Monday, 27 December 2010

Where to live!

The Bank of Scotland have published their annual study of the top ten places in Scotland to live, placing Aberdeenshire first for the second year running.

Half of the top ten locations have a Lib Dem MP, while half also have either a list or regional Lib Dem MSP.

So it's official - Lib Dem constituencies are the best places to live!

Friday, 24 December 2010

Tuesday, 21 December 2010

Remember the summer......?

It was like this today........

Minus double figures in the middle of th afternoon........very cold indeed.

Sunday, 19 December 2010

Who has the better chances......?

This excellent cartoon appeared in Scotland on Sunday today.
So true.......!!

Sna the day.......

The snow was back today with a fair old blizzard in the afternoon across Perthshire. Below are some photos out and about today on my way down to an excellent, informal pre-Xmas meal cooked by Lib Dem fundraiser Ken Spittal and his wife Jane........near snowy Auchterarder.

The Tay today


Is it a Highland coo....?

........ no, some ash keys hanging from a tree.

Ken's road

On the horizon

Friday, 17 December 2010


ScotGov published their green paper on future funding for Scottish universities yesterday. We were told to await a "uniquely Scottish solution"

It did not appear. there is no silver bullet apparently.

We might:

* Have education for free
* Have it paid for by £6000 fees on other UK and European students
* Have a graduate tax
* Have business sponsor students
* Receive donations

We dont know what the order of magnitude of any deficit in funding actually is, but we might in February. The Conservatives want a graduate contribution regardless, Labour are hinting at a graduate tax....Mike Russell is saying to wait and see.

So are the Lib Dems.....but with this much uncertainty, who can blame them?

Our focus now must be on ensuring that we know the full scale of the undertaking in February, and not allow this last opportunity to be lost. Otherwise, a key area of debate at the next election will be ill informed and future students will not know who to beleive.

We were led to beleive that yesterday would inform future debate on education in Scotland, but we dont appear to much further forward really.


Sunday, 12 December 2010

Scots Pine in the winter sun

Ben Lawers today

Saturday, 11 December 2010

Taxi for Mr Stevenson........

Transport Minister Stewart Stevenson resigned today, having suffered a torrid week of criticism over his handling of the snow storms on Monday.

First he was adamant he was in control, then he was full of apologies. Then Alex Salmond was leaping to his defence, then happy to accept his resignation.

It was obviously curtains for the feckless minister once Wee Eck and John Swinney started to fill in at interviews for him. The men in grey kilts kept him off the TV screens so that he could do no more political damage, and he was then sidelined by the Resilience Committee on which he should have been playing a central part.

No wonder the poor man resigned. Bad enough being made to look a fool by Annabel Goldie in Parliament, another thing completely when your own side turn against you.

He did the decent thing in the end.

Mr Stevenson was famously Alex Salmond's taxi driver, and reputedly one of his few close friends over 30 years. Wee Eck got him to stand for a parliamentary seat at short notice because he had no-one else, and he moved on from there.

This resignation will hit home hard at the very heart of the SNP, with Wee Eck losing one of the very few MSPs he can truly count on in his inner circle.

The real problem might be to come....finding a replacement when there are very few, if any, backbench SNP MSPs to choose from.

That said, the unlucky minister did'nt set too high a standard to live up to, and his replacement will only now have a few months before they are back in opposition again anyway.

There wil be much analysis done of this incident, but it is hardly worth the bother really. We have humoured the SNP for long enough now, time to look forward to what we can do in 2011 and beyond and let this hopeless shower become a distant memory.

Wednesday, 8 December 2010

Teaching numbers don't add up

Figures released today by the General Teaching Council of Scotland show just how much newly qualified teachers have been failed by the SNP government. 5 years ago 64% were able to find full-time employment, while this year the level stands at a staggering 16%.

Education Secretary Mike Russell seemed quite pleased with this, saying "After falling for four consecutive years, the proportion of post-probationers in full-time teaching has now stabilised."

Call me old-fashioned, but I can't remember 16% being considered a success in any of my school exams. Did you pass your O grade maths, Mike...?

Tuesday, 7 December 2010

Who's sorry now.....?

Last night seen thousands of motorists stuck on the M8 between Glasgow and Edinburgh, potentially an extremely dangerous situation, with many of them having been there since morning, and temperatures down to -15 degrees last night. Watching Newsnight, an emergency was clearly emerging. Who would have been surprised this morning that perhaps some-one had died in all this? Happily, this did'nt happen. People dug in and helped each other get through, and mercifully, everyone seems to be all right.

In to the Newsnight studio strode Stewart Stevenson, the SNP Transport Minister, and one-time taxi driver for Alex Salmond. The combination of events could off course have happened to anyone, it just happened on his watch. Stewart Stevenson famously reads from his script all the time, sticking religiously to his rehearsed lines, never deviating. He was asked four times if he would apologize for the chaos. Four times he waffled his way around the answer. Given the circumstances, an apology was in order. He completely mis judged the mood.

Today, he was of course full of apologies. The men in grey kilts must have had a word with him. This evening, Alex Salmond was on the news explaining, a sure sign he thought his man had made a mess of it and that he could somehow put things right. When Jon Snow mentioned that Alex-Salmond-in -opposition would have made hay with this scenario, he clearly got under the First Minister's skin. Wee Eck's touch is clearly now well gone as well.

It looks as though the situation will eventualy resolve itself, but thousands of people have been hugely inconvenienced, put in danger even, and this will do doubt be remembered for a long, long time.

The hapless Mr Stevenson is being asked to explain to Parliament tomorrow.

Who's sorry now.....?

Sunday, 5 December 2010

Little Ed in trouble already......

No sooner has Ed Milliband came back from maternity leave, than the Labour Party are apparently questioning his leadership already, and making noises that they want him replaced.

Labour have huge differences of opinion on policy. Their big players, what few that remain, are all keeping their heads down, and the whole body language of Little Ed suggests that he is not the leader at all. Labour, as we all know, have a long track record of pulling themselves apart when in opposition. This lot are not going to be a threat to the Coalition Government in this parliamentary session.

Little Ed seems to be struggling to get started, and it is doubtful if he has it in him to succeed.

But before Labour start to ferment their old animosities and decide whether Little Ed is up to the job or not, they should consider one thing:

You chose him...!!!! Just a few months ago in fact. Just like you chose Gordon Brown and Tony Blair.

As Liberal Democrats, are we interested in all this?



Thought not.........

Is Parliamentary debate still allowed.....?

Listening to Jon Sopel interview Conservative MP David Willetts on the Politics Show today, it struck me whether the Press will actually allow politicians the opportunity to debate issues of national importance any more?

The issue, of course, was student funding. Parliament is to vote on the proposals on 9th December.

ie Thurs this week......

Liberal Democrats, as we know, are on a sticky wicket on this one, and others are taking great delight in all this, but are we not missing the point here?

Vince Cable has said he will support the policy which he has devised, as will Nick Clegg, and not abstain, as has been suggested others might do. But they do also want to find consensus within their own party. Between now and Thursday, there will unquestionnably be deals done, amendments voted on, and all the rest. Already, today, we hear that poorer students are going to have their first year of fees paid. There will likely be other concessions as well, the significance of which we can judge when we hear more about them.

Is this not political debate in action? Is it not commendable that the party leadership should seek to hold their MPs together and acheive the best overall outcome that they can, not just for the party but for students as well?

David Willets obviously understood the dynamics of coalition government, and the procedures and pressures that his Lib Dem colleagues must deal with this week.

Good for him.

Jon Sopel obviously does not. This is lazy journalism of the very worst kind. Liberal Democrats MPs must be allowed to deal with matters this week as they see fit, in what is undoubtedly a difficult political situation for us.

People can pass judgement on us after the outcome is known.

Saturday, 4 December 2010


Scots Pine

Wednesday, 1 December 2010

In the country.......

In the toon......

Heading home........

Tuesday, 30 November 2010

In the toon.....

In the country......

As advertized, but with extra borrowing powers......

Michael Moore today set out the Scotland Bill. There will be much debate and scrutiny required so that we know exactly how all this will work out, but well done to the Coalition Govt for bringing this forward in good time, and great that we get to debate these big issues.

