First Minister, Alex Salmond, critised for Ryder Cup expenses despite
securing jobs and investment for Scotland IMAGE: STOCKPIX.EU
Scottish news: News in Scotland - Thursday
Salmond wants ‘distinctively Scots’ press regulation
Alex Salmond has stated that he would back the creation of an independent body to settle press industry disputes, advocating a third way between laissez-faire attitudes and strict government control of free speech. Salmond cited Ireland as an example, calling their independent Press Council a ‘happy compromise.’ Lord Leveson’s report is due today.
Scotland has ‘no choice’ over pension changes, says John Swinney
Finance secretary John Swinney has stated that Westminster would cut £100m-a-year from the Scottish government if it doesn’t increase the amount many public sector workers pay for their pensions. Mr Swinney stated that while it will be up to local governments to decide if there should be increases, the Scottish government would not provide extra funding if they decide not to up the amount workers pay. There are 6 pension schemes that the UK do not control, about which Mr Swinney stated: "Given this government's opposition to the way in which the UK Government is conducting long-term pension reform, the lack of flexibility and the lack of certainty being offered, we cannot willingly put these remaining pension schemes under UK Government control.”
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Scottish Government announces crackdown on criminals working behind private taxi firms
The Scottish government yesterday announced new possible measures to crack down on criminals who infiltrate private taxi firms. Councils could be given the power to restrict private hire cars, licensing officers may have more enforcement powers, and firm owners and drivers would have to show that they are ‘”fit and proper” under new proposals. Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill stated: “The taxi and private hire sectors are very important to the Scottish economy and it is essential that they are regulated to the appropriate standards, so that the public is protected from harm while using the service and the industry is protected from infiltration by organised crime.”
Salmond’s £500,000 Ryder Cup trip criticized
Alex Salmond led a Ryder Cup-related delegation on week-long trip to Chicago which it has been revealed cost the Scottish taxpayer £500,000. The tournament is expected to net Scotland’s economy £100mn and bring job however Labour MSP Patricia Ferguson complained: “At a time of such severe cuts to public spending and thousands continue to lose their jobs, for [him] to be spending such sums is outrageous.” External affairs secretary Fiona Hyslop replied by stating every effort was made to minimize costs and that: “The First Minister’s work in Chicago also included a number of business meetings which secured over 140 new jobs and tens of millions in new investment from US based companies who are successfully expanding their operations in Scotland.”
Increase in ScotRail fares
ScotRail train fares are set to increase by 3.9 percent in January, although this is less than the maximum permitted amount and will be less than cross-border train companies. CrossCountry will see a 4.1 percent rise and Virgin will see a 4.2 per cent rise. The ScotRail rise could mean Edinburgh-Glasgow anytime (peak) day return fares increase by 80p to £21.80.
Scotland’s plans for minimum alcohol pricing opposed by EC
The Scottish parliament’s plans to set a minimum unit price of alcohol at 50p has been called a ‘disproportionate’ response to the countries health problems caused by alcohol. While admitting that Scotland has one of the fastest rates of chronic liver disease and cirrhosis in the world, the EC stated the legislation breaches EU laws on free trades and suggested either raising taxes or targeting specific problem areas. The government has until the 27th of December to respond.
Task Force meets to discuss new measures to fight health inequalities
A new help group is to be set up to discuss the health gap between the richest and poorest Scots today. The new ministerial taskforce on health inequalities was set up to suggest new ways to tackle the problem. Public health minister Michael Matheson, who will chair the group, said the health gap between the rich and poor was one of the greatest challenges facing Scotland. It comes after a report published in 2011 showed life expectancy was lower in areas with high deprivation.
Senior Nationalist MP recovering from stroke
Dundee East MP Stewart Hosie is recovering in Ninewells Hospital in Dundee after suffering a ‘mini-stroke’ on Monday. An SNP spokesperson stated: “he is expected to make a complete recovery, and is hoping to leave hospital very soon.”
