Daily Political Newspaper Summary: 7 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.
Devolution files: Files from 1997, the first year of Tony Blair’s government, have been released by the National Records of Scotland. However, documents about plans for devolution were withheld. The Scotland Office reportedly intervened to delay their release, requesting an inspection of the files before their release. There is speculation that the documents may contain details of internal splits amongst the cabinet and the Scottish Office on issues such as powers to be devolved, including abortion rights. The SNP has called for the immediate release of the files. (Sunday Herald page 7, The Scotsman page 16)
Economics of independence: A report by Chief Secretary to the Treasury Danny Alexander indicates that people in Scotland would be £1 a year worse off under independence, a move intended to challenge the ‘myth’ that Scots would be £500 better off. However, the Yes campaign has seized upon the announcement, calling for people to ‘give a pound for Scotland’ (The Scotsman page 5, The Herald page 6, Scottish Daily Record page 2, The Times page 5)
Independence debate: Writing in the Sunday Herald, Iain MacWhirter reflects upon the year ahead in the debate about independence. He notes that Scots do not yet seem convinced about the prospect of independence, but cautions that things may change significantly as the campaigns commence. (Sunday Herald page 27)
Lobbying regulations: Holyrood commenced a crackdown on cross-party groups as it emerged that MSPs are not following regulations on lobbyists. Out of more than 70 groups at Holyrood, 63 have not filed the mandated report on donations received and support given. The move follows a Standards Committee report which called for more regulation and transparency. (Scotland on Sunday page 1)
Sectarian concerns: Duncan Morrow, who heads a Holyrood group on sectarianism, has warned that the problem has gone beyond religious bigotry and is now characterised by an ‘us and them’ culture, with people defining themselves against others. He points to what he describes ‘an embedded anti-Catholicism’. (The Herald page 1)
Child benefit changes: Sliding cuts to child benefits will be introduced this week, meaning that parents earning £50,000 or more will continue to receive the benefits but will pay them back in income tax. The change is expected to affect 1.2 million people. Speaking on Sunday, the Prime Minister declared the cuts ‘fundamentally fair’. A vote in the Commons will take place tomorrow on capping benefit rises at 1%, a move which is expected to face opposition from Labour. (Sunday Herald page 3, Scotland on Sunday page 1, Daily Telegraph page 1, Scottish Daily Mail page 6)
Scottish response to cuts: Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon announced that the Scottish Government would convene an expert panel to propose an alternative to cuts announced by Westminster, which would fit ‘Scottish values’. She used the announcement to bolster the argument that independence would guarantee social justice in Scotland. Equality campaigners have criticised the group for its failure to include any women. (Sunday Herald page 2, The Scotsman page 4, The Times page 6)
Universal benefits: Writing in The Herald, Andrew McKie defends the cuts, arguing that there is no longer a case for universal benefits, particularly given the budgetary crisis. He argues that instead of child benefit being used to pay for piano lessons for the middle class, they should be used to support the poorest households.
Unemployment numbers: A report produced by Professor David Bell indicates that the phenomenon of ‘disguised unemployment’ is growing as people shift towards part-time work and opportunities for overtime decrease. About 500,000 Scots are now expected to be out of work or under-employed. (The Scotsman page 1)
CBI toolkit: CBI Scotland has launched an independence toolkit which is said to allow businesses to evaluate their own stance on independence. The toolkit takes into account macroeconomic issues, such as North Sea oil, as well as less prominent but still important issues like business regulation and corporate governance rules which may change should the referendum on independence succeed. (Sunday Herald page 32)
Rail price hike: ScotRail has announced a price hike of 3.9%. Proposed increases to rail prices have been criticised by campaigners who point to higher prices in Scotland than elsewhere in Europe. (Sunday Herald 10)
Bus service cuts: Bus passengers may face cuts to routes and services following a shortfall in the Scottish Government’s free travel scheme which could cut reimbursements for carrying older and disabled people. (The Herald page 1)
High teenage pregnancy rate investigation: A Holyrood committee will be convened to investigate Scotland’s rate of teen pregnancy, which is one of the highest in Western Europe. (The Scotsman page 11, The Herald page 5, The Times page 5, Scottish Daily Mail page 6)