Tuesday, 23 September 2008

Tackling The Scourge Of Drugs

Today's announcement that Police in Scotland have seized more than £20 million of drugs over the past 12 months and arrested 49 of our most "serious and dangerous" criminals is most welcome.

Combine the success of our Police with our new drugs strategy based on abstinence, adopted by the Scottish Executive after it was first advocated and then demanded by Annabel Goldie MSP, and you have the start of a process I believe will radically alter the publics perception of politicians attitude to tackling illegal drug use and abuse.

Not before time too. We must be seen to be coming down hard on the criminals who push drugs onto the vulnerable and at the same time to be offering a positive option to those who seek to get themselves off drugs once and for all. With a little bit of luck and faith in our people, I am sure we are about to see an end to the drugs culture in Scotland that has been so damaging to communities over recent years!

Saturday, 20 September 2008


With all the doom and gloom in our economy and the troubles of the Prime Minister and his Government it is all to easy to forget the things that really matter. On every level - family, friends and the well being of local people are all far more important that the machinations of political parties.

The death of a Enya Doohan from Clarkston, to a mystery illness, at just 5 years of age, gives me a sense of perspective and ones heart can only go out to the family and friends of a little girls described as 'delightful' by her school.

Politics is important but not as important as life itself and I think we would all do well to remember that!

Thursday, 18 September 2008

Loss Of Bank Of Scotland Is A Travesty!

I believe in the free market and in the right of individuals to work hard and to prosper as a result of their hard work. But the shenanigans surrounding the purchase of Halifax Bank of Scotland by Lloyd's TSB leave me thinking our Government and their financial regulatory structures leave a lot to be desired.

Today we discovered that Gordon Brown personally knew that HBoS was in talks to be bought out by Lloyd's TSB a week ago and took personal control of ensuring the regulatory authorities approved the purchase given the current economic climate and despite potential monopolies concerns.

Knowing all this the Prime Minister then did nothing to stop the run on the banks shares over the past few days even though he knew there was no cause for concern about the banks liquidity. This means he knew that those attacking HBoS shares were doing so in order to make large "personal" financial gains and given the coordinated and sustained nature of trading he must have suspected there may have been an element of insider knowledge attached to these sales.

The loss of the Bank of Scotland brand from UK high streets and to Scotland's corporate and social life is a disaster. Scotland's second largest company had the right to expect our Government would protect them from unwarranted attack, but Government and its regulators let HBoS down. It's time for a Government who believes in protecting our great Institutions and that ensures fairness across our economy - clearly that rules the current Government out!

Monday, 15 September 2008

Sarah Palin - Superstar!

The emergence of Sarah Palin as the invigorating force in the Republican campaign for President of the United States of America is as welcome as it was surprising. For too long I think we all expected Barack Obama to walk to victory as he portrayed John McCain as another 4 years of failed Bush administration policies and McCain appeared incapable of repelling such suggestions for fear of alienating his Party's core support.

Today we find swing State after swing State warming to the McCain-Palin ticket as it expresses a desire to win and to bring change to Washington by presenting two politicians who have in their own way and fields already affected proper change in their jurisdictions.

And the reaction from the Obama campaign? To engage in the sort of negative campaign techniques that many thought he stood against and was more likely to be subject to than an advocate of.

So it's clearly game on in the race to become the 44th President of the United States of America and so much the better for all those sad political hacks, (like me), who will be glued to every press statement, opinion poll and results programme from now till 5th November!

Friday, 12 September 2008

Whose To Blame For The Condition Of Scottish Prisons?

Would you believe it!

Having suffered 11 years of Labour blaming their predecessor Conservative administration for absolutely everything that is wrong in Scotland, and across the UK, would you believe it, now the SNP are lining up to do the same.

Justice Secretary, Kenny MacAskill, reckons it is down to the last Conservative government that our jails are in "a dire state". Apparently the Labour government that filled in the gap between Conservative and SNP governance of Scotland are not to blame for failing to invest into prisons during their time in office, or indeed for having stopped Conservative investment plans on coming to power in 1997.

Give us a break Kenny and stop looking for an excuse to point fingers at the Conservatives for spurious reasons. If you're not up to the job of sorting our Scotland's jails let us know and we'll happily take over and show you how its done!

Thursday, 11 September 2008

Back To The Future with the Scottish Futures Trust

Yesterdays announcement by John Swinney that he intends to fund all future public infrastructure projects with a new Scottish Futures Trust, to replace PFI and PPP, is at first glance to be welcomed. The trouble is that on deeper analysis it is clear there is no detail to his proposal and that the sole purpose of changing the method of funding is to prevent private companies from making profit.

The reality is that the public sector does not have construction divisions capable of building anything of significance and as a result if we want schools, hospitals and roads built we need to engage the private sector to deliver for Scotland.

Private sector companies will not, of course, work for no profit and will have to do one of two things if they are to satisfy Mr Swinney's criteria of "not for profit" build.

Either they will price jobs to show no profit by wildly inflating the cost of every item in a tender or they will all seek to act as subcontractors to a main contractor who makes no profit, while they make profits in the usual way. In other words the main contractor charges what they are charged by their subcontractors, not a penny more and not a penny less, but the subcontractors charge in the traditional way that has enabled them to make profits under PFI and PPP.

The uncertainty we face in the short term is very unhelpful, particularly when we desperately need new Barrhead and Eastwood High Schools. Yesterdays announcement is, therefore, a matter of regret and the message from East Renfrewshire must be "give us some certainty Mr Swinney and we will get on with making life better for the people who live here"!

Tuesday, 9 September 2008

Justice Must Serve Society!