Wee Eck was supposed to be bringing his Referendum Bill forward today, trialled since 2007 in fact. Whoooops!! You forgot to bring the parliament and the people with you Alex!!

Michael Moore sets out a more sensible strategy for constitutional reform:

"Today the Government published its Scotland Bill. When this becomes law, a second and exciting phase in Scottish devolution will begin. We are strengthening Scotland’s future based on three principles: empowerment, accountability and stability.

This Bill starts its parliamentary process with the support of the Conservatives, Labour and the Liberal Democrats. Each of our parties - plus business and civil society - contributed to the Calman Commission, which drew up the blueprint for it. It is right that change of this sort should be built on a broad consensus. But now it is this government that is turning those principles into practice.

And let's be clear: this plan is steeped in Liberal Democrat values.

We believe in devolution. By nature, we are mistrustful of centralised government and welcoming of the flow of power from Westminster to our nation states, our communities and to individuals too.

When the Scottish Constitutional Convention drafted the plan for a Scottish Parliament, we were at the table. When the referendum campaign was raging, we were on the streets campaigning. And in 1999, when the first democratically elected Scottish Parliament was elected, we joined the coalition government that heralded a new era of Scottish politics.

The Bill is diverse in content, and gives the Scottish Parliament a range of new powers: regulating air weapons; setting drink-drive limits; establishing a Scottish national speed limit.
But its centrepiece is the devolution of tax and borrowing powers. This is the greatest transfer of fiscal power from London since the creation of the UK.

Today, the Scottish Parliament only has revenue powers over council tax and business rates and raises only 15% of its own revenue. The Scotland Bill transforms that.

The most significant change we will make is to create a Scottish Income Tax. We'll do this by cutting 10 pence off every band of income tax. We will proportionately adjust the block grant that Scotland receives, and then allow the Scottish Parliament to reset the tax rates. We will also give the Parliament nearly £3 billion in borrowing powers.

This will empower the Scottish Parliament and Scottish Government to make tax and spend choices that will determine future revenues and help shape Scotland's future economy.

It will also make both more accountable to the Scottish people.

It is an incomplete construct to have a Parliament that spends money but is responsible for raising little of it. By giving these tax powers to Holyrood, MSPs will have to answer to voters for the money that they spend. And by moving those spending decisions closer to Scottish society and to Scottish business, both will be better placed to influence the decisions that impact on their lives and livelihoods.

By empowering Holyrood, we are also ensuring its stability. Our plans will be phased to ensure no sudden shock or windfall to the Scottish budget. By giving the Parliament – which has been a success over the past decade – room to innovate safely, we will strengthen Scotland within the UK.

And for all their bluster, the SNP has no alternative. Their plans for full fiscal autonomy are a non-starter: light on detail, high on cost and fraught with risk. No industrialised country has ever gone down that road. This is independence masquerading as reform. It won’t wash.

But for our party, the victory here is not a tactical one. It is principled one. We are working with others to devolve power from the centre to the communities that need it and know how to use it.
This is good for Scotland, and we should be proud of it."

Best wishes,

Michael Moore
Secretary of State for Scotland

The Scotland Bill

Michael Moore will today be presenting the Scotland Bill, the contents of which will no doubt dominate the next four years in Holyrood, as well as the upcoming election campaign.

We are not expecting any surprises. The likely provisions are now well known, we just have to establish how they might work in practice and get a feel for the new dynamic that might then exist.

There will be different interpretations, of course, but this is what politics is about....debating and taking forwards the big ideas.

Westminster will be taking forward the legislation, but Holyrood will be doing the initial debating.

The Scottish Liberal Democrats are well represented, and right at the heart of things.

Expect plenty of analysis and a certain amount of ineffectual talk over the next few days and weeks.

Sunday, 28 November 2010

Thanks, John

John Denham, previously Labour's Secretary of State for Innovation, Universities and Skills, said today that the government's plans to increase tuition fees are ideological rather than aimed to reduce the deficit.

Given that he presented the Open University (Harold Wilson's greatest achievement) with £27 million cuts on the basis that it is a wonderful institution that can take the hit, Mr Denham is hardly entitled to throw stones.

With friends like him, students need no enemies. Thanks but no thanks.

Where's the brandy....??

Perthshire and Ochil Lib Dems, and some from further afield, had a very enjoyable dinner at the Green Hotel in Kinross last night. Perthshire South & Kinross- shire PPC Willie Robertson and M S & F list candidate Tim Brett "topped and tailed" the dinner with speeches, outlining how they were going to appraoch the Holyrood campaign next year.

One interesting observation after the event though. The cheap bottle of brandy (in plastic bottle) that has appeared at the last three raffles and keeps getting recycled was not in attendance....possibly put off by the snow on the evening. We do of course hope to see our brandy bottle again..........a real stalwart of our local fundraising activities.

Any news warmly received.......

Saturday, 27 November 2010

Sun comes out the noo....

Sna'in again....


About 3-4 " fell in a few hours last night between 8-10 pm.

Thursday, 25 November 2010

Steady now Tavish.......!!

We seldom see Tavish Scott getting animated but, by golly, he was angry in Parliament yesterday in relation to the SNP "government" denying us our right to vary income tax levels through the Scottish parliament. Tavish was pointing and banging his desk, his voice was raised and full of emotion and he was not holding back as he let fly to the obvious discomfort of Wee Eck and his front bench team.

Well done that man. Lib Dem activists will have noted and will no doubt be encouraging him to let fly more often.

Some people become less focused and articulate when they let rip like this, but not Tavish. His arguments were to the point and skilfully and forcefully delivered.

There will be a big round of applause from Scottish party members, no doubt.......

Monday, 22 November 2010

Slippery John........

That nice Mr Swinney has got himself in to a bit of a pickle in relation to the Scottish Variable Rate of tax which he (presumably) allowed to lapse, by accident or design, in 2007, shortly after his party came to power. He has been asked to appear before the Scottish Parliament tomorrow to explain things.

However, today, this has appeared courtesy of the Press Association, a couple of hours ago:

"Finance Secretary John Swinney says "key questions" on the cost of tax powers must be answered by the UK Government before he can make a statement to Parliament on the loss of Holyrood's "tartan tax".!

The purpose of appearing before Parliament is to give an account of how either he or his cabinet handled the issue, as seen from their perspective......what they did, when and why.

This does not depend on what account might be subsequently given by others.

You know what they say John, full disclosure is the only way to go when in a pickle like this.

MSPs have been hounded out of ministerial jobs or party leadership roles for an awful lot less than this.

When John Swinney looks around him at his cabinet colleagues and special advisors, especially his boss, he will no doubt reflect that we are all ultimately judged partly by the company which we choose to keep.

There is a lot of mileage and intrigue in this story yet, with the Scottish Government firmly on the back foot.

Saturday, 20 November 2010

A new influx of Irish workers.......

It was very interesting on Channel 4 news this evening when two young Irish graduates were explaining to a gob smacked Kristian Guru-Murthly how work was so much easier to come by in Britain, and how they had both found the kind of jobs they were looking for in a very short space of time.

You can rationalize the advantages they have by saying they are young and mobile, well educated and determined.........but we could (should) say this about our own students as well you would think, and this is all true of course, no country or nationality has a monopoly on these attributes, and British students are certainly not lacking them!!.......... however it does just underline the fact that a positive attitude and determination and a willingness to move to find work are all-important, and a crucial part of the overall package in taking the country forward again.

This attitude is often more prevalent among working people and students than some members of the Press who make their own minds up about the story first and then look for the evidence to back this up. Full marks to the Channel 4 presenter though for listening to what the guys were actually saying, not for hearing what he might have wanted to hear.

Well done guys and good luck to you.....I guess we will be seeing some of you popping up in Scotland as well in due course.

