Yesterday, I had the opportunity to meet with representatives from Walk the Walk to hear about how the Moon Walk is helping improve the lives of Scotland’s cancer population. The amount of good that Walk the Walk are able to facilitate through their grants system is truly astonishing. Over the last 6 years, the Moon Walk has raised over £15 million in Scotland- hopefully I can help add to that total when I take part next year!
The Scottish Government’s Climate Challenge Fund (CCF) has made 563 awards to the value of over £46.9 million since its launch in 2008. The fund helps community groups who have projects designed to help reduce their carbon footprint, and funded projects in the past have included community growing projects, initiatives to reduce, reuse and recycle and energy efficiency advice.
To encourage potential applicants, the Scottish Government will be holding two further advice surgeries in the Highlands and Islands next week to provide information to local community groups and interested parties. These will be held between 9.30am and 12.30pm on Tuesday 23rd July at the Merkinch Community Centre in Inverness and between 9.30am and 2pm on Thursday 25th July at the Comhairle nan Eilean Siar Council Building in Stornoway (with videolinks to the Council Offices in Balivanich and Barra).
I would encourage any and all community groups with any ideas to pop along to these events in Inverness and Stornoway to hear more from the CCF. More information can be found at their website.
On July 4th, I was lucky enough to visit the Dogs Trust Rehoming Centre near Uddingston. The Dogs Trust are a fantastic charity whose dedicated employees and volunteers rehome over 1000 dogs every year. Each rehomed dog is neutered, vaccinated and microchipped, and is matched carefully to its new owners.
I discussed key dog welfare issues with front line staff at the rehoming centre – issues such as microchipping, which is a simple and effective tool that Dogs Trust believes should be made compulsory in Scotland to help trace abandoned pets back to irresponsible owners and reduce the number of healthy dogs unnecessarily put to sleep in the country.
Sadly abandonment is one of the main reasons dogs come in to the centre, and in 2012 they saw 4,524 dogs picked up in Scotland. This equates to 12 dogs being picked up each day by Local Authorities. Dogs Trust strongly believe that these numbers could be reduced by the introduction of compulsory microchipping.
I really enjoyed my visit to Dogs Trust Glasgow, especially meeting all the lovely dogs and dedicated staff who work so hard to care for them. The service that Dogs Trust provides for the dog population in Scotland is invaluable, and I greatly support the work that they do. I’ve been a supporter of compulsory microchipping, and hopefully the Government’s consultation later this year will yield further good news for man (and woman!)’s best friends.
Jean joined two-wheeled lawyer Brenda Mitchell of Cycle Law Scotland, along with fellow MSPs Alison Johnstone and Tavish Scott, to support their Road Share campaign for a ‘strict liability’ law to protect vulnerable road users including cyclists and pedestrians.
A law like this would require drivers to prove they were not at fault in civil cases. This would make it easier for cyclists and pedestrians hurt in collisions to get compensation, and making the roads safer for everyone.
You can see more photos from the event on Jean’s Facebook page.
I’ve recently had a number of constituents get in touch with me regarding Rhoda Grant MSP’s proposed Criminalisation of the Purchase of Sex (Scotland) Bill. Sex workers are among the most vulnerable workers in Scotland, and many work at daily risk of exploitation and violence.
The role of the law should be to protect the vulnerable from harm. I believe that should Ms Grant’s proposals become law, it would significantly increase harm suffered by sex workers in Scotland.
For this reason I will be arguing against the proposed Bill.
Regrettably, the consultation on this proposal largely dismisses the testimony of those most affected – sex workers themselves – and of those, such as drug services, who have witnessed the effects first-hand. If these voices are taken properly into account, a picture of serious harm resulting from hardline legislation in Scotland and elsewhere emerges.
Criminalising the purchase of sex causes clients to avoid visible locations, requiring sex workers to operate further from police and other services that protect their safety and health, including peer support networks. Sex workers will be more isolated and more vulnerable as a result.
The reduction of demand, which is the stated aim of the proposal, means that in order to continue working, sex workers will be forced to accept clients or working conditions that they previously would have rejected. This will include such dangerous practices as not concluding negotiations before accepting a client, not using condoms, and accepting clients known or suspected to be violent.
I am a member of the Cross-Party Group on Human Trafficking and take the reality of modern-day slavery very seriously. I believe the proposal would exacerbate the horror of trafficking and frustrate efforts to eradicate it. The effect of criminalising the clients of sex workers will be to prevent them coming forward if they encounter sex workers whom they believe to be trafficked, underage, or otherwise exploited.
