Monday, 2 May 2016

Five Questions: Broughton Spurtle

1. Edinburgh, in my opinion, has some of the worst new building in Europe. Why is planning law is so slanted towards the developer when decisions arising may put the UNESCO World Heritage status at risk? (My specific concern as local resident is the RBS proposal to develop the site bordering Eyre Place, Dundas Street, Royal Crescent, Fettes Row, Dundonald Street and overwhelming King George V Park. The RBS proposals suggest overdevelopment of the site that will place unrealistic pressure on local services and the environment.)

One of the biggest challenges facing communities in Edinburgh is fostering any sense of social awareness among developers.  I was speaking to the Cala during their public consultations over the 450 proposed dwelling places opposite the Ocean Terminal site.  I asked them about extra medical facilities required by the increase of population.  The answer was that this is very much a matter for Edinburgh Council.  They were however more willing to take on board my comments about any lack of play facilities for young children and keen to focus on minimising the traffic impact.

This last point shows that developers address the issues that planners address.  They know that under the current system, public views rarely matter: it is the council planning committee that they have to satisfy and that is everything.  Another example would be the redevelopment of the Edinburgh Academicals stadium in Stockbridge.  The local residents are overwhelmingly against the scheme as it stands but it is being pushed through by the council nonetheless.  It seems that the threat of losing the next election is not enough of a threat to hold over politicians.

This is something that perhaps can be addressed by the Scottish Parliament.  When it comes to housing, the first thing I would look at is housing density.  There are minimum standards for room size here in Scotland but I am not aware of any minimum standards of dwelling density.  It is in a developer's interest to maximise the return.  It is in the power of Holyrood to set maximum numbers of dwellings in a given area for a given city zone if the council is not providing suitable local standards.

The right of counter-appeal can also be looked at, although there are dangers if this becomes too powerful, resulting in neighbourhoods refusing any form of development.  Some may say that the Edinburgh trams should not have gone ahead at all but imagine if each neighbour the line goes through had to grant the scheme access.

The main point though would be to make any appeals scheme affordable.  At the moment, the residents of Stockbridge have only the option of spending tens of thousands of pounds if they want to launch a judicial review.  That probably is not going to happen.

As for the point over UNESCO World Heritage status, I have mixed feelings on this.  True, it does identify areas of outstanding character across the world (thus bringing in tourism and revenue) but some cites complain that it also halts necessary development.  Now I am not saying that Edinburgh is getting it's planning right; just highlighting the potential conflict between UNESCO standards and city needs.

In the end, cities are for people to live in.  Not just for the people already there but also for those who need to come and live here.  It is the politician's job to find the best way through the possible areas of conflict.

2. What concrete measures will you put in place to alleviate poverty and inequality in Scotland?

As a Scottish Liberal Democrat, I believe that not only should every person have equality of opportunity but we as a society should be there for whenever a person seeks to do better for themselves and their family.

The key to this on an individual level is education. Scottish Liberal Democrats believe that education is the first and arguably most essential investment when it comes to tackling any form of  poverty. That is why we have proposed a Penny for Education - a penny on income tax to enable investment in a transformation in Scottish education that will make it the best in the world again and enable people to get well paid jobs. This is fair because the rising personal allowance will mean that anyone earning under £21,500 will actually pay less tax next year. Those at the top will pay 30 times more than someone on an average income.

For those already in work, we have sought to ensure work pays and that the system is fairer to those on low and middle incomes. In government we raised the income tax personal allowance, cutting the bills of 2 million Scots by £800 and lifting 2.7 million across the UK out of paying income tax altogether.

We will pay the Living Wage for all public services and stop giving government grants to companies that don't pay the Living Wage. The Scottish Government has given £5 million to Amazon, even though it pays its workers more than £1 less an hour than the living wage and there have been real concerns over working conditions at their base in Dunfermline.

Scottish Liberal Democrats have committed to working with the other parties and stakeholders to ensure that the new Scottish welfare system is fair to those in and out of work and has the full confidence of users.

