Gordon Brown: Scotland should not be given fully devolved tax powers

Gordon Brown today suggested that corporation tax should remain to be set at Westminster and for Scotland to raise 40% of its income as part of his calls for greater devolution of power.

National Insurance would also be best decided at Westminster said Brown, who recommended that only limited powers of taxation be passed on to Holyrood in the event of a No vote.

His proposals have been fiercely criticized by deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, who has questioned why the former Prime Minister failed to implement any of these proposals during the his ten year tenure in Westminster.

Brown was speaking in Glasgow today ahead of a tour of Scotland to advocate the union, and suggested six constitutional changes to devolve power, including the permanent status of Scottish parliament as part of the United Kingdom.

His idea to “make for a better relationship between Scotland and the United Kingdom to turn what I could call a centralized system of power to one where there is power sharing” will not appease the nationalists, however, with his plans falling well short of full powers of taxation and welfare.

Instead, he put forward plans for the Scottish parliament to have the power to vary income tax by 15p in the pound as opposed to the current level of 10p set to come into force. The first 5p in the pound of income tax would remain set within the corridors of Westminster, however, with Scotland responsible for raising 40% of its future budget.

“There should be scope for devolved taxation to raise something like 40 per cent of the Scottish Parliament’s expenditure. As we note above, the tax freedom available to the Scottish Parliament is presently very limited – only 12 per cent of its spending – and under the Scotland Act 2012 that figure will rise to around one-third.

“To raise the money that is equivalent to the cost of non-covenanted services – about 40 per cent of its budget – the best way forward is to widen the Scottish Parliament’s power to vary the income tax, which is currently 10 pence, to 15 pence.”

Devolved powers to Scotland would involve pooled resources to strengthen areas of the Scottish economy, including health and education, where Scotland is already in charge of spending:

“Within the social union of the United Kingdom, not only should UK taxes provide directly for redistributive welfare benefits such as the old-age pension, but we should also pool and share sufficient resources across the UK to ensure that the devolved administrations and the UK government can provide, on a common basis, for the key services of the UK welfare state – the right to free health care, and the universal right to education.”

“Whether you are Scots, Welsh, English or Northern Irish you have the right to a pension when elderly, help when unemployed, sick or disabled, universal free health care and basic education.”

Deputy first minister Nicola Sturgeon was quick to attack Brown’s proposals, questioning the authenticity of his desire for devolution, given his inaction during his time as Prime Minister:

“[Gordon Brown] was prime minister for a number of years, he was in government for more than 10 years, and didn’t deliver the powers that he is now saying he thinks Scotland needs. That underlines the point that the only way that we can secure new powers, and the new powers that Scotland needs to meet the challenges we face, is to vote Yes in referendum and support independence.”

SNP’s media spin doctor Kevin Pringle was equally dismissive of Brown’s speech:

Brown’s speech today comes as one part of a wider, concerted cross-party effort from Westminster to put on a united front about devolving powers in the event of a No vote come September.

However, with the parties unable to agree on just what powers, and to what extent, they are willing to devolve to the Scottish parliament, voters are being left with yet more uncertainty as to what the future would hold for a Scotland that rejected independence.

Better Together spokesperson Ross MacRae on cross-party devolution front:


Just this month Scottish Labour announced grandiose plans to back the devolution of key welfare and tax powers to Holyrood in an effort to give undecided Scottish voters more confidence in a No vote.
Despite its unified façade, however, there are deep fault lines within the party regarding the issue, with senior sources admitting that the party are split about the fully devolved powers of income tax.

Any less than full devolution of income tax, as recommended by the party’s Devolution Commission, would be pounced upon by the SNP as a U-turn in Labour policy indicating a lack of commitment to achieving devolved powers.

The Scottish government have previously stated that any measures of devolution that fall short of full powers on taxation and welfare would represent a failure to the people of Scotland in the event of a No vote, and would see a perpetuation of the social inequality handed to Scotland as a result of governments they never voted for.

Eddie Nisbet

Twitter: @eddienisbet

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.”

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”.

U.K News in Brief

Downing Street Soothes Recession Fears
Downing Street has insisted that the U.K economy is “slowly healing” despite ongoing speculation that the country has entered an unprecedented triple-dip recession. Thursday will see the publication of the latest growth figures for the first part of the year. If GDP contracts Britain would officially have entered another recession.

Poll Shows Immigration Concerns Unfounded
A survey has shown that the number of Romanian and Bulgarian immigrants planning on moving to the U.K is lower than expected. Work restrictions for the two countries are expiring later this year, sparking fears that there would be an influx of immigrants seeking work. However the poll suggests that most wouldn’t re-locate without a job offer.

