Why the SNP must stop hoarding power in Edinburgh – The New Statesman

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As Glasgow prepares to host global leaders at COP26, the eyes of the world are turning towards the city for the first time since the 2014 Commonwealth Games.

The pressure is on, and Susan Aitken, the SNP council leader since 2017, is bearing the brunt of complaints about what critics say are dirty streets, the many gap sites and the authority’s troubled relationship with trade unions. In a recent, excruciating television interview, she was repeatedly challenged to admit the streets were “filthy”, finally admitting the place could do with a “spruce up”.

For the past year, as November’s COP26 summit has drawn nearer, Aitken has occupied an elevated status among her fellow regional and urban leaders. She has addressed the World Bank, formed close relationships with the mayors and administrations of many of the world’s great cities, and worked closely with England’s directly-elected mayors such as Andy Burnham and Sadiq Khan. She has also held discussions with private investors, and would like the UK government to stand behind the multi-billion-pound borrowing Glasgow and others need to renew their municipal fabric and create green infrastructure. She sees COP26 as an unmissable opportunity to accelerate the city’s economic resurgence and improve its global profile.

Aitken admits Glasgow isn’t what it could be. Covid, economic challenges, and strained relationships with the unions have all had an impact. And in important ways her hands are tied, not by international institutions or the UK government, but by Nicola Sturgeon. It’s generally accepted that Scottish local government is among the most circumscribed in Europe. Devolution to Holyrood has not been accompanied by devolution from Holyrood, where instead the SNP administration has overseen centralisation of power to Edinburgh.

A council’s ability to raise funds is greatly restricted. Scottish council taxes have been frozen then capped by successive SNP governments, while non-domestic rates are set centrally, collected locally, sent back to the centre then redistributed. Local authorities face criticisms from local people for challenges and cuts they have little power to address.

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Independent Scotland faces ‘difficult’ cuts, warns thinktank – The Herald

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A NEWLY independent Scotland would face years of deep public spending cuts as it was forced to drive down its deficit with only limited borrowing options, a leading thinktank has said.

In two new papers on currency and borrowing outside the UK, the Institute for Government (IfG) said Scotland was likely to have to run a “tighter fiscal policy than the position that it would be likely to inherit on day one”.

The IfG said an independent Scotland would “struggle” to borrow much more than 3 per cent of its GDP a year, requiring it find an extra £6.5bn to £8.5bn a year in higher tax or spending cuts.

As a country without a track record in the financial markets, its borrowing costs would be 0.4 to 0.9 points higher than UK rates, a premium equivalent to around 2p on every rate of income tax.

Scotland’s nominal deficit was around 8% of GDP before the pandemic and is now 22%.
The IfG said even an 8% deficit made Scotland “an outlier among international peers”, limiting its borrowing from wary markets.

To establish its credentials, it would therefore have to implement a “substantial fiscal consolidation – around 5 to 6% of GDP relative to its current position – over the first few years of independence”, depending on its share on inherited debt from the UK.

For economic news, click here: https://www.scotlandmatters.co.uk/economy-matters/

Sturgeon gives ‘wrong pre-scripted answer’ to SNP MSP’s question – The Herald

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NICOLA Sturgeon has been accused of giving the “wrong pre-scripted answer” to a question from one of her own backbenchers for the second time in a week.

Scottish Conservative MSP Stephen Kerr raised a point of order in Holyrood following the apparent mistake.

It came after Ms Sturgeon responded to a question from SNP MSP Stuart McMillan about a public inquiry into the coronavirus crisis.

Instead of addressing the issue, the First Minister referred to Covid measures in the education sector.

On Wednesday last week, Ms Sturgeon made a similar mistake after a question from SNP MSP Stephanie Callaghan about NHS Lanarkshire.

The First Minister read out the answer to the next question due in Holyrood, from the SNP’s Evelyn Tweed, and later said there had been “confusion on my part”.

Raising a point of order today, Mr Kerr said: “Presiding Officer, for the second time in two weeks, the First Minister has read the wrong pre-scripted answer to her backbencher’s pre-scripted question.

“Stuart McMillan asked about the inquiry into the Scottish Government’s handling of the pandemic.

“The First Minister’s answer was all about schools.

“Can you, Presiding Officer, please advise as to what options there are to ensure that we hear an answer to the question that was actually asked?”

