This afternoon I spoke in Jim Hume’s debate, Keep Justice Local, and it was interesting to hear the general consensus of opinion across the Chamber that communities must have access to local justice.
Under this Government we have witnessed a significant reduction to local justice for many people across Scotland, with the widespread closure of courts, public counters in police stations and control rooms.
On top of this, over 1700 police support staff have lost their jobs over the last few years, raising further concerns that police officers are being forced to spend more time behind desks in order to cover the shortfall.
I will continue to press the Scottish Government on this issue and hope that they will take steps to ensure that all our communities have access to justice at a local level.
The most recent stats released showed that there were 36 deaths relating to new drugs, or ‘legal highs’, in Scotland last year.
It is important to remember that legal doesn’t mean safe and these figures, each a tragedy for the family and friends of the deceased, are testament to that. I hope that their deaths are not in vain and more people understand that these substances are potentially fatal
This is a deeply concerning number of deaths and it reinforces the need for a co-ordinated approach to educating our young people about the risks of taking substances which are untested and unsafe.
While lawmakers need to review how we address new chemical compounds which fall outside existing prohibitions, there is a role for the Scottish Government, schools, colleges, universities, pubs, night clubs, health professionals, parents and young people themselves to ensure that the risks of taking these drugs are properly understood.
I hope that the Scottish Government will endeavour to co-ordinate education, diversion and prevention work in this area, with a focus on our young people especially.
It was obvious the SNP knew the latest GERS figures were bad news for them when the First Minister briefed journalists instead of John Swinney whose job it usually is.
Of course they were right, for the sums just don’t support their rhetoric on Scotland’s financial position and their promise of economic prosperity under independence.
In their White Paper, the SNP’s vision for future income is largely dependent on revenue from oil which is a volatile and finite resource. What these new GERS numbers show is that last year, if you divvy up oil on a geographic basis, Scotland’s oil revenues dropped by 44% as oil gets harder to extract from the North Sea and therefore less profitable. This is a drop in one year of £4.4billion, equal to the budget for all of Scotland’s schools combined.
If we were an independent nation right now then that hole in the Scottish economy would have to be filled by a Scottish Chancellor either by huge cuts in public services, or massive tax rises. There is certainly no spare oil money for any oil fund to be set up.
Over the last year the SNP have based much of their economics of independence on the assertion that Scotland’s deficit is lower than the UK’s. The latest figures show that while they’ve been arguing for separation based on this claim, the reality is that Scotland’s deficit (8.3%) is actually greater than the rest of the UK’s (7.3%).
This blows their economic case for separation out of the water. It leaves the White Paper, already shown to be wrong on currency and Europe, without a shred of credibility.
The GERS numbers are complex and the SNP have complicated them further in their attempt to conceal the bad news and bamboozle us with varied interpretations of the figures. However, the bottom line is that the only way in which Scotland can withstand such volatile shifts in oil revenues is through the stability and security of being part of the larger UK economy.
There is no doubt that the SNP’s fiscal case for separation has been dealt a fatal blow and they need to tell the people of Scotland how public services and pensions will be paid for if independence goes ahead.
This afternoon the Scottish Government used their parliamentary majority to ignore the recommendations of all the opposition parties and vote down an amendment to remove the controversial proposal to abolish the need for corroboration in the justice system.
Despite the concerns voice by the Liberal Democrats, Conservatives, Greens, and Independents, as well as those raised by myself and my Scottish Labour colleagues, the Cabinet Secretary for Justice led the SNP Government’s refusal to listen to pleas to wait until an independent review had published their recommendations before moving forward with plans to abolish the need for corroboration.
Former High Court judge Lord Bonomy has been commissioned to chair a group of experts who will consider the necessary replacement safeguards should the legislation be enacted.
In pushing forward with his plans to remove the need for corroboration without setting out his proposals for his replacement safeguards the Cabinet Secretary is effectively asking the Scottish Parliament to write him a blank cheque with the promise that we will receive the goods at a later date.
This is not the manner in which good legislation is implemented and I hope that Mr MacAskill and his party will reconsider their stance in time for Stage 2 of the Bill.
