We must now entrust fresh faces to take forward Labour values and the social justice agenda Scotland.

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Ian Murray MP, the Shadow Secretary of State for Scotland, is absolutely correct to say today that now is the time for the next tranche of Scots to step forward to lead the Labour movement in Scotland.  Brown, Smith, Dewar, McConnell and others all changed Scotland immeasurably for the better, but now is the time for a fresh start.

This does not mean that we forget what the giants of the Labour movement have achieved, from creating the NHS to establishing a national minimum wage, but we must now entrust fresh faces to take forward Labour values and the social justice agenda Scotland.

Anyone who as ever attended a Labour party meeting will confirm that there is no shortage of ideas or commitment in the movement. These are not people who blame others for society’s problems, but seek to convince everyone that social justice is in their interest.

The challenge is for the Labour to use these activists, and their number is growing by the day, to fully engage with their communities and rebuild trust in the movement. This grassroots is where the next Labour’s generation of Community Councillors, Councillors, MSPs and MPs will come from.

This is why it is important that Ian Murray gave this speech. He is proof that when kids in deprived areas are given a chance they will succeed. However, as his Edinburgh South constituency is arguably a microcosm of Scotland, he also evidences that the electorate will trust a politician who listens and tirelessly supports the community they represent.

The next Scottish Labour leader must listen to Mr Murray’s argument, learn from his work ethic and challenge the grassroots to exceed his expectations.

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#IndyRef2? I’d rather hear about why Scots should have to wait weeks to see a GP.

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With speculation about a second independence referendum dominating the news agenda in Scotland for three days, two things are now very clear. The Scottish Government and the UK Government have no plans for a second independence referendum. One must therefor wonder what all the fuss is about. In my view Mr Salmond spoke out for two reasons.

The first relates to some awkward news that was breaking over the weekend. The leading news story on Sunday in Scotland related to a report by the Royal College of General Practitioners which outlined how the SNP Government have cut £1b from GP funding since coming to power. A secondary story related to the oil price – it has dropped by around 20% this month and now sits at $47.15. Cleary, these points question both the SNP’s competence as a government and undermine the “optimistic” economics which underpinned Mr Salmond’s independence proposals. It is therefore in Mr Salmond’s interest to move the news agenda on to his home turf – constitutional speculation.

The second reason the SNP needed this story is to placate the hard-core nationalists within their party. Despite the popularity of the SNP, most Scots still oppose the party’s core objective – independence. Within the context of this and Scotland’s huge deficit, a second referendum now would be suicidal for the SNP. However, anything less than a full commitment to a second referendum will be viewed as a betrayal by the noisier members of the SNP. Ms Sturgeon and Mr Salmond must therefore keep the idea of a second referendum alive without making any firm commitments.

Whilst speculation about a second referendum is interesting, I would much rather hear about why Scots should have to wait weeks to see a GP or how falling oil revenues would be good for an independent Scotland.  Perhaps that would also quieten the noisier SNP members?

Councils in Scotland are facing both Tory and SNP austerity.

Unison Scotland’s Dave Watson is correct to highlight the significant job losses facing our local authorities in response to budget cuts enforced by the SNP Government.

The current SNP Government has disregarded local democracy and taken  the centralisation of powers to the extent that our local authorities can no longer even set their own budgets. Budgets have been slashed and our hard working councillors are left only with the power to decide which services must be cut.

Nationalists will claim that they are merely passing on Osborne’s cuts, but the reality is that councils are facing both Tory and SNP austerity. The SNP council tax freeze alone costs councils around £500m per year and, according to Unison, has resulted in the outsourcing of care homes (Inverclyde), the closure of school kitchens (South Ayrshire)  and cuts in the number of learning disability centres (Glasgow).

