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.

Scottish Law Commission proposes online change

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Edinburgh set to celebrate its remarkable women

March sees the annual return of International Women’s Day (IWD) with events planned throughout Edinburgh to mark the occasion.

For over 100 years, the world has celebrated the achievements of women and their contribution to the arts, sciences, medicine and numerous other fields. On and around 8th March the celebration continues as countries around the world host their own events.

Beginning life in 1909 as National Women’s Day in the United States the day was instigated by the Socialist Party of America. It soon spread overseas to socialist countries in Europe before being recognised as an international event in 1911.

The UN’s theme for this years IWD will be Empower Women: End Hunger and Poverty. The United States have also planned a Women’s History Month to coincide with IWD and Google will change its search engine icon to show their support.

Founder of the internationalwomensday.com, Glenda Stone explains why IWD has become so popular, “Activity on International Women’s Day has skyrocketed over the last five years. This is due to the rise of social media, celebrity involvement, and corporations taking on the day sponsoring and running big events. Our twitter.com/womensday community with around 10,000 followers is phenomenal for sharing videos, information and news as it happens. Offline large scale women’s rallies have become even larger through the use of social media. It would be hard to find any country that did not celebrate the day in some way.”

This year, Edinburgh will recognise IWD with a calender of events kicking off this evening at Surgeons Hall with a series of talks acknowledging women often overlooked in Edinburgh’s medical community. The Scottish Parliament, Edinburgh University and the Film House will also play host to events and talks.

For more information on these events click here.

NUS Scotland reacts to spending review

NUS Scotland President Robin Parker "very worried" about cuts.

By Joseph Blythe

NUS Scotland have welcomed Scottish Government plans to increase funding for universities by around £75million. However they have said that they are “concerned” at proposed cuts to college funding, and warned that the government should ensure the number of places available doesn’t fall. The plans, announced yesterday by Finance Secretary John Swinney, are part of the government’s spending review, outlining the budget for the next three years.

There had been fears that austerity measures would lead to cuts in education, but Swinney was able to deliver on his party’s campaign promises of increased financial support and no tuition fees for Scottish students. He pledged a minimum income of £7000 for the poorest students, and the protection of the EMA for young students and pupils.

NUS Scotland President Robin Parker said “Taken together these proposals are a major step in right direction towards making access to education in Scotland fairer. This progress is very welcome news and testament to the hard work and campaigning by thousands of students across Scotland in the run-up to the last election.”

But he was less enthusiastic at the cuts facing the budget for colleges, saying “Colleges serve some of the most deprived communities in Scotland, offering an educational lifeline and local access to education to some of the most excluded in our society. They must make sure that no matter what, the number of places at college is at least protected and that quality is maintained.”

Last days before dissolution

by Gráinne Byrne

Third session of Holyrood about to go into recess

As we approach the last official day for Holyrood MSPs before Parliamentary recess, opposing parties are marking their line in the sand ahead of tomorrow’s final questions session.  This final session, before dissolution, sets the tone for a battle between the parties leading to the election on 5 May 2011.

In an attempt to engage with the public, First Minister Alex Salmond and his main opponent, Labour leader Iain Gray, will take part in various debates over the next few weeks.  Key issues in the frame include higher education, the economy, the health system and, perhaps most importantly, how they will deal with the financial cuts. [Read more...]

Public sector hit by budget cuts

By Gavin Harper

Parliament hit by budget cuts. Picture courtesy of Daily Telegraph

MSPs will have their pay frozen for the next two years, as part of a scheme that plans to reduce the running costs of the Scottish parliament by up to 12% and save nearly £10 million over the next four years.

These plans still require the approval of MSPs, but they are expected to accept the freeze in their pay, albeit reluctantly, in order to reduce the costs of the multi-million pound building at Holyrood.

The parliament’s budget for the forthcoming year has been set at £75.3 million, which is almost 5.3% lower than the already approved budget, which is still a sizeable figure.

Furthermore, the necessary cuts will not result in any members of staff being made redundant, while it was also confirmed staff numbers would be cut by 50 in two years time “through other means”.

Presiding Officer for the parliament, Alex Fergusson, said: “It is vitally important that the parliament continues to play its part in responding to the financial pressures facing public sector finances.”

These cuts come in the wake of some major financial cuts, announced by the coalition government at Westminster last month, which will see the public sector hit hard.