Friday, 19 November 2010

Good riddance to burnt rubbish

The Scottish Government this week rejected an appeal by the developer wanting to build a giant incinerator at Shore Road in Perth, which will hopefully now be the end to that whole shameful story. All involved in Perth will be wanting to put this well won battle behind them now and move on to something a bit more constructive for the Fair City.
While local Nat politicians Pete Wishart MP and Roseanna Cunningham MSP could barely wait to get their names in the papers this week, it was the local Community Council with the support of Lib Dem councillor Peter Barrett and others including the Gannochy Trust who did all the hard work in acheiving a good outcome in all this, keeping party politics out of the issue and pulling together a strong consensus of opinion and a good working strategy that eventually won the day.
Lib Dem Cllrs Peter Barrett (Left) and Lewis Simpson (centre) above, make their point this week.
Well done guys for your contribution to a job well done.
The other gentleman is the author of this blog.

Thursday, 18 November 2010

Holyrood tax powers PS

A little further investigation reveals that the tax powers were let go by the SNP in 2007, shortly after they came to power. This was obviously one of the first things they did. I wonder if it happened during their famous first 100 days?

The Labour Government when they were at Westminster (how quickly we forget) obviously did not notice...shows you how much attention they were paying to things.

John Swinney expressly mentioned in his budget yesterday that he would not be using the tax raising powers, even though he knew that he could'nt.

It was not the SNP that revealed that these powers were now gone, but Scottish Secretary Michael Moore, to allow the parties to put together their manifestos/ budgets for the election next year.

Nice timing Michael!!! A big quiet, civil man you might be, but there is obviously a bit of devilment in there as well.

The Scottish Parliament loses it's tax raising powers....

You could not make it up.

In 1997, the people of Scotland voted 2:1 in a referendum to give the Scottish parliament tax raising powers. At the time, Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs (HMRC) invested £12 million to install the IT and other infra-structure to set up the necessary system to vary of tax in Scotland should the Parliament choose to use their new powers.

HMRC were paid £50,000 a year to maintain the system.As it turns out, the powers have never been used, although, some would now argue (notably the Green Party) that we should indeed use our tax raising powers to help in the current financial climate.

The SNP came to power in 2007, and they stopped paying the subscriptions. Somewhere along the line, an upgrade of the system was required, costing £7 million, which the Nats did not/ would not pay. They were invoiced this August apparently.

So, what we learned today is that the sytem is no longer functional, and would take until 2013-14 to get it going again.This means that if we did want to use tax varying powers, we would not be able to.

All thanks to a Nationist government.

John Swinney is protesting that he has saved the ScotGov £7 million. Well, thank you John, but seeing as we voted to have this power, should you not have consulted with us before letting it go?

This is typical SNP. making decisions on our behalf that they think are in our best interests, without checking first.

More ammunition for the election next year.

Ah go on, go on, go on, go on.....

If we needed any reminder of why the Coalition Government is having to address our finances, we just have to look at Ireland at the moment, one of our key trading neighbours and, despite our differences over the years, a country with which we are intimately interwined both culturally and financially.

Whichever way you choose to believe it, either the country or their banks are requiring another major bailout.

The Irish Government are having none of it, protesting that nothing is wrong. Everything is very surreal, as the country that once could'nt absorb enough European development money now tries to turn away £100 billion.

It is a bit like Mrs Doyle offering a cup of tea to a reluctant guest."Ah, go on now, go on, go on, go on, go on, go on, go on........."

They are turning the tea down at the moment, but by all accounts they will be saying, "Oh, all right then!"

Hopefully not too late to make a difference...for us as well.

Tuesday, 16 November 2010

Delivering better respite care

"Social care is essential for most people at some time in their life. It embraces the most intimate care for people, often at times of great distress. It is about helping people and their carers to live independent lives. This isn't happening at the moment.

That's why the Coalition Government is moving away from the "business as usual" mentality of the last Labour government to tackle the broken system of how we care for our older and disabled people.This new Government policy is built on two key reforms that Liberal Democrats have been campaigning for over the last decade.

The first is that people - and not service providers - will have control over their care. By extending the roll out of personal budgets, first proposed by the Liberal Democrats in 2004, we will give individuals the freedom to decide what their money is spent on. By 2013 councils will provide everyone who wants one and is eligible with a personal budget.

The second key reform, that Liberal Democrats have consistently championed, is guaranteed respite care. We believe that this is a lifeline - not just for carers but for whole families. The Coalition Government's vision for social care will deliver on our Party's manifesto commitment to provide guaranteed respite care by making over £400million available in additional funding over the next four years to hundreds of thousands of carers.

Please forward this message to anyone you know who could be entitled to respite care

Too often in the past money for carers has been diverted into other areas. Unlike the last Labour Government, we'll ensure that the right mechanisms are in place to make sure that this money gets to carers. Under the current system, too many vulnerable people have been left imprisoned in their homes, fearful of moving to be near loved ones, in case they found themselves worse off in a postcode lottery of care.

Our reforms will reverse rules which mean those who receive help from their local council have to be reassessed if they move to another part of the country. People will have the freedom to move home without the fear of having their entitlements taken away from them. The care and support of our older and disabled population is one of the most urgent of all social policy issues we face as a society.

That's why the Coalition Government has committed itself to invest £2billion into social care by 2014/15.Liberal Democrats can be proud that today we have announced a vision for social care that joins up health and social care.

It will provide better, more independent lives for older and disabled people - and their carers."

Best wishes,

Paul Burstow MP
Minister of State, Department for Health

Monday, 15 November 2010

Sunday, 14 November 2010

Steady now.......

Here is another great graphic from Scotland on Sunday today. John Swinney does indeed have a balancing act this week, and when he announces his Scottish budget for 2011-12 on Wed, the great election phoney war in Scotland will be over.
The headline announcement seems certain to be a one-year public sector pay freeze, which he cannot enforce of course, he can just provide the budget that allows for this.Public sector managers will have to negotiate the freeze. One analyst has already worked out that while this in theory might save £300 million, those earning less than £21,000, the majority of the public sector workforce, will be seeing increases in their wages (quite right) and the overall bill will still probably be higher than it is now. So, perhaps no savings at where will they come from?
Look out for more in-depth scrutiny of the budget in the coming weeks, and no doubt, there will be all sorts of little (or big) inconsistencies thrown up.
The really big issue appears to be that JS will only be providing a one year budget, and big issues like education funding and public sector reforms will only be reporting next summer.
Like Alastair Darling, John Swinney might well be a very nice man, but the SNP saving their political necks is obviously going to take priority on Wed.

Saturday, 13 November 2010

New President for the Liberal Democrats

I’m writing to let you know the exciting news that Tim Farron has been elected as the next President of our party. You can find the full result here.

We were incredibly fortunate in this election to have two outstanding candidates for President either of whom would have done a great job. And I’m sure I speak for the whole party when I say that I know Susan will continue to play a huge role in the future of our party.Tim’s record of campaigning in the party is second to none. The enthusiasm, commitment and dynamism that he will bring to the job will be a huge asset to our party over the coming years.

Being in coalition government has brought us huge challenges that we as a party are having to face for the first time in 65 years. And I am certain that Tim – working with Nick Clegg and his Ministerial team – will grab these challenges with both hands.

Being Party President has been both a huge amount of work and an enormous privilege over the last two years and I will certainly never forget the thrilling moments of the closing weeks of the General Election campaign and the days and nights that followed the result.

So I’d like to thank everybody who has supported and worked with me over the last two years, especially my family. I could not have done what I have done without them.

I wish Tim all the very best of luck, I know the party will be safe in his hands.

Best wishes,

Ros Scott
Liberal Democrat Party President

Home Insulation scheme for Highland Perthshire

Housing and Health Committee convenor Peter Barrett has just announced a new scheme to provide free insulation to 6000 homes in Highland Perthshire. Earlier this summer, PKC previously announced they were starting to build significant numbers of council houses again, with 81 already in the pipeline. With a very significant projected increase in population within Perth & Kinross over the next 10-15 years, housing is a big issue, and with fuel prices rising again today, home insulation is becoming more relevant than ever before.

Very well done Peter for helping to facilitate practical means of delivering on these issues.

You can read more about this initiative in the Press and Journal today:

Thursday, 11 November 2010

First Minister's Questions heating up.......

The nearer we get to 5th May, the more quickly the temperature builds up at First Minister's questions each week, and the more obvious the sheer hatred that exists between Alex Salmond and Labour Leader Iain Gray.

