Scotland 1) Tories turn on Cameron over his promises to Scottish voters…

Scottish flag“A pledge by David Cameron to maintain Scotland’s controversial public spending formula was yesterday branded by Conservative MPs as a ‘last-minute bribe’. … Senior Tories warned the Prime Minister faces a ‘deferred bloodbath’ over the inducements offered to the Scots to persuade them to stay in the UK. … Yesterday, Mr Cameron, Ed Miliband and Nick Clegg signed up to a ‘vow’ to the people of Scotland, including a guarantee to continue the Barnett allocation – which sees the Scots get more than £1,300 per head in public spending above the UK average. … But even Lord Barnett, who devised the formula in 1979, said last night that it was ‘grossly unfair’ and should be scrapped.” – Daily Mail

  • “A blame game over the ‘lacklustre’ No campaign is under way before the votes have been cast in the Scottish independence referendum. … David Cameron was yesterday accused of ignoring warnings from senior officials about the chances of a Yes vote.” – Daily Mail
  • “News that Scottish voters have been pledged a continuation of the Barnett formula – a funding mechanism already widely perceived in England as over-favourable to Scotland – risks provoking backlash south of the border.” – Financial Times

And comment:

  • Newspaper mastheads“Today, on the eve of the vote that will decide the Union’s future, this paper extends an apology to all Scots for the way the Westminster political class has conducted itself.” – Daily Mail editorial
  • “England is only now waking up to the consequences. If the Scots vote no, the bonds will have to be renewed and revived.” – Guardian editorial
  • “We believe in the people of Scotland to make the right decision.” – Scottish Sun editorial (£)
  • “Cameron, Clegg and Miliband have no agreement among their parties to give new powers to the Scots or change the constitution.” – James Slack, Daily Mail
  • “Independence may come but it may be decades before the Utopian dream of Nordic prosperity is, if ever, achieved.” – Alex Brummer, Daily Mail
  • “Cameron faces a choice between destroying his country or his party” – Matthew Norman, The Independent
  • “Whatever happens this week, the United Kingdom will be utterly different. The political construct that we call the UK may lose its 300-year identity altogether.” – Hamish McRae, The Independent
  • “If Scotland files for divorce, the rest of us are going to need a lawyer. The whole thing will be very messy indeed.” – Daniel Finkelstein, The Times (£)
  • “For the sake of Scotland, don’t be a bad loser.” – Michael Ignatieff, The Times (£)
  • “Who runs Britain? The Celtic fringe, of course.” – Matthew Parris, The Times (£)
  • “Meanwhile – apart from the semi-detached global village that is London – English society is struggling to adjust itself to the new era.” – George Kerevan, The Scotsman
  • “There is still time for people to think.” – Allan Massie, The Scotsman
  • “We are just hours away from toppling over into an abyss.” – Tom Brown, Daily Record

> Today:

> Yesterday:

Scotland 2) …but the Prime Minister says he has “no regrets”

CAMERON PPB Jobs“David Cameron has no regrets over his handling of the Scottish referendum, he insisted as he faced the first public calls to consider resigning as prime minister if the country splits from the United Kingdom. … In an interview with The Times, the prime minister defended the referendum arrangements. He said that he had been right to avoid a third option on the ballot paper offering further devolution for Scotland, and justified the tactics and tone of the Better Together campaign. ‘I had a choice. You either say “Yes, you can have that referendum, and here’s a way of making it legal, decisive and fair,” or I could have taken the approach of just putting my head in the sand and saying, “No, you can’t have a referendum’,” Mr Cameron said.'” – The Times (£)

Scotland 3) Miliband experiences the nationalists’ nasty side

MILIBAND Ed red background“The dark side of the campaign for Scottish independence can be laid bare today. … In a string of sinister incidents, separatists have used bullying and intimidation to cow their rivals. … Pro-union voters have endured stone-throwing, been called traitors and faced threats that their houses will be torched. … Yesterday, Labour leader Ed Miliband was forced to abandon a visit to an Edinburgh shopping centre after he was surrounded by Yes supporters who jostled him and branded him a ‘****ing liar’. His minders had to step in to escort him to safety.” – Daily Mail

