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.
Ann McKechin MP

Politics Home Online: Sun and sport boosts UK spending

11 August 2014


The good weather and major sporting events contributed to strong growth in consumer spending in July, according to new data from Visa Europe.

Spending was up 2.4% compared to 12 months ago, the second biggest rise since April 2010 and tenth consecutive month the Visa Europe Expenditure Index has recorded an increase. The annualised growth accelerated from June, when it was 0.5%, despite an overall fall month-on-month.

Ann McKechin, a Labour MP who sits on the Business, Innovation and Skills Committee, welcomed the findings.

“It’s good news that there has been a rise in retail sales after a long period of slow growth. However the marked rise in personal debt over recent months should continue to give us concern that this increase may be temporary.

“Too many people are still suffering a decrease in their living standards and more must be done to tackle the income gap.”

Spending in hotels, restaurants and bars increased more strongly than any other sector, while face-to-face spending also grew by 1.9%. The data led Natasha Toothill, Visa Europe’s director of retail, to attribute some of the growth to good weather and sporting events like the World Cup and Commonwealth Games.

“Spend at hotels, restaurants and bars enjoyed particularly strong growth, up 8.1% on last year, as consumers splashed out on summer holidays and eating out,” she said.

“With low inflation, strong employment growth and rising consumer confidence, Britons are edging away from recession spending habits to indulge more on the things they enjoy.

“The high street continues a summer comeback with another month of growth in face-to-face spending, perhaps due to the summer’s warm weather and major cultural and sporting events, which bring with them an influx of domestic and foreign tourists.”

The Index is based on data from credit card payments which are then adjusted to reflect overall consumer spending. The figures point to the economic recovery continuing into the future, but Paul Smith, senior economist at financial firm Markit, warned that an increase in interest rates could threaten the run of good news.

“The data undoubtedly add to the positive news flow on the UK economy evident in recent months,” he said. “With the labour market tightening, and amid signs of a pick-up in wage inflation, we expect household expenditure to make further positive contributions to GDP growth in the second half of the year not withstanding any surprise hike in interest rates during Q4.”


This article was originally posted on the Politics Home website, you can view it here.