This week (19th-25th May) is National Epilepsy Week and to show my support for the cause, I joined my fellow MSPs for a group photo which highlighted this years ‘many faces of epilepsy’ theme.
Epilepsy is still the most common, serious neurological condition in the world but it impacts each person’s life in a unique and individual way. Epilepsy affects men, women and children of all ages from every ethnic group and social status. The outlook is brighter for the half whose seizures are well managed with medication. The picture is less rosy for almost a fifth whose epilepsy care could be further improved while the remainder face a difficult time, as do their families and carers, due to uncontrolled seizures.
Epilepsy Scotland is calling on the Scottish Government to tackle this treatment gap and enable seven in 10 people with epilepsy who could become seizure free to receive optimum care. This would save the NHS money and afford an improved quality of life for thousands of families up and down the country. According to Epilepsy Scotland’s 2011 manifesto, an estimated 9,750 people with epilepsy could become seizure free if their condition was better managed. This would save the NHS around £2.36 million a year.
I want to help tackle this issue. I am happy to be one of the many faces of epilepsy supporters in Scotland and to develop greater public awareness and understanding of epilepsy.
I am deeply concerned to learn of some of the projects that have been granted funding in 2012/13 in order to tackle sectarianism in Scotland.
I asked this question as we must be proactive in tackling the scourge of sectarianism. We must look beyond the football stadium and acknowledge that the way to break this societal cycle is to educate young people from an early age in its ills. I was disappointed that rather than outlining educational programmes on offer the Minister directed people to a website. I believe this approach is wholly unsatisfactory and does nothing to comprehensively tackle the underlining societal problems which allow sectarianism to flourish.
It is incumbent on the Government to provide a comprehensive agenda to tackle sectarianism, with education at its heart. Sectarianism is not an innate quality, it is learned and can with proper educational programmes in place, be eradicated from our society. The administration is complacent on this issue; by directing anti-sectarian resources through the internet, teachers are missing out on the classroom resources to tackle the problem.
Further to this point, I submitted a question, which can be viewed on the link below at 34 minutes and 52 seconds:
On 15 March 2013 I asked the Government to break down which projects it has funded to tackle sectarianism in each of the last two years, the written answer from Roseanna Cunningham MSP can be found below:
It is clear that education is not the priority of the Scottish Government. Nearly £800,000 has been awarded to the Football Co-ordination Unit Scotland (FoCUS) clearly demonstrating that this Government thinks that sectarianism originates in the Football Ground. We will never tackle the scourge of sectarianism in our society with such an approach. This is not only worrying but highly depressing.
Further to this some of the organisations that have been awarded funding in 2012-13 have no proven track record in this field. I hope that the Scottish Government will now provide an answer as to why substantial amounts of money were awarded to these groups in favour of those who have been working in this field, with success, for years.
I believe the Government is guilty of complacency on this issue. The Offensive Behaviour Act does not make any attempt to address the underlying societal problems which lead to sectarianism. Government must redirect resources to the classroom to stamp out this problem as quickly as possible.
I am extremely disappointed that, despite my pleas to SNP Members to vote with their consciences, and in the face of widespread political and public opposition, they voted on masse to pass the Scottish Government’s deeply flawed Offensive Behaviour and Threatening Communications Bill.
As I pointed out in my speech during the Stage 3 Debate, the Bill fails to offer any definition of what constitutes sectarian or offensive behaviour. It is far too narrow, and does not advance any strategy for dealing with sectarianism in a broader societal context.
One requires only the most cursory knowledge of Scottish football to appreciate that whilst some songs, chants and slogans are brazenly aggressive and discriminatory, others are not. The police already have powers to arrest people for offensive acts at football games; powers which they repeatedly fail to exercise.
Whatever new powers we grant them, the police will never eradicate sectarianism in football grounds, as they are dealing with symptoms, not causes. Until we recognise that sectarianism is a societal problem that requires a sophisticated response, we will never overcome it.
In stark contrast to this Bill, Scottish Labour’s 11 point Action Plan features a raft of innovative proposals, including a comprehensive review of how educators can promote religious and cultural tolerance.
Perhaps we could start by not denying football supporters their democratic right to sit in the public gallery of the Scottish Parliament Chamber for the innocuous offence of wearing t-shirts bearing the collective slogan “Fans not Criminals”. I do not know who was responsible for this outragous decision – although I have my suspicions – and I will be very interested to see what the Presiding Officers have to say for themselves.
The only way that we will rid ourselves of sectarianism is to broadcast the message, loud and clear: in 21st Century Scotland, sectarianism, like racism, anti-Semitism and homophobia, is utterly unacceptable.
The debate can be viewed in full here.
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.
The disappointment and anger of North Lanarkshire residents at the decision by Government reporters to grant planning permission for a new waste incinerator near Coatbridge is entirely understandable. I fully support their position, as I made clear during my recent speech in Parliament.
North Lanarkshire Council rejected Shore Energy’s application on the basis that it would adversely affect the health of local people and exacerbate traffic congestion at the Shawhead interchange. But despite a vigorous campaign co-ordinated by Monklands Residents Against Pyrolysis Plant, and local 6000 objections, Government reporters overturned the decsion.
Government minister’s Jim Mather and Aileen Campbell have both expressed opposition to energy-from-waste facilities, and Alex Neil claims the SNP has ‘opposed this application since day one.’
Given this, I would have thought the Government would be keen to exercise its right to reject Shore Energy’s appeal, as it is empowered to do under The Town and Country Planning (Determination of Appeals by Appointed Persons) (Prescribed Classes) (Scotland) Regulations 1987. Inexplicably, ministers refused to intervene.
This plant is not right for the environment, and not fair on local residents. We must not allow North Lanarkshire to become the dumping ground of Scotland.
Since 2008 secondary school pupils throughout North Lanarkshire have benefited from annual 2 hour training sessions in Emergency Life Saving (ELS) and Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation (CPR) techniques. The programme is delivered by a North Lanarkshire Council Heartstart Co-ordinator who oversees training and provides advice and support to schools across the region.
Heart Disease remains Scotland’s biggest killer and, for every second that passes without CPR, the chances of survival are reduced by 10%. However, immediate CPR can triple the chances of survival.
I have lodged a Parliamentary Motion congratulating the British Heart Foundationand North Lanarkshire Council for their efforts in this area, and urging other Scottish local authorities to follow suit and ensure that this vital training is available to pupils across the country.