Tennis star joins line of helpless Scottish onlookers

Wimbledon Champion Andy Murray has said he will not reveal his position on the Scottish Independence debate for fears of a backlash from opposition.

Murray has never been far from the question of independence following a comment he made some 8 years ago during the football World Cup, claiming he would support anyone playing against England.

The tennis star said: “I wouldn’t personally choose to make my feelings on something like that public because not a whole lot of good comes from it.

“I have made that mistake in the past and it’s caused me a headache for seven or eight years of my life and a lot of abuse.”

The Scot re-ignited public interest in his stance on the matter last year when he was crowned 2013 Wimbledon champion and posed for photos draped in the Scottish Saltire, but Murray has chosen to distance himself from the discussion.

“My thoughts on it aren’t that relevant, because I can’t vote myself”, he said.

Murray, who splits his residency between his London home and training base in Miami, is one of some 800,00 Scots living abroad who will not have a say in their country’s future.

The tennis star joins a list of high-profile Scots that will find themselves sitting on the side lines as the referendum comes around on 18th September, but some have been more forthcoming with their views.

Side-lined Scots

Sir Sean Connery, Actor, – Famed Scottish Actor, who now resides in the Bahamas, has long been a supporter of the separation from the UK. Connery who concedes that the decision should stay in the hands of those who live and work within the country, claims independence is an opportunity “too good to miss”.

VOTE – YES

Sir Alex Ferguson, Football Manager – Ex-Manchester United and Aberdeen manager has lived in England for more than 25 years, but the football man dares anyone to question his “Scottish-ness”. A long-term critic of First Minister Alex Salmond, Ferguson publicly pledged his allegiance to the ‘Better Together’ campaign but is distressed at the inability of Scots like himself, not to be given a vote.

VOTE – NO

Alan Cumming, Actor – Hollywood actor and TV star, Alan Cumming is a keen supporter of the ‘Yes’ campaign who claims independence can only add to Scotland’s potential and release a wave of creativity and ambition. Cumming, who currently resides in America spoke of his intention to purchase property in Scotland in order to register a vote.

VOTE – YES

Sir Chris Hoy, Cyclist – GB’s most decorated Olympian found himself the target for abuse from Scottish nationalists last year when he suggested Scottish athletes would find it harder to win medals if they were to split from Team GB. Ironically the cyclist went on to claim he did not want to enter ‘the hornet’s nest’ of the referendum debate, but considering previous comments it appears he would be opposed to a split.

VOTE – NO

Kenny Logan – The former Scotland rugby international has offered perhaps the most aggressive opposition to Scottish ex-pats’ inability to vote. Logan, who lives in England, has pledged to help fund a potential court case in an attempt to force Scotland’s hand and allow individuals like him to have a say in the future of their homeland. Thus far Logan has given little indication over which way he would vote, should he be permitted

VOTE – ?

Scottish Independence: Gordon Brown calls for greater power sharing within UK

By Eddie Nisbet

Former Prime Minister Gordon Brown has waded into the independence debate for the first time, announcing his desire to see greater levels of power-sharing across the United Kingdom.

In a speech in the east end of Glasgow today, Brown will set out six proposed “major” constitutional changes that will overhaul the current division of power between Westminster and Holyrood.

Among these mooted changes is a constitutional guarantee of the permanence of the Scottish Parliament.

“A moment cannot now be lost in detailing the positive case for a strong Scottish Parliament in a strong Britain,” Brown will tell a conference in Labour’s Scottish heartland to mark the beginning of a No tour of Scotland.

Speaking ahead of the conference, Brown has indicated that more coordinated measures are required to tackle Scotland’s social malaise regarding poverty, housing, unemployment and the environment.

The six “radical” constitutional changes to be proposed by Brown in his speech today are:

  • Constitutional law proposed to guarantee the UK pool and share resources for the defence and security of the citizens of all four nations;
  • The permanence of the Scottish Parliament enshrined in the British constitution for the first time;
  • Increased powers for Holyrood in health, employment, transport and economic growth;
  • A new tax sharing agreement that would balance pooled resources of the UK, including accountability to the electors where tax revenue is spent;
  • New power-sharing partnerships to address shared social problems of poverty, housing needs, unemployment and environmental issues;
  • A major transfer of powers running down from Westminster and Holyrood to more localised power for communities.\

Listen to Better Together spokesperson Ross MacRae on Gordon Brown’s speech today:

Brown’s No tour of Scotland is to appeal to those voters who want more powers for Holyrood short of being fully independent from the UK.

The latest polls indicate that the No vote is standing at 53% compared to 35% set to vote in favour of independence. With 12% still undecided, however, there is still plenty of political ground to be made up over the next 191 days.

Brown’s speech makes up one part of a double-pronged attack on independence, with former Liberal Democrat leader Mingus Campbell making a similar speech in Edinburgh.

Suggesting tax-raising powers could be delivered unto Scotland in the event of a No vote, Campbell is also calling for increased devolved powers as a viable alternative to independence:

“Gordon Brown’s approach, and indeed my approach and indeed the approach of the Lib Dems, is to look at the UK as a whole.

“I am endeavouring to point the way forward so that all of these contributions – for example from devo plus, from Reform Scotland – that all of these contributions make a very, very considerable – and in my view – effective alternative to the narrow minded view of independence.”

Is Scotland’s Film Industry In Jeopardy?

by Alex Watson

Creative Scotland received further criticism in Parliament yesterday from artists who have previously worked with the organisation.

