Comment: George Watson’s College’s MUN Conference

George Watson's College hosted their annual MUN this weekend
Image: Alexandra Wingate

If there’s one group we like to blame society’s problems on, it’s young people. These binge drinking hoody wearers are disaffected, uncaring and couldn’t spell “politics” if their entire Spelling Bee credibility depended on it, right?

Wrong. While some of us continue to bury years of repressed memories of endless evenings spent crying over boys and loudly hating our parents, there is one place guaranteed to restore a long lost faith in teenagers: a Model United Nations conference.

This weekend’s MUN at George Watson’s College is the largest school-based conference of its kind in Scotland. Attracting over 600 secondary school pupils from across Britain, Europe and even North Africa, ages range from as young as 12 right up to 18 – and all of them with a keen interest in international relations.

The three-day conference is spent debating a wide variety of issues, ranging from designer babies and women’s pay, to the justification of torture and overcoming poverty. Sometimes the discussions wander into satire (take, for example, Germany’s proposal that a hotline between a selection of UN member states have Britney Spears’ “Hit Me Baby One More Time” as its holding tune), but usually they’re serious, well researched and impressively thorough.

There’s a wide range of abilities here, from the seasoned MUN veteran to the nervous first timer, but for all of them it’s cool to be clever. This is helped by the overwhelming feature at George Watson’s being the feeling of inclusion; nobody can be found sitting awkwardly on their own or left red faced in the aftermath of a “stupid” suggestion.

“We pride ourselves on being a friendly conference,” explains chair of one of the political committees, Lily Taylor. “So if it’s anyone’s first conference we really encourage them to speak.”

Being young, these kids take everything in their stride. Full of modesty and sheltered from the harsh realities of a competitive job market, they don’t seem to grasp quite how astonishing what they’re doing is. One boy cringes at his mum’s public yet withheld expressions of pride, while another talks down his achievements, instead joking about accepting bribes in the form of bags of Haribo, a selection of lollipops and even a cabbage.

As well as having the confidence to stand up and present their argument in front of an entire hall full of their peers, they all clearly know their stuff – and if they don’t, they’re quickly pulled up by someone else who does. The enthusiasm is infectious; they might be role playing, but each speech is passionate without exception, with the debates becoming more and more colourful as the weekend progresses.

If there’s one criticism of the MUN scene, it’s that it’s still dominated by private schools. As an extra curricular activity, it’s perhaps little wonder that only a handful of state schools have the resources to establish and nurture any kind of MUN club. That said, a good number of the Scottish schools at George Watson’s conference are state schools, including James Gillespie’s High School which held its first one-day conference at the end of last year.

But the most profound outcome of an MUN has got to be the effect it has on the minds and attitudes of young people. Not only do participants have to understand and defend the policies and beliefs of a nation often very different to their own, but the conference physically allows them to meet and socialise with people from all walks of life from cultures and countries across the world. Even within the first break, rooms full of people who had never set eyes on each other an hour earlier are a buzz of chatter and laughter in a true demonstration of the unprejudiced openness of youth.

So take heed, ye of little faith: if there’s ever a way to promote cultural understanding and tolerance, a Model United Nations is surely it – and it’s our young people at the helm. We should be proud.

Edinburgh hosts Scotland’s largest school MUN Conference

One of Britain’s largest Model United Nations Conferences took place in Edinburgh this weekend.

Over 600 teenagers took part in the three-day conference at George Watson’s College. Now in its sixth year, it is the biggest school-based MUN in Scotland and attracts participants from as far afield as Egypt and Turkey.

Alexandra Wingate reports exclusively from the conference.


What is an MUN?

An MUN is a replica of the United Nations. As well as having a secretary general and a number of chairs, the conference consists of a variety of committees, a security council, a general assembly and an emergency debate.

Participants are assigned a member state which they then represent in various discussions. The challenge is for delegates to accurately portray the political policies and moral values of their assigned country, which usually differs in varying degrees to that of their own nation.

How does an MUN work?

As in the real United Nations, an MUN is primarily split into different committees which are attended by one delegate from each state. In George Watson’s case, these consist of economic, environment, health, human rights, media, and political, with as many as 48 countries represented in each committee.

