The Lib Dem week in Scotland

st Andrews flag saltire scotland Some rights reserved by Fulla TWelcome to our weekly roundup of what the Scottish Liberal Democrats, led by Willie Rennie, have been getting up to. This week, our MSPs have had a lot to say about flooding, policing, A & E waiting times “Thatcherite” testing, housing and fostering. Oh, and Alex Cole-Hamilton and Edinburgh West are back, bigger than ever.

The week started with Willie Rennie’s Bright, green, liberal vision:

I will set out why four key liberal values should be at the heart of the next parliamentary session. They are that every individual should be free to achieve their potential, that we should stand with the weak against the strong, that power is safer when it is shared and that we are trustees of the world and must pass on a sustainable legacy.

Flooding: when will the SNP Government help?

Alison McInnes criticised the Scottish government’s lack of response to the flooding in the North East:

Towns, villages and even Aberdeen have been cut off from one another and from the wider country. Many roads are impassable, trains are not running, schools are closed and power is out.

After the Scottish Government’s resilience meeting last night, the deputy first minister said the committee was monitoring the situation very closely. But people here do not need ministers who are glued to their seats.

The councils have been coping as well as they can with some of the worst flooding this area has ever seen but it’s been more than a week since it struck communities in Marr. With the Met Office now issuing warnings for cold temperatures – and snow boots are already needed on the ground – emergency resources are needed urgently.

The deputy first minister telling us additional funding will be made available to Aberdeenshire Council is welcome in the longer term. But this is an ever-changing emergency situation that requires urgent attention right now and people here are wondering when the Scottish Government is going to sit up and take notice.

National testing will increase teacher stress

Liberal Democrats oppose the SNP Government’s plans to reintroduce national testing in schools and to publish league tables. Education Spokesperson Liam McArthur was a bit perplexed by a Government announcement of plans to reduce the stress on teachers.

Scottish teachers are being stretched to the limit. Not only are they having to get to grips with new qualifications introduced by the Scottish Government, but they are also coping with increased class sizes and face the prospect of deep cuts to council education budgets.

“Although I’m pleased this group will examine issues surrounding teacher stress and workload following the introduction of the new National Qualifications, this is at odds with the First Minister’s determination to reintroduce national standardised testing.  Rolling back the years with this return to a Thatcherite policy will only increase workload for teachers as well as stress levels for teachers and pupils alike.

Liam also highlighted parents’ scepticism about the testing plans:

Parents are quite right to say that a test score alone does not capture the strengths and achievements of pupils who do not test well.  While assessment by teachers is a valuable tool, this is already carried out in our schools.  A national standardised test will not close Scotland’s growing attainment gap and help pupils fulfil their potential.

Parents want to see a government that is focused on how to improve learning and allowing teachers to teach.  Unfortunately, once again, this government appears to believe that Ministers know best

More help needed for alcohol addiction

Health spokesperson Jim Hume said that while it was all very well to issue guidelines for alcohol consumption, the Government needed to provide more treatment for alcohol related diseases:

Alcoholism and binge drinking are still huge issues in Scotland and these updated guidelines are certainly a step in the right direction when it comes to tackling the drink problem in this country.

These guidelines must be supported by readily-available treatments, education and awareness-raising of the health risks of drinking too much alcohol. The Scottish Government must look at whether the schemes already in place are helping reduce binge drinking and alcoholism that can lead to these kind of horrific diseases.

Political squabbling will not help people find homes

This week, Labour have come out with a plan to help people buy their own home. The SNP slated them for it, but they haven’t exactly delivered on their social housebuilding pledge. Jim Hume said:

On the one hand we have a Labour, with a proposal that we don’t really know how they would pay for, and on the other an SNP government who will not admit that they have broken their promise to build 30,000 homes for social rent. Their squabbling and point-scoring will not help a single family find a home.

Of course we all want to see more affordable homes available but unless we also see action to increase homes for social rent, people on low incomes who are unlikely to be able to get a mortgage are left stranded.

