Monday, 21 November 2011

SNP confirm £1m donation

For immediate use: Monday 21st November 2011




Alex Salmond today welcomed a donation of one million pounds from Chris and Colin Weir.

The donation from the Euromillions winning couple will support the party as it works towards a referendum on Scotland’s future.

The couple have already set out their financial support for the Waverley Paddle Steamer, a local elderly care home and their intention to set up a charitable trust.

In a statement confirming their donation, the largest single donation to the SNP in the party’s 77 year history, Chris Weir said:

“We have been supporters of the SNP for a long time but this is about more than party politics.

“Every society, every country should have the right and the opportunity to determine its own path.  That’s something I’ve believed in strongly for a long time.

“We want to give the people of Scotland a fair chance in the referendum campaign that’s why we are supporting the SNP now and into the independence referendum.

“The only people with the right to decide Scotland’s future are the people of Scotland themselves and we want to support the SNP and the referendum campaign in helping Scotland make that decision fairly. “

Colin Weir added

“It’s no secret I support the SNP and stood for the party.  I backed the party in the 1978 referendum and the behaviour of the UK parties convinced me that we should support this referendum properly. 

“The party has done a good job in government and is doing a good job for Scotland.  You can already see a difference and an increase in confidence around the country.

“We have things in Scotland like a council tax freeze, free prescriptions and help for ordinary households because we’ve elected an SNP Government.  With independence we can build on what we already do so well. 

“But what matters to us first is that the SNP and the people of Scotland have a fair opportunity to make the case and decide on Scotland’s future.”

First Minister and SNP Leader Alex Salmond welcomed the donation

“The Weirs have experienced great good fortune and they have already shown their generosity with their support for the Waverley Paddle Steamer and causes in their community.

“They have had a long standing commitment to the SNP and their welcome donation will allow the party to continue it’s work and to prepare for the referendum campaign ahead.

“The SNP relies on the donations of our ordinary members and every donation large and small goes to backing the party and making the case for independence.”


Sunday, 20 November 2011

Collective amnesia?

Tom Gordon

ALEX Salmond is no stranger to award ceremonies.
In the last fortnight alone he has twice been named as Politician of the Year in recognition of the SNP’s truly historic win at Holyrood in May.
But now the First Minister is under fire for boasting about yet another award - this time for his work on climate change - without revealing it was engineered by one of his own ministers.
Salmond accepted the third South Australia International Climate Change Award last month.
The gong was announced to great fanfare at the SNP conference in Inverness, with a video message from Michael Rann, South Australia’s then premier.
In a Scottish Government press release, the First Minister declared: “It is a great honour to receive this award which I accept as recognition of the fact that our legislation on climate change is truly world-leading.”
But what Salmond, the SNP and the Government media machine all curiously failed to mention was the identity of the person who proposed the First Minister -  the energy minister Fergus Ewing.
The official nomination form shows Ewing personally proposed his boss in September.
He praised the First Minister’s “ambition and leadership”, and listed a series of government figures on emissions and renewable energy.
Ewing also cited the SNP government’s Climate Challenge Fund as an example of community engagement on green issues.
It recently emerged that despite ministers claiming the £38m fund had cut carbon emissions by 700,000 tonnes, to date its completed projects have saved less than 20% of that figure.
Iain Gray, the Scottish Labour leader, said: “There is something a bit pathetic about a minister nominating his own boss for an international award. One of Fergus Ewing’s colleagues might like to nominate him for Private Eye’s Order of the Brown Nose award.”
Willie Rennie, leader of the Liberal Democrats, added: “Self-praise is no praise. The real challenge is for Alex Salmond to meet these targets, not spend time praising himself.”
The award has had two other winners - then Californian governor Arnold Schwarzenegger in 2009, and Quebec Premier Jean Charest in 2010.
Wayne Barbour, of the Sustainability and Climate Change Division of the Government of South Australia, said Salmond had been chosen from a field of four by an international panel of judges. “First Minister Salmond received the award for his local and international leadership, the impressive greenhouse gas reduction results that have already been achieved, and ambitious future targets, which are an outstanding example of the role that state and regional governments can play in tackling climate change.
“He was nominated by Scotland’s Minister for Energy, Enterprise and Tourism, Fergus Ewing. 
“Independent research undertaken during the assessment process also demonstrated that First Minister Salmond has also been an active leader internationally as well – supporting UN projects and European initiatives.”
One other previous winner was also nominated from within their adminstration, he added.
A Scottish Government spokeswoman said: “As the First Minister said at the time, this was a welcome recognition of Scotland’s world-leading climate change legislation, awarded by a panel of international judges. The Scottish Government recognises the urgency of addressing climate change and supports initiatives which can recognise and encourage governments across the world to respond effectively to the pressing challenges of climate change.”