There are also significant cuts being made in the National Health Service (NHS) with one nurse revealing that staff no longer receive donations from patients or relatives, with the money instead going to the local trust.

Staff nurse Terrie Scott said: “We are having to tell relatives not to make donations, as the money all goes to the trust, and the nurses don’t see a penny of it.

“We used to be given a portion of this money for ward maintenance and for our nights out but now this is being capped”

NHS Lothian were unavailable to comment on this matter.

Tea in the Park for music festival revellers?

by David Walsh

Festival goers in Scotland are to foot the bill for alcohol-fuelled disturbances at musical festivals under the proposed Alcohol Bill voted on at Holyrood today.

One of the clauses of the bill will see the introduction of a “clear-up tax” spike on temporary licence holders which will mean that festivals such as T in the Park in Fife will become subject to the new law.

MSPs passed the revised bill outlining measures to redress the estimated £3bn costs in health care in Scotland due to alcohol-related conditions.

Festival revellers will be hit by tax spike.

Festival revellers at T in the Park will be hit by tax spike.

The tax, called a social responsibility levy, has been agreed upon and will see the proceeds of alcohol sales contribute to the costs of policing and health care incurred by drink-related activities in the wider community.

Key measures of the bill have been passed but the flagship policy on minimum pricing has been definitively rejected by MSPs in a 76-49 final vote against the policy. Labour, the Liberal Democrats and Conservatives all voted against the SNP policy in a move described by the Health Secretary Nicola Sturgeon as crude party politics.

The minister had urged MSPs to agree to a renewed attempt to introduce the minimum pricing of alcohol after it was defeated by the Scottish Parliament back in September.

In a recent interview with the BBC, she said: “There is vast and growing support outside parliament for minimum pricing and that’s why, even at this late stage, I call on the opposition parties to put party politics aside and vote for something that is in the interests of improving public health.”

The 45p per unit minimum proposed by the SNP government back in September was part of the already revised legislation package. It was estimated that its introduction would see a reduction of 50 fewer deaths a year and hospital emissions by 1200 a year.

The vote on the bill comes in a week where Scotland has seen it’s alcohol exports to China strengthened in a new deal between the two countries. Only whisky produced in Scotland will be marketed as Scotch to Chinese consumers, Asia’s second largest food and drink market. The Scotsman has reported that shipments of Scotch to China currently generate £80m in revenue a year.

Scottish Parliament launches competition for future journos

by Junio Valerio Songa

The Chamber of the Scottish Parliament

 

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

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

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

Presiding Officer Alex Ferguson MSP said about the competition:

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

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

Homelessness charities praise parliament

By Jack Matthews

The Scottish Parliament are today voting on a decision whether to end the right of tenants to buy their council houses in Scotland.

The debate over this issue arose after concerns over the cost of keeping such a law in force, as the Right to Buy means that as more tenants buy their council houses from the government, more schemes must be implemented and funded to compensate for those homes lost to the private market.

It is unsure, however, how effective a cost cutting measure this will be on the true face of things.  Studies found that recent support services in Scotland which cost £107m to implement, saved a total of £129m.

On the other hand, the bill, if passed today, would have positive ramifications for many homeless people across the country, as it will free up many of the council houses that would otherwise be snatched up by tenants asserting the Right to Buy.

Alistair Cameron, Chief Executive of homelessness charity Scottish Churches Housing Action, said today ‘We are delighted by this measure.’

He added, ‘Whatever benefits the right to buy policy has had for individuals, it has intensely damaged the ability of councils to carry out their homelessness duties.’

The parliament’s decision on the ballot will be announced at close of parliament today.

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.

Fast Cuts are the Deepest? BBC Debate

By Claudie Qumsieh

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘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.

Students protest censorship

A protest poster

Students at Edinburgh Napier University are to hold a series of protests this week over the removal of a student newspaper from all campuses.

The protests will be held every day this week, both on campus and at the Scottish Parliament.

The row centres over issues of press censorship and began after independent student newspaper The Journal published an article detailing dissent, and a possible vote of no confidence against the current president Kasia Bylinska, at the Napier Student’s Association.

Current NSA president, Kasia Bylinska

Current NSA President, Kasia Bylinska

The article stated that allegations of six counts of  unconstitutional behaviour had been made against Ms Bylinska and that eight programme representatives had signed a motion for an emergency meeting to enact a vote of no confidence in the president.

The NSA responded by removing all copies of the publication from the university, which has prompted accusations of press censorship by members of the student body.

