Pedal on Parliament 2014

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On the 26th of April I joined thousands of other cyclists in Edinburgh for Pedal on Parliament – an event to highlight the benefits of cycling and to put pressure on the Scottish Government to prioritise making Scotland a safer place to cycle. People of all age groups attended the event, with organisers estimating a higher turnout than the 4000 that attended last year.

The Pedal on Parliament campaign has an eight point manifesto: 1) proper funding for cycling; 2) cycling to be designed into Scotland’s roads; 3) slower speeds where people live, work and play; 4) cycling to be integrated into local transport strategies; 5) improved road traffic law and enforcement; 6) the risk of HGVs to cyclists and pedestrians to be reduced; 7) a strategic and joined-up programme of road user training; and 8) improved statistics supporting decision-making and policy.

For more information on the Pedal on Parliament, visit their website: http://pedalonparliament.org/. All of these points, when achieved, will propel Scotland towards being a safer, greener, cycle-friendly nation.

Cycling has many benefits, and it would be great to see more people in Edinburgh taking up cycling. One of the most effective ways to encourage people to do this is to make Edinburgh, and Scotland generally, more cycle-friendly. It’s a healthy, cheap and fun way to journey to work or school, or to explore and discover places within and outside of Edinburgh. This needs to be done in the safest and most inclusive way possible, which is what the Peddle on Parliament campaign aims to achieve.

 

 

Craigmillar Park Bowling Club Open Day

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This Sunday I attended an open day at the Craigmillar Bowling Club.

It was a great opportunity to try a sport that I’d never played before and I very much enjoyed it. I met with the president and members over a cup of tea, and they showed me around the clubhouse and the great facilities they have there. It was great fun, and everyone I met was very kind and encouraging. I played a game of doubles, and under some expert tuition, our team won 4-1!

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I would definitely recommend that everyone try playing bowls. The club is currently looking for new members and at the moment they have a special opening year offer of £50. They also supply bowling shoes and bowls, so don’t worry if you don’t have the right equipment! Visitors are also welcome and encouraged to come and try it out.

bowls tweetFor more information about the club, visit their website at: http://www.cpbc.org.uk/.

Road Improvements in Edinburgh South

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As you know, I work closely with residents and community groups in my constituency, and the condition of roads and footpaths is something which is regularly raised in my conversations with them.

I was pleased to hear that that two roads in my constituency were given priority for attention at a recent meeting of the South Central Neighbourhood Partnership. East Mayfield and the pavement of Colinton Road have been selected for resurfacing, and work on these is due to begin during the 2014/15 financial year.

This is a matter which I have been pushing for a long time and I am pleased that the Council are choosing to prioritise these streets. However, I am sure you are all aware of other roads throughout South Edinburgh which are in desperate need of resurfacing, so please do get in touch to identify any problem roads in your area.

Surgery times this Easter Holiday

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This weekend, there will be no one in the Minto Street Office on Friday or Monday, due to the Easter Holiday.

On Saturday, the surgery will run as normal in Minto Street and The Open Door, Morningside.

In the meantime, if there is anything that I can do to assist, please do not hesitate to email me, or contact the office on 0131 662 4520.

Together we can – Edinburgh Evening News Column

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I was pleased to be asked to write a column for the Edinburgh Evening News this week. I have copied the text below, or you can read the article online here, or in today’s paper.

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The best of both worlds

Rightly, there is a demand for a more thoughtful and positive discussion. I will be voting No on September 18 to nationalism. The pooling and sharing of resources across the UK is for the common good, on the basis of need.

Politics, for me, must be about social justice.

History tells us that the demand for social justice saw the abolition of the Scottish Poor Law. The same demand led us to create a universal right to free education and health care across the UK in the 1940s, and the strive for equality more recently led us to establish a UK-wide minimum wage and tax credits that guaranteed a minimum income for families and pensioners – taking millions out of poverty.

These show that a drive for politics to deal with social problems can create results by pooling and sharing resources to ensure common welfare and decent standards of living for all, regardless of where we live. Social injustice does not respect borders so these problems cannot be resolved by creating borders. Scotland has always been a nation that looks outwards and we should care as much about resolving issues across the UK, and the world, as we do in Scotland.

Our starting point must be to set out the modern purpose of the partnership between Scotland and the rest of the UK. The Scottish Parliament is the settled will of the people and this will be further strengthened with more powers as it has been since its creation – giving us flexibility to take a different path. Enhanced devolution to create a stronger Scottish Parliament is a much better way forward within the UK – Scotland benefiting from the best of both worlds.