Suarez Faces Ban Over Bite
Liverpool footballer Luis Suarez has been fined by his club after biting Chelsea’s Branislav Ivanovic during yesterday’s match between the clubs. The FA are set to review footage of the incident before deciding whether to impose a retrospective ban. Suarez stayed on the field before scoring a late equalizing goal in the game, which finished 2-2.

Cameron Defensive Over Nurse Plans
Plans to reform training for student nurses have been defended by Prime Minister David Cameron. The proposals have been blasted by the Royal College of Nurses, which also expressed concern over staffing levels. Cameron has said that the NHS should focus on the “level of care” provided.

Google Hits Back at Tax Critics
Google have defended their tax record in the U.K, after facing damning criticism last year over allegedly avoiding corporation tax. Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt claimed that the internet giant, which has only paid £6m in corporation tax, was responsible for “billions of pounds of start-ups” in Britain.

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.”

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.

Joachim Gauck taking office as new German president

Photo credit: Reuters

Joachim Gauck has taken up the official functions as the new German President and taken over the official residence Schloss Bellevue. With 991 out of 1228 (approx 108 abstentions) votes the top candidate was confirmed in the first run and will be sworn-in on Friday.

Gauck, a former GDR civil-rights activist, was the federal commissioner for the Stasi archives from 1990 to 2000, during which he was critised for retaining former Stasi employees.

He will take over the position from Christian Wulff, who was forced to step down following a financial scandal involving private banking transactions.  The expectations for him as the eleventh president are high and it is hoped he will  repair some of the damage caused by Wulff’s financial affair. In his first speech following the vote yesterday, Gauck promised to advocate freedom and responsibility.

For a  biography of Joachim Gauck click here.

Timeline: Joachim Gauck’s life and career

  • 1940 Joachim Gauck is born to a captain of the merchant navy and a office clerk on the 24th of January.
  • 1951 Gauck’s father is taken in and sentenced to two times 25 years of heavy labour for supposed anti-soviet agitation and spying. The family does not know about the trial or the deportation.
  • 1953 Gauck and his family are informed that the father has been sent to a labour camp in Siberia.
  • 1955 Konrad Adenauer achieves the release of about 10 000 prisoners of war, among them Gauck’s father. As a result of these experiences, Gauck and his sibblings are brought up with a strong rejection of any type of forced government.
  • 1959 – 1965 Gauck studies theology in Rostock. He gave up his original dream to study journalism due to the situation in the GDR.
  • 1959 Gauck marries his school friend Gerhild Radtke with whom he has four children.
  • 1965 – 1982 Pastor in different religious communities.
  • 1982 – 1990 Leader of the church convention work.
  • 1988 / 1989 Participation in the public and church-initiated protest movement in Mecklenburg. Work as a civil-rights activist.
  • 1990 Election into the Volkskammer.
  • 1991 Seperation from Gerhild Radtke.
  • 1990- 2000 Federal Commissioner for the Stasi archives. The administrative office is unofficially called Gauck-Behoerde as a result of his leadership.
  • 2000 Relationship with the journalist Daniela Schadt.
  • 2001 Host of the ‘Joachim Gauck’ show on the German public TV channel ARD.
  • 2001 – 2004 German representative honorary member of the administration of the European Monitoring Centre on Racism and Xenophobia organisation.
  • 2003 – 2012 Leader of the organisation ‘Gegen Vergessen – Fuer Demokratie’ (translated ‘Against forgetting – for democracy’).
  • 2010 First nomiation for president.
  • 2012 Election for president on the 18th of March, exactly 22 years after the first time G

Salmond “scared of separation”

Iain Gray used today’s First Minister’s Questions to corner Alex Salmond over his refusal to name a date for Scotland’s referendum on independence, accusing the First Minister of being “scared of separation”.

In typical First Ministers’ Questions style, Mr Salmond responded in kind by accusing the Labour leader of being “frightened of the concept of independence.”

The Labour leader urged Mr Salmond to “steady the ship and decide a date for the referendum,” after a week of bickering between Holyrood and Westminster, which saw Finance Secretary John Swinney accuse the UK Government of “becoming ever more hysterical” over the issue of independence.

The First Minister confirmed that the referendum would take place in the second half of the SNP’s current term in parliament, as set out during the party’s election campaign earlier this year, but refused to confirm a specific date.

Mr Gray said: “The longer this goes on, the more it looks as if Alex Salmond is trying to rig the referendum to get the results he wants.

“He always puts party before principal and isn’t that why he can’t name a date?”

Mr Salmond responded by saying: “Some people in the Labour party actually recognise that they lost the election and have to accept the mandate of the Scottish people.”

He added: “Westminster should keep out of the referendum and not meddle.

“It would be insulting and contemptuous for the Scottish people for Westminster to get involved.”

The First Minister went on to say that a number of opinion polls are showing increasing and substantial support for an independent Scotland. He reminded the main chamber that the SNP were re-elected with “a massive majority” six months ago on the basis of their promise to hold a referendum.