Today even John Swinney had to called to order by the Presiding Officer as he tried to defend his boss, although it has to be said, Eck was not to be put down today and gave one of his better performances. Iain Gray is however hugely effective in getting his points across, and this particular battle still has a long way to run, with the likely winner still uncertain.

Annabel Goldie then habitually adds a touch of humour to proceeedings, comparing herself to the "Finnish model" today, and the bluster has usually died away by the time it gets around to Tavish Scott, who gets relatively little time to make his point.

Pity the Scottish public looking in on this though. It is very, very difficult to pick out the substance in all this.

Nick Clegg on Welfare Reform

The welfare white paper we have launched today has fairness at its heart.

Our Universal Credit is a radical and liberal policy. It will simplify and amalgamate the main welfare benefits into one single system; ensure that work always pays; and alleviate poverty by boosting take-up and encouraging people into work. It is exactly the kind of change that we came into politics to make.

Labour failed miserably on welfare. During their 13 years in office the welfare bill rose by 40% to £87bn. Under their system people moving into work can still lose more than 90% of every pound they earn: a punitive tax on the shoulders of the poor.

The welfare system should not be judged on how much money is spent on it, but on how much of a difference it makes to people’s lives. We will return the welfare system to its historic mission, as articulated by the great Liberal William Beveridge, to offer security but not ‘stifle incentive, opportunity and responsibility’.

Poverty plus a pound is simply not an ambitious enough goal.

That is why the plans we are announcing today will remove artificial disincentives to work. It must always be worth working, even for a few hours. Taken together our welfare reforms should reduce the number of workless households by 300,000 within three years of implementation. And of course any fair system must include power to use sanctions, so we are giving JobCentre advisers the powers to ensure that there are appropriate and measured steps that can be taken against the small minority who persistently refuse genuine opportunities to work or to train to get the skills to work.

Making welfare work and making it fair is a key test for any government. We are determined to ensure that a government of which the Liberal Democrats are a part passes that test.

Best wishes,

Nick Clegg MP
Deputy Prime Minister and Leader of the Liberal Democrats

Steve Webb MP
Minister of State, Department for Work and Pensions

Wednesday, 10 November 2010

Monday, 8 November 2010

Wet autumn day........

Saturday, 6 November 2010

Harriet Harman & friends again.........

Immigration Minister Phil Woolas (of Joanna Lumley ambush fame) was yesterday suspended by the Labour Party for his sordid election campaigning, using race to stir up resentment against his Liberal Democrat rival. He won the seat by 103 votes, but after the first case of it's kind for 99 years, he has lost his parliamentary seat, and there will have to be a by-election.

Harriet Harman outlined his suspension, and the fact that Labour would not be supporting him in any appeal. She described the case as "complex", in the effect that it would have on other politicians in future election campaigns.

As the P & J said in its' editorial today, what is so complex about politicians not telling a pack of racist lies for political gain Harriet?

Wednesday, 3 November 2010

Very Wee Eck

I was in the Watermill bookshop in Aberfeldy today and spotted this - tucked away behind Calum's Road and several books on Breadalbane - yes, you can just about see the new biography of Scotland's dear leader.
A reflection of his importance to the people of Perthshire, perhaps..?

Vince Cable on higher education funding again......

.........this applying south of the border, but obviously influencing the agenda here in Scotland as well.

The Liberal Democrats have always championed our universities. We have long fought for a fair deal for students.Now in Government we are in a position to turn that campaigning into real action.

The higher education package I am announcing today will promote high-quality university teaching and research. It will guarantee fair access for all, regardless of background. It will deliver a progressive, sustainable funding structure.

The key points are -

1) The poorest 30% of graduates will pay less for university - access to higher education will always be based on ability, not ability to pay.

2) Graduate contributions will be capped - we have rejected Lord Browne’s proposal to allow universities to set charges as high as they wish.

3) Maintenance grants and loans will be improved - almost one million students will receive more overall maintenance support than they do now.

4) Student loans will be extended to part time students - no longer will they be ignored by the system.

Our plans are fair for students, fair for graduates and affordable for the nation.

Please click here to read the full details of our proposals.These plans represent an important first step to improving higher education in Britain and making sure that it remains open to all.I hope you will join me in the coming months in getting this message out to people across Britain.

Tuesday, 2 November 2010

The Green Deal

Chris Huhne outlines another important green initiative:

"Today I am announcing details of the Green Deal, a new and radical way of making energy efficiency improvements available to all, whether people own or rent their properties. Through the Green Deal everyone will have a chance to save energy, cut their bills and tackle climate change, just as we promised in our manifesto.

Initially, over the next two years, we will almost double insulation rates, ensuring that an extra 3.5 million homes benefit from new installations. We are targeting support on the most vulnerable and low-income households, so that those who need it most can say goodbye to leaky lofts and chilly drafts.

Then from 2012 the Green Deal will enable all householders to improve their homes with no up-front cost, with the work being paid back from savings on energy bills. Householders will be protected by an independent energy survey and accredited installers to ensure that standards are high.

Please forward this email to your friends and family

Liberal Democrats believe that no one should miss out on warmer homes. Unfortunately many private tenants were let down by Labour. Over half a million private rented homes have the very lowest F or G energy rating, and yet they benefited from only two per cent of the previous Labour scheme.

The Green Deal will change this. Landlords will face no upfront cost and will benefit from improved properties. By 2015 every tenant should be able to be warm in their home. I hope and expect that landlords will respond positively to the Green Deal. But if the evidence shows that they are failing to take up this once-in-a-generation opportunity, we will respond. If necessary we will take powers so that by 2015, any tenant who asks for a Green Deal cannot be refused.

And we would give local authorities the power to insist that landlords improve the worst performing homes.Three years ago Andrew Stunell and I wrote a paper called Climate Change Starts at Home. As with many Liberal Democrat proposals, some dismissed our proposals as radical and unworkable. It is a privilege and responsibility to now be putting our ideas into practice – a win-win-win situation for homeowners, tenants and the climate."

Sunday, 31 October 2010

Where are the Scottish Tories.........??

The Lib Dems, SNP and Labour have now all had their autumn conferences, setting out their stalls in advance of 2011.

Can anyone remember if the Scottish Tories have had their autumn conference this year, or if they are planning on having one? Are they making do with their UK conference?

No wonder they do so badly in Scotland when they cant be bothered making an effort..........

Single this, single that..........

Following on from the SNP conference a few weeks ago when Alex Salmond made his fairly vague "Bobbies before boundaries" speech, Iain Gray, Labour's leader in Scotland, has announced his intention to create a single national police force, and a single Fire & Rescue service.

And there is more.

He will reduce the number of health authorities, and create a new single national service for looking after the elderly, integrated more in to the NHS.

With the two biggest parties at Holyrood both now moving quickly down this centratlizing path, it seems fairly clear that Lib Dem pressure must be applied to ensure adequate local accountability. Iain Gray, to his credit, at least acknowledged this as an issue, but the fine details of actually ensuring that will have to bear a lot of scrutiny.

The new proposed National Care Service does intuitively sound like a good idea, and could be a really big idea to be taken forwards in Scotland. Put alongside the Coalition proposal to simplfy pensions and give everyone potentially £140 a week, it seems pretty clear that pensioners and those approaching retiring age can see a little more certainty moving forwards, and if a system can be put together that is properly future-proofed, then there will obviously be benefits in this for all of us.

The down side to this is that in having care of the elderly taken away from them, that local authorities will lose a fair proportion of their overall capacity, and that might then effect their capacity for other purposes. There may well be unintended consequences.

Allied to this, there was a fear when the Scottish Parliament was created that this might be the first step to taking power away from local authorities, and here we have a very good example of a function being taken away.

Who knows what the outcome to all this will be, but it is good to see these big ideas being put up for discussion well in advance of the elections next year.

Expect plenty of analysis and scrutiny of these ideas in the months to come.........

Saturday, 30 October 2010

Harriet who......??

Harriet Harman has got in to trouble for calling Danny Alexander a "ginger rodent" and has made a public apology for her remarks.

