Thursday 2 November
Balfour Declaration Centenary
On 2 November 1917 The UK Foreign Secretary Arthur Balfour promised British Government support for the “establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people”, however the declaration included a significant caveat “it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non Jewish communities”.
100 years on Palestinians are dispossessed, oppressed in their own land, refugees in neighbouring countries or scattered throughout the world. The UK Government and their predecessors bear much responsibility.
I held an event in the Parliament on Wednesday 1 November to mark the centenary bringing together people who actively support the Palestinian people and their calls for the recognition of the State of Palestine.
Liz Lochhead who held the post of Scotland’s Makar from 2011 to 2016 kindly agreed to host our event. Liz read from A Bird is Not a Stone: An Anthology of Contemporary Palestinian Poetry to which she contributed as well as many other Scottish and Palestinian writers.
We were also fortunate to have 3 young people deliver their own very moving perspective on Palestine and their experiences, including Sana who had lived near Nablus until she was 9 and then moved to Scotland and has just been granted indefinite leave to stay. Rachel who grew up and became friends with Sana has just returned from Palestine and gave a very poignant account of her visit and the oppression she witnessed.
I lodged the following motion in Parliament:
Legacy of the Balfour Declaration 100 Years On
That the Parliament recognises the 100th year anniversary of the Balfour Declaration which proclaimed “the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people” on the explicit understanding that “nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine” ; notes the continued criticism of the UK Government and it’s reneging on the promise given in the Balfour Declaration to the Palestinians who are today under military occupation in Gaza, the West Bank and East Jerusalem preventing them from exercising their own inalienable right to self-determination; acknowledges that since the Balfour Declaration Palestinians are dispossessed, oppressed in their own land, refugees in neighbouring countries or scattered throughout the world and calls on the UK Government to recognise immediately the State of Palestine; uphold rigorously the Geneva Conventions which Britain co-wrote and ratified after World War II; give practical effect to the relevant UN Security Council Resolutions, the Arab Peace Initiative and the Quartet Roadmap.
Many of you will be aware of allegations of sexual harassment and assault regarding employees and elected members within Westminster and Holyrood. Swift action was taken by both the Presiding Officer and the Chief Executive as well as political parties.
A zero tolerance approach to this kind of behaviour has always and will remain my position. I took the opportunity of raising the matter during topical questions in the chamber this week where the Deputy First Minister John Swinney responded.
You can read the full exchange in the chamber here: http://www.parliament.scot/parliamentarybusiness/report.aspx?r=11157&i=101717
It is incumbent on all of us to stamp out this behaviour and not remain bystanders.
It was great to meet up with students on the Access to Social Studies course at Glasgow College this week.
They are currently studying democracy in Scotland and the UK. For some of the young people, this is their first opportunity to learn about politics and representatives.
We had a very lively discussion on politics and current affairs in the world today as well as grilling me on my role and duties as an MSP.
Fire and Police VAT
I fully support my colleague MSP Ben Macpherson’s demands for the UK government to allow Scotland’s Police and Fire services to reclaim VAT, and for them to be refunded the £140 million they are already owed. Police Scotland and Scottish Fire and Rescue are the only two territorial forces in the UK that are unable to reclaim VAT and the UK government’s refusal to allow our police and fire services to reclaim VAT is illogical and totally unjust. We know that it is possible for the required changes to be made – the UK government have already done so for Highways England and Academy schools – however the UK Government continue to drag their feet when it comes to supporting Scotland’s emergency services.
A discussion paper on the way forward for income tax was published this week and the First Minister stated that income tax in Scotland should protect low earners, be progressive, proportionate to the ability to the pay and support the economy.
Any new income tax policy must meet four key tests, and there was a call for all political parties to engage in an open debate about tax in Scotland.
Any changes must:
Maintain and promote the level of public services which the people of Scotland expect;
Ensure the lowest earning taxpayers don’t see their taxes increase;
Make the tax system more progressive and reduce inequality; and
Along with corresponding decisions on spending, support the economy.
The paper sets out the powers the Scottish Parliament has over income tax, the contribution income tax makes to the budget, who pays tax and the benefits of taxation for individuals and businesses.
You can read the discussion paper here http://www.gov.scot/Publications/2017/11/5307
It’s always a pleasure to catch up with the members of the Ahmadiyya Mosque Women’s Group and Saturday morning was no exception. We all came together including my colleague and former MP Margaret Ferrier to raise funds for Macmillan.
Macmillan support patients and their families as well as carrying out vital research. They are there to help people take back some control in life. From help with money worries and advice about work, to someone who’ll listen if you just want to talk.
As you can see from the photograph there was a delicious variety of cakes to choose from thanks to the women of the mosque who contributed to this very successful fundraising event and I look forward to welcoming them to the Parliament at the beginning of the year.
I wanted to make you all aware of the current consultations on Local Bus Service and Smart ticketing.
You can access information on the bus consultation at : https://consult.scotland.gov.uk/transport-scotland/improving-bus-services
And for Smart Ticketing visit:
Scottish Welfare Fund
The Scottish Welfare Fund continues to help Scottish households in need. Since the scheme began in April 2013, more than 265,000 individual households have been helped, with awards totalling £140.0 million to 30 June 2017.
Statistics released this week on the Scottish Welfare Fund covering the period from 1 April 2013 to 30 June 2017 showed that of the 265,000 households helped to 30 June 2017, almost 144,000 were single person households and more than 87,000 were families with children.
The Scottish Welfare Fund comprises of Community Care Grants – which help people to live independently – and Crisis Grants, which provide a safety net in a disaster or emergency.
Between April and June 2017, a total of £8 million was awarded through the Scottish Welfare Fund, this was 23% of the £34.4 million budget available (£33 million allocated for 2017/18 by the Scottish Government, plus £1.4 million underspend carried forward from 2016/17).
More information on the Scottish Welfare Fund can be found at: https://beta.gov.scot/policies/social-security/income-related-benefits/