  • “Ed Miliband has appealed for calm at the ballot box tomorrow after being jostled and heckled by Yes supporters.” – Daily Record
  • “The Scottish First Minister attempted to force the principal of St Andrews University to criticise the Government and tone down warnings she made about the adverse impact of Scottish independence.” – Daily Telegraph

And comment:

  • “While having an elbow jammed up my left nostril and a stranger step on my ankle, I copped a clear view of Ed Mil’s eyes. They were two liquorice gobstoppers, rotating slowly in different directions.” – Quentin Letts, Daily Mail
  • “…pretty much all reporters I chatted to yesterday agreed that the level of abuse and even intimidation being meted out by some in the ‘Yes’ campaign was making this referendum a rather unpleasant experience.” – Tom Bradby, Daily Mail
  • “The dark side of Scottish nationalism, for so long kept buried by Mr Salmond and his modernising clique, has risen from the grave like a putrid corpse.” – Chris Deerin, Daily Mail
  • “Does Labour have the nerve to launch a devolution earthquake?” – Mary Riddell, Daily Telegraph
  • “We may no longer be one nation, but Miliband can still harness the yes vote” – Rafael Behr, The Guardian
  • “How the media shafted the people of Scotland” – George Monbiot, The Guardian
  • “Alex Salmond’s team has helped create an atmosphere in which hostility can flourish.” – Daily Telegraph editorial

Scotland 4) Brown invokes the war-time spirit

BROWN Scotland“Gordon Brown yesterday called on older Scots to tell their grandchildren how they fought ‘side by side’ with the English in the Second World War. … Ahead of tomorrow’s independence referendum, the former Prime Minister said the younger generation needed to know about the achievements of the UK. … Defeating the Nazis and creating the NHS and the welfare state all happened because England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland had stuck together, he said.” – Daily Mail

  • “Gordon Brown has claimed to have ‘nailed the Nationalist lie’ on NHS spending as the No camp said secret documents showed the SNP Government was to make up to £450 million of health care cuts but was only going to tell Scottish voters about them after tomorrow’s referendum vote.” – The Herald

Scotland 5) Former defence chiefs warn against independence

DEFENCE cuts“In an open letter to Scots published in The Sun, an unprecedented 14 of Britain’s former forces chiefs issue an urgent plea to keep the country together on national security grounds. … It is extremely rare for such senior ex-top brass to enter into highly charged political debates, let alone so many of them at once. … Ripping up the United Kingdom would put ‘at risk the most successful alliance in history’, they say. … The 14 chiefs insist: ‘A vote for separation would undermine both Scotland and the rest of the United Kingdom’s defence. … The division of the UK may or may not be politically or economically sensible, but in military terms we are clear: it will weaken us all’.” – The Sun (£)

  • “Alex Salmond has been accused of deliberately misleading Scots about an independent Scotland’s EU status after European governments rejected his claim in a major TV interview that he has consulted them.” – Daily Telegraph
  • “The National Institute of Economic and Social Research expressed dismay at Alex Salmond’s ‘Plan B’ if an independent Scotland is barred from using the pound.” – Daily Mail
  • “One of Scotland’s best known entrepreneurs, Sir Tom Hunter, has rejected Alex Salmond’s proposals for a currency union and said the best option for Scotland’s businesses is to remain in the UK.” – The Guardian

And comment:

