Wednesday, 31 January 2007

SSP launches My Space site

Last week saw the birth of the SSP's new My Space website. In all honesty I don't know what a My Space is but it certainly looks great and we have 150 friends linked to it already! check it out for yourself at:

Tuesday, 30 January 2007

Saying No to Trident

This is a copy of an article I recently sent to the South Edinburgh Echo

Look around South Edinburgh. Look at all the things that need improving here.
Think what we could do if we had the money to build new Council housing affordable to everyone, for all the necessary improvements to our local NHS, for our schools, our social services and leisure facilities, for free travel on the buses for everyone, for more community workers and community policemen, and all available today. It would be great wouldn’t it? It would dramatically improve the quality of life for everyone in South Edinburgh.

Once you’ve thought about that, think about this. Tens of billions of pounds, which we could spend on all these areas of our lives, across Britain, Tony Blair intends to spend instead on a second generation of nuclear missiles.

And across Britain people are pressing Westminster not to vote for a second generation of nuclear weapons of mass destruction. And I am on their side.
To me Britain’s Trident nuclear submarine fleet, part of our ‘WMD’s, as well as being lethal to humankind are also immoral and illegal. For all their sophistication theses missiles are incapable of distinguishing between enemy soldiers on the one hand and an innocent civilian population on the other. And that makes them illegal under International law [see International Court of Justice opinion 8 July 1996].

Further international obligations under the Nuclear Non Proliferation Treaty which Britain has signed demands the 8 nuclear weapons holding countries [USA, Russia, France, China, India, Pakistan, Israel and the UK *] stop developing new weapons and all other countries in the world not to start to develop any.
Britain’s plans to build a second generation of missiles therefore make a mockery of our international non proliferation treaty obligations.

The sight of Labour politicians desperately trying to make the case for Trident in recent weeks is a remarkable spectacle. Almost to a man and woman they argued against nuclear weapons when they wanted to get elected. Jack McConnell, David Hamilton, Nigel Griffiths all nuclear disarmers once but now warmongers and militarists.
‘Trident provides a deterrent in an uncertain world’ they now repeat ad nauseam – when was the world anything other than uncertain- ‘so we need these weapons to protect our security and ‘Britain’s vital interests’.
But hold on, who is it that is threatening to invade us or breach our sovereignty? If it is Al Quaida then these weapons are useless against them because that enemy cannot be identified geographically and discriminately. And surely the more apt question in the world today is who protects the world from us?
It is hard to find a period in history which compares with this where Britain has such an appalling international reputation after the catastrophic failure of policy in Iraq.
Having gone along with George Bush in a madcap illegal invasion of a sovereign country we have earned pariah status in much of the world. Britain now has an appalling reputation as a warmonger and not a peace loving nation. Britain and US military families continue to pay an awful price for Bush and Blair’s reckless decision to invade and occupy another country, against the wishes of both the international community and the Iraqi people themselves.

Spending £25billion or more on British weapons of mass destruction to further threaten the world with nuclear annihilation will do nothing to calm international anxieties about Britain’s belligerence nor make the world a safer place for any of us.

I believe developing a second generation of nuclear weapons is a betrayal of future generations keen to live in peace with other nations and I urge Nigel Griffiths my Edinburgh South Westminster representative to vote against developing these evil weapons.

[* Although North Korea test fired nuclear missiles late last year it is not considered a nuclear nation as far as the NNPT is concerned]

Unite the Clubs

The issue of facilities for young footballers across Edinburgh, and the Lothians, has recently been highlighted.

Parents and coaches in Edinburgh have formed "Unite the Clubs" to campaign for improved facilities at public pitches across the city. I've already asked questions in the Scottish Parliament about this issue and will be supporting their march in Edinburgh on 14th February.
I'd also encourage as many people as possible to visit their website
And to sign their online petitions to the Scottish Parliament
and Edinburgh Council

Wednesday, 24 January 2007

Celebrating Robert Burns the radical

I'll be leading a tribute to ‘Robert Burns the radical’ at the SSP's annual ‘Alternative Burns Supper’ on Friday 26th in the Canons Gait on the High Street.

