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REFORM SCOTLAND NEWS: 23 February 2011

Reform Scotland

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Daily Political Newspaper Summary: 24 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: Colonel Gadaffi personally ordered the Lockerbie bombing, a former Libyan justice minister has claimed. Mustafa Abdel-Jalil, who resigned on Monday amid violent protests, claims to possess proof that directly links Colonel Gadaffi with the 1988 bombing. He also claims that Colonel Gadaffi’s moves to transfer Mr al-Megrahi back to Libya were primarily motivated by a desire to “hide” the truth prior to the bomber’s appeal against his sentence. His revelation follows leaked diplomatic cables revealing that the former Labour Government did “all it could” to help Libya secure the release of Mr al-Megrahi while ministers were claiming publicly that the decision was the Scottish Government’s alone. (Scotsman page1, Herald page 1, Sun page 1, Express page 4) 

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In a related story, Scots stranded in Libya during the anti-government protests have expressed fury at the UK Government’s failure to evacuate them. Oil worker James Coyle, speaking to the Scotsman, complained that the Foreign Office has not responded to emails for three days and has left UK citizens without any protection. 540 British nationals remain in Libya. The British military is preparing to launch a rescue mission, with a warship and military plane reportedly “poised and ready” to enter the country. Foreign Secretary William Hague last night announced that a further two planes would follow today. (Scotsman page 5, Herald page 2, Press and Journal page 1, Times page 1)  

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School closures row: Education Secretary Mike Russell has been cleared of any wrong-doing over his decision to campaign against the closure of 25 primary schools in Argyll. His critics claimed that it breached parliamentary protocol for Mr. Russell to become involved in a constituency that he does not represent as an MSP, but is intending to contest in the May elections. The complaint has not been upheld by either the Parliamentary Standards Commissioner or by Holyrood’s Presiding Officer. (Herald page 6) 

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Voluntary sector: Writing in the Scotsman, Bill Jamieson says that vested interests should not halt changes to Scotland’s Third Sector. This week The Gathering, the UK’s biggest voluntary sector event, is taking place at the Edinburgh International Conference Centre. However, Mr. Jamieson writes that the mood is pessimistic despite the Westminster Government’s Big Society rhetoric. He writes that fears of budget cuts left The Gathering preoccupied with the “biggest challenge to its existence for a generation”. What should have been “an occasion charged with Big Society optimism was trapped in febrile apprehension about the next round of local government spending cutbacks”. (Scotsman page 29) 

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Economy

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North Sea Oil: Estimates about the amount of oil remaining in the North Sea reserves has risen sharply, a new survey by Oil and Gas UK reveals. The survey also predicts that the rate of decline of oil and production in the UK will slow dramatically over the next few years, and that investment by oil firms will increase by £2billion in 2011, generating between 10,000-15,000 jobs. (Times page 15) 

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Justice

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School shooting: Two hooded teenagers opened fire with airguns on an Ayrshire school at lunchtime yesterday. The apparently random attack left 11 children injured, some as young as 12, though no one was seriously hurt. Police said that the shootings appeared to be an isolated incident and sought to reassure residents with an increased presence on the streets. Two teenagers, aged 15 and 18, are being held in connection with the incident. The shooting has heightened concerns about easy access to airguns and will fuel calls for gun laws to be devolved to Holyrood. (Scotsman page 1, Herald page 1, Press and Journal page 1, Times page 1)  

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Cadder ruling: Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill spoke out about the impact of a controversial European ruling on a number of criminal cases in Scotland. Scots law was changed when the Supreme Court overturned Peter Cadder’s assault conviction because he had not been offered legal advice before being interviewed. The ruling has so far led to 887 criminal cases being dropped. Mr MacAskill said “I think that there is something manifestly wrong that Scotland’s law and the Scottish Government do not even have the right to be represented at the European court.” (Scotsman page 9, Herald page 6, Press and Journal page 7)

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 Transport

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Trams: Council chiefs obtained a legal letter indicating that a contract to build Edinburgh’s trams was “fit and for purpose”, MSPs have been told. Transport Infrastructure in Edinburgh (TIE) is said to have taken expensive legal advice in relation to the contracts for the £600 million project, which is now at least two years behind schedule. Speaking at Holyrood’s Public Audit Committee, head of Edinburgh council’s legal services Alastair Maclean said that the external legal advisors could be hypothetically liable if the contracts are found to contain any “deficiencies or defects”. (Scotsman page 19 

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A9 improvements: In the last 32 years, more than £700 million has been spent on improvements to the A9, one of Scotland’s most dangerous roads, according to new Transport Scotland figures. The new information shows that £647.9 million was spent by the Conservatives when they controlled the UK Government between 1979 and 1997. In contrast, only £11.5 million was spent between 1997 and 2007 when Labour and the Liberal democrats controlled the Scottish Executive. (Press and Journal, page 13) 

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Air links: Edinburgh airport is to open a direct air link to Athens. The low-cost airline Easyjet will launch a new service which will see direct flights from Edinburgh to Athens three days a week. The airline’s expansion will see it adding a new plane to its Scottish fleet and creating 60 jobs. (Herald page 5)   

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Health

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MRSA: Nearly 30,000 patients are carrying MRSA when they are admitted to hospital in Scotland, a new study has revealed. The Scottish Government has decided against a scheme of swabbing patients for the bug before they enter wards, opting instead for a plan to ask patients a series of questions which will indicate whether they are at risk. This approach is said to be nearly as effective as widespread swabbing, at a quarter of the cost. (Herald page 3)    

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Education

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Tuition fees: The business lobby CBI Scotland is backing the introduction of back-dated tuition fees, claiming that ministers have little choice but to ask students to make a contribution to the cost of their degree. In a report to the Scottish Government, CBI Scotland suggests that Scottish Universities should charge tuition fees, to be repaid when graduates earn over £21,000. The report points out that, on average, graduates earn £160,000 more during their working life than non-graduates. The move follows calls by senior Scottish university figures to introduce back-dated fees amid warnings that cuts to their budgets mean that they must find an alternative source of income. Iain McMillan, director of CBI Scotland, writes in the Scotsman that Scottish universities must have “access to new revenue streams” if they are to remain autonomous and maintain their international reputation. (Scotsman page 9, 30)