TIME TO STOP DODGING FUTURE OF COUNCIL FUNDING

Green MSPs have called for a fresh debate about replacing the Council Tax and funding local authorities.

Responding to the publication of the draft budget for 2015/16, the Greens said that it was no longer credible that the one major tax that has been under Scottish Government control since the start of devolution remains unreformed. There is broad agreement that the Council Tax is a regressive, unfair tax, but the challenge of reforming it has been avoided by a freeze on rates since 2007.

On other issues, the Greens have welcomed new spending commitments on affordable housing, new colleges and increased spending on the NHS.

Patrick Harvie MSP and finance spokesperson for the Scottish Greens said:

“There is talk today of a historic moment as new tax rates are set, and yet the one major tax we’ve had control of since 1999 is Council Tax, which remains unfair and unreformed. It is no longer credible for the Scottish Government to dodge the debate about how we empower local government and fairly fund its services. We have the power to change this now so, at this time of great debate in Scotland, I want to see all parties coming together to work on a solution within this session of Parliament.

“The Finance Secretary deserves praise for setting a progressive top rate of tax on housing transactions and increasing funding for affordable housing, in stark contrast to the Conservatives’ approach to wealth accumulation.

“However despite the availability of new borrowing powers, Mr Swinney is continuing to transfer money from revenue budgets and into capital. This could, and should, be used to give more public sector employees a pay rise that keeps pace with the cost of living.

“The harsh reality of this budget is that regardless of what further devolution we might see in the years to come, the Scottish Parliament must continue to mitigate Westminster’s relentless austerity agenda. To see mitigation funds of £81million for just this year is a damning indictment of the welfare cuts the three big UK parties are signed up to.”

Alison Johnstone MSP and health and education spokesperson for the Greens said:

“Protecting the NHS budget is vital but only a much greater shift towards preventative spending will begin to tackle Scotland’s health inequalities and the challenges of a population living longer and having more complex care needs. I’m pleased to see a new focus on the uptake of Healthy Start vouchers, an issue I raised with Ministers earlier this year.

“Our colleges have been treated as the poor relation of universities, so I very much welcome funds going towards new campuses in Fife and Forth Valley. We still need the Scottish Government to rethink its attitude towards college courses, as their withdrawal of funding for part-time places was the wrong choice.”

NUCLEAR CRACKS REVEAL MINISTERS’ WEAK POSITION: JOHNSTONE

Alison Johnstone, MSP for Lothian and a member of Holyrood’s economy and energy committee, is expressing disappointment at Scottish ministers for failing to take a tougher approach to nuclear power.

Torness

During Topical Questions in the parliament today (7 Oct) Ms Johnstone raised the issue of safety in light of the discovery of cracks within the reactors at EDF’s Hunterston plant.

Ms Johnstone asked Energy Minister Fergus Ewing if the Scottish Government would support the case for having full environmental impact assessments when licence extensions for plants such as Hunterston and Torness are considered.

Alison Johnstone MSP said:

“In light of the Hunterston cracks it is important we challenge the fact that the public has no say in the Periodic Safety Reviews and lifetime extensions granted to our nuclear plants.

“International law says extensions require public consultation and must compare the potential impact of extending an old reactor with supplying energy from alternative sources such as renewable energy. I am disappointed that the minister did not address this point.

“Meantime we should re-double our commitment to forge ahead with the different renewable technologies which will serve Scotland far better in the long-term.”

 

CLIMATE: JOHNSTONE SECURES ACTION ON PENSION FUNDS

Alison Johnstone, MSP for Lothian, today (1 Oct) welcomed comments by Climate Change minister Paul Wheelhouse that he would take up her suggestion of encouraging public sector pension funds to stop investing in fossil fuels.

AJ Climate March

The Swedish National Pension Fund is to divest $100 billion worth of assets, while the Global Divest-Invest coalition, including foundations like the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, has pledged to take $50 billion of investment out of fossil fuels.

