A stronger Scottish Parliament
Last month I was at the Scottish Labour Party Conference in Perth where we launched our plans to make the Scottish Parliament stronger and more effective and to give more powers to local government rather than centralising them all in Edinburgh. We will devolve the UK Work Programme to Scotland allowing local authorities responsibility for supporting people back-to-work. Allied to this, we will abolish the distant quango, Skills Development Scotland, and give its powers over skills to local government. We will devolve Housing Benefit to the Scottish Parliament - the largest single benefit paid in Scotland after the state pension – amounting to £1.7 billion a year. We will use this power to abolish the Bedroom Tax – we will never allow this disgraceful tax to be visited on Scotland ever again. We will also devolve Attendance Allowance – support for those in old-age or ill – to make sure they are sustained in their home rather contained in their houses.
On the issue of tax – Labour will give the Scottish Parliament the power to raise around £2 billion more in revenues beyond the recent Scotland Act which is due to be implemented in 2016.. And we will introduce new Scottish Progressive Rates of Income Tax, so that the Scottish Parliament can increase the rates of tax in the higher and additional bands - raising the income tax paid by those earning over £150,000 from 45 per cent to 50 per cent. We will use this revenue to reinvest in public services.
We want the two governments at Westminster and Holyrood to work together for the good of all the people not constantly at war with each other as the SNP want. What we are proposing are, as Labour Leader, Johann Lamont said, powers with a purpose. Of course we can only achieve this if we secure a resounding No vote to independence in September.
Consular Services Abroad
As a member of the Foreign Affairs Committee I am currently involved along with my colleagues in looking at Consular Services. In 2012, the Foreign Office dealt with over 1 million general consular enquiries and over 100,000 consular cases, including over 20,000 cases requiring consular assistance. Last April it launched a new overall three-year consular strategy with the aim of providing ‘the best consular service in the world’ by 2016.
My Committee launched an inquiry into consular services in December 2013 and is investigating, in particular, how the UK’s consular services meet the legitimate expectations of the UK public; the impact of recent and planned reforms to UK consular services; the Foreign Office’s handling of consular crises, and its consular support for UK nationals in situations of particular difficulty or distress abroad, and their families.
You might have received British Consular help under a number of different circumstances; for example:
loss of a passport
the need for medical treatment or evacuation
coping with the death of a relative
arrest or imprisonment
hostage taking, child abduction
general evacuation of UK nationals in a national crisis
Remembering how World War 1 changed Britain
One hundred years on from the outbreak of war in 1914, this year we have a unique opportunity to mark this historic anniversary and to pay tribute to those who laid down their lives, and to reflect on the wider social changes that war brought about.
This year is the start of a four-year programme of local, national and international events to commemorate what took place between 1914 and 1918. The outbreak of war falls on 4th August, when the whole country is expected to commemorate the events from a century ago. We do so mindful of those who have fought and died in other conflicts since 1918, and those who have served us more recently in Afghanistan, Iraq and other parts of the world.
We should also reflect upon the social change brought about by war. The First World War fundamentally shifted social attitudes and changed how people all over Britain lived and worked together. Before 1914 most working men and no women had a vote, but this would soon change. The role of women also changed forever as women took on jobs that were previously seen as a male preserve. World War One was also an important landmark in our multicultural history. More than 1.2 million people from across the Commonwealth served in the British war effort, including soldiers from India, the West Indies, Australia and Canada. This underlines the importance of all children learning about the shared history of multi-ethnic Britain.
No community was left untouched by the conflict. As the summer approaches and the centenary anniversaries draw closer, there will be many more opportunities for our community to mark our own connection to the First World War. Thoughts will turn to memorials in every city, town and village – including our own in the Carrick area.
They remind us that this year’s events should be a commemoration, not a celebration. We should pay our tributes in a fitting, respectful and thoughtful way. That is the very least we owe them.
One Last Thing
Massive congratulations to Girvan Paralympic curler Angie Malone in winning bronze as part of Team GB at the Winter Olympics in Russia. You are truly inspirational!