The comments arose during a meeting of Scotland’s Education and Culture Committee, intended to shed further light on the health of the country’s arts and culture sector.  Despite the appointment of new Creative Scotland Chief Executive, Janet Archer, in July this year, some are still unsatisfied with the organisation’s actions.  Film producer at Sigma Films, Gillian Berrie, highlighted Creative Scotland’s lack of support and funding for Scotland’s film industry, in particular.  Berrie said: “It’s embarrassing being Scottish.  We [filmmakers] can’t stay here if something isn’t done.”

Other artists in different fields were initially positive about the new Chief Executive’s progress.  Producer, Chief Executive and Co-Artistic Director of Grid Iron Theatre Co., Judith Doherty, said: “In the last three or four months I have had really good dialogue.  I have had understanding and support.”  Playwright, David Greig, agreed that Creative Scotland were improving, but that there was still much more to be accomplished.  Greig said: “The direction of travel is great [but] young and emerging artists are really suffering.”

Credit: Creative Scotland

The meeting centred on the state and reported decline of Scotland’s film industry.  Berrie admitted that under Archer’s leadership, Creative Scotland are now focussing on film more.  However, Berrie still does not feel that film is being taken seriously enough by the organisation.  Berrie said: “I think very small steps have been taken.”  Janet Archer was present to defend Creative Scotland and her decisions during the meeting.  Archer said: “I think we are doing well [and] we are having an open conversation.”  The Chief Executive implied that she would spend sufficient time devising a longterm plan for the new structure of Creative Scotland, as opposed to a quick fix.  Archer said: “I’m not interested in a sticking plaster approach.”

According to Archer, a plan for the future of Creative Scotland will be available online in January 2014.  Confirmed plans and funding methods will be announced on April 1st 2014.  Archer stressed that the funding application process would become significantly less complicated, something which had deterred and excluded many artists under former Chief Executive, Andrew Dixon.  Archer said: “Funding schemes at the moment are quite confusing.  We are on a track to simplifying our funding programs.”

The reported £6 million spent by Visit Scotland to promote the 2012 Disney Pixar film Brave is clearly a bone of contention for Berrie.  MSP Stewart Maxwell argued that the endorsement was intended to advertise Scotland as a tourist destination, rather than sell cinema tickets.  Nonetheless, Berrie maintains that this money could have been put into several Scottish films, rather than one large international project.  Berrie also compared the worth of Scotland’s film sector (£32 million per annum in total) to that of Ireland (around £400 million).  According to Berrie’s figures, Ireland’s tourist industry reaps around £250 million of this every year.

Universal Credit launched in Inverness

Credit Alumy

Credit Alumy

By Andy Little

One of the Government’s key Welfare Reforms was rolled out in Inverness on Monday 25th of  November.

Universal Credit replaces a number of Benefits for new claimants and is part of a controlled introduction across the United Kingdom. The scheme has already attracted criticism for problems with the Information Technology but a Department of Work and Pensions spokesperson refuted claims that the project was in trouble. The spokesperson said:”Universal Credit rolls six Benefits into one and is a vital reform to the Welfare State that rewards work.It started in Hammersmith last month and is up and running in the Greater Manchester and Cheshire area. It will expand to Harrogate, Bath and Shotton by the spring”

Minister for Welfare Reform, Lord Freud said:”Universal Credit is modern Welfare that rewards people who move into work supports those who’ve fallen on hard times and is fair to the taxpayers. We are introducing Universal Credit in a slow safe and controlled way. This careful approach is working well and we are in a strong position as we bring Universal Credit to Inverness and Rugby for the first time. Most people are claiming it online, the Information Technology is working and comprehensive support is in place. We will build on there successes as Universal Credit rolls out….”

In Inverness, however Alasdair Christie the General Manager of  the Citizens Advice Bureau was not convinced. He remains sceptical of the Governments claims and expressed his concern about the extra numbers  of clients  who will need to use the service to claim on line. Christie said: “We have  instigated Saturday morning opening for claimants to make claims and allow them to manage claims online ….but away from Inverness people will struggle.”

He was also concerned about the impact of Universal Credit  being paid to one member of the household once a month. Christie said:”…..One payment a month is difficult for people to manage and could lead to an increase in payday loans….I am anxious not optimistic”

Highland Council have produced detailed guidance on their website for claimants and expect that initial uptake will be slow. Council staff have been  trained and are in a position to help by extending online access in agreed locations especially assisting vulnerable claimants to claim online.

The Highland Council joint report on Welfare Reform, by the Director of Finance and the Interim Director of Housing also noted some concerns  about the roll out. The report said:”There are a number of serious concerns about the potential impact of Universal Credit on tenants and council house  rental income. These include practical arrangements on data sharing between the council and the Department of Work and Pensions and arrangements  for implementing “switchback”payments, due to rent arrears”

Universal Credit replaces Income based Jobseekers Allowance, Income related Employment and Support Allowance, Income Support, Working Tax credit, Child Tax Credit and Housing Benefit.

Reaction to the Scottish Government White Paper

Scottish Government White Paper. Credit: Lib Dem Voice

Scottish Government White Paper. Credit: Lib Dem Voice

By David Thomson

The Scottish Government has launched its much hyped White Paper at the Science Centre in Glasgow in front of the world’s press.

Both First Minister, Alex Salmond, and Deputy First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, launched the Scotland’s Future – Your Guide to an Independent Scotland ahead of next year’s referendum.

The 670-page document is said to be the ‘the most comprehensive blueprint for an independent country ever published.’ It offers the clear understanding of economic and social policy with childcare being at the heart of the guide.

