On Tuesday (26 November) the Scottish Government launched their White Paper on the independence referendum which outlined their plans for an independent Scotland.
Having read through most of the 670 page document now, and analysed in detail the chapters on justice and security, it is clear that there are very few substantive answers to the many questions that the people of Scotland have regarding the SNP’s vision of an independent Scotland.
The lack of clarity, particularly surround the issues of justice and defence, is concerning and I will be seeking further information from the Scottish Government.
On more local matters I am currently assisting a number of constituents on a range of matters and my Regional Development Officer, John McKenzie, continues to undertake surgeries and visits throughout the South Scotland region.
As always, if there is anything that I can assist you with then please don’t hesitate to contact me either by telephone (0131 348 6887), email (Graeme.Pearson.MSP@Scottish.Parliament.UK) or by letter (Graeme Pearson MSP, The Scottish Parliament, Edinburgh, EH99 1SP).
Last night I attended the Beating Bowel Cancer reception in the Scottish Parliament and pledged my support for people battling with the disease.
At the reception I heard from both bowel cancel patients and the charity Beating Bowel Cancer about the importance of positive experiences for all patients.
Over the past year I have assisted several constituents who are currently fighting bowel cancer and I know how devastating the disease can be for both patients and their families.
That’s why I was happy to sign the pledge and support the principles of Beating Bowel Cancer’s campaign. I shall be working with the local NHS boards in South Scotland to ensure they are providing the ‘gold standard’ when it comes to treating bowel cancer patients.
To find out more about bowel cancer and to read the full Service Pledge, please visit the charity’s website: www.beatingbowelcancer.org.
This afternoon I attended the Remembrance Sunday service at Cumnock church hall to pay my respects to all those who have died in the line of duty.
As always it was a very moving and respectful event, with the two-minute silence perfectly observed by all in attendance.
It was heartening to see the breadth of ages of those in attendance, from the very young to the more mature among us. We were also graced by beautiful sunshine throughout the ceremony which warmed the cold autumnal morning and provided a very poignant atmosphere.
The recent figures published within the Scottish Policing Performance Framework Annual Report for 2012-13 show welcome progress, but there are significant challenges remaining for Police Scotland, particularly around the confidence people have in the police to prevent crime and to catch those responsible.
While youth crime and anti-social behaviour have both fallen, it would be wrong to let complacency creep in.
SNP cuts mean that our thin blue line is getting thinner. Police stations are closing to the public, police officers are being taken off our street to cover back office cuts and more cuts are in the pipeline.
With budget cuts of almost £140 million over the next two years, how Police Scotland remains local, responsive, accessible and flexible will be the biggest challenge. It’s important that the SNP Government start answering for the impact that their budget cuts will have on Police Scotland. It is simply unacceptable for the SNP to dismiss all the difficult decisions facing the police as ‘operational matters’ whilst wishing to simultaneously claim credit when the statistics are moving in the right direction.
I was delighted to hear that following pressure from myself and other Scottish Labour politicians Chief Constable Stephen House has agreed to extend the public consultation on public counter closures by 30 days.
The more that people hear about the closure of police station counters, the more concerned they are. But this consultation has been a muddle from the start. It hasn’t been clear whether it was a public consultation, or an internal police consultation. Now we have won more time, I urge the public to make their feelings known about these planned closures.
We need to be clear. These closures are only being considered because Police Scotland has axed hundreds of staff posts. With almost £140 million being cut from the police budget over the next two years by the SNP, counter closures will be only the beginning.
The public need to make their voices heard. Communities which value their police stations being open to them and where they can show that counters are well used, need to campaign to save them.
We now need clarity from Police Scotland: how will they properly engage communities to ensure that people are aware of the proposals and hear their views? What has happened to date simply isn’t acceptable.
Last week Ed Milliband announced that Labour will freeze energy prices for two years if elected in 2015 as we work towards regulating the market.
This week Scottish & Southern Energy announced a rise in energy prices of more than 8%, with the other big providers expected to follow suit. However, the Scottish Government’s Energy Minister, Fergus Ewing MSP, has come out against the plans to freeze prices and described them as “completely unworkable”.
