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Reform Scotland News: 3 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 debate: Despite not being able to vote himself, Sir Sean Connery has urged Scots to support independence, adding that a Yes vote would “capture the world’s attention” and is “too good an opportunity to miss”. Meanwhile, the writer Will Self; the former general secretary of UEFA, David Taylor and the author Mairi Hedderwick have all recently come out in favour of independence. (The Herald page 6, The Scotsman page 9, The Times page 4, Scottish Daily Mail page 4, Press & Journal page 13, The Courier page 14, The Sunday Times page 3, David Taylor in The Sunday Times page 31)

The No campaign last night reportedly revealed they have raised only a third of their fundraising target, leaving them £7million behind the Yes campaign. As the widening gap in finances between the rival campaigns becomes apparent, Alex Salmond has been accused of attempting to buy victory, following a further donation of £1million from the lottery winners Colin and Christine Weir. (The Daily Telegraph page 1, Alan Cochrane in The Daily Telegraph, The Sun page 2, The Sunday Times page 1)

Brian Monteith in The Scotsman argues that nationalists have buried their heads in the sand by attempting to dismiss Standard Life’s promise to relocate in the event of a Yes vote. Although there is now a growing list of businesses that have pledged to leave an independent Scotland, the Yes campaign fails to consider the importance of business intervention within the independence debate.

Gillian Bowditch and Jason Allardyce in The Sunday Times assess the impact of the recent comments of companies and the financial sector on Alex Salmond’s pursuit of independence. (The Sunday Times page 25)

Although it has nearly been two years since the start of the independence campaign Andrew Nicoll in The Sun says that very little real progress has been made and that the public has learnt little.

Devolution: Scottish Labour’s proposals to devolve welfare and income tax powers to Holyrood have reportedly been met with a considerable backlash from Scottish MPs and could be blocked by the UK party, prompting fears for lasting internal divisions when the party’s Devolution Commission reports back shortly.  However, former Labour Cabinet ministers Jim Murphy and Douglas Alexander have supported further devolution, with the former adding that it was “compulsory” to offer meaningful change. (The Scotsman page 1, The Herald page 6, Daily Telegraph page 7, Daily Record page 9)

In a speech before the Scottish Council for Development and Industry (SCDI) today, Nicola Sturgeon will press the unionist parties to tell Scottish people what extra responsibilities they would give MSPs. She will add, however, that their proposals will “fall short “of what is needed, and will emphasise that the only way to guarantee more powers for Holyrood would be to vote Yes. (Daily Record page 9)

As Nicola Sturgeon considers the proposals of the three main Westminster parties, David Torrance writing in The Herald considers ‘the carrot and stick’ tactics of the Better Together campaign.

Ukraine: As Nato warns that European peace is at risk, thousands of Ukrainians rallied in Kiev’s Independence Square in protest against the growing presence of Russian troops in the Crimean peninsula. Despite international condemnation, Russian President Vladimir Putin has repeatedly ignored calls to withdraw, a move that US Secretary of State John Kerry has branded “an incredible act of aggression”, adding that world powers are ready to “go to the hilt” to isolate Russia economically. In response to the escalating tensions, William Hague yesterday joined the US and France, announcing that Britain will, too, boycott meetings ahead of the G8 Summit in Sochi, whilst David Cameron has said ministers will not attend the Paralympic Games in Russia. (The Herald page 1, The Scotsman page 1, The Guardian page 1, The Independent page 1, The Times page 1, The Daily Telegraph page 1, Financial Times page 1, Scottish Daily Mail page 1, The Sun page 1, Daily Record page 2, Press & Journal page 21, The Courier page 3, The Sunday Times page 1)

Fuel poverty: A £60million fund aimed to reduce fuel poverty could benefit thousands of homes, according to housing minister Margaret Burgess. As part of the Home Energy Efficiency Programme for Scotland, the money will reportedly be used to improve the energy efficiency of homes across the country. (The Herald page 4, The Scotsman page 19, The Courier page 14)

Bannockburn 700th anniversary: Tourism chiefs and politicians yesterday defended plans for anniversary celebrations to mark 700 years since the Battle of Bannockburn in June. Although VisitScotland has insisted that preparations were on track, Sir Malcolm McGregor, Convenor of the Standing Council of Scottish Clan Chiefs, said there remained confusion among potential tourists, adding that the event had not been well promoted on an international scale. (The Times page 21, The Daily Telegraph page 9, Daily Express page 2)

UKIP: A Populus poll for The Financial Times has dispelled stereotypes of UKIP as a party for ‘tweedy’ gentlemen in the south, showing that their party policies have instead appealed to manual, unskilled and unemployed voters, many of whom live in the Midlands. (The Financial Times page 3)

Economy

Banking costs: Ross McEwen, chief executive of the Royal Bank of Scotland, has reportedly said that consumers will be faced with new charges for current accounts, as free banking comes to an end. He said that such charges would add increased transparency to the banking system, allowing consumers to compare rival bank’s account offers more easily. (The Scotsman page 16, Daily Express page 4)

Education

Schooling age: The Scotland Institute has claimed that the age of children starting school should be lowered to 4, in order to create “an equal playing field”, as “young children in Scotland are already unequal in terms of their educational achievement by the time they enter formal schooling age 5,” particularly those from poorer backgrounds. The Scottish Government, however, said that many children do already start school aged 4 and that it was “difficult to see” how the change would enhance existing childcare plans. (The Times page 11, Scottish Daily Mail page 5, Press & Journal page 13, The Courier page 2)  

School qualifications: In a research paper for the Jimmy Reid Foundation, Brian Boyd, Emeritus Professor of Education at the University of Strathclyde, has claimed that an over-reliance on testing is undermining the education system and that the current Scottish school exams should be replaced with a single formal assessment in their final year. (The Herald page 1)

Health

NHS: Health Secretary Alex Neil has said that NHS Scotland is coping much better with winter pressures than in 2012, following a drop of 87% in the number of patients spending 12 hours or more in A&E departments. (The Herald page 1, The Scotsman page 15, Press & Journal page 12)

A&E attacks: Members of A&E staff were subject to 774 attacks over the last two years, according to information obtained by the Scottish Liberal Democrats. (Daily Express page 10, Press & Journal page 12, The Courier page 13)

Height and IQ: In a five-year study for the Scottish Family Health Study, researchers from the University of Edinburgh, the University of Aberdeen and University College London have claimed that taller people are more likely to have a higher IQ than those who are shorter, after having identified genes which influence both height and intelligence. (The Scotsman page 15, Press & Journal page 17)

Alcohol dependency: Concerns over the dramatic increase in alcoholism among the over-50s have been raised, after one project in Glasgow saw a 315% rise in alcohol-related cases over the space of four years. The charity Addaction has said the figures are “the tip of the iceberg”, adding that older people were turning to alcohol as a means of dealing with loneliness and isolation. (The Scotsman page 10)

Childhood obesity: Recent figures have revealed that 140 children under the age of 16 in Scotland weighed over 16 stone in the last five years, with 13 weighing more than 20 stone. Such is the extent of the problem; some morbidly obese Scottish children have been taken into care as a result. (Daily Record page 1)

Transport

Trains: The transport campaign group Tranform Scotland is calling for a “rail revolution” to make Scottish rail travel faster, safer and greener, adding that the country’s rail network needs urgent upgrading to ensure “safe, civilised and sustainable” transport. (The Scotsman page 19, Press & Journal page 3, The Courier page 9)