Reform Scotland News: 26 February 2014

Daily Political Newspaper Summary:  26 February 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

Oil and gas: Industry body Oil & Gas UK has warned that the oil and gas sector faces significant future challenges, revealing that only 15 exploration wells were drilled last year despite record levels of investment. Though the cost of extracting a barrel of oil had risen by 27 percent on the previous year, there was however optimism as levels of investment in known reserves was estimated to reach £13billion this year. (Scotsman page 1, Mike Tholen in the Scotsman, Herald page 24, Times page 1, Peter Jones in the Times, Telegraph page 1, Express page 28)

George Kerevan in the Scotsman has called for a change in the government’s approach to oil and gas investment.

Ian Bell in the Herald comments on Prime Minister David Cameron’s change of tact regarding North Sea oil and gas revenue and the independence debate.

Pensions: Reform Scotland has accused successive Westminster governments of a “conspiracy of silence” over pensions through their failure to address the “uncertain, unfunded and unsustainable” system currently in place. Chairman Ben Thomson highlighted that today’s national insurance contributions go towards paying for today’s pensioners, meaning individuals were not saving towards their own retirement.  Reform Scotland’s report, calling for a complete overhaul in the existing pension system, is to be published tomorrow. (Scotsman page 12, Herald page 5, Mail page 17, P&J page 11, Courier page 13)

Harriet Harman: Labour deputy leader Harriet Harman has reportedly refused to apologise over revelations that a civil rights organisation, for which she used to work for, was affiliated with a paedophile rights campaign. Mrs. Harman denied that she had ever “colluded” with the Paedophile Information Exchange (PIE) while she was legal officer of the National Council for Civil Liberties (NCCL), while calling for an apology from the Daily Mail, who first highlighted the links between PIE and the NCCL. (Scotsman page 10, Herald page 6, Times page 16, Telegraph page 1, Express page 7, Independent page 7, P&J page 21)

Independence: The informal adoption of the pound in the event of a Yes vote in September’s referendum risks running the Scottish economy into decline, according to a company of foreign exchange specialists. Currencies Direct has said that an independent Scotland without the economic levers to fully support its booming financial sector would face a host of significant risks and problems. (Herald page 1)

Meanwhile, Owen Kelly, chief executive at Scottish Financial Enterprise, has warned that the informal adoption of the pound could derail an independent Scotland’s attempts to join the EU. (Telegraph page 11)

An Aberdeen chamber of commerce on oil and independence has revealed that only 11 percent of its attendees thought the oil and gas sector would be more likely to prosper in an independent Scotland. (FT page 4)

The impartiality of civil servants in the run up to the referendum is to be examined by MPs, with the probe by MPs to focus on civil servants north of the border. (Herald page 6)

State guardians: Alex Massie in the Scotsman comments that despite the best intentions of the Scottish Government in its introduction of Scottish state child guardians, the move risks creating a ‘Big Brother’ state. He notes that while Britain has become increasingly free from government interference in economic markets, the state appears increasingly intrusive upon on the private lives of its citizens.

EU referendum: Ed Miliband is reportedly set to offer a referendum on Britain’s membership in the EU, though will refuse to match the Conservatives’ pledge to do so within two years of government after the next General Election. (Times page 22)

Coalition: Daniel Finkelstein in the Times and Dan Hodges in the Telegraph argue that Cameron would be unwise to rule out forming a coalition government again, whatever the result of the next General Election. Finkelstein lauds any such pledge as more ludicrous than bold, while ultimately comparing it to “throwing a toaster in your own bath”.

Grangemouth refinery: Unite has launched a court case at the High Court against Ineos, owner of the Grangemouth refinery, over claims that it intentionally leaked emails sent to and from Unite’s former Grangemouth convenor Stephen Deans, an individual at the centre of the Falkirk vote-rigging scandal. (Scotsman page 7)

BBC: The Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee have been told that the BBC should pay regional newspapers for the stories that it uses on its website and local radio stations. President of the Newspaper Society, Adrian Jeakings, warned that “unrestrained commercial expenditure by the BBC” posed serious risks to the existence of local press. (Herald page 5)

Atholl Duncan in the Scotsman comments that irrespective of the outcome of this September’s referendum, radical rethinking of Scotland’s relationship with the BBC is required.

Economy

Tax breaks: Chancellor George Osborne is under pressure from Tory MPs to introduce a tax cut prior to the next General Election, offsetting the potential damage caused by a rise in the cost of borrowing, with interest rates predicted to rise from their current low of 0.5 percent by next spring. Osborne has responded by welcoming a potential rise in interest rates, saying that a rise would be a “mark of success” and indication that Britain is emerging from its economic emergency. (FT page 1 & FT page 3)

Economic recovery: Britain’s growth prospects have been upgraded by the European Commission. Lower unemployment, increases in investment and an improved trading deficit are expected to underpin a stronger British economic recovery. (Telegraph B5)

Education

National exams: The extra £5million pledged by the Scottish Government to ensure the smooth running of the new system of National exams has come too late to benefit this year’s exam candidates, Larry Flanagan, general-secretary of the Educational Institute, has told MSPs. (Scotsman page 17)

Meanwhile, it has been revealed that students preparing to sit the new National exams have been provided with just a singular specimen paper for each qualification by the Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA). (Herald page 11)

Edinburgh University: In a new higher education league table, the University of Edinburgh has outperformed rival institutions within Scotland, coming in the top 5 in 10 out of 30 subject disciplines. (Scotsman page 9)

Justice

Hyde Park bombing: John Downey, the IRA man accused of murdering four British soldiers in the 1982 Hyde Park bombing, yesterday walked free after the case against him collapsed. A judge dismissed the case after it emerged that Mr. Downey had received written assurances from the police in Northern Ireland in 2007 that he would not be prosecuted , despite the fact that there was an outstanding warrant for his arrest. (Scotsman page 1, Herald page 2, Times page 1, Telegraph page 1, Express page 1, Sun page 15, Independent page 1, Mail page 8, Guardian page 7)

Lockerbie bombing: Sir Stephen House, Scotland’s most senior police officer, has conceded that Police Scotland have yet to begin investigations into the alleged criminality of officers involved in the original investigation into the Lockerbie bombing. (Scotsman page 8, Herald page 8)

Corroboration: A High Court judge, sheriffs and lawyers have all been included in the group set up by Justice Secretary to consider what safeguards would be required to prevent miscarriages of justice in the event of the scrapping of the requirement for corroboration. (Herald page 5, Telegraph page 1, P&J page 17)

Phone-hacking scandal: Rebekah Brooks has told the phone-hacking trial that she was not aware that the practice was illegal when she was editor of News of the World. (Scotsman page 1, Times page 19, Express page 17)

Health

NHS: The number of inpatients stuck in hospital beds due to shortfalls in the provision of community care has rapidly increased in Scotland, with the number of patients blocking beds for six weeks or more increasing by 165 percent. Health Secretary Alex Neil said that part of the problem was that care homes were being closed amid concerns over the quality of care they provided. (Herald page 1, Times page 2, Express page 9, Courier page 15)

Changes in the way that lifesaving drugs are approved could cost the NHS an additional £50million, MSPs were yesterday warned. The increase in costs has stemmed from drug firms putting forward new submissions for treatments that had previously been rejected. (Scotsman page 9)