For health news, please click here: https://www.scotlandmatters.co.uk/health-matters/

Warning as nurse and midwife vacancy rate breaks record in Scotland – Nursing Times

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Nursing and midwifery vacancies have been at a record high in Scotland since March, with over 4,800 posts unfilled, unions have warned in response to latest workforce figures.

Latest NHS Scotland workforce statistics, published this week, show that 4,845 whole-time equivalent (WTE) nursing and midwifery posts were vacant at the end of June, representing 7.1% of the total.

They also reveal that in the previous quarter, ending in March, 4,494, or 6.6%, of WTE nursing and midwifery posts were unfilled.

The latter figure has only just been published as not all health boards were able to submit data. The Royal College of Nursing highlighted that the previous record had been 4,013, or 6.3%, in June 2019.

The RCN noted that there were “particular challenges” in a number of health boards and in some nursing areas, such as community and mental health.

For more health news, please click here: https://www.scotlandmatters.co.uk/health-matters/

Pensioner dies waiting 40 hours for ambulance after collapsing in Glasgow flat – The Scotsman

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According to a report in the Herald Gerard Brown, 65, was found by family on the floor of his flat in Dumbreck, Glasgow last Monday with injuries to his back and arms from a fall.

Paramedics eventually arrived around 3am on Wednesday, after which time Mr Brown had passed away.

Mr Brown’s son Dylan, told the Herald: “They pronounced that he was only just dead because he still had warmth in his body.

“In this day and age, it should not be happening. I know with Covid people are busy and the NHS is struggling, but that’s unacceptable and we just don’t want it happening to another family.”

Dylan added that his father’s GP had told him “I can assure you that if they’d got to him your Dad would still be here”.

Mr Brown was reportedly a cancer survivor, weighing just six stone, who had a history of alcohol-related health problems.

The GP, Dr O’Neill, was reported as first being made aware of Mr Brown’s situation by his ex-wife on Monday morning, after she called let the practice know the family were waiting for an ambulance.

Dr O’Neill told the Herald: “At 9am on Tuesday we get a phonecall from his ex-wife to say ‘listen, he’s still in the house’. I was like ‘you are kidding me?’.

“I got on the phone to the ambulance service at 9.15am and I said ‘this man is going to be found dead’ – and I used that language, because I knew the situation he was in.

The GP was called by police on Wednesday to inform him of Mr Brown’s death. But he said that the long wait was not an isolated incident.

For more health news click here: https://www.scotlandmatters.co.uk/health-matters/

New CalMac Islay ferries will not be built in Scotland – STV news

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Two new ferries for Islay will not be made in Scotland after four shipyards from elsewhere were invited to tender for the contract.

More than 30 organisations expressed an interest in taking on the job and 11 entered submissions that Caledonian Maritime Assets Limited (CMAL) said were “rigorously” assessed.

But only four companies, one from Romania, another from Poland and two in Turkey, reached the final stage of the procurement process.

A decision on which shipyard will win the job will be made before the end of March 2022, CMAL said.

The Islay route is one of the busiest services for freight on the Clyde and Hebrides network, and it was decided to contract two new ferries after discussions with Transport Scotland, ferry operator CalMac and communities on the island.

This week CMAL announced that the new vessels will be built at either Damen Shipyard in Romania, Remontowa Shipbuilding in Poland, or one of the Turkish shipyards Sefine Denizcilik Tersanecilik Turizm or Cemre Marin Endustri.

The procurement process for new ferries has come under scrutiny recently because of issues with two vessels from the publicly-owned Ferguson Marine shipyard in Inverclyde.

Holyrood’s rural economy and connectivity committee described the process as a “catastrophic failure”.

For more transport news click here: https://www.scotlandmatters.co.uk/transport-matters/

The ‘unhackable’ phones given to prisoners by Scottish Government – which were hacked to buy drugs – ITV news

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So-called ‘unhackable’ mobile phones given to prisoners in Scotland during lockdown by the Scottish Government at a cost of £3 million are now being used for drug deals and other criminal activity, ITV News has learned.

During lockdown when prison visits were restricted, 7,600 inmates in Scotland were issued with their own mobile phone by the Scottish government.

But these supposedly tamper-proof phones were almost immediately hacked by inmates, and, according to the Scottish Prison Service, 728 have been found since August 2020 to operate with illegal SIM cards, used for drug deals and other criminal activity.