He went on to express concerns that the UK Treasury was not keeping the Scottish Government properly informed about the impact the euro will have on the Scottish economy. The Chancellor, George Osborne, is yet to respond to John Swinney’s request that economy-boosting measures are included in the Treasury’s autumn statement, including an increase in capital spending.

The week so far in Scottish politics

Holyrood Parliament. Image: Pete Swift

Squabbles over independence, a fight against sectarianism and donations from lottery winners:
this is the week so far in Scottish politics.

Listen here:


Check back this afternoon for a run down of the first minister’s questions.

2.30 Bulletin

Headlines:

Susannah prepares to read the news

 

Listen to today’s 2.30 bulletin to hear about the latest in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict resolution, funeral marches in Syria and how to have a dinner with the lights off.

Listen Here:


12.30 Bulletin

by Catherine Mumford, Susannah Radford, Fearghus Roulston, Orla Nr Sheaghdha

Newsreader Cath reads the latest bulletin

Headlines:

Listen to today’s 12.30 bulletin to join in the debate as questions are asked about aid to Burma. The latest news about the war plane strikes on Ajdabiya from British troops.

Also, find out what charity has been helping with the census.

Listen Here:


Budget could be Cowen’s last action

By Ryan C. Gavan and Edoardo Zandona

Brian Cowan

Tough times for Taoiseach Brian Cowen (Image:Telegraph)

The Irish austerity budget is likely to be Brian Cowen’s last action as Taoiseach , as he is set to call an election early in the New Year.

The budget was set to be announced on December 7th but after mounting political pressure, an announcement will be made this afternoon. The aim will be to set out the plans to reduce the country’s deficit to 3% of GDP by 2014.

This will lead to welfare cuts and tax rises of up to 50%  for low paid workers. The minimum wage is set to be cut by 13% and middle class families will lose tax credits.

The IMF and the EU  have sanctioned an extensive bailout package of  €90Bn to the Irish govenment.

The Irish government states, “providing assistance to Ireland is warranted to safeguard financial stability in the EU and Euro area.” 

Initially, they did not wish to accept the bailout package, feeling confident the problems could be resolved without a handout.  After extensive meetings with EU finance ministers it was accepted on Sunday evening.

In a reversal, Cowen rejected calls from junior coalition partners the Greens to hold a snap election.

After discussions with his own parliamentary party last night, Cowen stated he will, ” seek the dissolution of Dail Eireann and enable the people to determine the responsibilities of government in the challenging period ahead.”

 He has denied accusations that he is  “hanging on” to power.

This could be welcomed by Sinn Feinn, who called for a vote of no confidence in the  Taoiseach yesterday. The party has seen increased support in recent times, prompting Gerry Adams to say that he will stand in  Louth for election to the Dail.

It has been recently reported that Ireland’s international credit rating has been dropped by Standard and Poor’s from AA- to A. This could have a great impact on the overall economy due to Ireland being highly dependent on oversees investment. The view that they may have difficulty repaying loans could increase interest rates and cause further problems.

Ireland’s debt crisis is the result of the property market crash, starting in 2008. After the huge economic boom, house prices have fallen by up to 60% and the banks have held bad assets ever since.  

Aiding to matters is the part-nationalisation of many of the country’s banks, turning into state-held debt.

Irish Finance Minister Brian Lenihan stated “an increase in corporation tax will not be a condition of the bailout.”

Ireland has the lowest level of corporation tax in the Eurozone at 12.5% which has come under scrutiny by other EU member states, such as Germany and France.

Alcohol Bill fails to raise spirits

By Euan Black

Edinburgh’s local business owners and residents gave the Scottish Government’s Alcohol Bill a lukewarm reception today.

The bill will outlaw volume discounting – offers such as two crates of beer for £14 – and make a ‘Challenge 25′ ID policy compulsory, and has paved the way for a possible Social Responsibility Fee which will make on and off licenses pay a sum towards policing and health costs relating to alcohol abuse.

However, the SNP’s key policy of minimum pricing of alcohol was rejected by the majority of MSPs, with the votes going 76 to 49.

David Simpson, 32, assistant manager of the Golden Rule pub near Fountainpark, was unhappy with the majority of the measures introduced by the bill, especially the Social Responsibility Fee. He said: “The point of a license is that you are licensed to sell alcohol responsibly, so having a license should imply that you are socially responsible, so I think this fee is pretty pointless.

“I think it will be harder for independent pubs, whose margins are being squeezed more and more. The massive chains like Wetherspoons will be able to absorb these costs. Inevitably, in independents prices will have to go up yet again to absorb the costs of a fee. Unfortunately, and I hope it doesn’t happen, more pubs may close and more people may lose their jobs.”

