Reaction to the Scottish Government White Paper

Scottish Government White Paper. Credit: Lib Dem Voice

Scottish Government White Paper. Credit: Lib Dem Voice

By David Thomson

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Independence Risk for Scottish Banknotes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Scottish Labour Conference Round-up

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

Lamont pledges to help SNP on social justice

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

Labour attacks Thatcher legacy

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

Future Employment Taskforce Launched

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

New Health Watchdog Proposed

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

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

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.

Tour de Scotland?

The Tour de France may be streamlining its way to Edinburgh, after The City of Edinburgh Council backed an audacious attempt to bring the event to Scotland for the first time.

Councillors approved a report outlining the commitments required in the event of a successful bid in a meeting today.

Heralded as the world’s largest annual sporting event, the Tour de France could bring £45-55m of revenue for the national economy, with Edinburgh benefiting to the tune of £24m.

Tour de France

Tour de France

Edinburgh Castle is the proposed venue for the Presentation of the Riders, with displays, cycle shows, stalls competition and a raft of cultural activities being held across the city throughout the duration.

A ‘non-race’ mode procession of the cyclists running through the city centre would precede the start of the race, which would be held elsewhere in the city, with riders racing down the spine of the UK through Scotland, England and Wales.

The event attracts global interest with no less than 100 TV channels, 400 newspapers and press agencies and 70 websites over 190 countries offering live coverage of last year’s event.

Councillor Steve Cardownie, Edinburgh Council’s Festivals & Events Champion, said: “I can think of no more dramatic backdrop than Edinburgh Castle and our historic Old Town and, of course, our residents are well used to laying on a fantastic welcome to the many millions of visitors that travel to the city each year.

“Of course, Edinburgh is no stranger to cycling success, thanks to the incredible achievements of Sir Chris Hoy, and we are already seeing the impact this is having on participation – a trend that would surely continue following a successful Grant Depart.”

The bid, led by EventScotland, has the support of the Scottish Government, British Cycling, UK Sport, the Welsh Government, plus numerous other English and Welsh authorities.

While the date has not yet been announced, it is likely to be in the next five years and could even be as soon as 2014.

Binge Drinking: A Scottish Problem?

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

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

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

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

How much do you think is too much?

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

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

Will the Olympics ring true in Edinburgh?

by Kirsten Hayley Waller

That outside of Edinburgh Castle could have the Olympic Rings displayed. Photo: S.Johnson

The London Organising Committee of the Olympic Games (LOCOG) is applying to Historic Scotland
to place the symbol of the Olympic rings on Edinburgh Castle during August 2012.

The rings will measure 8.5m in height and 18m in width, and will be displayed on the north-west rampart of the castle.

LOCOG have also submitted planning applications for other heritage sites, all over the UK, in a bid to make the 2012 games feel less London-centric.

A spokesman said they would not comment on ongoing applications and “would wait to hear the results.”

He explained the thinking behind this application was to ensure that there was “benefit across the UK for these games.” The plan is to “use the rings to draw attention to UK landmarks.”

The committee hope this will encourage foreign visitors to visit other parts of Britain, in addition to visiting London, for the Olympic Games.

LOCOG has worked with the Scottish Government, Historic Scotland and Edinburgh Council to establish the best location for the rings to be displayed.

The logistics of installing, maintaining and dismantling the rings will be undertaken by the Organising Committee, using funds from the central government in Westminster, and not from the Scottish Executive.

Historic Scotland released a brief statement to Napier News,  saying “We have received a Scheduled Monument Consent for a temporary application for the Olympic Rings installation at Edinburgh Castle which is going through the due process.”

The Cockburn Association, who promote the conservation of Edinburgh’s landscape and architecture, have previously expressed their disgust at this plan. The Director, Marion Williams, said “I think it’s daft, insulting and ridiculous. They should leave the castle alone and get on with having the Olympics in London. Edinburgh has other things to worry about at the moment. “I’m not grumpy about the Olympics, but I am grumpy about London stamping its mark on Edinburgh.”

What do you think about the Olympic Rings coming to Edinburgh Castle? Contact Napier News and let us know.

