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 Hockey Look Abroad For International Success

Scottish Hockey Mens Senior Squad credit: Davis

Scottish Hockey Mens Senior Squad
Credit: Davis

By Jonathan Davis

Scottish Hockey National League One is not good enough to support international sport says Scotland Internationalist, Callum Duke.

19 capped Duke said: “The best Scottish players, don’t play in the Scottish league.”

20 of the 28 players listed in Scotland’s senior men’s squad currently play their club hockey outside of Scotland, leading to worries that the domestic game in Scotland is suffering.

Duke, previously of Hillhead HC and Edinburgh University currently plies his trade in Germany with Frankfurt 1880. Duke said: “In Germany, everything is so much more professional. Everyone in your team is much better and there is a lot more competition for places.

“Everything is better, the tempo, the ball speed, the speed of the game, the speed that things change – your thought process has to be much quicker.”

The trend of players moving abroad to play is something that has certainly increased over recent years. Duke said: “I think in the past two years, maybe three, the amount of players playing abroad has doubled.”

The strength of the domestic leagues in England, Germany and Holland is of such a higher standard that it is now the natural progression for any player aspiring for the top of the game. Duke said: “Purely on hockey terms, if you want to improve and push yourself to the highest level possible, I would 100% play abroad.”

On the matter, Scotland Senior Men’s National Team Manager, Eugene Connolly said: “This is the best thing thing for Scottish International Hockey.

“If I take the example of Ireland. Ireland adopted this policy several years ago and their best players were playing in Holland, Belgium, England and Germany. This meant that Ireland reached the dizzy heights of 5th in Europe in 2011, and 6th in 2013, but friends in Ireland say that sadly this has diminished the quality of Irish club and inter-provincial hockey.”

Connolly speaks of the ethical conflict whereby for smaller nations, what may be best for the national squad, may be harmful to the state of the domestic game.

For now at least, in the lead up to the Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games, the vast majority of Scottish Internationals will have to fly back from their respective clubs abroad for full-time training in April.

Connolly said: “If you look at our national league this year, there has been a leveling down and the overall standard is lower.

“From a national point of view it is very good (to have Scottish players playing abroad), but from the club point of view it is less so. But the irony is that it has actually made for a more exciting and open league than we have had for many years.”

Book Week Scotland Is Back

by Rachael Bell

Authors and Organiser Fiona Hyslop celebrating Book Week Scotland 2013 Credit: Scottish Book Trust

Authors and Organiser Fiona Hyslop celebrating Book Week Scotland 2013
Credit: Scottish Book Trust

Book Week Scotland kicked off on Monday with over 100 events taking place in Edinburgh.

The week will be hosted by Scottish Book Trust and is designed to encourage everyone in the community to take part. Mark Lambert, CEO of the Scottish Book Trust, said: “Book Week Scotland is all about celebrating Scotland’s love affair with a book, and writing. Reading and writing – two of the greatest inventions that human beings have ever come up with and something that Scotland excels in.”

According to the Carnegie UK Trust report 2012, only 12 percent of people in Scotland never or rarely read books. Compare this to the National Literary Trust 2012 and After Now study 2013 that found that 1 in 6 people in the UK have literacy levels below that expected of an 11 year old.

Book Week Scotland has a particularly captive audience in Edinburgh as a UNESCO named City of Literature. Sarah Morrison, communications executive at Edinburgh UNESCO City of Literature Trust, said: “It’s a marker of how much people in Edinburgh value literary interests, not just in the literary community but the wider city community. Everything from the world’s largest book festival to story time readings in a local library are so well supported. There is something of literary interest going on every day in the city.”

It isn’t just Scottish nationals that are to be involved. Book Week Scotland is expected to attract a lot of literary tourism to Edinburgh. Ryan Van Winkle, Book Week Scotland Author Ambassador, said: “One of the things I do whenever I land in a new country is to read books that are set there. To me it’s a really great way to get to know peoples voice, their history, culture and slang. In my first few months of living in Scotland I raced through Trainspotting and Alasdair Grey’s classic Lanark. You don’t have to travel to read a book, of course, it’s obvious, and the great thing about Book Week Scotland is that we will be traveling together in an epic celebration of literature.”

Last year 30,000 school pupils in Scotland participated in the event. This year every Primary One pupil will receive three free picture books to encourage them to participate. That is 180,000 books that will be given out. There will also be 120,000 copies of Treasures to go out to the public. Treasures was a campaign set up after the success of last years Book Week Scotland. It invited Scots to submit a piece of writing about the item they hold most dear.