Sunday, 13 November 2011

Talkin bout Ruth's generation

TORY leader Ruth Davidson cast herself as the face of "generational change" during the party's recent leadership race. But what kind of generation is currently coming through the Scots Tories?
Judging by some of the senior members of the Glasgow University Conservative Association (Hon Pres: R Davidson), it could be rather interesting. 

This fascinating photo shows Ruth with a number of GUCA faces celebrating her election as a Glasgow list MSP in May.
The blonde chap kneeling in front with arms aloft is Ross McFarlane, her election agent and GUCA president. She later sacked him as her Holyrood assistant after mobile phone footage emerged of him drunkenly burning an EU flag in a street at 2am while a companion made sectarian remarks about referee Hugh Dallas and the Pope.
Meanwhile, the poker-faced chap on the right of the photo with the square lapel badge is Stewart Green, the GUCA webmaster. He apologised after posting a number of dodgy Tweets about race, including one comparing an Asian festival to cats being strangled.
And finally (for now), the dark-haired guy with the blue shirt and blue tie immediately above McFarlane is Colin James Taylor, a former GUCA president, who now works for the Tory Press and Research Unit at Holyrood.
He features in a story in today's Sunday Herald after Tweeting lyrics from a song glorifying the UVF.

He has also apologised and been issued with a formal warning.
All in all, quite a crew.

Tom Gordon
Paul Hutcheon

NEW Scottish Tory leader Ruth Davidson has become embroiled in a sectarianism row after one of her party’s Holyrood staff posted song lyrics on Twitter glorifying Northern Irish terrorist group, the Ulster Volunteer Force.
Colin James Taylor, who is employed at the public’s expense in the Tory Press and Research Unit (PRU) at Holyrood, also referred to Celtic Football Club as “tims” on the popular blogging website.
A Rangers fan from Belfast, Taylor used the Twitter name “Ulsterexile” to post offensive remarks while studying at Glasgow University, where he was president of the student Conservative Association from 2009 to 2010.
Although most of his posts were about his studies, video games and football, he also said he had been “called a bigot before”.
On Saturday, February 19, this year he posted lines from a notorious song, Here Lies a Soldier, about a UVF member awaiting execution.
“Don’t bury me, in Erin’s Fenian vallies [sic]. Oh take me home, to Ulster let me rest ...” he wrote.
Although he did not tweet the rest of the verse, it runs: “And on my gravestone carve a simple message, Here lies a soldier of the UVF.”
On that weekend, the UVF was much in the news as Northern Ireland awaited publication of a police ombudsman report into one of the terrorist group’s worst atrocities, the bombing of McGurk’s Bar in Belfast in 1971, which killed 15 people and injured 16.
The report, published 48 hours after Taylor’s tweet, revealed that the Royal Ulster Constabulary wrongly blamed the IRA for the attack. The bombing was the worst during the Troubles until the Omagh bomb killed 29 people in 1998.
Taylor’s tweet also fell on the eve of the anniversary of the 1979 conviction of the notorious Shankhill Butchers, the ultra-Loyalist gang, many in the UVF, who tortured Catholic civilians and murdered at least 30 people.
On April 17, the day that Aberdeen and Celtic met in the Scottish Cup semi-final, Taylor posted on Twitter: “Hope the sheep absolutely hump the tims today.”
Tim is a term of anti-Catholic abuse. The anti-sectarian group Nil By Mouth said: “People have to realise that online bigotry is unacceptable.”
Taylor’s case has highlighted Davidson’s ties to Glasgow University Conservative Association.
According to GUCA’s website, she is the body’s honorary president. She attended its annual dinner on Friday.
 At the start of her campaign to lead the Scottish Tories, Davidson was forced to sack her Holyrood assistant Ross McFarlane after mobile phone footage emerged of him drunkenly setting fire to a European Union flag in a Glasgow street last year while a companion made sectarian remarks.
At the time, he was the GUCA president, as well as Davidson’s Holyrood election agent.
Last week, leading QC Paul McBride quit the Tories over the party’s hostility to an SNP bill aimed at tackling sectarianism in football.
After the Sunday Herald alerted the Tories about the matter, Taylor’s Twitter and Facebook accounts disappeared.
The Conservatives last night issued Taylor with a “formal warning”, but left him in post.
Labour MSP James Kelly said: “This is an insufficient response. In any other workplace a person who be out on their ear for this. There needs to be a proper investigation and disciplinary proceedings.”
A spokesman for the Scottish Tories said: “The comments which appeared on Colin Taylor’s Twitter account predate his employment with the Scottish Conservative MSP Group in the Scottish Parliament. His comments were immature and inappropriate.
“The allegations against Mr Taylor have been fully investigated and he has been issued with a formal warning.
“Mr Taylor deeply regrets the comments and he apologises for any offense he has caused.”