  • “With such a small and underfunded Scottish defence force, Scotland will simply not have enough intelligence services, boots, bayonets, Special Forces and equipment to defend itself and keep its population secure, let alone play its part internationally as would be expected.” – Andy McNab, The Sun (£)
  • “Independence won’t save us from IS” – Chris Marshall, The Scotsman
  • “Mr Salmond, as far as I can see, does not have anything you could call a world view.” – Philip Stephens, Financial Times
  • “Scotland will never be a big player on the world stage” – Steve Forbes, Daily Telegraph
  • “Does Salmond know what our friends are saying?” – Alan Cochrane, Daily Telegraph
  • “EU officials, already vexed by ‘British question’ must consider Scotland too” – Ian Traynor, The Guardian
  • “Scotland will struggle to make its way as a newly independent state” – Simon Tisdall, The Guardian
  • “As the soldiers say, that would mean both Scotland and the rest of us would all be worse off.” – Sun editorial (£)
  • “Scottish independence will not only weaken Britain’s influence abroad. It will reduce Scotland’s international stature.” – Times editorial (£)

Scotland 6) “Let’s do this.” Salmond urges Scots to seize the moment

SALMOND on Marr “One day before the independence vote, Alex Salmond has appealed to Scots to ‘trust each other’ and seize the ‘greatest, most empowering moment any of us will ever have’ to leave the United Kingdom. … The First Minister and Scottish National Party leader said in a characteristically upbeat letter to voters released early on Wednesday that ‘with independence, we would immediately be in the top 20 of the richest countries in the world’.” – Financial Times

Read Salmond’s letter in full on the Daily Record website

  • “Alex Salmond could have his eye on a new official residence for after the referendum – in the form of his own castle.” – Daily Mail
  • “[Salmond] loved Star Trek, particularly Mr Spock, and would put pegs on his eyebrows to try and make them point up like his half-Vulcan hero.” – The Sun (£)

And comment:

  • “As this remarkable campaign reaches its denouement, the opprobrium that has been heaped on the First Minister has gone well beyond the pale and made a mockery of the defamation and libel laws.” – Alan Taylor, The Herald
  • “Gandhi said: ‘First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win.’ But what then, Mr Salmond? That’s when you realise you may have gone too far.” – Alice Thomson, The Times (£)

Scotland 7) Polls have No (slightly) in the lead

Opinion Poll graphic“An ICM poll for the Scotsman showed the No camp’s lead down to four percentage points from the 10 points the pollster reported last month. … An Opinium poll for the Daily Telegraph and a Survation poll for the Scottish Daily Mail reported a two point-narrowing of the No lead  since last week. However, the three polls gave differing estimates for the proportion of voters still undecided, which ranged from ICM’s 14 per cent to Opinium’s 6 per cent. … The three surveys suggest the referendum remains too close to call, despite increasing confidence in financial markets and among ordinary punters that Scotland will remain in the UK.” – Financial Times

  • “Some 58 per cent of women say they will vote No on Thursday, with 42 per cent planning to vote Yes, among those who have reached a decision.” – Daily Telegraph
  • “Almost two-thirds of adults in England and Wales want to see Scotland remain a part of the United Kingdom, a poll has found.” – The Scotsman
  • “A leading bookmaker has today claimed people will vote ‘no’ in the historic Scottish referendum and even offered to pay out three days early.” – Daily Record

Scotland 8) Clinton wants Scotland to remain in the Union

“Bill Clinton has told Scots to reassure ‘a world torn by identity conflicts’ by voting No in an 11th-hour intervention in the independence debate. … The former U.S. president said he was reluctant to express his view before now because he appreciated the decision was ‘Scots alone to make’. … But he said uncertainty over currency and the impact of ‘long, complex’ negotiations had convinced him to urge the people of Scotland to keep the Union.” – Daily Mail

Hammond criticised for revealing Britain’s hand to ISIS…

HAMMOND Philip white background“The Foreign Secretary ‘showed our hand’ by revealing that the SAS is unable to mount a rescue operation to save a British hostage because ‘we don’t know where he is’, the former head of the army has said. … Philip Hammond said on Monday that the family of Alan Henning, who Isil has threatened to murder, have been told that there are ‘limitations to our abilities’ although it would be a ‘different story’ if he could be found. … Lord Dannatt, the former head of the army, told The Telegraph that he was ‘surprised’ by Mr Hammond’s candour.” – Daily Telegraph