Alex Salmond said: “This is the most comprehensive blueprint for an independent country ever published, not just for Scotland but for any prospective independent nation.‬‬‬ But more than that, it is a mission statement and a prospectus for the kind of country we should be and which this government believes we can be. Our vision is of an independent Scotland regaining its place as an equal member of the family of nations – however, we do not seek independence as an end in itself, but rather as a means to changing Scotland for the better. This guide contains policies, which offer nothing less than a revolution in employment and social policy for Scotland with a transformational change in childcare at the heart of those plans. Our proposals will make it far easier for parents to balance work and family life and will allow many more people, especially women, to move into the workforce, fostering economic growth and helping to boost revenues – which will in itself help pay for the policy.”

Former Chancellor Alastair Darling, the head of the pro Union, Better Together campaign, responded to the White Paper and said: “With so much uncertainty and unanswered questions about the cost of independence, leaving the UK would be a huge leap in the dark – especially when we know that devolution works for Scotland. We can have the best of both worlds – a strong Scottish Parliament with the strength and opportunity of being part of a bigger United Kingdom.”

If the current SNP administration get’s re-elected, they have set out a series of pledges that would include:

  • A transformation in childcare, helping more women into work and providing up to 35,000 jobs.
  • A safe, triple-locked pension that meets Scotland’s needs and puts more money in the pockets of our pensioners.
  • A guaranteed minimum wage that rises alongside the cost of living to make sure the lowest paid get a fair wage for a fair days work.
  • Basic rate tax allowances and tax credits that will also rise at least in line with inflation.
  • A change to the way ‘green levies’ are paid for – saving families around £70 a year on their energy bills.
  • A fairer welfare system, including a halt to the rollout of Universal Credit and the abolition of the ‘Bedroom Tax’. ‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬
  • A productivity and competitive boost to secure the position of Scottish business.

The First Minister will lead a debate at Holyrood this afternoon that will give MSP’s a chance to examine the document in more detail.

Speaking ahead of the debate, Scottish Labour Leader Johann Lamont questioned the benefits of a Independent Scotland. Interviewed on BBC Scotland Good Morning Scotland, Lamont said:”The assumption that simply by Scotland going it alone we will somehow be more radical, more progressive, is simply not true. We will still have to deal with the arithmetic of politics which is you have to fund things. What we seem to be getting from the Scottish government now is that we will cut taxes and at the same time we will improve services – that’s not credible.”

Scottish Campaign on Welfare Reform Launch Manifesto

Image Source: Bonnet

Lord Kirkwood. Credit: Bonnet

 

By Andy Little.

Politicians from all sides of the political spectrum came together in Edinburgh on Thursday  13th November to support the launch of the Scottish Campaign on Welfare Reform. The group is a coalition of key third sector organisations from across Scotland.

The Campaign put forward five key reforms which amounts to a new approach to social security.they seek to increase benefit levels to ensure that no one is left in poverty. Make respect for human rights and dignity a cornerstone for a new approach to welfare. Radically simplify the welfare system. Invest in the support needed to ensure that everyone is able to participate fully in society and make welfare benefits work for Scotland.

Chairman, John Dickie said:

“The current approach to social security is not working. We have seen the rise of foodbanks, rising rent arrears and we need to rethink the overall approach to social security.”

Maggie Kelly the co-author of the manifesto said:

“Simple things can reduce poverty such as paying people benefit that raises them out of poverty”

Keynote speaker Lord Archie Kirkwood (Liberal Democrat) praised the role of the  third sector as an important pressure group for change. Lord Kirkwood said:

“There is massive value in working together, policy makers need to hear from the voluntary sector”

He was also critical of the Department of Work and Pensions. Kirkwood said:

“The Department of Work and Pensions is in a state of turmoil, the information technology for universal credit will never work for low income families and the sanctions regime potentially labels everyone a scrounger. That cannot be allowed to continue”

Shiela Gilmour, Labour MP and member of the House of Commons Work and Pensions Committee sounded a note of caution when she referred to the cost of reform. Gilmour said:

“The cost has to be discussed it’s not just a  safety net but we must have that debate not just a wish list.”

Jamie Hepburn the SNP MSP and deputy convener of the Scottish Parliament Welfare Reform Committee said:

“I welcome this manifesto for an important contribution to the debate and an important opportunity to imagine a different type of Scotland”

Nobody from the Conservative Party attended the event.

The Department of Work and Pensions was not able to respond to a request to comment.

Boycott Campaigns send G4S Off Campus

By Martha Shardalow

It’s another bad week for security firm G4S as two UK universities choose not to award them control of on-campus services.

Kings College London Action Palestine initated a campus campaign against G4S after criticising the company for their role in the Middle East.

image source: KCL Action Palestine Committee 2013-14

image source: KCL Action Palestine Committee 2013-14

G4S has an explicit part to play in providing security and equipment to Israeli prisons, settlements and checkpoints in the occupied West Bank. KCL Action Palestine launched a protest on campus and over 500 students signed their petition.

University of Southampton Students for Palestine followed suit and succeeded in their efforts not to award G4S a contract to provide security on campus. Previously, G4S had been a favourite to win major contracts at both Kings College London (KCL) and The University of Southampton and had already provided services to these universities.

Edinburgh University Student Association (EUSA) enacted much the same fate for the company back in 2011 – a major victory for the Palestinian Boycott Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) Movement. G4S no longer provides security services for Edinburgh University Library made possible by Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) who forced the university to tear up its contract with the firm.

The Boycott Israel Kings College group released a statement that the decision was due to “a continuous effort of resistance and support by the KCL students and staff.”They successfully passed a motion in the student union in support of the campaign, asking the union to commit and lobby the university against G4S.

