For a round-up of today’s latest news watch the Edinburgh Napier News bulletin. Stories covered today include: the earthquake in Japan; house prices in Edinburgh; vandals damage the city’s war memorial and the Scottish drinks industry fights back at tobacco comparisons.
Where Christians fear to tread, or have fled: an exploration into the birthplace of Christianity this Christmas.
By Claudie Qumsieh
Beyond the tinsel, Christmas is a celebration commemorating the birth of Jesus Christ. The Holy Land however has been violated by a colonial presence since the creation of Israel in 1948, in the land that was once Palestine.
“A bulldozer arrived with soldiers. I began to argue with them not to demolish my home, so they began to beat me. As the bulldozer was to begin the demolition, I remembered that my son was sleeping inside. I ran towards the house to get him. As I ran the soldiers tried to hold me back. They began beating and kicking me. I managed to push one to the ground and ran inside to my son”
These are the words of Rodina Jabber, interviewed in the award-winning documentary, Occupation 101. This Palestinian mother’s children cannot sleep for fear that the soldiers will return. Two of her homes have been bulldozed and her land taken by Israeli settlers. Jabber’s story is not an anomaly, her story is the story of a nation. In the last 10 years Israel have destroyed about 1,000 Palestinian homes in occupied Jerusalem and displaced 5,783 individuals, including 3,109 children.
Desmond Tutu draws comparisons with South African apartheid when he thanks students for their protests against Israel:
“I have been to the Occupied Palestinian Territory, and I have witnessed the racially segregated roads and housing that reminded me so much of the conditions we experienced in South Africa under the racist system of Apartheid. I have witnessed the humiliation of Palestinian men, women, and children made to wait hours at Israeli military checkpoints routinely when trying to make the most basic of trips to visit relatives or attend school or college, and this humiliation is familiar to me and the many black South Africans”
One striking apartheid tool in the conflict is a wall three times as long and twice as tall as the Berlin Wall. The construction is called different names by the two sides: “The Wall” by the Palestinians, “security/anti-terrorist fence” by the Israelis. According to Israel Diplomatic Network “The security fence limits the ability of terrorist organizations to enter Israel […] making it difficult for them to carry out suicide bombing attacks within Israel“. Not only is the wall a means of oppression, the wall encroaches on Palestinian land. Israel has used it to capture valuable fertile land from the Palestinians. Although his Question of Palestine pre-dates the erection of the wall, it is a physical embodiment of what Edward Said described in 1979 as Zionist “blocking, shrinking, silencing, hemming in” of Palestinians.
As Christmas is celebrated, Palestine, the home of Christ, is forgotten. The Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem is built over the cave where Jesus was said to be born, it is a sacred place for Christians. In 2002 when the Israel Defence Force (IDF) re-occupied Bethlehem, 100 people fled for safety into the Church of the Nativity. A 39 day siege followed where the entire city was punished: electricity was cut off and curfews were imposed. Outside soldiers stood with guns pointing at the church sacred to millions throughout the world as the birthplace of Jesus Christ.
Historically Bethlehem had been a Christian city governed largely by Christians, however Bethlehem has more recently been Islamized. The 23,000 Christians of the area have been reduced since 1990 from a 60% majority to a minority by 2001. Christian Palestinians are an oppressed minority within an oppressed majority of Palestinians, both Muslim and Christian. In the 1947 official British Mandate records 35% of Palestine’s population was Christian. Since 1948 most Christian Palestinians have fled, they now make up only 2% of the population. Although Israel blames Hamas and Islamic fundamentalists for the diminishing Christian population, in 2006 the Palestinian Centre for Research and Cultural Dialogue poll found that 90% of Christians reported having Muslim friends, 73.3% agreed that the Palestinian Authority treats Christian heritage in the city with respect and 78% said the exodus of Christians from Bethlehem was because of the Israeli occupation. I spoke to one Palestinian who explained that the root cause is the Israeli occupation which has created fundamentalism, which has in turn created more oppression for the Christians of Palestine. Seen as more Westernised, they are discriminated against as a minority within a minority.