I believe that fuel poverty in a major issue in our city and across Scotland.  Liberal Democrats will work with other parties to see the energy efficiency of our nation's entire housing stock, not just new builds, but all our nation's homes improved.  This will be a major, long term project but a necessary one.  If we leave this to the free markets, it will never happen for all.  The nature of Scotland's housing, especially for the older buildings, means that there are people living in older property will can never really afford the major improvements required for their homes to truly become energy efficient.  As we undergo the transition towards a low carbon, more energy efficient future, it is important that our homes and, indeed, our businesses too, are fit for purpose.  Frankly, we are a northern nation but previous generations of regulators and builders did not seem to appreciate this, especially when it came to mass-market housing.

3. Tonight, women and girls in Edinburgh are afraid to go out in the dark alone. At this moment, women here are afraid to stay in their own homes, through fear of violence and abuse. What specific measures will your party bring forward, in the next parliament, to ensure that women and girls in Scotland are safe in their own homes, and are able to go out freely and confidently into the world? What will you do to stop women in Scotland living in fear?

At this election, Scottish Liberal Democrats are proposing among other things to:

Introduce a new offence of domestic abuse

Support early intervention with those at high risk of first-time offending

Take major action to improve conviction rates for sexual offences, including consideration of legislation to allow research to be undertaken with jury members; the right of juries to be able to ask questions of expert witnesses or the provision of an expert adviser to assist juries with expert evidence, together with suggestions made in the Bonomy review.

Legislate to prohibit physical punishment of children. The evidence from dozens of studies is now indisputable on what our law describes, in Victorian fashion, as the "justifiable assault" of children.  It damages their wellbeing, increases aggression and antisocial behaviour which can continue into their adult lives, and risks escalating into physical abuse.

My colleague Alison McInnes, the Scottish Liberal Democrat justice spokesperson, did a great deal in the last Scottish Parliament to help protect women and girls from violence and abuse. You can read a recent speech she gave on preventing violence against women at

My personal view is that some of it comes down to early education, both in schools and in the examples from parents and carers.  Some people, usually but not exclusively women, are simply more vulnerable to abuse.  Recently schools have done a great deal to tackle bullying in our schools but until we live in a society where signs of weakness does not trigger an oppressive response in some others, the challenge will still be ongoing.  Peer pressure has a lot to do with this.  When it is not done for a group member to cat-call or abuse a passing stranger in the street and the peers turn upon others for doing so, progress will have been made.  We do not yet live in such a society.

4. In the light of the current PPP scandal, how do the candidates see future funding for large infrastructure projects?

Following the schools crisis here in Edinburgh, Scottish Liberal Democrats have been calling for a full inquiry into how we got to this point. We would also make the companies that build and maintain our schools and hospitals subject to freedom of information laws so that the public can check they are being run properly.

Our fully costed manifesto sets out the infrastructure projects we plan on taking forward and how we will pay for them. For example:

We will establish a Fit For The Future Investment Fund, drawing on the earmarked resources from half of the Scotland Act borrowing powers (more than £200 million a year).

Action to reduce the persistent underspending of the Scottish Government's budget to ensure underspends are redeployed into other projects that are waiting for the green light.

The Scottish Government's capital budget is increasing.
Our Help to Renovate loans will come from the special financial transaction consequentials in the Scottish budget.

We will expand the Housing Fund for Scotland model that has seen investment in rented homes pioneered by a local government pension fund.

In view of Liberal Democrat commitment to local democracy and councils being responsible for raising and spending funds locally and transparently, I would be open to ideas on other alternatives, such as funding of city projects through the issue of bonds.

5. Although the independence referendum was the occasion for great political involvement, it has also led to a very polarised political environment in Scotland. (As anyone who follows social media will be aware!) How do the candidates intend to heal the political divisions of post-referendum Scotland if they are elected?

