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Reform Scotland News: 24 March 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 poll: The latest ICM poll shows that 15% are now unsure as to how they will vote in September’s referendum, while 45% of Scots now support independence, up two points from the last survey. (Daily Mail page 4, The Sun page 2, The Courier page 14, Press & Journal page 12)

Oil revenues: In an analysis published today, the CPPR think tank claims that Alex Salmond’s estimates about North Sea oil revenues are “skewed” and that falling oil revenues will leave Scotland £5.3 billion in debt by 2018/2019, averaging at a deficit of almost £1,000 per person larger than the UK. (The Herald page 1, The Daily Telegraph page 1, The Times page 2, Daily Express page 5, Daily Mail page 4, Press & Journal page 14)

Scottish constitution: Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon will tell an audience in Cardiff today that an interim written constitution setting out the foundations of an independent Scotland will be published for consultation before the Scottish Parliament’s summer recess. Ms Sturgeon will say that the Scottish Independence Bill will “enshrine Scottish values” and will put in place the legal necessities required before a permanent constitution is prepared in the event of a Yes vote. (The Herald page 6, The Scotsman page 9, Daily Express page 2, The Sun page 2, The Courier page 14, Press & Journal page 13)

Credit rating: BlackRock, one of the world’s biggest investment fund managers, has said that Scottish independence would bring “major uncertainties, costs and risks” for companies and pension schemes throughout the UK and suggested that a currency union “looks unfeasible.” Their report suggests that an independent Scotland’s credit rating could fall “by several notches”, which could mean Scots would be forced to pay more for mortgages, credit cards and personal loans. (The Times page 13, Daily Record page 2, The Sunday Times page 1)

Currency union: World-renowned economist Professor Leslie Young – commissioned by Sir Tom Hunter to independently assess the currency union warnings of George Osborne, Labour and the Liberal Democrats – has questioned their warnings over the future of the pound. (The Sunday Times page 4)

Monarchy: The Scottish Justice Minister Kenny MacAskill has said keeping the Queen as head of state in an independent Scotland would be “for the people of Scotland to decide,” which raises the prospect of a referendum on retaining the monarchy. (The Daily Telegraph page 7, Daily Mail page 4, The Courier page 14, Press & Journal page 12)

Referendum campaign: Labour politician Margaret Curran has claimed that data obtained using Freedom of Information shows that the Scottish Government spent £85,000 in two weeks on billboards to “promote their plans for separation.” At their party conference, Johann Lamont added that the use of taxpayers’ money in this way was “a complete scandal.” (The Herald page 6, The Scotsman page 9, The Daily Telegraph page 6, Daily Record page 2, The Sun page 2, The Courier page 15, Press & Journal page 15)

Brian Monteith in The Scotsman comments on George Osborne’s Budget and suggests that the Scottish Conservatives should take a similarly “bold” approach to devolution.

Labour Party conference: According to deputy leader and Glasgow Central MP Anas Sarwar, the Labour Party is “on the way back” and Johann Lamont will be “the next First Minister of Scotland”. Closing the party conference in Perth, Mr Sarwar argued that Labour is on track to win both next year’s Westminster election and the 2016 Holyrood poll and emphasised the party’s commitment to social justice. He also attacked the SNP, claiming that they would choose independence over eradicating child poverty and unemployment. Meanwhile, Johann Lamont argued that the Better Together campaign must “step up” their efforts to save the Union (The Herald page 6, The Scotsman page 9, The Times page 2, Daily Express page 2, Daily Record page 2, Press & Journal page 15)

During the party conference, former First Minister Henry McLeish warned that Labour “must stop hating Salmond and the SNP” and reminded the party that they should be tolerant of its supporters who back independence. (The Sunday Times page 4)

Lesley Riddoch in The Scotsman argues that the Labour Party is losing momentum, but that the issues raised by Johann Lamont should be addressed regardless.

Andrew Nicoll in The Scottish Sun comments that despite Johann Lamont’s “excellent speech” at the party conference, her charm will not convince pro-independence voters. (The Sun page 8)

Gillian Bowditch in The Sunday Times suggests Johann Lamont has inadvertently given the pro-independence campaign a boost. (The Sunday Times page 27)

UK Polls: The Conservative Party is now at a five-month high and is nearly neck and neck with Labour, after having seen a considerable improvement across two new polls following last week’s Budget. A YouGov poll for The Sunday Times found the Conservatives are just one point behind on 36% to Labour’s 37%, the smallest advantage since November. A Survation poll for the Mail on Sunday put Labour at 35%, up 1 percentage point from January, and the Conservatives on 34%, marking a 4 point increase in popularity. (The Daily Telegraph page 6, The Guardian page 1, Daily Mail page 8, Daily Express page 2, The Sunday Times page 1)

European elections: A poll conducted by ICM Research has shown that the Labour Party remains well behind the SNP in relation to this year’s European elections. The survey suggests that 29% of voters would back Johann Lamont’s party, while 41% intended to support the SNP. The poll also showed that support among Scots for pulling  out of the EU has fallen, with fewer than one third saying they would vote to leave in the referendum pledged by David Cameron if the Conservatives win next year’s general election. (The Scotsman page 8, The Courier page 14)

Health

Passive smoking: New research has shown that passive smoking poses a considerable threat to the physical and mental well-being of Scots. Exactly eight years since the public smoking ban came into force, a study by Heriot-Watt University claims that those living with a smoker are still exposed to an increased risk of strokes, heart attacks and general mental health issues. (The Herald page 9)

Education

Colleges: Following a change in government policy, certain colleges across Scotland have seen a drop of up to 50% in the numbers of students enrolling. The Scottish Government has asked colleges to prioritise full-time courses for teenagers in a bid to tackle youth unemployment, but the move has contributed to a sharp reduction in both part-time students and those sitting courses that do not lead to a formal qualification at the end. (The Herald page 10)

Crime

Stop and search figures: The Labour Party last night criticised claims made by Scotland’s top police officer that stop and search figures “are being made up”. Police Scotland’s Chief Constable Stephen House said he was aware that searches were being fabricated, something for which Scottish Labour justice spokesman Graeme Pearson said there was “never an excuse”. (Daily Record page 10