Daily Political Newspaper Summary: 20 February 2012
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.
Referendum debate: Michael Moore has made conciliatory remarks about the possibility of legal action should Holyrood runs its own referendum. Mr. Moore proposed that extra powers be transferred to the Scottish government to allow a vote to take place. However, the UK government is likely to impose conditions which First Minister Alex Salmond is likely to reject. Mr. Moore also rejected calls that under-18s would be allowed to vote in the referendum, arguing that the vote should be restricted to the existing terms. (The Herald page 6, Press and Journal page 13)
Prime Minister’s speech: Writing in The Herald, Andrew McKie argued that the Prime Minister’s speech last week was short on the details but effectively drew attention to the vagueness of proposals for independence as presented by the SNP. The speech elicited mixed reviews. In the Scotsman, Tory Peer Lord Forsyth criticised the speech, in which the Prime Minister offered more powers for Scotland should the referendum fail to pass, as undermining new party leader Ruth Davidson who was elected on the platform of drawing a line in the sand. Brian Monteith praised the Prime Minister for his positive message and sincere attempt to make a case for unity. (The Herald page 15, The Scotsman page 1, David Torrance in the Scotsman, Brian Monteith in the Scotsman page 27, The Scottish Sun page 15, The Sunday Herald page 4, The Press and Journal page 13, Duncan Hamilton in Scotland on Sunday page 15, Iain Macwhirter in the Sunday Herald page 39)
Constitutional change: Writing in the Guardian, Tim Montgomerie calls on David Cameron to make brave steps towards a federal UK. Mr Montgomerie argues that the Prime Minister has a unique opportunity to extend Scottish devolution, grant new powers to England, as well as decentralise the United Kingdom as a whole. However, he needs to make a compelling case for why Scotland should vote no in the referendum. Mr Montgomerie points to devo-plus, as proposed by Reform Scotland and which would grant tax powers to Scotland, as a compelling option. (The Guardian page 22).
Government reforms: Robert Durward, writing in the Sunday Times, advocates a restructuring of the way Scotland elects representatives. He proposes that the role of MPs and MSPs should be combined, with 73 representatives dividing their time between Westminster and Holyrood. As he believes this would increase legislative quality as well as oversight. (The Times page 27).
Holyrood tax powers: Former Labour Chancellor Alistair Darling backed an increase in tax powers for the Scottish government, arguing that is time to give it greater responsibility for the money they spend. However, he said that this power should not be devolved unless Scots reject independence, a vote which he thinks should take place sooner rather than later. (Scotland on Sunday page 1, Daily Express page 5, The Times page 3, The Daily Telegraph page 1, Courier & Advertiser page 2, Scotland on Sunday page 13)
Labour proposals: Writing in the Sunday Times, Simon Pia writes about the debate in the Labour party about devolution which took place in the last decade. Then Scottish Labour Leader Wendy Alexander had argued for an early referendum on independence and was reportedly over-ruled by Gordon Brown. Now, faced with a SNP majority government, Labour needs to make a compelling case against independence. (The Sunday Times page 7)
Legal basis: A debate on Scotland’s constitutional future, hosted by Terra Firma Chambers, indicated that Westminster legislation would be required to provide a legal basis for independence. Lord Wallace has repeatedly argued that a referendum was a power reserved to Westminster and could not legally be conducted by Holyrood. (The Scotsman page 40).
Taxation: Shadow Chancellor Ed Balls urged George Osborne to cut tax, possibly VAT or income tax, to increase economic growth. The move would help households and stimulate the economy. The call comes on the heels of a negative outlook for Britain by credit agency Moody’s. (The Courier & Advertiser page 22, The Daily Telegraph page 4, The Herald online)
Work schemes: The UK government has refused requests to reveal which companies are involved in delivering controversial “workfare” policies in Scotland. The scheme requires job seekers on benefits to take up unpaid work placements to avoid using their benefits. Critics of the programme argue that it takes advantage of workers and may prevent the creation of permanent jobs. (The Herald page 4)
Renewable energy: The Scottish government says that ambitious plans (100% of domestic energy needs met with renewable by 2020) will create about 50,000 new jobs. However, wind farm development plans have been met with scepticism by critics including American tycoon Donald Trump and Sir Kenneth Calman, Chairman of the National Trust for Scotland, who criticise the turbines on aesthetic grounds. Concerns also surround how development is financed and subsidised, with large portions of the funds going to foreign firms and demand for energy should Scotland gain independence. These concerns come at the same time that the House of Commons Energy and Climate Change Committee urged a more visionary approach to renewable energy. (The Sunday Times page 22, Scotland on Sunday page 6)
Job market: A report by the Bank of Scotland indicates that the job market has improved slightly in January although average salaries for permanent employees fell. However, a report in the Scottish Mail indicated that unemployment amongst over-50s has reached an all time high. (The Herald page 6, Daily Mail page 1)
Emissions fines: ExxonMobil has been fined £2.8 million for failing to report greenhouse gas emissions from a chemical plant in Scotland. However, former Prime Minister Gordon Brown, acting in his capacity as MP for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath, has criticised the fine for lacking transparency and called for information about how the fine was spent. (The Herald page 6, The Scotsman page 12, Scotland on Sunday page 1)
Rangers administration: There is continuing coverage of the difficulties of Rangers Football Club. However, some relief may be in sight. Manager Ally McCoist has expressed hope that job losses will be kept to a minimum as the club enters into administration and government sources indicated that the team may be granted the ability to pay back tax over many years. (The Scotsman page 8, Daily Record page 1, The Sunday Times page 1, The Sunday Herald page 6, The Times page 8)
Retail sector: A new report issued by the Scottish Retail Consortium indicated that people visiting shops during the festive season fell by 8.5% despite heavy promotions and discounting. However, there was an encouraging drop in shop vacancies in January, leading to some hope for the retail sector. (The Herald page 8, The Scotsman page 10, The Daily Telegraph page 4)
Land purchases: A £6 million Scottish fund will be launched today which will allow local communities to buy their own land. The fund is designed to bolster rural communities and help fight population loss. (The Herald page 10)
Labour rebels: Labour bosses have reportedly thwarted a fledgling rival party in Glasgow by registering its name for themselves with the Electoral Commission. (The Herald page 4)
High speed train: Professor Peter Woodward of Heriot-Watt University raised concerns that the planned HS2 high-speed railway may lead to track failure and derailment should trains be able to travel at 250 miles per hour. (The Herald page 12)
Gangster tax: Scotland’s top police officer, Stephen House, has argued that police should be able to keep a share of proceeds seized from criminals. He is confident that this new source of income, a so-called “gangster tax” would allow the police to expand and improve services. (The Sunday Herald page 3, Daily Express page 7, The Daily Telegraph page 8)
Teacher paycuts: Teaching unions called for the overturn of pay cuts for supply teachers in response to a Scottish Labour poll which showed that 84% of local authorities did not fill all requests for short-term cover in 2011 and 2012. The survey also found that 52% of councils experienced difficulty filling long-term supply requests. (The Herald page 1)
Independence and education: Lesley Riddoch, writing in The Scotsman, makes a case for early intervention to equip children for future success, citing cases from the Nordic countries which provide extensive support for early childhood development. She calls for a more extensive debate on how constitutional change will lead to better social programmes. (The Scotsman page 25)