The Scottish Liberal Democrat Leadership

I am saddened to learn that Tavish Scott has decided to step down as leader of the Scottish Liberal Democrats. Tavish has been an excellent leader of the party and the bad, very bad, result on Thursday is not of his making.   I’ve texted him this afternoon to pass on my personal thanks to him for his service as party leader – Tavish visited Dundee on numerous occasions and, as I said to him, the party owes him a great debt of gratitude.   

There’s one other person I have sent a text to this afternoon – Willie Rennie, new MSP for Mid Scotland and Fife.   I urged Willie to stand for the party leadership.   Willie is the obvious choice for the leadership of the Scottish Liberal Democrats – he’s able, articulate and committed.   I hope he will decide to stand;  if he does, he will certainly have my support.

Willie Rennie with myself at a party conference

From Tavish tonight …

Dear Fraser,

I wanted to email to thank you for the incredible efforts you’ve made over the campaign so far.  The thing that drives me forward every morning is the knowledge that thousands of Scottish Liberal Democrat members and supporters are working so hard to get our message across on doorsteps right across the country.

Everyone is already working very hard indeed.  But I am asking everyone to join me in doing a bit extra over the final few days to return as many Liberal Democrat MSPs to Holyrood as possible.  Think of what a Scottish Parliament would be like without a stronger team of MSPs motivated by our values, our ideals and priorities?

I know how tough this election has been for everyone.  But we have to use the last few days to enthuse our supporters and encourage voters to back their hard-working local Liberal Democrat candidates. I know we would all like to spend a bit of time getting away from it all.  We can, but not just yet!

We are the only party working to keep our public services local.  Only the Scottish Liberal Democrats are resisting dangerous plans that could see 3,000 police officers lose their jobs, and £300 million wasted on centralising control of social care. It is in challenging times like this that a strong liberal voice is needed more than ever in the Scottish Parliament. If we are not around to fight for what we believe in, for whatScotlandneeds at this difficult time, who will?

Your work, your efforts can really make a big difference. Thank you again so much for your support.

Yours sincerely

Tavish Scott

Leader

Scottish Liberal Democrats

WEB:   http://www.ScotLibDems.org.uk

TWITTER:   http://twitter.com/TavishScott

Tavish Scott : Liberal Democrats improving the Scottish Budget for students and colleges

Dear Fraser

 Today’s Scottish Budget is a major boost for students and colleges.

It has delighted the National Union of Students who have said: “The Scottish Liberal Democrats have worked very hard for students on this issue” and “This is great news”. 

It will help tackle a crisis faced in Scotland’s colleges from 1st April this year. They can’t afford to wait for a new government. They need action now. As news reports in the last few days have highlighted, there are potential course closures at Elmwood, James Watt, North Highland, Dumfries & Galloway and Carnegie College and many more.The changes we have negotiated from the Scottish Government will give thousands of students access to bursary support. That will mean they can take up their studies and find ways into work. 

We have also secured funding for more than a thousand new places directly at colleges. This will help colleges who are facing severe financial pressures. 

We have also secured funding for additional modern apprentices and training opportunities that rely indirectly on colleges. I raised the issue of apprenticeships in renewable energy at FMQs in the autumn. This is tackled in the Budget changes we have secured. 

We are also very pleased that we have secured funding for a second year for our idea of a Post Office Diversification Fund. This benefited fifty post offices in the last year and can now benefit more this year. The fund helps post offices introduce new types of business (such as hot food or drinks). It will help them stay open, serving their communities. 

Of course, this Budget and the changes we have secured will not solve all of the problems that Scotland faces. Colleges and communities still face enormous challenges. Much will have to wait until after May. Our plans for government envisage a spending review and budget revisions very quickly after the election. We have already spoken with the Permanent Secretary’s senior officials in order to brief them on our intentions to move rapidly in government.

But the steps we have secured today mean a better Budget for Scotland than would have been the case without the Scottish Liberal Democrats.

Yours sincerely,

Tavish Scott MSP

Leader, Scottish Liberal Democrats

A fair and ambitious Scotland

Dear Fraser,

I want so much better for Scotland in 2011 than we’ve had. And I don’t just mean the weather. People want a Scottish Government where we take the right, long-term decisions for the country, not for any political party. Take decisions that can build a stronger, better and more prosperous Scotland. So I want the New Year to start the process of building a better future for our country: to protect and create new jobs, to give real control to local people over the public services they depend on and to restore Scotland’s reputation for excellence in education.

