Ann McKechin MP

Gordon Brown – ‘Patriotic vision for Scotland’s future’

In a speech in Glasgow today (TUE), former Prime Minister Gordon Brown has called for faster change, fairer change, safer change and better change if Scotland votes No in the referendum.


He also accused the SNP of misleading people over the future of the NHS.


In a speech entitled ‘Patriotic vision for Scotland’s future’, Mr Brown said:


“I have always argued that this referendum is not a choice between Scotland and Britain but a choice between two distinctive visions of Scotland’s future, a patriotic vision and a nationalist vision, both of which are visions held by Scots here in Scotland with two different views about how our country can progress.


The nationalist vision would break all links with the UK.  Indeed they argue it is better for Scotland to break the links that ensure UK-wide rights to the funding of our pensions, NHS, welfare state and our defence and security.


Ours is the patriotic vision:


Which starts from our strong sense of being Scottish;


Is strongly Scottish in our support of our own Scottish institutions;


Is strongly Scottish in the pride we have in the Scottish Parliament we created;


Is strongly Scottish in our desire to ensure it has more powers;


And is strongly Scottish too in the pride we have in the benefits from cooperating and sharing across the whole of the UK for pensions, the funding of healthcare, jobs, the currency and interest rates.


Yesterday I showed that we could deliver the extra powers we seek for the Scottish Parliament within a timetable that starts on September 19th and leads to the publication of draft laws in January, after a period of consultation with the Scottish people and the Scottish Parliament.


Let me be clear that all pro-devolution parties in Westminster and Holyrood have agreed with our timetable for more powers for the Scottish Parliament.


I can also say something that we have pushed for yesterday and have agreed today that when Parliament returns in the week of 14 October there will be a motion in the House of Commons which will vote on a process to bind everyone.


By the end of October, just over five weeks after the referendum, there will be a command paper that sets out all the plans.


By the end of November, there will be a Heads of Agreement on a new Scotland Act published in a White Paper or its equivalent, following consultation with Scottish civic society and the Scottish Parliament.


And there will be draft clauses ready for legislative enactment by the end of January 2015.


So I can say today that we can guarantee that a No vote on September 18th means legislative action for more powers which will start on September 19th.


I want to explain today how this changes the whole nature of the debate about Scotland’s future and in particular I want to concentrate on what this means for the NHS.


Until now some people have thought the referendum choice is between separation and the status quo.


Between irreversible action to sever Scotland’s links with Britain and doing nothing at all.


But it is clear with our plan for new powers for the Scottish Parliament that the choice is not now between no change and separation, but between change with a stronger Scottish Parliament and change with an irreversible break from the UK. 


As part of my thirty day tour of towns, cities and villages in Scotland, I will show on Thursday when I address a rally of pensioners what our new powers for the Scottish Parliament means for services for the elderly, and the SNP have got it wrong on pensions.


In Kirkcaldy on Saturday I will also show what our new proposals mean for jobs and how the SNP have got it wrong on jobs and the economy.


And when I speak to members of the Royal British Legion on Sunday, I will show what our proposals mean for defence and security.


But today I will show what our proposals mean for the NHS in Scotland and the guarantees that we can give.


Faster change, fairer change, safer change and better change


No one now should be in any doubt that Labour’s initiative, led by Ed Miliband and Johann Lamont, means faster change, fairer change, safer change and better change than that sought by the nationalists, and it is change that I believe the vast majority of Scots can support and change that can bring Scotland together.


Our plan for a stronger Scottish Parliament offer faster change, because the pro-devolution parties will deliver a stronger Scottish Parliament with determination and speed, and will in fact do so quicker than the SNP could ever secure independence.


A stronger Scottish Parliament offers fairer change than separation, because as I will show we will continue to pool and share our resources with our friends, neighbours and family in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.  And by sharing across the 63 million people of the UK rather than just 5 million people in Scotland, we can guarantee UK-wide rights to a pension, assistance when unemployed, fully funded healthcare free at the point of need and minimum standards of protection at work, including a UK-wide minimum wage.


Our stronger Scottish Parliament offers safer change, as further powers will be delivered without the chaos and instability of the SNP’s uncertainty on the currency, threat to default on Scotland’s share of the debt and inability to explain how they would cope with a £6 billion public spending hole when we lose the Barnett formula and the UK welfare state.


And further devolution rather than separation offers better change, as we will have a stronger Scottish Parliament but will also continue to benefit from being part of the UK when it comes to defence and security, the economy and the currency – without losing a say in vital decisions that affect us.


These proposals offer change that I believe is more in tune with the wishes of the Scottish people – who want stronger powers for the Scottish Parliament to enable us to make decisions on our own, but who do not want a no-going-back break with the United Kingdom.




In desperation, the SNP are claiming that an English Prime Minister can force a Scottish First Minister to privatise or cut the budget of the NHS.


But they are completely wrong.


Under the existing powers of the Scottish Parliament, they have the power to raise an extra £1 billion in taxes to help pay for the NHS in Scotland.


Under the 2012 Scotland Act, the Scottish Government from 2016 will have the power to raise even more tax revenue.


If the Scottish Government raised income tax by 3p it would raise £1.2 billion.  That would mean an extra £410 million for the NHS.


If they raised it by 4p, they would get an extra £1.7 billion.  That would represent an additional £580 million for the NHS.


If income tax went up by 5p, Scotland would have an extra £2.1 billion.  That would be worth £720 million to the NHS.

And after the proposals which nail the lie today – that MSPs cannot allocate more resources to the NHS if they wanted to and have no freedom to do so – that figure could be even higher.