Primary One Children enjoying their free books during Book Week Scotland 2013 Credit: Scottish Book Trust

Primary One Children enjoying their free books during Book Week Scotland 2013
Credit: Scottish Book Trust

Many authors from around Scotland have also been participating in Book Week and sharing their love for reading and writing. Shari Low, popular fiction writer, said: “As a child I spent most of my time in the library. I just loved reading from a really young age and that’s stayed with me until now.

“That’s why I’m delighted to be a part of Book Week Scotland because I think that anything that inspires a love of reading for pleasure can only be a good thing, and I think that if we can inspire as many children as possible to read now then that’s something that will stay with them.”

Book Week Scotland 2013 will be running until December 1st. Treasures is available to pick up in libraries, independent bookshops, Waterstones branches, Visit Scotland Tourist Information Centres and more. Click here to search for events in your area.

Man Hunt After Gun Drama At Airport

Benjamin Bland

Police have launched a man hunt after gunshots were fired at a house near Edinburgh airport.

Initial reports were received at 9:30pm on Monday. An investigation started immediately resulting in the closure of the A8.

The road was closed for 12 hours in both directions between Newbridge Roundabout and Edinburgh Airport to allow forensic officers to carry out a detailed search of the area.

Police have said that no one was injured but have appealed to the public for any information.  There is increased anxiety after it was confirmed that the police were not treating the incident as a random act. There has been some speculation that the shots were an attempted gangland hit on a local convicted fraudster.

Police Scotland Superintendent Matt Richards said: “This incident took place close to one of the main routes to and from Edinburgh. It is always busy with passing traffic. I would appeal to any member of the public, either locally, or who may have been passing through Ratho Station at or around 9.30pm last night and who saw anything to contact us urgently.

It is imperative that we trace the individual involved in this incident, which thankfully did not result in any injuries. The consequences of a weapon being discharged in the manner which happened last night may have been extremely serious.

“Anyone with any information can contact the 101 Police number or Crimestoppers, in confidence, on 0800 555 111.”

Edinburgh Evening News

Traffic chaos near the airport.            Credit: Edinburgh Evening News

Air passengers faced disruption due to the road closure as they struggled with heavy traffic and diversions as they attempted to catch their flights.

Many took to twitter to express their frustration with one disgruntled traveller commenting:

“Due to incident on A8 arrived at 6:02am, bag check in closes 6am. No leeway. V upset.”

The quick response by police was reflective of heightened security in Scotland after the attempted terrorist attacks in Glasgow Airport in 2007.

Superintendent Richards said : “Uniformed officers are in the area to provide extra patrols to support the local community.”

Cauldhall open cast mine plans are given the go-ahead

By Rachael Bell and Lisa Moir

Image source: M J Richardson

Cauldhall Moor
Credit: M J Richardson

Yesterday elected members agreed to approve an application from Hargreaves Surface Mining Ltd for a huge opencast mine at Cauldhall Moor in Midlothian.

Durham-based company Hargreaves took control last year after the collapse of Scottish Coal. The mine will see 10 million tonnes of coal excavated over 10 years. The site will cover 500 acres of land. Restoration will be expected to take around two and a half years.

Councilor Owen Thompson, chair of the planning committee, said: “We are putting in strict conditions and have guarantees in place on the restoration of this land once mining has been completed. This will be a phased development, with each area mined and restored before the company moves onto the next area as the project progresses and that gives us some peace of mind over the future restoration of the site.”

The new mine is expected to directly employ 230 people with a further 114 people expected to be employed by related businesses. The economic benefit has been estimated at £475million.

Local residents have formed an opposition group called Stop Cauldhall Opencast.The protest group beleives the decision is a travesty to the Scottish and Local Planning Policy.

Alison Johnstone, a member of Holyrood’s economy and energy committee and Green MSP for Lothian, said: “The impacts on local communities from this proposal, such as noise, dust and heavy traffic, are completely unacceptable.

“Scotland has already failed its first two annual climate targets so more fossil fuel is the last thing we need, and we’ve seen landscapes across Scotland scarred by opencast being abandoned by companies that go bust.

“Hargreaves plan is contrary to the local plan and the council’s economical development strategy.”