A fairer society can be achieved from the foundations of a strong economy. Edinburgh is a city that emphasises this. The economy benefits from the larger UK, supporting thousands of jobs in the financial sector, as well as its world-leading universities – innovating through greater UK research and development funding. The city also has a vibrant tourist industry with world-renowned festivals and events, and a strong public service ethos supported by a Scottish Parliament able to respond to Scotland’s needs. Let’s grab the best of both worlds and ensure, once again, that Scotland leads the rest of the UK rather than leaves it.

Loss puts focus on education

No child should go to school never to return home.

The tragedy at Liberton High School in my constituency has stunned the entire community. MPs, MSPs and councillors must rise above politics and work with local communities, teachers, parents and pupils to make education the top priority.

We owe future generations nothing less than to leave no stone unturned in trying to ensure that the most powerful tool to change lives – education – flourishes with the investment it requires.

Hearts are sure to bounce back

Sport has always been about bringing people together. Over 8000 people coming together for any cause is a considerable achievement but to rescue a football club is altogether more impressive.

Ann Budge and the Foundation of Hearts are on the verge of getting Hearts out of administration and back where it belongs as a proud part of our Capital. The entirety of my all-too-limited spare time has been taken up with the foundation but it is worth it as it means so much to so many.

Communities reap rewards

Successes for two local groups show how, by communities coming together, change can happen.

With the help of Lottery funding, Bridgend Inspiring Growth has been working hard with local people to transform the old council-owned farmhouse at Bridgend for community and educational use.

Likewise, the voluntary Dig-In group in Bruntsfield has raised £30,000 from a community share issue to open a fruit and veg co-op. They are innovators and leaders in community ownership for community benefit and deserve our support.

Fair way to go in changing male-dominated culture

I was delighted to see that Margaret Curran MP, Labour’s shadow Scottish secretary, has announced a five-point plan specifically targeted at the concerns of women.

As well as important pledges on childcare, discrimination, pay gaps and the living wage there is a bold promise to introduce a 50 per cent quota for women on public boards in Scotland. I often find it difficult to understand why, in 2014, this kind of initiative is required but sadly it is. The evidence speaks for itself. You only need to look at where women have taken the reigns and led transformational change of organisations like Frances O’Grady at the Trade Union Congress, Moya Greene at the Royal Mail and Sue Bruce at the Edinburgh City Council.

Too many of our public bodies are male-dominated and I don’t think this is good for those organisations or for business. I wonder what the world would look like today had there been many more women on the boards of our financial institutions before the global financial collapse?

However, it can’t just be about the same women on more boards; it must be about more women on more boards, and government must set the example. The picture a few months ago of the Coalition Government frontbench without a single woman is a sad indictment of their abject failure to properly represent the country. This issue has to be resolved and I back Margaret all the way in ensuring it is successful. A 50 per cent quota in public bodies sends out the right example that the culture must change.

Article in Crossroads Magazine

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I was pleased to be asked to contribute to the Spring 2014 edition of the Crossroads magazine, distributed in Fairmilehead. You can find the whole publication here.

I was asked to write about my views on the independence referendum, and how I thought independence would affect people in the local area. I have reproduced my article below:

Better Together

The title of this publication is very apt for this discussion, as this year, Scotland reaches a crossroad.

 

We faced an earlier crossroads not so long ago when Scotland decided to back devolution. Devolution is a process and that process is not complete – I believe that we need to keep thinking about where power is best placed, whether in Westminster, Holyrood, local communities or with people themselves in Fairmilehead.

 

The best of both worlds

 

Independence isn’t the end-point of the devolution process; it is the derailing of it. The “Yes” vision of independence is one of a centralised state at Holyrood. Devolution, on the other hand means, that people elect politicians at different levels: power is spread more evenly, and we still have our say on how we run our affairs locally. The Fairmilehead Community Council and the contribution of the community organisations in the area prove this.

 

Through a successful and maturing Scottish Parliament with power over schools, hospitals, police and transport etc, and through the strength and security of the nations of the UK working together, we have the best of both worlds.

 

In fact, my idea is much bigger than nationalism: it’s the pooling and sharing of resources together, across the UK, for the common good and on the basis of need, with a focus on the things that bring us together not apart.

 

Strength and stability

 

In Edinburgh of all places, we know the benefits of having a strong foundation. When the global economic crisis came, it hit Edinburgh hard – exposed as we are with our world-leading financial institutions. However, our currency, our banking sector and ultimately our economy were protected through the actions of a strong central bank.