As far as I am concerned, these elections are about the best delivery of services and improving the standards of living for everybody living in Scotland.  It most certainly is not about a second referendum, which is what the SNP want to make it about.  Nor is it about cries of defending the Union, which is what the Conservative party would have us believe they are about.  Both of these parties are cynically exploiting and deepening the polarisation which the question, correctly, refers to.

We are living in exciting times here in Scotland and we have an opportunity to use the new powers coming to us to make a real difference to all our lives.  We can show the rest of UK that there is a different way to do things than the old Labour - Conservative Punch and Judy show but, to my mind, nationalism is not helping in this.  It is, in fact, a distraction from us as a society making use of the the powers we already have.

I say that instead of blaming others or calling upon any form of jingoism, let us focus on the task at hand, right now.  Goodness knows they are big enough.  Education, housing, the NHS and a myriad of others, just as vital.  How does either cries for either a second independence referendum or claims to be the protector of the Union help?  They simply don't.

If on Thursday I were to become your MSP, my pledge would be to focus on the issues, encourage others to do so, take responsibility for our own actions here in Scotland and work, constructively and transparently, with others in finding and delivering fair, democratic and liberal solutions for the people of Scotland.

Friday, 29 April 2016

Seven Questions. Greener Leith.

1. In your opinion, what is the most pressing environmental issue facing the Edinburgh Northern and Leith constituency?

The two most pressing environmental issues facing the constituency is cleaner transport and warmer homes.

Of these, the transport one is the easier to tackle.  We can encourage cycle use by upgrading cycle lanes on streets, like Leith Walk and Lower Granton Road, wide enough to handle them.  26,000 people live with 800m of Leith Walk and in storage right now, there is enough materials to have the trams run to the Foot of the Walk.  Let's get on with it.

2. If elected, how will you use your role as MSP to encourage the Scottish Government and Edinburgh Council to improve how they work together on environmental issues facing this constituency?

Edinburgh Council is currently undergoing severe levels of cuts and while the Scottish Government  always demand more services, it's no good if there is no funding for the changes.  Liberal Democrats would free councils to raise and keep more money to spend in their local communities instead of having to be dictated to by central government.
If elected as your MSP, I will ensure that I keep good lines of communication open with Edinburgh Council. It is important that each level of government understand each other and, despite any party differences, common ground is found to work together for the good of all.

The main environmental issue affecting the city (and nation as a whole) will be to bring up the energy efficiency of our existing homes.  We will need transparent communications between central government and local authorities to achieve this.

3. How will you use your role to inspire and encourage greater pride and civic engagement in our public spaces?

It would be great if we have more of them!  We really need more green spaces and play spaces  incorporated in the new residential plans for the Port of Leith.

What parks that we have are well used and I would be sympathetic to turning over more space to allotments.  This is already been done in Victoria Park for instance.  For public health and fitness, I would also like to see more outdoor gyms, as already exist in Musselburgh and Silverknowles.  These can be put into quite small spaces that would otherwise be neglected.
I want to see Stedfastgate brought back up to some form of good use.  The fountain monument there has been vandalised, brick paving ripped up and seating damaged.  If areas like these had some form of dual usage then they are more likely to be appreciated.

4. When local issues are so important for many constituents, how will you ensure that the global issue of climate change, and our impact, is always kept front of mind?

I spent twenty years travelling the world in energy so know the reality of global energy generation first hand.  We live in exciting times however because even the industry itself realise that the time of oil is drawing to the end.  Our energy is moving over to electricity and that means more local generation.  It does not mean however that Scotland is isolated from the rest of the world.  We will be still importing gas for the next twenty or thirty years while our renewable industry grows.  Scotland will still be a part of the UK and European-wide power network and will, at different times, be an energy importer and exporter.
It is for these reasons that Scotland cannot be isolationist in outlook.  How the UK and Europe generates energy will continue to affect us and greenhouse gas emissions, regardless of what we do here.  We have to continue to take an interest in the global energy picture.

5. Which environmental policy do you think the current Scottish Government has been successful at implementing over the last 5 years, and which policy could do with some improvement?

Liberal Democrats do welcome the start made by the Scottish Government on land registration, with private land being registered by 2025 and public land by 2020.

