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Reform Scotland News: 25 March 2013

 

Reform Scotland

Daily Political Newspaper Summary: 25 March 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

SNP Conference Speeches: Speaking at the SNP Conference in Inverness, First Minister Alex Salmond pledged his opposition to the bedroom tax, pledging that SNP-led councils would refuse to evict tenants who ran afoul of recently introduced regulations regarding space. He also promised a ‘transformational shift’ in childcare provisions in an independent Scotland. His speech was considered as part of an effort to win over female voters who have proved to be more sceptical regarding the prospect of independence. Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon also addressed the issue in her Sunday speech, claiming that Scots face £4.5 billion in benefits cuts under the SNP, an amount totalling £1,000 for every child under the age of 16. A speech by Finance Minister John Swinney also addressed the welfare reform issue and noted that Westminster was stifling economic growth in Scotland. (Sunday Herald page 1, Scotland on Sunday page 1, The Scotsman page 1, The Herald page 1, The Times page 11, Daily Telegraph page 1, Press & Journal page 12, Scottish Daily Mail page 4)

Davidson on more powers: Scottish Tory leader Ruth Davidson is expected to back a commission which will explore more powers for the Scottish Parliament should the referendum on independence fail. Ms Davidson is also expected to weigh in on the West Lothian Question. Ms. Davidson may face backlash from within her party for efforts to increase provisions for Holyrood, particularly from her rival Lord Forsyth. Writing in the Scotsman, Brian Monteith urges Lord Forsyth to accept a need for more powers at Holyrood. (Sunday Herald page 8, The Sunday Times page 2, Daily Telegraph page 11)

West Lothian Question: The McKay Commission has described the situation in which legislation which only impacts England but is voted on by Scottish, Welsh, and Northern Irish MPs as ‘unsustainable’ and recommended a reform to hearing and voting procedures. However, the Commission rejects calls for ‘English votes for English laws’, urging the adoption of transparency measures instead. Writing in the Scotsman, Professor Charlie Jeffery, a member of the commission, describes the thought process behind the recommendation. (The Scotsman page 7, The Herald page 6, Daily Telegraph page 18, Scottish Sun page 3, The Guardian page 11)

Referendum voting rights: Prisoners may launch a challenge to regulations which would exclude people in prison on 18 September 2014 from referendum rolls. Human rights lawyer Tony Kelly believes the proposed legislation as it currently stands would run afoul of the case law and is hoping to see it modified when the referendum legislation goes before Parliament. (Scotland on Sunday page 4)

Referendum turnout: Writing in Scotland on Sunday, Eddie Barnes comments on the missing million, the half of the electorate which failed to turn out for the 2011 Scottish Parliamentary elections. Turnout for the elections is expected to reach 75 per cent and both Yes Scotland and Better Together understand the importance of mobilising this infrequent voter.

Gender and the referendum vote: A PanelBase poll indicates growing support for independence but a gender gap between women and men, with a 15 point gap in support for a yes vote. 47% of men now back independence but only 25% of women feel the same. Lesley Riddoch in the Scotsman reflects on recent polls which indicate a growing gender gap between men and women and their views on independence. (The Sunday Times page 1)

Referendum campaigning: Big data is expected to play a significant role for both sides on the referendum debate with new technology offering a more sophisticated picture of the voter and their habits. The data available will allow the campaigns to deliver a customised message to individual voters. (The Sunday Times page 18)

Devolution files: Recently opened files reveal controversy at the civil service level about devolution, with senior civil servants expressing concerns that the Scottish Secretary of State wouldn’t have enough to do as well as proposals to divide the civil service between Scotland and the rest of the United Kingdom. (Sunday Herald page 8)

Nuclear weapons ban: SNP members voted this weekend to tie SNP leaders to an explicitly anti-nuclear pledge. The measure would commit them to opposition to nuclear weapons and the inclusion of this commitment in the written constitution of an independent Scotland. (Scotland on Sunday page 5)

Power cuts: Due to blizzard conditions, more than 5,000 homes across Scotland remain without power. Emergency generators, food, and water supplies have been delivered to families impacted by the cuts. (The Scotsman page 1, The Herald page 5)

Economy

Poverty and welfare reform: The Sunday Herald reports from Easterhouse, the poverty stricken area whose condition famously reduced Iain Duncan Smith to tears. Writing in the paper, Martin Sime, the chief executive of SCVO, describes welfare reforms brought about under Iain Duncan Smith as ‘the biggest assault on the poor in living memory’. (Sunday Herald page 8)

Benefits changes for immigrants: Prime Minister David Cameron is expected to announce changes on the way in which migrants access unemployment benefits, healthcare, and housing, noting that they can no longer expect ‘something for nothing’. Under the changes, arrivals from the EU will be stripped of unemployment benefits after six months unless they can prove they have been actively hunting and stand a chance of finding one. (The Scotsman page 17, The Herald page 2, The Sunday Times page 1, Daily Telegraph page 2, Financial Times page 2, Scottish Sun page 4, The Guardian page 6)

Housing market reforms: In his budgetary announcement, Chancellor George Osborne introduced a proposal that would see the treasury provide a three year mortgage guarantee to buyers able to put down a 5% deposit. This would encourage banks to lend. However, there are concerns about falling home prices which may lead to falling house prices and borrowers owing more than the value of their home. Iain Macwhirter responds to the Help to Buy proposal, characterising it as a bribe to voters in the south east of England rather than a meaningful program for struggling citizens. In the Scotsman, Andrew McKie characterises the policy as one to help the rich rather than struggling tax payers. (Sunday Herald page 15, The Sunday Times page 20)

State pension and life expectancy: Retirement experts have claimed that an independent Scotland should take account of life expectancy when setting the retirement age, noting that a large number of Scots die before retirement, a situation particularly relevant for men in certain areas. (The Herald page 7)

Education

SQA marker walkout: 5 senior markers for the Scottish Qualifications Authority have walked off the job following what they describe as the unfair treatment of a colleague who was recently dismissed. The move has led to concerns about the marking of Higher Maths exams which will be sat this summer. (Scotland on Sunday page 1, Daily Telegraph page 11, Daily Record page 2)

Health

Private hospital concerns: A report by the Herald indicates that concerns were raised by surgeons regarding the quality of care at BMI Ross Hall hospital in Glasgow in 2005, long before surgeon Colin Campbell Mainds botched treatments. (The Herald page 1)

Hospital smoking ban: Patients, NHS staff, and visitors are to be banned from smoking on NHS grounds as part of a bid to extend the ban on smoking in public places. Smokers will be offered access to additional support to help them quit. (The Sunday Times page 7, The Times page 11, Press & Journal page 15, The Herald page 5)

Mountain deaths: An unprecedented number of mountain deaths in Scotland has triggered a meeting of emergency services across the UK. Concerns about the impact of winter storms on mountain safety as well as technology which may ensure that hikers are better informed about conditions were raised. (The Times page 1)

Transport

East coast rail bids: Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin is expected to announce plans to return the east coast rail route to private hands, a move likely to strike competition between FirstGroup and VirginTrains. (The Guardian page 21)