16 Feb 2011

Paisley Daily Express - 16 February 2011

FMQ Disgrace

First Minister’s Questions is supposed to be the opportunity for the Scottish Parliament to hold the First Minister to account for the actions of his administration. The last Question Time was an absolute disgrace. Iain Gray, the Labour Leader, asked Alex Salmond about Renfrewshire Council’s plans to remove teachers from the classroom in Primary schools for 10% of the school week. At first Alex Salmond tried to talk about North Ayrshire Council and a proposal from its Director of Education which the Leader of that Council had flatly rejected. He then tried to twist what the General Teaching Council for Scotland had said, before again referring to North Ayrshire Council and rather bizarrely what David Miliband was doing in England. Mr Salmond then wanted to know why Iain Gray had asked about Renfrewshire’s schools rather than Mr Megrahi who had been sent back to Libya by his Justice Secretary. The reason Iain Gray asked about Renfrewshire’s schools is that he had heard at first hand, the concerns of parents and teachers. Saturday’s rally in Paisley showed just how strongly parents and teachers feel. Iain Gray has nothing to apologise for in trying to defend the right of Renfrewshire’s children to be taught by qualified teachers.

Hitting the poor

Most families in this country have received benefits at one time or another. It might be child benefit, or sickness benefit or one of the other benefits which are there to help. For those on low incomes help with paying the rent could make the difference between having a home and being homeless. The recent changes to housing benefit introduced by the Conservative led Government at Westminster will mean that 60, 000 households in Scotland will face severe hardship. These changes will affect people across the ages. Single people aged 25-34 will no longer receive help for a one bed roomed flat in the private sector. Some families will have to cut what they spend on their children just to make ends meet. Now I know, as everyone does, that there are those who fiddle the system. But tackling abuse should not mean that we create hardship for the poor. And if this Government wants to tackle abuse, perhaps it should look at the tax avoidance schemes deployed by their rich friends.

Huntington’s Disease

I have written before about Huntington’s disease which is a disorder passed down through families. If one of your parents has Huntington’s disease, you will have a 50% chance of getting the gene for the disease. If you get the gene from your parents, you will develop the disease at some point in your life, and can pass it on to your children. Huntington’s disease can cause behavioural changes, abnormal movements, speech impairment and dementia. There is no cure for Huntington’s disease which can have a devastating effect on families.

Why is it, that within our Health Board area, patients in Glasgow can receive support and care from specialist nurses, yet here in Renfrewshire no such help is available? The Scottish Huntington’s Association has been campaigning for an end to this unfairness. I hope that the next Scottish Government will put an end to this discrimination.

Bankers’ bonuses

It has been reported that contributions from the Citu of London financiers to the Tories has doubled. The bankers and City whizz kids caused the financial problems which we are having to pay for with higher taxes and cuts in services. At the same time bonuses for bankers are on the increase again. While Nick Clegg has remained silent, his Treasury spokesperson in the House of Lords has resigned. Lord Oakshott said the Government’s approach to bonuses was “pitiful”. The greed of top bankers knows no bounds. And just to make sure they have a compliant Government they have doubled their contributions to the Tory Party.

Double Jeopardy
The Scottish Parliament recently voted to change the law on Double Jeopardy. This legal principle prevents someone for being tried again if previously cleared of an offence. It means in the case of murder or rape, that even if new evidence becomes available, the person responsible cannot be tried again if previously cleared. Now no one would want to see anyone in this country repeatedly brought to court by the authorities in a frivolous or arbitrary manner. However surely it is right that the most serious offences can be tried again if new and compelling evidence comes to light? The Scottish Parliament is right to say that victims also have rights.