REFORM SCOTLAND NEWS: 17 February 2011

Reform Scotland

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Daily Political Newspaper Summary: 17 February 2011

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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 highlighted 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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Lockerbie bomber: A former British Ambassador writes in The Scotsman today that the deal between Tony Blair and Colonel Gaddafi over the release of the Lockerbie bomber was a breach of a UN resolution which stipulated that Ali Mohmed al-Megrahi should see out his sentence in the UK. Sir Brian Barder suggests that the UK Government signed the deal first and gave lawyers instructions about how to devise a justification for the breach. (Scotsman page 2, 32) 

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Holyrood elections: Scottish Labour’s lead over the SNP has been wiped out, just weeks after being 10 points ahead of Alex Salmond’s party, a new Ipsos Mori survey has shown. If the findings of the survey were translated into seats, the SNP would continue to be the largest party in Holyrood, with 51 seats to Labour’s 48. Reportedly, senior Labour MSPs last night admitted that Party Leader Iain Gray had not done enough to raise his profile ahead of the May elections. The survey also revealed a widening gap between the personal ratings of the leaders of the two parties, with 51% of those polled saying that they were satisfied with Alex Salmond, and only 33% saying that they were happy with Iain Gray, a fall of 5% since November. If the SNP emerge as the largest party in Holyrood in May, Alex Salmond has claimed that he will form a minority government rather than seek a pact with the Conservatives or Liberal Democrats.  (Scotsman page 10, Herald page 7, Press and Journal page 13, Times page 3)  

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Scottish tax powers: An academic questioned by the Scottish Affairs Committee at Westminster yesterday said that Scotland’s tax-raising powers had been “designed not to be used”.  (Scotsman page 17)  

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Economy

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Scottish economy: Scottish households are likely to face at least five more years of falling living standards, a leading economist has warned. Professor David Bell of the University of Stirling said that the increased cost of living and depressed wages were likely to become a “permanent” fixture of the Scottish economy for at least 5 years. He said, “the possibilities for growth are not that strong and I don’t see unemployment falling fast without growth.” His comments come as another report warns that soaring inflation could see the cost of living rise by more than £1,000 a year. Mortgage payments are also set to rise if the Bank of England approves an increase in interest rates.  (Scotsman page 1) 

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Unemployment: Scotland’s unemployment total fell by 13,000 in the last quarter of 2010, new figures have revealed, with the unemployment rate falling to 8%, compared to 7.9% for the UK as a whole. However, despite this increase in the last months of the year, employment in Scotland fell by 2,000 over the whole of 2010. Scottish Labour Leader Iain Gray said that not enough was being done to tackle youth unemployment, after the new figures showed that 40,000 18-24 year olds were claiming Job Seeker’s Allowance, up from 36,900 in December. (Scotsman page 4, Press and Journal page 5)

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Wind energy: The wind energy industry has pledged to provide cash benefits to Scottish communities that host wind farms. Communities are to be paid a minimum of £1,000 a year for each megawatt of power that is installed, with the money to be paid into community trusts which distribute the money to causes such as solar panels and computers for schools. (Press and Journal page 8)  

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Transport

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New Edinburgh plan: Shops and restaurants could lose millions of pounds in trade if plans to cut half of the parking spaces on Edinburgh’s George Street go through, business leaders have warned. The plans to make one of Scotland’s busiest shopping districts more pedestrian-friendly would also see buses diverted from Princes Street, more space given to pedestrians and new pavement cafe areas encouraged. The Edinburgh Chamber of Commerce said that the plans were similar to a previous traffic management scheme that cost traders in the areas 20% of their custom. Chambers spokesman Graham Bell said, “The retailers and eateries would find that cutting out the opportunity for people to park would have a dire effect on their economy”. (Herald page 4, Scotsman page 6) 

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Air links: Alex Salmond has promised to increase the number of flights to and from Scotland if the SNP is returned to power in May. The First Minister said that he would like to cut Air Passenger Duty (APD), making it easier for airlines to reduce fares and sustain direct routes to Europe without the need to travel via Heathrow. He pledged to use the forthcoming Holyrood elections to call for the devolution of APD, a Calman commission recommendation that has not been included in The Scotland Bill. His comments have been attacked by environmental groups which said that the plans would threaten Scotland’s climate change goals. (Herald page 7)

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Education

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Universities: Scotland’s universities could lose their world-class status unless ministers spend millions more on higher education, a leading university principal has warned. Professor Anton Muscatelli of Glasgow University estimated that an additional £360 million of spending a year on Scottish universities is necessary to ensure that they do not fall behind their English counterparts, which are now able to charge up to £9,000 in tuition fees. Professor Muscatelli warned that the Scottish Government’s unwillingness to consider a graduate tax has left universities dangerously underfunded. (Times page 1) 

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Glasgow University cuts: Glasgow University will press ahead with radical plans to cut or merge a number of courses in a bid to make £20 million in savings, despite student protests. Among the courses facing cuts are several modern languages, Czech, German, Italian, Russian, as well as anthropology, nursing and social work. The University will also be cutting back funding for adult education classes.  Yesterday, 2,000 students and staff from threatened departments marched along streets close to the university before holding a rally in the main quadrangle. (Herald page 5, Times page 9, Scotsman page 15)