Construction begins on new business park in Aberdeen
The beginning of the construction of a new £215mn low-carbon business park in Aberdeen was marked yesterday by a turf cutting ceremony. The building, part of the Energetica Corridor in the North East, is in response to the increasing need of Aberdeen’s oil, gas and renewables companies for more space in which to expand. Councillor Barney Crockett, the Labour leader of Aberdeen City Council, stated: “Aberdeen is…a leading world energy city which plays a vital part in the Scottish and UK economies. It is essential that we as a council continue to demonstrate that we can react quickly to the demand for more and better business space as we have done at The Core.”
Scottish independence cuts UK down to size
The UK’s influence and political standing in the EU could decline in the event of Scottish independence. In an article for the European Policy Centre, Professor Richard Whitman writes that the UK would “cease to be one of the EU’s big three”, with a lower population than Italy and less military capabilities than France. After the referendum, the 2015 UK government may call a vote, to decide whether to continue of UK membership in the EU.
Council housing stock at lowest level in a decade
Despite major building in the past few years, the total number of council houses has hit a record low. 866 council houses were completed this year, yet there were only 319 384 council house in March 2012, the lowest number for at least ten years. Total social housing stock has remained steady and private-sector house building has been rising, 24 per cent year on year.
UK and WORLD
BP temporarily banned from new US contracts
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has temporarily suspended BP from making new contracts with the US. The EPA said it was taking these actions due to BP’s “lack of business integrity” after the Gulf of Mexico spill. BP has stated that the ban might be lifted quite soon, and pointed out that they had spent more than $14bn in clean up costs.
UK Government consider paying firms to cut energy
The UK government is today proposing to incentivize energy firms to save energy and reduce costs by paying them for cutting electricity. The proposals state that firms would be paid for energy saving measures such as low-energy lighting, or offering financial incentives that encourage people to buy efficient equipment for both at home and in workplaces. The Energy Bill is also being published today, which has been criticized as not focusing on helping people save energy and instead focusing on how to make more power.
Eight people get death in absentia over anti-Islam film
An Egyptian court has convicted eight people over the film ‘Innocence of Muslims’ that caused riots in parts of the Muslim world. The case was unique in that all the defendants are outside Egypt and thus unlikely to face the sentence. The court found the defendants guilty of damaging national unity, attacking Islam and spreading false information.
Support for Palestinian status upgrade at UN grows
As President Mahmud Abbas goes to submit a request today for Palestine to be upgraded from an observer entity to a non-member observer state in the UN, support from a number of European countries has grown. Spain, Norway, Denmark and Switzerland have followed France’s lead. The US and Israel will oppose it, while Britain has said it would reserve judgment until it sees Palestine returning to negotiations with Israel.
Westminster responds to Leveson report
Today, David Cameron and Nick Clegg aim to agree a response to recommendations from the Leveson Inquiry issued on Wednesday afternoon and avoid a split in the coalition over this ‘once in a generation’ debate. In the first instance, the recommendations were only released to a select group of politicians, yet speculation suggests that the hundreds of pages criticise politicians, press and police heavily and endorse an independent regulatory body governed by statute. The press are firmly opposed to statutory regulation, which runs the risk of decreasing press freedom and allowing the government to intervene in the media. If David Cameron follows their line, he will meet opposition at Westminster and from the victims of phone hacking, including the family of murdered Milly Dowler.
Shares rise due to US optimism
The FTSE 100 has risen to its highest in three weeks today due to miners and other exporters feeling positive about achieving a US budget deal that will avoid recession in the world's biggest economy. Spending cuts and tax hikes that are due to come into force in 2013 had overtaken the euro crisis as the top concern for investors. Steve Asfour at Fox Davies Capital has stated about the possible deal: "I think it's one of those things they have to sort out, because the ramifications for allowing that to happen would be unfathomable in this market at the moment."