Southampton students joined in celebration after their petition and public statement received overwhelming support by students and student societies. The petition was signed by 24 student societies from the Marxist society to the Taekwando Club.

 Juman A, co-founder of Students for Palestine Southampton, voices her concerns to to exclude ethically corrupt companies from student circles. She said: “We believe that no one should be allowed to profit from their wrongdoings. We take a firm stance against G4S’ complicity in the occupation and its discriminatory malpractice in the UK and elsewhere around the world.G4S is complicit in the Israeli occupation’s flagrant violations of human rights and its breaches of international law.  The boycott movement stems form the root of the Palestinian struggle and we, as students, are committed to one cause – that is justice.”

The weight of these developments are growing in momentum as part of an international campaign against G4S. This wider movement has seen public  bodies, nongovernmental organisations and financial institutions across the world terminate their contracts and boycott G4S.

A growing number of universities are joining the pack with student campaigns in the UK continually taking force, including The University of Birmingham.

Due to their complicity with Israeli apartheid, G4S have also been excluded from the contract tendering processes at universities in Oslo and Bergen in Norway. These two institutions have called for the express exclusion of all such companies on their campuses and, alongside London and Southampton, do not deny this as a vital step towards strengthening the boycott movement globally.

 

Consultation on new powers to Local Communities

Local Community Activism. Credit: In Habitat PR

Local Community Activism. Credit: In Habitat PR

by David Thomson

The consultation process has been launched for a new law that gives more power to local communities.

The Scottish Government have recently launched a public consultation on a draft of the Community Empowerment Bill that will give local communities more power on what should happen in their communities.

When launching the bill, Local Government and Planning Minister Derek Mackay said: “Scotland’s people are its greatest asset and it is only with the confidence that comes with independence that people will be able to fully determine their own futures.

“The Community Empowerment (Scotland) Bill is about people and communities taking their own decisions about their future.

This bill is aimed at Community Councils and residents groups that want to take ownership of local council buildings and land.

image source: scottish.parliament.uk

Derek Mackay MSP. Credit: Scottish Government

Derek Mackay, said: “The Bill will help community groups to take over public land and buildings where they think they can make better use of them than their current public sector owners. This Bill will also reform the community right to buy, giving urban communities in Scotland same rights as rural communities, where in the public interest. ”

The Bill has received support from the Carnegie UK. Jennifer Wallace, Policy Manager of the organisation said: “We welcome todays publication of the Community Empowerment (Scotland) Bill which contains a range of proposals that we believe will help Scotland’s communities to thrive.

“In particular, we support the proposal to place a duty on Scottish Ministers to develop, consult on and publish the outcomes they seek for the people of Scotland. Scotland is already recognised as an international leader on measuring wellbeing through its use of Scotland Performs. “

The decision on whether to transfer that asset will be based on which proposed use will be to greatest use to the local community.

As part of the bill, legislation will be simplified to protect the existing provision that is in place for allotments. If the existing provision is not sufficient, the local authority have a duty of care to keep a waiting list under a specific target.

Local Community Planning will be strengthened to deliver better solutions for the community.

COSLA President, Cllr David O’Neill, today welcomed the extension of Community Planning, he said:“ COSLA welcomes the extension of the duty of Community Planning to encompass the whole of the public sector, which we believe will improve how partners work together locally and deliver better outcomes for our communities.”

The public consultation ends on January 24 and to make a comment about the draft bill. Click onto http://www.scotland.gov.uk/Publications/2013/11/5740

Deportation threatened headteacher handed lifeline by Home Office

by Alasdair Crews

Ae Primary School

Ae Primary School; Credit: Dumfries and Galloway Council

The Home Office has lifted a deportation threat on an American-born headteacher working in Dunfriesshire who had his request for permanent residency turned down.

David MacIsaac, who has lived and worked in Scotland for almost 10 years, was told his application had been turned down in a letter from the Home Office, which said that they considered his four-year marriage to a Scottish woman “a sham”.

Mr MacIsaac will now start the application process again after his lawyer and the Home Office agreed a new framework for re-applying.

Mr MacIsaac has been working as headteacher for Ae Primary School for five years, having discovered a shortage of headteachers in rural communities in Scotland during a holiday to the country.

When the decision by the immigration authorities was brought down, Mr MacIsaac and his wife Susan were devastated. Their misery was compounded by the fact that Susan was recently diagnosed with breast cancer and is due to begin a course of treatment in Edinburgh.

The Home Office decision caused widespread condemnation from all corners of the Scottish political spectrum and various Parliamentary figures have welcomed the Home Office decision.

In a statement, MSP for South Scotland, Joan McAlpine said:

“This is a victory for common sense and I’m extremely pleased the Home Office has dropped its threat to deport Mr MacIsaac.

“The meeting with Scotland’s education secretary clearly sent a strong signal to the Home Office that its harassment of Mr MacIsaac was wrong.

“The Home Office should be ashamed that its archaic system brought about this highly stressful and unsettling situation.

“I hope Home Office officials learn from this situation and address the serious concerns it has raised about this barbaric Westminster system.”

Mr MacIsaac said: “Sue and I are both delighted and we have been overwhelmed by the cross-party support and the numerous letters and e-mails we have received”.

Senator remains in a critical condition

Irish senator Jimmy Harte

Irish senator Jimmy Harte

by Stephen Mahon

An Irish senator who sustained serious head injuries at the weekend remains in a critical condition.

Senator Jimmy Harte was found unconscious in South Dublin at around 4am on Saturday morning.  Gardai at Kevin Street have been studying CCTV footage from around that time, and it remains unclear whether the Donegal politician was attacked or had an accidental fall.  His coat and mobile phone were not with him when he was found, leading Gardai to believe that the Labour Senator had been the victim of a robbery.

