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Reform Scotland News: 3 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

Independence debate: Alex Salmond has once again challenged the Prime Minister to a televised debate, saying David Cameron has “nowhere left to run” after it emerged that both their respective Cabinets will be meeting just miles apart in Scotland next month. (The Herald page 6, Daily Mail page 4, The Sun page 2, Press & Journal page 14)

A TNS survey commissioned by Sir Tom Hunter has shown that support for Scotland leaving the UK has risen slightly to 41%. Sir Tom has launched a new website in order to help those in doubt make an informed decision about independence. (The Times page 2, Daily Express page 2, The Sunday Times page 1)

The Spanish Foreign Minister has said Spain will not interfere in Scotland’s push for independence and would consider its membership to the EU, despite have been a vocal opponent of separatism in Europe. (The Herald page 6, Financial Times page 1)

Mure Dickie and Keith Fray in the Financial Times argue that while Scotland has the potential to be a successful nation-state demographic issues pose a significant barrier, with an increasingly ageing population cited as one of the primary challenges.

Scottish Secretary Alistair Carmichael has said the SNP’s apparent attempt to instil a difference between Scottish and English values is poisoning relations in the UK. Challenging the assertion that there are homogenous Scottish values and homogenous English ones in an interview over the weekend, he added that shared relations are more likely to unite Brits than divide them. (The Scotsman page 10)

In a move that could provoke deep internal divisions, the former finance spokesman for Scottish Labour Ken Macintosh, has warned against his party’s proposal to give Holyrood full control of income tax if Scots reject independence. Writing in The Herald, Mr Macintosh said such a move would reduce Scotland’s revenues and would edge the country nearer to“independence by default.” (The Herald page 1)

Andrew Nicoll in The Sun criticises Alex Salmond’s plan for a shared currency union with the rest of the UK.

Legal expert, Professor Adam Tomkins has warned that Scotland would not be entitled to a share of everything owned by the UK in the event of independence. (The Times page 1)

Child poverty: A report by the New Policy Institute for the Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF) has shown that child poverty in Scotland fell at nearly twice the level in England over a decade. Despite the encouraging figures, the JRF has warned that progress has stalled and reinforced the need to prioritise child poverty reduction at both Holyrood and Westminster regardless of the referendum outcome. (The Scotsman page 12, The Herald page 4, Daily Record page 6)

Labour Party: Despite Ed Miliband’s claims that the Labour Party reforms would weaken its relationship with trade unions, Harriet Harman has said that it would, in fact, be a positive thing if they pushed Labour in a “trade union direction.” (The Daily Telegraph page 4)

Scottish Labour leader Johann Lamont has warned Ed Miliband that the key to undermining Alex Salmond’s case for independence is to ensure that Scots believe Labour will win the next election. (The Daily Telegraph page 9)

Labour leader Ed Miliband has been left off a list of the 100 most well-connected men in the United Kingdom. Published by GQ magazine, the list includes those the magazine believes are exercising influence by networking in a variety of fields and includes Mr Miliband’s brother David, the Prime Minister and London Mayor Boris Johnson. (The Scotsman page 8, The Herald page 3, The Daily Telegraph page 4, The Sun page 2, Press & Journal page 15, The Courier page 2)

Bedroom Tax: The SNP is reportedly to scrap the controversial ‘bedroom tax’ in Scotland and has agreed to pay the full cost of an estimated £15million of housing benefit cuts for those affected. (Daily Record pages 1 – 4)

Gay marriage: In a vote tomorrow at Holyrood, the Bill legalising gay marriage in Scotland is expected to be passed by an overwhelming majority. If a deal can be agreed with the UK government, it could mean that Scotland’s first gay marriages could be conducted as early as this summer. (The Times page 8)

Margaret Thatcher: Speaking at a pro-independence rally in Airdrie, SNP Health Secretary Alex Neil argued that the late Margaret Thatcher is responsible for Scotland’s problems with alcohol and drugs, claims of which were branded as “preposterous” by the Scottish Conservatives. (The Scotsman page 6, Daily Mail page 4)

Meanwhile, Labour MP and former Scottish miner’s leader, David Hamilton has called for a full investigation into the miners’ strike of 1984 and apparent abuses of power by the Thatcher government. (The Scotsman page 6)

Immigration: Writing in The Scotsman, Lesley Riddoch discusses last week’s Ipsos Mori poll which showed immigration and the economy are the two most important issues for British people today. She argues that party politics, not immigration itself, are to blame for the public’s seemingly “irrational fear of foreigners”.

European elections: Brian Monteith in The Scotsman suggests a tactical vote for UKIP in the upcoming European elections may derail the course of the SNP’s campaign.

Economy

Scottish business: The former Bank Deputy Governor of the Bank of England, Brian Quinn, has said that Scotland’s financial services companies are facing a dilemma between keeping their views on independence a secret and risking losing a large proportion of customers, many of whom may be based south of the border. (The Daily Telegraph page 1)

Health

NHS: Alex Neil has said that the NHS in Scotland is coping much more effectively with winter pressures than it did last year. Although the Health Secretary cited the improvement in service to a £50million overhaul plan, he warned the worst problems “could be yet to come”. (The Scotsman page 7, The Herald page 7, Press & Journal page 17

In a “radical” bid to save £17million a year, the NHS is planning to cut the number of face-to-face consultations by instead encouraging patients to look after themselves at home and introducing “virtual clinics” using teleconference technology. (Daily Express page 15)

STIs: Information from Health Protection Scotland has shown that children as young as 12 have been diagnosed with a STI, with the highest levels found in the Edinburgh area. Of 400 youngsters treated for Chlamydia, gonorrhoea and syphilis, one quarter of those infected were in the NHS Lothian catchment. (The Herald page 5, Daily Mail page 10, Daily Express page 15, Daily Record page 6, The Courier page 2)

Tobacco laws: Tobacco industry giants are threatening the Scottish Government with legal action over their proposal to introduce plain cigarette packaging, with sources estimating that the firms could seek up to £500million in damages. (The Scotsman page 1)

Education

Religious Observance debate: The Reverend Ian Watson – and half of his Kirkmuirhill parish congregation – has announced he is quitting the Kirk in protest at the Church of Scotland’s proposed partnership with the Humanist Society to replace religious observance in schools with ‘time for reflection.’  (The Scotsman page 12, Daily Mail page 6)

University recruitment: Both higher education institutions and unions have called on ministers to scrap the current policy of imposing financial penalties on universities if they over-recruit students. Alistair Sim, director of Universities Scotland, has said that the policy should be relaxed in order to meet the increased demand in applications from Scottish students and to ensure that they do not miss out on a university education this summer. (The Herald page 5)

Scottish schools: Gillian Bowditch in The Sunday Times discusses the correlation between inflated house prices and good schools, arguing that the divide now lies between not the state and private sector, but between those who have the funds to access the best education, “either directly or indirectly.”  

Ian Bell in the Herald on Sunday considers the deputy leader of the Scottish Labour Party’s decision to send his son to private school and discusses the implications of this for the party image, while assessing the link between house prices, better state schools and the continual dominance of private school alumni in public life. (The Herald on Sunday, page 22)

Crime & Justice

Technology in trials: The Law Society of Scotland has said that court proceedings should be filmed and screened on television, in order to both keep up with changing technologies and improve the public’s understanding of the judicial system. The Law Society has warned, however, that caution would need to be exercised in cases relating to sexual assault or abuse. (The Scotsman pages 1&4)