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Reform Scotland News: 27 January 2014

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

ICM Poll: In an ICM survey for Scotland on Sunday, there has been a 5% increase in support for independence since September, with 37% of voters saying they would vote Yes. The poll also revealed that 53% of Scottish voters want to see stricter curbs on immigration, while one-third would vote for Scotland to leave the European Union if David Cameron’s in-out referendum goes ahead. (The Scotsman page 4, The Sun page 6, Daily Record pages 1, 4&5, Press & Journal page 17, The Courier page 19)

John Curtice in The Scotsman argues that while Scots are generally more tolerant on issues concerning immigration and the European Union, the ICM poll illustrates their support for the EU is not boundless.

Elsewhere, the poll showed that UKIP has pushed the Liberal Democrats into fifth place in Scotland ahead of this year’s European elections. Nick Clegg’s party won the support of just 6% of Scots, a sharp decline on the 11.5% the party polled in 2009. SNP business convener Derek Mackay suggests voters are rejecting the party “as a result of their unholy alliance with the Tories.” Meanwhile, the SNP lead the survey with the support of 43% of voters, with Labour in second place with 24%. (The Scotsman pages 1, 4&5)

Independence Referendum: As the ICM survey reports an increase in support for a Yes vote, Alex Salmond has claimed that Scotland would be England’s “best pal in the world” should it become an independent state. He added that Scottish independence would also bring benefits for people living in Wales, many of whom he claimed are “cheering Scotland on.” Alistair Carmichael, meanwhile, has reiterated his claims that the Scottish Government’s independence proposals are “faulty”. (The Herald page 6, Scottish Daily Mail page 6, The Times page 6, Press & Journal page 16, The Courier page 19)

Conservative peer Lord Flight has said that consideration should be given to all 59 Scottish MPs standing down at the 2015 election if there is a Yes vote for independence, to avoid “political mayhem”. (The Herald page 6)

The Devolution Unit, set up in 2012 by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) to promote the Scottish Government’s interests, is being used to campaign against independence. It comes as reports emerge that the FCO contacted countries around the world in search for allies as the referendum looms. (The Scotsman page 6, The Herald page 6)

The Yes Scotland campaign has lost two of its most senior members.  Ian Dommett, director of marketing and Stan Blackley, deputy director of communities, are the fourth and fifth directors to leave the group in less than a year. (The Daily Telegraph page 12, Daily Express page 2)

The SNP’s refusal to allow expatriates to vote in the independence referendum could prompt legal action backed by a number of prominent Scots, including rugby player Kenny Logan and Scots-born Ian Gillies, who will become Lord Mayor of York in May. (Daily Express page 2, The Sunday Times page 1)

Jenny Hjul in The Sunday Times considers the obstacles to independence and argues that the inconveniences and expense that would surround issues such as transportation, citizenship and immigration pose particularly serious implications for the pro-independence campaign.

DotScot: The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers is expected to confirm a deal on a separate domain-name for Scotland, giving a “distinct online identity for the nation”, according to Alex Salmond. Following a nine-year campaign by Dot Scot Registry (DSR), Scots should be able to register for the domain-name “.scot” as early as this summer, as an alternative to “.co.uk” and “.com”. (The Scotsman page 1, The Herald page 4, Scottish Daily Mail page 11)

Female director quota: Nicola Sturgeon has announced plans to introduce a female director quota, which would force companies to give 40% of their most senior positions to women. Although the Deputy First Minister claims the proposals would address “deep-seated” gender inequalities, opposition politicians and businesses leaders, including Michelle Mone, have said the idea is “ludicrous” and “totalitarian”. (The Scotsman page 7, Scottish Daily Mail page 6)

Lesley Riddoch writing in The Scotsman insists on the significant power women hold in the independence debate, adding that Nicola Sturgeon’s “direct pitch to women voters” has paid off.