We recognize in Robert Burns someone who was passionate about independence, a true radical who spoke out in favour of the French revolution and the American revolution and was a member of the Scots reform movement. Here was a man advocating workers representatives in Parliament a hundred and fifty years before Keir Hardie, demanding universal suffrage way before the suffragists, and fighting for the abolition of slavery and celebrating Scots hero’s like Wallace and Thomas Muir the leader of the United Scotsmen.

Burns is for me a hugely inspiring figure. He championed our own Scots culture when the ruling classes here considered it couthy, backward and rude. He was a figure the establishment truly feared and he has through his work retained his potency today. He was a close friend and collaborator of Scotland's great blacklisted painter Alexander Naysmith.

Robert Burns is rightly celebrated the world over and his attraction is that he was truly a poet of the common man and a genius to boot.
The SSP has proudly marked the anniversary of his birth for a decade now by debunking the myths and explaining who Robert Burns really was, what he really stood for and what he left us. I believe we owe him that much.
In the Canons Gait tomorrow night we will sing and dance and eat and drink to one true working class hero. He’s one of us.

Tickets £7 and £4unwaged – haggis neeps and tatties included.

New council houses - what a good idea!

I had a letter published in the Evening News today, you can read it by following this link

PPP/PFI shame

S2O-11504 - Colin Fox (Lothians) (SSP) : To ask the Scottish Executive whether it will review its policy on PFI projects, in light of the findings by Edinburgh University¿s Centre for International Public Health that payments from NHS boards across Scotland to private financiers will increase from the current £107 million to £510 million per year by 2011.

Answered by Mr Tom McCabe (21 December 2006): Public Private Partnerships are an important part of the Executive’s mixed economy approach to the modernisation and investment agenda to grow the Scottish economy and provide better public services.
Payments by public bodies to private sector PPP consortia are for services provided over the length of the contract - these include capital construction, lifecycle maintenance and facilities management, and not just the upfront construction cost of the asset. I do not recognise the £510 million figure to which you refer.

Free school meals hypocrisy

I have to congratulate Jim Devine MP and Michael Connarty MP for the stand they have taken in support of the principle of free nutritious school meals. I couldn’t agree more with the motion they signed in the House of Commons condemning the Liberal Democrats for cancelling the successful scheme they’ve ran in Hull for the past 3 years.

If only Mary Mulligan and Bristow Muldoon had shown the same social conscience then perhaps our bill to introduce free school meals across Scotland wouldn’t have been derailed by the labour led Executive.

It seems that the opinion of the Labour party is that it is ok for children in England to receive free school meals but for some reason it isn’t ok in Scotland – the word hypocrisy springs to mind.

Perhaps, for the Labour Party, the three words attached to the free school meals bill, Scottish socialist party, were the problem. Only the SSP is committed to delivering Free Nutritious School Meals for all our children.

The motion signed by Jim Devine MP & Michael Connarty MP read:
"That this House… believes that a more nutritious diet for schoolchildren has a central role in combating this public health problem; applauds Hull City Council's three-year pilot scheme, combining increased investment in healthier school food ingredients with the abolition of charges for primary school meals…"

Tuesday, 23 January 2007

RMT Signal workers dispute motion in the Scottish Parliament

S2M-5430 Colin Fox (Lothians) (SSP) : RMT Union Signal Workers' Dispute— That the Parliament notes the decision of RMT signal workers in Scotland who are employed by Network Rail to ballot for strike action over the company’s failure to implement a 35-hour working week agreement; believes that, although the agreement is being implemented across the rest of Britain, management in Scotland has reneged on its side of the deal and is attempting to enforce longer working hours and take rest day entitlements away from employees who often work in arduous conditions; extends its full support to RMT union members, and hopes that the strike can be averted by management’s return to the negotiating table and that a satisfactory outcome can therefore be reached on the issue.