I would therefore urge people from the South of Scotland to write to their local SNP MSPs to ask if the will support the Labour Party’s pledge to freeze energy prices for two years if elected as they work towards regulating the energy market.
Mr Ewing was responding to a question raised by Iain Gray MSP who had asked the Scottish Government on whether the SNP would match Labour’s party commitment in a separate Scotland. In reply the Fergus Ewing indicated that the SNP would not support such a freeze raising fears that an independent Scotland would lead to even higher energy prices to support renewables and new grid infrastructure.
We all know that one of the challenges facing households throughout Scotland as they tackle the cost of living is rising energy prices. That is why the Labour Party has pledged to freeze prices for two years if elected to Government in 2015.
However comments from the SNP energy minister in Parliament have shown that the Scottish Government is on the side of the energy companies and not households across Scotland.
That is why it’s important that the people of South of Scotland know if their SNP MSPs agrees with their minister’s comments or whether they stand with the Labour party in tackling prices and reforming the energy market.
With the referendum only a year away it is important that we know where the SNP and their representatives stand. The Scottish Government’s comments in the chamber this week are clear and a yes vote, with all its implications, would be a vote for higher energy prices.
This week Police Scotland announced that more than 65 local police stations across the country are to shut their front of desk services, with both the public and opposition parties reacting angrily to the proposals.
The essence of the Scottish Police Service is policing by consent yet there has been no public consultation on front of desk closures and the views of local communities are being ignored.
These closures are the consequence of a £60 million cut demanded by this SNP Government and will not result in one single additional police officer being put on the streets.
This will only add to the 1200 jobs already lost amongst police support staff and put greater pressure on police officers that should be on our streets.
These closures will be yet another nail into the coffin of local policing in Scotland and I will be working hard to ensure that communities are not left without a strong local police service.
Following the announcement that the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service Board is to consult on recommendations to close three control rooms and the training college currently in Gullane, there are several points that need to be highlighted.
While it’s important that the merger of the fire boards leads to relevant efficiency savings, there also has to be consideration of the wider economic impact. I’m concerned that these decisions have been rushed through and there hasn’t been any thought on what happens in the local communities where the call centres were.
I will also be calling for reassurances that the closure of these offices won’t lead to any dip in service. When people call 999 for the fire service they rightly expect that the help they require is dispatched as expediently as possible and these cuts must not damage these expectations.
This afternoon I spoke in the Parliamentary debate on the Scottish Conservatives’ motion on the abolishing of corroboration.
The Scottish Government has put forward proposals within the Criminal Justice (Scotland) Bill for the abolition of the need for corroboration in Scots Law.
The Scottish Conservatives oppose this and thus put forward a motion seeking to have the proposals dropped.
While I share the concerns expressed by some Members in the debate regarding the removal of corroboration, particularly in respect of its position within the structure of the Scottish justice system, my Scottish Labour colleagues and I are keen to hear the arguments from both sides and let the Justice Committee hear the relevant evidence before taking a firm stance.
The Scottish Government has promised to outline further safeguards which will ensure that the necessary checks and balances are carried out within our justice system should corroboration be abolished.
I look forward to hearing further details of these safeguards and hope that all sides will engage in a constructive and progressive debate regarding corroboration.
To view a full transcript of the debate click here.
This afternoon I spoke in the parliamentary debate on Open Cast Mining in Scotland and urged the Scottish Government to do more to support communities and individuals negatively impacted by the collapse of Scottish Coal.
I also raised my concerns about the cost of the restoration of open cast mines and the associated environmental impact.
Following the collapse of Scottish Coal, the bonds set aside to restore mines after their closure are worth significantly less than the expected costs of restoration.
Communities in areas such as East Ayrshire in my constituency have been devastated by job losses and the environmental impact of closures.
I would urge the Scottish Government provide support to councils such as East Ayrshire both in terms of additional finance for restoration and for retraining for people who have lost their jobs.