However, speaking today, Gardai confirmed that the items had been left at a bar where Harte had been watching the Ireland v Latvia match in Dawson Street, in the south of the city on Friday evening.  “It looks like an accident, but until we have thoroughly examined the CCTV footage from around that time, we cannot say for certain,” said Chief Superintendent Michael O’Sullvan.  “We would also still appeal for any witnesses who were in the area at around that time to come forward.”

Doctors at Dublin’s Beaumont Hospital say the next 24 hours will be crucial for the 55 year old.  Harte suffered a fractured skull, a massive blood clot and a brain injury in the incident at Newmarket Square, Dublin in the early hours of Saturday morning.  He was rushed to St James Hospital before being transferred to the specialist head injury unit at Beaumont Hospital.  He remains in a medically induced coma. It has also emerged that the Donegal Senator had underlying health issues linked to a heart condition and had collapsed a number of times previously.

Harte joined the Irish Labour party in 2010 and contested the 2011 general election in Donegal North East. He failed to gain a seat, coming fourth in the three-seat constituency.

Later that year he was elected to the Seanad Industrial and Commercial Panel, one of five vocational panels which together elect 43 members of Senad Eireann,  the upper house of the Oireachtas.

Independent Scotland could face terror threat, warns Theresa May

Theresa May speaking in Edinburgh on the independence threat to Scottish security.

Theresa May speaking in Edinburgh on the independence threat to Scottish security.

By Lisa Moir

Claims by the UK Home Secretary that an independent Scotland would be ill-equipped to tackle terrorism threats have been ferociously denied by YES campaigners.

Speaking from Edinburgh yesterday, on the latest UK government paper, Theresa May has said Scotland would have reduced ability to detect criminal and terrorist threats.

This was the seventh paper to be published by the UK government, ahead of the Independence referendum, to take place in September 2014. Focusing on the security of an independent Scotland, it claims that threats from organised crime gangs, cyber criminals and global terrorism “are best confronted with Scotland inside the UK.”

However, Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill rejected this saying, “These claims are wrong…Scotland is already an independent jurisdiction when it comes to policing and justice issues, and current cross-border cooperation shows how well that can work to combat terrorism and other threats.”

SNP MSP Christine Grahame supported MacAskill saying “This is Project fear at its worst”, adding, “the SNP has a record of delivering when it comes to policing and security and we will take no lessons from someone who has done so much to undermine this vital area south of the border.”

Theresa May has clearly stated that the current intelligence and security network could not be easily divided and, as a result, resources including the £860m UK cyber security programme would not be available to an independent Scotland. She added that Scotland would lose automatic access to MI5, MI6, GCHQ and the New Crime Agency and that “terrorists will seek new ways to exploit any weakness.”

Despite this, Allan Burnett, former Counter Terrorism for Scotland Chief, remains confident of the Scottish ability to tackle any security threats, having witnessed first hand “the great Scottish talent in military, secret and police intelligence services, and can readily envisage the huge ability, energy, integrity and innovation they would pour into this exciting mission.”

As yet the Scottish Government has still to unveil detailed plans for a post-independent intelligence service, but insists an annual budget of £2.5bn is available to create new security and defence forces.

Home Secretary is said to be “highly sceptical” about the proposed budget, which compared with UK spending of about £33bn for defence and £2bn for security, intelligence and cyber-security, seems rather modest. May also rejected the YES campaigners claims that Scotland would face a diminished threat from terrorism, by shunning illegal wars and rejecting nuclear weapons, suggesting that many terrorists have a problem, “with the way of life in the West,” rather than specific grievances about Foreign Policy adding, “you can’t say the threat would definitely diminish.”

Although not addressing any of May’s specific comments in detail an unperturbed, Kenny MacAskill stated, “An independent Scotland will have first rate security arrangements to counter any threats we may face. And we will continue to work in very close collaboration with the rest of the UK and international partners on security and intelligence matters, which is in everyone’s interests.”

Council Set To Improve The City Centre

Edinburgh City Council has developed a proposal to improve the pedestrian space in the city centre, particularly in the area around Princes Street and George Street. The report focuses, specifically, on improving the pedestrian space and environment in line with the delivery of the tram project, which is due to be completed this Summer.

One of the methods of achieving this is providing an opportunity for dedicated cycle provision in the area, as well as reducing the detrimental impact of vehicles on the City Centre environment. The Council’s ‘Action Travel Action Plan’ sets targets to provide significant improvements in the walking and cycling infrastructure of the city centre by 2020, and the promotion of these means of travel.

The proposal states that by managing the traffic movement of Lothian Buses, it would achieve these objectives. Eastbound buses on Princes Street maybe relocated to George Street effectively halving the number of buses on Princes Street. The proposal also sets to close Princes Street to general traffic in both directions, as well as to allow general traffic on George Street in an eastbound direction only, including taxis. The Council have also announced they are to massively reduce parking availability spots in the City Centre.  Josh Miller,  George Street Association, explained that ”this will just not work.. People will not have to park their cars somewhere else, more inconvenient, and a lot of time will be wasted’. He argued that the ‘Council have not though through a viable alternative’.

Ian Perry, Planning Convener of the Council, said ‘Princes Street has been suffering from the trams, and economic downturn, s we have agreed to increase the pavement space and redress the balance and attract more pedestrians into the town centre and to get more people to shop’.

The results of the consultation will be the subject of a future report and any changes will then be practiced to test how successful they are.