Jerusalem is a holy city for all three Abrahamic religions: Islam, Judaism and Christianity. For Muslims it is the site of the first Qibla, the Dome of the rock; for Jews, Solomon’s First Temple; for Christians- Jesus’ home and the place of his crucifixion. There are 1204 synagogues 158 churches and 73 mosques within the city. This holy city has been the flashpoint of violence and oppression. In 1949 the new state of Israel’s Prime Minister, David Ben-Gurion named Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. Jerusalem was at the time divided between Israel and Jordan and only West Jerusalem was considered Israel’s capital. During the 1967 Six-Day War Israel took control of East Jerusalem illegally and it remains to this day under occupation. 34 settlements have been constructed since 1967, and there is only 12 percent of the land in east Jerusalem for Palestinians, while 38 percent for the Israeli settlements and 50 percent is green areas reserved for the building and expansion of settlements. 39 Palestinian villages have been erased and 98, 000 Jerusalemites displaced.
Former Professor at Yale Mazin Qumsiyah is an advocate for Palestine and author of “Sharing the Land of Canaan: Human rights and the Israeli/Palestinian Struggle”. Qumsiyah remembers his hometown of Beit Sahur, a suburb of Bethlehem, as“An idyllic place. A place where Christians and Muslims lived and worked, side by side, for centuries. The main town mosque and church are still in the same block both in Bethlehem and Beit Sahur. We have been relentlessly bombed by Israeli occupation forces, and hundreds of families had to desert their homes. Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, B’Tselem (Israeli Human Rights Organization), and the World Council of Churches have called this “excessive use of force” and “collective punishment” (banned by International law).”
There are 1.5 million Palestinians, half of whom are children, under siege in Gaza. 80% of whom are in abject poverty. 1.5 million people have been displaced from their homes and transformed into refugees, unable to determine their own futures.
There are about 5000 Christians in Gaza. Christmas in Gaza is celebrated on the 7th of January. Last year 300 people gathered in a small parish in Gaza where Patriarch Fouad, pastor of the Mother Church of Jerusalem, prayed “Oh Infant of Bethlehem, you who passed through Gaza in your flight to Egypt, grant us your patience, your love, your goodness. May this new year bring reconciliation, purification of intentions, a meeting of hearts, the end of divisions, the destruction of walls and the construction of the bridges of understanding, mutual forgiveness and encounter among peoples.” Fouad’s prayers for 2010 have not been answered. The people of Gaza, both Muslim and Christian, are under siege. Vital humanitarian aid is being blocked, all in the guise of anti-terrorism measures. Even glass cannot be brought in to build homes because glass is a terrorist material, according to Israel.
In 2008 Israel launched an attack on Gaza, 1400 Palestinians were killed including 300 children and 5000 were wounded. According to Amnesty International Israel breached international laws of war, having carried out attacks on civilians and civilian buildings, most notoriously a UN school. A strict blockade has prevented all movement of people and goods, the terminally ill cannot leave for medical assistance. The people of Gaza are imprisoned.
Despite international condemnation, 2 years have passed and Gaza is still suffering. Last month Amnesty released a report called “Dashed Hopes: Continuation of the Gaza”. Amnesty International UK Director Kate Allen said: “The so-called ‘easing’ of the Gaza blockade does not change the fact that there’s still a cruel and illegal blockade collectively punishing the entire civilian population. The only real easing has been the easing of pressure on the Israeli authorities to end this cruel and illegal practice.”
The international community have verbally condemned the treatment of the people of Gaza, but there is all too much rhetoric and too little action. One way of protest is divestment which was used against Apartheid South Africa. The BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) campaign aims to pressurise Israel to comply with international law, including withdrawal from the land that it has been illegally occupied since 1967.
American Israeli public affairs committee (AIPAC) According to If Americans Knew, a group formed to inform and educate the American public, Israel “has been the largest annual recipient of direct U.S. economic and military assistance since 1976 and the largest total recipient since World War ll. Total direct U.S. aid to Israel amounts to well over $140 billion in 2003 dollars. Israel receives about $3 billion in direct foreign assistance each year, which is roughly one-fifth of America’s entire foreign aid budget”. Congressional Research Service’s conservative estimate of total US aid to Israel from 1949 through 2009 is $106.1647 billion. U.S has been funding colonialism and apartheid for 61 years.