More foster parents needed

The Fostering Network produced a report which said that 800 more foster families were needed in Scotland. Liam McArthur said:

Over 5,500 children are living with foster families in Scotland each day, children who deserve the best start in life but who haven’t always had that chance.

Foster families don’t simply provide shelter for these children, they provide much needed stability, and a loving and caring environment for them to grow up in.

Children in care each have their own individual personalities and backgrounds and as more and more foster families come forward, children are more likely to settle with someone best suited to support them. Being a foster carer is a rewarding opportunity to make a real difference in the lives of young people in Scotland and I encourage anyone thinking of becoming one to contact their local fostering service.

McInnes calls for enquiry into undercover policing

Alison McInnes called for an enquiry into the use of undercover policing in Scotland. The SNP Government opposes this.

The allegations that have been made against the officers in question are serious and the revelations have resulted in serious emotional trauma for those who feel duped by them.

The police-public interaction in these circumstances has shocked us all, it is the kind of behaviour that transgresses professional and moral boundaries and flies in the face of common decency. It is in fact the kind of behaviour that threatens the very legitimacy of policing.

The Scottish Government has said it is supportive of widening the Pitchford enquiry to include activities in Scotland, but does not believe that there should be a separate Scottish inquiry. Citizens are entitled to expect the highest standards of policing and rightly expect that there should be clear justification and authorisation of any clandestine policing.  Equally those officers engaged in undercover policing should be carefully regulated and trained and regularly assessed.

Can we guarantee that has always been in place in Scotland?  Is it in place now?  We don’t know, and that is why an open and unflinching examination of the extent of undercover policing past and present   and its governance and oversight here in Scotland is necessary –  to learn lessons and establish clear terms of engagement.

A & E Departments struggling

Figures this week showed that A & E Departments were still struggling to see people within 4 hours despite fewer patients attending. Jim Hume said:

A&E departments are struggling to keep their heads above water – in November they had the lowest attendance since February last year and yet performance got worse. It was the second month in a row that the A&E target was missed and over the last two years the target has only been met three times.

If the number of people attending emergency departments drops, people reasonably expect to see that drop mirrored in the number of patients suffering lengthy waiting times. But there have been significant increases in those having to wait over eight and over 12 hours, particularly in NHS Lothian.

The Health Secretary has called on health boards to build on improvements but hard working NHS staff need more than lectures from the SNP.

McInnes requests meeting with mew Chief Constable

Nobody has been better in this Parliament at highlighting the problems with Police Scotland and in getting the SNP to back down on putting armed police on routine duties and excessive use of stop and search.

Alison McInnes has requested a meeting with Scotland’s new chief constable to discuss how he plans to resolve the remaining issues which undermine public confidence in the Police.

On his very first day the new Chief Constable will be well aware of the extremely serious issues facing Police Scotland, which he must tackle head-on immediately.

Call centres are being pushed beyond what is safe, morale is at rock bottom, black holes are appearing in finances, the list goes on. He will be inundated with these challenges and the force looks to him for leadership and guidance at what could be one of the darkest hours for policing in Scotland.

I have sought an early meeting with him to discuss how he plans to ensure officers and staff get the support they need to do their jobs well and enjoy them but the SPA and Scottish Government must also ensure they provide the resources required. The public’s faith in Police Scotland must be restored and steps taken right away to get the force back on track.

Scottish Fiscal Commission should produce its own forecasts

Willie Rennie suggested that the new Fiscal Commission should produce its own forecasts, not scrutinise those by ministers.

As the Scottish Parliament gains more and more of its own powers, so too does it gain more and more responsibility. But the real question is whether we can trust SNP Ministers on their forecasts, which we know from previous experience have not always been the most accurate.

At the moment the Scottish Fiscal Commission scrutinises government forecasts, it does not produce its own independently. Meanwhile, the UK’s public finances are probed and economic forecasts are produced by the Office of Budget Responsibility. A similar body in Scotland, producing forecasts independently rather than analysing ones already created by the government, would certainly be a step in the right direction.

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