Prior to the meeting yesterday the council received 293 complaints about the proposal and a petition of 500 names against the opening of the new mine.

Scottish Campaign on Welfare Reform Launch Manifesto

Image Source: Bonnet

Lord Kirkwood. Credit: Bonnet

 

By Andy Little.

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

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

Chairman, John Dickie said:

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

Maggie Kelly the co-author of the manifesto said:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nobody from the Conservative Party attended the event.

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

Anger as Council Bosses Approve George Street Changes

23George_Street,_Edinburgh

By Fraser Ryan

Edinburgh City Council bosses have been criticised over plans to implement a twelve month trial to turn George Street into a one way street.

The Edinburgh City Council’s Transport and Environment Committee have angered fellow councillors and members of the public by deciding to approve a trial one way system in George Street. The plan will see the pavements in George Street extended to accommodate street events, as well as introduce a two-way cycle route.

Plans to implement the same plans on Princes Street were rejected, meaning the street will remain two-way during the initial twelve month trail period. It is unlikely any alterations will be made to Princes Street until the Trams are operational by May 2014.

Joanna Mowat, a city centre councillor and Conservative transport spokeswoman, said it would be “foolish” to introduce the system, and called it one of the worst schemes she had “ever seen in local ­government. We are flying in the face of what the architects of the city wanted, what businesses want, what pedestrians want and what cyclists want,” she said.

Gordon Henderson, spokesman for the Federation of Small Businesses Scotland, said that its members felt they had been “comprehensively ignored”.

According to a poll conducted by the Federation, only 35% of people supported the move, while 27% were in favour of splitting the bus services between the two streets.

David Porteous, a senior council official who authored the report, defended the council’s decision, saying “Respondents were sceptical about the benefits of introducing a one-way system to the city centre, arguing that traffic would be displaced if no ­developments in alternative transport provision or better linkages between other parts of the city were provided.”

Edinburgh Festival Gets New Director

ferguslinehan01

The Edinburgh International Festival has today announced it has appointed a new artistic director. Fergus Linehan, the former director of the Sydney International Festival as well as fomer Head of Music at the Sydney Opera House, will take over the role in October. He succeeds Jonathan Mills, who has been in charge at the festival for seven years.

Mills will step down after the 2014 festival, but Mr Linehan will work part-time as director designate from 1st May this year. He will step up to the role full-time from October 2014, which will mean 2015 will mark his first festival as director. He will remain in charge at the EIF until at least 2019.

Under Mr Linehan the annual turnover of the Sydney International Festival almost doubled, rising from $12m to $20m between 2004 and 2009, thanks to a rise in ticket sales, funding, and sponsorship.

Speaking of the appointment, Linehan said “I am delighted and deeply honoured to have been appointed as the next director of the Edinburgh international festival. I look forward to safeguarding the founding principles of the festival in ways which are engaging and relevant to all.

“Successful festivals respond to both place and provenance to create a unique identity and this is particularly true of Edinburgh, the pre-eminent festival city. It is with this in mind that I will begin the exciting work of developing my plans and ideas for 2015 and for future festivals”

Mills had previously faced criticism over his festival programmes, which some critics claimed were lacking in homegrown talent.

Edinburgh’s Lord Provost Donald Wilson also welcomed the appointment, saying “Fergus brings new skills, intellectual rigour and a highly successful track record to the Festival and the city.

“Having previously lived in Edinburgh and worked with companies visiting the city he is familiar with what the city can offer its residents as well as visitors and artists from around the world. I look forward to welcoming him back to Edinburgh and Scotland’s creative and vibrant cultural life.”

Cabinet Secretary for Culture and External Affairs Fiona Hyslop, added ‘The Edinburgh International Festival has a worldwide reputation for excellence and innovation. In bringing together exceptionally talented artists from nations across the globe, it helps to celebrate and promote Scotland’s rich culture and heritage on the world stage and strengthen our links with other countries. I welcome Fergus Linehan’s appointment as Director and wish him every success in the role.’

“League games more important than Cup Final” – Pat Fenlon before Dons clash

Hibernian manager Pat Fenlon spoke to our sports reporter Joe Birchenall ahead of his sides fixture tonight at Easter Road. Fenlon’s charges face Aberdeen, a side who they have not beaten in the league since May last year. However, Hibs face the Dons on the back of a thrilling Scottish Cup semi-final win against Falkirk, which saw them claim a 4 – 3 victory despite finishing the first half three goals down. Fenlon, however, is keen to push on and to focus on remaining league games, saying he is disappointed to have finished outside of the top six.