New Call for Opt-Out Organ Donation

by Sarah Turnbull

“Three people will die unnecessarily every day in Scotland” said Professor John Forsythe,
lead clinician for NHS Lothian. This is because more than 700 people in Scotland are waiting for an organ transplant.

While 90% of the population in Scotland are in favour of the idea of organ donation, only 37% of people have actually joined the register to become a potential donor.

The Scottish Government has decided to invest money into a television advertising campaign to promote registering as an organ donor.  Some people, though, are calling for a more extreme system to increase organ donation.  Termed an ‘opt-out’ system, this scheme would mean that everyone is automatically added to the Organ Donor Register. In order to remove oneself from this list, a person would be required to notify NHS.

Dundee MSP Joe Fitzpatrick supports this system. He  recently signed a petition to persuade the Scottish Government to change the current system of organ donation to the ‘opt-out’ system. Mr. Fitzpatrick claims “this system is supported by the British Medical Association and major charities including the British Heart Foundation and Kidney Research UK.”

This system has been suggested before and has been met with some controversy.

Scotland has the highest percentage of people donating organs in the UK, with 37% of its population on the register. Forsythe, however, said that this is not enough. “We urgently need more people from across Scotland to join the Organ Donor Register” he said.

It seems the top factor preventing people from joining the register is fear.  According to the NHS, one of most frequently asked questions about organ donation is “how do they know when you are really dead?” The organisation assures people that a doctors confirm the organ donors are dead in exactly the same way as those who are not on the register.

Is living in Glasgow bad for your health?

The city's residents are more likely to suffer a heart attack than the rest of Scotland. Credit. Flickr.

By Jen McClure

Findings of a recent health survey of Scotland’s largest city found that Glaswegians are 1 and a half times more likely to have a heart-attack and suffer from anxiety, regardless of their lifestyle or social circumstances.

The so-called “Glasgow Effect”, stood out above all the other factors taken into consideration.  The latest survey, said: “There remained an unexplained Glasgow Effect in relation to prevalence of anxiety and doctor-diagnosed heart attack.”

Researchers say that further study into the issue is needed to fully investigate their recent discoveries.

The report analysed; socio-economic, behavioural, biological, relationship and social mobility before compiling their findings.  The report concluded: “People living in Greater Glasgow and Clyde still had a 92 per cent higher risk of anxiety compared to those living elsewhere.” It continued, ” For two important outcomes relating to both physical and mental health, no explanation can be derived for the excess risk of doctor-diagnosed heart attack or anxiety.”

Politicians and health bodies claim that there is no mystery to Glasgow’s health misery.  The city’s poverty and deprivation are at the root of the “effect” and that more has to done to help the most vulnerable members of society.

Consultant Cardiologist, Dr. Adrian Brady at Glasgow Royal Infirmary, commented: “Lifestyle is an important part of the issue, for example, smoking, lack of exercise and poor diet, but they are all being addressed.”  He added: ” Even allowing for cholesterol, higher blood pressure and smoking you can still see, for some reason, individuals in the West of Scotland are more prone to heart attacks than patients in the south of England with the same blood pressure and cholesterol level. Why that is the case, we are not sure.” He further commented about the city’s deprivation as a factor. ” If you measured deprivation, as a measure of a lack of social advantage, that in fact, goes some way to explain the differences in heart attack risk with Glasgow and the rest of the UK.  Why deprivation would do this, we don’t know, but deprivation is a very robust measure of cardiovascular risk.”

A Scottish Government spokeswoman said that health inequalities remained a “significant challenge in Scotland, with the poorest in our society dying earlier and experiencing higher rates of ill health.”  She added, ” This remains the case whether there is or is not a Glasgow Effect.” In response to health issues that need to be addressed she continued: ” Reducing health inequalities is not going to be done overnight.  It will take generations to tackle problems which have affected Scotland but poor health is not inevitable and we should not accept it.”

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.”

Christmas cocaine crackdown

Courtesy of HeatherJox3 via DeviantArt

by Adam Bell

The Scottish Government has launched a Christmas campaign to reign in the use of Britain’s most acceptable class A drug.