As leader of the Scottish Liberal Democrats I want to achieve more for our country. A Scotland that creates the most innovative and entrepreneurial economy in the world; where our children are among the best achieving in the world with kids from the most deprived backgrounds reaching double the current levels of attainment; and where we move towards a low-carbon, no-carbon country with Scotland being in the top 5 countries for energy efficiency.

Politicians can’t do this. People across Scotland can. People working in the private sector, voluntary bodies and communities of Scotland. Teachers in schools. Nurses in hospitals. Bus drivers getting us to work.   It will be a Scotland where we co-operate, trust and respect each other’s contributions.

It will be a Scotland where hard work and innovation are rewarded, but one where Government will invest, educate and support to make sure it is fair.

That’s the Scotland I want to begin to build and 2011 is the year to begin.

Happy Hogmanay.

Tavish Scott

Snow, snow and more snow – a Christmas message from Tavish Scott

Dear Fraser,

What a run in to Christmas – snow, snow and more snow!

The kids have loved it and community spirit has returned to Scotland’s streets and pavements as we’ve dug out neighbours and their cars. But if you’ve been a traveller or commuter from Shetland to Edinburgh or Stirling to Glasgow it’s been ghastly. Trains, planes and automobiles have all struggled. And the number one complaint? Tell people what’s going on. Government at all levels, train operators and airport bosses had better learn that for the future. People need, want and expect accurate information about what’s going on, why and when it will get better. That’s the message for this year.

So as we celebrate Christmas, I want to recognise all those Scots who’ve worked so hard to help people in need through these wintery months. They are the unsung champions across Scotland and deserve our heartfelt thanks and support.

I also want to recognise Scottish servicemen in Afghanistan and in other countries. Our thoughts are with them and their families back home at Christmas time.

Merry Christmas to you and your family.

Tavish Scott MSP

Leader, Scottish Liberal Democrats

Towards a fair and prosperous Scotland

The Scottish Liberal Democrats have launched the party’s Pre-Manifesto in the run up to next May’s Scottish Parliamentary Elections. 

The Liberal Democrats will focus on creating jobs, reforming public services and restoring Scotland’s reputation for excellence in education.

Scottish LibDem Leader Tavish Scott said, “We are focusing on three big themes. They are connected and will all contribute to a future for Scotland that is fair and more prosperous than we have known before.

 “Our plans will rebuild employment, support the creation of new businesses and jobs and equip every person with the skills, the drive and power they need to reach their potential.”

Public expenditure, public waste

On Friday at lunchtime, Dundee City Council sneaked out a press release about budget cuts and its proposed way forward (“Estimated savings of 40 million needed over three years”), together with a report that will go before the Council’s Policy & Resources Committee a week tomorrow.

I say “sneaked out” because the timing of the release to the media was done in such a way that no opposition councillor could have possibly had the opportunity to read it before the inevitable calls from the media asking for a response. If the SNP administration is serious about working in a cross-party and consensual manner, it was hardly a flying start.

Furthermore, SNP councillor Willie Sawers, in that press release, says,  “The financial squeeze imposed on us by the Westminster Government is unprecedented and the overall financial picture has worsened as the implications of UK budget cuts have become clearer.”

And having had a swipe at the coalition government then goes on to say “In the best interest of the city, we would like to move forward from the old confrontational exchanges between parties.” Mmmm … perhaps not the best ever attempt at getting away from confrontational politics. Furthermore, someone should remind Cllr Sawers that the local government settlement is determined, not by the Westminster Government, but by his own SNP government in Edinburgh.

The lack of preparedness of the SNP government to properly manage a difficult financial situation is of concern. Today in the press, COSLA rightly hints that the SNP government’s less than even handed approach to cuts may make the local government position worse, and given the vital social care services provided to the elderly and vulnerable by local government, not subjecting NHS Boards to look at efficiency measures would be a big mistake.

Here’s a few potential NHS efficiencies for a start :

* Cut out the so-called “merit awards” paid to some of the highest paid NHS consultants on top of their large salaries. My LibDem colleague in Angus, Sanjay Samani, recently highlighted this issue with NHS Tayside.

* Cut down the NHS hospitality expenditure. Official figures obtained by the Labour Party earlier this month showed that NHS hospitality costs in Scotland increased by almost 25% in the last three years, from £1 076 044 in 2007-08 to £1 332 501 in 2009-10. Almost £4m spent in the past three years and, as the Courier pointed out, a staggering £804 148 by NHS Tayside alone.

* Investigate fully and ensure no repetition of the scandal of NHS Education for Scotland attending 21 conference in all parts of the world, including Durban, Instanbul and Sydney.

* Scrap the SNP policy of free prescriptions for rich people.

