REFORM SCOTLAND NEWS: 24 NOVEMBER 2010

Reform Scotland

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Daily Political Newspaper Summary: 24 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: John Swinney today faces calls to make a full apology over the Scottish Government decision to effectively abandon Holyrood\’s power to raise income tax. The finance secretary will make a statement to MSPs this afternoon on the controversy, amid signs he is preparing to concede ground over the affair. He admitted yesterday he was reflecting on his decision not to inform MSPs earlier this year that the Scottish Government would refuse to pay for the administration of the tax power. That led to confirmation from the UK government that the tax-varying power – supported in the 1997 devolution referendum – was no longer available until 2013 at the earliest. (Scotsman page 1, Eddie Barnes page 5, Herald page 6, Courier page 1, Press and Journal page 9, Daily Record page 2, Daily Express page 9)

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Scottish Parliament: The longest serving first minister has said that the Scottish Parliament is ‘simply not working’. Lord McConnell has stated that the debates held are too short for any proper discussion to be had, and that MSPs are given only a few minutes to challenge what has been said. He cited the draft Budget in support of his case, with the finance minister being given just 25 minutes to introduce his £27.3 billion plans, with MSPs being allotted only two minutes each to respond and the final decision dispatched to a committee. By contrast, the Westminster budget was debated over several days “in the full glare of the House of Commons”. Lord McConnell argued that the decision to close parliamentary business every day at 5pm was adding to the stifling of debate and “simply not working”. (Telegraph, pages 1& 4, page 14)

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Referee Strikes: First Minister Alex Salmond has stepped into the row over a threatened strike by Scotland’s top football referees. Mr Salmond said nobody doubted that referees had a very difficult job to do and he sympathised with them, but did not believe strike action was the best way to remedy the situation.  He said: “I hope discussions between the Scottish Football Association (SFA) and the referees’ union produce a resolution that averts strike action.” Mr Salmond said it was an issue for the SFA but Sports Minister Shona Robison had discussed the matter with its officials and they were pledging to do everything they could to find a satisfactory solution. (Herald page 10, Times page 21)

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Police forces: Scotland should reduce its police forces from eight to four, with Northern Constabulary extending its boundaries to include Moray as well as Argyll and Bute, a police chief has said. It would cover an area stretching from the island of Unst in Shetland to the Mull of Kintyre and from St Kilda to Keith. Northern’s chief constable Ian Latimer, who retires next year, has prepared a paper for this week’s meeting of the Northern Joint Police Board. He doesn’t say where the other three should be, but sees obvious advantages in having four forces. “It is considered that this model, which would cover a population of approximately 500,000 people, fits in well with the proposed extended northern force,” he said. (Herald page 7)

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Royal Wedding clash with Referendum: The announcement of the royal wedding date as the 29th April has caused concern, as it will fall just before the proposed referendum on the AV voting system. Roger Mortimore, the director of political analysis at Ipsos Mori, saying that wedding coverage would fill the press, with the referendum being considered much less interesting. He explained that “getting the message across in the last few days could be very important in winning the vote. So if the referendum is completely blown off the media…that could make a huge difference”. The wedding will also fall during the Scottish election period, with Alex Salmond stating that there would be “implications for the electoral and parliamentary timetable” and close consultation would be needed with “the Holyrood authorities”. (FT page 2)

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Pope Benedict: The Pope believes using a condom and avoiding pregnancy is a "lesser evil" than passing on HIV through unprotected sex, the Vatican said yesterday. The Roman Catholic Church moved to clarify this seismic shift in papal teaching as it further explained the Pope\’s comments on contraception. The Vatican has long been criticised for its patent opposition to condom use, particularly in Africa, where Aids is rampant. (Scotsman page 11)

