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Reform Scotland News: 28 January 2013

Reform Scotland

Daily Political Newspaper Summary: 28 January 2013

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

EU referendum in Scotland: Writing in Scotland on Sunday, Eddie Barnes discusses the implications of a referendum on the European Union for the debate about Scotland’s constitutional future. He notes that continued EU membership in an independent Scotland served as one of the key points of uncertainty. However, he warns that we shouldn’t necessarily accept the rhetoric of Scotland as significantly more in favour of Europe than the rest of the UK. Writing in the Sunday Herald, Ian Bell discusses the opportunities opened up to Alex Salmond by the proposals. Polling conducted by ComRes indicates increased support for the Conservative Party following the announcement of a prospective referendum on independence. Support for the party increased to 33 per cent in the UK, halving Labour’s lead in the polls. However, Nick Clegg has spoken out against the referendum as ‘not in the national interest’ and has urged his coalition partners to focus on the economy rather than renegotiating terms with Europe. (Scotland on Sunday page 1, Andrew Wilson on Scotland on Sunday)

Scotland and European Union: Following Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso’s refusal to open talks with Scotland regarding the country’s future in the EU should the referendum on independence succeed, Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has approached EU member states directly to reassure them that ‘Scotland remains committed to the European Union’, particularly in light of plans for a referendum as outlined by Prime Minister David Cameron. Scottish Secretary Michael Moore has criticised the Scottish Government’s EU efforts, arguing that the SNP’s timetable for independence in 2016 will not allow the Scottish Government enough time to negotiate a good deal for Scotland. (Sunday Herald page 7, The Herald page 6, Gillian Bowditch in the Sunday Times)

Nicola Sturgeon on independence: Writing in Scotland on Sunday, Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon makes the case for independence. She argues that Scotland’s economic performance as well as higher levels of poverty have not been adequately addressed by the current system. She also warns that should Scotland vote no, more powers for Scotland will be pushed to the bottom of the Westminster agenda. (Scotland on Sunday page 1, The Times page 5)

Electoral Commission recommendations: Blair Jenkins, Chair of the Yes Campaign, has stressed the necessity of accepting the recommendations of the Electoral Commission on the wording of the referendum question as well as spending limits. The SNP has recommended much lower spending limits than are expected to be proposed by the Electoral Commission. Opposition parties have also called upon the SNP to accept the Electoral Commission’s recommendations. Initial reports indicate that the Electoral Commission may recommend avoiding the ‘do you agree’ phrasing of the referendum question. (Sunday Herald page 6, Scotsman page 1, The Times page 5, Daily Record page 4)

Independence polls: A Panelbase survey indicates that the No camp has opened up a  14-point lead over the yes campaign, with support for independence falling three percentage points to 34% since October. Responding to polls which indicate a dip in support for independence, Euan McColm explains that the SNP must regain its ‘feel good factor’ as well as present more detailed social and economic proposals. (The Sunday Times page 1)

West Lothian question: Writing in Scotland on Sunday, Michael Keating notes the complications inherent in separating the UK from the European Union. He argues that while the SNP has been accused of acting as a separatist and inward-looking, in fact ‘It is the British Conservatives who now look like separatists and isolationists’.

Wind farm regulations: Plans put forth by Scottish Conservatives would require that wind turbines be built at least two kilometres away from homes. Local planning guidance suggests a 2km rule but they are often ignored when considering applications. The number of turbines is expected to increase from nearly two thousand to more than five thousand in the coming years. (Scotsman page 10)

Trident decisions: Writing in the Scotsman, Lesley Riddoch reflects on the implications of hints that the UK may decide to scale back its nuclear submarine force in face of economic concerns. She notes that should Westminster make a u-turn on Trident replacement, the SNP would see one of its arguments for independence undercut but a lack of a decision might help the party.

Scottish Conservative proposals: Writing in the Scotsman, Brian Monteith reflects on Ruth Davidson’s u-turn on more powers for Scotland. He commends the Scottish Conservative leader for her honesty regarding the state of the party in Scotland but argues that she must assert her leadership, particularly against Scottish Tory MP David Mundell who spoke about more powers for Scotland.