Let’s look at what would really happen.


First, the Scottish NHS cannot be privatised from Westminster because under devolution, the NHS in Scotland is run by the Scottish Government in Edinburgh.


Second, last year, nearly £12 billion was allocated for health in Scotland. Recently an extra £284.6 million has been added to our block grant for 2014/15 as a result of ‘Barnett consequentials’, which the SNP have committed to the health budget.


This is the reason why health spending in Scotland is currently higher than the UK average by around 9 per cent. Scotland would receive £11 billion – £1 billion less – if spending to health was allocated according by population share, but we currently receive £12 billion because of our historic needs.


Let me tell you. I love Scotland and I love the NHS.  I have relied on it all my life.  It has always been there for me in times of need.  And not just for me but for my family too, and for your family and for everyone in the country.


I tell you, we created the NHS, we built-up the NHS, we fought the world to deliver it.


We’re proud of the NHS and will never let it be anything other than safe for the people of Scotland.


The SNP are misleading people when they know perfectly well Scotland can spend more on the NHS if it wants too.


It shows their real aim is not to help patients of the NHS but simply to win their support for their dogma of independence.


They are putting the needs and aspirations of people in Scotland second to their aim of separation.


With the powers we have and without separation, we can guarantee forever the future of the NHS in Scotland.


As a universal service free at the point of need, which is what Scottish people want.


Five positive benefits to Scotland of being part of the UK


Let us be in no doubt that the referendum is now a choice about whether on five vital areas of cooperation that matter to people in Scotland – the positive benefits from UK pensions, the UK funding of healthcare, UK defence, UK-linked jobs and the UK currency – we wish to sever all remaining political connections with Britain. 


In each of these areas Scotland benefits from being part of the UK.


I have already mentioned the NHS where because of Scotland’s higher needs and the cost of providing services across one-third of the UK’s land area, we benefit from an additional £1 billion from shared UK-wide funding.  This means that £200 more a year is spent on the health care of each of us in Scotland than on our English neighbours. 


The shared UK-wide funding of pensions means that with their greater needs because of poverty and disabilities, Scottish OAPs receive £425 million more each year from being part of the UK pension system than a division of resources based purely on population would provide.  And the benefit of this shared funding will increase from £425 million this year to £700 million a year within two decades, as Scottish pensioners rise in numbers from one million to 1.3 million. 


Nationalists say that to achieve social justice we should leave Britain.  I say that the pooling and sharing of risks, rewards and resources across 63 million people rather than 5 million people, based on the principle of need rather than ability to pay, offers a far stronger reason on social justice grounds alone for staying part of the UK.


We also benefit in Scotland from shared UK defence and security.  This year we remember how we enlisted, fought and sacrificed as one in the First World War 100 years ago, and in the Second World War too.  Recent terrorist threats remind us of a basic truth that both in wartime and in peacetime we are stronger in defence and security as part of Britain.


Almost one million jobs in Scotland are directly or indirectly linked to our membership of the UK.  What’s more, 70 per cent of our exports are to the rest of the UK and in some large sectors like financial services the figure is as high as 90 per cent.  Scotland’s economy is not therefore comparable to that of Norway whose exports to Sweden – its largest neighbour – are less than 10 per cent of its total exports.  Instead Scotland’s exports to England represent the vast majority of our exports and dwarf our exports to the U.S. or the rest of Europe.


And each side in this debate wants to keep the UK currency.  But we believe that if we want to keep the UK currency, it is in the Scottish people’s interests that we are represented in the UK Parliament, Bank of England and Monetary Policy Committee where vital decisions affecting our lives – on interest rates, employment objectives, growth targets, anti-inflation policy and banking rescues – are made.  If you want to stay in the UK currency, the logic is to stay in the UK.


So the choice on September 18th is really between two different kinds of change.  The change sought by the nationalists – breaking all constitutional connections with our friends, neighbours and family in the rest of the UK – places the dogma of independence over the needs and interests of the Scottish people.  But the proposals supported by the pro-devolution parties offer faster change, fairer change, safer change and better change.  It is the change that most of us want and change that brings Scotland together.


We have now answered the question that the people of Scotland had for us about the certainty of change within the UK.  Now it is time for Alex Salmond to answer the huge questions people have about independence.

Anne McTaggart MSP

Glasgow MSP Proud to Support Disabled Persons’ Parking Badges Bill

Anne McTaggart MSP backed Dennis Robertson MSP’s Disabled Persons’ Parking Badges Bill (Scotland) during the Stage 3 debate at the Scottish Parliament on the 19th August. The Bill aims to increase the number of parking spaces that are available to genuinely disabled people and therefore improve the quality of life of those who suffer mobility issues. It will also enable local authorities to cancel lost or stolen badges, confiscate those that have been misused and create a new offence of using a cancelled badge. Ms McTaggart used her speech to highlight the benefits that this Bill will bring to...
Anne McTaggart MSP

Anne McTaggart MSP supports the Dearest Scotland Campaign

Earlier this month, Anne McTaggart MSP showed her support for the Dearest Scotland campaign during Bill Kidd MSPs Member’s Business Debate on the 13th of August. Dearest Scotland is a project that focuses on crowdsourcing a vision for the future of Scotland. It has been put together by Sarah Drummond, Lauren Currie, and Cat Cochrane who aim to get the citizens of Scotland to write letters that start with Dearest Scotland, expressing their vision for Scotland. These will be published on their website, made into a book of letters, as well as presented at an exhibition at the Scottish Parliament....
John Robertson MP