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Economy

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Green energy: Fresh doubts over plans for four biomass energy plants have been raised after a Nationalist MSP launched a parliamentary bid to block the schemes. Shirley-Anne Somerville has won cross-party backing for a campaign calling for the Scottish Government to halt large-scale schemes such as those proposed for Leith, Dundee, Grangemouth and Rosyth. The "green energy" plants proposed by the firm Forth Energy would generate electricity from woodchips, the majority of which would come from forests overseas, although some Scottish chips would be used. Ms Somerville insists no biomass plants should be given the go-ahead until concerns have been addressed over their environmental credentials and detailed research has been carried out into the impact they will have on local communities. (Scotsman page 26)

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Justice

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Crime gangs: Criminal gangs are using some of Britain’s biggest firms in a multi-million-pound bid to defraud Scottish councils, it has been revealed. Organised crime groups have stolen at least £600,000 from local authorities and have targeted millions more using fake letters from major contractors. Fraud investigators last night issued a UK-wide warning over the con, which involves criminals harvesting commercial information published by public-sector bodies for details of their creditors. The gangs then write to councils and other state bodies using the headed notepaper of the creditors, including major corporations, and ask for electronic payments to be sent to a new account. (Herald page 1)

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Transport

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Rail price increase: Average rail fares will increase by 6.2% – nearly twice the rate of CPI inflation – from next January, the Association of Train Operating Companies (Atoc) has announced. The increase will add £1.10 to the price of a flexible “Anytime” return ticket between Edinburgh and Glasgow, bringing it to £19.80, while cross-Border fares from both cities to London are expected to go up from £108 to £114. CrossCountry, the company that operates the direct services between Edinburgh and Bristol, said it was putting up fares by 7.4% on average, although it refused to say which fares were going up by more than this. (Herald page 2, Courier page 8, Press and Journal page 1, Daily Express page 8)  

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Health

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Scottish Hospitals: The annual report from the Healthcare Environment Inspectorate (HEI) found that nearly half the hospitals surveyed did not have proper measures to prevent the spread of superbugs, such as MRSA. The report did note that conditions were improving, but an increase in surprise inspections is said to have been considered. The survey was conducted in 29 hospitals, covering all 14 Scottish regional health boards. The problems that the HEI identified included inefficient sterilisations of equipment, improper waste disposal and mattresses that had become contaminated with bodily fluids. (Telegraph, page 10)

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Assisted Suicide Bill: A survey of the Scottish public has shown that 77% agree with plans to legalise assisted suicide, with only 12% stating that they disagreed. A bill currently going through Holyrood would allow those who have an “intolerable terminal illness” to end their lives with help from the state. The End of Life Assistance Bill has been put forward by Margo Macdonald MSP, a sufferer of Parkinson’s. Ms MacDonald was pleased with the poll, stating that she had public opinion on her side. A total of 1001 Scots were questioned for the survey, which was carried out for the Green Party in April by polling company Angus Reid Public Opinion. However, with only a third of MSPs supporting her, the proposal is likely to be defeated when it is heard next Thursday. (Times page 7, Herald page 6, Press and Journal page 11)

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Education

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Glasgow budget cuts: Glasgow City Council has announced that it plans to cut its budget by £45 million next year, and education is set to be the worst affected area. Amongst the changes will be the increasing of class sizes, the ending of school breakfast services and the sacking of foreign language assistants. The council also plans to increase the hours of regular teachers, so that it does not have to pay for cover. Insistence was made that no schools would be closed and that education, whilst receiving a third of the budget, would only provide a quarter of the savings. However, a spokesman for the Education Institute of Scotland described the measures as “a kick in the teeth”. (Times page 3)

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Migration cap: University principals have warned Scottish Secretary Michael Moore that standards could drop because of proposed immigrations limits. Professor Bernard King, convener of Universities Scotland and principal of Abertay University, has now written to Mr Moore to point out 20 per cent of staff and 11 per cent of students in Scotland are now from outside the UK. He says that overseas students contribute £270 million to Scottish universities plus £230m to local economies in off-campus spending and, in the light of budget cuts; further restriction would create a "perfect storm" of financial challenges to the sector. Critics have warned that strict caps on overseas academics and students would have prevented some of the country\’s most famous scientific discoveries taking place on British soil. (Scotsman page 9)