I was glad to be able to contribute to last week’s Scottish Government debate on drink driving.
Under the terms of the Scotland Act 2012, the Scottish Parliament now has the power to lower the drink drive limit from its current level of 80mg (amongst the highest in Europe) to 50mg (the level in most European countries).
As I state in my speech, this is a move I fully endorse. Cars and alcohol are a toxic combination: they should not be mixed.
However, whilst I explain my reasons for supporting the lowering of the limit, I have some doubts about the ancillary measures proposed in the Scottish Government’s consultation, many of which require the devolution of further powers.
There are a number of steps we can take right now to tackle Scotland’s problem with drink driving, and alcohol abuse generally. For example, the Scottish Government should clamp down on alcohol advertising, and afford more funding and coverage to campaigns, whether in print, on tv or online, which warn of the dangers of alcohol consumption, especially in relation to driving.
We must also ensure that there are adequate numbers of frontline police to enforce new legislation, and a robust legal system to punish those that contravene it.
Driving whilst intoxicated is a reckless and selfish act. If we are to send a clear and unequivocal message, those who are found guilty of driving under the influence of drink or drugs must be made to face the consequences of their actions.
I am was very disappointed at the decision to withdraw preferred bidder status from St Philip’s Secure Unit in Plains, Airdrie. Not only will this lead to the closure of the unit, it may also render the other two facilities on the St Philip’s site, the residential school and St Francis Day Unit, financially unsustainable.
St Philip’s was only opened five years ago, at a cost of £15 million, £5 million of which was borne by the taxpayer. It has an excellent record of providing first-class care, and staff have been praised for their commitment and dedication. However, in this instance, and to the detriment of both staff and children, cost has been placed before care.
With the decision unlikely to be altered, the priority moving forward is to ensure the appropriate transitional arrangements are in place to ensure continuity of care for the vulnerable children who are facing considerable upheaval. Additionally, St Philip’s highly trained should not be abandoned.
I was surprised to hear that, despite assurances to the contrary from both local MSP Alex Neil and Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill, Skills Development Scotland were not immediately informed of the situation. I understand that PACE (Partnership Action for Continuing Employment) is now involved, but at the request of St Philip’s management, not the Scottish Government.
It is disappointing that the Scottish Government have failed to back their words with action, and I fully appreciate the frustration and anger felt by staff and children alike. If the Scottish Government is serious about providing the best care and guidance to vulnerable young people, it must realise that this comes at a cost. Cutting corners now will only store up problems for the future.
I am pleased that Alex Salmond has extended the consultation period for the proposed Offensive Behaviour and Threatening Communications (Scotland) Bill for an additional 6 months.
Sectarianism has been a serious problem in Scottish society since the influx of Irish-Catholic immigrants in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. Whilst I applaud the Government’s determination to take swift action, the delicate and longstanding nature of the problem suggests it is unlikely to be solved by a piece of legislation rushed through in two weeks.
I spoke about the problem of Sectarianism during a recent Member’s Debate, and was at pains to point out that any legislation must be backed by educational initiatives. It is not enough to punish those guilty of Sectarian abuse; we must eradicate once and for all the narrow and jaundiced attitudes that provide such fertile ground for bigotry and prejudice.
There is nothing wrong with having pride in a particular set of religious or cultural values; however, we must recognise this as a right that everyone is entitled to.