The week ahead: Cameron meets Salmond, News Corp AGM, Gary McKinnon extradition

On Monday, David Cameron meets with Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond, where the pair are expected to finalise agreement on the referendum for independence in Scotland. Salmond wants the referendum to include an additional question on ‘devolution max’ and for Scottish 16 and 17 year olds to be given their say, although the British PM has insisted it should be a straight ‘in’ or ‘out’ question. Later in the week, the Scottish National Party’s autumn conference kicks off in Perth, with the 2014 referendum on independence certain to feature heavily when it starts on Thursday. Themed ‘Yes Scotland’, the highlight will, of course, be Alex Salmond’s keynote speech, expected October 21.

Recently extradited terror suspects Babar Ahmad and Syed Talha Ahsan are back in court in Connecticut on Monday where they face charges including conspiracy to provide material support to terrorists and conspiracy to kill persons abroad. The pair lost their final appeal against extradition from the UK on October 5.

Also this week, and possibly as early as Monday, Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin is expected to update Parliament on the future operation of the West Coast rail line. FirstGroup had been due to take over the franchise, previously operated by Virgin Trains, on December 9 before the competition was cancelled in a dramatic midnight u-turn at the start of October. The Department for Transport citied ‘technical flaws’ in the bidding process – flaws that are expected to cost the taxpayer upwards of £40m.

Tuesday sees the second of three US Presidential televised debates, hot on the heels of Republican challenger Mitt Romney’s barnstorming performance against a below-par Barack Obama in the first match-up. Romney, who’s enjoyed a bounce in the polls since the debate, will be looking to capitalise in his own inimitable style.

News Corporation holds its annual general meeting on Tuesday. Votes are expected on the proposed board membership of former Colombian President Alvaro Uribe and former US Labour Secretary Elaine Chao, while a vote also takes place on a shareholder resolution to oust Rupert Murdoch from the post of Chairman.

Home Secretary Theresa May is also expected to announce by Tuesday her current position on the extradition to the US of computer systems administrator Gary McKinnon. McKinnon, who suffers from Asperger’s Syndrome, is accused of hacking into US military and NASA computers between 2001 and 2002, and his case has been the subject of a protracted legal battle.

Wednesday’s PMQs will see Prime Minister David Cameron square up against Ed Miliband for the first time since they gave their respective addresses to party faithful.  Issue likely to dominate include moribund state of the economy in the light of IMF’s recent downgrade of the forecast for UK growth this year, the proposed changes to welfare, and ownership of Benjamin Disraeli’s legacy.

The debate is likely to be heavily informed by October’s employment figures, due Wednesday morning.  Overall, September’s figures were largely positive, but showed troubling signs when it comes to youth unemployment. Both Labour and the Conservatives will be hoping to use October’s stats to establish a convincing narrative.

Finally, former Chairman of the US Federal Reserve Paul Volcker is due to appear before the Parliamentary Commission on Banking Standards, established in the wake of the Libor scandal. Volcker is nowadays most famous for his proposals to ban banks from engaging in proprietary trading (but not market-making activities, a distinction which baffles even the economically literate) and he will no doubt be asked to illustrate the benefits of this approach over the ring-fencing proposals that emerged from the Vickers Review.

Meanwhile, European leaders are on Thursday set to meet in Brussels with the financial crisis in the eurozone continuing to dominate discussions. Beyond the now-familiar focus on Greece, the state of the much larger Spanish economy is likely to be at the forefront of many people’s minds, with some analysts suggesting it’s only a matter of time before Mariano Rajoy is forced to ask for a full bail out.  A team from the IMF is due to arrive in Madrid earlier in the week – on October 15 – to begin assessing the state of Spain’s banking sector.

Greeks take to the streets again on Thursday for a 24-hour strike in protest at the latest tranche of austerity measures imposed by the country’s EU and IMF creditors. The strike, which coincides neatly with the European Council meeting in Brussels, comes after clashes between police and anti-Angela protesters during a visit to Athens by the German chancellor last week.

Marie Stopes opens a new clinic in Belfast on Thursday, making private medical abortions available in Northern Ireland for the first time. Despite the strict regulation of the provision of abortions in Northern Ireland, where the Abortion Act 1967 does not extend, pro life groups have reacted furiously to the decision to open the clinic.

Should Gordon Brown wish to make amends for selling off the country’s gold reserves for scrap, he could attempt a Vaclav Havel impression at a UK Athletics event on Friday, where 2012 Olympic and Paralympic heroes Mo Farah, Jess Ennis and David Weir join every UK gold medallist since 1964 for a celebratory black-tie dinner.

Ed Miliband’s attempts to counter accusations of being a union stooge continue apace with his appearance at the TUC’s ‘A Future That Works’ march in London on Saturday. After wowing the crowd at the Labour Party conference with his vision for a 19th Century future, One Nation Ed pledged to join union members protesting against the government’s austerity programme, despite his party’s refusal to drop its support for a two-year public sector pay freeze.

After the declaration of liberation in Libya that came two days after the killing of Muammar Gaddafi, the National Transitional Council pledged to draft a constitution which would lead to general elections within six months. A year later, with elections a distant prospect and the killing of American ambassador Christopher Stevens casting a pall over the entire US-led intervention, Libya approaches the anniversary of Gaddafi’s death with its future still uncertain.

Two of Spain’s restive regions go to the polls on Sunday in what’s lately become the most challenging period of Mariano Rajoy’s premiership. With separatists resurgent in the Basque Country as Spain’s economic woes deepen, Rajoy’s own Partido Popular in Galicia also faces the prospect of a backlash against its unpopular national policies, all with a potentially make-or-break vote in Catalonia on the horizon next month.

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