Harriet was deputy leader of the Labour party to Gordon Brown and still a key member of their front bench team at Westminster. This is clearly now the standard of opposition the coalition government will have to deal with in the coming few years.

Tells you a lot about the woman does'nt it? Not really funny enough to be a joke, not really serious enough to have any political effect, other than undermining her own credibility and that off her party. Sometimes politicians just need to know when to keep their mouths shut and not draw attention to their shortcomings. An experienced politician like Harriet Harman should have learned this a long time ago.

Bet Danny Alexander is laughing his little ginger head off at the pickle she has got herself in to........!!

Busy Lib Dems in Scotland

Mid Scotland & Fife list candidate Willie Rennie has put together this very useful insight in to party activity & successes over the last month or so. Busy Liberal Democrats indeed......!! In particular, the 18% increase in Scottish party membership, more or less replicated here in Perth as well, is the piece of news that our political opponents and some newspaper columnists would rather not hear..........

Good news for the Lib Dems…

Here is a recent selection of some of the good reports on the Lib Dems

Flourishing Lib Dems, reports the Herald
Lib Dem MSPs stand up for liberal principles
Lib Dems attack big wages

.........and the carriers were saved too The Courier reported the Lib Dem conference’s backing for the aircraft carriers. Courier report of the conference

…....and reported they were saved following a visit from Scottish Secretary Mike Moore and Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg The Courier reports Nick Clegg's visit to Fife

Willie Rennie continues:

"We must not forget that it was reckless spending decisions by the last Labour Government that put the future of the aircraft carriers at risk. And it was a Lib Dem Minister who made and won the argument to proceed with their construction. Michael Moore, Lib Dem Secretary of State for Scotland, played a crucial role in the decision to proceed with the carriers. I know, from direct experience, he quietly but with great determination successfully influenced and persuaded the Cabinet."

Tuesday, 26 October 2010

Looking beyond the cuts.........

When the budget cuts were announced last week, no doubt many a Liberal Democrat felt a shiver running down their spine. The weekend newspaper analysis was very sobering, hostile in many areas. Have we got in to something we would have better been staying out off?

Very often, when a government is in trouble, or has a serious error in judgement, things unravel quickly over the next week or so, with reporters finding all sorts of inconsistancies and pulling arguments apart. They smell blood and know when to strike.

However, they have not got going this time, and there have been two bits of good news since the cuts were announced.

Firstly, Vince Cable announced his plans to simplify pensions in the UK, potentially giving a £140 flat rate pension to everyone in the country from some time after 2015. This is a very significant announcement, potentially being a huge benefit to women in particular, and possibly a massive 1.6 million pensioners overall. There is a lot of development needed in this yet, and early days, but many people will have sat up and noticed this and have been greatly encouraged by it. If we could deal with the deficit, we would have a lot more time and money to bring forth worthwhile reforms like this. They go hand in hand.

Secondly, we heard today that the economy grew 0.8% in the last three months, much better that expected.

How Labour protested at the good news.....!!!!

Confidence is everything. BBC Economics editor Stephanie Flanders made a really important point. It is fear that is our biggest enemy going forwards, not the Coalition government getting the balance of cuts and economic development wrong.

Fear can be fostered by politicians and newspapers saying the wrong thing at the wrong time.

Reading the weekend papers again today, one thing is clear, especially here in Scotland. We have to beware of talking ourselves in to an economic slowdown. No matter what the economy does over the coming months, both the Nats and Labour will be telling us how bad things are going to be.

We need to persevere, and keep a proper perspective. If we can do that, people will understand what is a stake in all this. Others might talk the country down, but you wont find us doing that.

We can see beyond the immediate issues, and will endeavor to persevere with what we know is right.

Monday, 25 October 2010

Chris Huhne outlines renewables investment in Britain's Ports

The following investment announcement was made today by Energy and Climate Change Secretary Chris Huhne. Much of the wind turbines used in Scotland are made abroad, so developing this capacity in the UK will be a big boost to our ports, and will undoubtedly create many needed jobs in these areas.

"Today we are taking a key step on the road to a more prosperous, fairer and greener Britain. We’ve announced support for wind turbine manufacture at Britain’s ports – opening the way to a major expansion of the country’s offshore wind industry.

The last week has been tough. None of us came into government to make cuts. Throughout the spending review, as Liberal Democrats and as a Government, we’ve had to make some difficult decisions. We believe they are necessary to stabilise Britain’s economy and eliminate the massive deficit in the public finances.As Liberal Democrats in Government we can set the course for economic recovery – encouraging green growth as we move to create a truly sustainable low-carbon economy.

The Coalition Government is working on our plans for a Green Investment Bank, we’re investing £1 billion in the first carbon capture and storage demonstration project and investing more than £800 million in renewable heat. And we will be implementing Liberal Democrat plans for a Green Deal to ensure energy saving in every home – cutting energy, cutting carbon emissions and cutting energy costs for families - as well as creating jobs around the country.We need world-class infrastructure to support our economic growth.

Even in the face of such pressure on public finances, we will prioritise the areas that will help us dump the deficit and bring low-carbon jobs, manufacturing and skills to the UK.So today we have committed £60 million to support offshore wind manufacturing infrastructure at port sites. I am delighted that three global firms – GE, Siemens and Gamesa – have responded by outlining proposals to invest hundreds of millions of pounds in opening new wind turbine factories in the UK, creating thousands of jobs and providing clean energy for Britain’s homes and factories.

Working with Nick Clegg, Vince Cable and Danny Alexander on the green recovery has reminded me of the difference Liberal Democrats are making in Government. There is much more to do but I am determined that we will deliver on our pledge to make this the greenest government ever. "

Best Wishes,
Chris Huhne
Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change

Sunday, 24 October 2010

A son for John Swinney and Elizabeth Quigley.

Congratulations to Finance Secretary John Swinney MSP and his wife Elizabeth Quigley on the safe arrival of their son, Matthew, born on Friday in Ninewells hospital.

By all accounts, mother and baby are doing well.

Thursday, 21 October 2010

The Spending Review in Scotland

The Spending Review, announced yesterday, was more or less as advertized, with major reductions to funding right across the board.

In Scotland, we will be affected through both a reduction in the block grant that we get (administered by ScotGov) but also through reductions in budgets covering reserved matters...........notably welfare benefits.

The first argument to play out will be to clarify just what reduction there has been in the block grant.

The Westminster Coalition says £900 million.

John Swinney says £1.33 billion.

We need to get this out of the way quickly, see a ScotGov budget for next year, and then set about how we are going to deal with the situation presented. The public will not tolerate anyone playing party politics with this once the reality has set in. Those showing a willingness to deal with the situation will be rewarded next May, any other approach will be judged very harshly.

We can argue about the figures for a few days if needs be, but come next week, we all need to be concentrated on this and wht we can do about it.

Tuesday, 19 October 2010

Lib Dems and the Strategic Defence Review

There was good and bad news confirmed for Scotland today in the SDR.

The two carriers are going to be built, and this will save a massive amount of jobs and industrial skills on the Clyde and at Rosyth. The cross-party alliance that got behind the carriers obviously had a positive effect, although it does appear that the main factor was that the contracts would have been more expensive to cancel. As it is, one carrier will be mothballed or sold when complete, and the other will have to do without any planes for a number of years.

The bad news came from RAF Kinloss, which is due to close, and RAF Lossiemouth is very uncertain about it's future. This will be a big blow to the Moray area where one in six jobs are in some way dependant on the bases.

On a UK level, Trident is not going to be replaced this Parliament, with any decision being delayed to 2016. There are lots of Tories running around tonight saying that the Lib Dems have got their way too much.

Party President, Ros Scott explains:

"The Liberal Democrats have long argued that Trident is an out of date, unnecessary and hugely expensive weapons system that the UK has no need of in modern times. In this period of fiscal constraint it is also a luxury we can ill afford.

Nick Clegg was right to argue powerfully against Trident renewal during the Leader's Debates. Our party was right to stand in contrast to both the Conservatives and Labour on this issue.