After lobbying for support, delegates can put forward a formal resolution for discussion. The proposal is then debated with opportunities to add amendments before the final resolution is voted on by all members. This format is replicated throughout the conference, in both the smaller security council and the large general assembly attended by all delegates from all countries.

The debates are formal and procedures are carefully overseen by a number of chairs. Discussions are detailed and rigorous with a typical session lasting around one to two hours.

King's School in Chester won the award for Best Delegation
Image: Alexandra Wingate

Comment: George Watson’s College’s MUN Conference

Theresa May independence claims challeneged by SNP

Theresa May the Home Secretary has made the latest in a series of allegations about the prospects for an independent Scotland. In an interview with the BBC, Ms. May stated that there may be border controls on the border with England, dependent on whether Scotland opts out of the Schengen agreement or not.

This comes after comments she made during the Scottish Conservative Party conference in Troon over the weekend. During the conference, the Home Secretary stated that she believed that Scotland was stronger in the union, and suggested that immigration would become less controlled in an independent Scotland. Ms May also questioned the issue of sovereignty within the EU, stating “It completely defeats the SNP argument that Scotland would fare better with more control over its affairs when they seek to hand over so many serious areas of government elsewhere.”

In her interview with the BBC, Theresa May states  it may be possible that Scotland post-independence will have passport controls on the border with England. The Schengen agreement, which guarantees no border controls in the EU, was opted-out of by the UK, but new EU states, such as Scotland would be, are automatically opted in and have to negotiate if they don’t want to be in it.

Currently the UK operates a Common Travel Area with the Republic of Ireland, and Ms. May stated that an agreement of this kind may be negotiated between Scotland and the rest of Britain after independence.

A statement released by the SNP today stated that since both the rump UK and Scotland would be successor states from the UK, they ” will therefore inherit exactly the same status within the EU, including not being in the Schengen area.”

“An independent Scotland will also inherit the Common Travel Area which exists across UK and Ireland, and provides for no border controls for the citizens of these islands.”

The statement added that a soveriegn country can tailor immigration to meet their needs and that immigration may help “address skills shortages in Scotland’s labour market”. The SNP claims that the  the Home Secretary’s statements were “silly” and “scaremongering.”

Secret Lockerbie documents published

Yesterday the Sunday Herald published a full 800 page report by the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission (SCCRC). For five years no paper was allowed to get access to the report. The controversial report highlights hopes of a new appeal in the name of Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed al Megrahi, since a believed miscarriage of justice may have occurred. The Libyan Megrahi got convicted of the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie in 1988. The Crown Office commented though, that it had considered all the information in the statement of reasons and had “every confidence in successfully defending the conviction”.

The reasons  the Herald was able to publish the papers are Megrahi’s permission as well as the public interest for the Lockerbie bombing.  First Minister Alex Salmond supports the report, which doubts Megrahi’s conviction. He said: “I welcome the publication in full of this report, which is something the Scottish Government has been doing everything in our powers to facilitate.” Salmond added also: “This report provides valuable information, from an independent body acting without fear or favour, and while we cannot expect it to resolve all the issues, it does however lay the basis for narrowing the areas of dispute and in many ways is far more comprehensive than any inquiry could ever hope to be.”

On Wednesday 21 December 1988, shortly after Pan Am 103 was taking off from Heathrow airport to go to New York, an explosion over the Scottish town of Lockerbie caused the aircraft fall out of the sky. 243 passengers and 16 crew members were killed, as well as 11 Lockerbie citizens. Megrahi got convicted for planting the bomb but got released in 2009 because he suffered from cancer, which was supposed to give him about three more months to live. Megrahi is still alive today.

The publication by the Sunday Herald was a contentious decision, since the it wasn’t authorised. The paper commented: “Under Section 32 of the Data Protection Act, journalists can publish in the public interest. We have made very few redactions to protect the names of confidential sources and private information.”

Experts do not believe the newspaper will face prosecution for publishing the documents.

Cameron pledges boost to dementia care and research

David Cameron is expected to pledge to double funding for dementia research by 2015 to £66 million.

It is hoped that this funding increase will ensure that the UK will become “the world leader for dementia research and care”. With the figure of dementia sufferers set to rise to 1 million within the next decade the cost of health and social care related to the disease is already at £23 billion per year. This figure surpasses the cost of cancer, stroke and heat disease treatment. Mr. Cameron is also expected to lay out plans to ensure that the NHS can deal with the ever increasing numbers.