Mr Simpson supported the minimum pricing of alcohol to 45p a unit, believing that was the only policy that would have tackled Scotland’s perceived alcohol problem.

He said: “Minimum pricing is the only thing that would have helped. It wouldn’t affect the price of a pint, or of a nice £15 bottle of wine that I sometimes want to enjoy. What it would change is the price of stuff like cheap cider.

“I was in the local shop the other day and I saw someone buy four and a half litres of cider for £3. That proves to me that minimum pricing is socially responsible, and that the rest of these measures are just penalising the on-trade.”

Shoppers’ views at Edinburgh off-licenses were mixed. Michael Webber, a 24 year-old Edinburgh student, said he was “all in favour of a Challenge 25 ID scheme”. He added: “If people are offended by being asked for ID, who cares?”

Gail Stevens, 45, a part-time receptionist, agreed with Mr Simpson on minimum pricing. She said: “Minimum pricing should have been voted through – there is a problem with drink in Scotland.”

Callum Black, 20, a bar worker in St Andrews, also took issue with the Social Responisibility Fee. He said: “The fee is a big problem. How will they decide how much to charge? Smaller pubs struggle as it is.”

Another blow for M.E. sufferers

By Dionne Paton

Monica Sleeping

Photograph by Ina Lazerev.

Myalgic Encephalomyelitus, (M.E.) has been in the headlines recently regarding the announcement to prevent people with the illness donating blood,  prompted by the possibility of a link between a retrovirus and M.E. Also known as Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS) it is an illness which causes severe symptoms in the sufferer.

Symptoms can be complex and hard to diagnose. There are often a mix of symptoms and one sufferer may not experience the same symptoms as another. Symptoms include: persistent and overwhelming fatigue, pain in joints and limbs, sleeping difficulties, problems with thought and difficulty concentrating, heightened sensitivity to outside factors and upset to the digestive and nervous systems. There is no cure and currently research is ongoing. Last year, the Medical Research Council spent £109,000 researching the illness.

This debilitating disease is a difficult syndrome to live with and affects the sufferer’s daily life. Earl Howe, the Parliamentary Under Secretary of State of the Department of Health said of the blood donation ban:

“This decision was prompted by a recent independent risk assessment of a possible link between a murine retrovirus and CFS/ ME. Although the risk assessment was found no evidence of a link or a risk to transfusion recipients, the UK blood services recognised that practice for CFS/ ME should be brought in line with other conditions where individuals are permanently excluded from blood donation to protect their own health.”

Although this would indicate that M.E. is an illness which is easily definable as seriously debilitating due to the effect it can have on concentration and judgement and its obvious physical restrictions to the sufferer, it is not as clear-cut as that. Often professional opinion does not regard it as a disability. Tony Britton has said of the Syndrome:

“Despite being recognised by the UK Department of Health as a neurological disease and categorised as such by the World Health Organization since 1968, sufferers from this chronic, distressing disease have been labelled variously as work shy, attention-seeking and suffering psychosocial behavioural problems by some members of the medical profession, who would prefer it to be in the mental health category. To the press, it is still ‘yuppie flu’.”

This diminished view of the seriousness of the illness has a damaging effect on M.E. sufferers. In the issuing of Taxi cards, a scheme run by Edinburgh council where people suffering from a disability can claim to help with costs for travel by taking off a few pounds from the total cost of traveling by taxi. As people with M.E. have a disability they are entitled to claim. The application for a Taxi card from the council must be accompanied by a supporting letter from your G.P. and it is on their support you can claim.

One Edinburgh CFS sufferer has had her G.P. take away her supporting letter when trying to renew her Taxi card. This has been revoked as the treatment she was receiving no longer included physiotherapy. However, removal of a treatment does not mean the disability is gone. On describing what the Taxi card means to her in her daily life, she said:

“It’s like a lifeline. Without it, I am restricted on where I can go. It’s another financial penalty and if I was able to get a bus somewhere, I may begin to feel really unwell and not manage to get back home.”

It is unfair that the decision alone rests with one G.P. when medical opinion in terms of seriousness can be varied. Currently a supporting letter from a G.P. should only include that a person does have a disability or not and that should be enough for the council. When asked to make a response, the Edinburgh Council stated that sufferers “must be able to prove they are eligible for this benefit.”

It is difficult for the sufferer and the sufferer should be supported through this disability, and recognised as truly ill. The debate on the definition of whether it is truly a disease remains unfathomable until further research is provided.

Short-list revealed for Scottish Politician of the Year Awards

The nominations for the Scottish Politician of the Year Awards have been declared.  The awards, introduced in 1999,  are for politicians from all walks of life – from local authorities to Westminster.

The annual awards are based on nine categories including the Politician of the Year, Public Campaign of the Year and Lifetime Achievement Award.