Labour vs. SNP Record

1.    HEALTH

SNP’s record on health

  • Health secretary Alex Neil was caught red-handed meddling in the decision making process in his local health board area, NHS Lanarkshire.
    • Labour lodged a vote of no-confidence which was backed by all the opposition parties.
    • Spend on private healthcare has gone up by 37% under the SNP to over £80million in 2012/13.
    • A&E waiting times are not being met – in March 2014, only five health boards achieved the waiting time standard of 98% of patients seen and admitted, transferred or discharged from A&E within 4 hours.
    • Rather than supporting NHS Boards to achieve the targets, the SNP downgraded the 98% to an interim target of 95% – which is still not being met by all NHS Boards.
      • The number of patients waiting four hours or more to be treated has almost trebled from 36,000 in 2008/09 to 104,000 last year.
      • According to Audit Scotland in May – “Delays in A&E can be a sign of pressure across health and social care.”
      • Cancer waiting times are not being met – the standard that 95% of patient should wait a maximum of 62 days from receipt of an urgent referral with a suspicion of cancer to first cancer treatment is not being met and the median wait is now 39 days.
        • Patients and families face more anxiety and delays as a result.
        • The out-going leader of Scotland’s doctors in June said of the NHS: “What I have seen over the past five years is the continuing crisis management of the longest car crash in my memory”.
        • In March 2014, 89.6% of measurable patient journeys, were within 18 weeks, compared to 90.6% in March 2013. This is the first time national performance has dropped below the 90.0% standard since its introduction in 2011.
        • Scandal of seven to 15 minute care visits.
        • Delayed decision on banning the use of mesh implants by a year, which meant hundreds more women will have received them.


Labour’s record on health

  • Between 1999 and 2007, Scottish Labour doubled per capita health spending, elevating it to record levels.
  • By 2007, there were nearly 700 extra doctors and over 5,000 extra nurses. We addressed low levels of morale by increasing pay and introducing better working conditions.
  • We made Scottish Health Boards more accountable, introducing a statutory requirement to consult with the public about changes to services, and ensuring local councillors sat on health boards to safeguard local democracy and accountability.
  • We introduced free personal care for the elderly and quadrupled investment in support for unpaid carers, to £23.7 million.
  • We led the UK in banning smoking in public places.
  • We invested hundreds of millions of pounds in new hospitals and GP surgeries, resulting in faster and better treatment for patients across Scotland. When we left office:
    • Waiting times were at their lowest level ever in Scotland, with half of all NHS patients experiencing no wait at all and seven out of ten patients treated in less than 3 months;
    • All hospital in-patients were treated within  18 weeks (a target achieved a year ahead of schedule);
    • The delayed discharge of patients had been reduced by 73% since 2002;
    • Patients were guaranteed an appointment with a GP or nurse within 48 hours;
    • Nurse-led advice was available 24 hours a day.
    • Significant progress was made in tackling Scotland’s three “big killers” – cancer, heart disease and strokes. Between 1997 and 2007:
      • Cancer deaths among under-75s fell by 15% ;
      • Stroke deaths among under-75s fell by 40%;
      • Heart disease deaths among under-75s fell by 45%
      • Our approach to improving Scotland’s health focused on prevention:
        • We enhanced pre and post-natal support, and became a world leader on breastfeeding by making it an offence for a mother to be stopped for breastfeeding in public;
        • We provided free water and fruit in nursery education, as well as supervised tooth brushing;
        • We introduced the Hungry for Success healthy school meals programme, underpinned by legislation guaranteeing nutritional standards in school meals.
        • We removed all branding from vending machines.



SNP’s record on education

  • The SNP have not released the full costings for their ‘flagship’ childcare proposals, they refuse to publish their modelling and they have delayed the date for increased childcare provisions for vulnerable 2 year olds (the legal duty date as set out in the CYPB).
  • The SNPs focus on hours is at the expense of quality and flexibility.
  • The SNP have cut pre-school, primary school and, in particular, secondary school spending in real terms since 2007 (-8.1%, -2.6%, -8.6% respectively).
  • The SNP have presided over a real terms decline in spend on teachers with 4,000 teachers lost from Scottish class rooms since 2007.
  • The implementation of CfE put teachers and pupils under unreasonable pressure.
  • There has been a decline in numeracy attainment under the SNP.
  • The SNP have failed to tackle the attainment gap between young people from most deprived areas and the least deprived areas (in numeracy, literacy, overall tariff score and positive follow up destination).
  • Care leavers have been failed by the SNP (care leavers attainment and positive follow up destination are significantly lower than for all school leavers).
  • SNP has maintained the higher education budget, but only at the expense of the further education budget, which has been slashed by around £67 million in real terms.
  • College learning hours have been cut by 10 million hours in the last 3 years.
  • There has been a 37 per cent decrease in college student numbers (headcount) since SNP came to power in 2007.  As a result 140,000 people have lost out on going to college.
  • 25 – 59 year olds have suffered the most, but no age group has been unscathed by SNP indifference to colleges.
  • The SNP have significantly reduced grant support for students resulting in a considerable increase in student debt, particularly for students from the lowest income homes.
  • Low income university students in Scotland receive the lowest amount of grant in the UK. Low income university students in Wales receive £5,161; in Northern Ireland they receive £3,475; in England they get £3,387 but in Scotland the same group of students only receive £1,750. The SNP’s White Paper has made no mention on the issues of student grants.
  • Student lending, and therefore student debt, was 58% higher last year than the previous year, rising by £159m from £277m to £436m.
  • Under the SNP Scotland has the highest proportion of students dropping out of university in the UK (2012 figures).
  • Scotland has the lowest percentage of university entrants from the poorest backgrounds (26.2%), and the lowest proportion of entrants from state schools (86.9%) in the UK.