Interview with George Street Association

Interview with Ian Perry, Edinburgh City Council

Yes Scotland Welcomes New Employment Figures

The latest Bank of Scotland Report on jobs has shown an increase in the number of people who found permanent and part-time jobs. This indicates that the Scottish economy is slowly recovering from the recession. The report also showed an increase in labour market conditions, and an increase in pay for permanent and part-time jobs last month following a decline in February.

Donald Macrae, Chief Economist of the Bank of Scotland, explained that ‘’the number of people appointed to both permanent and temporary jobs rose while the number of vacancies increased’’.

The biggest recruitment improvement was seen in permanent staff placements, whereas in the rest of the UK permanent placements were the weakest in six months according to the Bank of Scotland Labour Market Barometer, scoring 52.3.

Scotland have generally shown greater signs of economic improvement than their UK counterparts. Recent official statistics showed that Scotland’s unemployment rate has fallen to below 200,000, for the first time more than three years. The Scottish jobless rate is 7.3% – below the UK average of 7.9%. Elsewhere in the UK, unemployment has risen by 70,000 to 2.56 million.

These results have raised the debate regarding whether Scotland, if they were to become Independent, would be better off economically-speaking. Stuart McDonald. Of the Yes Scotland Campaign, argued ‘’By international standards Scotland is a wealthy and productive country, and we believe that if economic policy was decided here in Scotland, we could be doing so much better’.

The Yes Scotland Campaign argued that Scotland still have a lot of work to do if they were to become Independent pointing to the successful economies of Scandinavian countries. McDonald explained that ‘Our unemployment rate may be lower than the UK’s – but other small countries like Denmark, Switzerland and Norway have unemployment rates which are a third or a half lower again’’.

The Panda Craze

The piteously extravagant and undeserved media and public hype over the breeding of Edinburgh Zoo’s two giant Pandas, Tian Tian and her prospective mate Yang Guang, is a cause for worry and concern. Especially at a time when we have witnessed a tragic blaze at Five Sister’s zoo in West Lothian killing a substantial number of reptiles and other animals including 11 meerkats. People seemed not too bothered by these events yet any news about Tian Tian and her oestrogen levels and we quickly turn to our screens. The BBC have now featured the sensationalised scrutiny of the panda breeding in their headlines alongside more justifiable stories, in terms of news values, like the capturing of the man suspected of being responsible for the Boston Bombings and the Earthquake in China killing more than 150 people.

Artificial insemination has been carried out on Tian Tian following a week when hormones showed she was approaching her 36-hour fertile period. In a desperate and almost forlorn attempt to get the Zoo’s most popular creatures breeding, it is telling of British Society’s very needless obsession with pandas. A grassroots campaigning animals charity, Scotland for Animals said the drive to breed Tian Tian is a a purely ‘financial and commercial’ project with the intention of ‘increasing visiting numbers to the zoo’. Scotland for Animals underwent a campaign to expose the ‘lies’ of Edinburgh Zoo who, they feel, hide the commercial implication of their actions behind a blanket emphasising ‘a conservation effort’.

Once entering the official website for the Zoo one can’t help but notice a special section dedicated to buying tickets to visit the Pandas, alongside a link to the  pandacam. Even when contacting the zoo the first thing they say is to visit the website if your inquiry is connected to visiting the giant pandas. Now it’s almost impossible to contact the Zoo unless it’s an emergency inquiry because of the melodramatic amount of international attention driven towards the sex life of these sexually uninterested, animals. You can’t get away from these black and white, bamboo-eating bears. When they first arrived in 2011, loaned by the Bifengxia Breeding Centre in China, massive cheering crowds gathered as they were driven to the gates, in a spectacle as exaggerated and pathetic as the opening of Krispy Kremes in February. The media flocked like a pack of birds to the airport desperately awaiting their arrival as if they didn’t have anything else important to report on. A costly, specially-refurbished VIP enclosure was created for these celebrities as they were taken down the ‘red carpet’ into the zoo’s grand entrance. Moreover, this move signifies a wider socio-economic, cultural and political deal between the Scottish and Chinese Governments, representing the culmination of five years of political and diplomatic negotiation at the highest level. Pandas are,therefore, not just animals but ambassadors to China,and symbols of international diplomacy at the greatest standard.

The question to ask is why this intensive publicity and hype? Perhaps it’s because pandas are an endangered species, a rare and valued Chinese national treasure, meaning complete and utter precedence over every other animal in the country. There are only 1,600 of them in the wild, and around 300 in captivity. we perhaps because they are simply endearing and pleasant to look at? If 158 million people like a video of a panda sneezing on Youtube then surely they safely tick the ‘cute’ box? A more plausible reason maybe that Edinburgh is home to the only two giant pandas in the UK, surely such a rarity on our Island will inevitably give way to mass appeal and attention? Or is it something more intricate and deeper, as Henry Nicholls, author of The Way of the Panda explains, it maybe  due to their almost baby-like features with their flat face, large eyes and clumsy nature.

The panda craze illustrates wider issues to do with journalism in today’s world. If there is such international and domestic fascination and excitement over the news of two pandas breeding does it qualify as important news? The acute distinction between ‘of the public interest’ and ‘in the public interest’ should be addressed. This story is quite clearly of the public interest but not in the interest of the public. In terms of generating mass political debate and changing the face and structure of countries for decades to come, the pandas are not in the same league as the conflict in Syria or the global financial recession for example.

However, as symbols of international relations, and subjects of mass tourism, marketing, merchandise and general (and genuine) adoration, these creatures will continue to attract special journalistic heed, News and the Zoo is a business, business is commercial and commercial is about selling. The Tian Tian and Yang Guang show is to go on for a while yet.

