Here are the five things you need to know on Sunday 22 February 2014...
1) IT'S THE OIL, STUPID
It's all kicking off in the debate over Scotland, independence and the economic pros and cons - from the Sunday Telegraph front page:
"The future of the North Sea oil and gas industry could be at risk if Scotland chooses independence, David Cameron has indicated. The Prime Minister and his Cabinet will be in Aberdeen, the heart of the North Sea oil industry, tomorrow to campaign against Scottish independence ahead of the referendum in September... Government sources in London added that Scotland could not afford the billions of pounds in tax breaks being provided to decommission old platforms in the North Sea and develop new gas fields without resources from Westminster. The Cabinet's excursion coincides with the publication of a major report calling for closer collaboration between the Government and oil companies in order to make the most of the fossil fuel reserves in the North Sea."
The Observer, also on its front page, adds: "SNP leader Alex Salmond, who is holding a meeting of his cabinet six miles from Aberdeen, in Porthlethen, on Monday, has already called on Cameron to use the visit to debate with him the benefits of independence. The future of North Sea oil and gas is a central battleground in the debate over independence. Salmond has put North Sea oil at the centre of his economic case to split from the UK, telling Scots the remaining reserves would be worth £300,000 for every one of them."
Meanwhile, the Sun on Sunday reports: "Shoppers will face a crippling VAT hike if Scotland votes to quit the UK, it was revealed last night... In a blow to SNP leader Alex Salmond, Euro chiefs have ruled a breakaway state would lose the right to exempt goods from the tax. It would see up to 15 per cent added to the price of kids' clothes, nappies, books and newspapers... The bombshell was delivered in a letter from Donato Raponi, a senior EC taxation department official. He said: 'Once the accession treaty is agreed it is no longer possible to introduce special VAT rates.' If Scotland were to breakaway and seek EU membership it would lose Britain's longstanding zero-percent-VAT deal for 54 categories."
As the Sun headline puts it: "Take Vat, Alex."
SHAMELESS SELF-PLUG ALERT 1: Check out my 60-second, semi-serious, video round-up of the week's big political stories, featuring a brilliant cameo from my chum Owen Jones. #mehdisminute
2) 'A DICTATORSHIP HAS FALLEN'
Chaotic and astonishing scenes continue to emerge from inside Ukraine - from the Huffington Post:
"Ukrainian opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko has declared that 'a dictatorship has fallen' after her release from jail. The former Prime Minister also declared her intention to run for the Presidency. But President Viktor Yanukovych remained defiant, saying he was not quitting despite apparently quitting Kiev."
Despite Foreign Secretary William Hague saying that the UK and the European Union will back a new government in Ukraine "as and when it is formed", there are plenty of unanswered questions, including: what will Putin do? Will the country split along east/west, pro-Russia/pro-West lines?
In the meantime, check out the photos that been taken - and tweeted out by anti-government protesters - from inside Yanukovych's bizarre private zoo.
3) DON'T CRY FOR ME, DAVID CAMERON
That's the headline on the front of the Sunday Times:
"Sir Tim Rice, the multi-millionaire music impresario and former Tory donor, has become the most high-profile figure to give his financial backing to UKIP, the party’s treasurer has disclosed. Rice, who was awarded his knighthood under the government of John Major, believes Britain should be 'free from Europe' and is 'intrigued' by UKIP’s rising popularity. The Eurosceptic party is on course to top the poll in May’s elections for the European parliament, while the Conservatives are expected to be pushed into a poor third place. Rice, an Oscar-winning lyricist behind West End hit musicals including Jesus Christ Superstar and Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat, is said to have donated up to £7,500 to UKIP last year after meeting Stuart Wheeler, the party’s treasurer, for lunch."
BECAUSE YOU'VE READ THIS FAR...
Watch this video of a baby moose attacking the guy who releases it back into the wild. That's gratitude, I guess...
4) TELL ANGIE: 'WE WANT OUT'
Poor ol' Dave. It isn't just Tim Rice. On the one hand, he has Scots nats demanding they want out from the union of Scotland and England; on the other, he has Tory backbench rebels demanding they want out from the European Union. From the Observer:
"Angela Merkel should be made aware during a visit to London this week that the rising tide of Euroscepticism in Britain could cause the country to leave the EU, Tory MPs said on Saturday night. The German chancellor will address both houses of parliament on Thursday and meet the Queen, during a visit ministers believe could be crucial to David Cameron's chances of securing the UK a better deal inside the EU, in time for a referendum by the end of 2017... Both leaders are alarmed at attempts by the European parliament to seize control of the decision as to who the next president of the commission should be. Cameron is concerned elements in the parliament are pushing the German Social Democrat Martin Schulz to be commission president. Former Tory minister John Redwood said on Saturday night he would like Cameron to raise the need for cheaper energy and make clear, tactfully, how British people felt about the EU. 'I don't think he should threaten her in any way, but the reality is very simple: either we get a new relationship that makes sense for Britain, or the British people will vote to leave,' he said."
5) CHANGE PMQS? YEAH RIGHT
Ed Miliband has never liked PMQs - the tone, the style, the content, the timing. He tells aides he finds the whole affair a bit frustrating and pointless, I'm told. But what's he going to do about it? From the BBC:
"Prime Minister's Questions 'subtracts from the reputation of politics', Labour leader Ed Miliband has said. Mr Miliband told the BBC he is keen to try to find ways to change the tone of the weekly exchange but acknowledged it would be "incredibly hard". His comments come after the House of Commons Speaker wrote to party leaders urging them to clamp down on 'yobbery and public school twittishness'. John Bercow said that the tone of the debate was putting off the public. In an interview with Radio 4's The World This Weekend, Mr Miliband said: "I think it was President Obama who said you can disagree without being disagreeable and in a way maybe that's a sort of lesson for Prime Minister's Questions.' However, he said that was 'easier to state and harder to execute' in the 'cauldron of the House of Commons'."
SHAMELESS SELF-PLUG ALERT 2: If you missed it on Friday night, watch the first of my new series of 'Head To Head' on Al Jazeera, featuring Arab-American journalist and feminist Mona Eltahawy talking about misogyny in the Middle East.
PUBLIC OPINION WATCH
From the Sunday Times/YouGov poll:
Lib Dems 8
That would give Labour a majority of 86.
900 WORDS OR MORE
Iain Martin, writing in the Sunday Telegraph, says: "If Cameron is serious about winning, he's got to send for Gove."
Andrew Rawnsley, writing in the Observer, says: "The Clegg-Farage Euro debate – the real reasons why Nick threw down the gauntlet to Nigel."
Andrew Wilson, writing in the Independent on Sunday, says: "Why a new Ukraine is the Kremlin's worst nightmare."
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