A senior minister tells the Guardian: an independent Scotland could keep the pound

Scottish flag“‘Of course there would be a currency union,’ the minister told the Guardian in remarks that will serve as a major boost to the Scottish first minister … The minister, who would play a central role in the negotiations over the breakup of the UK if there were a yes vote, added: ‘There would be a highly complex set of negotiations after a yes vote, with many moving pieces. The UK wants to keep Trident nuclear weapons at Faslane and the Scottish government wants a currency union – you can see the outlines of a deal.'” – The Guardian

  • “Scots are poised to vote for independence unless a positive ‘sunshine strategy’ is adopted by the Better Together campaign, the Lib Dem leader Willie Rennie warned yesterday.” – The Scotsman
  • “Nick Clegg urged Scots yesterday to resist the ‘false patriotism’ offered by Alex Salmond, in a speech that compared the First Minister to Ukip’s Nigel Farage.” – The Times (£)

And comment:

  • “When opposing a proposal, or a government, what’s the right balance of smile and frown? Ed Miliband will not be the only one hoping the Scottish campaign provides an answer.” – Jonathan Freedland, The Guardian

Cameron celebrates the country’s first same-sex weddings…

Cameron tweet

“This weekend is an important moment for our country. For the first time, the couples getting married won’t just include men and women – but men and men; and women and women. After all the campaigning – not least by readers of PinkNews – we will at last have equal marriage in our country. Put simply, in Britain it will no longer matter whether you are straight or gay – the State will recognise your relationship as equal.” – David Cameron, Pink News

  • “If changing the law to allow same-sex marriage in England and Wales helps gay men or women feel more confident about their sexuality then the Liberal Democrats’ decision to form the coalition will have been ‘worth it’, Nick Clegg has said.” – The Scotsman

And further comment:

  • “At last gay relationships can’t be regarded as second-rate” – Philip Hensher, The Guardian
  • “Although I am gay myself, I have been a long-standing critic of gay marriage and personally I have no interest in marrying my partner.” – Andrew Pierce, Daily Mail
  • “This is the worst time not to have children” – Janice Turner, The Times (£)
  • “David Cameron’s government should be commended for legalising gay marriage. It was brave, considering how many older Tories he knew he’d drive into Ukip’s arms.” – Sun editorial (£)
  • “Today is a day to be proud to be British.” – Independent editorial

> Today: ToryDiary – Lawfully wedded

…and spies a new ally in Europe

EU FLag“Mr Cameron is taking a much closer interest in political developments in Copenhagen as he looks towards the Danish prime minister, Helle Thorning-Schmidt, as the person who could help him out of a hole in Europe. … Mr Cameron met the centre-left Danish premier on the margins of a summit in The Hague this week and discussed a subject close to both of their hearts: who should get the top jobs in Brussels when they are carved up this year.” – Financial Times

  • “If I, a Eurosceptic for more than 30 years, feel persuadable either way, the same is surely true of most voters.” – Charles Moore, Daily Telegraph
  • “To fix Europe, Cameron must do business with his rivals” – Hugo Dixon, Financial Times

A mixed response to to Osborne and Schauble’s co-written article

“Tory MP Mark Reckless welcomed the close-co-operation between Mr Osborne and his German counterpart, but warned: ‘The Germans aren’t going to remake the EU to suit the UK and even the prospect of treaty change seems to be receding.’ … Fellow Eurosceptic Douglas Carswell said it was ‘just like the 1990s all over again’, when Brussels paid lip service to British demands for more powers to be handed back to national parliaments.” – Daily Mail

  • “France opposes David Cameron’s plan for European Union reform despite the Prime Minister securing the backing of Germany for a “two-speed” Europe, diplomats have said.” – Daily Telegraph
  • “Labour has urged the Socialist president of the European Parliament not to visit the UK on an upcoming tour of the continent’s capitals, because the party fears appearing too pro-EU.” – Financial Times

The Chancellor wants a return to face-to-face banking

OSBORNE blue tie“George Osborne has called for a return to Dad’s Army style banking, championing character Captain Mainwaring as a role model for today’s managers at the Federation of Small Business Conference. … The Chancellor, who was speaking at the 40th anniversary conference in Manchester, said that Britain needs more ‘face-to-face’ banking.” – Daily Telegraph

  • “Hundreds of thousands of victims of card fraud wrongly denied refunds could finally get their money back in a crackdown on banks that try to wriggle out of paying compensation.” – The Times (£)

