A Farewell to Alex Salmond

By Charlotte Barbour

Scottish Labour politicians have said Alex Salmond will be remembered for the negative impact he has had on Scotland during his time as First Minister.

Claire Baker, a Scottish Labour MSP, described Mr Salmond as a “divisive” person and politician:

“While people should recognise his achievement as First Minister, it is time that he went.

He lost the referendum, and during his time in politics we have seen fewer teachers in schools, huge cuts to the college sector and the NHS have been put under enormous financial pressure. These are things that he will be remembered for.

Alex Salmond is a divisive person and a divisive politician and it is time for Scotland to move on.”

Salmond will submit his resignation as First Minister to the Scottish Parliament and to the Queen at 2.30 this afternoon.

Deputy SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon is expected to replace Salmond as leader of the Scottish National Party after his seven and a half years in power.

Salmond began his career in politics in 1973 at the University of St Andrews, when he joined the Federation of Student Nationalists aged 19.

He became SNP leader in 1990, and won the position of First Minister in 2007 after winning more seats than any other party in the Scottish Parliamentary Election.

He led the country into the most dramatic Scottish Independence Referendum in history, achieving a result of 44.7% yes, 55.3% no.

Despite stepping down from his position as First Minister following the ‘no’ vote in the Scottish Independence Referendum, the SNP’s campaign for Scottish Independence is far from over.

A recent poll suggested that nearly half of Scots want a second independence referendum before 2024.

This puts pressure on Ms Sturgeon to promise a re-run after the 2016 Holyrood election, despite 12% of the population being against another independence referendum.

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.”

Theresa May independence claims challeneged by SNP

Theresa May the Home Secretary has made the latest in a series of allegations about the prospects for an independent Scotland. In an interview with the BBC, Ms. May stated that there may be border controls on the border with England, dependent on whether Scotland opts out of the Schengen agreement or not.

This comes after comments she made during the Scottish Conservative Party conference in Troon over the weekend. During the conference, the Home Secretary stated that she believed that Scotland was stronger in the union, and suggested that immigration would become less controlled in an independent Scotland. Ms May also questioned the issue of sovereignty within the EU, stating “It completely defeats the SNP argument that Scotland would fare better with more control over its affairs when they seek to hand over so many serious areas of government elsewhere.”

In her interview with the BBC, Theresa May states  it may be possible that Scotland post-independence will have passport controls on the border with England. The Schengen agreement, which guarantees no border controls in the EU, was opted-out of by the UK, but new EU states, such as Scotland would be, are automatically opted in and have to negotiate if they don’t want to be in it.

Currently the UK operates a Common Travel Area with the Republic of Ireland, and Ms. May stated that an agreement of this kind may be negotiated between Scotland and the rest of Britain after independence.

A statement released by the SNP today stated that since both the rump UK and Scotland would be successor states from the UK, they ” will therefore inherit exactly the same status within the EU, including not being in the Schengen area.”

“An independent Scotland will also inherit the Common Travel Area which exists across UK and Ireland, and provides for no border controls for the citizens of these islands.”

The statement added that a soveriegn country can tailor immigration to meet their needs and that immigration may help “address skills shortages in Scotland’s labour market”. The SNP claims that the  the Home Secretary’s statements were “silly” and “scaremongering.”

Secret Lockerbie documents published

Yesterday the Sunday Herald published a full 800 page report by the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission (SCCRC). For five years no paper was allowed to get access to the report. The controversial report highlights hopes of a new appeal in the name of Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed al Megrahi, since a believed miscarriage of justice may have occurred. The Libyan Megrahi got convicted of the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie in 1988. The Crown Office commented though, that it had considered all the information in the statement of reasons and had “every confidence in successfully defending the conviction”.

