claim the move is illegal, and have threatened legal action. The money is a key part of the SNP’s spending plans and a successful legal challenge could force the Government to make deeper cuts to make up for the lost revenue. (Scotland on Sunday page 1 

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RAF Leuchars: The strategic case for keeping RAF Leuchars open is "overwhelming", Sir Menzies Campbell has insisted after speculation that the Fife base could face closure. RAF Leuchars could be axed to save jobs in other parts of the country, despite earlier reassurances it was safe. Liberal Democrat MP Sir Menzies, whose North East Fife constituency covers Leuchars, has now written to Defence Secretary Liam Fox outlining the case for keeping the base. (Scotsman page 10, Press and Journal page 1, Courier page 1) 

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Immigration: Cutting immigration to Britain from beyond the EU is perfectly possible, David Cameron has insisted, promising that his plan to more than halve the current 196,000 level by 2015 would be “business friendly”. Doubts have been expressed that the Prime Minister – due to announce his proposed immigration cap for 2011 as early as this week – can significantly reduce the number of migrants from outwith Europe. The Commons Home Affairs Committee has claimed that less than one in 100 immigrants might be affected, while warning a cap would make little difference to overall levels and could damage the economy. (Herald page 8, Guardian page 4, Sun page 2, Daily Express page 4, Daily Mail page 4, Sunday Times page 2)

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Kabul safer than Glasgow: Mark Sedwill, a former British ambassador to Afghanistan and now the NATO senior civilian representative in Kabul, said children were probably safer there than in London, Glasgow or New York.  His comments in a television interview with CBBC Newsround were rejected by aid agencies working in Afghanistan, which has one of the highest child mortality rates in the world and has seen more than three decades of war and civil strife.  A United Nations report last year concluded that Afghanistan was the most dangerous place in the world to be born. In total 1,795 children were killed or wounded during the conflict from September, 2008, to August, 2010, and 74 children died in roadside bombs or suicide attacks in the first six months of this year. (Telegraph page 2, Herald page 8, Press and Journal page 5, Guardian page 10, Sun page 21)

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Asylum Seekers: First Minister Alex Salmond has branded the decision to evict up to 600 asylum seekers from Glasgow as “totally devoid of any compassion or understanding”, and has written to Home secretary Theresa May to complain. Mr Salmond’s intervention came as hundreds of asylum seekers burned letters, which informed them they may be re-located with little notice, outside the UK Border Agency in Govan. (Sunday Herald page 8)

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Economy

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Fiscal powers: Writing in the Sunday Herald, Reform Scotland chairman Ben Thomson argues that greater fiscal autonomy for Scotland would create an incentive for politicians to deliver public services more effectively.  By making each level of government responsible for raising the money it spends, Scotland could move away from a “dependency culture in the public sector on money from Westminster”, and make Scottish politicians accountable to voters. (Sunday Herald ‘opinion’ page 6)

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Scotland’s banks: Scotland\’s economy will face "disastrous" consequences if the UK\’s major banks are broken up as part of a shake-up of the country\’s financial sector, former Chancellor Alistair Darling warns today. Ahead of a meeting of the Independent Commission on Banking in Edinburgh tonight, Mr Darling says the move would make global banking giants "pack up" and leave the country. He says foreign investment houses would "strip" banks such as RBS of their assets and force the closure of the company\’s headquarters in Edinburgh. The MP warns of job losses if the commission backed "populist" calls to dismantle banks, such as the Royal Bank of Scotland and Lloyds. (Scotsman page 1, Alistair Darling in Scotsman page 27, Bill Jamieson page 37, Scotland on Sunday page 1, Business page 1)

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Ireland’s bail-out: The Irish Government confirmed last night it will seek a bailout loan from the International Monetary Fund and the European Union. After an emergency Cabinet meeting lasting several hours in Dublin and talks with EU states, ministers signed off plans for the rescue package. With an International Monetary Fund (IMF) and European bailout of up to €70 billion (£60bn) now on the table, the Taoiseach, Brian Cowen, said the unprecedented rescue package would address serious and urgent issues, including the debt- riddled banks. But the announcement was met with anger as protesters clashed with police on the streets outside the government buildings where the talks took place. (Scotsman page 1, Herald page 2, Telegraph page 1, Times page 1, Guardian page 1, Daily Express page 2, Daily Mail page 1)

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Coal power station: A planned coal-fired power station at Hunterston in North Ayrshire may not get the go ahead because ministers have withdrawn support. The £3 billion project has been deemed unnecessary after projected growth figures for wind power generation demonstrate Scotland’s energy needs can be met without the plant. (Sunday Herald page 17) 