Thousands of international students overstay their welcome
Chief inspector of immigration, John Vine, found that a huge 150,000 notifications about changes in student circumstances, dating back to 2009, have not been followed up. Though a team in Sheffield found many of the notifications to be minor, such as changes in address, there is thought to be up to 26 000 students who have breached the terms of their visas and ought to have left the UK. Chris Bryant, from the labour party, criticising the incompetence of the UK Border Agency yet the immigration minister, Mark Harper sees the discovery as a sign of the Conservative government’s success, as the “first government to tackle the historically high levels of abuse in the student visa system”. Operation Rosehip has been launched to target students who have overstayed the conditions of their visa.
18-year old charged with rape of 11-year old girl
An 18-year old teenager will appear in court today charged with attacking and sexually assaulting an 11-year old schoolgirl on her way home from school in North London on Friday. The girl didn’t return home until 8pm, where she was taken to hospital for surgery. The attack may have lasted for up to two or three hours. Police have emphasized that the place of the attack, Jubilee Park in Enfield, is an extremely busy shortcut and attacks like this are extremely rare.
House prices remain the same in November
Nationwide has stated that house prices were unchanged in November and 1.2 percent lower than a year ago. Both instances show slightly weaker performance than October and were softer than economists had expected. Nationwide’s Chief Executive Robert Garner stated that: "The resilience of employment together with the ultra-low level of interest rates has been instrumental in preventing a glut of unsold homes from building up on the market and exerting sustained downward pressure on house prices.”
Uncertainty over Congo Rebels’ retreat
Goma, a major eastern city in the Democratic Republic of Congo, fell to rebel forces last week, as the newly re-armed force invaded and the Congolese Army fled. After an ultimatum from neighbouring countries, leader of the eight-month rebellion, General Sultani Makenga, said he had ordered a retreat. Congolese government officials will not negotiate with the rebels until they are 12 miles outside Goma and suspect that the rebel forces, M23, are playing a familiar game ‘where they say they are moving, then find a reason not to’. Some residents of Goma fear M23 whilst others prefer the rebels to the undisciplined Congolese Army. One Goma resident, Ernest Mugisho said the situation is tense as “It fluctuates every hour, and we cannot even plan for tomorrow.”
Bombings across Iraq wound more than 150
44 people were killed and 155 wounded as bombs exploded across four provinces in the last week. A roadside bomb and a car bomb hit a restaurant in Hilla this Thursday, killing 35 and injuring 80 of the labourers and municipal workers taking breakfast there. Another attack targeted the Shia holy site of Kabala, where millions of pilgrims were commemorating Hussein’s death for Ashura. These attacks follow the spate last Tuesday, when car bombs exploded near Shia places of worship, killing 12 and wounding 50 people. The widespread attacks are said to aim to demonstrate the ineptitude of Iraqi security.
Afghan girl killed after refusal to marry
Two men have been arrested after slitting the throat of a 15-year old Afghan girl after her family refused a marriage proposal. Both men, one of whom proposed the marriage, have been put in police custody. Figures by Oxfam shows that 87 percent of Afghan women report being physically, sexually or psychologically abused or have experienced forced marriage.
Egyptian resistance to Presidential decree
Protests across Egypt have lasted six days, involving two deaths and hundreds of injuries, as people fear that the decree President Mohammed Mursi issued last Thursday will allow him to establish a dictatorship. The current Egyptian government, called the Muslim Brotherhood, hope to pacify the demonstrators through a referendum on the new constitution, the cornerstone of a democratic Egypt to replace Mubarak’s dictatorship. The Muslim Brotherhood has won every referendum so far, yet has recently lost legitimacy as court cases have demanded its dissolution and popular members, including church representatives and liberals, have withdrawn. Regardless, a constitution must be in place before a new parliament is elected and Mohammed Mursi will hold executive and legislative powers until an election can take place.
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