Supported by: Chris Ballance, Ms Rosemary Byrne, Frances Curran, Rosie Kane, Carolyn Leckie, Campbell Martin, Tommy Sheridan, John Swinburne, Dr Jean Turner

Lodged on 18 January 2007

BA cabin crew strike

S2M-5443 Colin Fox (Lothians) (SSP) : British Airways Cabin Crew Strike Vote— That the Parliament notes with concern the threatened strike action by British Airways (BA) cabin crew over new company demands on sickness leave that they believe force them to work despite being ill; believes that the strength of feeling in the workforce was amply demonstrated by a union ballot last week which saw 96% vote in favour of strike action on the issue; regrets that the latest talks between the Transport and General Workers’ Union and the company have broken down, but calls on BA to take up the union’s offer of further talks aimed at avoiding a damaging dispute and reaching an agreement on changes to the current sickness leave arrangements.

Lodged on 22 January 2007

Saturday, 20 January 2007

NCR public meeting a huge success

Coverage from the Dundee Courier of our public meeting in Dundee last week.

Thursday, 18 January 2007

Trident, Law & Prescription Charges

S2W-31128 - Colin Fox (Lothians) (SSP) (Date Lodged 17 January 2007) : To ask the Scottish Executive how many police officers from each constabulary have so far been sent to cover the year-long “Faslane 365” protest at the Faslane naval base.

Answered by Cathy Jamieson (30 January 2007): Only officers from Strathclyde Police and the Ministry of Defence Police have been involved in policing the Faslane 365 protest.

S2W-30912 - Colin Fox (Lothians) (SSP) (Date Lodged 10 January 2007) : To ask the Scottish Executive what its precise timetable is for the commencement of outstanding sections 25 to 29 of the Law Reform Miscellaneous Provisions (Scotland) Act 1990.

Answered by Johann Lamont (23 January 2007): Sections 25-29 of the Law Reform (Miscellaneous Provisions) (Scotland) Act 1990 provides for rights of audience and rights to conduct litigation to be granted to members of professional or other bodies which meet the criteria described in the legislation. The commencement of these sections is expected to take place in March 2007, in tandem with section 61 of the Legal Profession and Legal Aid (Scotland) Bill 2006, which contains a provision to remove a defect related to the provisions on rights to conduct litigation.

S2W-30911 - Colin Fox (Lothians) (SSP) (Date Lodged 10 January 2007) : To ask the Scottish Executive, further to the answer to question S2W-29323 by Lewis Macdonald on 10 November 2006 in which the minister stated that he hoped to publish the review of NHS prescription charges and exemption arrangements before the end of the year, what the reason is for the delay and when the Executive now expects to publish the review.

Answered by Lewis Macdonald (24 January 2007): We are carefully considering the results of our consultation on NHS prescription charges and exemption arrangements in Scotland. Changes to the current arrangements may have complex financial and social consequences. We intend to publish a report on the consultation together with our decisions on the way forward in the near future.

S2M-5412 Colin Fox (Lothians) (SSP) : Condemn sacking of 650 by NCR Dundee

That the Parliament condemns the decision by NCR in Dundee to sack 650 of its workers; recognises that assurances given to the workers’ union just last year that jobs were safe have turned out to be worthless; believes that the announcement by NCR is not just a severe blow to Dundee but has ominous implications for workers’ job prospects throughout the manufacturing sector in Scotland; further believes that the NCR decision again highlights the need for greater protection of jobs in Scotland, which can be destroyed on a whim as employers uproot and head east for cheap labour reserves, and offers its full support to Amicus and the entire workforce in efforts they make to save the jobs and secure a future for all workers affected by this dreadful news.

Supported by: Frances Curran, Rosie Kane, Carolyn Leckie, Ms Rosemary Byrne, Kate Maclean, Tommy Sheridan

Lodged on 12 January 2007

Wednesday, 17 January 2007

Do we need a replacement for Trident?