I understand that many feel strongly about this issue on both sides of the debate. For me, the only reasonable starting point is to ask: what will best protect the safety, wellbeing and human rights of those most affected? The answer to that question is improved services, improved police training, and improved public understanding, not crackdowns that drive sex workers further from social protection.
I am proud to be supporting Jim Hume MSP’s proposed Smoking (Children in Vehicles) (Scotland) Bill.
It is anomalous that while workers have rightly been protected since the Smoking, Health and Social Care Act in 2005, children continue to be exposed to dangerous levels of smoke. In fact, I learned from Jim Hume’s briefing in Parliament that children with two parents who smoke commonly have the same level of cotinine in their saliva – a test for second-hand smoke exposure – as adults who worked in smoky bars prior to the 2005 Act.
The Royal College of Physicians estimates that 25 children per day are admitted to hospital, and 600 per day have to see a doctor, as a result of second-hand smoke exposure.
The Scottish Centre for Indoor Air studied children’s exposure to smoke in cars, and found that the air in a smoker’s car contained on average 8 times more PM2.5 particulate matter than the background level in urban areas of Scotland, or 28 times more than the level in the cleanest rural areas.
The good news is that research with the children of smokers found that the vast majority did take precautions to try to reduce their child’s exposure, such as leaving the living room when smoking. This means that if we can get across the message that a car is a particularly dangerous place to expose children to cigarette smoke, we can expect that many smokers will willingly change their behaviour. This law will help us do that.
Ben McKendrick from the British Heart Foundation has also pointed out that as well as 84% of the general public supporting the measure, as do half of smokers.
I think this is an important and common-sense proposal that could help protect the health of thousands of young people, as well as helping to move us towards a smoke-free Scotland. I’ve told Jim that I am fully behind his proposed bill, and happy to help him get it into Parliament and then into law.
The Shetland Times’ “Drop the Debt” campaign is a worthy and welcome reminder of the need for governments to be held accountable for their promises and their actions. The historic housing debt that burdens not only Shetland Islands Council but other councils across Scotland is a drain on local government resources at a time when every penny by necessity must be a prisoner.
Much of the historic background of the housing debt has been covered in great detail by other contributors, but the political context of the debt must also be analysed if the campaign is to be met with success. This is the Liberal Democrats’ first taste of power at Westminster for a century, and 3 years into a Coalition Government no action has been taken on housing debt. Despite holding the balance of power after the 2010 election, no promises were extracted on housing debt; instead, a referendum on the voting system was agreed at a cost of £75 million. Although I support a fairer, more proportional electoral system, I find it extraordinary that the political capital held by the Liberal Democrats was squandered so fruitlessly.
The Shetland Islands’ own MP, Alistair Carmichael, is Lib Dem Chief Whip and a major player in the Coalition Government in Westminster. The Chief Secretary to the Treasury and member of the infamous “Coalition Quad”, Danny Alexander MP, is a Highlands MP who promised at the last election to wipe out Highland Council’s historic housing debt. Both are decent, honourable men who strive to do the best for their constituents, but neither has yet taken visible action to make the case within the halls of Westminster for dropping the debt.
The consequences of such a staggering debt hang around Shetland’s neck like an albatross. We are all aware of the continual cloth-cutting Shetland Islands Council are forced to make to education, transport and other services, just as we are aware of the extra costs being shouldered by council house tenants.
As Councillor Alastair Cooper has previously argued, had Shetland Islands Council not built the houses it had in the 1970s, oil and gas revenues that have sustained successive UK Governments would never have flowed into the Treasury. Given that Shetland contributed £82 million more to the UK state than it received back in 2011, the situation becomes even more farcical. It is nothing short of a scandal that the billions of pounds of taxes that flow from the North Sea have never found their way to cancelling the debt incurred by Shetland to facilitate the industry in the first place.
Westminster’s cuts to Scotland’s budget (8% in real terms between 2010-11 and 2014-15) make it very difficult for the Scottish Government to mitigate the tremendously difficult situation Shetland and other local authorities find themselves in. However, the £40 million that would be required to wipe out the debt is a drop in the Westminster ocean. For example, the sum of money lost annually through tax avoidance is estimated at £25 billion, roughly the same as the entire Scottish Government’s budget, demonstrating that good governance could deliver more revenue to support stretched local authorities.