Of course, the NHS in Scotland, is not the only service where the SNP government has failed to properly control expenditure. In various newspapers today, including the Sunday Mail, Scottish Liberal Democrat leader, Tavish Scott MSP, highlights the disgrace of Scottish Enterprise’s ballooning spending on hospitality. Scottish Enterprise spent £499 078 on hospitality in 2009/10, up from £437 940 in 2008/09. Last month, they spent thousands on hospitality at the Open Golf Tournament at St Andrews.

As Tavish says, “SNP ministers need to get a grip of quango spending. Scottish Enterprise have their priorities badly wrong.”

Tavish in town …

Dundee LibDems are most grateful to Tavish Scott MSP, Leader of the Scottish Liberal Democrats, who today spent more time in the West End campaiging with John Barnett, Liberal Democrat Westminster candidate for Dundee West. John and Tavish are pictured above during an interview in Nethergate.I also attended tonight’s West End Community Council meeting. There were excellent presentations on Discovery Credit Union and the Hannah’s Highway project – it was a very constructive and participative meeting of the Community Council.

This evening, I met with the team leader of the Street Lighting Partnership and Blackness Road residents about changes to street lighting there (where the old SOX (Orange) lights have been changed to High Pressure Sodium SON lights) and although this should result in improved lighting, concerns from residents about the extent the lighting covers across the road to the opposite footpath. The Street Lighting Partnership will further investigate the matter and report back to me in due course.

The Scottish Budget vote – breaking news

Scottish Budget 2010 – from Tavish Scott MSP
At the end of the Scottish Budget process for 2010 it is worth remarking on some points.
Today the Scottish Liberal Democrats have achieved changes to Scottish Government programmes that reflect our priorities.
The changes are the ones that we started this whole process campaigning on. We stuck to the issues. We have developed thoroughly researched proposals that help to build a fairer society and a sustainable economy.
There have been substantial changes to the Scottish Budget as a result of the work of the Scottish Liberal Democrats.
Our research demonstrated that, in these tough times, far too big a share of the Scottish Budget is currently spent on the highest paid staff. The Scottish Government has now agreed to a new pay policy in March that brings a culture of restraint to the highest paid.
We produced research that demonstrated how record numbers of people are being turned away from Scotland’s colleges. With unemployment at record levels, we have shown that young people are being hit twice. They can’t get a job and now they can’t get a college place. The Scottish Government has agreed to fund more college places. Overall, more than 7,500 students will benefit. That will mean thousands of lives and careers transformed thanks to our work.

The Finance Secretary has also responded to our demand for debt-financing support for Scottish business. Too many businesses we have spoken to simply cannot get access to loans through their bank. A Federation of Small Business report this week shows that our priority on this is right. These soundly-based businesses need government support to get through the recession. This has now been agreed by the Scottish Government and further detailed plans – using European funding – will be announced shortly.

The Scottish Government has also agreed to our proposal for a post office diversification fund. This will offer grants to post offices in communities who cannot get the finance they need to expand and diversify their businesses. We hope that communities across Scotland will take up the potential of this lifeline and will see their local post office give more services and become a growing business.
Taken together, these four measures mean that Liberal Democrats do not have reason to block the Budget. We have demonstrated that we can win practical support for young people and for our economy when the Scottish Parliament backs us.
There are still substantial concerns. There is still more work to take place on cutting the pay bill of those at the top in the public sector, movement on bonuses, reducing the quangos that have been created by the SNP and supporting the economy. We will continue to campaign on these but will do so from a much stronger position given our budget achievements.

Latest updates …

A few Thursday updates :

* This morning, along with councillor colleagues, I had a very useful meeting with the Waste Management Department and the Environmental Health & Trading Standards Department about the problems of refuse presentation at various locations. This gave the opportunity to raise issues in specific streets in the West End where residents have complained about poor refuse presentation or wheelie bins being left out on the street permanently. The officers present gave very useful updates on their various initiatives to help tackle this problem, that is a source of many complaints from constituents.

* Further to Tavish Scott’s visit to Dundee yesterday, you can read the article about this in today’s Press and Journal by going to http://tinyurl.com/tavishpandj.

* I recently asked for additional grit bins for the north end of Thomson Street and the top end of Tait’s Lane. I am pleased to advise that the City Engineer updated me this morning as follows :

“The update to the grit bin issue in Tait’s Lane is that Tayside Contracts have been asked to set out a grit bin on the grassed area in the car park at 38 Tait’s Lane.
In Thomson Street, an order has been raised for the placing of a small grit bin on the east side at the top.”