It is not that our councils lack ideas, they simply lack resources. Notwithstanding this, they still aim high. In Edinburgh the council offers the “Edinburgh Guarantee” which aims to ensure that every young person will leave school with the choice of a job, training or further education opportunity available to them. In Glasgow a similar scheme exists, but includes those aged over 50 and former service personnel. In Renfrewshire the council has  allocated £1.6m  to closing the attainment gap – including a modest sum for helping parents with the cost of school trips and activities where needed.

To do more of this we must use the Holyrood 2016 elections as an opportunity to rebalance the relationship between our communities, local authorities and Holyrood. Our hard working councillors must be given the power to make a difference. They know where investment in housebuilding and job creation is best targeted better than any SNP Minister with a centralising  “one size fits all” mentality which often turns out to be “one size fits none”. Let’s give out councils the chance to make a difference. Let’s invest in local democracy.

Why the SNP’s voting record evidences their EVEL hypocrisy.

This week will see David Cameron return again to the House of Commons with EVEL proposals. His aim will be to address the “West Lothian Question” – the situation where Scottish MPs can vote in Westminster on English issues which are devolved to Holyrood.

Cameron will propose that an extra “parliamentary stage” will be added to allow English MPs to scrutinise legislation without the involvement of Scottish MPs. Basically, England’s MPs would be asked to accept or veto legislation only affecting England before it passed to a vote of all UK MPs at its final reading in the Commons.

Labour’s position is that this should not be rushed as there is a danger it may drive a wedge between England and Scotland. Instead, it would rather that a cross-party constitutional committee be formed to consider this issue along with others such as the reform of the House of Lords and the overall of the voting system.

The SNP’s position is less clear. As ever, they prove to be consistently inconsistent in their views. Despite claiming eye watering expenses, SNP MPs traditionally have one of the worst voting records in Westminster. I once had an opportunity to quiz Pete Wishart on this and he explained that he only voted on issues which were relevant to Scotland. The chart below shows the extent of the SNP shortfall during the 2010-15 parliament. SNP MPs took part in only 48% of votes on average.

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Needless to say, despite the dire voting record, most SNP MPs still claim all the expenses they can.

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Despite how it looks, the voting record of SNP MPs reflects the principled position adopted by the SNP as a whole. For example, the SNP Government declined an opportunity to comment on a consultation relating to David Cameron’s creeping privatisation of the NHS in England.

Within this context, I find it hard to understand the concern the SNP has regarding the move towards EVEL as it is entirely consistent with their own views. Indeed, Just a week or two ago, Pete Wishart complained vehemently about English MPs daring to vote against his party’s wishes on Full Fiscal Autonomy. Admittedly, Edinburgh South’s Ian Murray MP was  also accused of “talking Scotland down” for questioning SNP rhetoric on the issue.

Furthermore, in last week’s debate Wishart claimed the EVEL proposals were a “constitutional outrage” despite having said in 2014 that EVEL was “an issue that the Scottish people could not care less about”.

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Things unravelled further yesterday. For a long time the SNP, on their website, gave fox hunting in England as an example of the kind of issue it would not vote on. Yesterday, that text disappeared from their website and they announced, righty, that they would back Labour in its efforts to block the Tory plans to reintroduce fox hunting in England.

If the SNP is to be taken seriously as a political force in Westminster, and that is everyone’s interest, they must adopt principled positions on the issues of the day.

The political opportunism and the manufacture of grievances must be set aside. Sniping from the side-lines was fine when the SNP was a small force in Westminster and had to fight to be heard, but now that they have 56 MPs it is time for a mature debate.

Is Harriet Harman’s support for George Osborne leadership?

As a card-carrying member of the Labour party I am rather disappointed that Harriet Harman has expressed support for George Osborne’s plans for welfare reform, in particular the proposal to restrict Child Tax Credits to the first two children. The sole reason she gave for this was public opinion.

This is not leadership. If Labour is to regain power in either Westminster or Holyrood, it cannot be achieved by following opinion polls and focus groups. Yes, Labour needs to win more support for its social justice agenda. However, this must be achieved by informing public opinion and winning arguments, not the short-term gains associated with slavishly following newspaper headlines.