Fenlon also discusses the breakthrough of youngsters Alex Harris and Danny Handling, his reaction to Neil Lennon’s SFA woes and the imminent departure of Hibs top scorer Leigh Griffiths.

Independence Risk for Scottish Banknotes

3411120241_4129783ec3_o

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Scottish History told in Stitches

close up

by SandrZüllig and Louisa Clair Anderson

More than 500 volunteer stitchers from practically every area of Scotland are involved in what will be the Great Tapestry of Scotland.

This huge community arts projects, which began in Autumn 2011, aims to create a series of over one hundred and forty panels that tell the key stories in Scottish history – everything from Duns Scotus to Dolly the sheep. The tapestry is set to be finished by August this year and will be displayed in the Scottish Parliament in September, before going on tour in Scotland and abroad.

The Great Tapestry of Scotland is the brainchild of one of Scotland’s best-known writers, Alexander McCall Smith. The 44 Scotland Street author, together with historian Alistair Moffat, and the artistic talents of Andrew Crummy, not to mention stitchers from all over Scotland, form a team set to produce the world’s longest tapestry. Writer Alexander McCall Smith says that “the recording of events, both great and small, on cloth is nothing new. The most famous example, of course, is the Bayeux Tapestry, which is one of the world’s best-known works of art. More recently, the completion of the Prestonpans Tapestry in Scotland has reminded us of just how effective this method of narrating history can be. When I saw that tapestry for the first time, I was struck not only by its beauty but by the story behind its creation.”

The numbers behind the Great Tapestry of Scotland                                               stitcher

49, 50,000 sewing hours (equivalent to sewing 24 hours a day for 6 years!)

30 miles of woolen yarn (enough to lay up and down Ben Nevis 37 times!)

12,000 years of Scottish history

Over 500 stitchers

Over 140 panels

1 beautiful tapestry depicting the entire history of Scotland!

Keep up to date with the final spurt of the Great Tapestry of Scotland on Facebook.

NHS urges famillies to get MMR vaccinations

NHS Lothian

Royal Hospital for Sick Children, Edinburgh (Photo: Tom Freeman)

In light of the measles epidemic in Wales and the threat of imminent spread to the rest of Britain, NHS Lothian has highlighted the importance of MMR vaccinations. In a press release from the NHS, families are urged to ensure that they are protected from measles, mumps and rubella (MMR).

Gareth Colfer-Williams, 25, died on Thursday at his home in Swansea, the city at the centre of an epidemic of the disease. Further investigations are being undertaken by the Swansea coroner to establish the cause of death. However, the risk is still high for those who have not had the two MMR vaccinations.

NHS Lothian has admitted that a significant number of Lothian’s teenagers and young adults are considered at risk from measles, mumps and rubella, as they may not have completed or started the course of the vaccine as a child. NHS Lothian is now offering the MMR vaccine to teenagers in schools and through their GPs.

Professor Alison McCallum, the Director of Public Health and Health Policy at NHS Lothian, said:

“Measles, Mumps, and Rubella are preventable by two doses of the MMR vaccine and I would urge all parents to ensure that their children are fully protected from these three diseases. We are now offering the MMR vaccination as part of the school immunisation programme and hope more of our young people will take up the opportunity to protect themselves.”

She said it is now crucial that the course of the vaccine was finished, or in some cases, that young people began the course. Professor McCallum added: “We hope that parents and young people realise that it is never too late to be protected against these diseases.”

Measles is a very infectious virus that causes a fever, cough and rash but can also cause serious problems including blindness and encephalitis (swelling of the brain). Mumps can also cause fever along with painful swollen glands in the face and neck and can result in permanent deafness. Rubella is a milder infection but if caught during pregnancy it can cause serious damage to the unborn child.

For an updated timeline on the MMR autism fraud story from journalist Brian Deer, go to: http://briandeer.com/solved/bmj-wakefield-timeline.htm

Napier University Independence Referendum Poll

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

Improved Household Energy Efficiency is the Way to Combat Fuel Poverty

Energy efficiency measures prevented 35,000 Scottish households from falling into fuel poverty last year.  This was countered by rising energy prices linked to more people suffering from the cold weather, according to reports.