Rik Carranza, who ran against Ms Bylinska in last year’s election, said: “This action taken by the NSA is disgusting and shares more in common with censorship in China than creating an equal playing field for election candidates which the elections committee is trying to justify.

“I am a proud member of the student union movement and have been for many years now and let me tell you, I have never seen such a flagrant disregard for freedom of speech in my time in NUS. The NSA has infringed basic human rights and they should not be allowed to continue”, he continued.

Edinburgh Napier University said: ” The University does not condone the decision of the NSA to remove copies of The Journal from its campuses.”

Shirley-Anne Sommerville, MSP

The campaign has earned support from SNP MSP Shirley-Anne Somerville. She said: “Freedom of the press is integral to any democratic society. The Journal is a valued resource in the city, keeping students up to date with student issues and wider current affairs – it is a respected paper and provides valuable experience and employment to…… those interested in the field of journalism. I hope that this current dispute is concluded as soon as possible.”

The protesters are also hoping to gain enough signatures on a petition for an emergency meeting for a vote of no confidence in Kasia Bylinska. This would over-ride the need for programme representatives to lend their support. The petition currently has over 200 signatures after just a few hours of campaigning.

Christopher Pilkington with campaign material

Christopher Pilkington with campaign material

Christopher Pilkington, one of the most active members of the protest and a programme representative for the Business Management with Marketing course, said: The idea of a university – a place that is intended to shape young minds – being actively censored is intolerable.

“We cannot be brought up to accept a censored press, particularly when the organisation doing the censoring is refusing to be held accountable to the students it claims to represent.”

Following the publication last week, all copies of The Journal have been removed from Napier campuses. The NSA have yet to issue a statement regarding the reasons for the removal and have so far declined to comment on the Journalgate protests.

Kenneth Dale-Risk, Law lecturer at Edinburgh Napier University said he did not believe the original Journal article to be defamatory stating that it was “an article of fact.”

Protesting students outside the NSA building at 12 Merchiston Place, Edinburgh

_________________________________________________________________

Protests:

Wed: 11 – 5 at Craighouse

Thursday: 11 – 5 at the Scottish Parliament

Friday: 4 onwards sit-in at Craighouse Campus

Follow the row on Twitter – just search #journalgate

Swinney wins award against backdrop of expenses row

North Tayside MSP John Swinney was named Scottish Politician of the Year at a ceremony in Edinburgh last night.  

Mr Swinney

Mr Swinney, who is the Cabinet Secretary for Finance and Sustainable Growth, received the award for his role in dealing with the financial crisis and for delivering a council tax freeze.

As he accepted the award he heaped praise on his colleagues.  

“I think this is one of the things that is so important about the way we take our decisions, is that we do that in a way in which we support each other as a cabinet and as a team of ministers” he said. 

“For me that is the most precious thing about serving in the SNP government – that spirit of working together, of mutual support and working together to make sure our government delivers for the people of Scotland.”

The award has drawn criticism in light of recent revelations about MSP’s expenses.

Mark Wallace, campaign director of the Taxpayer’s Alliance, says that the awards are a joke.

“It seems all too often that politicians don’t realise how deep the recession is and how angry the public are. There is no excuse for holding glitzy awards ceremonies while people can’t pay their bills.” he said.

“Politicians need to be  more restrained, modest and humble, especially given the dire experiences of their constituents.”

Mr Swinney was unavailable for comment.

Save Our Herbs Campaign – Henry VIII’s Surprise Visit To Parliament

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Herbs - Citydirt.net

By Jennifer Flett

MSPs showed their support outside Scottish Parliament yesterday as members of the National Institute of Medical Herbalists, concerned constituents and herbal medicine students gathered for a mass lobby.

Under a new EU directive (THMPD) after April, 2011 the public will only be able to buy licensed herbal remedies, which campaigners say, limits the range of medicine people can acquire, at the same time compromising their safety if they then look online for alternatives and possibly poor quality products.

In an attempt to highlight the need for statutory regulation of traditional medicine practitioners, lobbyists wore period Henry VIII costumes.

Their eye-catching costumes were a new ploy to generate more public and media interest, Keren Brynes MacLean from The Kirkcaldy Herbal Clinic who donned one costume said,

“We’re coming at it from a slightly different angle with the Henry theme, you would never expect Henry VIII to turn up at the Scottish Parliament!”