The Prime minister will say that current understanding and awareness of the disease is “shockingly low” and that the government must tackle in the same way that cancer was tackled in the ’70s and AIDS in the ’80s.

Mr. Cameron will call Dementia, “One of the greatest challenges of our time is what I’d call the quiet crisis, one that steals lives and tears at the hearts of families, but that relative to its impact is hardly acknowledged.

“Dementia is simply a terrible disease. And it is a scandal that we as a country haven’t kept pace with it.”

Health Secretary, Andrew Lansley has also revealed that a new screening programme will be launched in an effort to catch the disease in its early stages. GPs will offer patients routine memory tests, as well as existing tests for heart disease, stroke and diabetes.

Chief executive of the Alzheimer’s Society, Jeremy Hughes said the plans were “an unprecedented step towards making the UK a world leader in dementia”. Hughes added, “Doubling funding for research, tackling diagnosis and calling for a radical shift in the way we talk, think and act on dementia will help to transform lives.”

Kirsty Jardine, Awareness Manager for Alzheimer’s Scotland spoke to us about the implications of Cameron’s announcement in Scotland. Click below to listen to the full interview.


 

Scotland Dementia Stats

  • In Scotland around 7 thousand people are a diagnosed with dementia every year.
  • Dementia is most common in older people, but can affect people in their 40s or 50s or even younger. Approximately 2,500 people with dementia are under the age of 65.
  • Scotland’s population is aging, which will have a significant impact on the number of people with dementia.

Anger after Archbishop’s comments on gay rights

Scottish gay rights charity, Equality Network has responded to a sermon given yesterday by the Catholic Archbishop of Glasgow, Mario Conti.

In the sermon he claimed that “tolerance” is turning into “tyranny” on the subject of gay marriage, accusing the political mainstream of “marginalizing” religious opinion.

The Archbishop claimed yesterday that the proposed introduction of gay marriage in Scotland is an attempt to “redefine marriage” according to “mores of the day” and is “putting the claim of ‘equality and diversity’ on a higher level than faith and reason”.

Archbishop Conti stated that creating equality between homosexual and heterosexual marriages is “contrary to the virtue of chastity” and as going against “natural law”.

The Catholic cleric went on to claim that society will “descend further into ethical confusion and moral disintegration” if the government continues to legislate on such issues.

Tim Hopkins, Director of the Equality Network, argued that legal equality should not be denied to gay people. “Archbishop Conti says the law is there to defend the rights of citizens, but he wants to deny those rights to people because they are gay. He says the law cannot redefine people and their rights, and yet the law has done that over and over.”

Referring to previous attempts by the law to discriminate against groups in society, Tim Hopkins stated, “In the past century the legal position of women has undergone a revolution, from non-persons without a vote, to legal equality. In the past 200 years, the legal position of Catholics in this country has similarly been redefined. It’s time that legal equality extended to LGBT people too.”

The gay rights campaigning group Stonewall has also weighed in on the controversy, stating that the Archbishop’s comments were disrespectful and intolerant. In a statement issued to ENN today, Colin Macfarlane, Director of Stonewall Scotland said that Archbishop Conti’s use of terms like “ethical confusion” were “disappointing and wholly untrue” and that “the majority of Scots support the right of same sex couples to express their committed relationships through marriage. When there 1.2 billion people in the world living on less than a dollar a day, it’s a shame that the churches’ priorities are focused on preventing a few thousand people doing just that.”

These comments come after Cardinal Keith O’Brian, Scotland’s most senior Catholic wrote in The Telegraph earlier in the month comparing legalizing gay marriage to slavery.

Previously Archbishop Conti has gone on record as supporting the controversial Section 28 of the Local Government Act that banned the “promotion of homosexuality” by local authorities. He has also voiced opposition against Civil Partnerships and IVF treatment and is a member of the Catholic Bishops’ Joint Committee for Bio-Ethics.

The Equality Network is a registered charity promoting LGBT rights and has been operating in Scotland since 1997.

Hard times for housing benefit claimants

£150m will be removed every year from the Scottish economy as a result of the UK Government’s new Housing Benefit law.  More than 95,000 households in the social rented sector will be affected by the reform and this will mean an average monthly loss of up to £65 for claimant tenants.

