The announcement that an Events Officer will be appointed for Dunfermline is welcome and long overdue. More than once in this column, I’ve spoken about the wasted potential of our city centre and the need to drum up more footfall, including tourism.

I have long lamented that Dunfermline has an array of excellent organisations working to promote the city but these groups frequently work in isolation. The new Events Officer will bring them together to produce an events calendar aimed at enticing visitors into Dunfermline. It is vital that we get more people into our city centre, because we need local businesses to thrive if we are to restore our economy. Not only that, but we have a beautiful and historic city that ought to receive due recognition. Read more of this post

College merger

The long-anticipated Fife College finally came into being earlier this month, with the merger of Carnegie College, Adam Smith College and parts of Elmwood College.

Combining, as it does, the strongest elements from these three institutions, an opportunity now exists for the new regional college to become one of Scotland’s foremost educational and training centres. Read more of this post

Sad passing

I was saddened by the deaths of two former colleagues: Dunfermline Labour Councillor Mike Rumney and former leader of the Scottish Conservative Party, David McLetchie MSP. Both worked tirelessly for their constituents and parties.

Mike and I served together in Fife Council and on the board of FETA, the Forth Road Bridge operator. He was a committed hard-worker and an easy man to get along with. Read more of this post

An Unusual Summer

So far, we have had some pleasant weather, which we have not been used to in recent years.  The Scottish Parliament is in recess which, contrary to what some observers say, is not one two-month holiday!

A most depressing aspect of current politics is the low level to which so-called debate can descend on the Independence Referendum to be held in September 2014, especially on the “No” side.  There is nothing “better” about some of the scare tactics employed by the Better Together campaign.  I do hope that arguments about the future will improve in quality, especially regarding each side’s views of a positive future for Scotland.  They do themselves no credit by focusing on negative images of Scotland’s future as allegedly planned by their opponents. Read more of this post

Carnegie Primary School

I was pleased to learn that Carnegie Primary School in Duloch, Dunfermline, had  earned an “Outstanding” BREEAM (Building Research Establishment Environmental Assessment Method) award for its environmental credentials. A couple of years ago, I attended the dedication ceremony when First Minister, Alex Salmond, opened the School.

The new School building and grounds are very spacious and have extensive outdoor facilities. The School has a combined heat and power plant, a wind turbine and external cedar cladding, which makes it one of the most environmentally friendly primary schools in Fife.  Moreover, the facilities in the school grounds mean that pupils can benefit from learning outdoors and be encouraged to become responsible citizens who value and protect our natural world.   Read more of this post

Entrepreneurism in West Fife

I recently met glass-painter Jacquelyne Davidson who is encouraging other young mothers to follow their creative instincts and take the plunge in setting up their own businesses.

Jacquelyne, mother to six-year-old Christopher-Luke, launched hand-painted glassware business “Jac By Design” in November 2012, after twelve years of glass-painting as a hobby. She sells her glassware online and at the Kilns gift shop in Limekilns, Potter About in Burntisland and Piggy Bank Gifts in Leslie. Read more of this post

Iain Banks

I was saddened to hear of the death of Dunfermline-born author Iain Banks, one of Scotland’s most acclaimed writers of modern times.

Mr Banks received numerous accolades over the years, including The Times ranking him 38th in their list of greatest British writers since 1945. With 27 published novels, he has left a considerable legacy for his readers.

My sympathies go out to his wife, family, friends and readers.

The above was originally written for Bill’s Dunfermline Press column. This version may vary slightly.

Business Successes

In the current difficult financial climate, it’s always welcome to hear of local businesses thriving. It’s equally welcome when those businesses are recognised by their customers for outstanding services and products.

D&G Autocare’s Fast Fit garage on Pitreavie Industrial Estate was recently named Scotland’s “Garage of the Year” by Motor Codes, the motor industry’s regulatory body. In addition, customers have voted the D&G Autocare Group as best MOT centres in Scotland and fourth best in the UK. Read more of this post

Vote No to Dogma

The Independence Referendum next year is about the future of Scotland and her people, not a vote for or against the current SNP Government or any political party.

As former LibDem councillor Gerry McMullan pointed out in the letters page of last week’s Dunfermline Press, the Referendum is about whether Scots should make decisions about their future through an independent Scottish Parliament or remain dominated by Westminster. Read more of this post

Scottish Vintage Bus Museum

Finally, while on the topic of buses, I would like to congratulate the Scottish Vintage Bus Museum, based at Lathalmond near Dunfermline, for all their work in restoring and operating around 160 historic buses of mostly Scottish origin. Many locals and visitors appreciate this museum, which also houses such vehicles as historic lorries and conducts tours around west Fife.