This time last year “A Moment of Truth” was published by Palestinian Christians who criticised “theologians in the West who try to attach a biblical and theological legitimacy to the Israeli infringement of our rights, urge for non violent resistance tools such as boycott and divestments and call for a stop on Israeli ‘racism and apartheid’.” The point is that people are discriminated against because of their race and religion and this is supposedly justified by ancient scripture. They go on to say “in the absence of all hope, we cry out our cry of hope. We believe in God, good and just. We believe that God’s goodness will finally triumph over the evil of hate and of death that still persist in our land. We will see here ‘a new land’ and ‘a new human being’, capable of rising up in the spirit to love each one of his or her brothers and sisters.”
European collective guilt for the atrocities of the Holocaust has traditionally permitted the colonialism of Palestinian land. There was a reluctance to criticise Israel policy for fear of being labelled anti-Semitic. Even Jews who oppose Zionism are described as self-loathing. It is forgotten that it was the British Balfour Declaration in 1917 that gave support to Zionist Jews to form a state in Arab land and it is the United States’ continued support for Israel that permits systemic injustice. The funding of colonialism and what has been described as “state terrorism”. Whilst the UN and international bodies condemn the atrocities, the world is complacent and allows it to continue.
Peace and Human Rights activists are calling on “all people of conscience” to visit Palestine this Christmas. Demand an end to the suffering inflicted on the innocent, demand an end to the illegal collective punishment and apartheid in the land where Christianity was born. As Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the children of God.”
In London at weekends dark figures connected to the sewers rise out of the pavements: urinals. Edinburgh has unveiled plans for similar, if not as cinematic, urinals to address the problem of drunkards using the streets as make-shift toilets.
The proposal was outlined in a report into how the night-time economy of Edinburgh affects local residents’ quality of life. Public urination most affects the Grassmarket and Cowgate areas according to Edinburgh City Council. “Urinating in the street accounts for a third of all fixed penalty notices for antisocial behaviour and a large amount of residents’ complaints.” a spokeswoman for the Council said.
The report was a response to give balance to a previous report on the benefits Edinburgh’s night-life brings to the economy. City leader Jenny Dawe said: “Obviously there are some people, particularly in the Grassmarket for example, where they see a different side to it, so this is addressing the impact that it has on residents and their quality of life. It shows that quite a lot is already being done to try to minimize the impact and that will continue being the case, because clearly we don’t want to have disgruntled residents just because something’s helping Edinburgh’s economy.”
According to suppliers Loo-hire UK “From delivery, to waste management, to collection – Loo-Hire U.K. take care of everything. This saves the local authority time and money in street cleaning services. The Four Bay Male Urinal portable toilet provides a public convenience and creates a more pleasant environment for everyone”. Each unit holds 450 litres and is 200cm tall. They need no mains connection or set-up, and Loo-Hire U.K remove the waste.
Similar initiatives elsewhere in the UK have proved to be a success. Since Bath & North Somerset Council installed 2 portable toilets at a taxi rank in October 2009, the device has collected on average 30 litres of urine a night and 14000 people have used them. Bath Councillor Vic Pritchard said: “It is noticeable that fewer people are using street corners and shop doorways to urinate, meaning the police can deal with other anti-social behaviour incidents and council street cleaners can concentrate on grime hot-spots elsewhere”
Police street patrols will also be increased in Edinburgh to reduce public disorder between 2.30 and 3.30am.
Former US President George W. Bush has admitted authorising the illegal practice of waterboarding during the interrogation of terror suspects. Bush claims the technique “helped break up plots” on both US and British soil, including Heathrow airport and Canary Wharf in London. Bush made the admission in his memoirs “Decision Points” which is released today.
Waterboarding is a controversial interrogation technique which simulates drowning. Amnesty International have said waterboarding is “absolutely prohibited under international law”. Amnesty’s UK Director Kate Allen said Bush’s comments were “self-serving and misguided” and pointed out that information gathered through those illegal means is “notoriously unreliable and inadmissible”. Downing Street today reiterated that waterboarding is illegal torture. President Obama banned the practice soon after his inauguration. Bush denies it is torture saying it is just one “advanced interrogation technique”
In an interview with The Times, which is serializing his memoir, Bush was asked if the technique was used with the man behind the 9/11 attacks, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. Bush said: “Damn right […] We capture the guy, the chief operating officer of al-Qaida, who kills 3,000 people. We felt he had the information about another attack”
Human rights lawyer Geoffrey Robertson QC said that Bush could face prosecution for his admissions, saying he “has confessed to ordering waterboarding, which in the view of almost all experts clearly passes the severe pain threshold in the definition of torture in international law.”
