4 Jun 2012

Paisley Daily Express - 4 June 2012

The buses are back
Well done to the new Labour administration in Renfrewshire Council. Mark Macmillan, the new Council Leader, has made it clear that the Council will reinstate the school transport service to the 1,000 pupils who were made to walk up to 3 miles each way, each day. I know it will take a few months to get the contracts sorted out, but the parents in Johnstone and Elderslie that I’ve spoken to are relieved that their nightmare will soon be ended. This was a cruel and short sighted decision and it’s good to see Renfrewshire Council finally doing the right thing.

NHS Whistleblowing Hotline
A recent independent report on NHS Lothian found that bullying was “common” at certain levels within the organisation. The report was ordered after concerns were expressed about the Board’s culture and complaints about the manipulation of waiting times. The Paisley Daily Express recently highlighted problems about lack of blankets at the RAH, a problem which was at first denied by management. SNP Ministers and MSP’s condemned my colleague Jackie Baillie for raising this.
Staff in the NHS have spoken to me and many of my colleagues about the problems they face. They are scared to openly complain about the impact which Alex Salmond’s budget cuts are having. It’s at times like this that we need staff to feel confident that they can speak up without fear of retribution. And yet figures obtained by Scottish Labour show that there had been only one incidence of whistleblowing recorded in the last two years. That’s why Scottish Labour is now calling for the creation of a free national whistleblowing hotline. Frontline NHS staff do a great job and they know better than anyone else where the problems are. They need to know that they can report problems free from fear or reprisal.

Foreign Languages
In Britain we have a poor record of learning to speak languages other than English. Perhaps many people don’t see the need to learn another language because English is so widely spoken and it is essentially the international business language. There is a personal satisfaction from being able to speak more than one language. There is also an issue of respect when visiting another country, if we can at least attempt to make an effort in the local language. Even with the era of package holidays abroad, it is embarrassing to see people from the UK expecting that everyone will deal with them in English. And of course there is a significant business element to being able to speak another language. Spanish is now spoken in many parts of the world and the dominance of the Chinese economy means that Mandarin will become evermore useful.

The Scottish Parliament recently discussed how to improve the way modern languages are taught in schools. There was agreement across the parties that more needs to be done with a radical suggestion for teaching foreign languages from Primary One. It’s all very well to have a noble aspiration, but we need to provide the resources to back this up. Will there be sufficiently qualified Primary teachers who can teach foreign languages? Will we do more to encourage the re-introduction of language assistants? Will it simply be left to pupils to opt in throughout their school life, or will a language other then English be compulsory for at least part of secondary education? And of course we need to make sure that there are jobs available for the young people who make the effort to learn another language. The debate is just the start but it needs to be backed up with hard cash.

Referendum on Separation
Alex Salmond launched the campaign to separate Scotland from the rest of the United Kingdom. Despite claims that it would be a “broad Church” campaign, it was largely an SNP event. The launch was long on assertions about the claimed benefits, but short on facts about what this will actually mean for ordinary Scots. We are supposed to vote for Alex Salmond’s proposition just because he says it is right. He won’t provide details on jobs, taxation, public services, pensions, benefits, defence to name just a few topics. Alex Salmond used to say that an independent Scotland would join the Euro, now he says it would retain the pound sterling, controlled by the Bank of England in what would become a foreign country. A former Irish Prime Minister, speaking from Ireland’s experience, has warned of the dangers of this approach. We live in an uncertain world. If Alex Salmond wants the people of Scotland to make a major decision affecting their wellbeing, then surely he should start to answer the questions being put to him?

Alcohol Minimum Pricing
The Scottish Parliament has now passed the SNP’s Minimum Pricing Bill for alcohol. Scottish Labour has constantly expressed concerns about the windfall bonus for large supermarkets, while putting not one extra penny into more police or nurses. Moderate drinkers will see a significant increase when they buy a bottle of wine. There are still doubts about the legality of the Bill. There is no doubt that action is needed to tackle alcohol abuse. It remains to be seen whether this Bill will live up to the claims made on its behalf.