Pensioners could gain from a Budget loophole…

“Millions of people over 60 could get a £1,500 windfall from the Treasury because of an extraordinary loophole in new pension laws. … Changes in this month’s Budget, effective from Thursday, allow pensioners to cash in small pension pots worth up to £10,000. … But the legislation leaves open a loophole that means trading in your pension pot can actually result in a profit – at taxpayers’ expense.” – Daily Mail

  • “Shares in pensions and insurance industry plunge as potential mis-selling inquiry follows blow to annuity market in Budget” – The Guardian
  • “HM Revenue & Customs has insisted it will appeal against a high court decision to award Sir David and Sir Frederick Barclay’s Littlewoods catalogue shopping business £1.2bn in a top-up settlement relating to a long-running legacy VAT dispute.” – The Guardian

And comment:

  • “There’s nothing ‘toff’ about raising the bar for inheritance tax” – Graeme Archer, Daily Telegraph

…and we all might gain from stronger growth

“Rapid growth in the UK’s dominant service sector in January and rising business investment have raised hopes that Britain’s economy will grow more than had been expected this year. … Official data published on Friday showed the service sector grew 3.2 per cent in January compared with the same month last year.” – Financial Times

Miller to apologise and repay £5,000 of expenses

Daily Telegraph Miller“The Culture Secretary abused the Parliamentary expenses system by over-claiming for her mortgage and then failing to fully co-operate with an investigation into her conduct, The Telegraph can disclose. … Maria Miller, the Culture secretary, is set to have to repay up to £5,000 and be censured for her claims – following an official Parliamentary inquiry which is expected to report as soon as this week.” – Daily Telegraph

  • “A Conservative peer is to face a second parliamentary investigation into his lobbying activities on behalf of a Caribbean tax haven. … Lord Blencathra has previously been investigated by the Lords Commissioner for Standards for his work on behalf of the Cayman Islands government” – The Independent

And comment:

  • “Taxpayers’ money is a precious thing, and every penny of it ought to be properly accounted for and judiciously spent. It is good that we now have greater transparency and knowledge of what MPs do with our hard-earned cash. Indeed, it is a tribute to the benefits of having a free press.” – Daily Telegraph editorial

Gove approves plans for a £45 million free school, sparking anger

“The cost of setting up the Harris Westminster Sixth Form for high-achieving students is six times the average cost of establishing a free school and equates to around £90,000 per pupil. … The Independent understands that the budget for this project has been the subject of internal criticism within Whitehall. … Margaret Hodge, chair of the Public Accounts Committee, described the expenditure as ‘outrageous’.” – The Independent

  • “Senior politicians are peddling ‘ignorant’ myths about private schools and creating false barriers between the independent and state education system, the former headmaster of Harrow has warned.” – Daily Telegraph

And comment:

  • “We will never dismantle our class system if we allow children from poor backgrounds to waste their time at school being taught ‘collaborate problem-solving’ while rich children are introduced to the best that has been thought and said.” – Toby Young, Daily Telegraph

> Yesterday: WATCH – “I’ve got street cred-i-bil-i-ty” – Michael Gove raps

Maude takes on the union bully boys

Francis Maude“Union intimidation squads risk damaging the economic recovery, Cabinet Minister Francis Maude claimed last night. … He said a new inquiry by a top lawyer had to get ‘to the bottom’ of bully boy tactics — and consider new laws. … It came as the Government revealed the probe into hardline tactics will go ahead without any trade union involvement.” – The Sun (£)

  • “The head of Britain’s biggest trade union is to face a formal hearing over claims that his re-election to his post was unfair … Len McCluskey, general secretary of Unite, has been accused of a series of irregularities by Jerry Hicks, his sole rival in last year’s contest. … Most serious is the allegation that ballot papers were sent to 160,000 ‘phantom voters’…” – The Times (£)

Lord Howell criticises the Government’s visa rules

“The Government’s visa rules are a ‘blot’ on Britain’s reputation, leaving the country looking “nasty” to the outside world, Chancellor George Osborne’s father-in-law has protested. … The former Cabinet minister Lord Howell of Guildford warned that business people were being deterring from travelling to the UK by the ‘jungle of regulations’ they encountered.” – The Independent

  • “The home secretary, Theresa May, has ordered a review of border officials’ handling of asylum claims made by gay and lesbian applicants after reports that some claimants had handed over video evidence to prove their sexuality.” – The Guardian

National Trust chairman accuses the Coalition of “traumatising” the countryside

“Mafia-style behaviour in the planning system is ‘traumatising’ the English countryside, the head of the National Trust has suggested. … Sir Simon Jenkins, the Trust’s chairman, said the planning decisions that have led to eyesore developments getting the go-ahead could only have happened in Sicily, the historic home of the mafia.” – Daily Telegraph

> Today: Benedict McAleenan on Comment – Let the Lords take the lead on major infrastucture and housing

Coverage of Lord Ashcroft’s latest poll: Will UKIP supporters turn to the Tories?

