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Reform Scotland News: 26 March 2012

Daily Political Newspaper Summary: 26 March 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.

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

Scottish Conservative Conference: The conservatives have fallen behind Labour in polls following George Osborne’s budget which included the so-called “granny tax” which cuts tax thresholds for the elderly while cutting taxes for those in the top income bracket. The Prime Minister used the Scottish party conference to urge the party to end “hand-wringing” and capture centre-right voters. The Prime Minister plans to borrow tactics from Anglophone Canadians who made voters in Quebec feel wanted before a 1995 Referendum. He has announced a series of speeches in England to build support for the union and encourage English people to “love their neighbour” after spending discrepancies, free university tuition, and personal care for the elderly has reportedly fuelled English resentment of their northern neighbours. Scottish leader Ruth Davidson also rallied the troops in favour of the union, saying in her first speech since her November election that “this is our cause and we will not be found wanting.” She also announced plans to bring new talent into the party and rethink the nomination system. (The Herald page 6, The Sunday Times page 2, The Sunday Herald page 14, Scotland on Sunday page 6)

Conservative fundraising scandal: Prime Minister David Cameron has faced criticism after it emerged that party treasurer Peter Cruddas urged reporters posing as wealth fund executives from the tax-haven of Liechtenstein to increase their donations in return for access to senior party leaders. The undercover reporters had hired Sarah Southern, a former Cameron aide working as a lobbyist, who advised them that making a “huge donation” was the best way to gain access. The Prime Minister has promised an internal inquiry. Mr. Cruddas, who was recently appointed to the post, has resigned. (The Scotsman page 1, The Herald page 1, The Daily Telegraph page 1,The Guardian page 1, The Times page 1, Daily Mirror page 1, The Sunday Times page 1)

Scottish border controls: UK Home Secretary Theresa May has warned that travellers between an independent Scotland and England might face border checks and an increased threat of international crime and terrorism. This would occur if Scotland did not inherit the UK’s opt-out of the Schengen area agreements. Senior SNP MP Pete Wishart dismissed the issue of border controls as “scaremongering.” (The Scotsman page 4, Scotland on Sunday page 1, Alan Cochrane in the Daily Telegraph, The Times page 8)

Lockerbie report leak: The 821-report from the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission was published online on Sunday by the Sunday Herald. Efforts by the Scottish government to bring forward the release of the document had been blocked by Westminster. The Herald published the report in full online after obtaining the consent of Abdelbaset Ali Mohmet al Megrahi, the Libyan convicted of the bombing.  First Minister Alex Salmond welcomed the publication of the report which was not authorised by the Crown Office. (The Sunday Herald page 4)

Scotland Bill: Writing in Scotland on Sunday, Duncan Hamilton, wrote about David Cameron’s recent visit to Dublin where he praised the strong history and cross-border ties between the United Kingdom and Ireland, contrasting the Prime Minister’s framing of Scottish independence as the path towards isolation. He also says that the Scotland Bill, despite its shortcomings, is a “small step in the right direction.” (Scotland on Sunday page 15).     

Sectarian songs: The Lord Advocate has issued guidelines about what songs and chants are legal under the Scottish government’s new anti-sectarian guidelines, a move that has angered fans. Fans singing the songs during matches could face arrest. (Scotland on Sunday page 1)

Wind farm Policy: Leading Scottish Conservative Murdo Fraser attacked his party colleagues in the UK government for letting the Liberal Democrats dictate energy policy on wind farms. His participation in a debate during the Scottish Conservative conference was in response to plans to increase the number of wind farms despite much local opposition. (Scotland on Sunday page 6)

Conservative Friends of the Union: Brian Monteith, writing in the Scotsman, criticised the new Conservative-led unionist organisation for failing to present a vision of what the union actually means. (The Scotsman page 14)

Economy

Budget criticism: George Osborne’s budget has come under fire for cuts to pensioners’ allowances as well as inconsistency of reforms. An initial YouGov poll found that only 32% of those polled thought the budget was fair and Mr Osborne’s approval ratings have also fallen, especially among older people. However, several key initiatives, including tax cuts for those in top income brackets as well as an increase in the personal tax allowance, were leaked prior to the official presentation of the budget. The cuts to support for pensioners, downplayed in the presentation, have been framed by the media as a “granny tax.” (Scotland on Sunday page 13, Scotland on Sunday page 22).

Post-independence economy: Alex Salmond announced that he will set up the Fiscal Commission Working Group to establish a fiscal framework for an independent Scotland. The group will include former World Bank Chief Economist and Nobel Prize winner Jospeh Stiglitz of Columbia University. The move came as a report from the David Hume Institute indicated that an independent Scotland would be expected to shoulder around £100 billion of debts and liabilities after leaving the UK.  Businesses hoping to avoid financial uncertainty have come together under the heading of Better United to campaign against independence. (The Sunday Times page 2, The Times page 5, Scotland on Sunday page 2)

Potential petrol tanker strike: The Army and police are on standby to ensure that a proposed strike by 2000 tanker drivers would not disrupt the economy and travel over the Easter holiday. The tanker drivers, represented by Unite, have voted for a strike because of “unrelenting attacks” on drivers’ terms and conditions. The Scottish Parliament has confirmed it will bring forth an amendment to the Budget Bill to introduce a fuel duty regulator in response to record prices. (The Herald page 9, The Daily Telegraph page B1, The Guardian page 6, The Press and Journal page 11)

Edinburgh business contributions: According to a study carried out by accountancy firm UHY Hacker Young, Edinburgh businesses contribute more to the economy per head of population than any other major city in the UK as it wasn’t hit as hard by the financial crisis as London.  In addition, oil-rich Aberdeen was the only major UK city to see its economy grow during the recession. (The Scotsman page 14)

Unpaid work schemes: The names of companies participating in Mandatory Work Activity and other work programmes have not been released, despite calls from the Herald to release the news. The Department of Work and Pensions cites protests and criticism faced by participants as justification for withholding the names. (The Herald page 4)

Education

St. Andrews admissions: St. Andrews, a member of the influential 1994 universities group, has threatened to withdraw from the central universities admissions systems due to changes which would force pupils to wait for their exam results before applying for a course. This, according to the administration, would put applicants from Scotland at a considerable disadvantage to those from the rest of the UK who receive their exam results earlier. Conservative Education spokesperson Liz Smith called for a review of the proposed changes to ensure that students face a level-playing field. (The Courier and Advertiser 21)

College course cuts: More than half of Scotland’s colleges have reportedly axed courses in the wake of Scottish government cuts to their teaching budgets. Courses cut include music, law, management, and business. In 2010/11, the teaching budget to colleges was cut by 10.4%. (The Herald page 1)

Health

NHS Lothian wait list: NHS Lothian has been criticised for offering patients unrealistic appointments for procedures in England and using refusal to bump patients to the back of the queue in an effort to cut waiting time statistics. Two senior officials were disciplined and Health Secretary Nicola Sturgeon was forced to apologise to the Scottish Parliament but new evidence brought forth by Labour suggests the problem goes deeper. (The Herald page 3)

Flu breakthrough: Research conducted by NHS Lothian and the Roslin Institute at the University of Edinburgh has found a potential gene which makes us especially susceptible to flu. This breakthrough could allow doctors to target patients most at risk for vaccination. (The Herald page 8)