It is in all our interests to close the attainment  gap and to end inherited inequality. This can’t be a battle of left versus right or working class versus middle class, but about convincing everyone in the UK that social justice is in their interest. Winning this argument is how Labour will return to power.

The good news is that Labour’s leadership candidates in Scotland and the UK have distanced themselves from Harriet Harman’s comments. Indeed, on Sunday Kezia Dugdale tweeted “I can’t and won’t support cuts to Child Tax Credits. I came into politics to tackle child poverty, not add to it.” This is leadership.

Opposing Mr Osborne and Ms Harman does not mean that the welfare system is perfect and could not be targeted more to meet the needs of the vulnerable. However, any changes must be focussed on supporting the vulnerable, getting people into work and ensuring those on low pay have access to training which enables them to reach their full potential.

It is time to look again at how policing is funded and organised in Scotland

There is something nightmarish about the story of the car that crashed off the M9 and lay in a field for 3 days with its occupants trapped inside. My thoughts are very much with the family of the driver who died and I am sure we all hope the passenger makes a full recovery.

What makes the story particularly worrying is the fact that the police were made aware of the incident and failed to act. Although the M9 incident is far more serious,  it is similar to the reports that police no longer investigate many break-ins as it is “not a good use of time”.

This comes within the context of year-on-year cuts to Police Scotland’s budget. The only way Sir Stephen House, Chief Constable, can deliver the cuts asked by the SNP Government is via what he terms “extreme measures”.

To maintain the police numbers and balance the budget he must cut administrative posts and have Police Officers take on more paperwork.  In Edinburgh, station closures and the abandonment of anti-burglary teams has coincided with a massive spike in house break-ins.

The Police Scotland budget cuts have been exacerbated by the way in which the force was reorganised.  Despite warnings from Unison and Scottish Labour, the SNP Government proceeded to implement an accounting structure which resulted in Police Scotland being billed for an additional £23m in VAT.

This reorganisation of policing has also resulted in many tried and tested local policing initiatives being replaced top-down by approaches used in Glasgow. The result has been controversy over armed policing, real concern about the abuse of stop and search powers and a collapse in police morale. Just last week, the SNP Government was referred to the UN by the Scottish Human Rights Commission over the use of stop and search powers.

No doubt the SNP Government will assert that these are “operational matters” which Police Scotland should address, but it is clearly time for them to look again at how policing is funded and organised in Scotland.

Tackling Pete Wishart’s EVEL hypocrisy head on.

One of the great things about the SNP’s Pete Wishart is that he is consistently inconsistent in his views. His remarks on “English Votes for English Laws” (EVEL) yesterday are  no exception.

Despite claiming eye watering expenses and a full salary, Mr Wishart has one of the worst voting records in Westminster (less than 50% in 2010-15) as he only votes on issues which were relevant to Scotland. Indeed, this reflects the principled position adopted by the SNP as a whole. For example, the SNP Government declined an opportunity to comment on a consultation relating to David Cameron’s creeping privatisation of the NHS in England.

Within this context, I find it hard to understand the concern Mr Wishart has regarding the move towards EVEL as it is entirely consistent with his own views – it would mean English MPs have the last say on English issues.

Indeed, just last week Mr Wishart complained vehemently about English MPs daring to vote against his party’s wishes on Full Fiscal Autonomy. Furthermore, in Wednesday’s debate he claimed the EVEL proposals were a “constitutional outrage” despite having said in 2014 that EVEL was an “inconsequential issue” that Scottish voters did not care about.

If the SNP is to be taken seriously as a political force in Westminster, and that is everyone’s interest, they must adopt principled positions on the issues of the day. The political opportunism and the manufacture of grievances must be set aside. Sniping from the side-lines was fine when the SNP was a small force in Westminster and had to fight to be heard, but now that they have 56 MPs it is time for a mature debate.

