Friday, 17 December 2010

Severe Weather

Severe weather, deep snow, ice, disrupted roads, rail cancellations, schools closed, concerns for the old and infirm. In the North and North East of Scotland they happen nearly every year and occasionally more than once a year.

Mostly we can cope, however we do wish to know that the Council, Stagecoach, Scotrail and Bear are keeping as closely to their contracts as we can expect. So the unexpectedly high snow dump on thirty miles round central Scotland may have a useful outcome.

When I last wrote to you a fortnight ago I listed four events I’d hope to reach that weekend. Two were cancelled due to the dangers posed for people trying to travel. So a visit to Kirkcudbright will have to wait. As for Perth, I did get there in the evening for the Scots Trad Music Awards along with many others but the SNP’s quarterly National Council earlier in the day had to be abandoned. Things did improve markedly during the day to allow bus and rail travel to return to approximately normal.

Notwithstanding our individual calculations as to what was possible, the central belt snows led to the resignation of Transport and Climate Change minister Stewart Stevenson for his unfortunate presentation on TV. Forget decency and hard work. Forget a winter resilience report published last September that lists lessons from last winter’s excesses. Forget the world-renowned Climate Change legislation. On screen Stewart misused the phrase ‘first class response’ and questioned the accuracy of the weather forecast. Unreal.

Keith Brown MSP for Ochil, whose family have Brora connections, takes over the Transport berth. And another report will be gathered on lessons to learn whilst making doubly sure existing communications between agencies and the public are tip top.

As a member of the Transport Infrastructure and Climate Change Committee I am asking a number of key questions. Does it take an impending election for opposition leaders to take an interest in severe weather when it hit Central Scotland? What would make them interested in the much more frequent weather issues in north and north east Scotland? And is it because of our Green Party committee convener has an anti- road transport agenda that he did not make a committee spot to debate the Winter Report from last year. It was published last August, after all.

I welcome the Scottish Government commitment for the next year to preserve the number of core college and university student places. The SNP will also protect the main research excellence grant budget in cash terms. Despite deep cuts ushered in by London Tory/LibDem coalition, no existing student in Scotland will see grants decrease in the next academic year.

Meanwhile in England universities and students see deep cuts and soaring tuition fees. We saw that seven Scots LibDems backed the Tories, while Far North member Viscount Thurso abstained from supporting Nick Clegg’s backing for the tuition tax.

Tripling of fees will have serious consequences for higher education north and south of the border. Scottish students studying in England will be saddled with mammoth debts and there will be a knock on effect for Scottish spending as Barnett consequentials are cut.

Again Labour in London certainly can't protect Scotland - only the SNP in Scotland can do it: if we have the powers. People in Scotland will have an early opportunity to pass judgment on the LibDems at the elections next year and this betrayal will haunt them at Holyrood.

The Tories introduced loans, Labour brought in fees and the LibDems have now helped the Tories increase them. Only the SNP is left as the party for students in Scotland offering them the opportunity to be part of something better.

The Scottish Government has published a Green Paper on Thursday December 16, 2010 on finding a uniquely Scottish Solution to sustainable funding of higher education. This will allow a wide and mature debate in which all sensible ideas will be considered apart from one - tuition fees.

I was appalled last weekend to hear a commentator on London TV say that the Scottish Government had cut student and university support. Far from it, the Scottish Funding Council is carrying out a Scottish policy to maintain free education at colleges and universities here. It is part of the Scottish intent to grow our economy and build sustainable jobs and communities.


Contrary to opposition taunts in Holyrood, a TNS opinion poll shows a surge in support for Scottish independence.

The poll shows a record 40% of Scots want to see the Scottish Parliament have the powers of independence. The TNS poll conducted over St Andrews Day shows 40% support the Scottish Parliament having the powers and responsibilities to enable independence, with only 44% opposed.

The TNS poll follows findings by the Scottish Social Attitudes Survey which shows that support for Scottish independence rises to almost half (45 per cent) if taxes were to go down by £500 – with 62 per cent also saying that the Scottish Parliament should take the most important decisions about welfare benefits, while 57 per cent say thesame about taxes.

The Holyrood scrutiny of the Scotland Bill published by the UK Government is a huge opportunity for Scotland to gain the financial responsibility it needs to prosper – but as currently drafted it falls far short of what is needed.

This poll shows that people across Scotland see the need for this country to gain the powers other countries take for granted, so we can compete on a level playing field, attract business, grow the economy and create a wealthier nation – the only alternative to the savage Westminster cuts agenda.

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