The winners will be announced at the Prestonfield House Hotel on November the 18th.  The awards aim to encourage political performance and bring together key individuals in business and politics in Scotland. The nominees and winners are chosen by a panel of judges in what has been described, by key sponsors The Herald, as heated debates.

Running for Politician of the Year  are Health Secretary and Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, Labour leader Iain Gray, Liberal Democrat leader Tavish Scott and convener of Holyrood’s Public Audit Committee Hugh Henry.  Henry is the first back bencher at the Scottish Parliament to be nominated for the top award.  His work attracted attention in 2010 through the Audit Committees scrutiny of senior Civil Servants and First Minister Alex Salmond’s controversial handling of the Homecoming event, the Gathering.  Hugh Henry  told Edinburgh Napier News:

“I’m surprised but honoured to have been nominated.  I hope that this will reflect the good work done by many backbenchers over many years in the parliament”

The most popular award is the Public Campaign or Campaigner of the Year.  This year’s award nominees include  Tina McGeever, who’s late husband Michael  Gray was denied drugs to combat cancer, and she has tried to stop the post-code lottery on new medicines in Scotland.  The second campaign nominee is stalking victim Ann Moulds who has campaigned successfully to make such behaviour a crime.  Finally Kelly McGee who has worked hard on mandatory sentences for knife crime after her brother Paul, a Scots Guard, was stabbed and killed outside the family home in Lochwinnoch.

One award has remained a secret and that is Lifetime Achievement.  According to  The Herald, two excellent candidates have been nominated but judges had difficulty coming to an agreement.

The Awards have had their share of bad behaviour.  In 2004 Lord  Watson of Invergowrie set fire to curtains at the Prestonfield Hotel, and in 2007 Matthew Marr, chief press aide to then Labour leader Wendy Alexander, became abusive to guests and the staff.  Both men resigned from political life.

Winning, however, does not necessarily lead to success.  In last years awards Steven Purcell won Councillor of the Year but stepped down from Glasgow City council in March this year due to  a drugs scandal.

Last year’s Politician of the Year was won by John Swinney MSP, pictured, but the  Finance Secretary could  be excused for having other things on this mind with the pending budget speech  to Holyrood on November the 17th.

The world in brief

By Rachelle Webdill

The MOD says the Royal Navy website has been taken offline after being ‘compromised’ by a hacker.

Ed Miliband has become a dad for the second time.

A public enquiry has got under way to investigate hundreds of patients who have allegedly died unnecessarily due to poor standards of care.

Parents of a nurse who was stabbed to death by her ex boyfriend want the judge who allowed him out on bail to be investigated.

The new Chief of Defence, Sir David Richards, says British troops must not cut and run from Afghanistan.

The two political parties backed by Burma’s military regime look likely to triumph in the countries election.

More than a 180 organisations from 42 countries are appealing to world leader to impose a tax on banks.

David Cameron will today fly to China at the head of the largest UK Government buisness delegation to ever visit the far Eastern country. He described the visit as, ‘a vitally important trade mission for the British economy’. But he also faces the awkward challenge of voicing concerns about China’s human rights record.

One of the 33 miners who was trapped underground for 69 days in Chile has completed the New York marathon.

Foreign Office Minister assures viewers armed services “won’t wear onions”

By Ryan C. Gavan
Jeremy Browne MP

Jeremy Browne made the comment on the TV programme Question Time

Foreign Office Minister Jeremy Browne told the Question Time audience in London this week  “soldiers won’t be required to speak French or wear onions round their necks or stripy t-shirts or ride bicycles” during the debate on the new joint France-UK military agreement.

He was questioned by an audience member of whether anything “will be British anymore.” Then was branded a “racist” by a heckler.

Browne will not comment on the issue, only directing questions to the Foreign Office.
A  spokesperson said “Mr. Browne was speaking during a wider and lively discussion” continuing “his comments should be seen in this context”. Following, he was just “allying concerns” and was “not meaning to cause offence.”

The French Embassy has “no comment” on the matter, despite the stereotypical descriptions.

Lise Morel,  who teaches French in the UK, was “gobsmacked” by the “clichés of the French”. She believes that it is “extremely offensive in that context in particular.”

“I am surprised such a public person would have the gall of actually saying that publically” Morel says. It is causing her to start “reconsidering getting her British nationality if members of the Government can speak about the French this way”.

Mathieu Cagna, also a French national, said it was “not bad”, putting it down to the British humour.

Dr. Lynn Bennie, a senior lecturer in Politics at the University of Aberdeen thinks “it is inappropriate language if anything else” continuing, “when politicians make these kinds of statements it does not do their reputations any good.”

This is an embarrassment to the Government is stressing the strong relationship with France at the moment. Prime Minister David Cameron was seen shaking hands with Nicolas Sarkozy over the deal. Nick Clegg the Deputy Prime Minister was seen speaking French at the talks.