Statistics released today show that the installation of measures such as loft and cavity insulation, double glazing and new boilers have helped to reduce energy consumption, greenhouse gas emissions and cut household energy requirements.

Around 1,500,000 dwellings (about 65%) were rated ‘good’ in terms of energy efficiency on the National Home Energy Rating (NHER) scale. This continues the upward trend from 31% considered ‘good’ in 2002 and is an increase of 3% since 2010.

Elizabeth Leighton, Senior Policy Officer at WWF Scotland said: “The results show that insulation is the best way of protecting people from rising energy bills. It is estimated that in an un-insulated home a third of all heat lost is through the walls and a quarter of heat through the roof.

“Nearly two thirds of households living in inefficient homes are in fuel poverty, an increase of 8% on 2010 figures. This demonstrates the need for minimum energy efficiency standards so people are not condemned to live in fuel poverty.”

Despite efforts by the Scottish Government to help reduce household energy bills, tens of thousands of families were pushed into fuel poverty in 2011 as a direct result of energy company price rises. The latest figures show that fuel poverty rates increased to 28.9%, affecting 684 000 households, which is 1 percentage point higher than 2010 levels (27.9%).

From July to October 2011, more than 102,000 households fell into this category after energy prices increased by 14%.

Housing and Welfare Minister Margaret Burgess said: “Rising energy bills are a huge concern for this government, and fuel poverty is an absolute scandal in an energy rich country like Scotland.

“The more that energy companies continue to implement punishing price increases, the more they are undoing the good work we are doing to tackle fuel poverty.

“That is why we are urging the UK government – who has responsibility in this area – to do more to help vulnerable people and ensure that our households are better protected.

“This government has allocated over £68 million in 2012-13 to energy efficiency and fuel poverty programmes to help individuals and families who are in most need of support. We also have in place a cash-back voucher scheme offering up to £500 per household for energy efficiency measures such as double glazing, loft and cavity wall insulation, and from today, energy efficient boilers and appliances for private sector landlords.”

Norman Kerr, Director of national fuel poverty charity Energy Action Scotland said: “The fact that more Scottish households are now in fuel poverty is very disappointing but not surprising as energy prices have gone up and people’s budgets generally are under pressure. Efforts to make homes energy efficient, so that less energy is needed to heat them, are more vital than ever and will clearly have to be increased.

“Our advice to the public is to check out if they are on the best fuel tariff and payment method for their needs, to shop around energy suppliers, and to take up the free or discounted insulation from Scottish Government programmes such as Home Energy Scotland. There is a tendency to think it won’t make a difference, but it does all help at these difficult times.”

Energy efficiency measures prevented 35, 000 Scottish households from falling into fuel poverty last year but this was countered by higher fuel poverty linked to rising energy prices, according to new figures.

New Coaches – A Boost for Scottish Hockey

(Scottish Hockey)

(C) Scottish Hockey

Scottish Hockey has made its first announcement as part of the Professional Coaching Programme this week. Three coaches have been selected to work on a full-time basis with National League clubs.

The Professional Coaching Programme aims to improve the quality of hockey players in Scotland.

This will lead to stronger National League competitions and result in Scotland becoming more competitive at international level.

After a successful application three candidates were chosen to begin the programme.

Chris Anderson will coach Grove Menzieshill’s men, Sandy Keith will be in charge of Granite City Wanderers’ women, and John McKnight will be coaching men at Clydesdale Hockey Club.

Director of Scottish Hockey, Lee Cousins, believes their appointment will be rewarding in the long term. He believes that this programme will not only benefit players already affiliated to local hockey clubs, but will also help university players dreaming of becoming professionals.

Shaun Miller, men’s hockey captain at Edinburgh Napier University, believes the developments in coaching and a switch in focus to encourage the younger generation are necessary for the development of Scottish hockey

He said: “I think at school level we are missing out on a lot of people, I know at my old school hockey wasn’t anything big.

“They are starting to do it more at primary level but previously if you were not at a private high school you miss out. You almost get forced into the rugby and football background.”

The Professional Coaching Programme was established with the help of Aberdeen Asset Management. Its contribution is the largest ever investment in the development and growth of hockey in Scotland.

These developments are the beginning of Sport Scotland’s “Coaching Scotland 2011-15” strategy. The funding will ensure coaches are financially supported, allowing them to dedicate themselves to the improvement of Scottish hockey.

This is the beginning of a long process for Scottish hockey and the results of the new effort will only become evident after several years.