Labour’s record on education

  • When we left office in 2007 universal free early years education had been introduced, with all Scottish 3 and 4 year-olds entitled to 412.5 hours of free childcare per year.
  • The biggest school building programme in Scotland’s history was underway – over the course of two parliaments, we built 320 new and refurbished schools.
  • Scotland’s teaching workforce had increased by over 2,000, with 53,000 in post by August 2007.
  • Class sizes in primary schools had been reduced to 30 pupils or fewer.
  • The importance of teachers was recognised and valued – average salaries increased by more than 30% between 1999 and 2007, and new avenues were opened for career development within the profession.
  • Teachers were given the freedom to teach, with more classroom assistants, learning support staff and increased levels of administrative support alleviating the bureaucratic burden.
  • By age 15, young Scots were amongst the World’s best in literacy, numeracy and science.
  • The Educational Maintenance Allowance had been introduced to help pupils in difficult financial circumstances stay in education.
  • Scotland had the highest proportion of young people entering higher education in the UK, and one of the highest levels in Europe.
  • Spending on higher education had been significantly increased, including a 400% increase in university capital budgets, helping them to modernise and become internationally competitive.
  • Paid maternity leave had been increased from 13 weeks in 1997 to 39 weeks in 2007.



SNP’s record on infrastructure

  • Under the SNP Government in 2013 the lowest number of homes was built since 1947.
  • SNP slashed the housing budget and now 2,000 more households are living in temporary accommodation.
  •  The SNP Government voted against Labour’s amendments to make the Living Wage a requirement for workers when firms bid for public sector contracts.
  • John Swinney axed Glasgow Airport Rail Link, a major transport project that would have boosted the economy and created jobs. It was later revealed that cancelling GARL cost £30 million.
  • Dualling of A9 was a flagship manifesto pledge which they have failed to deliver and other transport projects such as Borders railway and EGIP are significantly delayed and Caledonian sleeper franchise award has been disastrous.
  • Weak Procurement Reform bill – which failed to outlaw blacklisting or prevent the use of zero hours contracts on public sector workers.
  • Refused to include a cap on rent increases in their Housing bill, this would have given protection to thousands of people who rent their home across Scotland.


Labour’s record on infrastructure

  • In Government, we invested significant funds in Scotland’s rail network, resulting in new lines, new rolling stock, enhanced safety measures and improved timetabling. By 2007, rail passenger numbers were at their highest level since 1964.
  • We commissioned the Airdrie-Bathgate line, the Stirling-Alloa line [recommend remove ref to S-A line; this line has had a high number of problems since it opened], and the Waverley Station upgrade.
  • We also delivered free Scotland-wide bus travel for older people and introduced a young persons’ concessionary travel scheme. We increased the number of bus passenger journeys after decades of decline.
  • Recognising the difficulties faced by island communities, we introduced the Air Discount Scheme. As of 2007, almost 14,000 island residents had benefited from this scheme.
  • Our Route Development Fund created dozens of new direct air routes into Scotland, boosting the business and tourism industries.
  • We provided funds to local authorities to pay for thousands of small-scale schemes to encourage walking and cycling, including crossings, pedestrian areas, cycle lanes or advanced stop signs.
  • In 2002, Scottish Labour introduced the most progressive homelessness legislation in Europe, enshrining in statute our ambition to end homelessness. The Housing (Scotland) Act 2002, which required Scottish local authorities, as of January 2013,  which gave all councils across Scotland a duty to provide ‘settled accommodation’ to anyone who is unintentionally homeless, led to significant investment in affordable housing and improved homelessness services.



SNP’s record on local government

  • Alex Salmond’s Local Income Tax would cost a family with two people on an average wage £550 more a year than they pay now.
    • Since the SNP came to power, every council in the country has had a real terms cut to funding.  The effects can be seen in cuts to services, increased charges for local people and the loss of almost 40,000 jobs in seven years.
    • SNP’s underfunded council tax freeze has seen councils either cut local services back or charge for previously free services.


Labour’s record on local government

  • We ensured that local authorities had the necessary funds to provide essential services with year-on-year increases to the local government grant.
  • Established a formal working agreement between ministers and councils based around parity of esteem and partnership.
  • Created a framework was set up to improve strategy and efficiency through Community Planning and Best Value legislation.
  • We gave local authorities a more prominent role in community leadership, placing the promotion of partnerships in delivery of public services on a statutory basis.
  • Paved the way for the introduction of a proportional electoral system for council elections, based on the Single Transferable Vote (STV) system, and a change in the minimum age for standing as a councillor from 21 to 18.