Bush is unapologetic “I knew an interrogation programme this sensitive and controversial would one day become public. When it did, we would open ourselves up to criticism that America had compromised our moral values. I would have preferred that we get the information another way. But the choice between security and values was real” Seemingly impervious to criticism, Bush told The Times “It doesn’t matter how people perceive me in England. It just doesn’t matter any more. And frankly, at times, it didn’t matter then”
Pulitzer Prize winning Politifact (St. Petersburg Times) researched claims that the U.S executed Japanese Prisoners of War for waterboarding and found that “After World War II, an international coalition convened to prosecute Japanese soldiers charged with torture. At the top of the list of techniques was water-based interrogation, known variously then as ‘water cure,’ ‘water torture’ and ‘waterboarding,’ according to the charging documents. It simulates drowning […] A number of the Japanese soldiers convicted by American judges were hanged, while others received lengthy prison sentences or time in labor camps.”
Bush relinquished responsibility in an interview with NBC’s Today programme saying “The lawyer said it was legal. He said it did not fall within the anti-torture act. I’m not a lawyer. But you gotta trust the judgment of people around you, and I do.”
Mobile phones could soon be used to test for sexually transmitted infections (STIs). The tests will work by the user putting a urine or saliva sample onto a microchip which they can insert into their phone. The software will analyse the sample and make recommendations for treatment, details of nearest GP surgery or clinic and even arrange automatic prescription to be made available at the local pharmacist.
The new £5.7 million project has been launched to develop this self-testing technology which will use nanotechnology in phones and computers. The test has the advantage of being both private and quick. Home testing hopes to prevent diagnosis being delayed by people’s reluctance to go to the doctors out of embarrassment.
The project, eSTI², is led by Dr Tariq Sadiq senior lecturer and consultant physician in sexual health and HIV at St George’s, University of London. Sadiq says “By making diagnosis easier to access in the community, with immediate results, we aim to reduce infection rates and improve sexual health.”
The technology hopes to address the problem of increasing numbers of infections in young people. STI’s can have long-term implications including infertility.
In the UK there has been a 36% rise of STIs in the past decade. An ISD Scotland survey on genitourinary medicine (GUM) clinics found a quarter of all acute STI diagnoses are in people under 20 years old. STIs are higher in men than women. More new acute STIs were in men with syphilis, gonorrhoea, genital warts, NSGI (non-specific genital infection), non-chlamydial, HIV and other More women were diagnosed with chlamydia, genital herpes and trichomoniasis. The highest rates recorded were in Lothian, Tayside and Greater Glasgow & Clyde.
The technology is still at development stage. The test will eventually be made available for sale in supermarkets, night club vending machines and pharmacies and will cost up to £1.
Dr Sadiq said “These systems have real potential to give individuals more control over their sexual health, reduce spread of infection, and radically change the way STIs are diagnosed and managed.”
The Medical Research Council has given a £4million grant to the consortium comprising academic and industrial researchers including St George’s, University College London, Brunel University, Warwick University, Queen Mary, University of London and the Health Protection Agency.
If you’re going to San Francisco, don’t expect a toy in your Happy Meal. The city has become the first major U.S city to stop giving children toys with unhealthy meals. For meals to be sold with toys they will need to have less than 600 calories, contain fruit or vegetables and have a drink without lots of sugar.
The decision is an attempt to address the childhood obesity problem. San Francisco Supervisor Eric Mar said ‘Our children are sick. Rates of obesity in San Francisco are disturbingly high, especially among children of colour’
McDonalds’ spokeswoman Danya Proud said “We are extremely disappointed with today’s decision. It’s not what our customers want, nor is it something they asked for.”
Kids are big customers in fast food. In the US more than $520 million is spent on toys and marketing directed at children, according to the US Federal Trade Commission report (2006). When combined with how much is spent targeting children by other food and drink companies, it totals $41.6 billion. In a recent Which? survey 38% of 8-11 year old said McDonalds was their favorite chain because of the toys in Happy Meals.
