Referendum Q&A in Cumnock


Next Wednesday evening (30th July) I will be chairing a Q&A about the independence Referendum in Cumnock featuring David Mundell MP.

The Q&A is taking place in the Dumfries Arms Hotel. Admission is free. You can reserve your place via Eventbrite – (search for Scotland Office) or call 0131 244 9066. People are being asked to arrive at 7pm for a 7.30pm start.

We have already had good feedback regarding people’s interest and so I am looking forward to a good and busy night of questions!

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Scrutiny of decision making in Police Scotland necessary

A few weeks ago, I talked about a significant change in the management of firearms officers and the way they are deployed.

This is a fundamental change in the way Scotland is policed. In my view the relationship between the police and the public has to be based on a mutual respect and the provision of public consent. In this context I believe that the arming of police will have an incalculable impact on the relationship between Police Scotland and the public and it is was wrong.

The fact is, in Scotland people do not expect our police officers to routinely carry guns.  It’s a scary prospect and I’ve yet to hear any evidence from the Chief Constable or the Cabinet Secretary for Justice on just why it is necessary.

There is also significant confusion and a lack of transparency about how the decision was made and exactly who was made aware of the change. The Scottish Police Authority, the body responsible for holding Police Scotland to account, have indicated that they did not receive a full and comprehensive briefing on the issue from the Chief Constable before implementation.  And the Cabinet Secretary has so far refused to come before Parliament to explain the move.

This is not good enough, and raises concerns about the efficacy of the accountability and scrutiny measures in place. I will continue to ask questions on both this change, and the way it was implemented, as we need answers.

Posted in Justice, Local issues, Shadow Justice Secretary, Single Police Force | Leave a comment

Motor Neurone Disease – campaigning for more reseach and better services

Motor Neurone Disease (MND) is the name given to a related group of diseases that affect the nerves which carry messages from the brain to the muscles.  The disease is degenerative, progressive and incurable.

Gordon Aikman, the Director of Research for Better Together, has recently been diagnosed with the disease and has been brave and forthright in talking about his reaction to his diagnosis, what that means for his life and the energy he is dedicating to campaigning to support research and improved services for MND.

He highlighted cases where MND patients have to pay for some of  the essential care they need and spoke of the fact that 80% of funding for the country’s seven specialist nurses comes from charitable donations.

Before Gordon went to Better Together, he worked for Scottish Labour MSPs in the Scottish Parliament and I got to know him a little. It is hard to believe that someone so young and healthy can have been diagnosed with such a terrible disease and yet it is inspiring to see him meet his diagnosis head on, and to use his energies to campaign for more support and improved services for people with MND.

He has been willing to talk about his condition and last night, in an interview on Scotland Tonight, he gave an insight into how difficult it was to take in that he had MND; the practical challenges that he faces and will continue to face; as well as his desire to live his life to the full while he can. He has eloquently articulated the struggle that he and the hundreds of people in Scotland with MND at present are coping with – and through that, is helping to educate us all on this terrible illness.

Gordon set up a JustGiving page to support the work of MND Scotland – and the response to him and his story has been so profound that since it was launched a few weeks ago it has raised over £35,000 for MND Scotland.

MND Scotland is a charity dedicated to people living with Motor Neurone Disease, their family, friends and carers. The charity’s website is an invaluable resource and is home to a huge library of information and support materials covering all aspects of the disease and the impacts it has on people’s lives.

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We need an inquiry into historic child abuse

I welcome the UK Government’s announcement today that it will instigate a review led by an independent panel of experts on law and child protection, with the option of a full public inquiry if necessary.

Johann Lamont has been calling for a public inquiry into instances of historic child abuse. However, the Scottish Government has refused to set one up.

Now that the UK Government has made their announcement, the Scottish Government stands alone in their refusal to implement a full and proper inquiry into instances of historic child abuse. The Scottish Government must finally agree to reassess their stance and bring forward proposals to answer the demands for justice from survivors.

Those affected by historic institutional child abuse seek true accountability, an acknowledgement of responsibility and an apology from those organisations still in existence, alongside comprehensive recommendations for the future in terms of prevention. In addition to the provision of counselling services and appropriate prosecutions, there is also a need to address who, when and on what authority decisions were taken to destroy records in respect of victims’ histories.

Instead of passing the buck between Cabinet Secretaries the Scottish Government must take responsibility for the issue and instigate an inquiry to ensure that these horrific crimes will never be repeated in Scottish institutions.

Posted in Campaigns, Justice, Shadow Justice Secretary | Leave a comment

Answering Jedburgh’s Questions

Heading to Jedburgh tomorrow for, among other things, the BBC’s Big Debate.