Today, within the Strategic Defence Review, the Coalition Government announced that there will be no final decision on the like-for-like replacement of Trident during this parliament. So Trident will not be renewed this parliament - not on a Liberal Democrat watch. Let us be clear, this is a significant victory for Liberal Democrat campaigners, and a fantastic example of what our Ministers can and do achieve in government.

But the Coalition Government is not just saying no to replacing Trident this parliament. It is going further. It is also taking important steps towards the goal of multilateral nuclear disarmament. The announcement today sees a 25% cut in warheads.Today is yet another day that we can all feel hugely proud to be a party of government, delivering key Liberal Democrat priorities."

Sunday, 17 October 2010

The First Minister sets out his stall for 2011.......

On the closing day of the SNP conference in Perth today, First Minister Alex Salmond set out his approach to the upcoming Holyrood campaign in 2011. As with the Lib Dems, their conference came just before the Comprehensive Spending Review, due now this week.
Efforts to reduce spending in Scotland will be concentrated on reducing managers in the NHS by 25% over four years, and by what appeared to be a very strong hint at a public sector pay freeze or similiar...the details of which were not forthcoming just yet.
In addition, Wee Eck announced his intention to either reduce the number of Scottish Police forces or to create a single unitary police force across Scotland.....the FM was actually very vague as to what his intention was. The savings that might be forthcoming from this were not spelt out, but this is undeniably a policy that Lib Dems will hotly contest. Nationalism, by its very nature, is a centralizing force, so we should not be surprised by this. The policy will create a force where political manipulation is more likely, again, another Nat tactic. This policy debate will undoubtedly grow in importance through the election campaign, and be a real policy difference between the various parties.
There were some sweeties as well. Council tax will be frozen for two years, prescription charges will be reduced to zero by next April and all public sector workers are to receive a minimum £7.15 / hour wage. These are all big committments. The pay initiative puts the SNP and Labour on very similiar ground, ground which will be very hotly contested. By raising the threshold for paying tax however, we have done our bit already, and will no doubt add to this in other ways.
No doubt, this will all be electorally very popular, but can we afford it? We await John Swinney's budget in about a month's time, to see if he can pull all this together in a coherent manner.
There were two other aspects to the speech.
Firstly, it was evident that the SNP will target Labour Leader Iain Gray in a very personal manner. Eck will be portrayed as the big beast of the Scottish Parliament who can outshine his Labour counterpart, but the SNP need to be careful with this. Jack McConnell was unquestionably the big beast in the last Parliament until the tide turned against his party. The same can happen here as well. Eck is divisive, and while Iain Gray is not flamboyant, he clearly has the good organizational and delegation skills that Eck lacks and Labour have money behind them as well. This will be a contest of different styles, with the outcome uncertain. And of course in politics, there is always room for the unexpected as well, so these two should maybe not just assume that they personally are the only shows in town.
Finally, the First Minister rounded off his speech outlining his case for independance. It was a very personal account, muted and a bit flat if anything, not rabble rousing at all. He was probably trying to address the audience outside, appealing to their pragmatic side perhaps.
More likely, Eck will be aware this is probably now his last chance to acheive his dream of leading Scotland "to freedom", and the burden is weighing upon him.
The Scots are pragmatic. Yes. Pragmatism dictates that you dont jump in to the darkness without knowing where you are going to land. Eck was muted today because, in his heart, he knows he has the wrong message for the times, and the the independance horse is not one for backing at present.

Perth Conference centre taking things in........

Saturday, 16 October 2010

Brian Taylor's big debate

There was a very good debate in Perth yesterday at lunchtime, chaired admirably as always by Brian Taylor and featuring on the panel a fine line-up of MSPs in Jeremy Purvis (Lib Dems), Richard Simpson (Labour), Alex Johnstone (Conservatives) and Fergus Ewing (SNP).

Subjects covered included freezing the council tax, whether higher education in Scotland should be free or not, double jeopardy and the balance between public and private sector employment in the economy in Scotland. The debate was good, with differences in policy already in evidence. The electorate will certainly be getting a choice in 2011, that much is for sure.

Jeremy Purvis came across very well, as did one of our local party members in the audience. Well done that woman!!

The final question was "Which party leader would you fire first on The Apprentice."

Two of the speakers opted very quickly for Alex Salmond, one for the BNPs Nick Griffin, and the SNP suggested that they should hire Guy Fawkes to burn down the Houses of Parliament at Westminster.

Who says the Nats dont have a (albeit very laboured) sense of humour....?

Just like Labour.......?

The SNP election strategy for 2011 now appears clear.

They do not expect to win next year, and just like Labour at Westminster, they are going to promise all sorts of sweeties between now and May, knowing that they are not going to be the party to have to deal with the economic difficulties ahead. By doing this, they hope to avoid the worst of the political fall-out, and maybe make a come-back at some point in the future.

What is the evidence for such a sweeping statement?

Firstly, the Nats are putting Independance at the heart of their election manifesto, a sure-fire vote-loser with all the current uncertainties that we face. This is not a message for the wider electorate, it is a message for their own core supporters, to try and preserve morale. It is nothing more than that.

Secondly, just like Labour last year, they continue to make spending committments. Yesterday, John Swinney announced that the Council Tax would be frozen for another two years. Fine, people will appreciate that and great if an overall Scottish budget will allow for this, but the pressure that this will put on local authorities will be immense, and give them much less leeway in being able to deliver local services. This just smacks of political expediency, an easy way of getting through to May next year.

On Newsnight on Thursday, astonishingly, their Education spokeman Mike Russell insisted that a wholly state funded option for higher education in Scotland was a viable option. Great if it is, but do we believe this? Is it possible in the situation we face today? Does anyone else believe this? Is this anything other than a delaying tactic to hold out for another while and be all things to all people?

What other spending committments will be given over the rest of the Nat conference this weekend? Will John Swinney be able to put together a balanced budget at all, or will the SNP just behave disgracefully like Labour and run our finances in to the ground to save themselves, and let others pick up the pieces? What is this new "uniquely Scottish" solution to funding that Mike Russell has dreamed up, making money appear out of thin air and defying all economic logic?

Not only do the Nats not expect to get re-elected, it appears pretty certain now that they dont want to get elected, with a period on the sidelines looking much more attractive to them.

When the going gets tough, the Nats get going. They are tired and lacking inspiration, they dont have the courage to be in office to deal with the new realities and they want out.

Run the country?

Run away more like..........

Let's stick together.....?

The Nats had their Party Political broadcast on last night, which was based around the Bryan Ferry classic "Lets stick together". The broadcast consisted of a range of people singing along to the tune, and then some bland piece from Alex Salmond at the end, the substance of which I have already forgotten.

Curious that the party that blatantly cannot work with anyone else should be adopting this song, and fronted by a politican who is more divsive than any other.

Is Alex Salmond issuing a rallying call fo the whole country to pull together in a common purpose so that we can get a grip of the current financial problems and move forwards as a cohesive entity?


He is just trying to keep his Nat activists together. No politician in Scotland is less suited to pulling us all together than Wee Eck.

Their broadcast last year featured some numpty walking up to the top of a mountain and shouting "Scotland" from the summit, itself a repeat of the previous year.

This one is no better.

The SNP PR machine is apparently lacking a little inspiration at the moment...... much as the party itself has been lacking since the financial crisis broke two years ago.

The Pupil Premium

Nick Clegg has announced how he plans to take forward the "Pupil Premium", the detail of which will appear next week. This was one of the four key election messages from our Westminster 2010 campaign, and it looks as though there is some real substance in this announcement. Well done to Nick and his team.

"Today is a defining moment for the Liberal Democrats. Today we show what can be achieved as a party in power - that we can deliver on a promise that we put on the very front page of our manifesto: giving a fair chance to every child.The Liberal Democrat’s purpose in Government is to make Britain a better, fairer nation. And ahead of next week’s comprehensive spending review, today we set out our plans for a four-year, £7 billion investment in improving opportunities for the most disadvantaged kids in this country.

Every disadvantaged two year-old will be entitled to 15 hours free early education – in addition to the existing entitlements at the ages of three and four. Every poor school child will get additional help from a Pupil Premium paid to their school. Every young adult who wants to go to university will be able to do so, undeterred by financial barriers.