SNP’s record on social justice

  • Child poverty has increased under the SNP, with 30,000 more children in Scotland living in poverty in 2012/13 than in 2011/12.
    • 19 per cent of children in Scotland were living in relative poverty in 2012/13, an increase from 15 per cent the previous year. In 2012/13, there were 180 thousand children in Scotland living in relative poverty, 30 thousand more than in 2011/12.
    • Scottish Government failed to act quickly enough to prevent hundreds of Scottish households being threatened with eviction as a result of the bedroom tax.
    • For more than a year Scottish Labour called on the Scottish Government to make available the £20m that would mitigate the full impact of the bedroom tax in Scotland. John Swinney’s approach was to let households suffer rather than let the UK Government “off the hook”.  It took the introduction of Jackie Baillie’s Protection from Eviction (Bedroom Tax) Bill for the SNP to act.
    • Fuel poverty budget underspent despite 900,000 households living in fuel poverty.
    • Energy Action Scotland estimate 900,000 homes were in fuel poverty in 2012.
    • Fuel poverty is increasing as energy prices rise at three times the rate of inflation.
    • The Scottish Government is not going to eradicate fuel poverty by 2016 -the target set out in the Housing (Scotland) Act 2001.
    • Discretionary housing payments have in some areas been poorly used and our most vulnerable people have been prevented from accessing vital funds.
    • The Scottish Welfare Fund has been substantially underspent, at a time when the need is self-evident. Ministers have been singularly incompetent at getting the money to the people who need it most.
    • Accused of tokenism by promoting two female ministers to full Cabinet posts rather than replacing any of the male Cabinet male members.
    • Failed to deliver 50% of women on public boards despite Ministers being responsible for all appointments and failed to meet the 40% target of the number of applications from women.


Labour’s record on social justice

  • We showed what can be achieved when Governments at Holyrood and Westminster share the same aims and ideals. Working closely with our Labour colleagues at Westminster, Scottish Labour alleviated poverty and promoted greater equality, experiencing greater success in reducing poverty than the rest of the UK.
  • Under Labour Governments at Holyrood and Westminster:
    • Living standards rose, with Labour’s tax credits lifting thousands of Scots families above the poverty line;
      • Between 1999 and 2007 200,000 more people found work under Labour in Scotland
      • The number of pensioners living in poverty reduced from one in three in 1997 to one in five in 2007
      • Long-term youth unemployment was virtually eradicated.
      • After thirteen years of Labour Government in Westminster, there were 600,000 fewer Scottish children living in relative poverty (i.e. as compared to an average income) than in 1998-99. This represented the largest fall in child poverty of any EU country over the period. The number of children living in absolute poverty (i.e. in terms of the cash coming into the household) halved under Labour.
        • The Labour-led Scottish Executive achieved a greater fall in child poverty than anywhere else in the UK. By 2007, Scotland had the lowest poverty rate of any region in the UK.
        • We achieved this by focusing help where it was needed most, introducing:
        • above inflation increases in the basic state pension and pension credit;
        • free central heating
        • the warm homes programme
        • Free personal care for the elderly;
        • The National Minimum Wage (which we subsequently increased);
        • The Winter Fuel Allowance;
        • Free nationwide bus travel for the elderly.
        • Between 1997 and 2010, Labour managed not just to halt the seemingly inexorable rise in levels of child poverty, but was able through a concerted and determined effort to reverse this long-term trend.
        • We ended years of discrimination and prejudice by repealing clause 28, which banned councils and schools from teaching and promoting homosexuality.
        • We were ahead of the curve in our efforts to tackle financial exclusion, quadrupling membership of credit unions in Scotland.
        • The Labour Government of 1997-2010 emphasized work as the best route out of poverty and towards prosperity. We didn’t do this by harrying and hectoring, but by giving people a helping hand, formulating the concept of “progressive universalism”, which ensured that whilst many people benefited from our policies, the poorest benefited the most.
        • We invested heavily on initiatives to incentivise work, making it easier for people to enter and stay in the labour market (for example, lone parents), and helped to make work pay through the introduction of the minimum wage and tax credits to top up low wages:
          • We introduced In-Work Credit which provided a weekly bonus to help lone parents in their first year back to work.
          • We devised “New Deal” Welfare-to-work programmes for the young unemployed, lone parents, long-term unemployed, and partners of the unemployed.  In addition to the New Deals, in Scotland we introduced employment programmes for ex-offenders and lone parents with complex needs.
          • In order to alleviate the strain on working parents, we introduced a childcare element to Working Tax Credit, which meant that working families on lower incomes could claim back up to 80 per cent of the cost of a registered childcare place.
          • In 1999 we increased the rate of Child Benefit for the first child in each family. We also replaced Family Credit with a more generous Working Families Tax Credit. A new Working Tax Credit was given to low paid workers regardless of whether they had children.
          • We also introduced major changes to parental leave and pay, and rights to request flexible and part-time working, to make it easier for women with children to remain in work. 

In addition we:

  • Increased income support for pensioners and extra benefits such as winter fuel payments.
  • Established a more generous second state pension for low earners.
  • Provided central heating for every socially rented home and re–insulated most socially rented homes through its warm homes programme.
  • Introduced and allocated £16m towards the Rough Sleepers Initiative to assess the extent of rough sleeping and implement proposals to address those needs. As a result, by 2003 there was no need for anyone in Scotland to sleep rough.

 6.     JUSTICE 

SNP’s record on justice

  • Justice Secretary claimed routine arming of police officers was an operational matter and should not be brought before parliament despite widespread outrage.
  • SNP have closed local courts impacting on communities dependent on jobs and they have closed 61 police front counters effectively taking away local policing.
  • Pushed through Offensive Behaviour at Football Act despite opposition from anti-sectarian groups including Nil by Mouth and community groups.
  • Rise in number of people aged over 35 dying from drug use.
  • Closed fire station control rooms and centralised the service meaning call takers are often unaware of local issues.

