Wednesday briefing: Sturgeon replies over Salmond case |

Wednesday briefing: Sturgeon replies over Salmond case |

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Top story: MSPs to question first minister

Good morning, Warren Murray here and I would like to point out some things.

Nicola Sturgeon is under pressure to answer multiple allegations that she misled Scotland’s parliament, levelled by her former mentor Alex Salmond. The first minister will testify this morning to a cross-party committee investigating the government’s internal inquiry in 2018 into sexual harassment complaints against Salmond by two junior staffers. Previously secret legal advice, finally released on Tuesday, and new witness evidence have led to calls for Sturgeon’s resignation as first minister.

Sturgeon will face scrutiny about why her government continued its defence in the judicial review that Salmond launched in August 2018 to investigate its handling of the harassment claims, despite its own lawyers advising that it faced defeat. There have been allegations of Sturgeon offering to intervene in the initial investigation on Salmond’s behalf, leaking of a complainant’s name, and the arrangement of meetings between Sturgeon and an aide for Salmond. Sturgeon, who is expected to testify on oath from 9am, has denied breaching the ministerial code and has also dismissed as untrue Salmond’s claims that people close to her – including her husband, Peter Murrell, the chief executive of the SNP – had plotted against him.


Budget to extend furlough, benefit top-up – Rishi Sunak is to announce in today’s budget that the Treasury is extending the furlough scheme until the end of September. The chancellor will say that workers will continue to be guaranteed 80% of their salary for three months beyond June when the government envisages removing all restrictions on activity. In addition, cash grants under the self-employment income support scheme (SEISS) will be available to those who became self-employed during 2019-20, potentially helping 600,000 people. Among the measures, Sunak is expected to announce an extension of the £20 a week boost to universal credit; extra support for the long-term unemployed through Kickstart for under 25s and Restart for older workers; and an extension to the stamp duty holiday for properties under £500,000. For chart-lovers – and aren’t we all – we have broken down the Covid crisis facing the UK economy.


Midweek catch-up

> Girls and young women aged 14 to 24 are doing much more of the housework than their male peers in the pandemic, a survey says. Sarah Brown from the charity Theirworld said: “When girls are locked out of school they can easily become trapped in traditional household roles which can put their education in jeopardy.”

> Yusaku Maezawa, a Japanese fashion tycoon, has thrown open an invitation for eight people from around the world to join him on a SpaceX flight round the moon. It is due to take off no earlier than 2023 and he’s paying.

> A “rewilding” of arable fields by HS2 will create 127 hectares of wood pasture, wetlands and flowery grassland using 3m tonnes of chalk taken from the 10-mile Chilterns tunnel.

Artwork showing integration of the HS2 rail line with the Western Valley slopes
Artwork showing integration of the HS2 rail line with the Western Valley slopes. Photograph: Courtesy of Grimshaw Architects

The Colne Valley Western Slopes will be seeded with 70 grass and flower species and planted with 32 species of native trees and shrubs including Chiltern specialities juniper, box, wayfaring tree and hornbeam.

> Bee-killing neonicotinoid pesticides will not need to be used in England this year, the government says, after cold weather killed off virus-carrying aphids that threaten sugar beet crops.


Sport concussion hearings – A committee of MPs will hold an inquiry into concussion in sport as scrutiny grows over links to brain damage and neurodegenerative disease. In sessions beginning on 9 March they will “consider scientific evidence for links between head trauma and dementia and how risks could be mitigated”. The news follows reporting by the Guardian – the former England rugby hooker Steve Thompson revealed he had early onset dementia and probable chronic traumatic encephalopathy at the age of 42. Thompson has called for rugby union to be regulated in order to protect players better from concussion. Other sports are introducing new rules: the Premier League and Football Association have introduced permanent concussion substitutes, allowing injured players to be removed from play without the opposing team gaining an advantage.


China’s token parliament meets – The Communist party is expected to unveil new political controls on Hong Kong at this week’s meeting of its rubber-stamp parliament, which is also likely to showcase President Xi Jinping’s further consolidation of power. Beijing plans to ensure only “patriots” – Communist party loyalists – can run Hong Kong, it is understood, at the annual meeting of the National People’s Congress (NPC). The thousands of delegates have little say over the laws they pass and discussions are largely political theatre. The national security law used to muzzle Hong Kong’s pro-democracy movement was announced at last year’s NPC. Diplomatic and trade sanctions have been piled on Beijing over Hong Kong, human rights abuses in western Xinjiang, and crackdowns and mass arrests of domestic lawyers. The NPC and its advisory body, though, will promote an official narrative of triumph over the coronavirus and economic success.