By the end of the spending review period, we will be investing £3 billion a year on this Fairness Premium – including £2.5 billion on the pupil premium alone, £300 million on the extra help for two year-olds and £150 million on the university fairness scheme. From next year, we will he helping poorer children from two to twenty: from a child’s first shoes to a young adult’s first suit.Given that we are having to cut spending these are sizeable new commitments.

But even as we cut spending, we are determined to invest in fairness.

Whatever Labour say, we have no choice but to tackle the deficit. Ed Miliband thinks otherwise. He says he represents a ‘new generation’. But he seems happy to saddle the next generation with the debt that his Government racked up. I am not.Every day we lose more in interest payments to the financial markets: the amount we pay in interest is enough to build a new primary school every hour.

Let me be absolutely candid: we have a hard road to recovery ahead of us. But also let me assure you, that as Liberal Democrats we are determined to ensure that road leads to fairness, too.For me, this is personal. A decade ago I argued in favour of a pupil premium to help children and close the educational gap. Under Labour this gap has been left to widen and for too long the achievements in life have been dictated by the circumstances of birth.

I represent a constituency in Sheffield where, for all Labour’s promises, inequalities still scar the community.All of us are having to work hard in order to make the spending review fair. We’re all having to accept difficult cuts in many areas of public spending that we would very much rather avoid. Both parties in Government are having to negotiate and compromise. We’re all having to change our positions on some issues when the arguments demand it.

But all of us in this government, including the Prime Minister and myself, are not willing to compromise on a better future for the poorest children.None of this would have been possible without all the hard work done by members up and down the country at the last election and over the many years before that. We should all be proud that we are delivering in Government the changes for which we have campaigned for so long."

Jeremy Purvis coming to the fore.......

Scottish Liberal Democrat finance spokesman Jeremy Purvis is suddenly coming to the fore, confirming what was emphasized at the Dunfermline Conference that the party in Scotland will be basing our Holyrood 2011 campaign around the Scottish economy, and specifically, what we here in Scotland can actually do to move things forwards. Press releases from Jeremy have been flying thick and fast in recent days.

Most notably he has picked up on SNP finance secretary John Swinney's comment that the current ScotGov have made efficiency savings of £1.5 billion in the last year.

Jeremy asks why these savings had not been made in earlier years of this administration?

Quite right too.........

Friday, 15 October 2010

Brian Taylor's Big Debate

With the SNP Conference in town, BBC Radio Scotland show Brian Taylor's Big Debate returns to Perth.

Quite a few local members will be attending, including me!

With government announcements on cuts this week, not to mention the Browne Review, there's a good chance that the SNP won't get a look in...

Thursday, 14 October 2010

Another big idea from the Lib Dems........

.....this time from Jeremy Purvis, finance spokesman in the Scottish Parliament. Put this together with Tavish Scott's announcement that they will deliver a four-year budget for Scotland to allow all those in receipt of government money to plan ahead better, the Scottish Lib Dems clearly have a number of very powerful economic policies going in to next year.
Well done Jeremy.
"Scottish Enterprise, Skills Development Scotland, the Scottish Futures Trust and VisitScotland will all be wound up under proposals launched today by Jeremy Purvis MSP.
In their place, a network of dynamic Regional Development Banks, and a Highlands Development Bank, are proposed to be established to drive up economic growth and employment. Councils, Colleges and local business leaders will constitute the Banks and they will be responsible for business support and economic regeneration, skills and training and tourism.

Best practice from around the world and within the UK has been looked at, but these Banks are designed to support the specific needs of the Scottish economy.

His paper sets out radical plans to make Scotland the most innovative and entrepreneurial economy in the world.

Commenting on the launch of this significant paper, Liberal Democrat Finance spokesperson Jeremy Purvis said:
“Where we need national solutions, the Scottish Government will be shaken up and a high level economy department will be established.

“Scotland will be promoted for visitors and businesses by bringing together Scottish Development International and VisitScotland into a body called Scotland International.
“National and high growth businesses can access investment support in Finance Scotland, a body that brings together a myriad of funding options and quangos ranging from Scottish Enterprise and the SFT into a single body.

“The reforms are designed to generate higher, faster and more sustained economic growth in our regions. This is the challenge of the next decade. It is in the context of flat budgets for the coming period and we simply need to get more results from tax payers’ money. As a result of the unsuccessful SNP changes in 2007, for every £2 spent by our economic development quangos nearly £1 is spent on staffing, accommodation and administration. This is not affordable and we have to think differently.

“That is why a debate about where the public sector invests its reserves will be started by these proposals. £3 million of taxpayers money was written off in the Borders because it was invested in Iceland.

“That could have underwritten £3 million of lending for local businesses this year and helped over 100 companies in the Borders struggling with cashflow.

“The economy cannot afford the level of duplication and waste that exists. Local regions have been stripped of power and the ability to invest and this must need to change.

“For the first time also, proposals that the Regional Development Banks will have elected business leaders as part of them means businesses are at the heart of setting policies to support the economy.

“Colleges who know their local economies best will be given the tools they need to drive up skills and training. Tourism destinations for the first time will be able to access support from the Banks, and have a single source of skills and training support.

“Tourism businesses will form part of the Bank's Board. For Scotland to be promoted internationally we will move away from VisitScotland, SDI and Scottish Government officials overlapping and a single body will be established.

“Together these proposals will stimulate growth. We have seen the success of the South of Scotland Loans Fund that by a smarter use of public money we can generate economic activity. We have seen the dedicated Austrian Tourism Bank give direct support while Scottish tourism has struggled.

“With the other proposals in the paper, the most radical set of changes are being proposed for a generation. In leadership, business support, the role of businesses and the bringing together of skills, training, lending and tourism, we are addressing the real challenges that the Scottish economy face for the next decade.”

Commenting, leader of the Scottish Liberal Democrats Tavish Scott MSP said:
“Scotland needs some new economic thinking.

“The SNP’s performance has been poor and they simply have no new ideas.
“That is why Jeremy Purvis’s proposals come at the right time.

“When unemployment is rising, emerging business rates are lamentable and growth within the economy is stagnating, then doing nothing is not an option.

“We are determined to created jobs across Scotland in a new government for all of Scotland.
“That is our number one priority.”

Lauren McNicol, Policy Executive for CBI Scotland said:
“This document contains many useful policies.”

Graham Johnstone, Chairman of Adam Smith College, Fife and elected head of College Chairs in Scotland said:
“Scottish colleges share the Scottish Liberal Democrats' aim of making Scotland the most innovative and entrepreneurial economy in the world.

“These proposals to establish Regional Development Banks and stimulate economic growth are a valuable contribution to the debate on how Scotland can move from fragile economic recovery back to sustainable growth.

“This paper recognises the key role the colleges of Scotland play in their local regions and proposes an even greater role in future. We warmly welcome the innovative approach proposed by Jeremy Purvis MSP on how the public sector landscape can be rationalised and made more efficient.

“It is important that the Scottish Government ensure scarce resources are targeted to frontline delivery of services to business and communities. These proposals go a long way to delivering that.

Scottish Chambers of Commerce Chief Executive, Liz Cameron said:
“Scottish Chambers of Commerce welcome this important contribution to the debate on Scotland’s future economic planning and development.

“This paper contains much that is worthy of consideration and our hope is that politicians of all parties will work together to deliver the right environment for Scotland’s businesses to lead us out of recession.”

Wednesday, 13 October 2010

Vince Cable sets out his case........

Vince Cable has been in the news this past few days....!!

Below, he today sets out his rationale for the proposals that he outlined yesterday in the House of Commons. These proposals are for England only, but we face the same issues up here, and what happens south of the border will inevitably focus discussion here as well, not least because students on both sides of the border will be looking at the relative attractiveness of the funding arrangements available in both countries. These proposals are therefore of real interest to us. Interestingly, Labour are all over the place on this, and the SNP are keeping their cards close to their chests, trying to pretend that there might be other "uniquely-Scottish" ways of doing things. Alas, the options are limited. This is now sure to be a massive issue going in to the Holyrood campaign next year in Scotland, and if there is indeed a "uniquely Scottish" solution, the pressure will now be on our politicians to come up with that. Scottish Liberal Democats, as you might imagine, will be right at the heart of that discussion.