Alison Johnstone MSP said:

“700,000 people around the world took part in climate marches ahead of last week’s UN Summit in New York. I took part in a rally of thousands in Edinburgh. People know that we are on the cusp of an opportunity.

“We want to see practical action from all nations, and we need the political will which Scotland has already shown with its carbon reduction targets.

“One such action would be on public sector pension funds. They have long term investment horizons and are keenly aware that tackling climate change means we need to move away from fossil fuels. It makes little sense to keep investing in companies at risk of having billions of pounds of ultimately unusable assets.

“I’m glad the minister has listened on this important point and plans to pursue the matter; it could be a significant part of Scotland’s commitment to climate justice.”

 

FRACKING: HARVIE URGES MINISTERS TO ADOPT TOUGHER LINE

Patrick Harvie, MSP for Glasgow, today (30 Sep) used Topical Questions at Holyrood to urge Scottish ministers to adopt a tougher line on fracking.

Shale map

A vast swathe of Scotland, from Argyll to Aberdeenshire and from Ayrshire to East Lothian, has been earmarked by the UK Government as ripe for the controversial gas drilling technique.

Last week the UK Government agreed to pass laws to let fracking companies drill below people’s homes without consent, despite a consultation showing that 99% of responses oppose such a move.

Patrick Harvie MSP said:

“Drilling for gas will add massively to the existing stocks of fossil fuels – stocks we can’t afford to burn. The recent climate summit in New York has reminded us of the profound threat we face if we keep pumping greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.

“Communities across Scotland are rightly alarmed at the determination of the Tory-LibDem coalition to allow fracking. Today I urged Scottish Ministers to take a tougher line, given their recent description of fracking as an opportunity and their failure to ban it with the planning powers they already have.

“I welcome John Swinney’s commitment not to replicate the UK Government’s approach to drilling without consent, if the power to take action is devolved to Holyrood. However he has still not ruled out allowing fracking itself to go ahead in Scotland, and if we’re going to protect communities and the environment we’ll need both the power to legislate, and the political will to do so.”

Fracking Concerns

Patrick and I have been contacted by many people about the potential for fracking in Scotland.

I share the widespread concern that the UK Government’s enthusiasm for onshore drilling will see many people forced to live with unconventional fossil fuel developments along with the associated risks to their communities, such as water pollution. Of particular concern is the Coalition Government’s plan to remove peoples’ rights to be notified about and object to fracking under their land.

My view, and the view of the Scottish Green Party, is that the opening up of new fossil fuel reserves through fracking is completely incompatible with our efforts to tackle climate change. We have consistently opposed all forms of unconventional gas. In 2012, I lodged a motion calling for a moratorium on all types of unconventional gas extraction until a full independent environmental assessment has been undertaken on their effect on both the local environment and Scotland’s climate change targets.

 

Unfortunately, the Scottish Greens get few opportunities to choose what topics are debated at The Scottish Parliament. However, when we got that chance in April of this year, one of the two topics we prioritised was fracking. The motion which I put forward for debate and vote called on the Scottish Government to implement a ban on unconventional fossil fuel extraction in Scotland in order to protect communities, safeguard local environments and focus investment on renewable energy. SNP Finance Secretary, John Swinney MSP submitted an amendment to this motion, which removed the calls for a ban. This was passed by the Scottish Parliament. You can read a transcript of the debate on The Scottish Parliament website.

 

Of course, the issue here isn’t just fracking itself; regardless of a person’s views on fracking, it is only fair and democratic that they be made aware of, and have the opportunity to influence, decisions impacting on their community.

 

I will continue to urge Scottish ministers to ban any such developments for the reasons above. Instead we should focus on Scotland’s undoubted potential for clean, renewable energy and more of the high quality, long-term opportunities for employment already being created in that area.