The “Declaration on Defence Security Cooperation”, as it is known, is proposing shared military capabilities in an effort for both countries to save money. It will call for the sharing of aircraft carriers and British troops under French command.  There will also be a sharing of nuclear test facilities.

Both countries are under increasing pressure to find savings and this is one solution. It is being hailed as a “new chapter” in defence. It is a controversial partnership due to the past disagreements over conflicts as recent as the war in Iraq.

Browne followed with a comment “not to believe everything you read in the papers.”

Scottish Parliament launches competition for future journos

by Junio Valerio Songa

The Chamber of the Scottish Parliament

 

Any aspiring journalist who would be interested in work experience at the Scottish Parliament can apply for a competition launched by Holyrood in collaboration with the Fife Free Press newspaper.

The week long placement will be accessible to Scottish final year and postgraduate journalism students, who will work alongside accomplished journalists in the Parliament’s Media Tower, filing copies on parliamentary business and covering the week’s hot topics.

Candidates can access the competition, which started the 28th of October, by submitting a 500 words essay on the topic “what do you see as the main achievements of the Scottish parliament to date?” The essays will be judged by a panel which includes Allan Crow, Editor at Fife Free Press, Katrine Bussey, Political Editor of the Scottish Press Association; Raymond Buchanan, BBC Reporter; and Annette McCann, Head of Media Affairs at The Scottish Parliament.

Presiding Officer Alex Ferguson MSP said about the competition:

“The Scottish Parliament is delighted to be launching this student placement competition for up and coming journalists. We are at the hub of political news in Scotland, therefore I can think of no better place for a student to learn their trade.”

All entries will have to be submitted to Media Relations Office, Q3.03, Scottish Parliament, Edinburgh EH99 1SP, the deadline for the admission is 3rd of December 2010.

Former SSP member denies “scripting” Sheridan confession

By Katy Docherty 

Tommy Sheridan and wife Gail are being tried for perjury. Source: The Guardian

Tommy Sheridan has accused former Scottish Socialist Party (SSP) member Alan McCombes of scripting tapes in which ex-SSP leader confesses to visiting sex clubs.

McCombes denied accusations that he collaborated with Sheridan’s best man George McNeilage to create the damaging video.

McCombes denied these claims: “That is just nonsense. Neither did I hire Rory Bremner to do an impersonation, Tommy.” [Read more...]

Education Minister Promises No Tuition Fees in Scotland

By Ryan C. Gavan

Tuition fees are ruled out but a graduate tax might be implemented

Mike Russell, the Cabinet Secretary for Education in Scotland, has promised not to introduce tuition fees north of the border.

This comes after the recent Browne Review into higher education funding in England and Wales.  This is rasing concerns about the future of University funding in Scotland. In a statement about the subject, Russel said ” one measure has been ruled out, tuition fees.”

There is much worry that spending cuts could lead to changes in University funding in Scotland. Russell stated, ” the Scottish Government plans to publish a Green Paper by the end of the year.”  This will include a wide consultation process involving student groups, universities and government.

This will be welcome news to student groups. Callum Leslie, of Liberal Youth Scotland, said ” bringing in tuition fees would be a regressive step for Scotland.” 

Anne Ballanger, of the Scottish Secondary Teacher Association, stated “tuition fees may prove an impossible task for some prospective students.” She believes that if they were introduced student levels would fall.

Measures such as a graduate tax  have not been ruled out. This would be in line with future earnings. The more a graduate was paid in the future, the more they would pay back. This policy proposal is causing great debate in England and Wales.

Vince Cable, the Business Secretary, recently made a number of U-turns on the possibility of a graduate tax. He defended the policy initially, only to argue it was unworkable. He stated ” it fails both the tests of fairness and deficit reduction.”

The Browne review is facing questions over its independence. It is reported that it was available to ministers to view long before the publication date. 

 Graduate unemployment is at its highest levels for 17 years at 8.9%, recent figures show.

Edinburgh protesters: “No ifs, not buts, no public sector cuts!”

By David Walsh

Teachers, parents and pupils angrily demonstrated in Edinburgh today, joining public sector workers from across Scotland to protest against proposed cuts in public services.

A demonstrator on East Market Street protesting against budget cuts to education funding.

The demonstration, organised by the Scottish Trade Union Council and the Educational Insitute of Scotland, attracted over 20,000 protesters from as far away as Orkney, Shetland and the Western Isles.

Alison Thornton, Local Association secretary of the EIS for Edinburgh: “The STUC, and obviously the trade unions that form the STUC, want to raise the public’s awareness that you can’t just keep cutting, cutting and cutting. It will get to the stage where key services such as health, education and so on cannot be delivered.”

