Latest newsletter out now!

April newsletter

I am glad to say that my latest newsletter is now published!

Topics include the impending council elections, and the Holocaust Educational Trust reception I recently hosted in the Scottish Parliament’s Garden Lobby.

As ever, it also includes full contact details and information about my monthly surgeries.

The newsletter is also available, alongside previous issues, in the newsletters page, and will also appear on Facebook and Twitter.

Dishonest SNP leaflets must not go unchecked

I was extremely disappointed by leaflets produced by an SNP Council candidate for Plains in North Lanarkshire.

The leaflets state that Alex Neil, Airdrie and Shotts MSP and Cabinet Secretary for Infrastructure and Capital Investment, has “secured funding [through the recently announced rail improvement fund]…to construct a station at Plains”.

This statement is premature to say the least.

The leaflet goes on to criticise North Lanarkshire Council for not applying for the funding, and to promise that “if elected” the candidate will ensure a station is built.

A genereous description of these assertions is that they are ill-informed and misleading. A couple of days after the £30 million rail improvement fund was announced, officials from North Lanarkshire Council contacted the Scottish Government to request details about the application process. Moreover, Alex Neil only recently stated that, given his ministerial commitments, he is unable to directly intervene on the issue of Plains station.

In a single leaflet, the SNP is attempting to claim credit for a non-existent station at Plains, deny responsbility for current and past failings, and lay the blame elsewhere.

I would much rather look to the facts, and the facts tell me that were it not for the decision by former SNP Transport Minister to veto the Plains proposals back in 2007, there would already be a station.

Regardless of the claims of the SNP’s spurious leaflets, Scottish Labour, along with North Lanarkshire Council, remains fully committed to building a station at Plains, and we will work together to try and make it a reality.

If they have any respect for the residents of Plains, the SNP should pulp these disingenuous leaflets.

Endemic youth unemployment a real threat

I was very concerned at recent figures revealing a massive rise in the levels of long term youth unemployment over the past 4 years. Figures compiled by the STUC show that the incidence of 16-24 year-olds claiming Jobseekers’ Allowance escalated by over 1000% between March 2008 and March 2012, a rise in excess of that in both England and Wales.

Further analysis of the data reveals an even more worrying picture, with the rise in rates of long term youth unemployment even higher within certain local authority areas.

For example, in North Lanarkshire the percentage of 16-24 year-olds claiming JSA for more than a year rose by over 3000% between March 2008 and March 2012, whilst figures for South Lanarkshire show a percentage increase of over 2500% over the same period.

Youth unemployment is rapidly becoming the major crisis of our times. Despite some excellent work at local authority level, with both North and South Lanarkshire Council’s investing significant funds to help young people into work, there has been a marked lack of leadership from Central Government, and it is this failure of leadership that is fuelling the rise in long term youth unemployment.

It is time for Mr Salmond and his SNP Govermment colleagues to stop hiding behind the claims of “25,000 modern apprenticeships”, and “guaranteed places in education or training for 16-19 year-olds” and take responsibility for the reality on the ground.

Holocaust Educational Trust parliamentary reception

Siobhan with (l-r) Simon Houston of Greenock High School, Michael Tuncliffe and Michael Dogan of Selkirk High School, Karen Pollock MBE, Chief Executive of the Holocaust Educational Trust, and Judy Russell, daughter of Holocaust survivor Ernest Levy

I had the great honour and privilege to host the Holocaust Educational Trust’s first reception in the Scottish Parliament.

The Holocaust Educational Trust was founded in 1988, and played a central role in the establishing of Holocaust Memorial Day, in 2001. In 1999 it set up Lessons from Auschwitz, a highly successful educational programme which has given thousands of students from across Scotland and the UK the chance to visit the former concentration camps at Auschwitz-Birkenau, and experience firsthand the terrible reality of the “final solution” – the Nazis’s attempt to systematically exterminate the European Jews.

The project is based upon the idea that we learn best when we experience directly; the pupils who have taken part speak movingly about the indelible impression the camps made upon them. Two of the projects participants, Dominic Bradley and Katie McKenna, delivered Time for Reflection in the Scottish Parliament to mark this year’s Holocaust Memorial Day, their wise and thoughtful words – repeated during the reception – capturing the strange mixture of pathos and horror that Auschwitz-Birkenau continues to evoke.

Also present at the reception was Judy Russell, daughter of Holocaust survivor Ernest Levy, who settled in Renfrewshire and later recounted his wartime experiences in a memoir, “The Single Light”. Judy’s memories of her father added to the intimacy of the occassion, but also reminded us that the number of living holocaust survivors is rapidly dwindling. Indeed, as Karen Pollock MBE, Chief Executive of the Holocaust Educational Trust put it, the Holocaust will soon make the transition from “living history” – as embodied by the survivors – to simply,”history”.

Ernest Levy correctly observes in “The Single Light” that “the lessons of the past are still to be learned”. The fight against hatred, discrimination and prejudice is likely to outlast all our lifetimes, and that is why I welcomed the announcement by the Scottish Government – represented at the reception by Dr Alasdair Allan, Minister for Education, Science and Languages – that it will continue to fund and support the Holocaust Educational Trust in its mission to educate a new generation of young people of the enduring importance of the Holocaust. There is still much we can learn.

I am glad to say that the event was both informative and edifying, and I would like to thank the Holocaust Educational Trust, and in particular Paul Evans, for asking me to host it. I look forward to supporting them in the future as they endeavour to rid society of religious and racial discrimination and prejudice.

Cut to bus grant could harm local services

Over the past few weeks, I have been struck by the number of constituents, in Central Scotland and elsewhere, who have expressed real concern about the provision of bus services within local communities.

Studies have shown that bus journey’s account for approximately 85% of all public transport journeys taken in Scotland, and that access to local bus services is especially crucial for the elderly and those on low incomes.

I recently visited a group of constituents in Airdrie whose travel opportunities are limited by irregular service along daytime routes, and scant provision of evening bus servies. They also expressed concern about recent price rises along certain routes.

That is why the decision by the SNP Government to cut the Bus Services Operators’ Grant by 20%, and to change the way in which it is calculated, is so misguided. Formerly, the grant was calculated accorded to fuel expenditure; now, following the recent rise in fuel duty and prices (average diseal prices increased by 14.7% last year), the grant will be calculated according to mileage.

In addition to this, the Scottish Government’s decision to impose a cap on the National Concessionary Travel Scheme will place further pressure on bus operators, especially given that current projections suggest that this year’s scheme will exceed the £180 million budget by around £6 million.

I and my Labour colleagues believe that the Scottish Government should be investing in the public transport infrastructure. Instead, it has chosen to reduce a grant that helps to maintain local services and prevents fares from escalating.

Sadly, it is likely to be passengers that bear the brunt of the SNP’s folly, and that is why Scottish Labour is backing the numerous campaigns that have sprung up throughout Scotland to support local bus services and condemn SNP cuts.