Tavish Scott in Dundee

Leader of the Scottish Liberal Democrats, Tavish Scott MSP, was in Dundee today to give his support for the city’s campaign to see improvements made to Dundee Rail Station. You can hear his news interview on Wave 102 below and read the article in today’s Evening Telegraph by going to http://tinyurl.com/tavishdundee.

A former Minister of Transport for Scotland, Mr Scott believes that the city’s rail station is badly in need of modernisation – it is in poor aesthetic condition and has poor facilities. Given the key improvements to Dundee Waterfront, with funding started by the LibDem/Labour Executive prior to 2007, it is vital that the city has a rail station in the waterfront area that does not sit out like an embarrassing sore thumb next to the proposed V&A and other major improvements along the waterfront of the city.

Tavish made clear that it requires the working together of all stakeholders – primarily Scottish Government/Transport Scotland, Network Rail, First ScotRail, the local authority, the regional transport partnership TACTRAN and Scottish Enterprise if the council’s vision of an improved rail station is to become reality. The failure to give the station priority in the Scottish Government’s Strategic Transport Projects Review in December 2008 was a missed opportunity.

Tavish was also in Dundee to support the adoption of Dr Clive Sneddon as Scottish Liberal Democrat Westminster candidate for Dundee East and also visited the University of Abertay to see the university’s expertise in computer games education.

Above : From left – Raymond Lawrie (Dundee LibDem Convener), yours truly, Clive Sneddon (LibDem candidate Dundee East), Tavish, John Barnett (LibDem candidate Dundee West)
Above : Tavish (centre) with Dundee’s Liberal Democrat Westminster Parliamentary Candidates – John Barnett (Dundee West) left and Clive Sneddon (Dundee East) right

Tavish Scott: Wanted: a fair and practical budget

An excellent article by Tavish Scott in the latest edition of Scotland on Sunday :

“As we move through the festive period, thoughts in Holyrood turn to the Scottish Government’s Budget. This is their third budget and a chance for ministers to make their choices clear.

People are still losing their jobs – just before Christmas, Flyglobespan went bust with the loss of 550 jobs. We need a change of direction in Scottish public life from the Scottish Government. Their budget needs to respond to the challenges facing Scotland’s economy.

The choices I want to make for the Scottish Budget should tell you that the Scottish Liberal Democrats want a fairer society and a sustainable economy.

For example, as money gets tight, we really need the Scottish Government to get a grip on the salaries and bonuses of the highest people in the public sector.

Research published by the Scottish Liberal Democrats shows that the total salary bill for those earning more than £100,000 is £413 million and is £651m for those earning more than £80,000. And that covers just 5,300 people out of about 500,000 working in the public sector.

People have been astonished to learn that the highest earners in the NHS are able to nominate themselves for bonuses worth up to £75,000 a year.

And further Liberal Democrat research has shown that many of these very highly paid medics also work in Scotland’s private hospitals. So, despite six-figure salaries, the NHS still doesn’t get them full time.

When we hear of health boards, such as Greater Glasgow and Clyde, drawing up plans to delete nursing posts because of cash pressures we know that change needs to happen.

It is not just in the health service. The Liberal Democrats are calling on the Scottish Government to save millions next year on these big salary budgets across the whole of its responsibilities.

We need restraint at the top to give a fair deal to the people at the bottom of the income scale. Not least of these will be young people without a job.

Statistics last month from the UK government show that the level of unemployment among young people has officially never been higher. The numbers claiming Jobseekers’ Allowance have gone up by 45 per cent in the last year. The Scottish Budget needs to respond to the very real prospect of a generation of young people being economically unproductive, just like many of us saw in the 1980s under Margaret Thatcher.

We also know that there are record levels of people being turned away from Scotland’s colleges – research by the Liberal Democrats has shown that many colleges are turning away six times as many applicants as two years ago. If the Scottish Government expanded the number of college places available, then they would provide a direct way of boosting skills in sectors of the economy where we know we are short, be it engineering or social care.

A fair society is one where the very well-off shoulder more of the burden in the tough times. When so many young people don’t have a job and many other people on low pay are worried about losing theirs, we think this approach will mark a change that works.

This all mirrors the Liberal Democrat plans for the Treasury. Vince Cable has published our plans to limit public sector pay rises to £400. This gives an increase well above inflation for people on low pay. The alternative idea – currently the policy of the Scottish Government – is for a percentage limit. That isn’t as fair: a limit of 1.5 per cent still gives an increase of thousands of pounds to people at the top and just a couple of pounds a week to the lowest paid.