 

It is a foolish person who builds his house on sand, but an even more foolish one who does not learn from the storm. The government stepped in with a bailout for RBS alone that was 211% of Scotland’s GDP. When we speak about the lessons of the recession, surely beyond all else it is that the UK economy benefited from being strong enough to survive the storm.

 

Pooling and sharing

 

It isn’t just in the economy where we are pooling risk and sharing resources. In International Development – with its government department based in Scotland – our combined efforts see more return.

 

We pool our risk not just within the UK but internationally, and as a result we sit at the top table in the UN, NATO and the EU. Our shared resources give us the impact and influence in world affairs – and we are protected by strong and well-trained armed forces. Yes, these organisations don’t always get it right but we need to ensure we influence the debate.

 

The list of ways we pool and share is vast and the entire UK benefits – e.g. the BBC, where we pool £300m in licence fees as Scots but get back £3bn of programmes.

 

 

 

World leading universities

 

Scotland has more universities in the World’s Top 200 per person than any other country. We benefit hugely from UK and EU investment in research funding. Our scientists and academics at Edinburgh University, many who live locally, are backed by grants and funds from throughout the UK (they get 14% of UK wide funding on 8.4% of the population) – ensuring our inventions and discoveries continue to make Edinburgh a home of enlightenment, and allow us to punch above our weight internationally.

 

Jobs

 

Businesses are now saying publicly what they have been saying to me privately, that they would have to consider leaving Scotland if there is a yes vote. My primary job is to stand up for my constituents. Any policy that undermines the jobs and livelihoods of residents in Fairmilehead should be resisted at all levels. Simply to ignore these warnings is to do a disservice to the local people we are elected to represent.

 

Currency

 

Perhaps our greatest shared resource is the Pound with a shared central bank. The Pound is a strong currency: providing us shelter from crisis such as in the Eurozone; allowing the UK to control its own monetary and fiscal policy.

 

Our mortgages and other savings are backed by a strong central bank. That means low interest rates for borrowers and guarantees if things fail. I am the first to say that the Pound in our pockets isn’t stretching as far as it used to: prices have been rising faster than wages for some time now. However, control over our currency means we can control inflation, interest rates and the flow of money in the economy – helping individuals and businesses.

 

At the time of writing, Alex Salmond’s plan is to enter a formal currency union with the remainder of the UK. That has been ruled as something which would not be beneficial Scots or the UK. So we need to know the Plan B. Are we to be like Panama and just use the Pound, putting the entire economy at risk. Remember, the SNP used to call the Pound “a millstone around Scotland’s neck” and preferred the Euro. However, surely the reasons for discounting the Euro are exactly the same reasons why the UK discounts a currency union with Scotland.

 

The impartial analyses produced by the Governor of the Bank of England and the Permanent Secretary to the Treasury should not be easily disregarded and for the Yes camp to merely suggest they will not take any of the UKs debt if they do not get their way is irresponsible. It would be catastrophic for Scotland’s economy.

 

Imagine two of your friends went out for dinner on the understanding that they would both foot the bill at the end of the meal. But at the end of the meal, one of your friends leaves, refusing to pay their share. Would you go out for dinner with that friend again? We all know what happens when we don’t pay our bills.

 

It is clear the only way to guarantee keeping the Pound is to vote to stay in the UK and is one of the most positive cases for staying.

 

Leading, not leaving

Scotland has a very proud history but the big social and economic challenges of today are not resolved by building a border but by breaking down borders – working together to create a better, fairer society.

I firmly believe that we should be leading, not leaving the United Kingdom. We can look forward to a strong covenant between the nations of the UK, with evolving devolution, if you will join me in voting no in September.

TTIP Concerns raised with EU’s Chief Trade Negotiator

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More on the EU-US trade negotiations this month, known as the TTIP, which are ongoing.

5447371mA few weeks back, I met with the EU’s Chief Negotiator for the trade talks, Mr Ignacio Garcia-Bercero (pictured). We discussed in depth the concerns that have been expressed about the TTIP, in particular the Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) aspects and the impact that any trade deal might have on the UK’s National Health Service (NHS). I made clear to him that Labour believes that the NHS must be exempt from the final TTIP agreement. Mr Garcia-Bercero was helpful and appreciated the concerns and stated that no such provisions are in TTIP. I will certainly monitor this closely to ensure this continues to be the case.

On ISDS, the European Commission has launched a public consultation on the matter. Click here for further information.  This consultation is welcome and I hope that the UK Government will take the opportunity to raise concerns that constituents and various organisations have stated about the economic and political risks of ISDS and ensure that there is full transparency.

TTIP offers real benefits for UK jobs, businesses and consumers but these concerns must be addressed for the trade deal to fully succeed.