Spread across 140 Scottish pubs, targeting 18-24 year-olds, the Know the Score campaign will promote the message that you do not know what you are getting with cocaine.

“Young people often see cocaine as a harmless, even glamorous drug, a problem which is compounded by its falling cost and increased levels of availability across the country,” explained Nick Smith, Manager of the Edinburgh Alcohol and Drug Partnership, who are backing the campaign.

Surveys have shown that cocaine is the second most used drug amongst young people, and that the majority believe the drug to be relatively safe.

The government campaign will seek to show the truth about the drug, and the real side effects, including sweats, paranoia, anxiety, chest pains, a raised heart rate which can lead to heart attacks and an greater risk of strokes.

Research has shown that whilst both male and female users are at a greater risk of having a heart attack, it is males who are twice as likely to die from taking the drug.

One reason behind the campaign is the revelation that Scotland has one of the highest user rates of the drug in the world: according to a United Nations report published in June, 3.7% of the population are users.

Prof Graeme Pearson, from Glasgow University‘s Unit for the Study of Serious Organised Crime, highlights another issue: “Over the last decade the purity values of the drug have fallen very significantly. Ten years ago purity values were over 40% – today they’re below 20%, sometimes 10%, and as a result the price has also fallen.”

The campaign with take place on two fronts: first there will be a radio, cinema and online advertising campaign costing £269,000.

The second is in the field, with weekend events scheduled for Friday and Saturday nights for the next four weeks.

The field team will display campaign material in all participating venues, while questioning young people about their experiences and opinions of the drug, and offering advice.

Fergus Ewing, Minister for Community Safety, confirmed: “The key message of this campaign is clear – you don’t know what you’re getting when you take cocaine. Cocaine is not a harmless drug; the risks to health of individuals and communities are as serious as they are significant and that’s why this festive period we are taking the message across Scotland to highlight the dangers.”

Alongside the Alcohol and Drug Partnership, the campaign has received backing from the Scottish Licensed Trade Association, the National Union of Students and Young Scot.

The weekend events start in Edinburgh this Friday and Saturday [12th & 13th November], before moving to Glasgow the weekend after.

Scotland’s larder bringing home the bacon

By Jen McClure

Scottish Whisky exported across the globe

A £1 billion boost to Scotland’s economy comes courtesy of its thriving food and drink industry.  In new figures from Scottish Annual Business Statistics (SABS), Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs, Richard Lochhead announced that final sales figures  for 2007-2008 rose  from £10.2 billion  to £11.2 billion.  This puts the Scottish Government on track to meet their 2017 target of £12.5 billion.

Lochhead commented, “Scotland’s food and drink is already a fantastic success story and an industry punching well above its weight.  We have producers, suppliers, fishermen, farmers and manufacturers to be extremely proud of.  Consumers, at home and abroad, have also played a vital role by recognising Scotland’s quality food and drink sector.  Our food and drink sector continues to play a key role in Scotland’s economic recovery.”

Food and drink manufacturing in Scotland attributed to the main growth within the industry.  The drinks industry is the UK’s largest manufacturing sector, and whisky alone accounts for £3 billion of exports annually.  AG Barr, producer of Scotland’s most popular soft drink, Irn Bru, have also shared in this success.  The company recently announced pre-tax profits of £16 million, a rise of 18% on 2009 figures.

Paul McLaughlin, Chief Executive of Scotland Food & Drink, comments, “While food and drink is a more robust sector than others in times of economic downturn due to consistent demand for core products, this does not mean we rest on our laurels.  The latest industry figures are very encouraging and evidence the significant progress Scotland Food and Drink is making towards delivering our mission to grow the sector to a £12.5 billion industry.”

McLaughlin continues, “The sector must invest more in the Research and Development of what is a booming industry. Given that innovation represents the future of the industry, we are addressing this as a high priority.”

This soar in the food and drink sector  mirrors a trend seen in the export industry.  Earlier this year, Scotland saw a record 6% rise in food and drink exports during 2009, brining the total value to an all-time high of £4.06 billion.  Food exports alone increased by 20%, accounting  for £934 million in overseas sales.  Scotland’s seafood industry saw a significant turnover of £555 million, with Scottish salmon alone contributing £300 million and accounting for 40% of all food exports.

