Monday, 31 December 2007

For Auld Lang Syne and A' That!

Best of this festive season to anyone out there reading this. As clich├ęd as it may be, given this is Hogmanay (or Mahogany as my little sister used to call it when she was wee), it seems apt that I should reflect on the year just past.

It has been a monumental experience for me personally, and I think, for our country as a whole.

Not only did this year see my first wedding anniversary, but the months of hard work during the election period in the first few months of 2007 (and several months of 2006 as well) saw me elected as a Member of the Scottish Parliament. This has obviously resulted in a few changes to my life, not least amongst them that I find myself considerably busier than I was before but still thoroughly enjoying the experience.

It has been an honour to serve in the Scottish Parliament with a SNP government led by the first ever SNP First Minister, and to have been able to actually cast a vote to elect Alex Salmond to that post.

However, of greater significance is that first ever SNP government.

There were of course worries that governing from a minority position would prove hugely difficult, but all the signs thus far are that the SNP is doing a far better job with a minority of members of the Scottish Parliament than the Labour-Liberal administration ever did from a majority position.

I think that in part this comes down to different mindsets. Many scoffed when the SNP made the conscious decision to change the term "Scottish Executive" to "Scottish Government". However, I don't think that the significance of this should be underestimated.

Firstly, it made sense as too many people did not relate to the term "Executive" but can more readily identify with what a government is. That alone made the change worthwhile.

It also speaks volumes about different attitudes to governance in devolved Scotland. Whilst the Labour-Liberal administration was content to act as a mere executor of British rule in Scotland, the SNP has set out its stall as a true government for Scotland. This in part reflects the "cooncil" mentality that many Labour ministers in particular brought to their administration, and clearly with devolution there are certain limits on what the SNP government can achieve. And we of course retain our perspective that independence is the best constitutional option for our country, allowing any Scottish government to be able to achieve even more. However, even within the confines of devolution the SNP is acting more like a government than our predecessors ever did before.

As I was able to state in a piece I wrote for the blog of Plaid Cymru Assembly Member, Bethan Jenkins, in government the SNP is already pursuing its distinctive social democratic agenda, designed to bring about a more prosperous, fair and socially just Scotland.

Consider just some of the achievements of the SNP government in what should be remembered has been just a short seven month period:

Moves have been made to being about the abolition of tuition fees for university students in the shame of the Graduate Endowment, and a return to the principle of free education.

Plans to follow the Welsh example and abolish prescription charges for all Scottish citizens by 2011.

One of the most ambitious targets for carbon reduction by the middle of this century of any country on the planet - an 80% reduction in carbon emissions.

A review of the right to buy policy in council housing, with proposals to scrap it entirely for newly built homes.

A decision that no more private prisons will be built in Scotland and work begun on creating a viable alternative to New Labour’s PFI madness.

Scrapping the tolls for the Forth and Tay road bridges, which remained an anomaly following the removal of tolls from other bridges across the country, with a further announcement on a new crossing for the Forth to replace the outdated road bridge there.

The most ambitious programme of railway infrastructure improvements for decades with electrification of the main line between our two biggest cities long overdue.

A decision to allow asylum seekers the same rights in higher education as the rest of Scotland’s people, underlining the SNP's internationalist and progressive credentials.

The freezing of the unfair council tax with plans to replace it with a fairer local income tax based on the ability to pay and the signing of a historic agreement with the representatives of local government to create a new more equal relationship between central government and local councils.

A summit held to discuss nuclear disarmament – the first ever government organised summit in the UK to discuss such.

These are just some of the achievements of the SNP in office, reflecting the progress made in Scotland in just a short space of time.

This year has been politically momentous for Scotland. It has ushered in the first ever democratic government distinctively for Scotland, and moved us on from the first eight years of devolution which were marked by that "cooncil" mentality I mentioned before.

The year has been momentous in other ways too. For Gordon Brown it might just have been the year when he lost the next general election whenever it may be, when he might just have won it if it had been held this year. His dithering has been well commented upon elsewhere, but he may just rue the day that he didn't decide to go for it in November.

No one really knows what made him change his mind. For me, he is an instinctively cautious politician and he was exercising that caution. Of course, the performance of Cameron at the Tory conference and the innate conservative English media moving closer to the Tories after their love in with New Labour over the last decade played a huge role, but I don't think we can discount Brown's alarm that the SNP would make huge gains played a part in his calculations.

Anyway, the history books of the future will tell us whether he called it the right way or not, but I think we can safely say that those same history books will also state that 2007 was a huge year for the development of Scotland and that the SNP in government performed marvellously well.