Great concern has been raised among Scottish citizens and the Scottish Housing Minister Keith Brown expressed his discontent about this measure. Speaking ahead of a debate on the UK government’s Welfare Reform Act on 21 March 2012, Mr. Brown stated:

“It is the responsibility of the UK Government’s Department for Work and Pensions to ensure that the welfare reforms are successfully rolled out and – even though we disagree with the changes – the public sector in Scotland must work with them to ensure no one suffers undue hardship’.

He believes  changes to Housing Benefit will have a “huge impact on local communities and individuals, some of the most vulnerable ones in Scotland”. In order to tackle the impacts, the Scottish Government and COSLA have established a Housing Benefit Stakeholder Advisory Group to help those affected ones properly understand what the impact of the UK Government’s changes to housing benefit will exactly involve.

Scottish Tory Conference – Top 10 pick of the tweets

Image source: @ScotTories

@James_Reekie1 Great to see what Conservative councillors are doing in the Borders and South Ayrshire #scup12

@evagroeneveld Great to hear SAyrshire Councillor ‘embracing the green agenda’ at #scup12. Let’s now go beyond just recycling.

@holyroodkate Lamont: Conservatives want to give power to the people to run their communities #scup12

@labourpress Cameron praising Budget which gives £40,000 tax cut to millionaires by hitting pensioners http://bit.ly/GGXAgQ #scup12

@andywightman Why is #scup12 slogan “A Strong Scotland in a Strong Britain”? I thought we were part of the UK?

@tomwfreeman Chicken Run is a remake of the Great Escape. The Chickens are fleeing persecution. Did you think that one through, Dave? #scup12 #Cameron

@ToryHoose @John2Win “power should rest in the hands of the people that matter most, the people” #scup12

@scottishpol #scup12 McLetchie: the Scotland Bill does not hv to be a line in the sand. Another knock for Ruth Davidson’s position

@ericthefishking Oh come on, you took away their chairs! RT @ScotTories: A standing ovation for the PM in Troon. #scup12 http://pic.twitter.com/zmoJJ1vo

@holyroodkate Lamont: every voter should know that a vote for the SNP is a vote for independence #scup12

LINKS:

David Cameron’s speech

Carlaw to slam SNP cancer policy

Tory Health Spokesman slams SNP cancer drug policies

Demand for a cancer drugs fund: MSP Jackson Carlaw. Image: http://www.jacksoncarlawmsp.com

Conservative Health Spokesman Jackson Carlaw will today criticise the SNP for refusing to set up a cancer drugs fund, and instead prioritising free prescriptions for all.

He will use his annual speech at the Scottish Conservative Party Conference in Troon to argue that English cancer sufferers have a better chance of survival because of access to a cancer fund.

Prostate cancer sufferers in England have gained access to the new cancer drug Abiraterone through the fund. The same drug was recently refused approval by the Scottish Medicines Consortium.

“It is now clear where cancer sufferers rank on the SNP’s priority list,” Carlaw says.

Scottish Law Commission proposes online change

The bill will be discussed at the Scottish parliament Image: Mathhew Ross

The Scottish Law Commission has published a discussion document proposing changes to the law surrounding online contracts.

It suggests that laws governing signing international contracts in Scotland are lagging behind England.

According to Charles Garland, project manager at the Scottish Law Commission, businesses do not trust electronic signatures and often have to fly to Heathrow to meet in person to sign contracts.

Under new law, the protection around electronically agreeing contracts would be legally more solid, providing protection for contracts to be signed over the internet without the inconvenience of meeting in person, cutting away the red tape surrounding deals.

The bill would also propose safer contracts for individuals who do their shopping online and effectively sign contracts every time they buy something.

The Commission is looking for input and suggestions from businesses and law firms before it the bill is discussed in parliament.

Read the publication here: http://www.scotlawcom.gov.uk/law-reform-projects/contract-law-in-light-of-the-draft-common-frame-of-reference-dcf/

PM appears at Party Conference in Troon

Prime Minister David Cameron has spoken in Troon at the Conservative Party Conference where he discussed the independence referendum and Scotland’s role in the United Kingdom.