And we will go further with our radical tax plans. By closing the loopholes exploited by the very wealthy, we can take the income tax threshold up to £10,000 for everyone. That will save middle- and low-earners £700 a year, save pensioners £100 and take 530,000 Scots out of income tax altogether.

I don’t think that people who want a progressive, fairer society will forgive us if we don’t take up these plans.
We can also do more to give Scottish businesses a fighting chance of getting through the recession. Reports from the British Chambers of Commerce, Fraser of Allander Institute and the Federation of Small Businesses show the scale of the problems faced by Scottish business. Small and medium-sized Scottish companies still can’t get access to the lending they need.

And Scottish manufacturing – including textiles – isn’t getting the support to help those companies at risk of closure, redundancy or short-time working. The Scottish Budget needs to bring forward proposals that develop staff skills and strengthens these businesses, putting them in a good place to reap the rewards of economic recovery.

There are practical steps that should be taken to build industries that can have a real long-term future for Scotland. Liberal Democrats remain concerned at the lack of research and development support for the marine renewables industry. Report after report confirms Scotland’s potential for green energy and the thousands of jobs that it could bring. The Saltire Prize has, of course, been announced. But the SNP has delayed the payout from that until 2015. This is no use to Scottish companies now. The previous government gave research support. The benefits are clear: the companies that received support under the previous scheme now have prototypes generating electricity in Scotland. The 2010-11 Budget needs to make sure other companies can follow in their footsteps.

We need practical steps that can help Scotland through the recession. The SNP government needs to embrace them.

It can find the money. It should use the money it has earmarked for its constitutional referendum. It should look hard at the Scottish quangos – and not just at their pay bill. For example, the Scottish Futures Trust continues to consume millions of tax pounds but builds absolutely nothing.

So these are the choices our government must make to build a better Scotland. We will be urging them to make these changes.

• Tavish Scott is leader of the Scottish Liberal Democrats”

A New Year message from Tavish Scott MSP

Dear Fraser

The Scottish Liberal Democrats have ended 2009 very strongly and can look forward with confidence to 2010, which will be one of the most momentous in politics for generations.

In the last month of the year our candidate Ashay Ghai gained the Bearsden South council seat from the Conservatives. It added to the gain of the Conservatives’ fourth safest seat in Scotland earlier in the year by Rosemary Bruce in a fantastic win in Aboyne and Deeside.

Hundreds of people have joined the Scottish Liberal Democrats this year. Our recruitment at universities has been record-breaking. We lead the debate on the campuses of Scotland. And the growing numbers of Liberal Youth members in Scotland are playing an ever larger – and very welcome – part in our work.

We know there must be a General Election in 2010. But nobody knows how that will end or when, exactly, it will be. The polls are all over the place. But they all show the Liberal Democrats in a stronger position in the run up to an election than we have been for generations.

We are the challengers to Labour across Scotland. We have well-resourced target seats that are campaigning harder than ever. We have inspiring candidates who deserve to be part of the new House of Commons. And the choice facing the country at the time of economic recession and the failure of old politics means it has never been more important to break the red-blue-blue-red pendulum of British politics.

Our plans for a fairer society and a sustainable economy have never been clearer. We will take the low paid out of income tax, cut tax bills for middle earners and stop the very richest in the land using loopholes to avoid their fair share. We will reform politics, not least to end an electoral system that has created a culture of a “seat for life” and “winner takes all” that has led so many MPs to exploit the system for their own gain.

We will build a sustainable economy, creating jobs and opportunity for the record number of young unemployed. We will avoid creating a lost generation of young people, as Mrs Thatcher did in the 1980s. Her mistakes squandered the chances of thousands of people. The legacy remains. Poll after poll shows that most Scots still think that the Conservatives are the party for the well off not ordinary people.

In Scotland we have set the political pace on our campaign for a fairer society. We are winning the argument that there needs to be restraint on the pay and bonuses on those at the very top of the public sector in order to keep jobs and services going for those at the bottom of the income scale.

I know that our council by-election gains from all parties in 2009 will be followed by Westminster gains in 2010.

I look forward to working with you to make it happen.

A very Happy New Year.

Tavish Scott

Hyslop no more …

The Scottish Liberal Democrats on Saturday informed all four parties in the Scottish Parliament that we intended to propose a motion of no confidence in Fiona Hyslop as Education Secretary.

The First Minister has now bowed to pressure and sacked the Education Secretary.

Commenting, Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Tavish Scott MSP, said, “Since the weekend we have been in discussions with all the other parties.

“There is a growing crisis in Scottish education that can only be addressed with a fresh Education Secretary.