I wish I could be more generous but I can't think of another damn thing that has been successful.  Great and ambitious environmental targets are set but are never reached.  The Scottish Government has a statutory duty to eradicate fuel poverty by November 2016. It refuses to accept this is going to be missed despite the fact a third of households (845,000) are in fuel poverty. In some rural and remote areas (Orkney for instance) it is almost two-thirds.
I have been at hustings where the SNP claim that the nation is on target to meet our renewable heating targets by 2020.  The target for that year is 11% and currently we are at 3% renewable heating production.  How is that even near being "on target"?  If we are going to be anywhere near the 40% target set for 2030, we have to move on this immediately.

If the SNP are serious about reducing Scotland's greenhouse gas emissions, why is it that at a Spectator event here in Edinburgh on the 28th of April, George Kerevan MP, SNP representative on the Treasury Select Committee, appeared on stage with Gordon Dewar, chief executive of Edinburgh Airport, and agreed to half tax on Air Passenger Duty by 2018?  Anybody with environmental awareness knows that that air travel is the worst method in terms of greenhouse gas emissions and that aviation fuel is otherwise untaxed at any level.

6. Where do you stand on amending the current law on ownership of Scottish land or property by overseas companies to say that the land must be owned through a UK registered company or other organisation? (E.g. Much of the ownership of brownfields land in the constituency is by offshore companies who are hard to trace.)

The law needs changing.  Where I live in Newhaven Harbour, I look over the brownfield site whose exact ownership is only known to the lawyers involved.

Liberal Democrats will work with other parties to ensure:

An effective and transparent land register for Scotland

We will work with other parties to establish fair taxation based upon land value in order to replace the council tax.

Liberal Democrats would like to see the right for local communities to purchase land extended to urban communities, and especially applied to neglected or abandoned plots.

7. What is your stance on equal rights of appeal under the planning system? Currently only planning applicants can submit appeals, not councils or other community organisations.

I see the need for reform, especially when councils fail to represent the views the local community.  The redevelopment of the Accies site in Stockmarket was railroaded through by the council in the teeth determined local opposition.  In these circumstances the local community should indeed have the right to appeal and that any process should be affordable.

Local communities cannot have the right to veto in all circumstances however.  Now it is debatable whether the trams were a good idea or not but imagine if each neighbour had the right to appeal the route.
A balance is required between local effects and greater needs.  Thus the effects of a retail development (such as Accies) is local and should be able to be appealed.  I would want to look at the effects upon developments that have wider applications and am open to ideas on the issue.

Saturday, 23 April 2016

Protecting the NHS in Edinburgh

Thank you for your email on protecting the NHS and the specifically-targeted question of what I would prioritise if I were to become our community's MSP.

In order to answer your question, I will have to refer to both Edinburgh-wide and larger national issues but I will do my best to stick to the brief!

My main concern with health delivery in Edinburgh is the ongoing rollout of combined health and social care services.   I, along with the Scottish Liberal Democrats, understand the need for this process.  In general, the population is getting older and this means more long-term, chronic illness.  The practice of relying upon long hospital stays has become increasingly difficult.  In response to this challenge, there has been various pilot schemes set up across Scotland.  Known as Hospital-at-Home, the purpose is to keep the patient in their own home for as long as possible while under the same level of medical care they would receive while in hospital.  This means that the GPs, hospital doctors, nurses and pharmacists would come to them.

Hospital-at-Home has several advantages.  First of all, the patient is able to maintain a higher life quality and level of independence than if they were staying in hospital.  It amazed me when I learned how quickly people forget even basic things like washing up and making a cup of tea when they have been in hospital after a long stay.  While in the person's home, changes in social care needs can also be quickly identified by the visiting health professional and packages tailored appropriately.  What is most important is when the person does need to go into hospital, the visit can be planned and a bed made ready.   The most costly manner of hospital admission is through the A&E system, which are unplanned, meaning that there can be long and costly delays while a bed and staffing is found.