UKIP glass“Just 10 per cent [of UKIP supporters] said they would consider changing their vote to keep Mr Miliband out. … The figure was slightly higher among voters who had defected from the Tories in the first place, with 14 per cent saying they would consider switching back next year. … Lord Ashcroft insisted that the poll findings were not a disaster for the Conservatives, adding: ‘With marginal voters in marginal seats, the margins matter.'” – Daily Mail

  • “A sex-change MEP claimed yesterday that Ukip leader Nigel Farage ‘assaulted’ her at the European Parliament. … Nikki Sinclaire — who was kicked out of Ukip in 2010 — blasted Mr Farage’s ‘violent temper’. … She said he put his fist in her face and threatened her.” – The Sun (£)

And comment:

  • “Ukip’s fortunes could brighten in the European elections, but don’t expect that to carry on in 2015 when it will really count” – Andrew Grice, The Independent

> Yesterday: Lord Ashcroft on Comment – “Vote UKIP, get Labour.” Does that argument work for the Conservatives?

Clegg hints at more help for struggling tenants

“Nick Clegg signalled on Friday that the government is to lift the cap on the amount of money councils can spend in discretionary housing payments for tenants in difficulties due to the introduction of the bedroom tax. … The announcement is not an injection of extra government funding, but will give councils greater flexibility to help tenants who say they cannot afford the extra cost, or have nowhere else to go.” – The Guardian

Simon Heffer: What a fine mess the two Eds are in

Miliband coffee“[Miliband’s] main problem is not a lack of political convictions but the fact that he realises he can’t express them because they are so red-bloodedly socialist they would frighten most voters. … It is not easy to see, in an improving economy, how Ed Miliband and Ed Balls can extricate themselves from this mess.” – Simon Heffer, Daily Mail

  • “Labour’s biggest celebrity backer Mick Hucknall has savaged Ed Miliband — panning his policies and backing David Cameron’s instead.” – The Sun (£)

> Yesterday: LeftWatch – “The Labour Party has always stood up for working people” – er, when?

Inmates take control of prison wing

“Riot police were reported to be on standby after inmates took control of part of a prison wing in Northumberland on Friday night. … Officials at HMP Northumberland near Amble, about 30 miles from Newcastle, confirmed a ‘disturbance’ was under way, but dismissed as ‘speculation’ the suggestion of a stand-off between inmates and guards.” – The Guardian

  • “The poet laureate, Carol Ann Duffy, joined other writers and actors outside a north London jail on Friday as the campaign to overturn the government’s ban on sending books to prisoners gathered pace.” – The Guardian
  • “The number of Muslims in the prison population has more than doubled to nearly 12,000 in a decade” – The Independent

And comment:

  • “The Metropolitan Police has questions to answer about its integrity. So far Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe is not answering them” – Times editorial (£)

Anger over Windsor Castle invite for McGuinness

“The revelation that former IRA commander Martin McGuinness may attend a state banquet hosted by the Queen sparked a furious reaction last night. … The Sinn Fein politician is still considering whether to accept an invitation to the white-tie event at Windsor Castle next month. … Buckingham Palace refused to confirm that Northern Ireland’s deputy first minister is on the guest list for the banquet, in honour of Irish president Michael D Higgins.” – Daily Mail

  • “A 22-year-old man has been arrested after what appears to have been a foiled mortar bomb attack in west Belfast.” – Belfast Telegraph

Obama’s latest phone conversation with Putin

Vladimir Putin“In a phone conversation Friday, President Barack Obama urged Russian President Vladimir Putin to pull back troops from the border with Ukraine. … The White House said Putin called Obama while the president was traveling in Saudi Arabia. … Mr Obama pressed Russia to offer a written response to a diplomatic resolution to the Ukraine crisis that the U.S. has presented.” – Daily Mail

News in brief

  • Can you catch TB from your cat? – Daily Mail
  • House prices in London rising at 20 per cent a year – Daily Mail
  • New objects found in the search for MH370 – The Guardian
  • 20 per cent rise in expenses claims made by BBC executives – The Times (£)
  • Next Archbishop of Liverpool delivers poverty warning – The Independent
  • Welsh Labour leader to fight back against the Tories – WalesOnline