“There are 54,000 children in P7 who face a new Curriculum For Excellence next August. Yet teachers say that they still have not had the details of the assessments and the exams that they need. Without a fresh approach, the new curriculum will be under-planned and under-resourced.

“There is a crisis in teacher numbers. The latest figures show there are 1,300 fewer teachers than this time last year. Class sizes are rising. We need a fresh approach to restore teacher numbers and give new teachers the career opportunities they deserve.

“Over the weekend, Fiona Hyslop fundamentally broke the relationship between central and local government. She threatened to nationalise every school in Scotland. Nobody believes that the Minister in Edinburgh can possibly run every single school.

“We need a fresh Education Secretary to rebuild that bond of trust and create a working relationship with councils and schools that will help children and teachers.”

The ‘fat cat’ pay bill in Scotland

Good for Tavish Scott in highlighting at last week’s First Minister’s questions the burgeoning cost of Scotland’s public bodies to the taxpayer, with the disclosure that at least 1 798 employees in the sector earn more than £100 000 a year.

Six public sector executive board members are paid more than Gordon Brown, the Prime Minister (£197 000) or Alex Salmond, First Minister (£145 000). A further 1 596 are paid between £80 000 and £100 000 — more than a Scottish government minister. The total salary bill for the highest-paid is at least £400 million a year.

If you go to http://tinyurl.com/fatcatpay, you can read the Courier’s news report about this – and I publish below the Scottish Liberal Democrats’ news release about the matter. What is clear is that the SNP government is taking no action to tackle the issue – disgraceful given the financial and economic challenges facing Scotland.

Scott challenges Salmond to cut the fat cat pay bill

Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Tavish Scott MSP challenged the First Minister to cut the fat cat pay bill by 2010.

At First Minister’s Questions, Mr Scott revealed that nearly 3,400 people in the public sector get paid more than a Scottish Government Minister does. They receive a total of almost £401 million in pay each year.

Commenting, Mr Scott said:

“At least 3,400 people in the public sector in Scotland get paid more than a Scottish Government Minister. Some even get paid more than Alex Salmond’s three salaries as MP, MSP and First Minister added together.

“They receive a total of £401 million in pay every year.

“All across vital public services people at the bottom of the income scale are being threatened with losing their jobs. Statistics last week show that the number of young people unemployed has never been higher.

“People will not understand why the Government lets this pay chasm between richest and poorest continue.

“The First Minister and his Government are in charge of public sector pay. It was John Swinney who awarded the new Chief Executive of Scottish Enterprise her bumper £203,000 salary and handed the Chief Executive of the Scottish Futures Trust a fat £180,000 paycheque.

“I want a fair society where the very well paid are expected to share the burden of tight government spending, not just the poorest and unemployed.

“The First Minister needs to set a target as part of his Budget to reduce that pay bill and spend the money on creating skills and jobs for young people instead. It’s right that the people who get such a vast share of public money should shoulder a fair share of the burden in these tough times.”

Tavish’s letter to Scottish LibDem members today …

Dear member,

You will probably have been as surprised as I was this week to see Labour and Conservative politicians queuing up to say they are worried that the giant mega-banks – supported by taxpayers’ money – are bad for the economy.

You will remember that Liberal Democrats have been arguing that point since the banking crisis first hit. As liberals, we are instinctively fearful when a private corporation starts to look like a monopoly. My priority has been to stand on the side of small businesses and customers against the constriction of competition.

I still remember almost exactly a year ago when Labour and Conservatives combined in the House of Commons to overturn the specific concerns of the Office of Fair Trading and allow the take-over of HBOS by Lloyds. They won the vote 424 to 64. Alex Salmond called it the “deal of the century”.

I met the EU Commissioner Neelie Kroes in the summer. She made it plain to me, as a fellow Liberal, that she thinks that giant banks are bad for business for everybody else – especially when they are being financed by the taxpayer. That’s why I propose to move Bank of Scotland out of the giant Lloyds Group and have it back home in Scotland, lending to soundly-based Scottish businesses. That is the demand I hear from the companies I have been speaking to in high streets and business parks across Scotland.

Still on the economy, our next task in the Scottish Parliament is the Scottish Government’s Budget. My priority is to make sure it tackles the economic reality facing so many individuals and families in Scotland. Unemployment has gone up by 70,000 in the last year. The number of young people leaving school and college this year is the highest for a generation. A fair society would not allow them to become a lost generation simply because they try to enter the world of work at the depths of a recession. Our amendments to the Scottish Budget will be focused on putting Government resources into supporting these people, equipping them with the skills and experiences that will help them get the most from economic recovery when it comes. And, if we have to, we will take money away from the SNP’s vanity projects and quangos to pay for it.

