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 scraps environmental privatisation plans

The council has scrapped plans to outsource its environmental services to private firm Enterprise.

The move means that services such as bin collection, recycling and responsibility for public spaces including parks will remain with the council.

The decision came this afternoon after SNP councillors won a majority vote against their Liberal Democrat coalition partners who were in favour of privatisation. The SNPs were backed by both Labour and the Green Party, while the Conservatives supported the Liberal Democrats.

However, not all Liberal Democrat councillors were in favour of outsourcing. Councillor Gary Peacock was applauded by the public gallery for voting against privatisation, saying: “I believe that waste and parks should remain in the public sector”, but added that it wasn’t a decision he took lightly.

Today’s vote is seen as significant in keeping other council services out of the public sector.

During today’s debate, Councillor Burgess of the Green Party said: “The Liberal Democrat motion, if approved, would see a large proportion of council services handed over to the private sector.”

The privatisation plans alone have cost the council £3.6million over the last two years, but the council’s director of Services for Communities, Mark Turley – who last year was paid £120,513 – said that a positive vote could have saved the city £27 million at a time that serious cuts are having to be made.

Councillor Mowat of the Conservatives warned councillors before the vote: “If you vote against Enterprise, you can go and justify it to the people who lose their jobs next year.”

There are now unconfirmed reports that the vote may lead to a collapse in the Lib Dem/SNP coalition.

More background on today’s decision is available here.

Baroness hails Scottish identity

by Katy Docherty

Muslims have adopted a kilts and turbans attitude

Baroness Warsi has credited the strong Scottish national identity for avoiding the pitfalls of fascism and religious extremism.

The Scottish culture is welcoming to others

On a recent visit to Glasgow, the Conservative party co-chairperson hailed Scots for having a strong culture and heritage which everybody could “buy into” regardless of race or religion: “There is some very distinctive Scottish culture, so you find regularly Sikhs turning up in kilts for their wedding, with the turban on as well.”

The Baroness added that England could learn from the Scottish example by building a stronger sense of culture. The lack of identity in England has led to young men being easily swayed towards islamic extremism or far-right groups like the English Defence League, she argues.

“It’s about the strength of the culture that you arrive into. And I think the strength of the culture in England, over the last 15 to 20 years, has been downgraded in a way that hasn’t happened in Scotland.”

Her comments come a month after David Cameron announced that state multiculturalism had failed, an assertion which Baroness Warsi has been vocal in her support for.

In January Baroness Warsi said that Islamophobia was “rife” in the UK and had become commonplace at dinner parties.

NHS workers fear budget cuts

NHS employees in Lanarkshire and Lothian are voicing concern over the limited budget put in place, influenced by the government’s words on the burden of the public sector.  Ahead of the Conservative conference this week, workers are waiting with baited breath as senior Tory figures are outlining significant changes to the NHS in England as well as radical welfare reform.

Despite the government promising to protect the NHS from severe public spending cuts, concerns have been raised to Edinburgh Napier News over strict budgets that have been put in place to encourage savings.  As a result of this, people who leave the workforce are not being replaced, forcing their colleagues to pick up the work without extra pay.  With a public spending freeze coming into place next year, NHS employees will not be entitled to any cost of living pay rise, meaning that they will be working more, but will be receiving less.

One 42 year old who has worked in administration for ten years spoke of the stress the squeeze has caused in work but also at home; ‘It’s never been this bad’, this sentiment seems to echo amongst her colleagues.  ‘Why should we have to pay for the banker’s mistakes’ says another.

The head of communications in NHS Lothian and Lanarkshire were unable to comment. The dispute remains unsettled.

SNP accused of ‘hijacking saltire’

Foulkes

Image from thesun.co.uk

Scottish Labour has accused the Scottish government of “hijacking the saltire for political gain” after releasing plans for the biggest St Andrews ‘do’ ever.

The proposed party, as part of the Homecoming Scotland Finale Celebrations, has caused opposition parties to criticise the “nationalism” of the events.

There are also concerns with the cost of the festivities at £434,000, – which will include ‘an assortment of free family-friendly activities’ – particularly during a recession.

Lord George Foulkes, MSP, said: “It’s as if these parties and celebrations are for their [SNP] membership. They have poached what it means to be Scottish and politicised the saltire.

“This is another example of the hijacking what it means to be Scottish. We have seen this all before from the SNP administration.”

Lord Foulkes claimed that other parties “have lost the right to carry the saltire”.

His remarks come after he described the celebrations marking the 700th anniversary of Bannockburn as “Nationalist brainwashing” and a means of the attracting party support.

The event will be centred on St Andrew Square Gardens, with various other venues across the city participating.

Culture Minister Michael Russell said: “St Andrew’s Day is a day to celebrate all that is great about Scotland – our culture, our heritage, our innovations and our people.

“This year’s celebrations will be the biggest and best yet, filled with more activity in Edinburgh than ever before and over 40 exciting enhanced and new events across the country.”

He dismissed suggestions that the event would be used as a propaganda exercise for the referendum white paper it launches on the same day.

Mr Russell added: “Like most countries, this would be a natural time to reflect upon who we are and where we are going.”

A spokesman for the party described Lord Foulkes’ comments as “petty”.