This success story might be short lived as last quarter results saw a dip in the trend.  Figures released by the Government clash with Scotland’s Chief Statistician, who announced the Scottish Manufactured Exports Estimates for the second quarter of 2010.  The results showed a slight decline in food, drink and tobacco exports – down 4.4%.  This decline is against an overall growth in food, drink & tobacco over the year to June 2010 of 10.1%.

All this comes during the ‘Year of Food and Drink’ 2010, a government incentive to promote Scotland as a land of food and drink following on from last year’s ‘Homecoming’ campaign.

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.

Charity Accused of Being ‘Eugenical’

Drug users can be paid to be sterilised

By Ryan C. Gavan

The current campaign by U.S. charity Project Prevention to persuade drug and alcohol addicts to be sterilised in return for a payment of £200 has been condemned by addiction support groups.

David Liddel, Director of the Scottish Drug Forum, believes “the tactics and underlying agenda of this organisation smack of the discredited eugenics movements of the early 20th century.” He continued “all women, irrespective of whether they are drug addicts or not, should be offered family planning advice.”

Project Prevention was started in the United States by Barbara Harris, a child welfare campaigner .The charity’s remit is to prevent children from being born with birth defects as a result of drug dependent pregnancies. Their website states “the main objective is public awareness to the problem of addicts exposing their unborn child to drugs during pregnancy.”

The charity argues that “the average number of children per addict is 3.” This, they feel, can be easily prevented through cash incentives for long-term birth control or total sterilisation.

The number of children born to drug addicts is on the rise in the UK. A survey carried out by the University of Aberdeen shows it has increased 30% since 1998.  Last week the first UK addict took up the charity’s offer. The addict, from Leicester, was paid after having a vasectomy.

This has been likened to the programme run by Dundee Council to convince smokers to quit by paying them £50 a month.

‘Scottish Government Fails to Convince in Raising Drinking Age’

Young people are being targeted in this legislation

By Ryan C. Gavan

The Scottish Government’s measures to give licensing boards the ability to raise the age of buying alcohol to combat Scotland’s binge drinking epidemic has failed. After a dramatic deliberation in a meeting of the Health and Sport  committee at Holyrood, the plan has been voted down 3-5 against in the most recent review of the Alcohol Bill after strong opposition.

The Bill, introduced by Nicola Sturgeon MSP, says, “There are clear arguments in support of raising the off-sales age,where appropriate, as part of a range of local measures to address local problems. Our proposal would have made it easier for Licensing Boards to apply a minimum age of 21 to off-sales but would not have meant that they had to do so.”

The measures stood against strong opposition from other parties. Lib Dem Health spokesman Ross Finnie MSP stated that “we could have been in the ridiculous situation where a 19-year-old army officer could not buy a bottle of wine to celebrate returning from the front line.” This shows the problems facing such legislation.

This has also been  criticised by youth groups such as the National Union for Students. In a statement put to the committee the organisation said “we do not agree that the evidence has shown that an alcohol purchase age of 21 for off-sales would reduce anti-social behaviour in our communities.”

Sturgeon comments that there is compelling evidence to raise the age of drink purchasing in off licenses saying ” We’ve considered international evidence which found that increasing the legal drinking age can have substantial effects on youth drinking and alcohol-related harm.”

The proposed amendment failed to convince the rest of the committee. Finnie now believes it is time to focus on more workable parts of the legislation. “We must now focus on the health related aspects of the Bill” continuing that it is more important to focus on “banning irresponsible promotions”.  

Other measures also failed such as the controversial proposal of minimum drink pricing. The SNP are focusing on anti-social behaviour with the upcoming Holyrood election on the horizon. They have suffered a number of recent blows including Alex Salmond’s decision not to hold a referendum on independence but rather seek greater devolution powers.

Edinburgh school pupils out perform the rest

Pupils in Edinburgh have been studying hard

By Oonagh Brown

 New figures say that Edinburgh pupils are acing their exams. Statistics published by the Scottish Government have claimed that pupils from Edinburgh, who sat their Highers and Advanced Highers in May, achieved better results than pupils in the rest of Scotland.

