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REFORM SCOTLAND NEWS: 15 December 2010

Reform Scotland

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Daily Political Newspaper Summary: 15 December 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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Fiscal powers: Rising taxes, made possible by the devolution of greater fiscal powers to Holyrood, would leave Scotland in the “financial wilderness”, according to Norman Springford, executive chairman of Apex Hotels. In a conference organised by The Scotsman and Reform Scotland, this view was challenged by one of Scotland’s leading businessmen, Jim McColl, who believed such powers would be helpful in enhancing economic growth and investment in Scotland. (Scotsman page 2, Times page 15, Press and Journal page 8)

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Saddam kickbacks: Glasgow based Weir Company reportedly paid £3 million to Saddam Hussein through Swiss bank accounts, in order to evade UN sanctions, the High Court in Edinburgh was told yesterday. Weir pleaded guilty to the illegal practices, which it admitted in 2004, and is expected to receive a fine for the part it played in illegally supporting the former Iraqi dictator. (Scotsman page 10, Times page 5, Herald page 5, Telegraph page 18, Courier page 10)  

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RAF Leuchars: UK government ministers have come under increased pressure to offer clarification over the future of RAF Leuchars, with MPs calling for a Commons debate over the closure of British military bases. A debate on RAF Leuchars has been called in Holyrood by the Conservatives today, with many of those campaigning for Leuchars concerned that the Scottish Government views RAF Lossiemouth as of greater importance because it lies in a key SNP area. The SNP responded by claiming it was working “extremely hard” to save RAF Leuchars. (Scotsman page 17, Times page 5, Herald page 6, Press and Journal page 1, Courier page 1, Daily Express page 6, Daily Mail page 2)  

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Redundancy changes: UK government ministers have been warned that changes to civil servants’ redundancy laws would see increased strikes and legal problems. Labour MP John McDonnell described the Superannuation Bill as an attempt to impose caps on the redundancy terms of thousands of civil servants, who will be sacked in line with the UK Government’s spending cuts. (Scotsman page 2) 

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Economy

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Mackerel war: The EU yesterday moved to impose sanctions on Iceland and the Faroe Islands after both nations refused to adhere to quotas set for next year’s mackerel catch. The European Fisheries Commissioner, Maria Damanaki, announced restrictions on landings of Icelandic mackerel in the EU and suggested she would take similar action against the Faroe Islands. Scottish fishermen have welcomed the move, having accused the nations acting outwith the quotas of having conducted a “massive mugging” of stocks.(Scotsman page 11, Times page 12, Herald page 10, Telegraph page 14, Press and Journal page 7, Courier page 7)

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House prices: House prices are likely to remain flat or possibly drop next year, according to the Council of Mortgage Lenders. Whilst the report indicates that the UK will probably avoid a double-dip recession, economic growth is likely to remain low, encouraging the Bank of England to maintain low interest rates, but resulting in little growth in the housing market. Low interest rates will not stimulate a rise in house prices due to a lack of demand, caused by a competitive jobs market and little consumer spending. (FT page 3, Daily Express page 15)

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Inflation rises: Rising costs of living may force the Bank of England to raise interest rates, after it emerged, through the Consumer Prices Index, that prices were 3.3% higher in November than they were a year ago, having risen from 3.2% in October. The rise was fuelled by record prices for food, clothing and furniture, and is likely to increase even further with the UK Government’s decision to raise VAT rates in the New Year. These trends are likely to increase pressure on household finances, as consumer prices rise at twice the speed of household earnings. (FT page 3, Times page 15, Courier page 13, Daily Express page 2)     

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Justice

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Double jeopardy: Scottish judges have spoken out against plans by Kenny MacAskill, the Justice Secretary, to allow the retrial of suspects who have been previously acquitted in cases of serious crime. Mr MacAskill had planned to make the Double Jeopardy Bill retrospective in order to try Angus Sinclair for the World’s End murders for a second time. The legislation would only allow retrials in certain circumstances, such as if the previous trial was found to have been tainted or if evidence came to light showing the suspect had admitted guilt. Judges said that it was dangerous to make the Bill retrospective and that it raised constitutional problems. (Telegraph page 1, Scotsman page 13, Courier page 7)

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Gangsters targeted: The police have revealed the names of organised crime figures to insurance companies so as to increase the payments they make into schemes as part of a strategy to “do anything possible within the law” to inconvenience them. The practice of passing on confidential files on gangsters, who may not have been convicted, to private firms, was pioneered by detectives from Strathclyde, and generally aims at stopping criminals from getting normal rates on life insurance. (Herald page 1)

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Transport

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Weather plan: In preparation for another cold snap the new Transport Minister, Keith Brown, has created a six-point emergency plan to ensure that Scotland does not grind to a halt. Extra salt will be stored in strategic locations around the nation’s roads, vehicles will be modified to help clear snow, emergency teams will be equipped with welfare kits, diversions will be made to help motorists avoid blocked routes, motorway barriers will be removed and HGVs may be ‘stacked’ to allow other vehicles access to roads. (Scotsman page 1, Times page 9, Herald page 1, Press and Journal page 1, Daily Express page 4, Daily Mail page 5, Sun page 1, Daily Record page 6)  

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M8: The Scottish Government yesterday announced it will complete the motorway link between Edinburgh and Glasgow, constructing a seven mile section east of Glasgow which is expected to save commuters 20 minutes in journey time. Though the decision was approved 2 years ago, it is still not clear how much the scheme will cost, with estimates at around £310 million. (Scotsman page 8, Herald page 4, Press and Journal page 11) 

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Local Government

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North Lanarkshire cuts: North Lanarkshire will make 600 people redundant in an attempt to cut £55 million from its budget. In a move which brought campaigners and trade unions out in protest, the council also announced it would save £1 million through cancelling the free transport currently on offer to all secondary pupils within 3 miles of school. (Herald page 1)

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Health

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Cuts: NHS employee numbers have fallen by 1,000 in one year, raising fears over the future quality of patient care. The biggest drop was in the number of midwives and nurses, which fell by 548 against this time last year. Whilst medical leaders and opposition parties argued that cuts in staffing could have an extremely damaging effect on health, the SNP claimed that despite the staff cuts there are still currently more staff working for the NHS than when they arrived in power. (Scotsman page 9, Herald page 6, Press and Journal page 11, Daily Express page 2, Daily Record page 2)

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Obesity: Obesity levels in Scotland’s schools have risen in the last year, according to a study by Information Services Division Scotland. The report also found that 78% of parents with obese or overweight children did not realise their child had a weight problem, with around a third of adults unaware that they were overweight. Opposition parties called for greater efforts to stop rising obesity rates and the Public Health Minister Shona Robison said “obesity is a huge health challenge to Scotland and we cannot be complacent.” (Scotsman page 13, Herald page 5, Telegraph page 10, Press and Journal page 11, Courier page 3, Daily Mail page 4, Daily record page 2)

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Super hospital: The Scottish Government has approved plans to build a new £842 million ‘super hospital’ on the site of the current Southern General Hospital in Glasgow. It will include a specialist children’s unit as well as an adult section with over 1,000 beds. (Daily Express page 2, Daily Record page 2)

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Methadone: Methadone use has increased by 25% over the last 5 years, with over half a million Scots receiving prescriptions. The Scottish Conservatives said this indicated that Scotland was “over-dependent” on methadone, whilst the Liberal Democrats said the public should be questioning how Scotland was tackling its drug problems. (Daily Express page 10, Daily Record page 2)