Labour’s record on justice

  • Scottish Labour was committed to making our communities safer and achieving a fairer and more efficient justice system. Our major achievements in office included:
    • A record number of police officers on Scotland’s streets: 1,500 more than in 1999;
    • 20,000 fewer crimes recorded by the police in 2007 than in 1997;
    • We established then expanded the Scottish Crime and Drug Enforcement agency giving them enhanced powers and resources;
    • Communities across Scotland afforded new powers to tackle anti-social behaviour, with the introduction of Anti-Social Behaviour Orders, Dispersal Orders and Closure Orders.
    • We undertook a root and branch review of the criminal justice system which reduced court delays and the use of unnecessary witnesses, and ended automatic early release from prison.
    • We worked to keep dangerous weapons off the streets, leading the way on knife crime by affording the police additional powers to stop and search those suspected of carrying a knife. We also doubled the maximum sentence for those convicted and introduced a licensing scheme for the sale of non-domestic knives.
      • We encouraged stronger links between the police and the communities in which they operate through Community Safety Partnerships.



SNP’s record on the environment and rural affairs

  • The Scottish Government has ruled out including agricultural business rates relief within the wider land reform.
  • The Scottish Government still hasn’t supported Labour’s calls for extended community right to buy.
  • The Scottish Government has achieved a hat trick of missed targets after latest climate change emissions reported a rise compared to the previous year. This is embarrassing for a Government that continues to herald the targets as world leading.
  • Failure to take the step change needed has seen a rise in emissions and it is becoming increasingly clear that more action is desperately needed. The first three targets were the easiest for this government to meet yet they have missed all three, the next target must see a significant drop in emissions yet there are real concerns the Government hasn’t achieved this.
  • Committee on Climate Change reported in March that the SNP were failing to meet their targets and they would either have to “revise their targets, or introduce more polices and proposals”.
  • In recent years we have seen a reduction in food safety samples taken by councils (08/09 – over 16,000, 11/12 – 10,236).
  • The number of food inspectors has dropped by over 50% since 2003, (170 to 75); there has been a 21% drop in the number of food safety officers employed by local authorities in past 4 years and a 11% fall in the number of environmental health officers.
  • There is currently too much focus on our export market; we need to see a joined up strategy that links local produce to our export market, tackles food poverty and Scotland’s poor level of obesity, benefits our environment and ensures that public money is being used for public good.
  • Announcing the implementation of the Common Agricultural Policy the Scottish Government announced that they will only transfer 9.5% of funds from pillar 1 to 2 despite the potential to transfer up to 15%. Pillar 2 funds can be used to help rural communities and deliver environmental gains. In comparison Wales went for the full 15% and England decided on 12%.
  • The Scottish Government’s wildlife legislation does not seem to be working, it is time for a full and frank review now rather than wait until next year.
  • The 2013 air quality monitoring results found a high number of areas across Scotland are in breach of air quality safety standards.
  • It was reported that air pollution is a contributory factor in over 2,000 deaths in Scotland annually.
    • Recent reports highlighted that Edinburgh might not meet its target until 2020 (10 years late), whilst Glasgow might not reach theirs until 2025.
    • The Scottish Government has a big role to play in ensuring that our planning and transport policies are robust enough to ensure a reduction in emissions and that Scotland’s targets are met, however we still waiting for them to bring forward their air quality action plan.


Labour’s record on the environment and rural affairs

  • Land Reform was a central challenge of the early devolution period, and one which Scottish Labour did not shirk:
    • We abolished Feudal Tenure, replacing it with a simple system of land ownership. In so doing, we removed 800 years of accreted legislation, the vast majority of which had become unnecessary and obsolete;
    • We established new land access rights (the right to roam);
    • We introduced the community right to buy, which has enabled rural communities to take responsibility for the land on which they live and work;
    • We enhanced the rights of crofters and made it possible to create new crofts, allowing young people to enter crofting and helping to preserve a traditional way of life.
    • As the Scottish Executive we passed legislation that ensured the protection of our nature and environment. This included the introduction of Scotland’s two, now world famous, National Parks in Loch Lomond and the Trossachs and the Cairngorms.
    • We also introduced a biodiversity duty that applies to all Scottish public bodies and office holders and provided the Scottish Biodiversity Strategy a statutory basis. We also included proposals to strengthen the protection of Sites of Special Scientific Interests (SSSIs).
    • We created a single all-Scotland public water authority in Scottish Water in 2002 through the merger of regional water authorities. The new body provides drinking water to over 2.2 million households, whilst also treating waste water before returning it to the environment. We also safeguarded public health by creating the post of Drinking Water Quality Regulator.
    • Scottish Labour has always taken the issue of animal welfare very seriously. It was Scottish Labour that introduced a ban on fox hunting in Scotland, two years before a similar ban was introduced in the rest of the UK.
    • Scottish Labour also passed legislation to ensure the ability of Scottish Ministers to prevent and react to the outbreak of infectious animal diseases such as foot and mouth.
    • We introduced the need for keepers of animals to ensure the basic needs of their animals are met and making it illegal to sell an animal to a person under the age of 16. Following this Act the Labour led Scottish Executive also banned the docking of tails in all dogs.
    • We introduced an aquaculture strategy in 2003 with the view to improving regulation of the sector in Scotland. From that strategy we passed acts such as Aquaculture and Fisheries which introduced new powers to control sea lice and escapes from fish farms. It also has a statutory underpinning of codes for good fish farming and shellfish farming practice.
    • Even in opposition Scottish Labour has been pushing forward on environmental and rural affairs issues. We held the first Land Reform debate in Parliament since the SNP came into power in 2007 and forced them to re-launch their review group with a wider remit. We also held the first air pollution debate since SNP came into power. Following the recent and abhorrent killings of raptors in Scotland we passed a motion that would ensure the Scottish Government would conduct a review of wildlife legislation across the world with a view to strengthening our laws in Scotland.