ITV News has been given exclusive access to Scotland’s largest prison, Barlinnie, where addiction is described as “worse than ever before.”

John McTavish, Prison Officer at HMP Barlinnie told ITV News: “You give a prisoner a phone, and they’re very, very ingenious. If they put their mind to something, they can do anything at all. Within hours, the tamper proof was gone.”

The prison officier estimates about a third of phones have been tampered with.

“I checked the phones in one of the halls here in March time, and of the 300 prisoners that were there, it was probably about 100 phones tampered with altogether.”The drugs bought with these phones are often simply thrown over the prison walls, but inmates are finding ever more complex and covert methods to smuggle in drugs, including legal letters soaked in drugs that the prisoner then dissolves in water and drinks.

Scottish Government warned about race row comic Janey Godley’s offensive tweets months before hiring her for Covid ads – The Sun

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THE Scottish Government hired race row comic Janey Godley for a TV health campaign despite being alerted to offensive tweets about Asian people in June, it has emerged.

Four Twitter posts were flagged up in a complaint three months ago, including two calling for people to “speak English”.

It came after Godley, 60, was booked for an anti-litter push between the Nats administration and the Zero Waste Scotland agency in May.

But the Scottish Government told a woman who complained that “due diligence” checks were carried out on the comedian and pro-indy activist — and that ministers could not “intervene” in her role.

An official added the complainer should contact cops if she had a hate crime to report.

Godley was later paid £12,000 of taxpayer cash to front the “Stop the Spike” Covid ads but was axed when posts about the disabled and black celebs came to light.

Tory MSP Russell Findlay called the latest revelation “staggering”.

He said: “The Scottish Government decided to hand an SNP- supporting comedian a large sum of public cash despite these vile posts being flagged directly with officials.

“This confirms the suspicion that there’s one rule for protected SNP cronies and another for the rest of us.

“Nicola Sturgeon must apologise immediately. Why were racist tweets ignored when awarding a lucrative contract for a crucial public health message in the fight against Covid?”

Labour MSP Foysol Choudhury said the tweets were “deeply troubling”.

But he added: “What raises more serious questions is the government’s response to this. The public deserve answers.”

Nicola Sturgeon branded ‘disgrace’ after heckling MSP over gender reforms – The Herald

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NICOLA Sturgeon has been accused of trying to shut down debate about controversial gender reforms after telling an MSP who raised them he should be ashamed of himself.

Speaking about her new Gender Recognition Reform Bill on Tuesday, Ms Sturgeon said she understood that “some have sincerely held concerns about” the proposed legislation.

However when Tory Murdo Fraser mentioned a protest by hundreds of women concerned about the “contentious” and “divisive” plan, Ms Sturgeon verbally attacked him for it.

The First Minister, who recently urged MSPs to “make an effort to disagree more civilly”, shouted “Shame on you!” across the Holyrood chamber.

Mr Fraser said the comment was “a disgrace” and accused Ms Sturgeon of dismissing the concerns of the women protesters involved.

It was sign of the increasing tensions at Holyrood over the legislation, which is intended to simplify the process of legally changing one’s gender through self-identification.

Obtaining a gender recognition certificate currently requires a medical diagnosis and takes at least two years.

The new law would remove the medical element and shorten the time to six months, relying on self-declaration in front of a notary public or a justice of the peace instead.

Opponents fear the move will see men who identify as women using single-sex spaces and services, such as refugees, some of whom may abuse the system to prey on women.

Last week around 400 people attended a Women’s Rights demo outside parliament at which the crowd booed mentions of Ms Sturgeon and the Greens, who also back the new law.

The SNP’s answer to global instability: more please – The Herald

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WE live in dangerous and unstable times. A far cry from the triumph of liberal democracy declared by Francis Fukuyama in his book The End of History and the Last Man following the collapse of the Soviet empire.

The Cold War was grim and its passing a cause for unqualified celebration. The period was however characterised by predictable bipolar stability. Today’s world is volatile and multi-polar. Liberal democratic values – including respect for human rights, free speech and the rule of law – are increasingly contested by competing models of aggressive and intolerant authoritarianism. Putin’s Russia. Radical Islam. China’s new global super-power flexing muscles – and brandishing a ‘Belt and Road’ chequebook – as it adopts a more assertive international posture.