Saturday, 25 April 2015

The MP for North East Fife will serve at Westminster, not Holyrood.

There are important local matters that an MP can fight on: For example, our landscape is changing, with wind turbines becoming an increasingly obvious and mostly unwelcome feature. That happens because Westminster has accepted EU renewable energy targets and carbon footprint thresholds. And sanctions paying subsidies for uneconomic wind energy systems which the people who are now setting them up know that they would not pursue if they had to pay foot the bill. Instead, energy users have their bills loaded with a surcharge to bung the wind industry - FITs or Feed In Tariffs cost all of us and benefit the few. Westminster should stop that nonsense.

Defence too, matters locally. Changes at Leuchars will be sorted out in the medium term as the Army replaces the RAF as the main unit there but the change was a mistake. Ming Campbell said it was a strategic mistake. In a way, but not as he meant it, he was right. The strategic error is in the dangerous cut in defences, the reduced size of the RAF fast jet fleet, not so much where the vestiges of the RAF as we knew it are based.

But even on his own measure, that closing RAF Leuchars was a strategic error, the Liberal Democrat's past Leader and Defence Spokesman, rolled with the decision and continued to support the coalition which made, in Ming's terms, the disastrous mistake. He should have really stood up for us and resigned the whip, not back off on a matter of principle. He must have known he was going to retire, so he had little to loose, surely? The impact of a senior resignation would have rattled a cage or two.

We have to restore defence spending to at least meet the agreed NATO targets; it does many things beyond the obvious necessary restoration of defence capacity. It is one of the few real ways in which a government can create real jobs, in the armed services, and in the defence industry. My manifesto, written in March, also advanced my view that we need to strengthen the RFA (Royal Fleet Auxiliary) with hospital ships - in fact with purpose built hospital, rescue and support ships. They would be roled to do what the Prime Minister has now tasked HMS Bulwark to do - a humanitarian mission to rescue and help people in distress; they'd be able also to deploy Field Hospitals ashore (useful for Refugee situations, or for survivors of Natural Disasters), produce water and supply energy, whilst still having the ability to carry out their normal role of RAS (Resupply At Sea).

There are many issues for your MP to address, like those above. It is, now, for your MSP and councillors to try to get the NHS and Education right in Scotland: I assume all the other candidates do accept the existence of the Scottish Parliament.

Friday, 24 April 2015

What is going on?

An interesting slant of politics in Scotland.  I was asked to comment on the apparent status of the Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath seat.

What on earth is our focus now in Scotland?  

In my view, Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath cannot be regarded as Labour’s safest seat – Gordon Brown is the reason it had that status.

No other Labour figure left in Scotland matches up to his reputation. 

The same lesson holds now for the other parties – the Conservatives, for example, field Ruth Davidson as their asset – perhaps that is true – but who is their top slot leading light actually standing for Westminster?  And that question also applies to the Liberal Democrats.  Of course, Salmond has been outshone by Nicola as well.

None of this is surprising – even the media seem only to be capable of raising Scottish Parliament and Council issues. 

The whole devolution exercise has caused a schism in politics with a loss of focus here of what matters outside of Scotland; it all plays into the hands of the SNP. 

I do not believe that all of the electorate are taken in by this drift – after all is said and done, the SNP lost the referendum.  All Scottish Parties need to remember that.

Thursday, 23 April 2015

Make the Big Breaks for Small Business

Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs), small business to you and me, are the true creators of real, productive jobs in the United Kingdom.   They provide more jobs than do the PLCs.

David Cameron has promised to create 2 million jobs – promised – that word again.   Hard to believe particularly as the only jobs government creates are those in the public tax payer funded sector.   That is not entirely nugatory of course, we sell medical training to overseas student through NHS teaching hospitals, for example, and employing armed forces leads to creation of jobs in industry, manufacturing equipment and building ships.  That said, it is really the private sector which has the potential  to create jobs.

The business environment, however, can kill small business.   We now have EU procurement rules that makes selling to the public sector a game for the multi-nationals, we have all too tight restrictions, often unnecessary, in the work place and restrictions like the working time directive. 

But I consider that the biggest problems for Small Business to overcome are rates and slow or late payers.   We can tackle both.