SNP’s record on finance and the economy

  • Unemployment remains high and of particular concern is the high youth unemployment rate which has failed to recover.  Between 2008 and 2013, unemployment amongst 16-24 year olds in Scotland increased sharply, rising from 58,600 to 81,100.
  • Underemployment continues to be an issue as people look to work more hours. In 2008 the level of underemployment was 174,500 but by 2013 it had risen to 243,100.
  • The number of people in part-time jobs has increased by 47,571 since 2007 and the number of temporary employees has increased by 6,983.
  • Compare Scottish and UK growth since the third quarter of last year Scottish growth has averaged 0.59% per quarter over the two quarters while UK growth is faster at 0.73% per quarter.
  • Scottish Government refused to back Labour’s energy price freeze (which would save families an average of £120 a year and then failed to turn up on a vote on energy in the Commons.


Labour’s record on finance and the economy

  • Devolution helped transform Scotland’s economy. Under Labour administrations at Holyrood and Westminster, Scotland’s economy grew every year between 1997 and 2007. More than 250,000 jobs were created, and by 2007 Scotland’s employment rate was better than the UK average, higher than every G7 country and the highest in the Euro zone.
  • Labour established the National Minimum Wage. In 1997, 85,000 Scots earned less than £2.50; thanks to the introduction of the Living Wage, thousands of Scottish workers were lifted out of poverty.
  • By 2007, Scotland’s financial sector employed 220,000, having grown by 36% between 2002 and 2007 – a rate of growth twice the level of the UK as a whole.
  • We believe that those with the broadest shoulders should contribute most. Having already cut the basic rate of income tax, we introduced the new 50p additional rate of tax for those earning over £150,000 per year.
  • We also introduced the one off Bankers’ Bonus Tax (the bank payroll tax) which generated £3.5 billion.



SNP’s record on culture, sport and external affairs

  • Alex Salmond refused to meet with the Dalai Lama but heaped praise on Nigel Farage and Vladimir Putin.
  • Alex Salmond was the only senior politician who chose to meet with Rupert Murdoch, after it had been revealed Murdoch’s newspaper had hacked Milly Dowler’s phone. Mr Salmond welcomed Murdoch at Bute House for tea and biscuits in Edinburgh in 2012.
  • In April 2010 an Audit Scotland investigation set out to review The Gathering’s financial management, including a decision by the Scottish Government to loan £180,000 to the organisers behind the event. It was revealed that the Scottish Government did enquire if the company could repay the loan before writing the cheque.
  • Alex Salmond tried to keep secret the cost of his taxpayer funded luxurious hotel costs on his trip to the Ryder Cup in Chicago. He dismissed demands to reveal how much he spent at the five-star Peninsula Hotel as “ridiculous frippery”. A newspaper subsequently disclosed that the First Minister spent £3,000 for four nights with his wife in the hotel – paid for by the taxpayer.


Labour’s record on culture, sport, external affairs

  • We enhanced Scotland’s cultural and sporting profile, more than doubling investment in cultural activities.
  • We established the National Theatre of Scotland, and presided over successful campaigns to host the Ryder Cup and the MTV Europe Awards. We also laid the foundations for the (successful) bid to host this year’s Commonwealth Games in Glasgow.
  • We recognised music’s potential to enhance children’s social, cultural and artistic development, establishing the Youth Music Initiative which entitled all school children access to a year’s free music tuition by the time they reached Primary 6.
  • We built on Scotland’s historic links with Malawi by signing a co-operation agreement allowing us to align our devolved responsibilities with Malawi’s developmental requirements.
Drew Smith MSP

Gaza conflict debate in Parliament

Yesterday in Parliament I lead a debate on the situation in Gaza and the wider region and the humanitarian disaster which has been unfolding as a result of the conflict.

You can read my introduction to the debate below and the full transcript, including all contributions on the Official Report.

Motion for debate – S4M-10675, Gaza:

That the Parliament regrets and unreservedly repudiates the ongoing violence and loss of human life in Gaza and Israel, which, according to journalists running risks to their own safety to report from the area, stood, as at 28 July 2014, at more than 1,000 Palestinian deaths and 45 Israelis; considers that the continuation of violence will further escalate the already severe and enduring humanitarian catastrophe in the densely populated Gaza Strip; believes that the number of Palestinian civilian fatalities, including many women and children, indicates a disproportionate action by the Israeli military; condemns both indiscriminate rocket attacks and military bombardment of civilians and believes that hospitals and schools, in particular, should be places of safety and therefore also condemns attacks on them or their use to store or fire weapons; confirms its view that the continuation of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is rooted in the continued failure to achieve a political solution to a problem that cannot be solved by violence; supports the comments made by the United Nations Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon, on 24 July, who has described the situation as an “intolerable, unacceptable crisis” and agrees with him that it is imperative for the killing to stop; notes calls for the international community to fully use its influence to break the cycle of failed talks, continuing occupation and outbreaks of violence that threaten the prospect of a two-state solution by renewed and robust efforts to broker peace and justice in the region with the objectives, amongst others, of an immediate interim ceasefire, a long-term plan to prevent further violence, efforts to aid the necessary rebuilding of Palestinian civilian infrastructure, including the importation of vital humanitarian supplies into Gaza, and crucially a process that can finally lead to the creation of a viable Palestinian state alongside a secure Israel in accordance with previous UN resolutions, and notes calls for the UK Government to support these objectives and to prohibit the supply of equipment or parts of equipment that are likely to be used against civilians and for the Scottish Government to do all that it can in support of the same and to foster and maintain good community relations between all religious and ethnic groups who have their home in Glasgow and across Scotland and who, in common with people around the world, wish to see a settlement that respects the right of all human beings, irrespective of religion or race, to live in peace with both dignity and security.

