This afternoon I’m speaking in the debate on Electricity Market Reform and I hope that it will prove to be an informed and constructive discussion.
Our priority in the reform of the electricity market must be the interests of consumers, but we must also take into account the impact that energy provision has upon the environment. Ensuring the protection of the general public and Scottish businesses while encouraging the provision of sustainable energy should be our paramount objective.
I, like the majority of other people, am concerned about a dependence on any one form of energy production, and think that a move from a reliance on fossil-fuels to a more diverse and renewable energy mix is a positive step. However, it must be done in a considered and rational manner, which takes into account the impact of any future developments on local communities.
Earlier this week my Regional Development Officer, John McKenzie, visited the Lighthouse Foundation in Ayrshire to speak to staff about their work.
The Lighthouse Foundation works throughout Ayrshire with families affected by drug and alcohol misuse. They support people who are struggling to cope with a family member’s addiction and focus particularly on helping families and children.
They offer practical support and advice to assist people to regain control of their lives.
John was very impressed by the charity’s work and I would encourage anyone whose life is affected by drugs or alcohol abuse to visit the Lighthouse Foundation’s website for further information.
At this afternoon’s First Minister’s Questions I asked Mr Salmond if he was satisfied with the £8million currently being invested through the CashBack for Communities scheme when compared with over £1billion being made through organised crime.
I also asked whether he would be taking any steps to ensure that the Scottish Government could reclaim more of criminals’ funds.
The First Minister admitted that the scheme had been running for over a decade and that the SNP Government cannot take responsibility for its establishment, and then went on to pledge that changes made to the scheme will increase its success.
I hope that he’s true to his word as it’s a travesty that so little is being invested back into the communities affected when organised criminals are making such large profits.
This afternoon I will be speaking in the debate on the Self-Regulation of the Press in the Scottish Parliament.
The debate is in response to the proposals put forward by Lord Leveson following his investigation into the phone-hacking scandal. I will be supporting the motion put forward by Fiona Hyslop, and signed by the leaders of all the main political parties, which states that Scotland should sign up to the system implemented throughout the rest of the UK to ensure that the public are protected from any future unacceptable behaviour by elements of the media.
The press should act as a watchdog, ensuring transparency and accountability. They should provide accurate information to the public and a forum for public discussion. And they should provide opportunity for arbitration in disputed stories and protect members from exemplary damages when they get it wrong.
Unfortunately in recent times, elements of the press have failed in their responsibility to uphold these duties to the highest standard.
While it is unfair to tar the entire industry with the same brush, it would be accurate to say that a significant section of the media has not acted in a manner which we would deem acceptable, and I hope that the Royal Charter being implemented will ensure that this does not happen again.
This afternoon I will be speaking in the debate on Court Closures in the Scottish Parliament and I will be raising several concerns regarding the proposals put forward by the Scottish Courts Service.
The Cabinet Secretary for Justice, Kenny Macaskill, promised that he would give proper consideration to each of the recommendations, taking into account the impact that the proposals will have on access to justice and local communities. This careful consideration took him just three days.
I’m concerned that factors such as the cost of travel, inconvenience and anxiety for victims and witnesses, and the impact on local communities appear to have been given inadequate consideration.
The closure of some courts could undermine many vulnerable people’s access to the justice system and we need to ensure that this is not the case.
Following the release of a Treasury report which today warned about the uncertainty of Scotland’s currency as an independent state, the First Minister has resorted to his usual tactics of refusing to acknowledge opinions which differ from his own and accusing his opponents of ‘scaremongering’.
It seems that if anyone holds an opinion contrary to that of Mr Salmond, they are either putting Scotland down or scaremongering.
In reality the there is no guarantee that Scotland would retain the pound if we became independent. The First Minister is effectively saying that while he wants Scotland to have full fiscal responsibility, he is content to surrender all influence over monetary policy, which affects things like mortgage repayments and credit bills, to another state.
It seems that the argument for independence is becoming more confused and contradictory by the day!
While I was sad to see the news that Sir Chris Hoy will not be competing in next year’s Commonwealth Games in Glasgow, it is admirable that such a sporting hero has retired with the same dignity and humility which he has showed throughout his incredible career.
The six-time Olympic gold medallist said that while he would have loved to win a medal for Scotland at next year’s games, he felt that younger riders had a better chance of doing so and subsequently decided to call time on his glittering career.
Many commentators attribute the boom in British cycling, and our recent Olympic dominance in the sport, largely to Sir Chris, and his dedication and modesty have made him an exemplary role model for aspiring young sports men and women throughout Britain.
This afternoon I took part in the debate on Universal Services and was disappointed by the Scottish Government’s continued refusal to engage in a meaningful and realistic discussion of the best use of public funds.
I would in no way advocate a reduction in the budget allocated to provide universal services, but affordability and necessity must both be taken into consideration and I believe that it is vital that we properly debate how we can best support vulnerable people throughout Scotland.
The A708 near Grey Mare’s Tail is the latest victim of this year’s bad weather, with a section of the road collapsing into a stream.
The road has been closed and is likely to remain shut indefinitely according to the police. Diversions have already been set up, but as the road is a primary link between Dumfries and Galloway and the Borders, the increased journey times will prove a major inconvenience for local residents.
I hope that the Transport Minister, Keith Brown MSP, will offer support to Dumfries and Galloway Council so that the road can be repaired as soon as possible and the impact of the closure can be minimised.
I have recently received a number of emails regarding the Offensive Behaviour at Football and Threatening Communications (Scotland) Act 2012, specifically related to the police response to the Celtic fans’ protest in Gallowgate last month.
Scottish Labour vigorously opposed the Scottish Government’s proposals for the introduction of this legislation as we were concerned that it risked seriously undermining the positive relationship between football fans and the police. These concerns were shared by religious organisations, anti-sectarianism charities, children’s charities, the Law Society, the Human Rights Commission and many ordinary fans.
I am concerned that the law has created confusion, when what is actually needed on this issue is clarity about what constitutes an offence, and what enforcement measures are necessary and appropriate.
This latest incident appears to confirm our fears, that the law as it now stands hinders rather than helps the policing of football. That is why I and my Scottish Labour colleagues will renew our calls that the Act should be subject to review under the procedures for post-legislative scrutiny at Holyrood, and I intend on asking my colleagues on the Justice Committee to begin the review this year.
At the same time, Scottish Labour supports efforts to tackle sectarianism wherever it exists in our communities. That means focusing on education and young people, working with churches, football authorities and fans on positive practical measures that are based on evidence, and looking for ways to reduce rather than increase tensions around football and in other aspects of life where a sectarian element can be found.