Although advertising during children’s TV is banned in the UK, advertisers are coming up with more sophisticated routes into children’s psyches. “Don’t play with your food”, parents used to say. Marketing campaigns have convinced at least some parents that playing with food is fun. Some retailers in the UK sell McDonald’s Play sets for 3 year olds and above. These 3 year olds can play with plastic nuggets, hamburger ingredients, cookies, fries and ketchup.
One mother’s online review of the McDonald’s Play set said: “i bought this for my son’s birthday because he loves McDonald alot. When he opened it, I can see his eyes lighting up. He was so happy and play with them everyday!” (sic)
Video games are another way to target children. In the popular Sims game, where players control virtual communities, players are rewarded for running a virtual McDonalds Kiosk. In this virtual world characters eat food and earn credits for “hunger” and “fun”. Associating fast food with fun and play is one way to create long-term relationships with unhealthy food.
15% of American children are overweight according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Comparatively in the Scottish Health Survey 2008, a third of children (33.6%) were out with the healthy weight range, an increase from 29.8% a decade before.
The Scottish Government has established a National Indicator to reduce the increase of children out with a healthy range by 2018.
More than 70,000 prisoners are to be given the right to vote. David Cameron has “reluctantly” given in to calls for the UK to comply with EU law. Compensation to disenfranchised prisoners could have cost the tax payer hundreds of millions of pounds, legal advisers warned the government.
The government failed to comply with a ruling of the European Convention of Human Rights (ECHR) 5 years ago. Prisoner John Hirst, who killed his landlady with an axe in 1979, took the issue to ECHR which ruled that the law breached the convention and was “disproportionate”
Hirst argues that in a democracy “people can put pressure and lobby in Parliament for changes in the law and improved conditions, but you can’t do that if you havent got the vote…. you’ve got to give them this legitimate channel to bring their issues in”
The UK has historically denied prisoners the right to vote. The principles of the Forfeiture Act 1870 were maintained in the Representation of the People Act in 1983.
As yet it is unknown how this law will be implemented. It is thought that judges will be able to decide on sentencing whether a prisoner will get the right to vote and prisoners convicted of child murder and serial killers will not get the vote. Prisoners who already have the right to vote include those jailed for contempt of court, those awaiting trial, and fine defaulters.
Official confirmation is thought to be announced in a statement to the court of appeal tomorrow.
An espionage Chief has made a public speech for the first time today. John Sawers heads the Secret Intelligence Service (SIS) aka MI6. The organisation gathers foreign secret intelligence. MI6 has been operating for 100 years but did not officially exist until 1992. Over the past 5 years SIS has gradually become more open, launching a website and posting recruitment ads in the media.
Sawer was former Foreign Affairs adviser to Tony Blair. An enquiry into the government’s case for invading Iraq by Lord Butler said that it was a “serious weakness” that intelligence was not made clear using “effective scrutiny and validation of human intelligence sources” . Sawers said today that Butler’s Review “was a clear reminder, to both the agencies and the centre of government, politicians and officials alike, of how intelligence needs to be handled”. Sources have to be scrutinised and evaluated.
More openness of course brings accountability and scrutiny by human rights advocates. Sawers spoke of the dilemma of gathering intelligence through torture “Torture is illegal and abhorrent under any circumstances and we have nothing whatsoever to do with it. If we know or believe action by us will lead to torture taking place, we’re required by UK and international law to avoid that action, and we do, even though that allows that terrorist activity to go ahead.”
To remind the audience of the security threats MI6 handle, he spoke of daily intelligence of terrorists “bent on maiming and murdering people in Britain”.
While domestic terrorism is a threat Sawer said “The dangers of proliferation of nuclear weapons and chemical and biological weapons are more far-reaching. It can alter the whole balance of power in a region”
Despite today’s insight Sawer insisted “Secrecy is not a dirty word. Secrecy is not there as a cover-up. Secrecy plays a crucial part in keeping Britain safe and secure. Secret organisations need to stay secret even if we present an occasional public face, as I am doing today… If our operations and methods become public they won’t work”
Holyrood is considering a proposed residential development which, opposition say, will destroy a unique community. Recently around 300 protesters marched through Glasgow’s West End to send a message to Glasgow City Council: “Leave our Lane Alane“.