Over a year ago the Scottish Government promised action on metal theft, but at today’s summit on the issue held by the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service Kenny MacAskill will have to defend the fact that he has taken no substantive action on a crime which blights the lives of communities across Scotland.
Industry groups who have suffered most are increasingly frustrated at the failure of the SNP to act.
Almost a year ago, my motion to Parliament calling on cash payments for scrap metal received support from a significant number of MSPs. There is a clear consensus for steps to be taken to make it more difficult for metal thieves to profit from their crimes. Such measures have been taken in England and Wales and the results have been dramatic. Why are the SNP dragging their feet on this issue?
Rather than spend his time talking but not acting, perhaps the Justice Secretary might finally show some leadership and bring forward his oft-promised and long overdue legislation to curb the impact of this highly disruptive crime.
This afternoon I pledged my support for the British Heart Foundation (BHF) Scotland’s campaign, Ramp up the Red, to help fight heart disease.
Coronary heart disease is Scotland’s single biggest killer and it kills more than 7,500 people each year. There are currently around 235,000 people in Scotland living with coronary heart disease.
On Friday 7 February, BHF Scotland is asking people across the nation to Ramp up the Red and raise funds to continue the fight for every heartbeat.
For more information about Ramp up the Red, to sign up or to donate, visit bhf.org.uk/red or call 0800 0316 316.
While yesterday’s by-election was brought about under sad circumstances, following the tragic and premature death of Helen Eadie MSP, I was heartened to see Scottish Labour’s candidate, Alex Rowley elected by the people of Cowdenbeath with an increased majority of 5,488.
Following his victory Alex said:
“It’s about full employment for every young person to get the opportunities that they deserve from their lifetime.
“It’s about elderly people living in Fife with dignity, and making sure when they need services those services are available.
“We can give people jobs, we can give people opportunities, we can do that with a strong, devolved Scottish Parliament working within the UK.”
I am sure that Alex will be an excellent representative for the people of Cowdenbeath in the same manner than Helen was for so many years.
I hope everyone enjoyed a peaceful festive period and you are feeling refreshed and ready for the year ahead.
While I managed to take some time to relax over the holidays, I was also busy dealing with several constituency issues, particularly the flooding that took place on New Year’s Day. Dealing with a flood in your property is never a pleasant experience, but it is particularly distressing issue to have to deal with on the first day of a New Year. I am continuing to offer my support to those constituents affected and hope that the damage to their homes will be quickly and successfully remedied.
2014 will be a huge year for Scottish sport; while our national football team unfortunately failed to make the World Cup Finals in Brazil, we will be more than adequately represented at next month’s Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia. As well as this, two of the world’s premier sporting competitions will be taking place at home in 2014; golf’s Ryder Cup and the Commonwealth Games. Hopefully these events will provide a boost to tourism and local economies in Scotland, as well as offering some sporting cheer!
Finally, in September Scotland will vote in the historic independence referendum. This will be the most important vote any of us will cast in our lifetimes and I hope that you will join me in voting to remain part of a strong and secure United Kingdom, rather than breaking up the most successful political and economic union in the world.
Whichever way you are planning to vote, I wish you a happy and prosperous 2014 and hope that it will be a successful year for all of Scotland and the UK.
Next week I will be holding my last surgeries of 2013 in Ayr, Prestwick, Troon and Kilmarnock.
My Regional Development Officer, John McKenzie will be at the following locations on Tuesday 17 December:
- 10.00am Ayr Town Hall, New Bridge Street, Ayr, KA7 1JX
- 11.30am Prestwick Community Centre, Caerlaverock Road, Prestwick, Ayrshire, KA9 1HR
- 13.00am Morrisons Car Park, Troon, 10 Dukes Road. Troon, KA10 6QR
- 14.30am Asda Car Park, Kilmarnock, 10 Queens Drive, Kilmarnock, KA1 3XB
If you or your family require my assistance or support in any way then please feel free to attend one of the above surgeries, or you can contact me at my office either by telephone (0131 348 6887) or email (Graeme.Pearson.MSP@Scottish.Parliament.UK)