Miller believes there are already causes for optimism.

He said: “Scottish hockey is catching up. I’ve noticed that Scottish players are getting more recognition at international level. It’s becoming a bigger sport especially after the Olympics.

“For a smaller country we are getting there slowly. We are beginning to be recognised again.”

Audio Interview:

shiv das interview with napeir shaun Miller hockey1st xi captain – shaun miller

Edinburgh Gets Ready for the Release of ‘The Hobbit’

The Hobbit hits theatres

The Hobbit hits theatres

Peter Jackson’s highly anticipated trilogy ‘The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey’ will hit cinemas worldwide this weekend.

It has been highly awaited and people in Edinburgh have also jumped in on the excitement, with local showings sold out. The film will serve as a prequel to the highly successful ‘Lord of The Rings’ Trilogy and will feature a lot of familiar faces from them including: Sir Ian McKellen,  Andy Serkins, Cate Blanchet, Elijah Wood and Orlando Bloom.

The Scottish presence is apparent in the world of middle earth. Edinburgh born actor Ken Stott starts in the film as a Dwarf Balin, one of Bilbo Baggins closest friend. Comedian Billy Connolly has been cast at Dain Ironfoot, a great dwarf warrior and will appear in the second and third instalments. ‘Lord of the Rings’ veteran, Glasgow bred,  Billy Boyd attended the London premiere last night – he appeared as Pippin in the Lord of the Rings trilogy.

Local Edinburgh cinema The Cameo hosted a ‘Lord of the Rings’ film marathon on the 9th of December 2012 to celebrate the release of ‘The Hobbit’. The audience was encouraged to dress up and the event was deemed a great success by management. ‘The Hobbit’ will be the first 3D film to be shown at The Cameo. Kenny Gold, duty manager of The Cameo, “There has been a lot of build up. We couldn’t have picked a better film than ‘The Hobbit’ for our first 3D showing.”

‘The Hobbit’ is set in the all too familiar Middle-Earth and it follows the adventures of Bilbo Baggins, played by Martin Freeman, and 13 dwarves on their quest to take back the Lonely Mountain from the reign of the dragon, Smaug – who will be voiced by Freeman’s ‘Sherlock’ co-star Benedict Cumberbatch.

The Guardian comments that the movies ‘offers an enormous amount of fun, energy and a bold sense of purpose’. Peter Jackson is once again trying to give movie goers a unique and innovative experience. ‘The Hobbit’ is shot in High Frame Rate (HFR): 48 frames a second instead of the usual 24. This gives the movie a higher definition and with the help of 3D makes the 169 minutes of spookiness more realistic.

Fan interviewed by Shiv Das about ‘The Hobbit:’

The Hobbit premiered last night in London, gathering a remarkable group of celebrities, including the Duke of Cambridge.  Sanaa Siddiqui, who was at the front of the crowd at last night, comments on the atmosphere of the event: “The whole of Leicester Square was packed to the brim with fans. The area was stunningly decorated to look like the Shire. I met all of my favourite actors, it was such an amazing day.”

Audio Interview: final hobbit vopxox shiv das

Visual Artists forced to live on the breadline

A recent study by the Scottish Artists Union reports three quarters of visual artists are living on an income of less than £5000 a year.

The SAU, which is lobbying and campaigning on behalf of visual artists working in Scotland states that the present figures are a worrying depiction of their earnings.

Only 5% of artist taking part in the survey are earning more than £15000 after tax and expenses.

Simon Hynd, a successful film director from Edinburgh, is now working for the BBC but says that the first years after graduation are the hardest: “When I started out, I was definitely in that category. For the first three years at least I was earning less than £15000 a year.”

Jonny Wilson, an unemployed film writer from Edinburgh, belongs to the same category and claims that being an artist is often a question of class.

“I fall into that category as I’ve only earned about 5000 this year. I have had some contact with BBC executives and people like that. They all seem to have come from privately educated backgrounds and have the means to fund themselves while chasing their dreams. Those from the lower socio-economic scale just can’t afford to do that. They have the reality of having to pay their bills and that eats into your energy and your ability to create.”

The recent report by SAU also states that most visual artists have never applied for a public funding or received a grant.

Mr Wilson’s observations are backed up by SAU’s report saying that 47% were forced to get a part-time job in order to keep their heads above water. Mr Hynd remembers being in the same situation: “That’s something that I did as well. I was working in retail while I pursued my dream.”

