I’d like to start by congratulating the Very Rev Joseph Canon Clements on the fifty years’ service he has given to this area since his ordination in 1962. I was very pleased to be among the guests at the mass, held recently at St Aidan’s in Wishaw.
I’d also like to congratulate the successful candidates in the elections to North Lanarkshire Council, and wish them well in their endeavours as they tackle the challenges that local government faces, not least the deep cuts imposed by the ConDems at Westminster, and the deeper still cuts of the SNP at Holyrood.
Meanwhile at Holyrood, the SNP is using its majority to suppress dissent and scrutiny. The Welfare Reform Bill hands huge additional powers to ministers. Labour MSPs, along with charities, individuals and campaigners from across Scotland, demanded increased scrutiny of those powers.
The report on the Bill, which is supposed to reflect the evidence given and the concerns expressed in the Bill’s committee meetings, has been butchered by SNP backbenchers. Backed by Tories, they used their majority to prevent proper scrutiny and give Nicola Sturgeon a free hand to do as she pleases. They would not even allow a suggestion that the Minister issues a simple statement outlining the government’s policy intentions underpinning the new benefits regulations.
The SNP majority is also being used to push through simplistic solutions to complex problems. For example, take unit pricing for alcohol. Of course we need action to reduce problems associated with alcohol consumption. However, this is a very poorly targetted measure that will put money into the coffers of the supermarkets but not the health service, and take money out of ordinary folk’s pockets at a time when they can ill afford it, while leaving a lot of antisocial and excessive drinking untouched. It could be so much better if the SNP listened and adopted the more targetted measures being put forward by the Labour Party.
It is amazing what can be done to improve health services, even with limited resources, when people are motivated, as I heard in a recent debate which discussed, for the first time in the Scottish Parliament, the issue of Cuba.
The Cuban people face blockades and economic sanctions but still manage to be at the forefront of medical advances, sport, education, and many other things that contribute to a high quality of life. People are not rich, but no one is starving, homeless or dying because they cannot afford healthcare.
As the debate sponsor, Elaine Smith MSP said, “almost 120 million children of primary school age in the world do not go to school—not one of them is Cuban; 250 million children under 13 years in the world are forced to work to survive—not one of them is Cuban; and over 1 million children are forced into child prostitution—not one of them is Cuban.”
Cuba is a friendly place that has become a popular holiday destination. If you are lucky enough to go there, remember that there is an amazing country beyond the resorts. There is much that we can do to help Cuba – not least lifting the US trade embargo – and much that we can learn from them.