The reasons  the Herald was able to publish the papers are Megrahi’s permission as well as the public interest for the Lockerbie bombing.  First Minister Alex Salmond supports the report, which doubts Megrahi’s conviction. He said: “I welcome the publication in full of this report, which is something the Scottish Government has been doing everything in our powers to facilitate.” Salmond added also: “This report provides valuable information, from an independent body acting without fear or favour, and while we cannot expect it to resolve all the issues, it does however lay the basis for narrowing the areas of dispute and in many ways is far more comprehensive than any inquiry could ever hope to be.”

On Wednesday 21 December 1988, shortly after Pan Am 103 was taking off from Heathrow airport to go to New York, an explosion over the Scottish town of Lockerbie caused the aircraft fall out of the sky. 243 passengers and 16 crew members were killed, as well as 11 Lockerbie citizens. Megrahi got convicted for planting the bomb but got released in 2009 because he suffered from cancer, which was supposed to give him about three more months to live. Megrahi is still alive today.

The publication by the Sunday Herald was a contentious decision, since the it wasn’t authorised. The paper commented: “Under Section 32 of the Data Protection Act, journalists can publish in the public interest. We have made very few redactions to protect the names of confidential sources and private information.”

Experts do not believe the newspaper will face prosecution for publishing the documents.

Edinburgh contributes more to economy than London

According to a new report Scotland’s capital contributes more to the country’s economy than any other city in the UK. The study was released by London based accountancy firm UHY Hacker Young. Their calculations are based on Gross Value Added (GVA). It basically means the measure of a region’s contribution to the UK economy according to the value of the goods and services it provides. Figures show the city had a GVA of £34,950 for 2009. This figure places it ahead of London, where the GVA fell from £34,964 to £34,779. A reason for it is that the crisis had a negative impact on the capital’s financial sectors with a lot of jobs getting cut, as well as a lot of poor neighborhoods around the city.

Traditionally, London’s GVA has been considerably higher than the other major UK cities but recently it has suffered due to the economic crisis. Unemployment has had a significant bearing on the GVA contributon: the unemployment rate in the capital stood at 9.1 per cent, compared to Edinburgh’s rate of 6.3 per cent.

But Edinburgh is not the only Scottish city which performed well in the report, Glasgow and Aberdeen were also ranked in the top 5 cities in the GVA league table. Aberdeen in particular, with its sizable oil and gas industry is an important contributor to the UK’s overall economy. And the Northern city has been largely unaffected by the financial crisis and continued to show stable performance in the report.

Marc Waterman, a partner for UHY Hacker young explained: “The situation in Aberdeen is unique within the UK. It’s the only major city in the UK that has an economy based almost entirely around the oil and gas industry.” The demand for Aberdeen’s oil internationally means a positive impact on Britain’s overall economy.

The strong performance from Scottish cities should be received with some semblance of caution, since the analysis does not always include all relevant factors. But nevertheless the report should provide a boost in confidence for 2014, when Scotland will vote on independence.

Tory Health Spokesman slams SNP cancer drug policies

Demand for a cancer drugs fund: MSP Jackson Carlaw. Image: http://www.jacksoncarlawmsp.com

Conservative Health Spokesman Jackson Carlaw will today criticise the SNP for refusing to set up a cancer drugs fund, and instead prioritising free prescriptions for all.

He will use his annual speech at the Scottish Conservative Party Conference in Troon to argue that English cancer sufferers have a better chance of survival because of access to a cancer fund.

Prostate cancer sufferers in England have gained access to the new cancer drug Abiraterone through the fund. The same drug was recently refused approval by the Scottish Medicines Consortium.

“It is now clear where cancer sufferers rank on the SNP’s priority list,” Carlaw says.

SNP asks members to drive public opinion

The SNP has mobilized its members in a concerted effort to shift public opinion ahead of a vote for independence.

At the weekends party conference, Angus Robertson, Campaign chief urged supporters to “go back to your local area and make sure we are doing everything we can to be as effective as possible.” Members were encouraged to strike up conversations with anyone from “work acquaintance’s ” to “taxi drivers” and promote a proactive dialogue about independence.

This dialogue will be pursued through public debate, particularly radio phone in shows, with members asked to bombard the stations with pro independence opinion.