Forewarned and eight-armed – Cuttlefish (woom, woom, woom) have the ability to delay gratification once they learn a better meal will come from waiting a bit, scientists have learned.

Cuttlefish waiting for the right moment
Cuttlefish waiting for the right moment. Photograph: Mark Thomas/PA

Researchers found out using a version of the famed “marshmallow test”, except much more complicated, and underwater, and you’ll really need to read the whole thing to understand it.

Today in Focus podcast: The Salmond-Sturgeon saga

With Scotland’s first minister Nicola Sturgeon giving evidence today, the Guardian’s Scotland correspondent, Libby Brooks, charts the unravelling of the alliance between first minister Nicola Sturgeon and her predecessor Alex Salmond – once seen as Scotland’s greatest political partnership.

Today in Focus

The Salmond-Surgeon saga

Lunchtime read: ‘I am a woman who wants’

“The autumn I was 19, I entered my college dining hall in California just in time to overhear a boy telling a table of mutual acquaintances that he thought I was very nice, but he felt terribly sorry for me because I was going to die a virgin. This was already impossible, but in that moment all that mattered was the blunt force of the boy’s certainty.” Molly McCully Brown on cerebral palsy – “it made my body a country of error and pain, and took me years to accept the part of me that craves intimacy”.

Molly McCully Brown
Molly McCully Brown. Photograph: Marco Giugliarelli

Sport

Gabriel Jesus scored two late goals and Riyad Mahrez added another as Manchester City moved 15 points clear at the top of the Premier League table after a 4-1 win over Wolves. The Women’s Rugby World Cup, scheduled to be hosted by New Zealand, has been postponed until 2022 because of the “insurmountable challenges” created by the Covid-19 pandemic. Lewis Hamilton has said his priority this year is making a significant difference to improving diversity in Formula One, rather than chasing a record-breaking eighth championship. MPs are to launch an inquiry into concussion in sport as scrutiny grows over the links between head trauma and neurodegenerative disease.

Joe Root has called on his England players to leave behind any baggage from their struggles against spin and produce a “monumental” end to their Test winter despite preparations for Thursday’s finale in India having been hampered by sickness. The Irish Horseracing Regulatory Board will convene its Referrals Committee on Friday to hear the case relating to an image of the leading trainer Gordon Elliott sitting on a dead horse on his gallops. Grassroots sports will struggle to return once lockdown measures are eased, MPs have been warned, with one organisation estimating 25% of their clubs will not come back from the Covid-19 pandemic. Emma Hayes has described the expansion of the Women’s Champions League next season as brilliant and says the extra place for an English club will “add kudos to our league”. And Zlatan Ibrahimovic has doubled down on his criticism of athletes who mix politics and sports.

Business

The sub-prime lender Amigo, Britain’s biggest provider of so-called guarantor loans, has become the country’s most complained-about financial firm, according to the latest data. Complaints about guarantor loans, where debt is backed by a relative or friend, have leapt by more than 3,000% in a year and are running at almost 800 a week. The pound is buying $1.395 and €1.154 while the FTSE100 is set to open 0.5% higher this morning.

The papers

Sunak extends the safety net” – our Guardian splash as budget day arrives. Also featuring on the front: “UK did not tell EU of criminal cases” – convictions of nearly 200 rapists and killers in UK courts was not passed on to their EU home countries due to a massive computer failure and subsequent cover-up. The FT picks up on another budget angle with: “City poised for overhaul of listing rules in dash to catch Spacs wave” – the acronym there being the launching of “blank cheque” shell companies to raise money from investors first and then hunt for a business to buy later.

Guardian front page, Wednesday 3 March 2021
Guardian front page, Wednesday 3 March 2021.

“Rishi keeping furlough up till October” – that’s the Metro lead, while the i says that Budget 2021 will pave the way to “18 months of furlough” and the Times has “Sunak plans state aid for jobs until September”. “Rishi’s budget lifeline to help millions” says the Express and the Mirror brings us some colour: “Pubs in last chancellor saloon”, saying Sunak needs to help because thousands of boozers have shut for good in the pandemic.

“Furlough extends as calls grow for quicker reopening” – that’s the Telegraph. The Mail looks elsewhere: “NHS staff could be forced to have jab”. The Sun has a football exclusive: “Bring back the Euros … and the spirit of 66” as Sir Geoff Hurst “backs Boris Johnson’s offer to host the Covid-hit Euros here”.

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