David Cameron, image from United Kingdom Home Office

During his speech this morning he has stated that First Minister Alex Salmond is “dithering” over the independence referendum. He said, “So my message to the First Minister is this: we’ve delivered on devolution, stop dithering about an independence referendum, start delivering your manifesto commitment, and fulfil the promise you gave to the Scottish people.”

Mr Cameron was keen to stress the importance of Scotland remaining part of the United Kingdom, and that it is “better off in Britain.” He also stressed that the United Kingdom is a successful union and that his government has pledged a referendum with a clear choice for Scottish voters.

The Scottish Conservatives plan to launch a new group called Friends of the Union, whose aim is to keep Scotland in the United Kingdom. The group will be open to anyone, not just party members.

The Prime Minister has also spoken about the impact of the recession, stating that “there are no shortcuts” in fixing the recession. He also said that “we are the only party that understands enterprise” and “the only ones who can fix society.”

He pledged that his party would continue to support the poorest in the country, despite changes to the welfare culture.

Listen to what David Cameron had to say here:

Council ‘underhand’ with removal of trees

 

Council contractors have cut down five trees along the Water of Leith, despite earlier promises they would be protected.

One of the trees at risk of removal along the Water of Leith
Image: Alexandra Wingate

Stop the Chop campaigners were informed of the reversal on Thursday, with three trees removed within 24 hours. The two remaining trees were cut down earlier today.

Stop the Chop’s anonymous petition organiser said that local residents had been given “no time to respond to this Council U-turn”, adding that “the Council have acted with a lack of transparency and in a cynical, underhand manner”.

The Water of Leith Flood Prevention Scheme has seen numerous trees removed along the river between Stockbridge and Warriston Crescent in recent months, prompting a petition signed by 1,159 people to save the trees on the Canonmills stretch of the river.

In December 2011, Dave Anderson, director of city development, confirmed that the five trees in question could “be saved without any negative impact on the flood works programme”.

However, this government-backed decision was overturned by Councillor Gordon Mackenzie, convenor of the council’s Transport, Infrastructure and Environment Committee, after the trees’ removal was deemed necessary to “provide a safe access for the construction team”.

All of the trees along Warriston Crescent have already been removed
Image: Alexandra Wingate

3pm Edinburgh Napier News Bulletin

For a round-up of today’s news, listen to the Edinburgh Napier News bulletin:

Binge Drinking: A Scottish Problem?

A survey out today found a third of children in Scotland are binge drinking by the age of 13.

The Scottish government believes that the link between consumption of alcohol and affordability is a major factor in aggrevating problems of alcohol abuse and aims to tackle this by introducing a minimum alcohol price to discourage binge drinking.

According to Scottish government research into differing price policy, minimum price is the most effect deterrent when it comes to discouraging drinking too much. Minimum pricing would set a floor price, below which alcohol could not be sold. This would be defined by the units of alcohol in a drink. The stronger the alcohol percentage the more expensive it will be. The purpose is to ensure that strong drink is sold at a sensible price.

There is no internationally agreed definition of binge drinking but in the UK drinking surveys normally define binge drinkers as men consuming at least eight and women at least six standard units of alcohol in a single day. This is double the maximum recommended safe limit for men and women respectively.

How much do you think is too much?

Do you find thinking about how much you are drinking in terms of units is a useful way of monitoring you’re alcohol intake? Or is binge drinking something that should be subject to individual assessment?

Please get in touch, we would love to hear your views.

SNP asks members to drive public opinion

The SNP has mobilized its members in a concerted effort to shift public opinion ahead of a vote for independence.

At the weekends party conference, Angus Robertson, Campaign chief urged supporters to “go back to your local area and make sure we are doing everything we can to be as effective as possible.” Members were encouraged to strike up conversations with anyone from “work acquaintance’s ” to “taxi drivers” and promote a proactive dialogue about independence.

This dialogue will be pursued through public debate, particularly radio phone in shows, with members asked to bombard the stations with pro independence opinion.

Social media has also been targeted, with supporters asked to persuade their friends to ‘follow’ the SNP on twitter, and ‘like’ them on Facebook.

Tibet Protest March across Edinburgh

Activists from Edinburgh joined the worldwide commemorations of the Tibetan National Uprising Day on Saturday with a march through the Scottish capital.

