Carnegie Trust Centenary

One hundred years ago, Andrew Carnegie founded the Carnegie UK Trust, based here in Dunfermline, to improve the well-being of people throughout Britain and Ireland.

The Trust will mark its centenary with a variety of events and projects including a book and short film charting its ground-breaking work over the years, a centenary website documenting this work and publicising upcoming commemorative events, and an online searchable archive. Read more of this post

Positive future

By nature, I am a positive person. I believe my fellow Scots are perfectly capable of operating our own country successfully in the modern world. I, therefore, find it difficult to understand the perpetual negativity of the No Campaign – the Tory-Labour-Liberal Democrat alliance opposed to Scotland achieving political independence from Westminster. These people tell us we are “Better Together”, but instead of explaining why 21st century Austerity Britain is the positive outcome of 300 years of London domination, their single tactic is to trot out a continuous diet of gloom and despair. This seems to be based on the notion that Scotland is a lost cause, though perhaps it isn’t surprising as politicians who owe their careers to Westminster will campaign on that basis.

As a campaigner for the return of our country’s independence, I want to see Scotland re-join the international community of nations, free to prioritise our specific needs and make our own links, including with our immediate neighbours in England and the rest of Europe. We now have a chance to restore our identity and to present our own outlook and set of values to the world. Read more of this post

Duloch School Visit

On an MSP visit to Duloch Primary School, along with regional colleagues Willie Rennie and Claire Baker, I was impressed by the enthusiasm and awareness of the primary 4 and 5 pupils.

Set with the task of founding new political parties, the children came up with names, objectives, manifestos and even rosettes. They asked wide-ranging questions during a lively Q&A session, with environmental issues a recurrent theme.

I have visited a good number of schools over the last year, where the pupils have ranged in age and in the level of support they needed, and have invariably found the pupils to have a lively interest in politics. It is great to see them so engaged, particularly in times of general voter apathy. In a few short years, it will be their time to play a productive role in making our society a better one.

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

Fracking in Fife?

Many constituents have contacted me with concerns about fracking, the hydraulic fracturing of underground shale rock to release gas. This procedure, though known for decades, has come to prominence following massive exploitation in America, which has seen gas released for use at greatly reduced prices.

Masses of gas, reasonably accessible at current economic costs, lie underground throughout the UK. When used to generate electricity, shale gas produces less CO2 emissions than coal. But potential downsides of fracking include the risk of interfering with the underground water-table on which we depend. Also, explosive charges used underground in Lancashire caused two minor tremors. Another concern is that funding could be diverted from long-term development of sustainable and renewable natural energy sources such as wind and marine.

I believe there is a case for further practical evaluation of shale gas extraction but am opposed to public funding of fracking in the form of tax allowances or price subsidies levied on customers, as happens currently with windfarms. Also, since Scotland has a wealth of alternatives for long-term energy generation, fracking must be found to be at least as safe as other energy sources.

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

Chief Constable Stephen House

I recently met up with the new Chief Constable of Scotland, Stephen House, at Tulliallan Castle, where the restructured single national police force has its interim headquarters.

As a supporter of making Tulliallan the permanent HQ, I was happy to note that the Chief Constable does not seem opposed to the possibility, though the police service will have to weigh up the pros and cons of all alternatives. Tulliallan is a convenient central location with an established Police College and with many facilities already in place, but the cost of installing a modern command and control centre will likely be key to the final decision.

Something Mr House made crystal clear is his long-standing support for the national police force. At this significant juncture in Scottish policing, his ‘can-do’ manner and impressive experience – 37 years’ service by the time his current four-year contract ends – give the reassuring feeling that he is the right man to deliver greater efficiency and effectiveness. Read more of this post

Remembrance Ceremonies

On Remembrance Saturday and Sunday, I was honoured to lay the Scottish Parliament’s wreaths at the Royal Naval Memorial and First and Second World War Memorials.

The Remembrance Parades held across Scotland were especially poignant in light of the UK’s on-going operations in Afghanistan. Regardless of whether we agree with the conflicts our service personnel take part in, we should never forget those who have lost their lives and those who risk them every day. While I do not glorify war, I believe in paying respect to the fallen, including the generations who, during the World Wars, had little choice but to face unthinkable horrors in distant fields.

I was particularly impressed by the respectful conduct of all the senior pupils who laid wreaths on behalf of the local high schools. I was also heartened by the exceptionally high turn-out at both Douglas Bank Cemetery in Pattiesmuir on Saturday and the World War Memorials in Dunfermline on Sunday.

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

Parliamentary Conduct

The behaviour of MSPs in Parliament has deteriorated to such an extent that not only has First Minister’s Questions on Thursdays become half-an-hour of ritualised invective from political leaders, but this atmosphere has seeped into Chamber debates, such as the recent one on college education, and even committees.