Independent currency: The Bank of England governor, Mark Carney, will this week warn Alex Salmond about the dangers of an independent Scotland using Sterling. In a speech in Edinburgh on Wednesday, Mr Carney is expected to compare an independent Scotland and the UK to the crisis-ridden eurozone. (The Scotsman page 6)

Professor Linda Colley, a history professor at Princeton University, has told BBC Radio 4 that Alex Salmond would have “walked” the independence debate had it not been for the 2008 economic recession’s negative impact on the euro currency. (The Herald page 6)

First Minister’s Expenses: Alex Salmond was yesterday accused of controlling a “disturbing pattern of secrecy” in the Scottish Government, after he refused to publish details of a tax-payer funded trip to the United States. (The Daily Telegraph page 1)

John Farquhar Munro: Tributes are being paid to the former Liberal Democrat MSP John Farquhar Munro, who died yesterday aged 79. (The Scotsman page 11, The Herald page 3, The Courier page 12)

Economy

Income tax: Ed Balls retaliated to a backlash yesterday over his proposals to re-introduce a 50p top rate income tax for those earning over £150,000, by insisting Labour is not “anti-business” and that the measures would be temporary. The Conservative Party and senior business figures have launched a united attack, amid concerns that Labour’s plans would threaten the economy and cost jobs. Mr Balls also defended Labour’s spending in the years leading up to the economic recession, adding they should have spent even more in some areas. (The Scotsman page 6, The Daily Telegraph page 1, Guardian page 1, The Daily Telegraph page 1, The Times page 2, Scottish Daily Mail page 12, Daily Express page 7, Financial Times pages1 &3, Press & Journal page 18 , The Courier page 18, The Sunday Times page 1)

Job growth: Published today, The Cities Outlook 2014 report has revealed that Edinburgh is second only to London for job growth, while Aberdeen and Glasgow were ranked in 8th and 62nd place, respectively. According to think-tank Centre for Cities, the annual economic ‘health-check’ of 63 UK cities is further proof of the widening gap between London and the rest of Britain. (The Scotsman page 17, The Herald page 11, Guardian page 3, The Times page 2, The Courier page 20)

David Torrance in The Herald argues that while Scottish politicians are quick to criticise and disassociate themselves from London’s dominance, it remains an “economically vibrant, multicultural and outward looking” city, which is everything the Nationalists want an independent Scotland to be.

Employment scheme: Almost three-quarters of people helped by the Scottish Government’s Partnership Action for Continuing Employment (PACE) found employment after being made redundant. The 2012 initiative helped secure a new job for 74% of participants, compared with 51% in 2010. (The Scotsman page 9, The Herald page 4, The Courier page 3)

Pensions: Pensions Minister Steve Webb and Work & Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith have reportedly proposed an increase in pensions by a third in exchange for fewer guarantees about retirement income, in plans intended to be included in the Pensions Bill before the election. (The Times page 1)

North Sea oil and gas: The energy secretary Ed Davey is set to adopt proposals to boost oil and gas production in the North Sea, in reforms that could reportedly generate at least £200bn for the British economy. (Financial Times page 1)

Education

Religious observance in schools: The Church of Scotland has been criticised by a Free Church minister over its proposals to end religious observance in schools in order to be more inclusive of the “diverse nation of Scotland”. The Reverend David Robertson has accused the Church of “stabbing Christianity in the back”. (The Herald page 5, The Times page 1)

University funding: In figures obtained by The Herald, 10 of Scotland’s 18 universities saw the number of students from the rest of the UK drop in 2012/13, coinciding with the introduction of fees of up to £9,000. (The Herald page 5)

Health

Hospital inspections: The health service watchdog, Healthcare Improvement Scotland (HIS), has proposed a major shake up in the inspection of hospitals, which will see staff levels scrutinised for the first time. A&E departments, maternity care and GP services would also be subjected to careful checks as part of new comprehensive quality and safety assessments. (The Herald page 1)

Transport

Level crossings: Network Rail is expected to announce plans to phase out the remaining open level crossings in Scotland. Barriers have already been installed on 17 of the crossings, with the remaining 6 due for closure this year. The Scottish Law Commission has previously described the crossings as “the largest single risk of catastrophic train accident in Great Britain.” (The Scotsman page 18