It is well proven that, for example in education, for every pound you invest in the early stages of education, you reap ten fold the savings when you are beyond the normal educational establishment.”

The Coalition government’s spending review announced on Wednesday in Westminster has provoked outcry in the public sector as vital services such as education and the NHS face stark budget cuts. A projected £3bn is to be snipped from Scottish funding over the next four years.

The planned budget cuts are to be introduced by the Chancellor, George Osborne, as part of austerity measures unseen since the Second World War.

The SNP government has come under fire for failing to legislate some of its manifesto promises for education. Among its achievements since its election in 2007  have been the building and refurbishment of over 300 schools as well a record number of primary one to primary three pupils in classes of 18.

A recent article published in Edinburgh Evening News revealed that 40% of Edinburgh schools have primary one classes greater than the recommended government cap of 25 pupils.

The Scottish Executive at Holyrood was unwilling to comment on how budget cuts will impact on Scottish schools in the coming future. They wish to wait instead for the impending Scottish budget to be published next month.

Protesters gathered outside City of Edinburgh municipal buildings on East Market Street in Edinburgh’s city centre at 11am this morning. The march then progressed down the Mound and onto Prince’s Street, bringing public transport on the city’s busiest bus corridor to a standstill.

Marchers finally assembled for a rally at the Ross Bandstand in Prince’s Street gardens where STUC delegates, guest speakers and other unions addressed the crowd.

Addressing the crowd, Joy Dunn, president of the STUC, stressed the importance of the protest: “It is more important than ever before, after this week’s comprehensive spending review announcement, that we continue with the campaign.”

“[George] Osborne repeated over and over again, that the cuts and the brunt of the cuts would be carried by those with the broadest shoulders. You’ll often find that people with the broadest shoulders have the fattest wallets.”

Criticising the Cameron government, she said that his “cabinet of millionaires know the price of everything but the value of building.”

Dunn further warned of the dangers of “returning to the dark days of Thatcher.”

National News Belt

By James Davies

HMS Astute is set to enter service next year

Attack Submarine grounded off Scottish Isles

HMS Astute, the Royal Navy’s newest and largest attack submarine has been grounded on rocks off the Island of Skye. The Ministry Of Defense has confirmed the battle submarine was undergoing sea trials on Scotland’s West Coast. A Ministry Of Defense spokeswoman said :” this is not a nuclear incident, we can confirm that there are no injuries to personnel and the submarine remains watertight. There is also no indication of any environmental impact”. HMS Astute is based at Faslane Naval Base on the Clyde, and is not expected to enter service until next year.

Clegg launches attack on IFS

Deputy PM Nick launches attack on IFS

Deputy Prime minister Nick Clegg has blasted claims today that the Governments Spending Review is “unfair” and that “poorer families will lose out the most due to the cuts”. The Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) has said that the Spending Review is “more regressive than progressive”. However, Mr Clegg hit back, telling the Guardian Newspaper that the IFS’s definition of fairness was “complete nonsense” and that it took account only of tax and welfare, ignoring factors like public services and social mobility.

Dr David Kelly death inquiry

An investigation into the death of ex-Iraq weapons expert Dr David Kelly has suggested his injuries were self-inflicted after new evidence was revealed. The previously confidential evidence has suggested the cause of his death was from a blade wound to his wrist, and was described as “typical of a self-inflicted injury”.

London Plans for ‘Super Council’

Plans to make the UK’s first ‘Super Council’ in London have been announced today. Hammersmith and Fulham, Chelsea and Kensington are the areas that are involved in the proposal. Under the proposal, each area will retain its political identity with its own councilors and leaders, but the move could save between £50m and £100m per year.

Medal of Honor game released today despite Taliban furore

 

The latest release in the long-running Medal of Honor series

One of the "Opposing Force" soldiers that caused controversy

 

By Euan Black

Medal of Honor is available in stores today despite a wave of controversy surrounding its release.

The game, which is set in modern-day Afghanistan, has attracted anger because of the decision to name one of the teams in the multiplayer mode as “the Taliban”.

Under pressure from the armed forces, politicians and tabloid newspapers, Electronic Arts (EA) decided at the last-minute to change the Taliban to “Opposing Force”.

Despite anger at the move, it does not seem to be affecting sales of the game. The manager of a local GAME store in Edinburgh has said:

“Medal of Honor is the only thing we’ve sold this morning. Everyone who has come in has bought that. I think the Taliban thing isn’t much of an issue. No-one has mentioned it when buying the game.”

However, Ken Fee, a lecturer in Computer Games Education at Abertay University in Dundee, has warned that issues like this are becoming more prevalent for videogame developers.

He said: “In general, controversy should probably best be avoided as now that the costs and profile of games are so much higher. If the wrong folk are offended or misdirected through apparent or real controversy, the economic – and personal – effects can be devastating.”