All that remains are my New Year's resolutions.

One, to blog a little bit more often, and two, to play what ever part I can in ensuring that 2008 and beyond are as good if not better for the SNP than 2007 has even been.

Tuesday, 18 December 2007

Long-term solutions to long-term conditions?

Last week in Parliament the Long Term Conditions Alliance Scotland (LTCAS) were raising awareness about the need for better support for people with long term conditions in Scotland.

Figures from LTCAS show that some 32287 people in Cumbernauld & Kilsyth, and around 2 million people across Scotland as a whole are living with long term conditions such as asthma, epilepsy, M.E., skin conditions, mental health problems, diabetes, heart disease, cystic fibrosis and cancer.

I was happy to support LTCAS’ vision for a Scotland where people living with long term conditions enjoy, not endure, full and positive lives, free from discrimination and aided by high quality services, support and information.

Without proper support, long term conditions can be very debilitating, and the worryingly large number families and individuals in Cumbernauld and Kilsyth affected by such conditions should not be denied their rights to full and positive life experiences.

The MSP Pledge from LTCAS reads:

“I support LTCAS’ vision for a Scotland where people living with long term conditions enjoy, not endure, full and positive lives, free from discrimination and supported by high quality services, support and information. I agree to: Recognise the significance of the challenge of long term conditions and work to improve the lives of the estimated 2 million people living with long term conditions in Scotland; Support increased resources for self management so that people have access to the information, education and support they need to successfully manage, and live well with, their condition(s); Support measures to improve transitions between services, for example child to adult, adult to older person, hospital to home.”

Friday, 7 December 2007

Warming Blanket Warning

At this time of year it is very important that people, especially older people, are able to keep safe and warm in their homes.

I was therefore very concerned to read that a North Lanarkshire survey revealed almost one-third of electric blankets tested were in a potentially dangerous condition. The Council Home Safety Unit had introduced a free testing programme to ensure electric blankets were suitable for use over the winter.

For one third of these blankets to be judged at risk is a worrying statistic, as faults can cause burns or electric shocks. Anyone who uses an electric blanket should get it checked regularly and serviced if necessary - so that they can rest easy during the colder months.

The North Lanarkshire Home Safety Unit can be contacted on 01698 302037 or

Thursday, 6 December 2007

Positive - and Popular - Progress on Police and Prescriptions

Two more pieces of good news from the SNP Government in the past two days.

Yesterday, Cabinet Secretary for Health Nicola Sturgeon announced that from April 2008, the cost of a single prescription will be reduced from £6.85 to £5.00, with further annual reductions until the charge is abolished in April 2011.

Prescription charges are a tax on ill health, and can be a barrier to good health for too many people in Scotland - around 50% of the population currently pay for their prescriptions, two thirds of whom are estimated to have a chronic condition..

The Scottish Government is committed to building a healthier nation; through tackling the health inequalities that still scar our nation and supporting people to live longer and lead healthier lives.

Today Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill today announced that he had approved the increase in full, backdated to September 1 this year. The decision follows a recommendation from the Police Arbitration Tribunal last week following the breakdown of police pay negotiations earlier in the year.

Our police officers have a vital role to play in protecting communities of across Scotland, tackling crime and the fear of crime. This pay rise will boost morale among our police officers and acknowledges the vital contribution they make in building safer and stronger communities.

The announcement builds on the SNP Government’s provision of an additional £54 million to deliver 500 new recruits, improve the retention of skilled and experienced officers and support the redeployment of officers to strengthen community policing.

Both of these welcome developments show that this SNP is delivering on the pledges it made in the May 2007 elections. No wonder that today's YouGov opinion poll gives the SNP its highest ever rating - and another recent poll showed the Scottish Government to be five times more popular than Gordon Brown's disintegrating Westminster administration.

Wednesday, 5 December 2007

Clear Benefits Seen in Eyecare Announcement

A £10 million package for Scotland’s optical practices and health boards has been announced by Public Health Minister Shona Robison at the Scottish Optometric Conference in Glasgow.

Within Central Scotland region, this will include £159,600 for NHS Lanarkshire to provide a low vision and functional vision service for children and to integrate community eyecare services for adults. NHS Forth Valley will receive £114,150 to develop adult and children's low vision clinics.

Quality eyecare, and especially the kind of preventative measures this announcement will fund, are hugely important to the wellbeing of communities across Central Scotland.

Young people and their families in Cumbernauld, Kilsyth, Falkirk and across the NHS Lanarkshire and Forth Valley areas are quite literally seeing the benefits of the new SNP Government on daily basis, and this announcement confirms more good news for us all.