 This year marks the 53rd anniversary of the Tibetan Uprising in the country’s capital, Lhasa. The Uprising erupted on 10 March 1952, a decade after the Chinese invasion of the country.

One of the organisers of Saturday’s march explained their motivation was to denounce China’s violent regime, “China’s repressive policies since it occupied Tibet 60 years ago have created a crisis in Tibet, provoking an unprecedented wave of self-immolations by Tibetan monks, nuns and laypeople. So far, 21 Tibetans have set fire to themselves in eastern Tibet; eight since 6 January 2012. Marchers”.

Protesters departed from The Mound at 1.30pm and walked to the Chinese Consulate in Murrafyeld, where they left hundreds of flowers matching the colours of the Tibetan flag, alongside pictures of Tibetants who were killed or self-immolated since the Chinese occupation of the country.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Armed with placards, flags, flowers and megaphones, they peacefully marched over George IV Bridge, down Victoria Street, along Grassmarket, Lothian Road and Shandwick Place, calling for support to bring human rights back to Tibet. Some of the banners read: ‘Let Tibetan voices be heard’, ‘Tibet is Burning’ and called for freedom for Tibet.

 

Marchers also handed out leaflets holding the Chinese authorities responsible for neglecting the basic rights of the Tibetan people stating, “The Chinese authorities have engaged in wholesale abuse of human rights of native Tibetants, while embarking on a campaign to eradicate Tibetan language and culture”.

Edinburgh University Tibet society also encouraged people to gather in Bristo Square on Saturday. A spokesperson for the society expressed their support, “We need to let the world know that Scotland will always stand in Solidarity with Tibetants in Tibet and will not stop until Tibet is free”.

Cameron wants more British home-owners

David Cameron has said that he aims to help more people in the UK become home-owners.

The government has launched a scheme targeting lenders, encouraging them to offer 95 per cent deposits on new build properties.

It is hoped that the scheme will provide a financial ‘cushion’ if a property falls into negative equity.

MP’s critique Cardinal’s gay marraige slurs

The Catholic Church’s most senior figure in Britain has been accused of ‘scaremongering’ and ‘whipping up gay marriage fears’ after hitting out at the Government’s plans to legalise gay marriage.

Cardinal Keith O’Brien, the leader of the Catholic Church in Scotland, was told his comments were ‘unacceptable’ and MPs warned of him fuelling prejudice on an already sensitive subject.

Writing in the Sunday Telegraph, the cleric said that the coalitions proposals were a “grotesque subversion of a universally accepted human right” and the idea of redefining marriage, would “shame the United Kingdom in the eyes of the world”.

Tory MP Margot James, the first openly lesbian Conservative MP, condemned O’Brien’s use of ‘apocalyptic language’, while Scottish Secretary Michael Moore said the government’s consultation on gay marriage was not aimed at forcing religious groups to endorse same-sex marriages.

He told BBC One’s Andrew Marr Show: “We’re not seeking to change religious marriage and we’re not seeking to impose it on religious groups.What we are saying is that where a couple love each other and they wish to commit to each other for their life then they should be able to have a civil marriage irrespective of their sexual orientation.”

Labour deputy leader Harriet Harman, a former equalities minister, said she thought it was right to have same-sex marriages.

She added: “I don’t want anybody to feel that this is a license for whipping up prejudice. What you’re talking about is individual people and their personal relationships, their love for each other and their wanting to be in a partnership or getting married. I think we should support that.”

‘Controversial comments’

O’Brien has a reputation as a robust defender of traditionalist Christian teaching and in Sunday’s column said: “Since all the legal rights of marriage are already available to homosexual couples, it is clear that this proposal is not about rights, but rather is an attempt to redefine marriage for the whole of society at the behest of a small minority of activists.

“Same-sex marriage would eliminate entirely in law the basic idea of a mother and a father for every child. It would create a society which deliberately chooses to deprive a child of either a mother or a father.”

He added: “Imagine for a moment that the government had decided to legalise slavery but assured us that ‘no one will be forced to keep a slave’.

“Would such worthless assurances calm our fury? Would they justify dismantling a fundamental human right?”

The Cardinal has become the latest of several senior clergy to denounce what he calls the “madness” of the government’s backing for marriage to include homosexual couples.