Drew Smith (Glasgow) (Lab): I am grateful to all those members who signed my motion. I hope that the range of views that no doubt exists in the Parliament will have the opportunity of an airing this evening. In drafting a motion that I hoped as many members as possible could support and which would therefore stand a chance of reaching the chamber for debate, I tried to provide a form of words that would gain the broadest possible support. I hope that this debate will play a small part in a much-needed effort to assure the victims of this conflict of the greatest possible international coalition for peace and justice in the middle east.

I draw attention to my membership of the cross-party group in the Scottish Parliament on Palestine, of which I have previously been an officer, and I thank the current officers Sandra White, Claudia Beamish and Jim Hume for supporting my motion. I look forward to their contributions to the debate. I also refer members to my entry in the register of members’ interests as a former member of the Scottish Trades Union Congress general council, as I will refer to the delegation to Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories that I joined while I was a member.

In Scotland, as elsewhere in the world, there are a range of views on the solutions to the problems of the middle east and specifically those of Israel and Palestine. Parliament should reflect those if we wish our voices to be representative of the country and of note to those elsewhere. There are few neutral voices. However, the scale of the current and most recent violence, to which we are all bearing witness, and indeed the length of time for which the conflict has gone on have meant that there is a breadth to the voices that say that the current actions of the Israeli Government have been disproportionate. There are instances of action that require international investigation and indeed an international response that goes beyond simply wishing for talks or for different partners in the cause of peace.

I am a supporter of a Palestinian state. I believe that a viable state for the Palestinians is their right and that it is the duty of progressive voices around the world to advocate for it with resolution, with realism about the barriers to it and with firmness against those who frustrate the two-state solution on either side, whether in principle or by delay.

I believe that the current violence and the humanitarian catastrophe in Gaza is winning new supporters for the cause of justice and peace, not terrorism and not military action. The motion that we are debating condemns the scale of the violence on both sides. I condemn utterly and without caveat the indiscriminate firing of rockets into Israel from Gaza, I condemn tunnelling into Israeli territory from Gaza, and I believe that the fear and danger that they represent serves no purpose other than the prolonging of the conflict, which reduces the likelihood that Israelis will question the actions of their Government, far less become advocates for engagement with their Palestinian neighbours. Correspondingly, the scale of the horror in Gaza does nothing to bolster the voices of those who recognise that a viable Palestinian state can be achieved only alongside a secure Israel and that it will be created through negotiation of land, not violence against civilians.

Peace for one society and normality for individuals and families will not be lasting if it is achieved only for one group. That is not a justification for violence. It is simply recognition that the underlying issues of the conflict continue. I visited northern Israel in the aftermath of operation cast lead and, like many other international visitors, I have been shown the rockets that come over the border from Gaza. I have spoken to Israelis about their fears of attack and I have no doubt that those fears are genuine. I have also spoken to Palestinians and international observers who have told me of the harsh and brutal reality of life under blockade in Gaza.

The images that we now see on our television screens, about which people are taking to our streets to protest, offend the world. Schools and hospitals that the innocent can only hope are places of safety have become a battlefield that is raging on a strip of land that is one of the most densely populated places on earth. Civilians and children have been killed and injured in their thousands.

To those who say that we need to step back from condemnation of the disproportion of the violence because it needs to be understood against the wider politics of the region, the dispute or the history of the peace process, I say that we should imagine being born into the world on the Gaza strip. Imagine the hopelessness of parents as they look at their children and imagine the desperate future that stretches far beyond the tiny horizons that surround them.

I have no doubt that others will use their time to talk about their reactions to what we are watching. The agony is perhaps more profound now than it has ever been before, but the truth is that much of what we will hear in the debate could have been said in any of the three years since I was elected to the Parliament; it has been said in the more than 10 years for which I have been actively involved in campaigns and it has been continually said in the 30 years of my life and long before that.

I hope that others will touch on the injustices that continue on the west bank, where Hamas is not in control, and I have no doubt that others will mention many of the advocates for the Palestinians who have put the case for change in the middle east better than I ever could, including the late Nelson Mandela, Archbishop Tutu and former President Carter.

The truth is that, while the world desperately desires a lasting ceasefire to the current violence, the hope—the necessity—of a two-state solution is fast disappearing before our eyes. The situation is desperate, but the world simply cannot allow hope to die with the children of Gaza.

Time does not allow me to say all that I wish to, but I will end my speech, as the motion does, by urging the Scottish Government to continue its efforts to do all that it can for good community relations in our country. Members of our minority communities feel the pain of this conflict keenly and they deserve our solidarity, just as the innocent civilian victims in the middle east deserve our resolve in speaking out.

When I have asked ordinary Palestinians what Scots can do and what any of us can do as witnesses, I have been told, “Do not forget us. Do not forget that we exist.” When those who believe in a two-state solution speak out, that should not be described as support for terrorism, which is condemned by our citizens and by those around the world who believe that there is no violent solution to the political problem that exists in the occupied territories. When we tell our children what the United Nations flag represents, they should be proud of it, not compromised by it.

I hope that the message that goes out from the Scottish Parliament and from the debate is one of humanity. We see what exists and we recognise that it is unjust. The leaders of the world will continue to reflect on the steps that can be taken internationally, but the citizens of the world are making it clear that, in our individual actions, we will protest against bombardment and terrorism until lasting peace prevails and demands for justice are met.

Read more on this debate

  • Read the full debate online including contributions from all MSPs participating in the debate on the Official Report.