When EA released the demo of the game this summer, the fact that one side has to play as the Taliban angered politicians, the armed forces, servicemen’s families and tabloid newspapers.

Liam Fox MP issued a statement saying: “It’s shocking that someone would think it acceptable to recreate the acts of the Taliban.

“I am disgusted and angry. It’s hard to believe any citizen of our country would wish to buy such a thoroughly un-British game.”

EA retaliated, claiming: “If someone’s the cop, someone’s got to be the robber, someone’s got to be the pirate, somebody’s got to be the alien. In Medal of Honor multiplayer, someone has to be the Taliban.”

Despite the government distancing themselves from Mr Fox’s comments, it seemed to sting EA, who claimed the development team were upset at the furore and changed the name to Opposing Force out of respect for the servicemen currently in Afghanistan and their families.

Mr Fee feels that the decision to change the name wasn’t a clear-cut one. He explained: “Censorship or editing rarely if ever reflects categorical right or wrongs – just subjective interpretations based on personal, political or economic judgements.

“There is no sliding scale of value that can result in determining ‘how’ right such a decision may be.

“It is for the viewer or buyer to determine whether they find the content offensive and make any purchasing based on that.”

EA’s latest Medal of Honor, which currently has a Metacritic rating of 75, is a franchise reboot, their attempt to answer the massive success of Call of Duty, one of the best-selling video game of 2009. That particular series hasn’t been without controversy itself: Modern Warfare 2 has a level where you play as terrorists attacking an airport, and this also caused outrage when it was first released.

Fast Cuts are the Deepest? BBC Debate

By Claudie Qumsieh

Scottish citizens grilled politicians in the Big Cuts Debate held at BBC HQ in Glasgow last night. The 80 attendees included employees in healthcare, education, charities as well as students. The panel consisted of Iain Gray, Labour Leader in the Scottish Parliament; John Swinney SNP, Cabinet Secretary for Finance and Sustainable Growth; Jeremy Purvis, Liberal Democrat MSP and Derek Brownlee, Scottish Conservative MSP.

The debate followed a BBC poll which placed NHS spending as the least popular of proposed cuts, followed by increasing prescription charges for those who pay, then cutting public sector pensions and public sector jobs.  Some of the audience present were worried about their pensions, one woman who has worked in the public sector for 28 years feared her final salary pension would be at risk. 

There was much debate over the value of ring-fencing the NHS. Professor David Bell, of Stirling University, highlighted that NHS in Scotland accounts for £10 billion out of the £30 billion overall spend in Scotland. Bell commissioned a report to the Scottish Government highlighting that “Scotland already spends 10% per head more than England on healthcare and has not seen the improvements in health outcomes that have been observed south of the border during the last ten years” .

John Swinney argued that at the end of this parliament there will be more people employed in NHS in Scotland than when the SNP came to power in 2007. An audience member asked if these additional staff are qualified nurses, or care workers doing the work of qualified nurses. Swinney said he was talking about an increase in healthcare staff “generally” and evaded the  specific question on qualified nurses. Another nurse raised his concerns that the posts of nurses who leave are never filled and that the first victim of this is patient care.

Liberal Democrat MSP Jeremy Purvis expressed concern for the £90 million bonus for consultants and argued that this money could be better used to help reduce the £600 million deficit. Swinney warned that changing the remuneration package for Scottish Consultants would mean Scotland inevitably lose good consultants to England.

Iain Gray claimed that coalition cuts were “too deep and too fast”.  John Swinney described the announcement regarding cutting child benefit for higher earners as “a Master Class in how not how to make this kind of announcement” and points out that the Prime Minister had to apologise to the electorate as a result.

Political and social commentator Joyce McMillan said she was “baffled” as to how there was no public debate before the decision was made to recover the deficit with 80% public spending and only 20% by increased taxes. McMillan warned that similar scare tactics and cuts in the 1980s were socially destructive. McMillan would rather pay higher tax than cause social damage by cutting public services.

 There were at least three representatives from charities working with vulnerable women at this debate, their presence  demonstrating the effects any cuts will have on protecting the vulnerable people of Scotland. One Scottish Women’s Aid representative said that half of the vulnerable women trying to access refuge are being turned away. Last year’s Fawcett report “Are women bearing the burden of the recession” documented how women are more vulnerable in the downturn. 

When asked to suggest ways to cut the deficit Iain gray argued that there are “too many health boards, too many police forces and fire brigades”  John Swinney said that the government must ensure that public sector focuses on outcomes and what will make a difference to people’s lives. 

The debate ended with some of the audience feeling frustrated that there were too many questions left unanswered.  One thing is certain, cuts are coming. Many of the audience agreed that cuts were “too deep and too fast”.  In the long-term, will fast cuts prove to be the deepest?

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