From reports that I have received, the integration of health and social care in Edinburgh is not going well.  There was supposed to be extra budget set up for Hospital-at-Home but the money was not provided.  Instead staff was transferred from ward duties and based in Liberton Hospital, resulting in the closure of a physiotherapy gym.  The hospital staff were not replaced.

Unlike other Hospital-at-Home schemes in Scotland (i.e. Fife), there is no provision for pharmaceutical services to be part of the home visit scheme here in Edinburgh.  Fife found that it is far more efficient to include pharmacists as patients' drug needs can be monitored and, if necessary, changed thus avoiding unnecessary crisis situations.  In Edinburgh it seems that frequently a patient has to return to hospital before an effective review can take place.  This can result in the postponement of planned surgery, delays in admission and bed-blocking down the line.

It seems that the care side of the package is not being effectively handled either.  Agency staff are not being used (deemed too expensive) and there are problems in both recruitment of new staff and retaining existing personnel.  Neither staff nor patients like the 15 minute visit but these still happen, resulting in poor service and sometimes leaving patients flustered and upset.  People can pay the difference to ensure better care but only if they can afford it, leaving the poorest with a take-it-or-leave-it service.

Add to all this the planned closure of Liberton Hospital, due for early 2017, resulting in the loss of vital rehabilitation services.   Astley Ainsley hospital had its orthopaedic recover services moved to Liberton in 2015, so with the closure of Liberton it looks like that Edinburgh would lose this as well.  Astley Ainsley itself is due to be remodelled as a care village but there is no clear timetable as to when this will take place.  In the meantime Gylemuir to the west of the city is being used as an interim rehabilitation venue but people have to pay the current national care home rate to use it.  The 60 beds announced by health minister as being new were in fact already in use.

One has to remember that this situation is taking place against the background of long-term and continued cuts made by the SNP Scottish government.  Once inflation and capital spending has been accounted for, Audit Scotland found that in real terms health spending in Scotland since 2008/09 has decreased by 0.7%.  While the SNP claim they are spending record amounts on the NHS, they are not matching the ring-fenced amounts made for NHS England by the Westminster government, although the budget we receive reflects this protected spending.

If Scottish Liberal Democrats are part of the next Scottish government, we will seek to address three areas of Scotland's NHS:

  • Increase spending on mental health services, especially for young and adolescence age group.  We will also see that there are 24/7 mental health facilities in all 30 of the nation's A&E units and in every one of Scotland's police divisions

  • Address the increasing need for GPs across Scotland.  From 2009 to 2013, the SNP government only managed to create 35 new GP positions across Scotland.  By 2020, the Royal College of GPs predict a shortfall of 740 positions.  Although the Scottish government announced the creation of 400 new training places, of the 315 of these that have been advertised, only 237 positions have actually been filled.

  • The integration of health and social care involves the creation of 31 new care boards overseeing £8 billion of NHS and social care resources. In March 2015, Audit Scotland’s report on progress towards the integration of health and social care found: “a lack of national leadership and clear planning is preventing the wider change urgently needed if Scotland’s health and social care services are to adapt to increasing pressures”.

It is to this latter point that the problems with Edinburgh's integration of health and social care lies.

So to answer your question:

The first thing I would certainly do as an MSP is to postpone the closure of Liberton Hospital, at least until the problems of Edinburgh's Hospital-at-Home and social care deliver have been suitably addressed. Following the Fife example, I want to see pharmacy services included as part of Hospital-at-Home.  Only after those services are running properly can we review the hospital bed situation across the city.

I would also seek to get the Astley Ainsley remodelling into a care village underway.  It cannot be allowed to continue in it's current state of limbo and, with our aging population, it will certainly be needed.

Later this week I am meeting with a local GP who is also a representative of the British Medical Association.  I will listen very carefully to what is said and how we can improve GP services across the city and what can be done to improve frontline mental health services city-wide.

In order to see an improvement in the state of our local health and care services, I hope I have convinced you that both the Scottish Liberal Democrats are aware of the challenges that we face and have the resolution to tackle them.  If so, please support us in the upcoming election by casting both votes for Scottish Liberal Democrats.