He accused ministers of attempting to “redefine reality” and “dismantle the universally understood meaning of marriage”.

In January the Anglican Archbishop of York, John Sentamu, also insisted governments did not have the moral authority to redefine marriage.

‘Civil marriage debate’

Equalities Minister Lynne Featherstone will launch a consultation later this month on how to make civil marriage available to same-sex couples.

She has said she wants to challenge the view that the government does not have the right to change marriage traditions.

“It is the government’s fundamental job to reflect society and to shape the future, not stay silent where it has the power to act and change things for the better.”

Many church leaders believe gay marriage would represent a further significant step in marginalising traditional religious values in society.

Civil partnerships were introduced in 2004 to give same-sex couples the same legal rights as married couples, but the law does not allow such unions to be referred to as marriages. Civil partners are entitled to the same property rights, the same exemptions on inheritance tax, social security and pension benefits as married couples, but do not have the same status under English law.

Until now it has been banned for civil partnership ceremonies to include religious readings, music or symbols and forbidden for them to take place in religious venues, regardless of the views of the building’s owners. In Scotland, which has its own legislation, some church parishes offer blessing ceremonies for same-sex couples.

Tesco announces the creation of 20,000 jobs

Tesco

Tesco Metro

After recent criticism over presumed employee exploitation in Tesco, the supermarket giant published some good news, announcing plans to create 20,000 new jobs in the next 2 years.

Prime Minister David Cameron has welcomed the plan, which he hopes will provide a boost for Britain’s struggling economy. In a statement he complimented Tesco on their announcement:

“Their commitment to creating jobs and opportunities for young people at what is a difficult time for the economy is fantastic news for the UK as a whole and for those people they will help into work,” he said.

Tesco plans on using the new staff primarily in customer service, but the programme will also focus on refreshing the appearance of existing stores and opening up new ones.

Richard Brasher, Tesco’s UK CEO said: “With youth unemployment at record levels, we’re determined to target many of our new jobs at young people currently out of work – so that in this difficult jobs market those who need help the most will get it.”

Recently Right to Work activists targeted Tesco as being part of the governments work experience scheme, where people on benefits work full-time for free. This scheme was criticized for taking advantage of free labour and undermining workers rights. However Tesco put this negative press down to a misunderstanding over the technicalities of the initiative.

Putin wins presidential election

Vladimir Putin has won the Russian presidential election, reclaiming his former position after operating as Prime Minister for the last term of government.

Results indicate a landslide win with a majority of 64%, in what Putin declared was an “open and honest battle”. However opposition groups dispute the fairness of the election, claiming the contest was “clearly skewed in favour of current Prime Minister Vladimir Putin”.

In a statement Tonino Picula, the spokesman for the Organization for security and Co-operation said “The point of elections is that the outcome should be certain…This was not the case in Russia. There was no real competition and abuse of government resources ensured that the ultimate winner of the election was never in doubt.”

Putin has been at the top of Russian politics since his first term as prime minister in 2000. As a former KGB agent, he has always been criticized for his association with private business particularly the oil sector and accusations of corruption have been prevalent throughout his political career.

Following allegations of corruption in previous elections, measures were taken to improve accountability and accuracy. Camera’s were set up in polling stations to prevent vote rigging and foul play. However Putin’s opposition have already declared these measures as ineffective, amid claims of inaccuracies and the falsification of results. Alexey Navalny an anti corruption campaigner accused Putin’s part of organizing carousel voting, where bus loads of individuals toured several polling stations in order to cast multiple votes.

UK refuses to sign EU treaty

David Cameron has refused to sign a new fiscal treaty, despite the agreement of 25 of the EU’s 27 member states.

The treaty, which enforces budget discipline, aims to restore confidence in the future of the Eurozone in a bid to restore economic growth and jobs.

The prime minister said: “There were insufficient safeguards for the future working of the EU single market as well as regulations would affect the City of London.”

Herman Van Rompuy, the newly reappointed President of the European Council, said: “The targets on deficits and debts are intermediate targets, no aim in itself.” He gave special importance to the coordination between all the EU members, adding: “The treaty contains a commitment to deepen economic coordination and it provides the tools to do so.”

The UK and the Czech Republic are the only EU countries not to have signed the treaty, known as “the fiscal content”.