“The 16th century monarch set up a Herbalists Charter as a starting point of an alternative health care system which is now largely outdated and the period costumes are to put the message across that legislation needs to be modernised”

One herbal medicine student, Alison Baird, from Edinburgh Napier University stated that,

“ At the moment anyone can call themselves herbal medicine practitioners, we need our MSP’s to put more pressure on Government to regulate herbal practitioners and to become integrated into the health care system.

Members of the society believe statutory regulation would allow the public to have the opportunity to access prescription herbs by properly trained practitioners and that without access to a full range of remedies the market will collapse due to a lack of business.

MSPs, came down to speak to campaigners frequently throughout the day to answer constituents’ questions on what government will do for their cause

Shadow Health Secretary, Mary Scanlon explained;

“ I don’t feel that the Save Our Herbs Campaign have communicated effectively with politicians as I don’t know enough about the cause.”

In order to address this problem Scanlon suggested an organised reception with other MSPs.

Campaigner MacLean said of the decision that she thinks they have showed themselves to be,  “a cohesive body of professionals, with a lot of public interest.”

The final consultation ran by the Department of Health will be held on the 16th November to find out whether people think traditional medicine practitioners should be regulated, or not.

Parliament splash out on building during economic slump

By Matthew Robertson

Taxpayers have once again paid the price, as it has been announced that over the last five years, they have had fork out over £4 million for maintenance costs for the Scottish Parliamentary buildings in Holyrood.

This coming off the back of numerous occasions of over expenditure demonstrated by the government, such as the 2012 London olympics, is another kick in the teeth for the general public and is another example of how this country constantly fails to keep its financial budgets in order.

MSPS are perhaps the most illustrious of names of people who have lined up to criticise the cost of the famous buildings, as they blamed the “extravagant” designs for the high costs in maintenance.However, things such as security and cleaning lead to the buildup of cash spend on this project.New figures which were recently published this year show that a bill of £1.3 million was reached last year alone. This was mainly down to unscheduled maintenance such as the varnishing of the oak poles at the front of the building, reconstruction of the elevators and the cleaning of the premises such windows and flooring.

The figures also showed that one contractor, Norland, was paid a total of £5.1m for mechanical, electrical and fabric maintenance and work on security projects.When asked whether they felt that the money was well spent, Norland replied”We, along with the parliament feel that the finances spent of maintenance were necessary and will provide the country with a building they can be proud of”.

For a building which has been open for five years now, it could be said that there are some areas for improvement. For example a Scottish Parliament spokeswoman said “Holyrood is a unique building which is used by up to 1,000 people every day as well as more than 350,000 visitors a year. Naturally this has an impact on maintenance. We constantly review and develop our maintenance plans to ensure that cost-effective solutions are delivered.”

But when times are as tough as they currently are, this particular government debacle is hardly music to the public’s ears.

A New Voice For Canongate Wall

The Canongate Wall courtesy of wikimedia

The Canongate Wall courtesy of wikimedia

By Elizabeth Gorrie

A new quotation is to be added to the Canongate Wall to mark the tenth anniversary of the Scottish Parliament, it has been announced.

The wall, which surrounds part of the Parliament building, currently displays 24 quotations related to Scotland and the Parliament. These include poetry, proverbs and psalms by the likes of Sir Walter Scott, Charles Rennie MacKintosh, Robert Louis Stevenson and Robert Burn’s ‘To a Louse’.

Presiding Officer Sir Alex Ferguson said, “The Canongate Wall was always supposed to be a living wall – one that we would add to when the time was right. We believe that as we approach our tenth anniversary, that time is now.”

A group of literary experts and members of the Art Advisory Group have been enlisted to decide what will be the 25th quoation, which is to be announced on St Andrews Day this year.

Ferguson stressed the group’s wish for the public to get involved. “We are asking people to nominate a well-loved or significant piece of writing that is relevant for Scotland, perhaps something that expresses how they feel about Scotland, what it means to be Scottish, or hopes for the future.”

The wall can feature living or dead writers and suggestions can be written in English, Gaelic or Scots. The deadline is 31st August and submissions should be no more than 50 words.

To date, none of the 24 quotations have been taken from female authors. Some, including Laura, a Scottish Literature graduate, believe that this needs to change. “Some of Scotland’s greatest contemporary works of literature have been written by women, however masculinity is dominating the literary world and the wall could be a way to change this,” she told Edinburgh Napier News.

