Reform Scotland News: 4 October 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

The SNP and NATO: An internal briefing paper published by SNP defence spokesman Angus Robertson has reinvigorated the debate on NATO membership for an independent Scotland. The report warned of severe threats to Scotland in the “High North” and from Arctic disputes in the future. SNP critics of NATO dismissed the report as having “inaccuracies, omissions and a misunderstanding of geopolitics”. (Scotsman page 12, Herald page 4)

Special advisors: In a backroom reshuffle, Alex Salmond has taken on three new special advisors to replace the two who left to take up roles in the SNP and in the Yes campaign. This pushes his number of special advisors to thirteen, reportedly the highest of any First Minister since the process of devolution began, at a cost of £933,000. (Scotsman page 14, Herald page 6, Telegraph page 16, Times page 6, Express page 2, Record page 6)

Universal benefits U-turn: Following on from the comments made by Johann Lamont last week, which brought to the fore questions about services provided as universal benefits, SNP education secretary Michael Russell has had to disown similar doubts he expressed in a book published in 2006, before he re-entered Holyrood. (Scotsman page 14, Herald page 6, Telegraph page 17, Times page 21, Express page 2)

Ed Miliband and the Union: One of the most potent threats to a “yes” victory in the independence referendum would be the prospect of a likely Labour victory in Westminster in the 2015 election set for just a few short months after the independence vote, writes Gregor Gall in The Scotsman. In order for this to be realised, however, Ed Miliband must stop pulling the party to the right, alienating its traditional union support base. (Scotsman page 31) Iain MacWhirter in The Herald feels that in seeking to promote “one nation”, Labour has taken on a monumental task and argues instead for a federal UK.

One nation: In efforts by the Labour party to promote the UK as one nation, it has been revealed that Scottish Labour leader Johann Lamont has been invited by Ed Miliband to regularly attend UK shadow cabinet meetings. (Herald page 6, Record page 6, Courier page 20)

Families policy: A new national strategy for parenting has been announced in Scotland, one which will seek to redress the unequal treatment given to fathers in many dispute cases and which will endeavour to help fathers build the skills they need to be good parents and role-models. It will also seek to make available more resources to children whose parents have separated. (Scotsman page 13, Herald page 9)

Sterling zone: Chief Secretary to the Treasury Danny Alexander last night cast doubt on the wisdom of seeking to set up between the UK and an independent Scotland a monetary union without a fiscal union, given the lessons learned from the ongoing Eurozone crisis. (Herald page 7)

Economy

Tourism slump: Visits to Scotland’s most popular historic attractions were disappointingly low last summer, with Historic Scotland registering an average 8% decrease in visits on the previous year. Fingers have been pointed at the unusually bad weather that battered the UK throughout the season, as well as the recession, and the distraction caused by the Olympics. Whisky distilleries have, however, bucked the trend. (Scotsman page 3, Herald page 10, P&J page 9)

BBC Scotland cuts: Dr Michael Higgins laments, in The Scotsman, the cuts being made to the BBC in Scotland, including 17 jobs in news and current affairs. He writes that the inevitable lessening in quality and quantity of Scottish content will be an affront to Scottish identity, and will play into the hands of Alex Salmond, who has long advocated a separate Scottish version of the BBC. (Scotsman page 8)

Stamp duty: Businesses and professional bodies have warned that Finance Secretary John Swinney’s lengthy delay in announcing whether or not the Scottish government will be seeking to replace stamp duty with a Lands and Buildings Transaction Tax could create uncertainty in the markets and prove a disincentive to investment in Scotland. (Scotsman page 22, Telegraph page 15)

“Tarnished” RBS: Bill Jamieson argues in the Scotsman that so toxic has become the reputation of RBS, that nothing short of a total rebranding will get the bank back on its feet. (Scotsman page 27)

Transport

West Coast Mainline debacle: Crucial errors were discovered yesterday in the UK civil service’s approach to the West Coast Mainline bid, contested by FirstGroup and Virgin Trains. The contract, originally awarded to the former, will now have to be renegotiated in light of major flaws uncovered in the procurement process, such as a failure to account for inflation or to properly calculate passenger numbers. Three civil servants have been suspended. (Scotsman page 1, Herald page 1, Telegraph page 1, Times page 1, FT page 1, Express page 12, Sun page 2, Record page 2, Mail page 8, Courier page 18, P&J page 13, Guardian page 1)

Local Government

Council spending: Audit Scotland has revealed that the standards of accounting in Scotland’s 32 councils is often of worryingly “poor quality”, with the councils unable to provide clear and complete information on £21 billion spent every year. (Herald page 1, Times page 4, Express page 2)

Justice

Legal aid: Changes to the provision of Legal Aid may be underway. Under proposals before the Scottish government, 80% of those currently entitled to Legal Aid would not be affected, but those with a disposable income greater than £68 per week would be made to pay a contribution towards criminal legal aid, a measure which could save the government up to £3.9 million per year. (Scotsman page 17, Herald page 6)

Juries: Michael Kelly writes in today’s Scotsman that, for all its ills, the jury system is still one of the most fair that can be mustered, and the recent suggested reforms of it are not a good idea. (Scotsman page 30)

Child interviews: A child interviewing techniques expert has criticised the Scottish government’s guidelines on interviews of children it suspects have been abused. The government, which favours unstructured interviews and no longer recommends making children explicitly aware of their being allowed to seek clarification when they do not understand a question, makes it easier for people later in the justice process to question the children’s reliability as sources, and can jeopardise the outcomes best for the vulnerable youth. (Herald page 4, Courier page 25)

Education

University Rankings: The Times Higher Education rankings have been published and four of Scotland’s top universities – St Andrews, Glasgow, Dundee, and Aberdeen – have slid. Only Edinburgh was credited with any improvement, moving from 36th to 32nd spot worldwide. The results have prompted questions over the sustainability of the Scottish government’s policy of free university education. (Scotsman page 1, Herald page 11, Telegraph page 16,Times page 21, Courier page 14, P&J page 21, Guardian page 17)

Curriculum for Excellence: Gaynor Allen argues, in The Scotsman, that in order for the Curriculum for Excellence to be truly effective, more will need to be done to tell parents about it and to get them on board. (Scotsman page 29)