However, Mr Hynd was in the lucky but unusual position to get financial support from his family: “I was in a fortunate position because I have a wife who has a regular job so she was able to support me to an extent. She took a bit of the pressure off. Other artists definitely don’t always have that luxury.”

ScotRail to Provide Wi-Fi Access by the End of 2013

WiFi trial on Scottish trains.

WiFi trial on Scottish trains.

The Scottish Government has invested £2 million in ScotRail for free Wi-Fi access in their express trains by the end of 2013.

Major routes include Edinburgh, Glasgow, Aberdeen and Stirling as well as areas in Inverness and Fife.  These routes will be carried out by 170 trains, all covered by the Wi-Fi service.

Steve Montgomery, managing director of ScotRail, said: “More journeys are made on our class 170s than any of our [other] trains, so it makes sense to begin the roll-out on this fleet.”

Dani Cardon, media officer of ScotRail, says that the implementation will take a few months to be completed: “We’re rolling out Wi-Fi on our 170 trains at a rate of 5 to 6 each month. That will take place from March until December 2013.”

However, no line will be prioritised and the installation will happen gradually.  Mr Cardon says, “It won’t be one line at a time. We install Wi-Fi on particular trains which will run across all routes.”

A pilot project was set up on 4 trains before the intended roll-out, stating that 77% of users were satisfied with the speed and performance of the Wi-Fi service provided.

Transport Minister Keith Brown is confident about the planned changes, “We have an absolute commitment to bringing better connectivity to every corner of Scotland, and I have been highly encouraged by the success of ScotRail pilot scheme.”

Despite the good intentions, there will be challenges concerning the signal. Mr Cardon states: “We can only enhance Wi-Fi when there is already a signal there. Although, there will be good connections overall, there will be remote areas which won’t have a good connection.”

“But that’s improving all across Scotland as much as phone signal is.”

The fitting of the 170 trains will take place during weekends scheduled particularly for maintenance in order to guarantee usual railway service isn’t disrupted.

SCOTLAND’S MEN EXIT EUROPEAN CURLING CHAMPIONSHIPS

Tom Brewster at the European Curling Championships.

Tom Brewster © WCF Richard Gray 2012

Scotland’s teams have been enjoying mixed fortunes at the Le Gruyère European Curling Championships in Karlstad, Sweden.

The men’s team, skipped by Aberdeen’s Tom Brewster (above), struggled in their first European outing and were eliminated yesterday in the final day of group-stage play.

Despite winning their final game 8-5 against Hungary, the Scottish men were left with an overall record of four wins and five losses – they had to settle for a seventh place finish in a group of ten teams.

While this ensures qualification for this season’s World Championship in Canada, it was well below the high expectations of the team back home – Brewster and his rink were 2011 and 2012 Scottish champions and they have two World silver medals to their name.

For the 2012/13 season, Team Brewster have welcomed David Murdoch to their ranks –a move that has not gone down well with many curling fans.

The results from Karlstad furthered this criticism but Tom Brewster was defensive of Olympian and two-time world champion Murdoch: “We’ve not had a great season for various reasons. A lot of people are going to say it’s because we brought Dave into the team, but that’s got absolutely nothing to do with it.

“We’re just not making enough shots and that’s all. We’ve changed techniques, we’ve changed our style of play, and we’ve altered quite a few things. We’re still getting to grips with that and hopefully, come the Scottish Championships in February, we’ll be making more of the right shots. We have changed a lot and that takes time”

Brewster was realistic about his team’s performance over the week and reflected on how personally disappointing the event had been: “Qualification? That’s great. But ultimately we didn’t come here just to do that, we came here to win medals and we’re disappointed we’re not in the play-offs. At the end of the day we’re in this game to win medals, not just qualify. This is the first international competition I’ve been at and never medalled, so I feel not all that good about it”.

Scotland’s women, meanwhile, have had a great deal more success so far than their male counterparts.

Scotland's Women's curling team.

Scotland Women © WCF Richard Gray 2012

Eve Muirhead’s team (above) won gold at the Europeans in Moscow in 2011 and, as defending champions, they have looked hungry for a repeat performance.

Having beaten Russia this morning, Scotland conclude their group-stage campaign with seven wins and just two losses. This has earned them a play-off berth against home crowd favourites Sweden tomorrow afternoon – comfortable qualification for the World Championship in Latvia was secured several games earlier.