Social media has also been targeted, with supporters asked to persuade their friends to ‘follow’ the SNP on twitter, and ‘like’ them on Facebook.

Edinburgh first to back global Occupy movement

Edinburgh Council has become the first political body to officially back to worldwide Occupy movement.

The council this afternoon voted in an overwhelming majority to redirect economic decisions to be more focussed on the needs of the 99% in an attempt to reduce the “inequitable gap” between the rich and poor.

The SNP, Liberal Democrats, Labour and the Greens, all voted in favour of the motion, with the Conservatives the only party to reject it.

During the debate, Councillor Chapman of the Scottish Green Group said: “Next week workers will go on strike to protect pensions whilst the 1% continue their parasitic feasting on the commonwealth.”

Labour Councillor Gordon Munro, who is an advocate of the Robin Hood Tax, added: “Occupy Edinburgh is a civilised response to the irresponsible actions of global bankers.”

Conservatives voiced concern over the safety of the Edinburgh camp based at St Andrew’s Square, citing anti-social behaviour and a risk to public safety. They also felt that a vote to back the movement would suggest that Edinburgh was closed to the needs of businesses.

Councillor Chapman responded: “This is not about saying Edinburgh is closed to business. It’s about representing the interests of the people.”

Background to the Occupy Movement

St Andrew’s Square has seen an influx of approximately 300 protestors since October 15 calling themselves Occupy Edinburgh. The demonstration, inspired by the Occupy Wall Street protests in America, has seen campaigners rally against the influence of the ‘one per cent’ of wealthy individuals and companies over the ’99 per cent’ of the general public. Their mantra, ‘We are people over profit’, reflects their protests against cuts to education, disability benefits and the NHS. Dozens of students, working mothers, trade unionists and other campaigning groups have set up camp and made a call for social equality and corporate responsibility.

The non-violent protests in Edinburgh are among a small minority of the demonstrations which have gone smoothly with little disruption.

Council scraps environmental privatisation plans

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

More background on today’s decision is available here.

Salmond “scared of separation”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.”

3pm bulletin – Exclusive at Leith Docks

In today’s 3pm bulletin:

Credit: Blythe Hawkins

 

The SNP is under fire over a freedom of information request that took 9 months to respond to.

A 20-year-old man is in court today charged with the murder of a retired Edinburgh lecturer.

Morningside Library will close for eight months for refurbishment.

How will yesterday’s budget affect Scotland’s video-gaming industry?

Exclusive at Leith Docks – Michael McKeand looks at the latest addition to the port.

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.”

Greens back tartan tax

Patrick Harvie MSP

By Andy Mackie

The Scottish Green party are the first political party in Scotland to propose using the Scottish parliament’s tax raising powers.

A motion was passed at the party’s annual conference, held in Edinburgh at the weekend, to oppose cuts to services and to look at taxation as a tool to achieve this. Explaining this stance in the run up to next years Holyrood elections Patrick Harvie MSP said:  “We don’t want the electorate to be faced with five political parties proposing five different flavours of cuts. In doing this we have to acknowledge that, unfortunately, other ways of raising revenue have to be explored.”

[Read more…]

Uprising and controversial debate over the future of university funding

By Jenny Kassner

The government’s announcement last week to increase tuition fees in England up to £9,000 has caused debate and uprising in the UK. Especially the Liberal Democrat’s decision to back the rise, despite original election pledges to stand against any increase of tuition, has sparked controversy.

[Read more…]

Education Minister Promises No Tuition Fees in Scotland

By Ryan C. Gavan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

By David Walsh

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Assisted suicide bill – license to heal or license to kill?

By Sandra Juncu

The assisted suicide bill is facing new challenges as claims were made that numbers could reach 1,000 deaths in Scotland per year.

Independent MSP Margo MacDonald appeared in front of a Holyrood committee set up to revise her controversial bill that is allowing people suffering from a terminal illness to seek medical help in ending their life. She based her law proposal on the example of the U.S. State of Oregon’s existing regulations and approximated the number of Scottish cases to  55 per year.

