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Reform Scotland News: 20 June 2011

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.

 

In addition to the newspaper stories outlined below, further news coverage can be found online at BBC News Scotland, STV News and Sky News.

 

Politics

Pensions reform: Union leaders have warned that the Westminster government’s planned public sector pension reforms will lead to strike action by millions of Scottish workers and a possible boycott of future negotiations. The Chief Secretary to the Treasury, Danny Alexander, warned that industrial action would be ‘a colossal mistake’ and has insisted that ministers will not back down. Meanwhile, the CBI has argued that, if adopted, the proposed reforms would still leave public-sector pensions among the best in the UK. (Herald, Scotsman page 10)

 

The Scottish Finance Secretary, John Swinney, is to make an emergency statement in Parliament this week in which he will attack the UK government’s public sector pension reforms and lay out the SNP government’s own plans in this area. Under the Westminster government’s plans, the pension age will rise to 66, pensions will no longer be based on final salaries but on average lifetime earnings and public sector employees earning more than £15,000 will be forced to contribute an average 3.2% more from their wages. However, because the local government pension scheme is wholly devolved to Holyrood and because councils employ half of Scotland’s public sector workers, the Scottish government has, at least in theory, the opportunity to deviate from the Westminster plan. (Herald)

 

Olympic games: The benefit which Scotland stands to receive from the Olympic Games will reportedly be ‘absolutely minimal’, following the finding that the Games’ ‘legacy’ programme, which will inject £135 million into grassroots sports, will focus solely on England. Despite a £150 million contribution from the Scottish National Lottery, no ‘legacy’ project has so far been announced for Scotland. (Scotsman page 1)

 

Independence: UK ministers have warned Alex Salmond that he must seek their support on the wording of his independence referendum or face the possibility of a legal challenge that could end up in the Supreme Court. (Sunday Times page 2)

 

A debate is underway as to whether the Electoral Commission could be given legal oversight of the referendum campaign. The UK government claims that campaign funding will not be properly policed if the SNP persists in its refusal to allow the Commission to oversee proceedings. In response, the Scottish government argues that Westminster has misunderstood the law and that the Electoral Commission could not be formally involved, even with new legislation. In the Commission’s place, the SNP government intends to set up a Scottish Referendum Commission, a move which Scotland Office minister David Mundell says will ‘hardly inspire confidence.’ (Scotsman page 1)

 

Conservative MP Jacob Rees-Mogg will use the third reading of the Scotland Bill on Tuesday as an opportunity to propose an immediate referendum on the question of Scottish independence. If adopted, the amendment would ensure that a referendum was held on the independence question within four months of the Act’s receiving royal assent and that the Act’s provisions would not come into force until this referendum had been carried out. In the event that the more votes were cast in favour of independence than against, the Scotland Act would not come into force. (Herald, Scotsman page 4)

 

A professor of law at the University of Glasgow claims that Alex Salmond, worried that the UK Supreme Court may rule his independence referendum ‘unlawful’, is seeking to ‘de-legitimize’ the court in the eyes of the Scottish public by criticising it publicly. (Times page 1)

 

Biography: Joan McAlpine, former journalist and now MSP for South of Scotland, has reportedly been granted access to Alex Salmond in recent months with a view to a long-term book project. (Sunday Herald page 2)

 

Economy

Economic impact of devolution: A study by Glasgow University’s Centre for Public Policy for the Regions (CPPR) raises doubts over whether Scottish economic performance has been affected by devolution. According to John Mclaren of the CPPR, the findings also call into question Alex Salmond’s request for new economic powers, such as the power to reduce corporation tax. The study notes that growth in Scotland since devolution has broadly matched that of the UK. While Scotland out-performed the UK as a whole between 2003 and 2007, it has performed at about the same level since then. Mr Mclaren expressed surprise at how little research had been conducted by the government into why the performance of the economy had varied in this way and noted that it was difficult to determine whether or not devolution had made a significant impact. He added that, in light of Scotland’s relatively good economic performance when compared with other European countries, poor economic performance cannot be cited as a reason for the granting of powers over corporation tax.

 

The study also finds a greater degree of structural imbalance within the Scottish economy than is present in the UK economy generally, with an over-dependence on the financial services and construction industries. (Herald page 3, Scotsman page 8)

 

Local Government

Judicial review: North Lanarkshire Council is seeking judicial review of the Scottish government’s decision to overturn its rejection of plans to build a £50 million waste energy plant next to housing and a school. If built, Shore Energy’s plant will burn off 160,000 tonnes of waste and convert it into energy. Local opposition to the scheme is strong due to fears that the plant will pose a threat to health and house prices in the area. (Herald)

 

Justice

Fraser retrial: The case against former businessman Nat Fraser will be retried after his conviction for the murder of his wife was quashed by a Scottish court on Friday. The decision of the Court of Criminal Appeal in Edinburgh follows a ruling of the UK Supreme Court that Mr Fraser’s right to a fair trial, guaranteed by the Human Rights Act, had been infringed by the omission of key police evidence from proceedings. (Herald)

 

Legal battle: Alex Salmond has sought advice from a leading figure at the Scottish Bar following the suggestion he could be sued over his attacked on a prominent human rights lawyer. (Scotland on Sunday page 1, Sunday Herald page 10-11, Sunday Times page 1, Daily Express page 3)

 

Transport

M74 motorway: The completion of the M74 motorway has attracted an investment by two leading UK property firms in a business park to be accessed by the new road. The investment is set to bring 700 jobs to Glasgow once the units are completed, as well as jobs on the construction of the site.

 

Health

Dehydration: 10 hospital patients die of dehydration every week, Information Services Division statistics reveal.  The problem contributed to the deaths of 550 patients last year, a figure which represents a 9% increase on the previous year and a 25% increase on a decade earlier. The figures were described by The Scotland Patients Association as ‘utterly horrific’. Labour spokeswoman Jackie Baillie has called for proper nutrition and hydration plans to ensure that vulnerable patients, such as the elderly, are not put at risk. (Scotsman page 11)

 

Hospital closures: A leading doctor has said that centralisation of hospital services over the next four years is inevitable and that the Scottish government’s manifesto commitment to keep the NHS ‘local’ was dishonest. Dr Lewis Morrison of the BMA claims that many patients will increasingly need to travel for healthcare because of the precarious financial state of NHS Scotland and the resulting inevitability of hospital reorganizations and closures. (Herald, page 1)