  • “Fellow volunteers on an aid convoy with British hostage Alan Henning offered his kidnappers hundreds of thousands of pounds to free him. … But the brutal Islamic State terror group rejected the offered ransom and refused to allow him to return home.” – Daily Mail
  • “Young British Muslims have launched a social media backlash against Islamic State.” – The Sun (£)
  • “Three Afghan agents, who claim they spied on the Taliban for the British military, are suing the government for allegedly abandoning them to be killed by the insurgent group.” – The Times (£)

…as it emerges that US ground troops may move against the terror organisation

ISIS“The Pentagon leadership suggested to a Senate panel on Tuesday that US ground troops may directly join Iraqi forces in combat against the Islamic State (Isis), despite US president Barack Obama’s repeated public assurances against US ground combat in the latest Middle Eastern war. … A day after US warplanes expanded the war south-west of Baghdad, Army General Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told the Senate armed services committee that he could see himself recommending the use of some US military forces now in Iraq to embed within Iraqi and Kurdish units to take territory away from Isis.” – The Guardian

  • “ISIS has made ‘credible threats’ to kill Pope Francis, a top Iraqi diplomat has warned just days before the Pontiff visits the mainly Muslim nation of Albania.” – Daily Mail
  • “At least 34 children have died in rebel-held Syria after being injected with contaminated measles vaccines, the rebel government said on Tuesday, warning that the deaths might be caused by saboteurs linked to the Assad regime.” – The Guardian

And comment:

  • “Assad lures President Obama into his web.” – Robert Fisk, The Independent

Stuart points out the loopholes in the academies system

School“Loopholes in the regulation of academies that allow trustees to gain financially from the schools they oversee must be closed to avoid the coalition’s education reforms falling into disrepute, MPs say. … Graham Stuart, a Conservative MP and chair of the Commons education committee, which commissioned and published the IoE research, said he had been struck by ‘the ease with which trustees can personally profit from their relationships with academy trusts’.” – Financial Times

  • “Head teachers of leading schools say that ‘appalling’ standards of marking have left highly academic teenagers with poor results in this year’s GCSEs and A levels.” – The Times (£)
  • “Improvements in research have seen Cambridge University and Imperial College London surpass Harvard University in the latest authoritative annual ranking of the world’s top universities, published on Tuesday, with four British institutions in the top six.” – The Guardian

And comment:

  • “This report should be a wake-up call to improve the academy system – not an excuse to dismantle it.” – Independent editorial

The intrigue continues in Bercow’s hunt for a new Commons clerk

“The Speaker has already agreed to pause the process of appointing Carol Mills to the £200,000-a-year role after claims from MPs of all parties that she lacks the necessary experience to become the next Commons clerk. … It has now emerged that the headhunters who recommended Ms Mills did not flag up her links to a row over alleged CCTV ‘spying’ in Australia. A member of the selection panel that approved her appointment broke cover to make the revelation.” – The Times (£)

24 hours to save the NHS? Labour’s new election strategy?

NHS“Labour is debating whether to make a bold commitment to extra spending on the National Health Service the centrepiece of its election offer, raising the profile of the service, which is the party’s single strongest issue and possibly its best route to forming a majority government in May. … The alternative being discussed is to claim that reform of the NHS, including integration of health and social care, as well as reversal of ‘government privatisation’, will release sufficient funds. … However, a commission for the influential Kings Fund thinktank concluded that while integration of social care and health was necessary, it was unlikely to create large-scale savings.” – The Guardian

  • “An ‘unethical’ breast screening trial for three million women should be halted, according to senior doctors, who say many of those involved may not even realise they are part of an experiment.” – The Times (£)