Business Rates need to be simplified, and divided into two bands; a band for PLCs, which the chancellor can see as a reasonable source of revenue, and a band for SMEs.  Given that we have a large SME sector, it is acceptable for them to pay rates as a resource for the common good, but the system must not weigh against them in favour of PLCss as now. A corner shop pays more in proportion than does a supermarket.  Those hit thus, will know that.

I propose a simpler system based on a straight forward levy per square foot for both PLCs and SMEs, regardless of location. That will help city centre businesses and encourage revitalising small traders in town centre etc.  Secondly, the rate set for SMEs would be in a band factors lower than the PLC band.    I support local responsibility local authorities should be the rate setters for their areas.

Now the big one – dealing with late payers, by whom I mean PLCs, and even local authorities, who keep SMEs waiting for payment.  Indeed, bigger SMEs might well be guilty too.  

The man with the power and tools to sort this out is our dear friend the VAT man.  VAT registered businesses have to render their dues to the VAT man on a regular basis and can be hammered if they do not pay.  All the VAT mand needs to do, is to require VAT payers to include in their returns on VAT , the additional information of how much they owe their creditors beyond a 30 day limit.  There would be an automatic fine by the VAT man on that figure (helping his public pot) and inducing the slow payers to pay on time.   Being a slow payer would be highly uneconomic, and would probably dry up.

Thursday, 16 April 2015

To Barnett or not to Barnett?

The Barnett Formula works for the UK - if Scotland gets FA (Fiscal Autonomy) as well, as they all seem hell bent on, Scots will have extra taxes to pay.

Any pleas by Scots for a reduction in UK taxes to balance our personal budgets would mean less spent in Scotland from UK taxes - a reduced slice of Barnett being the most obvious option. Before any tinkering with Barnett, we MUST be told what Full Fiscal Autonomy entails.

How many tax bills is Scotland asking to have levied here?

Is FA so much smoke and mirrors? Sturgeon, Murphy and Davidson MUST clarify this if they want an honest ballot result.

Friday, 10 April 2015

A Tricky Issue in St Andrews

The siting or mis-siting of a new school for St Andrews is a long drawn out saga with the current proposal not being the right answer.

I was asked for my view, by the local press, and gave it, quite clearly:

For decades, Ming Campbell led the Liberal Democrats campaigning for a Tay Bridgehead school to relieve pressure in St Andrews.  The Conservatives also took that view. Both as a Conservative and as UKIP, I took that view too.

So we must first recognise that we are in this mess because the Liberal Democrats, when at last they held the reins on the council, reneged on the idea, breaking their pledges.  That turned the choice within St Andrews into a mess. Ming Campbell never again commented and has never apologised for not standing by his decades long demands.

You will not know it, I don’t think you were in post at the time, but we also had a campaign for a new hospital and there was near chaos on choosing a site for it.  I, as a councillor and a PPC at the time,  suggested, in discussion with the NHS, that the Green Belt could be breached for that hospital, and for that alone, and that they should plumb for the site at Pipelands.  That was right, the site was agreed  and the hospital is in the right place.

It is not the right place for the school.  Nothing those who waver on the lines of “let it all now be forgotten” can say can make it right.  The politicians who promised so much, who broke with their decades of pledges, who tried to talk turkey with the University, got it all wrong.   A school in the Green belt, in  a confined space, next to a hospital which it will landlock, with a wholly unacceptable transport configuration, is not the right answer. 

I do not move from where I stood; a Tay Bridgehead School first, proper catchment areas second, refurbished Madras for St Andrews third and finally releasing the asset value of Kilrymont towards paying for it all.  Is it too late? Is it now too much of a mess?  Does using the wrong site blighting a hospital work?   

STEPAL are within their rights whereas an intransigent council and unworthy politicians are not. Effectively, we are still on the starting line.

That response is not fence sitting.  Going ahead with a bad idea is not a good idea.  The situation demonstrates that Local Authorities are not much cop at planning schools; some of us will remember the hiccoughs at the Waid! 

This is, in any case, an issue for the elected councils, who appear to be subservient to the Administration's bureaucrats, and for the Scottish Parliament, and no longer for Westminster.  It does however, serve well in illustrating why I consider that every constituency's elected Parliamentary Member should sit both in Westminster and at Holyrood.