Independent retailers in Otago Lane include a clock repair shop, record shop, second-hand book shop and tea house. Time, music, books and tea are all at stake. The plans, if authorised could see entry to the businesses blocked putting them at risk of closure. It will also transport 300 new residents into the lane. The eclectic appeal of the area was reflected in the diverse supporters present; children, parents, pensioners and students. A community coming together against plans they say will destroy the unique character of Otago Lane.
There is cross-party political support from Labour, Green Party and Liberal Democrats. Labour MSP Pauline McNeil said “There is no justification for 164 flats in this tiny little lane. This is a lane. Leave our lane alane! We will be watching the decision-making of Glasgow City Council very closely. It doesn’t seem to me to be in tune with the City Plan, that there should be a 9 story building built in this lane.”
According to MSP Sandra White, Glasgow City Council have questioned whether Otago Lane is in fact a lane. “Glasgow City Council says we don’t think it’s a lane because it’s off a street, but the sign says Otago Lane and that’s where they are wanting to build […] They are using semantics and think they are being clever, but the people are not putting up with it.” The City Plan prevents over-development by stating no more than 2 storeys can be built on a lane.
Glasgow City Council Planning Officer, Andy Dale, said they are no closer to making a decision. Material considerations, including the 4000 strong petition and the 15000 letters of objection, will be reviewed.
Tommy Gore, President of Glasgow University Students Representatives Council, said “Otago lane is a fantastic resource. A lot of students really benefit from having T’chai Ovna tea shop and Voltaire and Rousseau books. It would be a real shame to lose that. What people are forgetting is this is something really special. It’s something we should keep. It’s a post-industrial city, there’s a lot of empty space lying around. I don’t see why people feel the need to develop something as well-used and as lovely as Otago lane”
One local resident said “If [Glasgow City Council] sell off this piece of West End culture, they might have a bit more money, but they won’t have Glasgow”.
Victims of homophobic bullying are being remembered today as hundreds of thousands of people wear purple in tribute. In the past month alone at least 10 teenagers have committed suicide in the U.S after bullying related to their sexual orientation.
These high-profile cases have led to a global movement started by gay journalist Dan Savage whose “It gets better” clip has been watched by almost a million people on You Tube.“When a gay teenager commits suicide, it’s because he can’t picture a life for himself that’s filled with joy and family and pleasure and is worth sticking around for[…] So I felt it was really important that, as gay adults, we show them that our lives are good and happy and healthy and that there’s a life worth sticking around for after high school” This project has resulted in hundreds of people (including celebrities) posting their own testimonies and stories of hope on the newly created online video channel “It Gets Better”.
Hillary Clinton joined the campaign today when she posted her video saying “These most recent deaths are a reminder that all Americans have to work harder to overcome bigotry and hatred. I have a message out there for all the young people who are being bullied, or who feel alone and find it hard to imagine a better future. First of all, hang in there. And ask for help. Your life is so important — to your family, your friends, and to your country.” Clinton goes on to speak about civil servants who work at the state department “It wasn’t long ago that these men and women would not have been able to serve openly, but today they can. Because it has gotten better. And it will get better for you”. Although civil servants can be openly gay and keep their job, America’s Don’t Ask Don’t Tell policy is still causing controversy. DADT means that gay military personnel must conceal their sexual orientation when serving otherwise they will be dismissed. A recent call to overrule this policy failed, however one judge has reopened the debate this week.
One supporter of the DADT policy, a Republican Tea Party candidate for US Senate Ken Buck compared homosexuality to alcoholism “I think that birth has an influence over [homosexuality] like alcoholism and some other things, but I think that, basically, you have a choice”.
The U.S case is not unusual. In Scotland young gay and bisexual men are 6.7 times more likely to attempt suicide than the general population. In an NHS Greater Glasgow survey “Something to tell you” 80% of gay young people said they have experienced discrimination. According to a Stonewall survey 68% of young Scottish lesbian, gay or bisexual people have been bullied at school, 21% of Scottish schools teach that homophobic bullying is wrong. In schools that say homophobic bullying is wrong, gay pupils are 60% less likely to be bullied.
Actor Sir Ian McKellan,Co-founder of Stonewall, is touring schools in the UK to promote tolerance. At a time when educating children about tolerance and difference is a priority, the Christian Institute unhelpfully published an article headlined McKellan “set to promote homosexuality in schools”. As Sir Ian says religion “is the one area where people are not frightened to be openly homophobic”.
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?