By Suhayl Afzal

Students in England facing 100% increase in tuition fees

Students protest against an increase in tuition fees (courtesy of nus.org.uk)

Students protest against an increase in tuition fees (courtesy of nus.org.uk)

by Anna Fenton

The Conservatives have said they will increase tuition fees to £7,000 if they take power at the next general election, which has to be held by next June. That will see tuition fees for undergraduates studying in England and Wales more than double. The fees are currently capped at £3,300 in England and Wales, with no tuition fees for Scottish students in Scotland.

Peter Mandelson has already suggested that Labour will allow universities to charge more than  if re-elected. Nigel Griffiths, Edinburgh South MP indicated that there has been pressure from some universities to raise fees. He said: “Raising fees will pay for more lecturers and decrease tutorial size”. He indicated that the Conservatives’ figure of £7,000 might be acceptable. Only the Liberal Democrats will scrap those tuition fees that remain in the UK.

Fred Mackintosh, Liberal Democrat challenger for Edinburgh South said: “I look around Edinburgh South and I see people return from university with no job and a bank balance tens of thousands of pounds in the red. What sort of message is that?”

“Labour and now the Tories are showing their true colours.  They just want to saddle young people with staggering amounts of debt on graduation…The people of Edinburgh South can vote for party which will condemn a generation of youngsters to greater indebtedness or for the Liberal Democrats who will make education free again, giving young people the best possible start in life.”

The National Union of Students has estimated that the average cost of attending university now stands at more that £42,000. The average student will have accumulated more that £20,000 of debt by the end of their university career.

Anti-fascist campaigners hit out against David Cameron

David Cameron’s controversial alliance in the European Parliament has been hit with new criticism today by an anti-fascist group.

The Conservatives switched allegiance from centre-right group the European People’s Party to the newly formed European Conservatives and Reformists in June this year.

The move caused controversy after some of its members were accused of holding extreme right-wing views.

Foreign Secretary David Milliband accused the leader of the group, Michal Kaminski, of having an anti-semetic past and the Polish MEP has been caught on film making homophobic comments.

Margaret Woods, Scottish spokesperson for Unite Against Fascism (UAF), said today: “It is utterly deplorable that someone who might be Prime Minister is consorting with these people.”

“He’s done it to appease the euro-sceptics. It hasn’t bothered his conscience too much.”

The spokesperson also highlighted Mr Cameron’s role as Head of Policy Coordination during the Conservative’s election campaign in 2005.

She pointed to the immigration polices and restrictions on traveller settlements promoted by the Tories at the time as evidence that the party’s leader was more right-wing than he appears.

“He’s not the huggable, smiley, nice person he’s pretending to be,” she said.

The Scottish Conservatives could not be reached for comment.

At what cost for a free Scotland?

Robert BurnsFareweel to a’ our Scottish fame,
Fareweel our ancient glory!
Fareweel ev’n to the Scottish name.
Sae famed in martial story!

Robert Burns was rightly worried when he wrote ‘such a parcel of rogues in a nation’ in 1791. The poem was about the act of union in 1707, but even at the time of writing Scotland was going through an identity crisis, having only preserved the Kirk and law in terms of administrative identity, Scotland lacked any kind of national substance and Burns was well aware of this.

 217 years later Scotland finds itself pressed with similar questions of identity and history. Alex Salmond’s relentless pursuit of independence, many believe, could be the last chance for a generation to secure self rule and truly pursue a completely independent Scottish identity.

 My view of the SNP before 2007 was that they were a party thinly veiled in fake ambition and misplaced patriotism, lead by a man who, ironically, confirmed our title as “The sick man of Europe”. They lacked backbone when it came to making political decisions and setting political agendas, but if being Scottish has taught me anything it has got to be our incredible will to succeed and survive, unless of course we’re talking football.

Sweeping changes by the SNP to Education, Health and Tax have left people understandingly happy and shown that they do have political clout even amongst the big hitting Labour and Conservative parties who rule from Westminster. However, as we mount ambitious attempts to break away from the UK are we leaving much of our Scottish history, Culture and identity in the past?

In Victorian and Edwardian Scotland, public culture was an object for struggle, often class struggle, in which much of our hard working image was created. We were world famous for ship building, being exceptionally hard working labourers and keeping the wallets shut. We were proud of our clan heritage, military past and distinct dress sense. These stereotypes have evolved over the years, the ship yards have decreased considerably, new business sectors have been created in the central belt, our farms are becoming redundant, credit cards and loans are available from every bank, we are now an integrated society with typically Asian or European names and only where the kilt on special occasions. So, despite claiming back much of our own political identity from Westminster we have seen the traditional Scottish identity all but disappear in favour of importing the common western culture.

The Scottish National Party isn’t to blame for this creeping western imperialism, but they can do something about it.

We need only look at the sharp decrease in Gaelic speakers between the 1991 and 2001 Censuses as an indicator to sneaking cultural suicide. According to a Holyrood report from the 2001 Census the Gaelic language should be completely extinct by 2050. The example set by the Irish and Welsh, who have re-introduced their national language back into primary schools, High Schools, the workplace and even in the streets is exemplary. The Maori population in New Zealand made such an impact with the rejuvenation of their language that most white people speak the basics and all public service writing is bi-lingual. As a figurehead of identity and culture, language could go a long way to realising Alex Salmond’s dream of independence or could we really be saying goodbye to the Scottish name?


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