Friday, 22 April 2016

TTIP 2016

Thank you for getting in touch with your concerns about TTIP and CETA - the trade deals currently being negotiated by the European Union with the USA and Canada.

Personally, I first blogged about TTIP in 2014 ( and identified the potential difficultly of the negotiations, that is how to overcome ISDS - Investor State Dispute Settlement mechanism.  It is this mechanism that has led to concerns, as voiced by organisations such as 38 Degrees and the potential future of public organisations such as the NHS.  The ISDS mechanism struck me then as a particular threat to national and EU sovereignty and I came out strongly against it.

I returned to the topic for Westminster elections in 2015 where I outlined the then Liberal Democrat position (rather uncritical of TTIP and ISDS) and where it differed from my own position.   In this blog I restated my opposition to ISDS while stating the benefits of TTIP, especially for our small and medium-sized businesses across the UK and EU.  It is recognised that TTIP would be worth the many billions to all trading nations: the equivalent of an extra €500 for every adult and child in the EU on this side of the Atlantic alone; the equivalent an extra £1billion each year for Scotland.   This is not something to be dismissed lightly.

Since last year, I am very pleased to say that the Liberal Democrats position has changed and has come more into line with my own.  As I predicted, this debate has been led by Europe.

Last September France and Germany suggested an alternative to ISDS in the form of a semi-public investment court system (ICS).   Liberal Democrat MEP Catherine Bearder, with other Liberal  members of the European Parliament, has voted strongly in favour making sure there are no special courts for corporations and in ensuring any dispute mechanism is accountable.  Like you, liberals want to see a system of dispute resolution that is accountable to the public, transparent and ensures the State's 'right to regulate' takes priority over an investor's 'right to invest'.

The European Union has recently issued a clear guarantee that Member States' rights to provide the public services they see fit will be enshrined in TTIP and CETA – this is to prevent any challenge by corporate interests.  This is a welcome clarification and will provide the safeguards that we are all looking for.

I have to say that since then there has been further developments of great interest.  On the 19th of April, the UN Human Rights Council's independent expert, Alfred de Zayas, questioned the whole necessity of having either an ISDS or ICS system, claiming that neither system was compatible with national sovereignty or human rights.

Speaking in front of the Council of Europe's legal affairs and human rights committee, de Zayas said  “Existing investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) mechanisms should be phased out and no new investment treaty should contain any provision for privatised or semi-privatised dispute settlement.”

The reason de Zayas gives is that while ISDS mechanisms are necessary in bi-lateral trade agreements in order to ensure that trading partners with less-than-adequate national legal systems do not arbitrarily change laws to target individual companies, both the US and the EU are governed by the rule of law.  It is therefore unnecessary for any form of ISDS system to be part of TTIP.

I have reflected upon de Zayas' position and found that it is consistent with my own view that any form of ISDS or ICS is unnecessary to make TTIP work as a trading agreement.

It is too early to gauge the effect of de Zayas' intervention into the ongoing process.  Recent rounds of the TTIP trade negotiations are stumbling over European companies ability to win US procurement contracts.  In terms of public tendering and procurement from the private sector, America has a "buy US" policy for federal contracts, while demanding equality for US companies operating in the EU.

It is important to recognise that both TTIP and CETA could bring significant benefits to businesses and families across Scotland by allowing a greater trade of goods and services within a wider marketplace with reduced barriers.  Indeed, these deals are estimated to be worth tens of billions of pounds to our economy and could support hundreds of thousands of new jobs across the country.  That’s potentially great news for the many people in our community who are looking for work and for our local businesses that want to grow and expand and is a prize that is worth fighting for, but only if we can also protect our public services and ensure accountability.

At the moment we should be clear that these are just negotiations and a final agreement has not yet been reached let alone published.  If an agreement is reached it will still have to be approved by the United States Government, the European Commission, the European Parliament and each of the twenty eight European Union Member States’ Parliaments.