De Blasio to address the Labour conference

“Bill de Blasio, the mayor of New York, will speak at next week’s Labour conference as the UK opposition party tries to reinforce its message about Britain’s ‘cost of living crisis’. … Mr de Blasio, the first Democratic mayor of the Big Apple since 1993, was elected in November 2013 by a wide margin after campaigning on the ‘affordability crisis’. As such he is a major inspiration to Ed Miliband, the Labour leader, who has fought vociferously on a platform of improving the lot of households hit by the fall in real wages since 2010.” – Financial Times

Rotherham’s police commissioner finally stands down

Police shield“Rotherham’s crime tsar finally caved in to three weeks of public outrage and quit yesterday over the sexual abuse of 1,400 children in the town. … Shaun Wright, who had defied demands from political leaders of all parties to resign as South Yorkshire’s police and crime commissioner and refused to see why he should take any blame, claimed he was leaving ‘for the sake of the victims’. … An acting commissioner will be appointed until a by-election is held, but former home secretary David Blunkett, who was among the MPs to welcome Mr Wright’s departure, rejected calls to stand as the region’s next PCC.” – Daily Mail

  • “A police and crime commissioner who bowed to pressure and resigned yesterday over the Rotherham abuse scandal may be censured for giving misleading evidence under oath to a parliamentary inquiry, it can be revealed.” – The Times (£)

And comment:

  • “Shaun Wright should have resigned earlier. It is now Joyce Thacker’s turn.” – Times editorial (£)
  • “Good riddance.” – Sun editorial (£)

Police investigate Galloway death threat

“Police are investigating an alleged death threat sent to George Galloway at the Houses of Parliament. It is claimed that the letter included a mystery substance and a threat that the Respect party MP would ‘die from a deadly virus’. … According to a source, it was linked to his strident views on the Israeli-Gazan conflict and stamped with a postmark from Austria. Scotland Yard said counter-terrorism officers were called to investigate a letter, which was ‘being treated as malicious communications’.” – The Guardian

  • “A Sports Direct security guard has been sacked and is now the subject of a police investigation after he allegedly barred a group of Jewish schoolboys from entering the store and told them: ‘No Jews, no Jews.'” – The Independent
  • “The CPS is currently pursuing 84 separate cases to recover assets abroad worth at least £19m, according to figures obtained by The Independent.” – The Independent
  • “The Liberal Democrats are considering including a time limit on police pre-charge bail in their 2015 election manifesto.” – The Times (£)

The Bank will keep its eye on household debt levels

House icon“The Bank of England said it will ‘monitor closely’ levels of household debt after it published analysis suggesting rises in mortgages before the credit crunch boosted spending and growth, but made the recession worse. … The Bank’s quarterly bulletin suggests that those households with high levels of mortgage debt made larger cuts to their spending after 2007, when the banking system froze and credit became far harder to obtain – despite an interest rate policy that sheltered most borrowers from any rise to monthly repayments.” – Daily Mail

  • “Thousands of middle-income families have been dragged into paying inheritance tax and higher rates of stamp duty by record rises in house prices, figures revealed yesterday.” – Daily Mail
  • “Kevin McCloud has now said renting is the way forward and urged more Britons to consider being tenants rather than home-owners.” – Daily Mail
  • “The average price of a London home has exceeded £500,000 for the first time, taking it into a new stamp duty bracket and attracting a tax bill of more than £20,000.” – Daily Telegraph
  • “Fierce price wars between supermarkets helped push inflation further down last month but the drop is expected to bring only limited relief to households as wages continue to stall.” – The Guardian

And comment:

  • “Having promised an economy built on investment and exports, the chancellor has delivered almost the opposite.” – Financial Times editorial

