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REFORM SCOTLAND NEWS: 22 December 2010

Reform Scotland

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Daily Political Newspaper Summary: 22 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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Vince Cable: Vince Cable has retained his position as Business Secretary but his role has been restricted and will no longer decide on media takeovers after having been secretly recorded saying he had “declared war” on Rupert Murdoch’s media empire. The comments, which were made to undercover reporters posing as constituents, were considered to have jeopardised Dr Cable’s ability to oversee the proposed takeover of BSkyB, for which he has ‘quasi-judicial’ responsibilities. Downing Street declared the comments to be “totally unacceptable and inappropriate”, however Prime Minister David Cameron made the decision to allow him to retain his position, though he will lose around 20% of his department, after having met with Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg as well as Dr Cable. The controversy has continued with the news that at least three other Liberal Democrat Ministers – Michael Moore, Steve Webb and Ed Davey – have been secretly recorded criticising the coalition. The Scotsman editorial questions where Dr Cable’s future lies, and suggests he may have been retained in the cabinet due to concerns over the danger he would pose to the coalition from the backbenches. (Guardian page 1, Herald page 1, Scotsman page 1, Times page 1, FT page 1, Telegraph page 1,8, Daily Mail page 10, Daily Express page 2, Sun page 12, Daily Record page 2, Daily Mirror page 11, Press and Journal page 1, Courier page 14)  

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Megrahi: The Scottish Government has criticised a report by US Senators on the release of Abdelbaset al-Megrahi, branding it an “incorrect and inaccurate rehash” of events. The freelance report which was published yesterday claims that the decision to free the Libyan on compassionate grounds was based on an “inaccurate prognosis” that he had three months to live and that the decision resulted from pressure exerted by Westminster. The Scottish Government pointed out that the paper was not an official Senate Report, but rather the work of 4 Senators acting independently. The report was not based on classified information, and in fact cites the Metro newspaper as the source of some information. (Herald page 2, Scotsman page 12, Times page 9, Alan Cochrane comment Telegraph page 10, Telegraph page 1, Daily Mail page 12, Sun page 2, Courier page 1) 

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Scottish Futures Trust: The Scottish Futures Trust, a body created by the Scottish Government, has been labelled a “gravy train” by critics after it emerged it had spent nearly £3.3 million in 2009-10, with more than £1 million spent on agency staff and over £2,000 per day on consultants. Labour MSP Bill Butler questioned the amount spent, saying “These figures will do little to increase public confidence in this increasingly discredited quango.” (Scotsman page 2)

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Economy

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Bank levy: Chancellor George Osborne yesterday hinted that the current £2.5 billion levy on banks may be increased if banks do not increase lending and show some restraint in issuing bonuses. Answering questions about possible courses of action the Government may take, Mr Osborne said “What we’ve demonstrated in the last couple of weeks is we are prepared to increase the rate of the bank levy in order to sustain the revenue.” (FT page 2)

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Recycling complex: A new recycling plant, which converts industrial waste into energy, will be built at a farm near Glasgow, in what will be the biggest facility of its type in Europe. Named The Life Time Recycling Village, the plant, just outside Newton Mearns, will cost £640 million and cover 29-hectares of land and though it has attracted criticism from environmental groups, it will employ around 700 people, with its creators claiming it will be “bigger than the Commonwealth Games” when it opens in 2014. (Herald page 3)

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Unemployment: The number of people facing a second Christmas without a job has doubled according to figures released by the Scottish Trades Union Congress. The organisation also says that 4 times as many 18-24 year olds are unemployed for the second year in a row, compared to 2008. (Scotsman page 16, Daily Mail page 12, Press and Journal page 7)

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Mackerel war: The EU Fisheries Commissioner, Maria Damanaki, yesterday made a formal request to the European Economic Area to meet before 14 January in order to discuss creating an embargo on Iceland after the nation increased its fishing quotas in ‘the mackerel war’. The Scottish Fisherman’s Federation praised the decision, which is the first step towards blocking Icelandic vessels from unloading in EU ports. (Herald page 3, Press and Journal page 7)

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Justice

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Sheridan trial: Tommy Sheridan announced to the jury that he is “fighting for his life”, and that the case against him was one of “persecution, not prosecution” in his closing speech at the High Court yesterday. Mr Sheridan is accused of having committed perjury in the 2006 action he brought against The News of the World, and will today continue his closing speech in which he yesterday sought to discredit the witnesses speaking against him. (Herald page 7, Scotsman page 7, Times page 3, guardian page 13, Daily Mail page 13, Daily Express page 5, Sun page 8, Daily Record page 1, Press and Journal page 1, Courier page 9)  

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Domestic abuse: Around 50 women deemed at risk from domestic abuse will be given tracker devices over the Christmas period which can alert police to their location, in a move by Strathclyde Police to target abuse over the holidays. The rate of abuse is 50% higher between 23 December and 4 January than the rest of the year, leading police to promise tougher action. The designs of the trackers are being kept secret so that the users do not face recrimination for using them. (Herald page 2, press and journal page 4) 

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Community service: Justice Minister Kenny MacAskill has come under criticism after it emerged that 1 in 3 offenders fail to finish community service programmes. The news is embarrassing for the Scottish Government which moved to encourage community service instead of handing out jail terms. Labour’s justice spokesperson Richard Baker said “The SNP might be desperate to empty Scotland’s prisons but to suggest such a huge increase in the use of alternatives to custody at a time when we have an across-the-board reduction in their use beggars belief.” (Times page 3, Daily Express page 6) 

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Transport

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Travel trouble: Christmas travel plans were further disrupted yesterday after an electrical fault saw hundreds of travellers evacuated from trapped trains on the east coast line between Scotland and the south of England. The trouble coincided with thousands being stuck in airports as planes were grounded, with Heathrow running around a third of scheduled flights, and many people concerned about friends and relatives left stranded. The UK Government has reportedly offered army assistance to clear the snow. (Herald page 4, Scotsman page 8)

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Local Government

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Funding deal: All but one of Scotland’s 32 local authorities have agreed, at least in principle, to the conditions attached to the Scottish Government’s draft budget for next year, including the council tax freeze. Only West Dunbartonshire was yet to confirm it had agreed to the draft by the end of business hours yesterday, because it made the decision to continue meetings into the evening, before sending a response. The SNP has been criticised for its handling of the deal after threatening a 6.4% budget cut if councils did not agree to reductions of 2.6% and the conditions attached. (Scotsman page 2, Times page 6, Daily Mail page 17, Press and Journal page 10, Courier page 11)

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Health

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Anti-depressants: The use of anti-depressants in Scotland has increased by 7.6% last year, with more than 1 in 10 Scots taking mood-improving drugs. The increase comes as the Scottish Government has been trying to reduce use of anti-depressants, and is deemed a cause for alarm, with Liberal Democrat health spokesperson Ross Finnie saying “It is just wrong that a 10th of the Scottish population take an anti-depressant every day.” (Herald page 9, Scotsman page 15, Telegraph page 10, Press and Journal page 8)

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Education

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Highlands and Islands University: The last hurdle for the creation of a university for the Highlands and Islands has been cleared after the Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education gave its approval to the Scottish Government. After 18 years of planning the project may be realised, with Education secretary Michael Russell saying “The opportunities that University level learning has to offer the Highlands and Islands are considerable, not only in terms of its economic future, but also in terms of the social and cultural benefits this can bring.” (Herald page 4, Scotsman page 24, Press and Journal page 6)