The MSP is convinced of the importance of her Bill

Former SNP colleague, Michael Matheson openly criticized her intention by commenting “Your legislation is much closer in parallel to Dutch legislation and using the very same methodology that you’ve used to calculate the figures, the number of people who may exercise their rights under this legislation, if enacted, is closer to 1000 rather than 55. That’s significantly different.”

MacDonald, who suffers from degenerative Parkinson’s condition, has expressed concerns as she is claimming that an “organized campaign” against her has been trying to scrutinize her plans and take attention away from the fact that the law has plenty of safeguards to prevent abuse: “We mean for everyone to understand completely that this is not something to be entered into lightly. If there were more than 100 a year of people who find their lives intolerable and who followed the bill faithfully, I would have no objection to that.”

Although the MSP is confident on a majority of  bill supporters in Scotland, the international situation does not seem as favourable. The Netherlands have published a report saying that the number of assisted deaths and euthanasia cases have risen by 200 last year and different international organisations are expressing concern related to the fact that this legislation will give people the false idea that not every life is worth living.

One of the big opponents of the “Right to die” movement is the Catholic Church, as the Archbishop Rev. Vincent Nichols said: “It seems to imply that if the victim is disabled or terminally ill, then his or her life does not merit the same degree of protection by law. Such an underlying assumption is unacceptable in a civilised and caring society.”

Tories and SNP clash over defence policy

By Andy Mackie and Jenny Kassner

Annabel Goldie, leader of the Scottish Conservative Party, sparked some controversy between her party and the SNP with her speech on the last day of the Conservative Party Conference. She launched a scathing attack on the SNPs independent defence policy.

Commenting on Alex Salmonds submission to the strategic defence review, Golbie said: “One fact underpins that document. Scotland would not have a one single defence job if we were independent. We only have these defence jobs because we are part of the United Kingdom.”

She went on to state that unlike the SNP, Scottish Conservatives would always act in the national interest, rather than the nationalist interest.

“Devolution was supposed to create a Scottish Parliament for Scottish Solution”, she continues, “but instead of being an engine for reform, Labour and the SNP have used it to put brakes on reform.”

“While other parties are stuck in the past, we will drive Scotland forward”, she concludes her speech.

Respondent on the behalf of the SNP Westminster leader and Defence spokesperson Angus Robertson MP laid the blame for the cuts on the Conservatives: “The only threat to conventional defence jobs in Scotland comes from the Tories”, said Robertson. He adds: “It is the Coalition Government in London which is planning to shed jobs, close bases and cancel procurement contracts.”

On Goldie’s allegations that the SNP would only act in nationalist interest, he commented: “The focus of everyone’s efforts should be to preserve the defence forces and equipment we need and the jobs that families and communities rely on.  The SNP will always put people’s jobs before party politics and it is disappointing Scotland’s Tory leader cannot do the same.”

‘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.

MSP comes out in support of the Journal

by Anna Fenton

Within the last hour, Lothians SNP MSP Shirley Anne Somerville has come out in support of Edinburgh’s student paper, the Journal, in its struggle against the removal of its papers from Edinburgh Napier campuses.  

Somerville 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 employement to those interested in the field of journalism. I hope that this current dispute is concluded as soon as possible.”

The Napier Student Association removed the papers after a cover story concerning a vote of no confidence in student president, Kasia Bylinska.

Labour rejects minimum alcohol bill

By Joanna Park & Natalie Deacon

A Labour MSP has condemned the SNP minimum alcohol pricing bill as ‘unworkable.’

Labour MSP John Park said: “The proposal brought to us by the SNP was unworkable and unfortunately while labour did suggest the idea of a commission, this was rejected by the SNP, so unfortunately we are in the position we are today.

“We intend to work closely with the SNP combat Scotland’s binge drinking culture. “

The SNP set out proposals yesterday, backed by health campaigners, police and publicans, claiming the measure would saves lives. 

The bill, which the Tories and Lib Dems have previously rejected, aims to tackle the binge drinking culture in Scotland.