I am clear that, when we get the chance to look at and consider the final agreement, the Scottish Liberal Democrats will not support anything that threatens our public services, gives power away to corporations or would jeopardise the free and public nature of the NHS and other public services we all rely on.  As one in the party that has been more critical than most, if elected I will ensure that this remains the case.

Having outlined my position, please would you support me with your vote in the upcoming election?   In doing so you can be sure that you would be electing a person who has an informed, strong and independently-minded view on the entire TTIP process.

Tuesday, 19 April 2016

Amnesty Pledge #SP2016

Last year I wrote a letter affirming my support for the global work that Amnesty performs and I am happy to have the opportunity to reaffirm my position and support today.

I actively campaigned against the United Kingdom's intervention in Syria and had I been an MP would have spoke and voted against David Cameron's token campaign which, in my view, has more to do with arms sales than any constructive move to bring peace.

Since I have spent now twenty years travelling the world's continents, I know what a nation without human rights looks like.  In Kazakhstan one could not discuss the president unless to praise him.  The same in Baku.  In Equatorial Guinea, I was in the capital Malabo when the entire population were summoned to the football stadium to hear the president's speech.  One had to be in the hospital in order to be exempted.  In Russia a few years back, I was there when the Duma passed the law that made it a criminal offence to accuse state officials of corruption, owing to the distress it brought upon individuals so accused and their families.  In Israel, I was waiting for a technician to to flown to the rig in order to fix the air conditioning.  He was refused permission to travel by the young security staff at Haifa airport, owing to him being an Israeli Arab.  In Qatar, I attended a health and safety seminar: only to hear that on the construction sites for the 2020 World Cup, an average of ten workers a week are dying owing to the lax standards there.

I really could go on at length: believe me.  It is one thing to voice support, quite another to know why it is so vitally important to do so.

So when I hold up this sign, I know exactly what it means and why I am doing it.

I hope you will through your voting support both me and the Scottish Liberal Democrats in the upcoming elections.

Kind regards,

Martin Veart
Edinburgh Northern and Leith
Scottish Liberal Democrats

Saturday, 16 April 2016

Five Questions. My Replies

What ideas do you think are necessary to improve the care of the elderly in Scotland? How do you think home care can be improved?

As you know, Scotland, in common with the rest of the UK and many northern countries, is facing the task of looking after an increasingly ageing population.   It is widely recognised that the former system of keeping people in hospital for long periods are simply unsustainable.   That is why there are ongoing movement of community care for the elderly, so minimalising time in hospital.  This is not all about cost-cutting.  It is widely recognised that the longer a person, especially the very old, stay in hospital, the less independent they become.  It came to a surprise to me that people can forget the simplest things like how to make a cup of tea.  People have to be retrained and while not actually ill, would have to be kept in hospital until social care was able to provide care.

In principle, the move to integrate health and social care is a necessary one.  There has been several trials of Hospital at Home across Scotland (recently in Fife for example), which looked at how to deliver medical services to people at home.  The task is a complicated one, involving consultants, GPs, nursing and pharmacy services, as well as social care.  With careful planning and support, it shows that it can be done.  One of the top aims is to avoid unplanned hospital admission via the A&E service.  This is the most expensive way for any person to be admitted to hospital.

I am very concerned however how the Hospital at Home scheme and the integration of health and social care is being handled in Edinburgh.  Beds that would normally been available in the winter were not opened this year.  GP services are not seeing the necessary support and ward staff are being transferred to the Hospital at Home without being replaced during the transition period.  Staff who question managers are asked if they are unable to cope (with the implication that jobs are to be cut) and there is no consultation between top managers and people working on the frontline.  In short, the whole operation looks more to me like cuts rather than a sincere effort to improve services.  If current practice leads to more A&E admissions to the Royal Infirmary, then instead of achieving best practice, we will have the worst of both worlds.