After this morning’s game, Muirhead said: “We came out sharp. We got the hammer and we took our two in the first end. Their three came out of nowhere – she played two perfect shots and got three on the measure. But we didn’t let that faze us, it wasn’t the end of the game so we got our two back and forced when we had to force, and got the ideal situation at the end”.

“We controlled it. I think even just our body language showed that we wanted it more. All in all, a solid performance by all of us. Our goal was to get into the 1-2 game, which we’ve done. The girls are playing great and leaving me simple shots, which I like”.

Media Mondays-Rosalind McInnes-26.11.2012

By: Lauren Elliott, Lisa Mitchell and Alex Neal.

The latest edition of the Media Mondays series discussed law in the media with BBC Scotland’s principal lawyer Rosalind McInnes. During this talk, she provided a fabulous explanation of the three main problems journalists face in legalising work produced, and gave a basic understanding of the legal aspects that all journalists should be aware of. In light of recent events this talk was perfectly timed to show how professionals can avoid straying over legal boundaries.

Listen Here:

Five Sisters Zoo appeals for donations for rescued bears

Wojtek the soldier bear knew many tricks as it was claimed he was tame. Picture by Imperial War Museum

The West Lothian zoo is appealing for £60,000 to be raised for three former circus bears.

Carmen, Suzi and Peggy are currently in a holding pen in Belgium where they have been held in cages barely bigger then themselves.

For the last 20 years they have been transported around Europe as part of a circus act. The small zoo hopes to raise enough money to bring the bears to Scotland so they can live out their lives in space and peace.

This brings new debates over the laws of circus animals in the UK. While no animal circuses can be based in the UK, it does not stop others touring. There is a fear that tighter laws will come into force in England and encouraging some of them to also come to Scotland.

Four Famous bears:

Sooty has been making children laugh for generations and is a household name. Presenting his own TV show, along with Sweep, and performing magic the small bear has appeared in both children’s and adult’s programmes alike.

Tian Tian and Yang Guang the Giant Pandas who found fame in Scotland as they are the only Giant Pandas in the UK. They still have a waiting list at Edinburgh Zoo.

Paddington Bear is perhaps the oldest bear on our list and is famous for his love of marmalade. Paddington has become a cultural symbol for Britain and can be found in many tourist shops.

Wojtek the Soldier Bear – While the Polish army were travelling to Iran the soldiers came across a bear cub in the mountains. The soldiers took the cub in and he became part of the 4th Platoon where he developed a taste for beer and cigarettes. He often wrestled many of the soldiers, though few dared take him on. After the war in 1945 many of the soldiers settled in Europe, Wojtek moved into Edinburgh Zoo where his picture can still be found on the reception wall.

Updated Penrose Inquiry ends today

Blood donation. Picture provided by Waldszenen

The legal representatives of the ongoing inquiry are due to make their closing statement today.

The inquiry is looking into how hundreds of people in Scotland received contaminated blood in the 1970s and 1980s.

In the first evidence session earlier this month Lord Penrose heard from patients and relatives in a closed session so they could give evidence anonymously.

Many in Scotland are thought to have received the blood contaminated by Hepatitis C.

At the end of the session no conclusions had been drawn and while Laura Dunlop, one of the four advocates thanked many involved, there is still a long way to go.

The evidence has now been collected and now time must be taken so there is time to reflect on the value of the material.

The victims will be given an explanation after a conclusion is drawn but it is a controversial issue and the number of people who have been affected need to be established.

There is a serious tone underlining the session with the closing statement claiming “they will not be happy to reach a final conclusion without all the stones unturned.”

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.

Irn Bru parent company’s profits rise

The company that makes Irn Bru have reported a steady increase in profits.

AG Barr’s profits have increased by 16.4% to £35.4 million for the year ending January 2012. Turnover for the same period was £237 million.

Sales of Irn Bru itself rose by 2.7% with the company planning to open a new site in Milton Keynes.

Barr’s chief executive Roger White has praised the results, saying they coped with, “substantial raw material cost headwinds while achieving revenue growth based on brand development, innovation and improved focus on execution.

“Our operational performance improved substantially in the final quarter of last year and we are now beginning to see the benefits of our investment in our production assets.”

Famous for having an ‘other’ national drink, Scotland is one of the few countries where Coca Cola is not the top-selling soft drink.

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

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