Interview with Scotland for Animals

Independence Risk for Scottish Banknotes

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SNP plans to keep the pound in the event of Scottish independence have been dealt a blow, with a Treasury report set to indicate that a currency union could lead to the end of Scottish banknotes.

The Scottish government has proposed plans to retain the pound as part of a “sterling zone” with the rest of Britain if Scotland votes in favour of independence. But the Treasury will claim that Scottish independence would “fundamentally transform” the Bank of England’s role in Scotland.

Experts have warned that the Scottish government would need to reach an agreement over Scottish banks rights to issue their own notes. If such an agreement wasn’t reached, it could lead to Scottish notes losing their value, or being rejected altogether, elsewhere in the U.K.

However the SNP have maintained that there is no threat to their plans to keep the pound, dismissing dears that it would affect the situation with Scottish banknotes as “scaremongering”.

A spokesperson said ““The existing situation relating to Scottish banknotes will remain in place within a post-independence currency union.”

SNP MP Stewart Hosie this morning hit back at claims that the value of Scottish notes might be affected, telling the BBC “Every single Scottish note in circulation is fully covered by assets held by the Bank of England, which guarantees its value. That wouldn’t change under independence.”

The debate comes after Alistair Darling, head of the Better Together campaign, voiced his concerns about SNP plans to the Scottish Labour conference at the weekend. Adressing the conference in Inverness, Mr Darling said that nationalist arguments for currency “fall apart” when questioned, claiming that the government was being “evasive” over the issue.

He said “In the last 12 months alone, they have gone from being in favour of the euro to using the pound, to now saying they will have a currency union. In order to keep the pound, the nationalists now say we would have to enter in to a currency union. Yesterday Nicola Sturgeon was saying that of course within a currency union you could do what you want, there would be no constraints, you could spend money on what you want. That is utter nonsense.”

Which currency should an independent Scotland use? Have your say in our poll on the issue.

Scottish Labour Conference Round-up

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This weekend saw Scottish Labout hold its annual conference in Inverness. With Scotland just over a year away from the independence referendum, the conference was an opportunity for the party to establish its agenda for the coming months. Here were a few of the talking points.

Lamont pledges to help SNP on social justice

Scottish Labour leader Johann Lamont has vowed to work with the Scottish government to help those affected by Tory cuts. In an emotional speech to conference, Lamont pledged to work with the SNP to protect Scots from the “injustice” of the much-maligned “bedroom tax”. She told delegates “Scotland can stand united against the Tory cuts and I call upon the SNP to work with us. If they truly believe in social justice, we can work together.”

Labour attacks Thatcher legacy

Scottish Labour’s Deputy Leader Anas Sarwar accused George Osborne of carrying on the “vandalism” of Margaret Thatcher with his austerity measures. In a fiery speech to conference Sarwar blasted the Chancellor in the wake of the former PMs funeral last week. He said “(Osbourne) has shaped his whole political ideology and cut his political teeth so he can carry on the work of his political hero. Today, he is carrying on the vandalism Thatcher started and his targets are just the same.”

Future Employment Taskforce Launched

Margaret Curran MP, Shadow Secretary of State for Scotland, used conference to launch a taskforce on Employment for the Future. The taskforce will be in place to explore ways in which Scotland can increase employment opportunities in the years to come. Speaking at the launch, Curran said “We have close to 200,000 people unemployed in Scotland, and 17,000 people have spent the last two years on the dole, trying to find jobs. This is a challenge that is too urgent to wait until we are in Government again.” The taskforce will be chaired by Lord John McFall and leading tech entrepreneur MT Rainey.

New Health Watchdog Proposed

Labour announced proposals for a new healthcare watchdog, which would have the power to monitor and turn around troubled hospitals with troubleshooting “Change Teams”. Shadow Cabinet Secretary for Health Jackie Baillie said that it would be a body “with teeth”, to “regulate, inspect, enforce and encourage continuous improvement.”

Johann Lamont was praised by attendees for her keynote speech to her party. However the SNP took the opportunity to criticise her “obsession” with the nationalists, claiming that it overshadows the party’s lack of policies. A spokesman said “There were 22 mentions of the SNP in Johann Lamont’s speech and Alex Salmond was name-checked 13 times. But sadly she was unable to come up with even one new policy.”

Pounds, McPounds or Euros?

Alistair Darling described an independent Scotland entering into a Sterling currency union as “a straightjacket”, implying that England would call the shots in such a scenario.

What currency would you like to spend in an Independent Scotland?

Napier students reject independence

A Napier University poll has revealed that only 29.5% of its students back Scottish independence.

The survey was carried out for the University’s magazine, Buzz, as part of the Masters Journalism course. 569 students were asked the question ‘If the Independence Referendum was held tomorrow, how would you vote?’ over the course of the one day poll.  This represents a sample rate of 3% of the University’s student body.

Here we talk to Simon Pia, Lecturer on Journalism at Napier and former Scottish Labour Spin Doctor about his reaction to the result.

Napier University Independence Referendum Poll

Earlier this month Buzz Magazine asked Napier students their opinions on the issue of Scottish independence. 569 students (3.3% of the student body) were asked the question “If you were to vote on Scottish independence now, how would you vote?” Both the Better Together and Yes Scotland campaigns refused to comment on the results of the poll, which will be revealed later today.

Reflecting on Iraq

To mark the 10th anniversary of the invasion of Iraq, Shiv Das and Jamie Mckenzie spoke to Jabaal Hassan from the Iraq Association on the 10th anniversary of the Iraq War.