As the issue is being devolved to Scotland  - Are you in favour of retaining ,  or restricting further, or liberalising the abortion laws?
This answer will be shorter!  I fully support a woman's right to have full control over her own fertility and also support the education necessary for any woman to make her own informed choice on the matter.  I am content with the current laws but if I am told that they need to be made more liberal, I will be sympathetic.  I will certainly not back any move to restrict a woman's right to choose.

Are you in favour of assisted suicide?
Personally no but I can be persuaded if the necessary legal safeguards are in place.  Scottish Liberal Democrats considered this question at our party conference last year where the majority of the party voted in favour to allow assisted suicide. 

What I would wish to avoid was what occurred in the Netherlands in the 1990s where the law on assisted suicide were sometimes abused without any legal consequences.  

As a liberal, I understand that my own ethic and religious choices should not dictate the choice of others.  My concern is not with the individual cases where there is absolute clarity on part of the patient who is terminally ill what their choice is.  I would seek to protect other from abuses of any system.

What priority would you place on funding hospices and other palliative care?
According to news reports, palliative care is one thing that the UK is doing well.  
While I would want to uphold our position on the global tables and, seriously, would want to address areas where we can improve services and would be concerned to hear about falling standards; as I outlined above there are more pressing areas of the NHS that need greater attention.  

What are your views on helping immigration to Scotland from countries such as Syria etc. ?
First of all, I would seek to halt the UK's military involvement in Syria.  Not that I could do that as an MSP but had I been in the Westminster Parliament last Autumn, I would have voted against UK involvement.

As for refugees coming here, yes, I would be welcoming.  I have worked in the Levant and it is a beautiful part of the world.  No person would seek to leave it if they could choose to stay.

I would also seek resources so not only could they establish a decent live in their new homeland, but also understand the new culture in which they find themselves.  When I lived in Norway in the late 1990s, the Norwegian government funded language and cultural education classes for all new immigrants into the nation.  While it may be the Rolls Royce of systems, why should we not aspire to be the best?

For further policies from the Scottish Liberal Democrats, you can read our manifesto here: 

Cancer Research UK: Scotland vs. Cancer.

Thank you for your email, requesting that I join the fight against cancer in Scotland.

Naturally I am only too pleased to have this opportunity to show my support publicly in the fight against cancer and will happily sign the pledge.

I note that you express pleasure at recent Scottish Government's comments on the topic.  May I council caution on this, for often the SNP's actions do not follow their warm words.  Our GPs are at the forefront of the fight against cancer but spending on the services they provide has been cut to 7.4% of the health budget - compared to 11% in England.  This has led to increased stress on GP services and in some parts of the country (Grampian a recent example), there is difficulty in recruiting general practitioners to fill existing vacancies.

This situation is compounded by the fact ministers have chosen not to pass on the spending boosts they have received from the UK Government’s additional spending on health. The independent Audit Scotland recently confirmed that health spending in Scotland has decreased in real terms since 2008/09, meaning the Scottish Government has diverted money that should have been invested in the NHS in Scotland. 
Scottish Liberal Democrats have regularly highlighted that GPs aren’t getting the support that they need from the Scottish Government.  This is making it harder for GPs to play their vital role in identifying the early signs of cancer. 

I am pleased to say that Liberal Democrats have also had success in blocking direct cuts to cancer treatment here in Edinburgh.  Several years ago, there was a plan to merge the pharmacy services at the Western General.  The actual number of pharmacists would have remained the same but the  preparations of most drugs are performed by pharmacy technicians; it was here that cuts would have been made.  Preparing cancer drugs for an individual patient is an extremely skilled exercise, for even the slightest error in the dosage can end up killing the patient faster than the cancer itself.  Merger of the services would have led to increased risks to patients.  I alerted party leader Willie Rennie to this and he wrote to the health minister on the topic, resulting in the Western General's cancer pharmacy remaining open.

In my reply to you, I have outlined how Liberal Democrats are genuinely working hard to support Scotland's NHS and the fight against cancer.    If you want us to keep on doing so, we will need your support.  Please give both your votes to the Scottish Liberal Democrats in this election.