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. "

Getting the message out to a wider audience.......

Here is how the Courier reported Willie's support for the defense contracts yesterday:

Willie Rennie has secured his party's backing for the aircraft carriers contract during the Scottish Liberal Democrats conference.

Mr Rennie, the former MP for Dunfermline and West Fife, tabled a motion during Saturday's gathering, which was held in Dunfermline.
He told colleagues the £5.4 billion contract to build two new carriers for the
Royal Navy was vital for the survival of shipbuilding in Scotland.
Work on sections of the HMS Queen Elizabeth has already begun at yards around the UK, including
Rosyth Dockyard, where 1400 people work.
The sections are due to be shipped to Rosyth for final assembly. However, workers at Rosyth and on the Clyde are waiting anxiously for the outcome of the
UK Government's strategic defence review.
Some have suggested the carriers might have to be axed to help the
Ministry of Defence balance its books as cutbacks begin to bite. The results of the review are due to be published next week.
Mr Rennie, who is standing for the
Scottish Parliament next year, told delegates he was convinced the project should proceed for the good of the country.
"I am a regular visitor to Rosyth Dockyard," he said. "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."
Mr Rennie turned his fire on Labour, insisting the conditions for such a decision could not be more unfavourable.
"A gap of £155 billion 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 £35 billion.
"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.
'Shocking state'
"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 £1 billion. 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."
He concluded by saying, "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.
"Please support this motion, support Rosyth and the Clyde and support a robust and effective defence and security strategy for the UK."
Fife councillor
Gerry McMullan backed Mr Rennie's call, saying, "These carriers are vital to transport men, aircraft and supplies quickly and efficiently and we have a constitutional duty to protect every man, woman and child in the UK."
"I am fully supportive and committed to the full contract of the carriers being built here in Fife and the Clyde."

Sunday, 10 October 2010

Scottish Liberal Democrats in good form at Dunfermline

The Scottish Liberal Democrats' autumn conference at the Vine Centre in Dunfermlne yesterday was easily one of the best in the party's history. The conference was hugely well attended with delegates from all over the country, the exhibition space was all used up and we had a tremendous line-up of speakers including Chief Secretary to the Treasurey Danny Alexander MP , Scottish Secretary Michael Moore MP and the Scottish Party leader Tavish Scott MSP. The Press were all there in massive numbers, and several of the speeches went out live on television. Tavish Scott in particular gave a very convincing speech outlining how we would go about managing our financial problems over the next four years, and detailing what the current SNP administration have been completely unable to get a grip off......namely what we in Scotland could do to help deal with the situation. More about this again..........

Other motions debated included how to fund higher education, public sector procurement practice and saving the two air-craft carriers currently under order. There was an excellent fringe meeting on the referendum for fairer votes that will be taking place next May.

The headline announcement by Danny Alexander MP was that the coalition government was taking forward plans to reduce fuel levies in our remote communities. A pilot project will be driven forward shortly to reduce fuel duty by 5 pence a litre in the Hebridies and Western isles and Orkney and Shetland, and also in the Scilly Isles as well.

While the 5 pence is very modest, and the geographical area extremely confined, the principle has at least been established and by also introducing the measure south of the border as well, no doubt other rural communities in England and Wales will pick up on this initiative, monitor how it operates, and help us put some political momentum behind the idea in future.

George Lyon MEP and others must now work hard to make sure that we get the backing of other European countries, before the initiative can be taken forwards. Such an initiative is already working in three other European countries. We can make it work here as well.

This initiative is the perfect example of Liberal Democrat MSPs, MPs and MEPs working as a team to deliver not only for rural Scotland but potentially for other rural areas of the UK as well, each with their own part to play in acheiving the overall outcome.

Well done to Danny Alexander for not forgetting his election promise to people in the Highlands. Fingers crosed that we can get this pilot up and running as soon as possible, and that it can be extended to other areas once the pilot is complete.

Friday, 8 October 2010

Autumn Conference

The Scottish Lib Dem's autumn conference is tomorrow in Dunfermline.
With Tavish Scott, Danny Alexander and Michael Moore speaking it promises to be an enjoyable day.

I've no doubt Victor will let us know how it goes!

