Thursday, 28 June 2007

Des Browne

Des Browne hasn't exactly been excelling as UK Defence Secretary. His department hasn't even been able to ensure that all soldiers are equipped with the body armour so essential to their protection in extremely dangerous circumstances. He has a huge responsibility on his shoulders, particularly with the situation in places like Iraq and Afghanistan.

Hardly a prime candidate to take on more responsibilities one might think.

But not the new PM Gordon Brown. He has decided that Des can slot looking after Scotland into his busy schedule.

As regular readers would expect me to say, Scotland deserves more attention than it will be afforded in the UK government under this arrangement. Given the changes in political circumstances in Scotland lately, perhaps it would have made sense to give the role of Scottish Secretary more prominence and a dedicated UK government minister (or at least a minister to deal with the Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland).

However, there is an aspect to this decision that I find more disturbing, and that is the implications for the armed forces. Given the commitment of the armed forces, and the risks they take on our behalf, they deserve so much better than this new arrangement and Des Browne. Nothing should distract him from serving their interests.

Scotland now has a government that will look after the interests of the people of Scotland. Therefore a full time Scottish Secretary would be desirable, but not essential. A full time Defence Secretary, however, is a must.

Careful with our cash

John Swinney has taken some tough decisions on transport issues, some of which may be unpopular in certain quarters. And he, and the SNP, will no doubt be blamed for the extended deadlines to various projects - despite the fact that the previous administration had set unrealistic completion dates in the first place.

I know, from my parents in the Borders, that people are now complaining that the Waverley line will not extend further than Tweedbank and blaming the new government, even though it was the previous lot that designed the project!

Anyway, John is ultimately right to be cautious with our cash and put the brakes on EARL, as well as strict financial limits on the cost of the Edinburgh tram scheme. It is our money, and he is responsible for ensuring that our taxes are not wasted. The public purse is not a bottomless pit, and the government is already committed to expensive but necessary projects like a new Forth crossing, and other ongoing transport projects that are already set in motion.

I am certainly happy that John has his hands firmly on the purse strings.

Tuesday, 19 June 2007

Blair's History, But We Have A New Model

Just watching Andrew Marr's History of Britain on BBC Two. This week is the turn of the Blair era.

The footage of 1997 now looks so old (and it's making me feel old too). Upon reflection it becomes clear how massive the changes over the last decade have been. Consider just a few of them...

We have devolution, which is now fast evolving and bringing government closer to the people in Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and London - but those in the rest of England with a relative democratic deficit.

The war in Iraq has devastated a nation far from our shores, cost countless lives and increased public cynicism and fear at home.

We have the 'war on terror', which is supposed to make us feel safer. It doesn't. It breeds hatred and more fear.

The concept of 'spin' now itself seems old, as it is so ingrained in our culture of politics - fuelling our mistrust of politicians.

And now we have the new Tony Blair - David Cameron. And it seems like many people are actually falling for his patter. Style over substance. History repeating itself. How depressing.

Thankfully, in Scotland we have a real alternative to Gordon Brown and David Cameron - an SNP Government and the opportunity to move Scotland forwards to independence.

Wednesday, 13 June 2007

Graduate Endowment No More!

Great news!

Today in the Scottish Parliament, Fiona Hyslop announced that the SNP Government is scrapping the £2,000 Graduate Endowment. This is a major first step in reducing the burden of debt on Scotland's students and graduates.

The Graduate Endowment was introduced by the previous Labour-Lib Dem Executive, as part of a deal to pull the wool over the eyes of Scotland's students who were told that tuition fees had been scrapped. In reality, they were just re-branded as the Graduate Endowment and the demand for payment was moved from the start of a course to after graduation.

The SNP believes that access to university should be based on your ability to learn, not your ability to pay. Saddling students with mountains of debt is in no one's interests - not the students, their parents, the taxpayer, our economy and our society.

Today, the SNP Government has taken an important first step in reducing the scandal of student debt in this country. It was most unfortunate to see that the Labour Party could only whinge about this in Parliament today. At least the Lib Dems appear to have seen the error of their ways on this issue, and back the SNP's policy to scrap the Graduate Endowment.

I look forward to the Government bringing forward more proposals to help reduce student debt in the future. Taken together, the SNP's manifesto package of proposals for students will restore fairness to the system of higher education funding and reintroduce the concept of free education.

Sunday, 10 June 2007

Destination Dungavel

In this week's Big Issue, the Scottish director of the UK government's Immigration and Nationality Directorate is quoted as saying that "Dungavel is the best removals centre we've got". On that basis, he is arguing that more families should be detained in Dungavel, rather than centres in England.