Czech Prime Minister Petr Necas said questions over some of the treaty’s text and uncertainty over its ratification at home had prevented him from committing to it.

Red Cross convoy arrives in Homs

The Red Cross have finally arrived in the besieged Syrian city of Homs and say they are determined to go into the Baba Amr district.

Syrian Red Cross spokesperson, Salah Dabakeh, said: “They are set to deliver supplies to Baba Amr in order to provide urgent help and make it easier the eviction of injured people”.

The Syrian government announced yesterday that they have recovered total control of the Baba Amr area, clearing the area of violent opposition groups.

Both David Cameron and Nicolas Sarkoky have condemned the Syrian government and have closed their respective embassies in Damascus.

French President takes refuge in bar

Attack: The French President is booed this morning. Video: TFI News/ YouTube

 

French President Nicolas Sarkozy has been attacked by protesters while out on the campaign trail, forcing him to hide in a bar.

Mr Sarkozy was in Bayonne in the Basque region of France, continuing his tour of the country prior to the upcoming presidential elections in April. As he walked through the city centre, a mob of protesters booed and chanted insults at him.

The protesters are believed to be Basque separatists and supporters of his socialist presidential rival Francois Hollande.

Mr Sarkozy stayed in the bar for around an hour and described the protesters as “hooligans”. Several protesters threw eggs at the bar while the president was inside and shouted, “Nicolas, get out!”

 

Riot police were deployed around the bar to hold off the protesters while the President spoke to local voters inside.

Mr Sarkozy later condemned the attacks, stating, “I am saddened to see Hollande’s Socialist militants associating with (Basque) separatists in violent protests to terrorise ordinary people who want just one thing: to meet and talk with me.”

A spokesperson from Francois Hollande’s campaign team has released a statement to say that they condemn any violence and no Socialists were involved in the incident.

The Basque region covers southwestern France and northern Spain. Terrorist group ETA has led a violent campaign for independence in the region through shootings and bombings, mostly in Spain. Its political party Batasuna has been banned in Spain, however it still operates in France and has a strong following in the region.

The attack comes after Mr Hollande had a bag of flour thrown at him during a campaign speech last month. A 45-year-old woman ran to the podium where the Socialist leader was speaking and assaulted him with the bag of flour before being restrained by bodyguards.

The most recent presidential opinion polls show Mr Sarkozy has 27% of the vote, while Mr Hollande has 28.5%.

Lockerbie Timeline

  • December 2008 – Pan Am flight 103 explodes over Lockerbie, killing 243 passengers, 16 crew and 11 on the ground
  • November 1991 – Libyan nationals Abdelbaset Al-Megrahi and al-Amin Khalifa Fhimah are accused of 270 counts of murder
  • January 2001 – After a trial at Camp Zeist, a neutral court set up in the Netherlands, Fhimah is acquitted. Al-Megrahi is found guilty and sentenced to a minimum of 27 years in a Scottish prison
  • February 2001 – Al-Megrahi launches his appeal
  • March 2002 – The appeal is thrown out
  • September 2003 – Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission (SCCRC) are charged to investigate a possible miscarriage of justice in Al-Megrahi’s conviction
  • June 2007 – SCCRC grant Al-Megrahi a second appeal after finding 6 reasons why there may have been a miscarriage of justice
  • October 2008 – Jim Swire, father of a victim of the Lockerbie bombing calls for the infirm Al-Megrahi to be released after he is diagnosed with prostate cancer
  • August 2009 – Al-Megrahi drops his second appeal
  • September 2009 – Al-Megrahi is released on compassionate grounds, doctors says he has just months to live and is flown back to Libya. Justice minister, Kenny MacAskill, faces questions over his decision
  • February 2012 – Despite doctors concerns, Al-Megrahi remains alive and maintains his innocence

 

Also see:

Claims MacAskill urged Lockerbie bomber to drop appeal

Podcast: new book sheds light on Lockerbie bombing

Podcast: new book sheds light on Lockerbie bombing

A new book, written by a member of Al Megrahi’s Defence team calls into question several key details of the Lockerbie Bombing case. Pete Swift explains the repercussion of the latest revelation.

Also see:

Claims MacAskill urged Lockerbie bomber to drop appeal

Lockerbie Timeline

Listen Here:

 

Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 371 other followers

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 371 other followers