The plan proposes to introduce a minimum price of 40p per 10 millilitre unit of alcohol for drink sold in supermarkets and off-sales. 

It is estimated that minimum pricing would lead to a bottle of own-label supermarket vodka rising from the £7 to around £10.50 and an average bottle of wine would cost at least £3.60.

Christina McKenzie from the charity Alcohol Focus Scotland said: “We are disappointed at the position Labour has taken in advance of evidence to the Health Committee. This flies in the face of all the advice and evidence from Public Health and other experts who have to deal with alcohol related harm.

“We strongly believe that establishing a minimum price for alcohol is the most important element of the range of proposals by the Government in the Alcohol Bill, and its rejection by Labour is a major blow which could set back attempts to make a positive change to Scotland’s drinking culture.”

Scotland has the eighth-highest level of alcohol consumption in the world and alcohol misuse is thought to cost the country £2.25billion a year in services and lost production.  Scotland also has one of the fastest growing chronic liver disease and cirrhoses rates in the world

SNP accused of ‘hijacking saltire’

Foulkes

Image from thesun.co.uk

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

By Suhayl Afzal

Shine on Scotland campaign back in Parliament

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Shine on Scotland logo

by Emma Cameron

Fourteen-year-old campaigner Ryan McLaughlin was back in the Scottish Parliament on Tuesday 3 November to get an update on his petition, which seeks to raise public awareness about the benefits of vitamin D in relation to multiple sclerosis (MS). He was joined at parliament by  his family, supporters from the Multiple Sclerosis Society Scotland and several MSPs

Ryan’s arduous Shine on Scotland campaign has attracted tremendous publicity since it was launched in June, when he lead hundreds of school children marched along Edinburgh’s Royal Mile to the Scottish Parliament to handover Ryan’s petition to MSPs. Ryan’s e-petition, which has been signed by thousands, called on the Scottish Government to run an awareness campaign to ensure that people living in Scotland know what level of vitamin D supplements they should be taking, and to produce new guidelines on supplementation for children and pregnant women.

Ryan is certainly aware of the effects of MS, as it impacts the lives of 10,500 people in Scotland and one of those affected is his Mum, Kirsten. His experience of MS encouraged him to find a way to help the thousands of people trying to fight this chronic disease and he aims to lessen the impact of MS on future generations. Scientists have found evidence that a direct interaction between vitamin D and a common genetic variant alters the risk of developing the condition. As people in Scotland are exposed to less sunshine, less vitamin D is produced and the risks of contracting this progressive disease are higher than in countries closer to the equator.

The Scottish Government have taken a keen interest in the movement  and in September, Health Secretary Nicola Sturgeon met with Shine on Scotland campaigners. She, alongside many other MSPs, assured Ryan and his team that they would be invited to play a key role in helping the Government draw up its own awareness campaign on the importance and benefits of vitamin D.

Bill Kidd, Glasgow MSP for the SNP fully commends Ryan and his fellow campaigners on their progress so far. He said to Edinburgh Napier News that: ‘I believe that what Ryan has done shows a great maturity of caring and a remarkable dedication from a young man who, coming from a close family in Glasgow, has decided that he wants to do his very best for his mother and others with MS by challenging the scourge of this disease which hits Scotland in particular so hard.’

He continues: ‘I fully support the campaign for Vitamin D supplements which would address the development of MS in pre-birth and in young children in particular, as has been achieved in Canada and those numerous other countries where it has been introduced.’

Although Ryan didn’t manage to get a referral to the health committee for further investigation, he is grateful for their work so far. He released a statement to Edinburgh Napier News stating that: “We did not think for a moment that we would get free vitamin D for everyone today, we were asking the Government to explore all the evidence first before reaching a decision. We’ll continue to work with the petitions committee and the Scottish Government for the prevention of MS and of course for a healthier Scotland.”

Shine on Scotland campaigners, MSPS and the MS Society Scotland will now begin the task of organising a summit to attract international experts on the subject to present the latest evidence and research.

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