 

Patrick Harvie and I have written to John Swinney to repeat our calls for a moratorium on fracking and other forms of unconventional gas. We have asked what steps he is taking to ensure that communities are informed and empowered to prevent unwanted fracking in their area. Crucial to that will be the determination to challenge the UK Infrastructure Bill, and to ensure that it does not apply to Scotland.

Alison

 

DETAILED PLANS FOR FAN-OWNED FOOTBALL

The Green MSPs have confirmed long-standing plans to bring changes to land reform legislation to give football fans the right to buy their clubs.

football logo

The proposals were set out in a consultation response to Holyrood’s Local Government and Regeneration Committee, which is about to start consideration of the Scottish Government’s Community Empowerment Bill.

The submission also sets out plans by Green MSP Alison Johnstone, who is leading the Greens’ “Fans First” campaign, to broaden the 2003 Land Reform Act to include intangible community assets, not just land, in line with the general principles of the Scottish Government’s proposals. This would help communities to take on and run vital services like pubs, local cinemas, and even public transport.

Alison Johnstone said:

“The time has come for the Scottish Parliament to give fans the power to take on their clubs when they come on the market or when they go into administration, or possibly even at any time for a fair price.
We’ve always argued that fans will tend to be the best custodians of the clubs they love, and that the long-term security and strength of Scottish football requires a move towards the kind of community ownership common elsewhere.

“Scottish Ministers have set up a working group under Stephen Morrow to look at this issue, which we support. However, the group will report after this legislation has been considered, so it’s vital that this legislative opportunity shouldn’t be missed. The changes we’re proposing will still mean fans’ trusts will require Ministerial signoff, just as is already the case with land reform, so the only risk would be if Parliament rejects our proposals, leaving fans with no prospect of progress any time soon.

“So we’re today encouraging all the trusts in Scotland to make their views known. Do they want to cross their fingers and rely on the current slow move to fan ownership, or do they want Parliament’s support to put them in the driving seat?”

More on Alison Johnstone’s Fans First campaign 

View the consultation response 

 

LOTHIAN DELAYED DISCHARGES DOUBLE: MSP URGES ACTION

Alison Johnstone, MSP for Lothian, is renewing her call for the Scottish Government to step up its response to the problem of delayed discharges in the region’s hospitals.

first-aid-plaster-1-782775-m

New figures show the number of patients having to wait longer than four weeks to be discharged from hospitals in Lothian has more than doubled in a year. In July this year there were 83 such patients, compared to 39 in April and 37 in July last year.

Alison Johnstone raised the issue of delayed discharges with Health Secretary Alex Neil in parliament earlier this year.

Commenting on the latest figures Alison said:

“While I appreciate we won’t see a solution overnight it’s a real concern that these figures aren’t improving. I have raised the issue with the health secretary, and I’m aware of some distressing and frustrating situations in Lothian region affecting elderly people and their families.

“The Scottish Government and local authorities must step up their action to ensure patients who are ready to be looked after out of hospital aren’t left waiting. We must ensure adequate care home places and care-at-home packages so that people are treated with respect and that our health service resources are being used to best effect.”

 

Exchange between Alison Johnstone and Alex Neil in the chamber, 21 May

Delayed Discharges tables and charts

HARVIE CITES MARGO IN FINAL HOLYROOD INDYREF DEBATE

Patrick Harvie used today’s final Scottish Parliament debate ahead of the independence referendum to invoke the memory of Margo MacDonald, who urged rivals to recognise they have opponents not enemies.

Grindies

The independent MSP for Lothian, who died in April, urged mutual respect in the debate. Margo helped form a Green-Independent grouping at Holyrood with Patrick, his Green MSP colleague Alison Johnstone and former SNP MSPs John Finnie and Jean Urquhart.

Patrick Harvie MSP said:

“Margo was right. Scotland deserves a respectful debate, and both sides should strive to achieve this over the final weeks of this creative and engaging campaign.

