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Reform Scotland News: 5 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

New constitutional settlement for the UK: David Cameron and Ruth Davidson have reportedly backed the creation of a constitutional convention which aims to look at the balance of powers within the UK, should Scotland reject Independence.  This would mean that David Cameron would have to abide by his pledge to consider more powers for Scotland. (Daily Telegraph page 1, Alan Cochrane in the Telegraph)

Ed Miliband’s speech launches Labour’s campaign: Labour is now seen to be in with a “fighting chance” of winning the next election after Ed Miliband’s speech fired the “starting gun” for Labour’s “One Nation” campaign, deputy leader Harriet Harman declared yesterday.  In a closing speech to the five day conference, Ms Harman also slammed Nick Clegg for “propping up a miserable Tory government”, and Vince Cable for his handling of tuition fees, and added: “We are not fighting to be part of a coalition government – we are fighting to win”. (Scotsman page 10, Herald page 6)

Trump planning “massive lawsuit” against wind farm: Donald Trump vows to go ahead with plans to build “the best hotel in Scotland and one of the best hotels in Europe” next to his Aberdeenshire golf course, despite agreeing to make no more investments while plans for an offshore wind farm remained a possibility. Mr Trump believes that the installation of “unsightly turbines” will end up looking like a “poor man’s Disneyland”, and that Alex Salmond’s energy vision would constitute “a death wish for Scotland.” (Scotsman page 11, Herald page 8, The Times page 16, P&J page 3)

Anger over downplayed Nato debate: The SNP has been accused opponents of the pro-Nato proposals of “squeezing” the Nato debate in an afternoon slot lasting less than two hours, thus neglecting the importance of the defence debate. (Herald page 2)

First Minister defends universal benefits: Alex Salmond has suggested that universal benefits “hold society together”, and that the Labour Party’s questioning of the fairness and affordability of these benefits through means testing will encourage “social division”, and make them unpopular in Scotland. However, Labour leader Johann Lamont hit back by saying that Mr Salmond’s extravagant lifestyle means he is “not living in the real world” and is not able to see how his decisions affect the people of Scotland. (Herald page 7, Daily Telegraph page 10, Sun page 2, P&J page 16, Courier page 17)

David Cameron: A YouGov survey for The Sun showed that a third of the UK feel that the Prime Minister has not lived up to their expectations, with 55 per cent claiming that they no longer know what he stands for. (Sun page 2)

Criticism over £100,000 award to NHS chief:  The former chief executive of an NHS health board, James Barbour, has been awarded a lump sum payment of £100,000 on top of his £220,000 pension entitlements; despite an enquiry which found that waiting times had been manipulated which led him to resign. Scottish Labour health spokeswoman Jackie Baillie described the £100,000 as “an eye-watering amount of money at a time when the SNP is cutting 5,500 NHS staff.” (The Times page 16, Daily Mail page 18)

BBC tax set-up: MPs have raised concerns that 25,000 people employed at the BBC are bound to off-payroll contracts, in which they must make their own tax and National Insurance payments, allowing many to potentially limit their tax liabilities. Chair Margaret Hodge, of the cross-party public accounts committee, warned that this system gave rise to “suspicions of complicity in tax avoidance”. (Scotsman page 9, Herald page 9, Daily Mail page 1)

Transport

Scotrail re-franchising: Scottish transport minister Keith Brown told MSPs yesterday that civil servants were not solely to blame for the West Coast Main Line trains fiasco, claiming that “The department’s handling of the procurement process has been incompetent and shambolic.” In response to the Public and Commercial Services Union, which viewed the West Coast fiasco as “deplorable”, Mr Brown declared that twice as long would be spent on the Scotrail franchise, which is due to commence early next year, and reaffirmed that rail services in Scotland could be nationalised if Scotland votes for Independence in 2014. (Scotsman page 6, Herald page 6, Times page 6, Daily Record page 6, Daily Express page 2, Sun page 2, Daily Mail page 12, P&J page 14, Courier page 18)

Education

SNP attacked over bursary cuts: Bursaries available to poor and low income students are reportedly set to be slashed by the SNP, forcing them to take out higher loans to pay for day-to-day living costs.  This initiative will come into effect from next April, with bursaries being cut by as much as £1,000 as part of the Scottish government scheme to reduce the overall budget for undergraduate support.  Alex Salmond responded to attacks by accusing the Conservative-led coalition of “scything” Scotland’s budget, causing cutbacks across Scotland.  Education secretary Mike Russell was backed by NUS Scotland, who said that despite these cuts, the large increase in loan amount of around £150m per year would help students as they would have direct access to more cash, giving them more confidence to continue in their studies. (Scotsman page 1, Herald page 1)

College applicants: The number of people going to college in Scotland has dropped by 70,000 in the last two years, with fewer full-time students and fewer part-time courses.  (Sun page 2, Courier page 14)

Scots Universities slip down in world rankings: George Kerevan in The Scotsman comments on the inaccuracy of university performance tables, but highlights a need for Scotland to raise its game in order to catch up with other countries in terms of University rankings, suggesting an increase in University spending.

Scotland’s new Curriculum for Excellence: Education Secretary Michael Russell in The Scotsman responds to parent Gaynor Allen’s reservations concerning the new Curriculum, declaring: “I realise and accept that change can be unsettling, even when that change is fundamentally for the better.” Mr Russell said he took Ms Allen’s comments on board and mentioned his agreement with teaching union the EIS to deliver an additional £3.5 million package for secondary school teachers who need extra support.