Politicians name-call across the Chamber and while asking or taking questions. The latest tactic is to persistently question human errors for which an MSP has clearly apologised. Disrespect has extended to bad-mouthing the Presiding Officer in the chair, previously unheard of. Read more of this post

Public Service Pensions Bill

Many of my constituents have contacted me about the Public Service Pensions Bill being considered at Westminster. This will require the Scottish Parliament to bring public sector pension schemes into line with those in England and Wales, even where this does not reflect Scottish circumstances. To quote a letter: this is “unwarranted interference by the Treasury in Scottish provisions”.

Public sector workers who have responsibly paid over the years into a pension have had their confidence undermined. They want the Scottish Parliament to have regulatory powers so a remote Westminster Treasury cannot “narrowly prescribe the scope of those negotiations or change the rules at will.” Read more of this post

Rates Payments Discount

I also voted for the Scottish Government’s proposal to reduce the discount owners of empty commercial and domestic properties receive on their rates. It will drop from 50% to 10%.

This move is to encourage owners to use, rent or sell rather than leave properties empty and effectively subsidised by other rates payers. Properties left unoccupied can deteriorate substantially and become eyesores. They can also cause disamenity to neighbouring properties.

Exceptions to this new law will apply in certain circumstances – for example with factory units, where it can understandably be difficult to find new operators for specialised use. Read more of this post

Halbeath Park and Choose

Recently I attended the launch of the Halbeath Park and Choose, where Scottish Government Transport Minister Keith Brown cut the first turf.

This facility, supported by £10m dedicated finance from the Scottish Government, is located near the M90 motorway. It will work similarly to Ferrytoll Park and Ride by enabling drivers to park their cars, then take a bus or car-share to their eventual destinations. Read more of this post

Drink-Drive Limit

The Scottish Parliament has voted 100 to 12 in favour of reducing the drink-drive limit from 80mg alcohol per 100 ml of blood to 50mg/100ml.

I was pleased to vote for this change. Over the decades, the once commonplace concept of “one for the road” has thankfully been consigned to history. Drink-driving is instead recognised as anti-social and, of course, downright dangerous.

Numbers of road accidents have fallen over time and continue on a downward trend, despite the increased volume of traffic. This is happening for a variety of reasons. For example, roads are now generally better maintained and cars are designed safer, while drivers go through more rigorous testing to gain their licenses and tend to drive with greater care. Read more of this post

Red Herrings

Time and again, the Scottish independence debate is side-tracked by irrelevant and short-lived matters.  Future independence has significance far beyond the political hot-topics of today and beyond the public figures who presently support or oppose it.

We should be thinking about the kind of place we want Scotland to be for decades to come.  We can only do that by looking beyond party politics, beyond today’s personalities and beyond the ‘burning’ issues of the moment that won’t even be remembered in a short while. We need an open and objective discussion about the kind of Scotland future generations could inherit. Read more of this post

Glasgow 2014

MSPs in the Scottish Parliament recently had a chance to meet Clyde, the thistle-inspired mascot of the Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games.

Clyde, designed by 12-year-old Beth Gilmour of Cumbernauld, will be visiting Scottish communities throughout the journey to the Games and will play a major role in key moments. I hope he will inspire children and young people to get involved in Scotland’s largest ever sporting event.

Communities, organisations and individuals must work together if the Games are to be an outstanding success and produce a lasting legacy. There are various ways to get involved, such as the Cultural and Volunteer Programmes and the Queen’s Baton Relay. Read more of this post

Suffragettes

The 11th September 2012 marked the 50th anniversary of the death of local woman Anna Munro, who founded one of the first branches of the Suffragettes, here in Dunfermline in 1906. The daughter of a schoolmaster, Anna spent many years campaigning for equal suffrage, as well as helping the poor.

I recently raised a motion in Parliament commemorating her resilience in the struggle for women’s suffrage. It is easy to forget that less than 100 years ago women in Britain could not vote. The over-30s gained suffrage in 1918, but equality with men was not achieved till as late as 1928. Read more of this post

Kincardine Housing Development

I recently attended the official opening of the new Kincardine housing development, which I very much welcome. Kingdom Housing Association has built 65 affordable houses to replace two of the tower blocks demolished in 2010. This is the first phase of a regeneration that will conclude with the demolition of the remaining tower block, probably next year.

These modern, well-built houses are fitted with solar thermal panels, making them energy efficient and thus cheaper to heat. Dunfermline firm Oliver and Robb Architects designed them, while another local firm, Campion, built them in partnership with Fife Council and the Scottish Government. Read more of this post

Budget Announcements

Finance Secretary John Swinney must have the hardest job in the Scottish Government. At a time when Westminster has reduced Scotland’s capital funding by 30%, he has the near-impossible task of balancing the books. Yet, since taking up his post in 2007, he has made the right choices when faced with unenviable decisions between competing budget priorities.