I will be able to touch on these very important proposals for people in Scotland at our conference in Dunfermline on Saturday.

Best wishes,

Tavish Scott
Leader of the Scottish Liberal Democrats

From Tavish Scott MSP …

Yesterday I was in Springburn, Glasgow to launch our campaign for the Glasgow North East by-election.

Polling day is on 12th November and our candidate Eileen Baxendale has already been working hard for many weeks.

Eileen has made a commitment to make personal face-to-face contact with as many voters as possible. The constituency will benefit from her years of experience as a councillor and community campaigner.

We have good messages for people in Glasgow North East. Our campaign for a fairer society, for example. Our proposal is for a tax cut of £700 for people on low and middle incomes paid for by closing the loopholes used by the rich to avoid paying their fair share.

That will mean a lot to people in the North East of Glasgow. After all, many people there will remember that Labour betrayed them through the 10p tax band fiasco. And, as our recently published research shows, the SNP Government has used £950million to cut the taxes of the super-wealthy by more than £800 a year whilst leaving those at the bottom end of the income scale better off by just six pounds.

Yesterday’s unemployment figures show how urgent action on jobs has become. Scotland’s unemployment is rising faster than the rest of Britain.

Our party has significant plans to use the money spent by Labour on the temporary VAT cut to create thousands of new jobs in green industries, provide insulation to schools, hospitals and homes and to give young people the opportunity for paid internships and work experience when they leave school or college.

We must avoid sending a ‘lost generation’ to the economic scrapheap simply because they graduated from education in the depths of a recession. Mrs Thatcher was guilty of that in the 1980s and people expect the lesson to have been learned.

Update from Tavish tonight …

This week I have been at the UK Liberal Democrat conference in Bournemouth. Our UK leader Nick Clegg is in very good form. He has his main leader’s speech tomorrow. But every day at conference he has been at meetings and rallies where he has shown real and persuasive strength.

Our message from Liberal Democrats at this conference to the country is that “if you want things to be different – really different – choose the party that is different, the Liberal Democrats”.

Labour’s time is up. They have let people down. Yet the Conservatives simply believe that it’s their turn. They just say what they think people want to hear. You don’t know where they really stand. They offer phoney change, not real change.

The Liberal Democrats have been straight about the difficult choices we face, even when speaking out hasn’t been popular: on Iraq, on climate change, on Northern Rock, on Trident, on political reform. On all these issues, Liberal Democrats were the first to speak out when others have remained silent. Our plans will build a fairer society, a sustainable economy and clean up politics.

In my speech to the conference on Sunday I highlighted our plans to take all those who earn less that £10,000 out of income tax completely. That will benefit about 500,000 people in Scotland. The lowest paid will gain £700 from this measure. It will be paid for by closing the loopholes used by the very rich to avoid tax. It is a measure that Scottish party members, in particular, have strongly supported as the most effective way of cutting taxes for the low paid.
On Sunday I published Liberal Democrat research which shows that the SNP will have spent £950m in four years on their tax cuts and freezes. We have shown that money has not been used to build a fairer society. A family earning £100,000 will have gained £800; a family on £15,000 will have gained just £6.07. The SNP have had their chance with £950m yet they have given more to the rich than the poor.

Another theme, which I intend to take forward in the future, is to campaign against centralisation. The current Scottish Government is intent on centralising more power in Edinburgh. They think the Minister always knows best. That is not the liberal way. I want people to have more say and control over their own communities.

On Wednesday afternoon, Nick Clegg will be addressing our conference. I know it will be an uplifting speech. At this major point before the General Election, he will set out very clearly how we will make a fresh start for Britain. It will be change for real, change for good.

Tavish Scott MSP
Leader of the Scottish Liberal Democrats

Brandon Muir – today’s reports

This morning, along with a number of other city councillors, I attended a briefing meeting shortly after receiving copies of the reports by former Fife Chief Constable Peter Wilson and independent social work consultant Jimmy Hawthorn into the circumstances surrounding the tragedy of Brandon Muir’s death.
It is absolutely vital that the recommendations from today’s reports are acted upon swiftly and in full. At this morning’s briefing meeting, I sought assurances that there is adequate risk assessment to prevent harm to children. What happened to Brandon Muir was a tragedy and it is vital that all agencies promptly address the issues highlighted by Jimmy Hawthorn and Professor Wilson in their reports.
Child protection concerns are a Scotland wide issue. The Scottish Government must look again at all existing child protection cases across the country in light of this report.
Scottish Liberal Democrat Leader Tavish Scott said, after receiving the reports today :
” … this case isn’t just about Dundee. The Scottish Government needs to improve the way it looks after vulnerable children right across the country.
“Thousands of children live with drug addicted parents and could be at risk. Back in March I asked the First Minister if he would review this.
“Alex Salmond refused to say if any of these cases were under review. But we need to know that the Government has identified all these vulnerable youngsters. We now need a categorical assurance from the First Minister that his Government is looking again at existing child protection cases in light of this report.”