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Justice

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Police officer numbers: One of Scotland\’s most senior policemen has warned of a "diminished performance" in tackling crime due to millions of pounds worth of cuts affecting officer numbers. Patrick Shearer, the president of the Association of Chief Police Officers in Scotland (ACPOS), also highlighted the risk of "reduced public satisfaction and confidence" in policing due to cutbacks. The warning from the ACPOS president, who is also the Chief Constable of the Dumfries and Galloway force, came despite a promise from the SNP Government that it would protect police numbers and that the number of officers on the streets would remain at 1,000 more than 2007 levels. (Scotsman page 21, Times page 5, Press and Journal page 1, Courier page 3, Scotland on Sunday page 2)

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Potential terrorist threat: Police are continuing to investigate the site of a mysterious woodland explosion for clues as speculation grows that the blast was the work of terrorists.

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Police officers continued to comb the area in Garadhban Forest at Gartocharn, near Loch Lomond yesterday following the explosion on Wednesday. The explosion may have been a test run by terror cells, according to Professor David Capitanchik, a terror expert from Robert Gordon University. Raising fears of a terror training camp in Scotland, Professor Capitanchik suggested the blast could indicate that an attack on the UK is imminent. A large area around the blast site has been closed off, to be examined by forensic and explosive experts. (Scotsman page 15, Herald page 4, Scotland on Sunday page 1)

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Lockerbie:  Lockerbie priest Father Pat Keegans has written an open letter to families of the US victims urging them to support a public inquiry into the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over the Dumfries and Galloway town on December 21, 1988, which killed everyone on board and 11 people on the ground.  Mr Al-Megrahi – released on compassionate grounds from Greenock Prison last August with terminal prostate cancer – is the only person convicted over the deaths. (Herald page 4) 

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Sex offenders: The SNP has faced criticism from the Conservatives after failing to post the pictures of dozens of missing sex offenders onto the internet. Figures show that there are 31 missing sex offenders in Scotland, but none of them had their details added to the Child Exploitation and Online Centre website. The plans for offenders to be “named and shamed” had been made by Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill three years ago. (Scotland on Sunday page 6) 

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Transport

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Snow fall: Scotland can expect up to six inches of snow next as winter arrives in force, forecasters said last night. The North-east looks set to face heavy snow and overnight temperatures of minus 9C, while eastern England faces snow and sleet. Forecaster Gemma Plumb said: "It\’s going to turn increasingly cold next week and then, from Wednesday, showers are going to turn to sleet and snow, especially in northern Scotland and eastern parts of England. (Scotsman page 2, Daily Express page 1, Daily Mail page 11)

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Local Government

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Edinburgh’s Hogmanay celebrations: Edinburgh Council is considering “privatising” Scotland’s largest Hogmanay street party in a bid to stem losses of more than £1 million over the last three years. The future of the New Year party will hinge on the success of this year’s celebrations, already cut back from five days to four, under a broad-ranging review by Edinburgh City Council. This year’s celebrations are likely to be the last under the current funding arrangements, which have seen the taxpayer shouldering a considerable bill for the event. Greater private backing and involvement in organising events would mean removing at least some of the liability from the council, but it is thought the scale and nature of future celebrations may need to change radically for that to work. (Herald page 1)

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Health

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Heart disease: Scottish scientists have made a key breakthrough in the search for the causes of serious conditions such as heart disease and high blood pressure. The researchers, funded by a £1 million grant, are investigating the role of "smooth" muscles, which are found inside organs such as the stomach and bladder. The team, from the University of Glasgow and University of Strathclyde, have developed a new technique to study these muscles to find out what goes wrong to cause diseases including heart problems and stroke. Smooth muscles play a major part in controlling blood flow, blood pressure and the digestion of food. (Scotsman page 14)

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Education

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Schools Administration: Stirling and Clackmannanshire Council have agreed to share the running of schools as part of moves to save money in the face of public funding cuts. The two councils will this week announce plans to work in partnership to deliver education and social work services. The neighbouring councils control 60 primary schools and 10 secondary schools. By streamlining the administration of education and social work, the councils hope to save significant sums of money in terms of reducing the number of senior posts, as well as through joint purchasing of services. (Herald page 7)

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Edinburgh College of Art: Edinburgh College of Art (ECA) has been accused of covering up expenses accrued by its principal and a senior colleague, after it emerged that the pair had spent around £50,000 on corporate credit cards, around £40,000 more than they had previously admitted. Financial constraints had pushed the ECA toward a merger with the University of Edinburgh, however at least one MSP has called for the merger to be halted whilst investigations are carried out. (Sunday Herald page 10)