The Iraqi Association is a non-profit organization based in the U.K that exists to enable Iraqis to settle and integrate in this country with rights to express their cultural identities.

We also spoke to Baroness Nicholson, who founded the Iraqi Britain Business Council four years ago. She says “the objective is to bring high quality businesses in to Iraq and connect them with high quality Iraqi businesses. The purpose behind that is that there is very high unemployment of young people and I am very keen to get them into jobs and help their futures.”

PM to announce tougher immigration benefit controls

by Simone Hinrichsen

David Cameron made an official announcement today defining tougher controls on unemployment and housing benefits for immigrants.

The prime minister used today’s speech to caution those coming to Britain that they can no longer expect “something for nothing”.

“While I have always believed in the benefits of immigration, I have also always believed that immigration has to be properly controlled,” the Prime Minister said.

Currently there is no limit on how long migrants from the European Economic Area – the EU member states plus Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway – can claim unemployment benefits while looking for a job.

From 2014, arrivals from the EU be stripped of jobseekers benefits after six months unless they can prove they have been actively looking for a job and stand a “genuine chance” of finding one.

The government vows to strengthen the “range and depth” of questions in the residence test, which checks that people meet residence requirements for housing and unemployment benefits.

Cameron also targeted illegal immigration – doubling the maximum fine for companies that employ illegal workers to £20,000 – and signal action against so-called “health tourism” that could mean non-EU nationals have to prove they hold insurance before getting care.

We spoke to Bulgarian student Snezhina Marinova, who shares her views on the immigration and benefits for Bulgarian and Romanian students.

Splashback causing waves for Leith Councillors

Source: Greener Leith

Leith local election candidates faced the voters last night at the Leith Links hustings.  On the menu were crucial issues for the port  including the biomass proposal and the tram project. 

Leith Waterworld was also discussed and the closure of the family-friendly pool last January has not deterred campaigners, Splashback, from trying to reopen it. 

Edinburgh Napier News spoke to Johnny Gailey, one of the Splashback leaders.   

 

Councillors pedalling fast to fight pollution

Gordon MacKenzie speaks to Spokes supporters at the 2012 local election hustings.

It’s campaign time  and on May the 3rd  voters will  choose the future of the city transport. 

 Transport had been in the spotlight in recent years due to the troubled tram project.  Now Edinburgh faces another challenge with European Union strict standards on air pollution.  The Green party have highlighted the deadline for the city to reach acceptable air pollution levels by 2015.  If the council do not meet these targets the taxpayer will face a heavy financial penalty.  

Spokes is an Edinburgh charity organisation that focuses on bicycle transport but also green issues.  A hustings was held on Thursday  29th  March to question the councillors responsible for this important issue.

Big Brother Politician becomes Bradford-West MP

Photo taken by David Hunt

George Galloway, a Respect Party Candidate, most well known for his infamous Big Brother Stint, has won the Bradford-West by-election by 10, 140 votes.

Galloway, in a shocking victory, has taken the Bradford West Parliamentary seat from the Labour Party, and polled more than 18,000 votes. Galloway was expelled from the Labour Party in October 2003 because he expressed his opposition to the Iraq War. Soon after he became a founding member of the left-wing, anti-war Respect Party.

Mr Galloway said the victory is: “the most sensastional victory in British political history.”

Labour Leader, Ed Milliband, is very disappointed with the outcome of the by-elections, but has vowed to lead a Labour Party fightback. Miliband said: “It was an incredibly disappointing result for Labour in Bradford West and I am determined that we learn lessons of what happened.” Miliband will be travelling to Bradford soon, to try to: “win back people’s trust.”

George Galloway contested the parliamentary seat of Poplar and Limehouse, in the 2010 UK general election, as well as the Glasgow List in the 2011 Scottish Parliament election, but was unsuccessful in both.

George Galloway, beat Labour candidate Imran Hussein by 10,140 votes and received 15,595 more votes than Conservative candidate Jackie Whiteley, who came third in the election.

A Little April Foolery

A “little April foolery” is a protest staged all over Edinburgh by local artists on the first of April. The protest is aimed at the controversial legislation, which will come into action on the first of the month. Many hundreds of artists are set to make the city centre their big stage as they fight against the country-wide legislation which will establish rules requiring that every artist has a license before they can stage free events.

Nearly 1500 people are expected to attend this event, either as performers or spectators.

Edinburgh Napier News interviewed Jen McGregor, the founder of the “A Little April Foolery” campaign.

“A little April Foolery” is a very different take on this popular day of pranks. Here are some interesting theories and facts suggesting how April Fool’s day may have originated and how it can be celebrated:

One theory shows April Fool’s Day dates back to the 12th Century Arabia.

A different theory says April Fool’s started with the introduction of the Gregorian calendar. Before, people celebrated the new year on the first of April. Hence, people still celebrating on that day were “April Fools”

Here in Scotland we originally call this day “hunting the gowk” (the cuckoo), and if you are tricked, you are an “April gowk”. We love this basic celebration of Schadenfreude that much that we gave it a second day, called “Taily Day”. This day is solely devoted to pranks involving the backside of the body. The “butt” of these jokes may often have a “kick me” sign placed on their back.

In France it is immensely popular to prank someone using a dead fish. Throwing at or even slapping someone with it, putting it in someone’s bag, there are no limits. Just remember to shout “Poisson d’Avril!” (April Fish!) and hilarity ensues.

In Poland the day has a similar theme to France. The Polish love to prank people by pouring water on them.

Depending on where you live in England, you may also be called a “gobby” or a “noodle” if you find yourself on the receiving end of the prank.

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