Newspaper headlines: Scottish devolution, Andy Murray to wed and gastric surgery

Two months after Scotland voted to remain part of the United Kingdom, the country's future is back on front pages.

According to the Guardian, the Scottish Parliament is to be handed direct control over billions of pounds of income tax as part of the measures promised to Scotland by unionist campaigners ahead of September's independence referendum.

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As well as handing over total control of income tax rates and bands, the deal is "expected to allow Scottish ministers to control the housing benefit elements of the new universal credit system," the paper says.

The Daily Mail describes it as a "revolution in British politics" and notes that Scotland gets to "keep its generous funding formula". It adds: "Members of the Scottish Parliament will be responsible for raising around 50% of the cash they spend on public services."

"Soon the Scottish Parliament might have as much power as any devolved government in the rich world," suggests John McDermott in the Financial Times. For the Times, the plan raises "fears of a federal UK". The paper quotes a "leading Labour MP" saying the union has been put in peril by panicking MPs bidding to save their seats at May's general election and adding: "Income tax remains one of the main reasons for the UK Parliament and indeed the union as well".

The Times's report about anger within the Labour party about the deal is demonstrated by Graham Allen, who chairs the constitutional reform committee. He is one of 18 figures calling for English devolution via local government through a letter to the paper. He complains: "If Smith can go away and report in eight weeks and come back with plans to devolve 100% of income tax, then why on Earth can't we have similar negotiations with similar bodies to do a comparably deal for the rest of England?"


Match points

Much excitement is generated by tennis star Andy Murray's engagement to long-term girlfriend Kim Sears, with puns aplenty in the news sections.

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"Love all!" declares the Mail, saying that since his Wimbledon win in 2013, the only "will he/won't he" question left to answer was whether the Scot would pop the question. For the Telegraph, it's a "victory to love", while the Sun reckons Miss Sears has secured "my And in marriage".

The Mirror's 3am editor Halina Watts describes it as the "biggest match of his life" and says that while Murray "lobbed the question" last Wednesday, he managed to keep it secret for more than a week.

However, it's not all hearts and flowers. The Independent's tennis correspondent Paul Newman points out that "news of their engagement broke on a day when the Scot announced the ending of two of his longest and strongest partnerships in tennis". Murray has parted company with Dani Vallverdu, from his coaching team, and Jez Green, one of his two fitness trainers, the writer explains.


'Gastric drastic'

Several papers report that health watchdog the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence is changing its guidelines on who should be offered weight loss surgery, with the Daily Mirror describing "two million obese Brits" getting gastric band or bypass operations.

The paper says obesity costs the UK £47bn a year and quotes Tam Fry, of campaign organisation the National Obesity Forum, saying extending the eligibility for surgery to those with type 2 diabetes and a body mass index above 30 is a "justifiable damage limitation exercise". However, it spells out the cost of each op, at £5,999 for a bypass and £2,588 to have a band inserted.

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After totting things up, the Mail declares that if everyone eligible had surgery: "The bill would be £12bn!" Its graphic helps readers work out their body mass - and whether they are overweight or obese for their sex and height. The paper also quotes one academic complaining that the guidance could "send tens of thousands of Britons towards unnecessary surgery... when all that is required is a different dietary and lifestyle approach".

The Daily Telegraph reports that teenagers and the elderly are likely candidates to be offered the surgery. However, on the same page, it hears from health campaigners suggesting schools could help matters by overhauling timetables to incorporate short bursts of physical exercise between lessons and increase the emphasis on healthy eating.

Not all treat the matter so seriously. The Times's cartoon pictures a surgeon telling his patient: "We're removing one of your chins." Meanwhile, for the Sun the guidance is simply "drastic gastric".


Magical?

After closing in a storm of complaints and bad publicity after just one day, the Magical Journey - a West Midlands Christmas "wonderland" backed by designer Laurence Llewelyn-Bowen - reopened under close media scrutiny.

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While the press was officially not invited, a few papers manage to send reporters along. And Steven Morris reports for the Guardian: "Happily, no elves were spotted smoking and the reindeer were not attacking visitors. To the adult eye there were still a few flaws. The paths were a bit muddy rather than crisp and even... The train did not so much chug as jerk through the woodland. But the children did not appear to see the joins."

Among the youngsters present was three-year-old Freddy, son of Jane Fryer who reviewed the experience for the Mail. And he wasn't impressed by the "snow"-sprinkled entrance, complaining: "Mummy, this isn't snow. It's strange. It looks like paper. I think it's litter."

"Something still doesn't feel quite right," writes his mum. "Maybe it's the tattooed fairy queen, twirling in the reception tent and stifling bored yawns... After its emergency overhaul, this winter blunderland is not quite the worst thing in the world, but it is far from magical and grotesquely expensive."

The Sun is more blunt in its assessment, saying the "grotto is still grotty".


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