I will be on the panel with fellow South Scotland MSPs Jim Hume and Joan McAlpine; playwright and theatre director David Greig; Alex Bell; and Simon Pia.

The questions are always good so I am looking forward to it.

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Worrying shift in the management of firearms officers

There has been a change in the police management of authorised firearms officers and the duties officers are expected to perform whilst armed with an automatic weapon in a public place. This change will see specialist officers routinely being allowed to carry handguns.

This change has been made with little or no consultation with local councillors, the Scottish Police Authority, the Scottish Parliament’s Justice Committee, or the Sub-Committee on Policing. Apparently the Cabinet Secretary for Justice had a quiet chat with the Chief Constable of Police Scotland – and he felt that no other scrutiny was required.

I have written to the Cabinet Secretary to ask him if he still thinks that his private briefing, in the absence of a full Scottish Police Authority consultation and/or the briefing of Parliament in the Chamber or via its committee processes, was the appropriate way to deal with this matter. I am personally very concerned that the lack of information and consultation means, consequently, an insufficient scrutiny of such an important change.

Posted in Justice, Local issues, Shadow Justice Secretary, Single Police Force | Leave a comment

Show Racism the Red Card in the Parliament

Today Show Racism the Red Card held a reception at the Parliament.

The organisation was highlighting the work that they have been doing this academic year with young people – 12,036 of them – educating against prejudice.

At the event, SRtRC Education Coordinator Dee Matthew spoke of the importance of providing young people with the right information to dispel the myths that can provide the foundations for prejudiced ideas.

The organisation works with professional football to deliver workshops and a high profile campaign, which challenges racism towards those with BAME backgrounds, asylum seekers and refugees, people from Gypsy, Roma and Travelling communities as well as challenging Islamophobia and sectarianism.

The campaigns and workshops have been a success with 71% their participants who admitted to behaving in a racist or sectarian manner in the past saying that they would not do so again and 91% of participants feeling confident to challenge or report racism or sectarianism.

SRtRC were lobbying for continued financial support to ensure that this good work can continue.

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Commonwealth Games Baton continues its journey

Tomorrow the Commonwealth Games Baton will be travelling throughout South Ayrshire, and will be touring East Ayrshire the day after.

The Queen’s Baton Relay set off from Buckingham Palace on the 9th October last year, after the Queen placed a message inside. Since then it has visited countries and territories of the Commonwealth throughout the world, from India to New Zealand; Sierra Leone to Canada; Gibraltar to Belize and lots of other places in between, before touching back down in the UK.

Since Saturday 14th June, the Baton has been in Scotland. It started at Coldstream and will continue to make its way around communities and landmarks before it gets to Glasgow for a tour of the city between 20th and 23rd July. The relay will finish at the Opening Ceremony, where the Queen’s message will then be read out.

I hope that everyone taking part and going out to see the Baton over the next few days and weeks enjoys the experience and is looking forward to the Games.

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More questions than answers on Scotland’s security

I have also had a response to several parliamentary questions (S4W-21269, S4W-21265, S4W-21267) on the proposed security and intelligence agency in an independent Scotland. The questions sought to find out what plans have been made for Scotland’s security in the event that Scots vote for independence in September, and were just the latest attempts I have made to unearth the plans.

However the responses were less than reassuring. The Scottish Government’s lack of financial costings for the proposed security and intelligence service is absolutely astounding.

The new security and intelligence agency is supposed to replace GCHQ, MI5, MI6 and apparently provide an improved service for Scots, yet the Scottish Government either have absolutely no idea how much it will cost to set up or they’re refusing to tell us.

The SNP government have spent £1.3 million to date on the independence White Paper, but all they can tell us about the cost of a new security service is that it will be a ‘small proportion of an independent Scotland’s total budget’. They also admit that they have no idea how many staff would need recruiting and how long it would take to adequately train them.

The Cabinet Secretary insisted that Scotland’s security ‘will be the primary responsibility of the Scottish Government’, but I’m sure that many people in Scotland will be concerned by the SNPs complete absence of financial planning for security services in an independent Scotland.

Posted in Independence Referendum, Justice, Written PQs | Leave a comment

Cashback for Communities debate

Tomorrow in the Chamber, we will be debating Cashback for Communities. Cashback for Communities is the vehicle by which most of the money which is recovered under the Proceeds of Crime legislation is distributed to projects around the country.

Over £50m recovered from proceeds of crime have been invested in projects aimed at young people since its inception and we will be discussing the scheme and how it can further be strengthened and give substantial relief to the communities most affected by crime.

Posted in Chamber, Debates, Justice | Leave a comment