Firstly, if Dungavel is the 'best' of the detention centres in the UK, then I think it says more about the dire conditions in the other centres than the quality of facilities at Dungavel...

Secondly, the assertion that Dungavel is the 'best' detention centre stems from a report by the Chief Inspector of PRISONS. It must be reassuring as a detainee of Dungavel - deprived of your liberty, treated as a criminal and with an uncertain future - to know that you and your family are at least being held in a top notch prison. Some consolation!

Thirdly, and most crucially, these kind of arguments detract from the point of principle here. We should not be imprisoning people who have committed no crime - especially not children.

So to argue that locking people up in Dungavel is OK because it is better than locking them up in an even worse facility elsewhere is appalling.

Click on this link below to register your opposition to detaining more families in Dungavel.

Thursday, 7 June 2007

Save an MEP!

I hadn't realised, until a visit to Brussels this week with work, that the number of Scottish MEPs is to be cut (yet again) at the next European elections, to accommodate new EU member states.

Of course, at the last election the number of Scottish MEPs was cut from 8 to 7. The fact that we ONLY have 7 MEPs (out of 785 in the European Parliament) at the moment to represent Scotland's interests in the European Parliament is totally unacceptable. Our current MEPs (from all 4 parties) do an excellent job trying to negate their small number by co-operating and working well together as a Scottish contingent to represent our interests in Brussels. Now they are to lose another of their number.

As far as the EU is concerned (officially) Scotland is a mere region of a member state. And the cut in MEPs that Scotland will have to take is part of a wider UK reduction. But therein lies the problem. If Scotland was an independent country and member state of the EU, we would still have to accept a reduction in MEPs to accommodate the welcome (in my opinion) EU enlargement. BUT, as a member state, we would have more MEPs in the first place - certainly a lot more than 7! And we would also have a direct voice in other EU institutions - the Council of Ministers and the opportunity of representation in the European Commission.

Being a 'region' in the EU massively dilutes Scotland's influence in Europe. As a 'region' and not a full member state, with diminishing representation in the EU, it will be even harder to make Scotland's voice heard.

There may be a chance to retain 7 Scottish MEPs at the next election, but - in my opinion - this looks unlikely. The only and the BEST way to secure Scotland's place in the EU is with independence.

Monday, 4 June 2007

No bucking bronco, but dinner with a Labour MP

The prospect of visiting an establishment with a bucking bronco loomed large on Saturday night... The occasion? My friend Lindsey's hen night.

Thankfully, I was spared the indignity of mounting (and ultimately falling off) a mechanical bull, and the evening turned out to be a most civilised affair.

I must say a quick hello to Rach and Linds - who, I discovered on Saturday night, are both avid readers of this blog AND scathing critics of my ramblings. Rach and Linds are two of my closest friends (we've now known each other a whole decade girls!), but when it comes to politics we are whole planets apart. Friendship can indeed cross the political divide :o)

Although, I must say, Lindsey's interest in politics (and shift in political allegiance?) only really came to the fore when her soon-to-be father-in-law was elected as a Labour MP in a recent by-election.

She also has a twisted sense of humour. At her wedding, Jamie and I are to be seated with another Labour MP and his wife. Well, at least we'll have more to talk about than the usual small talk about the bride's dress and the speeches. Cheers Linds!

Saturday, 2 June 2007

The Only Vegetarian in the Village

Jamie and I were in Cumbernauld Village last night, at a party to celebrate the 90th birthday of a local resident - who is an SNP member and all-round amazing woman. Beatrice Duncan has spent more than 40 years running a community hall in Cumbernauld Village, which serves as a facility for all manner of community groups. Twice a week she cooks a three course dinner for a number of local elderly residents - many of whom are significantly younger than herself.

Representatives of all those groups were present at last night's dinner in Beatrice's honour. I certainly felt privileged to be there. I only met Beatrice just over a year ago and have met her many times since at various SNP events held in the hall, and we've also popped in to a couple of the pensioner lunch clubs. Each time, Beatrice has gone out of her way to provide me with a lovely vegetarian meal. Each time, I have been the only vegetarian, so it is much appreciated.

I would like to say at the point 'I hope I'm as active as Beatrice when I'm 90' - but I doubt I'm as active as she is at the tender age of 27 (soon to be 28)!

Off out again tonight - this time for my friend Lindsey's Hen Night. So I had better go and get ready - it usually take a while :o)