 Edinburgh’s schools have also topped Scotland’s Standard Grade results, with 37% of pupils achieving credit level compared to the country’s average of 35%.

 Credit for Edinburgh’s high achieving pupils can be given to the city’s independent and state school sectors.

 Alistair Pugh, management staff at Edinburgh Rudolf Steiner School, said he thought the results showed Edinburgh’s strong tradition in Education.

 He said: “Many of the schools in Edinburgh are well established, including ours, and are constantly improving as a consequence of the cities schools having the ability to get the best out of pupils.

 “Young people today are determined to get most best out of themselves as possible as there is now so much competition to get into higher education.”

 Though Edinburgh’s exam results are currently the country’s best, there is concern that the state schools may be affected by future budget cuts. This is because of last year’s proposal from education bosses to cut state school budgets by 2.5% in 2010 and another 2.5% in the next two years.

 As well as highlighting Edinburgh’s exam success, the report released by Scotland’s chief statistician examined all of Scotland’s educational progress. The report claimed that 22 % of Scottish students were achieving five Higher qualifications by the end of school. This is an improvement of 2 %.

Scotland Lead the Way to a Brighter Future

New legislation will ensure forced marriage is a thing for the history books.

Scottish government ministers today revealed proposals to pass a bill of rights making forced marriages a thing of the past.

The legislation enables courts to pass prison sentences of up to two years and issue annulments on any marriage found to cause emotional distress. Friends and family of victims also have the right to voice any concern to the police.

This comes as a direct response to current campaigning by the Scottish Women’s Association (SWA) who last week held their annual conference in Edinburgh where discussions were drawn to a close and action taken.

Lily Greenan, Managing Director of Scottish Women’s Aid was present at the conference.

“It was suggested by senior police and court officials that the issue is now a big enough problem in Edinburgh to require legislation,” she said.

Home office statistics show that 4000 women in the UK are forced into marriage every year, and 17, 000 women are victims of honour related violence.

Women’s protection charity Shakti, based in Edinburgh, say the move is long overdue.

“This act is particularly important as it sends a strong message to communities throughout Scotland, that forced marriage is unacceptable and will not be tolerated.”

The latest measure will stop cases such as Puja’s from occurring. After her marriage turned from bad to worse, her husband started beating her, and forbid her from seeing her only son. She had nowhere to turn for fear that her situation would deteriorate. This law will give men and women such as Puja legal protection as it will provide them with a safe environment and an escape.

Lothian and Borders police say this is a very positive step, which has been needed for a long time, but that public prejudice remains.

A police statement said: “Education also needs to be addressed with regards to the situation. An arranged marriage is a cultural and consensual practice but a forced marriage is an entirely different thing. It is an enforced situation whereby men and women feel trapped within their circumstances.”

Women’s charities hope the bill will raise awareness between the difference as the two are very different, and that difference is not well known. SWA  expressed relief and that this positive step was taken, saying: “The fact that there is now a protection order shows valuable steps have been taken to ensure that anyone in breach of this will be identified as committing a criminal offense”.

Backing for higher council tax

By Michael Fern

Seven out of ten Edinburgh residents have told the council that they are prepared to pay more council tax to soften public service cuts.

Council Tax

The results follow a number of summits in which locals gave their opinions, ahead of council talks with the Scottish Government on ending the current freeze on council tax.

Labour Councillor Ricky Henderson has criticised the findings, saying that the council had “not explain[ed] what mechanism they would use” to safeguard frontline services with the extra money generated. We asked Edinburgh residents’ opinions on the findings.

John McIntosh, 58, said: “I know that they have been freezing council tax, and no, I don’t think they should continue to. Local consumers should pay for the services they receive, and if those services are going up in price, I see no problem with the tax rising.”

Anna Tomlinson, a 22 year old student living in Marchmont, said: “I know I don’t pay council tax myself so maybe I shouldn’t judge, but before I moved here I lived in a very expensive area of London, and they think they can charge what they want because of where it is.

