Scottish referendum poll, Oscar Pistorius's 'millions' and MPs' expenses

Campaigning ahead of the Scottish independence referendum continues to fill many pages, in the Scottish press. and elsewhere around the UK.

And the tone of some of Friday's front pages suggests a setback for the Yes campaign, with the Times reporting the results of a YouGov poll in which 52% of those who had made up their minds said they would reject an independent Scotland. "Here we no again," is how the Sun sums up the results.

Once again, much of the papers' focus is on economic matters. This time retailers are at the centre of the argument, with the Times reporting that firms such as John Lewis were warning that prices in Scotland would reflect higher regulatory and delivery costs in the event of a Yes victory. The Guardian says many large retailers are being pressed by No 10 to back a campaign with a similar message.

Meanwhile, the Financial Times reports comments from the head of the CBI business group, Sir Mike Rake, suggesting that 90% of Scottish firms are against independence. Independent cartoonist Dave Brown offers his take on the situation, picturing nationalist First Minister Alex Salmond with his "Yes" kilt unravelling, having been caught in the door of John Lewis.

Mr Salmond is unperturbed, claiming that Scotland is "on the cusp of making history" by voting for independence.

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Some writers have been following the campaign trail, notably the visit of several dozen Labour MPs to Glasgow. "There are many words you could use to describe the welcome they received, but I'm not sure "friendly" would be the first," suggests Daily Telegraph sketchwriter Michael Deacon. He recalls a Yes supporter with "wild red hair, wild red beard and even wilder eyes" bellowing "bow down to your imperial masters" through a PA system, before a middle-aged shopper yelled: "Go back tae London! You're a disgrace!"

Once the MPs began speaking, close to the statue of Scotland's inaugural First Minister Donald Dewar, it descended into what the Mail's Quentin Letts describes as a "corking broil". "Glasgow, city of culture, refinement, grace - pow - and fights," he writes. "Suddenly the event was ambushed by Scots Nat 'Yes' campaigners and for the next half hour the place went bananas. There was screaming, chanting drumming, accusations of assault, argy-bargy, Mc Mayhem. A set of bagpipes even burst into life. Perfick."

"Police held the two sides apart as Mr Miliband was forced to break off his speech amid football crowd-style chanting from both sides," reports the Daily Mirror. With both sides at loggerheads and only 4% of people in the latest poll saying they were undecided, Matthew Engel, of the Financial Times, finds no members of a fourth group - the "don't cares" - in the Lanarkshire pit village of Cleland. "Whatever the result of the referendum, there will have to be a great deal of reconciliation in the months ahead," he says.

Robert Fisk, in the Independent, provides some reassurance by reminding readers of the example of Ireland's divorce from the UK, which he says was "painful and acrimonious, but ended in harmony and prosperity".


'Surprise' verdict

Photographs of Oscar Pistorius feature on many front pages, several of them showing the Olympic sprinter in tears after being cleared of murdering his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp who he shot through a bathroom door. And the Daily Star says the verdict leaves the Paralympian, nicknamed Blade Runner because of the shape of the prosthetic legs he uses for running, "on track to make a fortune" in book and TV deals.

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However, the Times points out that while "it was a good day for Pistorius... the wait isn't over". The trial judge who delivered the "surprise" verdict - by accepting the athlete's account that he thought he was tackling an intruder - will rule on a second charge equivalent to manslaughter on Friday. The paper profiles the judge in question, Thokozile Masipa. "A black woman who suffered greatly under apartheid was not expected to be lenient on a white, wealthy girlfriend-killer - especially one who has, in the past, given hefty sentences to perpetrators of violence against women," it says.

Still, says Tom Peck in the Independent: "By saying Mr Pistorius's actions were 'unlawful', Judge Masipa all but confirmed that she will find him guilty of culpable homicide - South Africa's equivalent of manslaughter."

Tim Butcher writes in the Telegraph: "Legal nuances aside, the most troubling theme of her analysis is the way it implies fear of attack is a very real feature of life in modern South Africa that in some way condones extreme reaction." This, he laments, appears to prove that South Africa is yet to shake the mindset of its wealthy fearing a "swart gevaar" - or black threat.

While much of the focus remains on Pistorius awaiting the judge's further verdict on Friday, the Daily Express remembers Miss Steenkamp, "the charismatic model and TV personality who seemed to have it all" and whose rise to fame "was starting to overtake that of her possessive boyfriend at the time of her death".


Family values

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"Snouts still in the trough," is how the Daily Mail describes MPs who claimed a total of £103m in expenses last year, pointing out that it's £1m more than in 2008 - the year before the parliamentary expenses scandal broke. That sum consists of £11m spent on accommodation, the same on office costs and some £81m on staff.

It's the latter which most troubles the Mail, which lists five cabinet ministers - Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin, Justice Secretary Chris Grayling, Defence Secretary Michael Fallon, Welsh Secretary Stephen Crabb and Cabinet Office Minister Francis Maude - who employ relatives on salaries ranging from £10,000 to £45,000. All are acting within the rules, which state that family members can be employed on up to £50,000.

A total of 170 MPs employ relations, says the Telegraph. "Laurence Robertson, the MP for Tewkesbury, employs his ex-wife and his wife," it notes, adding: "Mr Robertson insists that the two women 'work happily together'."

The Sun lists the five "most expensive" MPs, topped by Democratic Unionists Jim Shannon and Ian Paisley whose accommodation and travel from Northern Ireland contributed to total spends of £229,262 and £214,455 per year. The paper also lists the five who cost taxpayers the least, headed by Defence Secretary Philip Hammond whose allowances totalled £60,231.

The Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority, which released the figures, says that "once inflation is taken into account, the total is lower than the pre-expenses scandal peak", the Mail adds.


Game theory

Image copyright Miles Willis

There is much ado about suggestions that the developer of computer game Minecraft - which involves constructing virtual creations from Lego-style blocks - is about to conclude a deal to sell his company to tech giant Microsoft for a sum believed to be around £1.2bn.

Children the world over are "obsessed" by the game, which has sold more than 50 million copies, says the Sun which pictures adults wearing masks in the style of Minecraft characters at a convention. The paper's Lee Price profiles its creator Markus Persson, a "reclusive character" who "built his first PC game aged eight... [and] dropped out of school at 16 to focus on gaming, hacking and coding from his bedroom".

However, "Mr Persson's willingness to sell has troubled Minecraft's loyal audience", writes the Independent's Adam Sherwin. He quotes fans tweeting comments such as: "Hope you don't sell out all the fans. Microsoft will be the end of MC."

The paper quotes Microsoft sources insisting that the game will still be available on rival consoles or operating systems. However, the i's version of the report adds: "The deal still represents a volte-face from the idealistic vision which Mr Persson espoused when he defended independent games studios in 2012. At that time, he said: 'The more studios that can remove themselves from the publisher system, the more games that will be made out of love rather than for profit.'"


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