On 20th September, he announced the Draft Budget 2013-14. Key points include the announcement that the Council Tax will remain frozen. This is only fair, since the freeze implemented in 2007 has yet to make up for huge increases under previous Labour/LibDem administrations at Holyrood. Read more of this post

New Townhill Business

I recently attended the opening of a new local business in Townhill. The family-run Loch Café is based in the Scottish National Waterski Centre, with a great view of the Loch, and is open to the general public. Owner Marie Hendry has put in a lot of hard work setting up the café and is to be congratulated.

The Loch Café is part of a wider upgrade to Townhill Country Park, which I very much welcome. The Park is an important local facility, home to Scotland’s national waterski training site, which is regarded as one of the best ski facilities in Europe. Read more of this post

Police Memorial Service

On 5th September I attended the Annual Service of Remembrance at the Scottish Police Memorial, located on the grounds of the Scottish Police College at Tulliallan. This memorial is dedicated to those police officers who have lost their lives in the line of duty.

Reverend Georgie Baxendale’s service was a fine tribute, and the Lone Piper’s Lament by Stewart Reid, whose police officer grandfather lost his life in the line of duty, was particularly moving. Among those who laid wreaths was Kenny MacAskill, Cabinet Secretary for Justice, on behalf of the Scottish Government, while the Lord-Lieutenant of Fife, Margaret Dean, laid another on behalf of the Queen. Read more of this post

Parliamentary Moves

The Scottish Parliament was certainly abuzz last week. Not only did we officially reconvene after the summer recess, but Alex Salmond announced his surprise Cabinet re-shuffle, which has involved a big move of Scottish Government personnel.

Of particular interest to Fifers will be Alex Neil’s move from Cabinet Secretary for Infrastructure and Capital Investment where, among other things, he oversaw progress on the new Forth Bridge, a project that appears well underway. Read more of this post

Bruce Festival

The Bruce Festival has become an eagerly anticipated event on Fife’s cultural calendar. As well as being an enjoyable weekend of festivities, it delivers a significant boost to the local economy here in Dunfermline.

This year’s Festival promises to be the most spectacular so far. On the 25th and 26th of August, an expected 20,000 visitors will flock to our city centre and Glen to enjoy such entertainment as a re-created medieval village and a Bruce family treasure hunt. The Glen Pavilion, newly renovated with a generous £1 million investment from the Carnegie Dunfermline Trust, will host a grand dinner and ceilidh on the 24th August. Read more of this post

Olympics

The Olympic Games have proved marathon viewing for sports fans, though other viewers might perhaps have wished themselves on a distant beach with no volleyball players or champion divers for miles!

I have thoroughly enjoyed watching the athletes push themselves to extraordinary feats for Olympic glory, and I am glad the organisation of London 2012 went well despite its initial problems. Read more of this post

Legacy

The issue now is how to convert the great successes of the Olympics into enhanced participation in sports by young Scots – with the emphasis not simply on winning or on competition but on leading healthier, more active lives.

The Scottish Government has comprehensively monitored the health of the nation since 1995, with the introduction of the Scottish Health Survey. Of particular concern is the finding that less than half of girls aged over 12 are taking the recommended 60 minutes of daily exercise. Read more of this post

Flood-risk Insurance

Recently, I raised a motion in Parliament regarding householders in Scotland contributing disproportionately towards an annual £200 million UK flood-risk subsidy, through their home insurance premiums.

In Scotland, almost no new buildings are ever erected in areas at risk of flooding, compared with 11% of all new buildings in England. Of existing homes, 5% are classed as vulnerable to flooding in Scotland, compared with 23% in England. Yet in order to keep costs down in England, low-risk householders in Scotland are charged higher insurance. Read more of this post

Crown Estate

I would also urge the UK Government to rethink its refusal to devolve the management of Scotland’s coast and seabed from the UK Crown Estate to the Scottish Government, with further devolution to community level.

Currently, the Crown Estate manages around 50% of our coast and most of our seabed, with surplus revenues paid to the Westminster Treasury. The Westminster-appointed Scottish Affairs Committee has produced a highly critical report on the Crown Estate’s management, which it says lacks accountability, transparency and public consultation. Local communities claim the Crown Estate acts like an “absentee landlord” and “tax collector”. Read more of this post

London Olympics

When London won the bid for the 2012 Olympics, I feared a massive drain of taxpayers’ money to the southeast of England.  Although some football matches will be held in Glasgow and we have some sub-contract work, I regret that my concerns have been proved right, with little benefit coming to Scotland. Read more of this post