“It depends on the area, but I wouldn’t want to see it go up at all, it feels so expensive in some places already.”

Keith Brame, 43, said that it was a delicate balancing act. “I would prefer for it not to go up,” he said. “But it is a choice between protecting people during a recession and protecting services, and I think if council tax has to go up to protect services people will be able to handle it.”

Publish medical pay says doctor

By Matthew Moore 

Taking maternity is an attributing factor to the pay gap in the medical profession says report

 

Doctor’s wages should be published to give “transparency” to the profession, says the author of a landmark gender pay report. 

There is a £15,000 gap between men and women in the medical profession in the UK, according to the report published by Imperial College London, the University of East Anglia and the British Medical Association (BMA). 

Speaking to Edinburgh Napier News, Dr Anita Holdcroft, a co-author of the report said that women face many challenges in “career progression”. 

Dr Holdcroft said: “This is an obstacle that can be overcome through increased transparency. 

“We want more openness with regard to what salaries people are earning, and we’d like independent auditors to analyse these.” 

[Read more...]

TV sports report sparks backlash

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The Olympics are among numerous other events which are free-to-air (http://pictures.thaindian.com)

By Suhayl Afzal and Myles Edwards

Proposed changes to the list of free-to-air sporting events have triggered widespread criticism.

Sporting associations, journalists and the public have reacted angrily to the recommendations put to the department of culture, media and sport by an independent panel. [Read more...]

Eviction Causes Homelessness for Five Children a Day

shelter_logo

Image courtesy of Shelter

By Lucy McGirk

A new report released by leading charity ‘Shelter Scotland‘, shows the shocking figure that 5 children per day in Scotland are threatened by homelessness due to eviction.

Shelter Scotland has, in this report issued a five point action plan for the Scottish government to help tackle this issue and suggests alternatives to eviction which they believe to be more efficient. The report shows that the cost of evictions in 2007/8 was £11 million, Director of Shelter Scotland Graeme Brown said

‘It is vital alternatives to eviction are sought and it needs to be recognised that eviction is not the best way to recover rent’.

The report also questions whether it is fair to evict families due to disputes with neighbors.

‘Eviction wrecks lives, leaving families and children without a home and causing severe distress. Families who fall into arrears, more often than not, are struggling with the harsh reality of living in poverty. One family we worked with were evicted for rent arrears following a mix up with housing benefit. This led to the family being homeless for three years and moving four times to different types of temporary accommodation, which was very unsettling and upsetting; particularly for the children’.

Shelter Scotland is calling for a summit on this issue in order for the best outcomes to be reached.

‘Best Bar None’ Pubs to Receive Metal Detectors

By Gemma Shaw

 

Photo courtesy of NHS Sefton

The Scottish Government announced plans today to cut down knife crime in bars and clubs by giving metal detectors to first-time winners of Best Bar None awards.

The government has set aside £30,000 to award winners with handheld metal detectors and training on their effective use, in an attempt to keep knives out of pubs and clubs. This is the latest step in an ongoing plan from the government to remove weapons from Scottish culture. In a press statement, Community Safety Minister Fergus Ewing said: “We are now doing more than ever to tackle knife crime with tougher sentences and tough police action to take weapons off our streets. Changing the booze and blade culture won’t be quick and it won’t be easy but we can not go on as we are.”

The Best Bar None scheme was launched in Glasgow in 2005, and now covers areas across Scotland including Aberdeen, Dundee, Inverness and West Lothian, with plans to spread the scheme to a further 5 areas in Scotland currently in progress. The scheme aims to keep licensed premises safe by giving awards to the venues which meet the set guidelines, focussing on safety, one of which being the ability to prevent crime and disorder issues. The bars are graded with bronze, silver and gold awards.

The winners of this year’s Best Bar None awards for the Glasgow, Perth and Fife areas will be announced in an award ceremony taking place today.

Independence Referendum Bill

By Jennifer Russell

scotland_big

Picture Courtesy of Google Images

The Scottish National Party are set to table a bill for an Independence Referendum on St. Andrews day 2010. The bill must first pass through the Scottish Parliament before the Scottish people can vote in the referendum. It faces being rejected because of lack of Parliamentary support.