With Barlinnie full to bursting, SNP Justice Secretary, Kenny MacAskill is suggesting we put prisoners out to work on major infrastructure projects, including build programmes associated with the 2014 Commonwealth Games.

Restorative justice is something I would normally support, however I suspect today's announcement has more to do with a complete failure to deal with prisoner numbers and not a tough new approach to what criminals should be required to do to pay for their crimes against society.

I believe criminals should be put to work for the communities they have offended, but nor if this puts people into communities who fear their involvement. Building sites can be dangerous places with dangerous tools and equipment and the thought of letting prisoners out on day release with access to potential weapons is something we need to guard against.

If this proposal is indeed about finding ways to reduce the prison population I have news for Mr MacAskill. The Scottish people want its government to stand up for them and to build new prisons if that is what it takes to make prison a deterrent to crime.

Court sentences should mean what they say! One year should mean you serve one year; Life should mean you serve life etc. And if this means prisoner numbers rise in the short term as we keep dangerous people incarcerated while we educate them not to re-offend then we should build the prisons necessary to keep our law abiding majority safe.

Monday, 8 September 2008

Give Us A Break Gordon!

Today's newspapers are full of the Prime Minister promising to tackle the countries big problems in the same way as he has overcome big challenges in his own personal life.

No one has more admiration for the way Gordon Brown has tackled his partial blindness than me. As someone who was so active in sport at a young age the loss of sight in one eye and the partial loss of sight in the other must have been devastating. It takes someone of particular character and courage to be able to put this aside and battle to achieve in other fields and Gordon Brown's achievements, both academic and political, speak for themselves.

Nevertheless to be making claims of preparedness to take action in tough economic times and to be feeling our pain leave us with one big question. Where have you and your government been for the past 12 months?

The 10p tax debacle was of your doing, the credit crunch and failure to deal properly with Northern Rock was of your doing and the fact that inflation is crippling households and need an interest rate rise when the housing market needs an interest rate cut is of your doing.

It is very admirable to give us kind words and big promises but it you do want to help us there is something you could do for us NOW - CALL AN ELECTION!

Thursday, 4 September 2008

Local Income Tax - A Disincentive To Work Hard And Do Well!

The SNP's proposed abolition of Council Tax to be replaced by a Local Income Tax is quite simply another disincentive to work hard and do well.

No one likes paying tax, unless they have to, but today's proposal by the Scottish Executive to pay for local services based on a supposed ability to pay means that, for the same Council services, two households beside one another might be faced with one paying nothing for their bins to be picked up, their streets to be lit and their libraries to be open while their next door neighbours pay £3,000 a year to receive the exact same services, based on a combined household income of £100,000.

And this of course assumes that the 3 pence in the every pound level mooted by the SNP is actually sustainable. Glasgow City Council calculates that at 3% a Local Income Tax would leave them with a shortfall of £133 million on current budgets - in other words to maintain current expenditure Local Income Tax would have to increase by 50% to 4.5%. Here, in East Renfrewshire, I believe that with our extremely high percentage of population that is either old or young our expenditure, in what is a relatively small local authority, is pretty big per head of population and we too would have to seek to raise the level of Local Income Tax just to be able to maintain the standard of our schools and other services.

And whenever you raise a tax on a regional basis you also find a large number of people who seek to avoid paying that tax. For example, with Corporation Tax in the UK higher than that in the Republic of Ireland a number of large companies have moved their head offices from London to Dublin to take advantage of the tax break this provides. In the case of Local Income Tax, I wonder how many people will register for tax purposes in England, Wales or Northern Ireland to avoid paying a Scottish Local Income Tax were it to be introduced.

In summary, the SNP's Local Income Tax proposal is poorly thought through, will lead to inequities in payment for local services in local communities and will undoubtedly not be paid by those who can afford to find ways of avoiding it. All this would be damaging to the social cohesion of Scotland and potential ruinous to our economy. That is why we must all oppose its introduction and leave no stone unturned until it is consigned to the political scrapheap.

Wednesday, 3 September 2008

Emergency Housing Measures A Waste Of Time

The CBI describe them as "largely symbolic". The Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors say "the Government has failed to listen to the property industry". The Council of Mortgage Lenders say "it is questionable whether it will incentivise buyers who wouldn't have entered the market anyway". And senior figures in the property industry call them "a political sticking plaster" that won't make "one iota of difference".

So why has the Government rushed through a £1.6 billion package of measures for the housing industry that no one seems to think really address the route cause of the current housing downturn?

Quite simply, it is because they don't understand the reasons for the current downturn and have insufficient funds left in the pot to really help out now we are experiencing 'a rainy day'.

And the one thing missing from yesterdays announcement? How are Chancellor Alastair Darling and Prime Minister Gordon Brown proposing to pay for this state handout? The mind boggles when you consider the irresponsibility of it all!

Tuesday, 2 September 2008

Cervical Cancer Vaccination Programme A Welcome Event

There is nothing worse than hearing a loved one has cancer, particularly when the technology exists to stop it taking hold.

Yesterday, Abronhill High in Cumbernauld made history by becoming the first Scottish school to administer the new Cervarix vaccine to 90 girls, as part of a UK-wide programme that will see 90,000 young girls receive the vaccination this month.

The jab works by targeting the human papilloma virus, the virus that causes about 70% of cases of cervical cancer that kills more than 1,000 women in the UK each year.

This is the first mass anti-cancer vaccination programme in UK medical history and a great day to celebrate the advances in medical research we too often take for granted. As schools across the UK go back over the next 4 or 5 weeks we should all take great pride in the investment made to develop treatments that protect us from illness as well as those that help cure us if we fall ill.
So thank you to all those in our National Health Service and medical research laboratories who are doing so much to help keep us safe!