This museum is a pleasant and happy reminder of the outcome of manufacturing with a positive economic and social purpose.

The above was originally written for Bill’s Dunfermline Press column. This version may vary slightly.

Manufacturing in Scotland

The Scottish Government sent out a clear and strong commitment to manufacturing when they chose Falkirk-based bus and coach manufacturer Alexander Dennis as the venue to launch the paper “Scotland’s economy: the case for independence”. Alexander Dennis produces around half of the UK’s buses, in addition to sending vehicles around the world. It is a high-skilled operation, which employs a number of west Fifers.

Manufacturing is key to a successful and sustainable Scottish economy right now and in the future.  We already have a strong manufacturing sector supporting the prosperous oil, gas and renewable energies industries. These areas are all of great importance to Dunfermline and nearby Rosyth, through, for example, FMC Technologies and Babcock Engineering. Carnegie College, in addition, provides first-class manufacturing and energy training. Read more of this post

Yes Scotland Campaign

Prominent independence supporters from across the political and business spectrum have taken part in a packed and buoyant Yes Scotland meeting at the Dell Farquharson Centre in Dunfermline.

Yes Scotland Chairman and former Labour MP Dennis Canavan headed the panel. Also sharing their visions for a fairer and more prosperous independent Scotland were solicitor Tasmina Ahmed-Sheikh, Allan Grogan of Labour for Independence, Trade Unionist Derek Durkin, and international business entrepreneur Ivan McKee from Business for Scotland. Read more of this post

Chris Hoy

Sir Chris Hoy has been a great advert for Scottish and UK sports for years but even his body can’t take the demanding pressures for ever.  He’ll be a great ambassador for the 2014 Glasgow Commonwealth Games with, hopefully, many following in his footsteps … or should that be pedals?

Margaret Thatcher

I was never a fan of Margaret Thatcher. I actively opposed various policies in Scotland in the 1980s, including the de-industrialisation of our country, the selling off of council houses and the imposition of the iniquitous Poll Tax. The legacy of some of these policies lives with us to this day.

Nevertheless, she unquestionably made a positive impact elsewhere. In the 1970s, various Trades Union barons were making a mockery of democracy. Legislation was required, and Mrs Thatcher passed laws that no Government since has repealed. Read more of this post

The Collapse of Scottish Coal

The mothballing of the Blair House opencast mine between Oakley and Saline last year was an omen of things to come.  At that time, geological difficulties and falling prices for the coal extracted were given as reasons.  Coal prices on the international market are now very low and shall probably stay that way for some time.  It is far cheaper for coal users such as Scottish Power at Longannet to import from half way round the world than to buy local.  Scottish Coal just couldn’t sell its opencast coal and make any profit. Read more of this post

Wise Words

My fellow Independent MSP Margo MacDonald posed the most sensible question after Alex Salmond introduced the Referendum Bill:

“I ask the First Minister whether he could raise the level of the debate. This is about our country’s soul. It is about our children and our grandchildren’s standards and place in the world, and we are talking about candles in case someone cannot vote. Many friends of mine on the Labour side of the chamber have let me down and have let Scotland down this afternoon by the way in which they have approached the debate. This is a big question and it needs big people and big answers”.

The above was originally written for Bill’s Dunfermline Press column. This version may vary slightly.

Contradictory Questions

The First Minister has announced that the Independence Referendum will be on Thursday 18th September 2014. Predictably, some Labour MSPs tried to make an issue of not receiving special knowledge of the date ahead of Parliament. This would have been improper and against Parliamentary procedures.

We can now expect an 18-month increasing onslaught against Independence. Though I hope this might include some rational debate, I anticipate plenty of nonsense. For example, immediately after the date announcement, a Labour MSP objected saying some of her constituents might need candles to get to polling stations!

Opponents are in the strange position of demanding to know why the Referendum can’t be held sooner, but asking in the same breath how Scots can decide on major constitutional change without knowing, in microscopic detail, exactly what the future will look like in an independent Scotland. Read more of this post

Letting Down Longannet

In October 2011, the UK Government’s Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) pulled the rug from under the proposed Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) project at Longannet Power Station. This project would have put Fife at the pioneering forefront of new CCS technology, reducing carbon emissions, delivering highly skilled well-paid jobs and stimulating growth in our local economy.

Longannet won the competition for funding after all other bidders for the CCS project withdrew, yet the UK Government pulled out at the 11th hour out and re-ran the competition, claiming they could not reach an agreement with the developers. Read more of this post

Energy Savings

Scottish Gas customers will now receive a half-yearly review using their personal energy consumption to advise of cheaper internal tariffs. I hope other energy companies will provide this too. It’s important for customers of all energy companies to be aware of the best energy deals, whether this means switching tariffs or suppliers.