SNP failure on schools building programme

Tonight’s “Evening Telegraph” covered my concerns about the Scottish Government’s delays over the school building programme.   I reproduce below two news releases this week from the Scottish Liberal Democrats on this subject:
 
Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Tavish Scott attacked Alex Salmond over massive delays to the school building programme at this week’s FMQs. After two years of delay, the First Minister was still unable to say which schools are in line to receive funding for vital upgrades.
 “The Government has wasted two years failing to get the Scottish Futures Trust to work – two years of blind alleys, garden paths and dead ends.
 “The announcement yesterday could have been made two years ago. Instead we had paralysis from the SNP.
 “After two years of delay the First Minister should have been able to answer the basic questions about which schools are in the programme.
 “In eight weeks time, 180 children will start their first day at secondary school at Inverurie Academy .  But the First Minister, their MSP, was unable to say whether any of those children will have a new school built for them in Inverurie before they sit their Highers.”
 LIB DEMS EXPOSE MIND-BOGGLING DELAYS TO SCHOOL BUILDING PROGRAMME
 
Commenting after the Education Secretary was forced to admit following questioning by Liberal Democrat MSPs that the SNP will delay the school buildings programme for almost a decade, Liberal Democrat Education spokesperson Margaret Smith MSP said:
 “We have dragged the Education Secretary’s cat out of the bag.  The SNP is forcing most councils to delay building new schools for up to a decade.
 “The money starts to dribble down to councils next year and the final payments won’t arrive until 2018.
 “The SNP is rushing to get some token bricks built by polling day.  There would have been less of a rush if there had not been the two year Hyslop-gap and paralysis in planning.
“Most of the pupils studying in crumbling buildings will have left school and could have children of their own before these new schools are built.  Thanks to the SNP’s mind-boggling delay, an entire generation of schoolchildren have been let down.”

Tavish Scott on the Calman Commission

Yesterday, the Calman Commission on Scottish Devolution published its final report. It runs to some 300 pages and makes substantive recommendations on the powers of the Scottish Parliament, including financial powers and accountability, strengthened relationships between Westminster and Holyrood, and radical changes to the working procedures and rules of both Westminster and Holyrood.
The report is unanimous. It is a remarkable achievement.
When it was established many commentators said that nothing would come of it – that no agreement was possible with such a broad range of participants. They have been proved wrong.
Liberal Democrats were right to press for the formation of the Calman Commission and to provide the radical impetus to its work. Without Liberal Democrats, the work of the Steel Commission and the personal drive of Calman Commission members Jim Wallace and Audrey Findlay, Scotland would not have been presented with such a radical vision of change.
When the Calman Commission was founded the SNP and the Scottish Government said that it would not get anywhere and would not propose radical change. But it has.
The opportunity and the appetite for stronger devolution, with more powers for the Scottish Parliament, is with us.
The challenge now for Labour and the Conservatives is to embrace the proposals for radical change contained within Calman. We need to see a commitment from them to create legislative time at Westminster to make the changes to the Scotland Act.
The changes require legislation and rule changes at Westminster and Holyrood. The Scottish Government should give its political support and release the practical expertise of their civil servants to help. They have the opportunity to help make change happen. Now is the moment for those in the Scottish Government who want to see more powers for the Scottish Parliament to be part of these plans that give more powers.
The proposals from Calman can be reached at http://tinyurl.com/CalmanCommission
You will see that Income Tax affecting 2.5 million people and a new borrowing ability for the Scottish Parliament are big issues along with more powers over matters such as air guns and road traffic offences.
Calman makes clear that this is not the end of the journey. The report makes it plain that it is a direction of travel and, once the initial changes have been achieved, there will be scope to go further.
 
This is good news for the Liberal Democrats. We have advocated the strongest possible Scottish Parliament – a true Home Rule settlement. We have everything to gain from making a success of the radical changes proposed by Calman and using them as a base for further powers in the future.
The other parties have accepted my proposals for a steering group to deliver the changes. I will keep up the pressure on them – and the SNP – to work together to deliver more powers. The challenge now is to make this blueprint a reality.

Best wishes,

Tavish Scott MSP
Leader of the Scottish Liberal Democrats