"Taking decisions about Higher Education funding isn’t easy, particularly in times of fiscal constraint. And I know that some of what was announced yesterday will be difficult for some party members.But in supporting the thrust of Lord Browne’s review I believe this Government is taking the difficult decisions needed to deliver a fair deal to both universities and students.

We have obtained a much more progressive system of payment for graduate contributions than currently exists.I will outline what the Government will put forward following the spending review next week, but Lord Browne’s proposals would be a major reform of higher education funding. It effectively replaces Labour’s unfair one-size fits-all formula with a fairer plan which reflects students’ different circumstances - the poorest 30% of graduates will pay less than they do now. No one would pay back a penny until they are earning close to the average salary and those who earn more from their degree will pay back more.

I have welcomed plans that will scrap up-front costs for part-time students, making a valuable element of our education available to all and ending the disgraceful situation in which they were treated unfairly; paying upfront.In the near future I will come forward with further detailed proposals which will make it attractive for students from families of modest means to go to university.

As in the report, we are considering a threshold of £7,000 for university fees, as this is the only realistic way to secure the funding our universities desperately need. Many universities and colleges may well decide to charge less than that, since there is clearly scope for greater efficiency and innovation in the way universities operate.

Two year ordinary degrees are one approach that should be considered.Lord Browne suggests there should be circumstances under which universities can price their courses above this threshold. He suggests this would be conditional on universities demonstrating that funds would be invested in scholarships and bursaries for students from less privileged backgrounds and in raising the quality of teaching and learning. The Government is considering this aspect of the review carefully.

I have explained in a previous email to members why I did not think a pure Graduate Tax proposal would be fair or would work. However I am determined to make those who can afford to pay more do so and that those who do less well paid jobs pay less. At my request as a Liberal Democrat Minister, Lord Browne has come up with a specific proposal to lift the threshold at which repayment of student loans starts to £21,000 and to introduce a variable rate of interest on loans to protect low earning graduates.

The Government will go further than the Browne recommendations and come forward with proposals for exempting the poorest students from graduate contributions for some or all of their studies. Making university accessible for all is a key priority for this Government as part of our drive for social mobility. And we are considering how to discourage very affluent families and graduates buying their way out of the system.

The Coalition Government’s proposals will create a level playing field for part-time students, help those from less privileged backgrounds get to universities and ensure that those with the broadest shoulders contribute more. It is a fair and progressive policy that will build an equitable Higher Education system to last."

Tuesday, 12 October 2010

Getting the last of the barley in.....

This combine was getting the last of the barley in yesterday afternoon, just above Aberfeldy. Getting the harvest in is still a big issue in the north-east, but thankfully it is just about finished in Perthshire now.

Looking up to Drummond Hill

Willie Rennie gets the ball rolling for 2011

The most impressive aspect of our autumn conference at Dunfermline on Saturday was the string of simple but effective economic messages being put forward by the party as part of our Pre-manifesto. The substance was obvious and undeniable, the product of many months of hard work put in behind the scenes, and laid out exactly how we would go about dealing with the current economic difficulties here in Scotland. The confidence and conviction apparent in Tavish Scott's speech was a clear indication that he knew that we would have the right arguments and tone for the campaign ahead.

Willie Rennie, No 1 on our Regional Party list for Mid Scotland & Fife, was quickly on the offensive yesterday, taking our arguments to the local Press. Willie lost his Westminster seat in May this year, but is obviously now ready to go again and will be a formidable campaigner in the months ahead, and a massive asset to the Scottish Parliament come next year.

Willie tells it exactly as he sees it and pulls no punches:

"I remain undiminished. After May’s election I am down, but if Labour think I am out they should think again as I am determined – determined to win again.

This party has been through more tough tests than most and despite many attempts to write us off by the commentators and our opponents we have always fought back to even greater success.

Yet this will be one of our biggest tests – fighting an election whilst in alliance with the Conservatives, bringing our budget back into order and long before the full benefits of the necessary action are felt by the voters.

To win we need a leader with talent and energy – we have that (in Tavish Scott)

To win we need a team of candidates full of quality – and we have that, including me.

To win we need the right message and policies – I am filled with confidence thanks to the efforts of Jeremy Purvis and his team. This pre manifesto is the best start we could possibly have to prepare to win next May.

By focussing on jobs, education and public services we have a programme that addresses the key concerns and priorities for Scotland.

Life sciences and energy are two areas of great potential for job growth – and we are right to support the plans to make them a success.

Jeremy Purvis’ regional development banks puts power back in the hands of local communities to support business opportunities on their own doorstep.

The Calman proposals for greater powers for the Scottish Parliament are right but not everything that’s good in Scotland happens in Edinburgh.

We need to continue the devolution to communities and councils who are best placed to drive improvements in service delivery and ensure value for money.

Removing the meddling hand of the Scottish Government will be liberating.

Finally to support the revival of the Scottish economy we must support skills and education, a major priority for the Liberal Democrats.

As the team work on the preparation of the full manifesto my one bit of advice would be this.
Jim Wallace, Russell Johnston, Malcolm Bruce and Ray Michie didn’t devote their political careers to the creation of the Parliament for it to be a timid, conservative institution.
Scotland is suffering from many ills – many of which have probably always been with us. They require bold and often radial solutions.

This party has built its reputation on being bold and radical – often against the tide of public opinion.

So let’s bold, let’s be radical. Let’s take some risks, not reckless risks but calculated risks.

It’s the role of the Liberal Democrats and it’s what the Scottish Parliament is for."

Supporting our local Scottish defense industry.......

Willie Rennie, No 1 on the Regional list for the Scottish Liberal Democrats in Mid Scotland & Fife, won unanimous backing from the party conference in Dunfermline for saving the aircraft carrier contracts which provide crucial local employment at Rosyth and on the Clyde, preserving and developing key skills within Scottish Industry.

Very well done Willie. Here is the full text of his speech to Conference, with an additional article that appeared in the Courier yesterday.

"I am a regular visitor to Rosyth Dockyard.

You cannot but be truly impressed by the sheer scale of the task planned with the construction of the two largest ships ever built for the Royal Navy.

65,000 tonnes of modern defence capability will be sailing down the Forth only two miles from this conference hall in just a few short years.

I met the workers that will commission the ships, I’ve seen the plans and I witnessed the enormity of the newly extended dry dock where the work will be completed.
That is if we let it. The power is in our hands. We can decide the future of the CVF. We can determine the fate of thousands of skilled shipyard workers here in Rosyth and over at the Clyde. It is our government that will decide.

Yet the conditions for such a decision could not be more unfavourable. A gap of £155bn between the money the government receives and what it spends – and that’s just this year alone.
A massive overspend on the defence procurement budget of £35bn. Commitments given to projects without the finance to back it up is an act of sheer recklessness from a Labour Government that professes to be the supporters of our dockyards.

The Labour Government left our public finances in a truly shocking state. They hadn’t even worked out how to pay for the planes that would fly from the carriers before they gave the go ahead.

What’s worse is that only a matter of months after they signed the main contracts did they decide to delay the carriers for up to two years costing the taxpayer an additional £1billion.
But it is us that have been left to pick up the pieces, to make the sums add up and to determine a sensible defence and security strategy at the same time.

Of course the defence strategy of this country should not be determined by the needs of BAE Systems or Babcock or even solely by the needs of their employees. The demand should not be calculated by the needs of the suppliers but any good business knows it needs to look after its supply chain otherwise the chain won’t be there when you need it most.

That’s why it is essential that a critical part of our defence and security strategy should be a sustainable defence industry.

I firmly believe that a versatile, flexible sea-based force can deliver significant value for money in terms of supporting policy, especially in preventing rather than fighting wars. A key component of that force would be the two new aircraft carriers, providing flexibility across the spectrum of operations as well as providing an air base when none are available ashore.
Carriers have long been recognised as a vehicle of conflict prevention especially in far flung parts of the world where we may not have safe and secure land bases from which to project our force for good.

Please support this motion, support Rosyth and the Clyde and support a robust and effective defence and security strategy for the UK. "