Tory leadership bid: A ‘secret’ plot to position backbench MP Adam Afriyie as future party leader has been dismissed by senior Tories as a ‘silly distraction’. However, the move may reflect disillusionment with coalition politics and Prime Minister David Cameron, even after Mr Cameron moved forward with a vote on Europe. Mr Afriyie has denied the claims. (The Times page 9, Sunday Times page 1, Daily Telegraph page 1, Peter Oborne in the Daily Telegraph)

SNP and the BBC: The SNP has criticised the BBC for its coverage of Irish Europe Minister Lucinda Creighton’s remarks on the prospects of EU membership for Scotland. Ms Creighton said her remarks, in which she spoke about the length and complexity of the process, had been misconstrued. Writing in the Daily Telegraph, Alan Cochrane says that the SNP’s attack on the BBC signals desperation. (Daily Telegraph page 1)

Two referendums: Writing in the Scottish Sun, Andrew Nicoll comments on the arguments for Union made by Prime Minister David Cameron including the threat of EU exclusion, being forced to join the Euro, and defence cuts as well as the economic implications of uncertainty in the run up to the referendum. He notes that these arguments have been undermined by the prospect of a UK referendum on continued EU membership as well as defence cuts and continued austerity measures. (Scottish Sun page 9)

Economy

Energy subsidies post-independence: The Energy Bill currently at Westminster would see subsidies for green energy set in London, even if Scotland were to achieve independence. The Scottish Government has chosen not to contest this provision, saying that the joint administration would benefit all consumers. (Sunday Herald page 42)

Scotland pay rises: Official figures indicate that despite the recession, Scots are enjoying the highest wage levels outside London and the South east. The 6.3 per cent increase is attributed to the resilience of Edinburgh’s financial sector as well as the strength of the oil and gas industry. The Scottish workforce is also better qualified and the pay gap between men and women has decreased. (Scotland on Sunday page 1)

Police force merger: Leaked plans reveal that redundancy packages necessitated by the merger of Scotland’s police forces may cost £60 million, particularly for civil staff. Those close to retirement age will receive early retirement packages. (Sunday Herald page 4, Scotsman page 15, Daily Express page 5)

Toddler tax: Labour has spoken out against controversial welfare reforms, noting that working parents will be hit by a ‘toddler tax’ of up to £1,700, a result of cuts to child tax credits, the three-year freeze on child benefit, the cap on statutory maternity pay, and the abolition of the maternity grant. Both Labour and the SNP have called for a re-evaluation of the welfare proposals. Writing in the Herald, Andrew McKie urges Chancellor George Osborne to make meaningful cuts rather than just talking about the cuts. (Herald page 2)

Health

Stroke treatment trial: Clinical researchers at Glasgow University are to embark on a trial of a new treatment which would allow them to ‘rewire’ the brains of stroke patients. The treatment may assist in increasing the mobility of patients following a stroke. (Herald page 11, Scotsman page 14)

Justice

Miner conviction bids: The National Union of Mineworkers has asked the Scottish Government to evaluate how miners convicted for their activities during the miners’ strike of 1984 might be cleared of charges. Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill has said that reviews of the cases must be requested by the individuals rather than considered en masse. (Scotland on Sunday page 11)

Child protection controversy: A special report in the Sunday Herald has found that 8% of children in contact disputes with family members alleged to have committed domestic abuse are required to visit or stay with these family members. Advocacy organisations have urged the introduction of Domestic Abuse Courts which would be better able to address these issues, a call backed by Scottish Labour. (Sunday Herald page 20, Dr Kirsteen Mackay in the Sunday Herald)

Education

Edinburgh admissions policy: The head of Loretto, one of Scotland’s most prestigious independent schools, has called into question the University of Edinburgh’s admissions policy. He says that the university favours those from state schools, encouraging privately educated students to go to fees-paying universities in England instead. He describes it as an experiment in ‘social engineering’. The university says that state school attendance is not one of the criteria used to assess admission. (Sunday Times page 7, Daily Telegraph page 6, Daily Express page 27)

Local Government

Funding council pensions: A controversy has erupted after it emerged that 9 of 11 councils have pension funds invested in the tobacco industry and eight local authorities have money invested in defence firms. An additional £55 million has been invested in the world’s largest arms sellers. The Scottish Government’s Local Government Pension Scheme requires the investment funds to take into account social and ethical considerations when placing their funding. Green leader Patrick Harvie has called for local governments to be held to a higher standard. (The Herald page 2)