While I believe that Westminster must take action on this, I am cognisant of Malcolm Bell’s call for Shetland Islands Council, the Scottish Government and Westminster to all play their part in righting this historic wrong. Let’s recognise Shetland’s financial contribution and Drop the Debt.
Jean has tabled the Scottish Parliament’s first ever motion celebrating Polish Constitution Day. Already, 17 fellow MSPs from around the country have signed up to support the message of friendship between Scotland and Poland.
Polish Constitution Day is tomorrow, May 3rd, and commemorates the adoption of the Polish constitution of the 3rd of May 1791, seen by historians as the first modern, codified constitution in Europe and the second in the world.
Jean’s motion looks forward to and independent Scotland learning from Poland’s example and adopting a written constitution as innovative today as Poland’s was, 222 years ago.
“There is a long history of friendship between Scotland and Poland, from the Scots who migrated to Poland in the 17th Century, to the Polish sailors, soldiers and airmen that defended Scotland in WWII. Today the Polish community plays a huge part in our country’s economic and cultural success, particularly in the Highlands.
“As we consider our own constitutional future, we have so much to learn from Poland’s example. The 1791 Constitution that we celebrate on 3 May was one of the first to recognise the people as sovereign, and we can take heart from Poland’s centuries-long but successful struggle for independence, first from occupation and latterly from Soviet domination.
“It’s an honour to be the first MSP to formally recognise this day of joy for the Polish community, and the great contribution these new Scots make all year round.”
The motion is titled “Recognition of Poland’s 3 May Constitution Day,” and reads:
“That the Parliament notes that Poland’s Constitution Day celebrations are held on 3 May; notes that Constitution Day was the first holiday introduced following Poland’s restoration as an independent country in 1919; recognises the cultural importance of Poland’s Constitution Day to the Polish communities of Scotland; understands that Polish communities globally commemorate the holiday in a variety of ways, including parades and town prayers; notes what it sees as the historical significance of the signing of the country’s constitution on 3 May 1791, considered by historians to be the first of its kind in Europe; welcomes what it considers the continuing bonds of friendship between Poland and Scotland, and looks forward to what it hopes will be Scotland celebrating its own constitution day after the proposed adoption of a written constitution in an independent country.”
After the Independent/Green group debate on the legacy of Margaret Thatcher, Jean called for a more equal society that values quality of life:
“I’m pleased that MSPs approached the debate as it was intended; not for personal attacks on Margaret Thatcher but an as an opportunity to critique and to think beyond the ideology of Thatcherism. For me, it was an opportunity to consider how to reverse the terrible inequality Thatcherism wrought.
“Under Thatcherite governments of both Westminster parties, the UK has become the fourth most unequal country in the developed world. Politics has become fixated on international corporate profit above all else, when really all most of us want is a society that provides a safe, happy environment for ourselves, our children and our neighbours.
“The debate raised the importance of goals other than crude GDP. As Scotland looks to create a new vision of society in a post-Thatcherite and possibly post-UK age, we should consider tools like Oxfam’s Humankind Index, which encourage us to pursue real progress in areas like health, education and family life.”
The Independent/Green group at Holyrood has agreed to move its debate on the subject “There Is Such A Thing As Society” from tomorrow afternoon to Thursday, after it became clear that the other parties and the Parliament’s Presiding Officer favoured the shift.
“It seems a double standard that Westminster was permitted to debate Margaret Thatcher’s legacy before her funeral, during the traditional period of mourning, while Holyrood cannot do so on the planned day even though the debate would have been after the funeral.
“However, the important issue is not the timing, but the Parliament having the opportunity to reflect on the damage that was done, and continues to be done, to Scotland by the ideology of Thatcherism.”
Fellow independent MSP John Finnie, the group’s representative on the bureau, said:
“Tomorrow afternoon’s slot had been allocated to us for some time and is a rare opportunity for us to lead a debate. Given the widespread public discussion about the legacy of Thatcherism we felt we couldn’t ignore the need to use our slot to assess the impact on Scottish society and the way forward.
“While we didn’t feel the timing was insensitive it became clear at this morning’s meeting that there was broad support for a swap of business and we were happy to agree to this. By having the debate on Thursday afternoon we can ensure the maximum number of MSPs can take part, and in particular ensure those on the Tory benches answer for the terrible effect on Scotland of thirteen years of policies that promoted selfishness over society.”