As the SNP are a minority government, they need more support to pass the Bill. The Liberal Democrats, Conservatives and Labour all oppose the Bill. However, the Green Party and Independent Margo MacDonald are in favour.

The Referendum Bill if passed will allow the Scottish public to not only vote “yes” or “no” for independence but it will also have a third question that gives the option of extending the powers of the Parliament but not independence. However, a “yes” vote in the referendum would only mark the start of talks with the UK government, there would still be a long way to go.

First Minister, Alex Salmond said “The Scottish Government will bring forward a Referendum Bill next year – exactly as we set out in our manifesto – and we are minded to include a ‘more powers’ option in the Bill, alongside the option of independence and equality for Scotland.”

An Independent Scotland, for some, seems to be the way forward. There is  “consensus for change” needed.

SNP Minister Michael Russell stated his views on an Independent Scotland,  “I firmly believe that Scotland will not fulfil its potential until the powers of the Parliament are complete and Scotland is independent. Independence would provide the opportunity to make decisions for ourselves – it would bring new rights as well as new responsibilities.”

Those against the proposed Bill, strongly believe that independence is not the way forward.  Scotland does need more power, however independence is not the only option.

Liberal Democrat, MSP Ross Finnie commented that, “The Liberal Democrats will not support the SNP’s rigged Referendum Bill. The party overwelmingly rejected it at the autumn conference earlier this month. I have never believed that independence is the best deal for Scotland. But i do think that we need to build on the current devolution settlement. Our Parliament needs real powers, powers for purpose. That is why the Liberal Democrats have driven forward the campaign for a real home settlement and are determined to realise the Calman Commission’s proposals for a beefed-up Scottish Parliament.”

SNP believe that as they were elected in 2007, with Independence as there main manifesto pledge, then it must be a popular issue. The jury is still out.

“We all have strong and passionately held views on Scotland’s future – let us all be prepared to take our case to the people, in whose name we are elected and in whose interests we act.” First Minister, Alex Salmond.

A song to save a life.

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courtesy of the “Gazette”

By Erris Healy

28 year old Sarah Springett from Essex saved her boyfriend Paul Shepards life last year. The singer/songwriter donated her kidney to him after he was diagnosed with IgA nephropathy.
“IgA nephropathy is a kidney disorder that occurs when infection deffence protein settles in the kidney. Scientists do not know what causes IgA to form in the kidney. IgA causes permanent kidney damage which can lead to kidney failure. People with kidney failure need dialysis or a transplant.”- National kidney and urologic disease information clearinghouse.

Sarahs donation experience has inspired her to release a single titled “I hope you know.” Her single is in support of the first UK-wide organ donation campaign that was launched on November 3, 2009 by NHS blood and transplant. Each copy of Springettes single will include a link to the organ registration website and profits will be donated to the transplant trust. You can hear Sarah discussing the importance of becoming a donor, the need for more donors to sign up and her support for the campaign by visiting http://www.ihopeyouknow.co.uk.

Statistics from the NHS show that this year “977 lives were saved in the UK through a heart, lung, liver or kidney transplant.” Also a survey for kidney.org stated that, “more than two in nine people back organ donation but only one in five are actually on the register.” The same website gave a figure of 3,916 deaths a year are because of kidney failure-www.kidney.org

Yvonne MacFarlane, spokeswoman for the Scottish Government Health and Wellbeing office said,”The number of Scottish residents listed, as at November 8, 2009 awaiting an organ transplant is 663. The UK average waiting time to transplant in days is a heart=103 days, lung= 406 days, liver= 95 days and a kidney= 265 days. As you can see the waiting period is lengthy and a lot of people do not survive the wait.

If more people signed up the waiting time would be less. Sarah says, “watching Paul go through what he did was far worse than donating my kidney.” So, if Ms. Springettes story has inspired you or you are interested in becoming a donor, find out more at: http://www.orgondonation.nhs.uk or call 0300 1232323.
This Christmas you may just give someone a very special gift, you could give someone in need a second chance at life.

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