“Whatever the result on the morning of 19 September we must not return to the kind of politics that left so many people unimpressed and disconnected; the kind of politics Westminster has shown no desire to change. This referendum has reignited public discussion and big ideas and beyond the result we must keep alive the deeper question of what kind of country we want to be.”

Mr Harvie also highlighted the Green position on North Sea oil:

“Greens will continue to oppose the obsession all other parties have shown with squeezing out every drop of North Sea oil. That goes for the SNP just as much as successive UK governments.

But it’s the No side which shows a lack of ambition either for Scotland’s economy or for our environmental responsibilities. They want to extract every last drop in the face of climate obligations, and at the same time fail to invest the revenue in new industries that can take oil’s place.

“By voting yes we’d have the opportunity to build an economy on resources that will last for all future generations.”

And he urged undecided voters to look beyond the White Paper:

“A Yes vote is not an endorsement of everything in the SNP’s White Paper. The most exciting element of this national debate is the creative and broad movement which has developed as the opportunities of independence have become clear.

“The campaign to win a Yes vote must connect voters with the wide range of ideas out there for an independent Scotland, and not just what the current government proposes.”

Rivals urged to behave ‘the Margo MacDonald way’ (Evening News)

 

LESS ASSESSMENT WOULD BENEFIT PUPILS AND TEACHERS

Alison Johnstone MSP says lower levels of assessment in schools would benefit pupils and reduce the massive workload of teachers.

A report published today looking at the first year of the Curriculum for Excellence qualifications says that the new qualifications have been a success overall, but highlights ‘significant and unsustainable level of over‑assessment in many parts of the system’ and a ‘higher level of assessment than was necessary or desirable’. (1).

Alison Johnstone, MSP for Lothian said:

“I congratulate every teacher who has worked hard to make a success of this last year with the new qualifications. We need to get the balance right between learning and assessment and this report reflects my concern that the system is still too heavily weighted towards exams, which doesn’t always lead to better educational outcomes.

“Workloads in the teaching profession remain far too high and the Scottish Education Secretary must address this as one of his top priorities. I believe the Curriculum for Excellence has set us on the right path in Scotland but there is more work to do to achieve a school system that is sustainable and rewarding for both pupils and teachers.”

FRACKING: HARVIE WELCOMES MINISTER’S VIEW ON PIPELINES PLAN

Patrick Harvie is welcoming comments by Energy Minister Fergus Ewing that the Scottish Government intends to resist a plan by the UK Government to allow fracking companies the right to run pipelines under private land.

Pipe

Scottish Greens called for the proposal to be blocked earlier this year.

The Infrastructure Bill put forward at Westminster by the Conservative-Liberal Democrat government, and supported by Labour, would overrule trespass laws, enabling drilling firms to install pipes to transport gas without landowners’ permission.

A huge swathe of Scotland, from Argyll to Aberdeenshire and from Ayrshire to East Lothian, has been earmarked as ripe for fracking by the UK Department for Energy and Climate Change.

Patrick Harvie MSP said:

“Greens have been calling for this proposal to be blocked in Scotland, so these comments from Fergus Ewing are a good step. Holyrood should reject the UK Infrastructure Bill when it gets the chance to do so by way of legislative consent motions.

“Meantime Scottish ministers should continue to consider the use of existing regulations to ban unconventional gas completely. We are risking our economy, not just our environment, if we encourage yet more fossil fuel extraction.

“Communities such as Airth near Falkirk and Canonbie in Dumfries and Galloway are already facing a battle against gas drilling. Given the Scottish Government’s failure to support a ban on fracking or clear buffer zones, and the First Minister’s description of shale gas as an opportunity, many other communities across Scotland will remain deeply concerned at these unwanted, unnecessary developments.”

Scottish Greens Challenge Fracking Plans

Labour to support Government on fracking trespass law change (Click Green)

Minister opposes change in fracking residential drilling rules (BBC)