Suggestions so far have included Janice Galloway, Carol Ann Duffy and Liz Lochhead all of whom are popular female Scottish authors and poets. Other authors, such as Edwin Muir, James Kelman and Norman MacCaig have also been put forward for a place on the wall.

A triangular roundabout?

By Elizabeth Gorrie

Over £220,000 of taxpayers’ money is being spent on a triangular roundabout to be built outside the Scottish Parliament in an effort to prevent a terrorist attack on the building.

The  ’roundabout’ will be built at the entrance of the Parliament’s underground car park in Holyrood Road, reaching a height of one metre.

According to a Parliament source: “The function of the chicane is to put an obstacle in front of the building. The idea is to make it impossible for someone to drive down Holyrood Road at high speed and crash the gates”.

Despite spending £90 million bomb proofing the Parliament when construction of the building began in 1999, MI5 revealed two years ago that there were not enough measures to protect it from an attack.

Plans for a ring of steel and concrete around Holyrood were announced one month ago after The Centre for the Protection of National Infrastructure advised that it would be unable to withstand a suicide bomb attack.

However, many MSPs, including Margo MacDonald are unsure if this is the correct way to be spending taxpayers’ money.

“How many of these kinds of incidents have there been? If it was a regular occurrence I would be prepared to take their word for it that this is a necessary precaution. But if it’s only a ‘what if’ I think we could find better use for the money”.

Yet perhaps MacDonald ought to look at what else the taxpayers’ money is being used for before being too critical of the roundabout. This year alone £100,000 has been provided to improve the exhibition in the Parliament’s foyer and to buy new aerials, which are to enhance mobile phone reception in the building.

It was revealed by the Edinburgh Evening News last year that a new swipe-card system in the car park worth over £250,ooo had broken down. All traffic lights were left on red and guards were needed to manually wave cars through.

The roundabout and other security improvements are already underway, it is however uncertain when work will be completed.

Holyrood defenceless against suicide attacks

By Laura Mclean

The Scottish Parliament is not strong enough to withstand a suicide bomb attack, despite having had £90 million spent on bomb-proofing the building, according to a report by the The Centre for the Protection of National Infrastructure.

A ring of steel and concrete is to be erected surrounding the Scottish Parliament , two years after MI5 warned that not enough measures were being taken to protect Holyrood.

The move comes after the terror attack on Glasgow Airport 2 years ago when a Jeep Cherokee loaded with propane canisters was driven into the glass terminal doors at Glasgow International Airport.

A Parliament insider said today that discussions about increasing security have been in the pipeline for years but up until now no changes have been brought about.

He said: “The existing bollards were not thought to be strong enough and the fear was that a car being driven at speed could come through the glass front and into the building.”

parliament-exterior-at-night1

Over £90 million was spent bomb proofing the interior and exterior of the Scottish Parliament. But today it has been announced that a further £1.5 million is to be spent on a package of security improvements including new security gates and bollards will be erected at the entrance to the Holyrood building.

The architectural demands and safety regulations on the building were amongst the most rigorous in the construction industry in the 1990s. Consturcted from a mixture of granite, steel and glass the project was deemed as bomb-proof.

A spokeswoman for the Scottish Parliament said they are taking measures to install street furniture that will fit with the surrounding area. She said:  “The intention is to produce additional security measures, which are tasteful and merge with the iconic status of the Scottish Parliament building.”

Security bollards surrounding the airport entrance stopped the car from entering the terminal. MI5 say that a similar attack in Edinburgh can be prevented by erecting a further 162 bollards outside of the Scottish Parliament

City councillors have reassured local residents that no additional clutter will be made to the Canongate streets.

Law tightens for transgender, gay and disabled people

MSP Patrick Harvie (Scottish Greens)

MSP Patrick Harvie (Scottish Greens)

By Ashley Toner

The Offences (Aggravation by Prejudice) (Scotland) Bill is currently going through the Scottish Parliament. If successful, it will create provisions in the law which will formally recognise homophobia and transphobia as aggravations for hate crime.

The Justice Committee will meet next week to hear evidence including research prepared by lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) organisations throughout the country.

The bill was introduced in parliament by Patrick Harvie MSP on the 19th May 2008. He gave an exclusive interview to Dunedin Napier News expressing his hopes for the bill.

Listen to interviews with MSP Patrick Harvie (Scottish Greens) and Tim Hopkins (Equality Network) by Ashley Toner

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