Labour shadow cabinet

Anyone heard of any of the new Labour shadow Cabinet? Know what they stand for? Concerned about their potential electoral impact? Care?


Thought not........

Tuesday, 5 October 2010

Ardal O'Hanlon in Perth Concert Hall

Ardal O 'Hanlon was in the Perth Concert Hall last night with his stand- up routine, which consisted of a humourous ramble of obervations about life in Britain and Ireland today.
He strayed in to politics a little bit. David Cameron and Nick Clegg were apparently the shampoo and conditioner of British politics (make of that what you will). Barack Obama was a positive and decisive leader for the whole world, so impressive that he had once seen him reach out and catch a fly in his hand while he was giving a speech. Alex Salmond was a strong leader as well, but he could catch flies with his tongue!! Not a political image that the Nats will encourage, I am sure, but you can see where Ardal is coming from.
Ardal thinks we are also more positive and better adjusted over here than the Irish are, and that we will be better equipped to deal with the upcoming financial problems. "Be positive and persevere" was his message.
So, they you are. Whatever difficulties that lie ahead, we will be all right in the we will......

Sunday, 3 October 2010

Our mates the Conservatives.....!!

There are two different sides to the Conservatives portrayed in the news media today, showing the good and bad sides to them.

Prime Minister David Cameron was on The Andrew Marr Show this morning. At this early stage, it has to be said that he comes across well, confident and articulate, answering questions directly and not letting the interviewer (Andrew Marr) dominate the discussion. It became very apparent what the breadth of his ambition for reforming the welfare state was, by progressively replacing a whole host of different benefits by a single universal benefit. The fine details of how that might work will be of great interest to all of us and will require very careful scrutiny to see if it actually lives up to the billing, particularly by us Liberal Democrats, who will of course be able to affect the outcome of this by being part of the coalition government. The outcome will be massively important to Scotland, because social welfare is still a reserved matter.

Irrespective of where this is going, and it is too early yet to really have much of a feel for things, is'nt it refreshing to have the big issues like this actually being debated and analyzed by government? Politics in Scotland has been very stale over the past 4 years with the SNP in office but not really in power, with nothing in the way of substantive political discussion taking place at all.

Many people will welcome these big issues being debated in this way. Hopefully a consensus can be arived at and the better ideas taken forward in a constructive manner.

The Scottish Tories are not nearly as impressive. Scotland on Sunday leads today with their intention now not to veto coalition government here any more. I had never really been fully conscious of this before, but can it really be any surprise that they have never progressed themselves when they have stubbornly refused to even be considered for a position in the administration here in Scotland? "Vote for us and we wont be in power......"

Even more bizzarely, the Scottish Tories are now openly touting the SNP as their favoured coalition partners. The Nats will surely love that. As if Labour in Scotland did'nt have a big enough lead over them as it is. The Tories wont do a deal with Labour on ideological grounds (Such a coalition would be unthinkable anyway), and apparently we are not big or important enough for them in Scotland.

Whatever happened to letting the people cast their votes and then seeing what the overall arithmetric suggests? How does anyone know at this stage how many seats anyone else is going to get?

Anyway, it looks as though in 2011 we will be treated to the sight of Annabel Goldie trying to impress Alex Salmond with her tartan knickers after all. The mind boggles.......

......methinks the Holyrood election strategy for us has suddenly become a whole lot easier.

Friday, 1 October 2010

Right hand ... Left hand?

D C Thomson's publications made an interesting read this morning with articles on the Connect2 bridge, set to create a pedestrian and cycling link across the Tay from the North Inch.
The Courier has an article by Alan Richardson ('Public to be asked to oppose bridge', p5) stating that 'Although £1.25 million was secured through a Lottery grant the shortfall must be met from council funds, a commitment given by the authority despite swingeing budget cuts on the horizon.'
The Perthshire Advertiser's article by Andrew Walsh ('No council cash to be used to build Perth footbridge', p7) states 'Controversial claims that local authority cash could be used for a new Perth footbridge were rubbished by councillors'. Lib Dem group leader George Hayton repeated his assurances that all the necessary funding was coming from Sustrans and Tractran - indeed, Sustrans are providing additional funding to create a path network to connect to the new bridge. No council funds are involved at all!

Perhaps these journalists might consider talking to each other before publication?