Monday, 7 November 2011

One man's savings are another man's cuts

It's never a good sign when governments withhold information and make themselves less transparent. 
But that's what SNP ministers have done in relation to their huge efficiency savings programme.
Until September, they published an annual report on how these were delivered, but no more.
They are now adopting a "light touch approach" - to themselves - and have quietly shelved the annual Efficiency Outturn statement.
They have so far failed to say why.
And all this just as efficiency savings are becoming increasingly important to the SNP budget working. 
You don't have to be a hard-boiled cynic to smell something fishy going on.

Here's a longer version of the story in today's Herald. 

Tom Gordon

FINANCE Secretary John Swinney has been accused of trying to hide cuts to public services by scrapping the publication of key official data.
As part of a “light touch approach”, the annual Efficiency Outturn statement, which since 2006 has provided a breakdown of how government departments make efficiency savings, is to be abandoned.
The change means departments and public bodies no longer have to show in detail how they are supposed to have saved hundreds of millions of pounds while maintaining frontline services.
Opposition MSPs called the decision “outrageous” and warned that without detailed plans damaging budget cuts could be passed off as efficiencies.
The change comes as SNP ministers are demanding ever greater efficiency savings to cope with a £1.3bn cut imposed this year by the Treasury.
All departments have been ordered to find 3% savings in 2011-12 instead of the 2% annual savings which have applied since 2004.
Efficiency savings are supposed to deliver the same services for less money, or improved services for the same money.
SNP ministers claim to have saved £839m in 2008-09, £1,470m in 2009-10, and £2,276m in 2010-11 without a deterioration in services, and with money reinvested in the frontline.
However the figures have never been independently verified, and there has long been a suspicion that efficiency savings are actually cuts in disguise, leading to fewer and poorer public services.
Audit Scotland, the public spending watchdog, says “significant weaknesses and inconsistencies” in the way efficiencies are recorded mean it is not possible to guarantee their accuracy.
Setting out the 2011-12 budget in parliament last year, Swinney said public bodies would be required to report publicly on their plans for efficiency savings, and made no mention of scrapping the efficiency outturn report.
The reference to plans was repeated just six weeks ago in the 2010-11 efficiency outturn report.
However the government now says there won’t be any detailed plans.
“The Scottish Government is adopting a light touch approach,” its website states.
“We will not require each portfolio or each public body to submit separate efficiency plans and we will not undertake quarterly assessments or publish an Outturn Report for 2011-12.”
Public bodies will still put a figure on savings, but using a “simplified definition of efficiency” and “a standard template” to record them.
A report going to Holyrood’s finance committee today, which was prepared by parliament officials, says: “The reason for the Scottish Government’s decision not to publish an Efficiency Outturn report has not been given.”
John McLaren, economist at the Centre for Public Policy for Regions at Glasgow University, said: “It’s a bizarre thing to do, especially when [ministers] are being asked by other political parties to get Audit Scotland to audit these efficiency savings. It’s going in the wrong way.”
MSP Richard Baker, Labour’s finance spokesman, said: “Instead of more transparency we are getting the exact opposite. The government was challenged by the auditor general over whether efficiencies  were genuine or cuts. This opens them up to the accusation they are trying to cover up cuts.”
Gavin Brown, for the Tories, added: “The government should be going in the opposite direction and getting audit Scotland to verify the figures, particularly as efficiency savings are more important now than a few years ago.
A Scottish Government spokesman refused to say when or why the decision to end the Efficiency Outturn report was made.
He said: “Mr Swinney announced [in 2010] we had changed emphasis from a process-focused, centrally-managed programme to one which allows public bodies themselves to demonstrate how they have used efficiencies to provide quality services and improve outcomes.”