It’s been an extremely busy and emotional week in Parliament. I made my final speech in the chamber contributing to the Scotland’s Recovery debate. However, this will not be my final Ebrief, we still have a few weeks left!
It won’t come as a surprise to any of you that I believe the only way Scotland can recover from not just the impact of the pandemic but the Brexit shambles and decades of successive Westminster Government austerity is with independence.
You can access my full contribution here: http://www.parliament.scot/parliamentarybusiness/report.aspx?r=13169&i=119232
Another poll on independence was published this week and again momentum remains firmly with the independence movement – with 53% saying they would vote Yes in an independence referendum if one was held tomorrow.
The Savanta ComRes poll also reveals that 71% of Scots believe Scotland would fare better as an independent country.
Westminster cannot continue to deny the Scottish people their democratic right to choose. Scotland’s future needs to be in Scotland’s hands.
Following on with my previous remarks we had yet another austerity budget announced by the Chancellor this week.
The Tories are threatening Scotland’s recovery with, an extreme Brexit, and a Budget that completely failed to deliver the meaningful change and investment needed to build a fairer society.
Covid has exposed the deep inequalities that exist under the broken Westminster system but the Tory Budget failed to address them. Millions of people have been left behind by the Tory government throughout the pandemic – and this budget failed to plug the gaps for the 3million excluded and failed to deliver a commitment that full 80% furlough support will be available for as long as it is needed it.
Boris Johnson’s extreme Brexit has already cost Scotland’s economy £3.94billion and is projected to cost every person the equivalent of £1,600 in added costs, red tape and barriers to trade with Europe but while Ireland is getting €1.05billion from the EU’s Brexit mitigation fund – Scotland isn’t getting a single penny from the UK government.
Scotland faces a choice of two futures – the long-term damage of Brexit and Tory austerity cuts at Westminster, or the opportunity to protect our place in Europe and build a strong, fair and green recovery as an independent country.
The issue at the election in May will be this: who has the right to decide what sort of country we should be after the pandemic – the people of Scotland or Boris Johnson? With both votes SNP we can put Scotland’s future in Scotland’s hands.
All remaining primary school children are set to return to school full-time from 15 March, with all secondary pupils returning on a part-time basis from that date.
Regulated childcare, including breakfast and after-school clubs, for primary pupils will also re-start on 15 March as part of the Phase 2 return.
From 15 March, all secondary pupils will receive both remote learning and some in-school teaching. Councils will decide how to safely balance in-school learning based on local circumstances and needs.
Senior phase students (S4-S6) who are taking national qualifications will have priority for face-to-face lessons in school.
Updated schools safety guidance to support the phased return will be published next week and Education Scotland will develop practical guidance for schools, which will be also published shortly.
All pupils are due to return full time after the Easter Break.
Please note these plans are conditional on continued progress on suppressing coronavirus (COVID-19).
Scottish Child Payment
Thousands of families are now receiving their first Scottish Child Payment. As of Sunday 28 February 52,000 applications had been approved.
The new benefit to tackle child poverty, which is unique to Scotland, will give qualifying parents and carers £40 every four weeks for each child under six.
98,000 applications had been received by the end of February. Parents and carers are able to apply for all eligible children in their household in a single application and can also apply for Best Start Grants and Best Start Foods at the same time.
I took the opportunity to ask the Cabinet Secretary for Social Security what more the Scottish Government will be doing to ensure those that are eligible are aware of the benefit, you can access the exchange here: http://www.parliament.scot/parliamentarybusiness/report.aspx?r=13169&i=119209
For more information on the payment please go to: https://www.mygov.scot/scottish-child-payment/ or call 0800 182 2222
Funding Accommodation Providers
I very much welcome the announcement from the Scottish Government on new funding to support small accommodation providers impacted by the pandemic.
Eligible Bed & Breakfasts, guesthouses, small serviced accommodation providers and other self-catering businesses that pay council tax can now access the new Small Accommodation Providers Paying Council Tax Fund (SAP-CTF).
The fund will provide support to eligible businesses who have not been able to access support through the Strategic Framework Business Fund as a result of not being registered on Non-Domestic Rates. It has been developed in recognition that small accommodation providers paying council tax face the same challenges from COVID-19 as B&Bs.
In a statement to the Scottish Parliament this week the Minister for Parliamentary Business said Scottish Government guidance will be published shortly setting out what is permitted under public health restrictions. This approach has been discussed with all political parties.
The Electoral Commission is also publishing guidance for candidates for the election, which takes place on 6 May.
Under the plans, leafleting could start from 15 March if sufficient progress is made for the current rules on socialising to be eased to allow outdoor meetings of four people from two households.
Because of the ongoing threat from the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, face-to-face campaigning on the doorstep cannot commence at the same time as leafleting.
Instead, the provisional intention is to allow door-to-door canvassing from 5 April provided the current Stay at Home restrictions have been lifted and the infection rate across Scotland has fallen to 50 per 100,000.
However, activities such as street stalls, physical hustings and giving voters a lift to polling stations will not be permitted for the duration of the campaign.
River Clyde Development
Views are being gathered to help address the unique opportunities and challenges around the River Clyde.
The Clyde Mission, led by the Scottish Government, is seeking views on how it can maximise the river’s economic, social and environmental potential while tackling risks such as flooding.
Last year the Clyde Mission Fund provided more than £11 million of funding for projects that will create jobs and benefit communities along the river.
A further £2.3 million has also been awarded to the Clyde Gateway to support the extension of the riverside Woodland Park at Cuningar Loop near Dalmarnock. The project will reclaim 8.5 hectares of vacant and derelict land that has been unused for 50 years and turn it into an extended park providing quality, accessible green space along the river.
You can put forward your views here https://consult.gov.scot/economic-development/clyde-mission-call-for-ideas/ but please do so by 29 March 2021.
The Health and Sport Committee brought forward the report on the inquiry we led into Primary Care and I took the opportunity to contribute to the debate in Parliament this week.
Our remit was to look at the sustainability of the current Primary Care provision and what shape it should take for the next generation. How we provide care for an ageing and growing population, for those with complex medical conditions as well as governance changes to name but a few which were all within the responsibility of this inquiry.
You can access the full debate and my contribution here: http://www.parliament.scot/parliamentarybusiness/report.aspx?r=13169&i=119225
The STEM bursary scheme to encourage more people to train as secondary school teachers in Physics, Chemistry, Mathematics, Computing Science, Technical Education and Home Economics is set to continue.
These are the secondary school STEM subjects with the greatest demand for teachers, and 150 bursaries will once again be available for career changers to apply for the £20,000 bursary in the next academic year while studying for a Postgraduate Diploma in Education (PGDE).
Skills Development Scotland will open the bursary scheme for applications on 5 April, 2021.
You find out more here: https://stembursaryscotland.co.uk/
Please keep following the Scottish Government guidance https://www.gov.scot/publications/coronavirus-covid-19-stay-at-home-guidance/ and remember the FACTS: Face coverings, Avoid crowded places, Clean hands and surfaces regularly, Two metre distancing; and Self-isolate and book a test if you have symptoms.