Daily Political Newspaper Summary: 16 April 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.
SNP and NATO: The SNP will vote on whether to renounce its long-held opposition to Nato. The move reportedly reflects a rift in the party, with some feeling that participation in the organisation would be incompatible with the party’s policy on nuclear weapons. Supporters of the organisation cite countries like Denmark and Norway which, despite their opposition to nuclear weapons, participate in the alliance. A recent survey found that only one in four SNP members opposed NATO. However, defence experts question whether Scotland would be able to move forward with plans to eject the Trident nuclear fleet if they decided to continue membership. (The Scotsman page 1, David Torrance in the Scotsman page 4, The Times page 1, Daily Mail page 4)
Referendum timing: Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg called for the referendum on independence to be moved forward in the interest of economic stability in the wake of reports by ThinkTank Maths which indicated growing concern over the economic effects of uncertainty. In an article in the Sunday Times, Mr. Clegg criticised the SNP for ignoring local issues in their efforts to secure a referendum. He endorsed the transfer of power to Holyrood under the Scotland Bill and is open to the further devolution of power, albeit as a separate debate from that on independence. Prime Minister David Cameron is expected to make another visit to Scotland ahead of local council elections. (The Sunday Times page 19, The Scotsman page 6, The Herald page 6)
MSP allegations: Labour MSPs called on Dunfermline West MSP Bill Walker to stand down as more allegations emerged about his private life. Officers in Fire Constabulary are reportedly looking into rape allegations made over 20 years ago. Mr. Walker was expelled from the SNP when it emerged that he had failed to disclose domestic violence charges. He denied the allegations and said that he would continue to sit in the Scottish Parliament as an independent. In response to recent scandals, the Coalition government at Westminster has published draft legislation which would allow constituents to recall disgraced MPs should Commons committee judges find that an MP is unfit to serve. There are increasing calls to implement this legislation in the Scottish Parliament as well but competences do not currently exist. (The Scotsman page 1, The Herald page 7, The Daily Telegraph page 11, Daily Express page 2)
Political donations: Labour leader Ed Miliband has called for a £5,000 cap on donations to political parties, including trade unions. He claimed that this would remove the influence of “big money” on politics and proposed that caps on party spending should be lower to reduce the reliance on big donors. However, Mr Miliband’s plan would exclude trade union levies on their membership which form a large proportion of Labour’s funding. (The Herald page 6, The Guardian page 6, The Daily Telegraph page 8, Daily Record page 8)
Tax relief and charitable donations: George Osborne’s plan to cap tax relief on donations at £50,000 or 25% of a person’s income has come under intense criticism from a number of sources. Scottish Finance Secretary John Swinney has warned that a move to cap tax relief on donations at £50,000 or 25% of a person’s income will have a negative impact on the charity sector. The move reflects concerns from Scottish university principals and cultural institutions which fear that their budgets will be slashed by the plan. Top Tories also criticised the plan for calling genuine giving into question. (The Times page 9, Financial Times page 1, Scotland on Sunday page 1)
UK trade missions: Conservative MP David Mundell sparked controversy when he said that Scottish trade ministers needed assistance from the UK government to be received abroad. The remarks, made from the US where Mr. Mundell was celebrating Scotland Week, came days before SNP finance secretary John Swinney set off on a trip to the Far East. (Scotland on Sunday page 2)
Scottish jobs and housing: The Bank of Scotland labour market barometer showed that the jobs market was at its highest level since last July. However, the average number of applicants is rising which may indicate rising desperation amongst job seekers. A fall in property values has reportedly made housing more affordable for key workers such as teachers, nurses and emergency service providers. (The Scotsman page 16)
Council elections: The SNP is privately predicting it could double the number of councils it runs in the May local government elections, ousting Labour as the traditional party of local government. The SNP hopes to benefit from a decrease in support for the Liberal Democrats as a result of their coalition deal with the Tories at Westminster. However, if the number of LibDems falls, the SNP could face difficulty cobbling together coalitions against Labour. (The Sunday Herald page 8).