City grandees to examine the Royal Mail sell-off

“A panel of City grandees has been appointed to carry out an inquiry into the government’s much-criticised £2 billion flotation of Royal Mail. … Lord Myners, the former City minister, is understood to have recruited an independent panel of bankers and academics to examine whether the interests of British taxpayers were protected. … The appointments come after Vince Cable, the business secretary, decided to hold an inquiry into the flotation after he faced criticism over the process.” – The Times (£)

Council developments could leave taxpayers short-changed, warns think-tank

Tax Take“Local authorities are planning to seek redevelopment partners for nearly £14bn of their total £170bn property assets during the next five years, the survey by think-tank Localis has found. … Low valuations on about £2.3bn-worth of these assets mean that the taxpayer risks losing tens of millions of pounds on the deals, the report warned. Meanwhile, one in six councils surveyed by Localis reported that it had sold assets for ‘less than optimal’ value, as they struggled to fill an annual funding gap expected to reach £12.7bn by 2019/20, according to the Local Government Association.” – Financial Times

  • “The leader of the UK’s biggest local authority has said it faces a ‘ticking timebomb’ of financial cuts over the next four years that will result in the loss of thousands more jobs and leave it unable to fulfil many of its traditional roles.” – The Guardian
  • “Hundreds of millions of pounds of Government have been paid out for new eco-friendly waste disposal plants that were never built, because of loosely worded contracts drawn up by civil servants.” – The Independent

Martin Wolf: Russia is our most dangerous neighbour

Russian flag“Russia is both a tragedy and a menace. In the Financial Times this week Sergey Karaganov offered an arresting insight into the blend of self-pity and braggadocio currently at work in Moscow. It is as depressing as it is disturbing. Western policy makers seem to believe the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (known as Isis) is the greater danger. But Russia is the nuclear-armed rump of a former superpower and, ruled by an amoral autocrat, it frightens me even more. For Europe and, I believe, the US, there is no greater foreign policy question than how to deal with today’s Russia.” – Martin Wolf, Financial Times

  • “Ukraine’s parliament has ratified an agreement that will integrate the country with the European Union – the same document which the former president Viktor Yanukovych backed out of signing last year, leading to protests that ended in revolution.” – The Guardian
  • “The West must stop opposing Vladimir Putin’s incursion into Ukraine and join forces with the Russian leader in the fight against Islamic extremists, Nigel Farage has said.” – Daily Telegraph
  • “Extraordinary footage has emerged of a Ukrainian MP being chucked in to a bin by protesters.” – The Independent

> Today: Lord Risby on Comment – Tougher sanctions? A free trade area? Seeking NATO membership? Ukraine’s options for dealing with Putin

News in brief

  • French Government narrowly wins a confidence vote – Daily Telegraph
  • US deploys 3,000 troops to help contain the ebola outbreak – Financial Times
  • Mobile operators in talks to acquire Phones 4U – Financial Times
  • Thai police investigate a British man in connection with beach murders – The Times (£)
  • TV chef Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall among the celebrities who used £1.2billion tax-avoidance scheme – Daily Mail
  • Fracking doesn’t contaminate water supplies, suggests American study – Daily Mail
  • King Richard III was killed by blows to the head, new forensic analysis shows – The Sun (£)
  • More vampires spotted in Britain than in Transylvania – The Sun (£)

And finally 1) Sergeant Miliband?

Ed Miliband stare“‘When you have not been prime minister people don’t see you as being prime ministerial, might be part of it. It’s unfashionable to be a geek at the moment. He should perhaps have gone away and gone in the army for three years and enhanced his reputation.’ A flash of that cheeky smile again.” – Alan Johnson is interviewed in The Times (£)

And finally 2) Goldsmith’s broom-cupboard

“Zac Goldsmith has claimed he was given the ‘broom cupboard’ as his office in Westminster as punishment for his disobedience because Parliament is run ‘like a public school’. … The millionaire son of Sir James Goldsmith, who represents Richmond Park, said that he had been allotted ‘the worst office of any MP in Parliament’ by the powers-that-be because of his reputation for speaking out.” – Daily Telegraph