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 all....so 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."