Osborne’s Budget – Blame No voters if you don’t like it.

George Osborne’s budget will leave many people in the UK better off. As someone who lives in a household with well over double the national average income, I am one of them. The problem is that the £250 gain my wife and I will receive has been taken from the very poorest people in our society. Whilst our gain will have a negligible impact on our household finances, every pound of its loss will be felt acutely by someone in the UK. Perhaps Less fruit on the table or no new shoes for school.

There has been commentary from nationalists about the impact of the budget on Scottish families specifically. Some have went as far to say “I told you so” and claim that this hurt could have been avoided if Scotland had voted Yes in 2014 to the SNP’s low tax and high public spending nirvana.

This position is rather disingenuous when one remembers that the SNP then and now go to great lengths to avoid saying  how they would deal with Scotland deficit – it is almost double that of the rest of the UK. Indeed, no independent analysis has shown that Scotland would be better off under either independence or Full Fiscal Autonomy.

The challenge for Scotland’s SNP government must be to explain how it will use Holyrood’s existing and new tax and welfare powers to mitigate the impact of Mr Osborne’s budget.  The challenge should not simply be to reverse welfare cuts, but to put in place a package of measures to help unemployed Scots back into work or education. Only by doing this can we tackle inequality and low productivity in Scotland.

Pete Wishart’s EVEL Perspective.

One of the great things about the SNP’s Pete Wishart is that he is consistently inconsistent in his views. His remarks on “English Votes for English Laws” (EVEL) are  no exception.

Despite claiming eye watering expenses, Mr Wishart has one of the worst voting records in Westminster. I once had an opportunity to quiz him on this and he explained that he only voted on issues which were relevant to Scotland. Indeed, this reflects the principled position adopted by the SNP as a whole. For example, the SNP Government declined an opportunity to comment on a consultation relating to David Cameron’s creeping privatisation of the NHS in England. The same principle means that the SNP’s MPs will not oppose the Tory plans to reintroduce fox hunting in England.

Within this context, I find it hard to understand the concern Mr Wishart has regarding the move towards EVEL as it is entirely consistent with his own views. Just this week Mr Wishart complained vehemently about English MPs daring to vote against his party’s wishes on Full Fiscal Autonomy. Admittedly, Edinburgh South’s Ian Murray MP was  also accused of “talking Scotland down” for questioning SNP rhetoric on the issue.

If the SNP is to be taken seriously as a political force in Westminster, and that is everyone’s interest, they must adopt principled positions on the issues of the day. The political opportunism and the manufacture of grievances must be set aside. Sniping from the side-lines was fine when the SNP was a small force in Westminster and had to fight to be heard, but now that they have 56 MPs it is time for a mature debate.

The SNP & the House of Lords – A missed opportunity?

One would be hard pressed to find anyone in the UK who seriously argues that the House of Lords is anything more than a constitutional anachronism which must be modernised. Progress has been slow in this regard, but the rhetoric is now largely about how and when.

Nonetheless, the House of Lords does represent an opportunity in its present form for those wishing to see the Scotland Bill amended beyond the minimum acceptable to David Cameron. This is because the Conservatives have no majority in the House of Lords. If Labour are to have their vision for devolved welfare delivered, the House of Lords may be key.

Given that the SNP fully backs Labours amendment, I was a little surprised to read that SNP’s Pete Wishart MP is unwilling to accept support from the “unelected, bloated, ermine-coated” House of Lords. A cynic would conclude that the SNP does not actually want more powers for Holyrood.

Mr Wishart’s further described the House of Lords as being “nothing other than the repository for the donors and cronies of the UK parties“. This overlooks the fact that smaller parties,  not least Plyd Cymru, are well represented. Furthermore, can the SNP not be accused of cronyism where Brian Souter’s knighthood is concerned?

So whilst I understand any reservations the SNP may have about working with the House of Lords to amend legislation, surely it must use all the opportunities it can to be a “Stronger Voice for Scotland”?