The difficulty is, of course, not knowing what price increases are around the corner if you take the trouble to switch to a variable-rate tariff. In light of ever increasing price hikes, insulating your property is an important step to reduce your bills. The Scottish Government, in conjunction with other bodies, frequently helps to finance cavity wall and loft insulation. I try to publicise such offers on my website when I hear of them, but you can also keep an eye on the Scottish Government’s website. Read more of this post

Defence U-turn

Less than two years ago, the UK Ministry of Defence promised that over 6,000 army personnel currently based in Germany would relocate to Scotland, with hundreds destined for Rosyth. HMS Caledonia was even renamed MoD Caledonia.  Now we know none will come to west Fife and few will relocate elsewhere in Scotland.

Right at the beginning I expressed reservations about the relocation, as I feared army demand pushing out our traditional naval presence in west Fife. I shall always argue for a strong naval presence on the east coast of Scotland. We need it to guard our North Sea oil and gas industry, our fishing grounds and the sea routes to the Continent. However, this U-turn has cost Fifers an estimated £500,000 in setting up a Fife Defence Transition Task Force. The UK Government should be called to account for this. Read more of this post

Tulliallan Police HQ

Tulliallan Castle is to be retained as the headquarters of the new national police force for Scotland, housing continuing training, conference services, planning, and offices for the chief constable and a number of other senior officers and staff.

I would challenge the claim that Tulliallan is somehow “isolated”, when it is in fact close to the motorway network via the Kincardine and Clackmannanshire Bridges. But I do accept that the Castle’s listed status might have made conversion into a hi-tech command and control centre difficult and expensive. Therefore, the choice of Randolphfield in Stirling as the operational hub may well be a good one, especially considering the forecasted low cost to convert the existing Central Police HQ.

The above was originally written for Bill’s Dunfermline Press column. This version may vary slightly.

Tourism Initiatives

Scottish Tourism Week in March is an annual event raising awareness of tourism’s importance to Scotland’s economy. I recently signed up in Parliament to support this event. Dunfermline has so much potential as a destination but, as I continually hear locally, much of this is unfulfilled. My chief ambition as MSP is to see Dunfermline regenerated and attracting more visitors.

The ancient capital of Scotland should be on visitors’ itineraries. We have an abundance of historic buildings all around us, not limited to the Abbey and Palace. We have such amenities as the Carnegie Hall, Alhambra, Odeon, Carnegie Leisure Centre, big-name stores, excellent restaurants, cafes and pubs. 2013 is the Year of Natural Scotland, and we have the wonderful Pittencrieff Park. We also have good travel links to Edinburgh and Glasgow and are surrounded by beautiful towns and villages, such as historic Culross and Limekilns. Read more of this post

2013/14 Budget

Scottish Finance Secretary John Swinney’s completion of the Scottish Government’s spending plans for 2013/14 is a major achievement in difficult times. Mr Swinney has to work within a budget fixed by Westminster at £30 billion, which has decreased over the last 4 years by a whopping 8% in real terms.  By law, the budget must be balanced with no borrowing.

Since NHS spending is protected, “health and wellbeing” take almost 40% of public spending. The remaining 60% is divided among many competing areas, ranging from local government and infrastructure to education and justice. Many painful decisions must be made and not everyone will be satisfied with the outcomes, but those politicians calling for more spending should say where they would get the money from. Read more of this post

Dobbies in Dunfermline seeks Local Charity of the Year

Dobbies Garden World in Dunfermline is inviting applications for a Local Charity of the Year from charities based within a 20-mile radius of their Fife Leisure Park store. Their chosen charity-partner will become the first recipient of fundraising activities at the Leisure Park store for the remainder of 2013.

The successful charity will be concerned with the welfare of children, elderly people, people with disabilities or with major health concerns, or else with environmental, wildlife or conservation issues. In-store fundraising events at Dobbies could include collection tins at till points, themed charity events, and fundraisers being invited into the store at key trading times. Read more of this post

A Viennese evening in Dunfermline

We are fortunate in west Fife to have two major theatres with first-class facilities: the Alhambra and the Carnegie Hall. These provide a great boost to the profile and cultural fabric of Dunfermline.

Both venues host an impressive variety of performances all year round, including the prestigious Royal Scottish National Orchestra’s annual Viennese New Year concert in the Carnegie Hall. My wife and I were among a full house for the 2013 performance of this popular event. In addition to the traditional Strauss favourites, the RSNO played pieces from Bach, Lehar and others, along with the customary special helping of Scottish reels to complete the evening.  A great treat, according to everyone we chatted with.
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