The debate over the replacement of the Trident weapons of mass destruction is raging on across the country, even if the Labour government is immune to debate,
The Edinburgh South branch of the SSP is organising a public debate on the issue in Moredun.

Public Meeting
Thursday 25th January - 7.30pm
Goodtrees Neighbourhood Centre
Moredun, Edinburgh


Colin Fox MSP

Nigel Griffiths MP (invited)

Lothians Voices

SSP hits the campaign trail

Guess what I'll be doing over the next few weeks!!!!

As part of our election campaigning, the SSP has had 250,000 bulletin printed which we will deliver door to door across Scotland.In the Lothians this equates to 50,000 copies, or 5ft square as you can see from the photo, which will be delivered in Edinburgh, West Lothian & Midlothian.

I'll keep you updated on how we are getting on and will post more photos as the pile gets smaller, a kind of reverse Blue Peter totaliser if you like.If you look at the previous post you can see the Lothians version of the bulletin.

Tuesday, 16 January 2007

Anniversary of the Union - another unwanted birthday!

The Scotsman recently asked me for my views on the 300th aniversary of the act of union. The article can be found by following this link:
or you can read the full version here.
The 300th anniversary of the Treaty of Union allows us to take stock of Scotland's relationship with the 'United Kingdom'. The Scottish Socialist Party view is that the union should now be ended and replaced by an independent, democratic, republic.The Union was born of bribery, the threat of military force and the naked self interest of the merchant classes who lost their shirts on their reckless Darien adventure. It was imposed by a privileged minority against the fury of the common people who burned copies of the Treaty in public.Far from the glorious golden age, the myth so beloved of unionists, 1707 set Scotland in the role of junior partner in the bloodstained British Empire.Undoubtedly some Scots grew rich trading and supplying the sinews of military might. But for the average Scot it meant military service or grinding poverty in the growing industrial slums.These evils were only alleviated by the growing working class movement at home and the liberation movements-starting with the Irish-abroad.Then as now what Burns called "the parcel of rogues in a nation" took the London shilling and from 'North Britain' loyally served the empire.The same representatives of the merchants and banking classes earnestly proclaim Scotland's so called 'union dividend' and attempt to convince us that without the UK Osama Bin Laden would be in Burntisland and we would all be in abject poverty.The truth of course, is entirely different. The union is holding Scotland back economically and politically, held hostage to another social agenda altogether. Should the Tories win the next Westminster election that dichotomy will be shown to be starker still.Scotland also urgently needs the break with British militarism, to close the trident bases and strike out in a new direction.Just as at the enlightenment Scotland can be a beacon of hope to the world offering economic security and ecological sustainability at home and peace and friendship to the world.

Monday, 15 January 2007

NCR jobs betrayal

SSP Public meeting
Wed 17th Jan - 7.30pm

Queens Hotel, Dundee

speakers - Colin Fox MSP, Richie Venton (SSP TU organiser)
This announcement is a sickening blow to 650 NCR employees and their families. I am sure they are livid at the company who just a year ago assured them their jobs were safe. To add insult to injury I understand they heard news of their sacking by video link from America. NCR bosses have apparently described the decision to sack the workers as a 'step in the right direction. Well it's not 'a step in the right direction', it's a step towards the dole in a city with higher than average unemployment already. Once again Scots workers are being dumped and their jobs exported to low wage economies abroad for the benefit of the bosses. Virtually no private sector job in Scotland can be considered safe nowadays."I note that already all the bosses parties- New Labour, Tories , Lib Dems and the SNP can only wring their hands and blame market forces. The brutal truth is that we need to get tough with companies who treat workers in this shabby way. Scots workers have some of the weakest job protection laws in Europe thanks to New Labour's love affair with big business and it time that was changed. I have today been in touch with Amicus shop stewards and offered them my full support. Like them the SSP believes we should not just roll over and accept this decision. I will meet union officials on Wednesday in Dundee and will be speaking at a public meeting the Scottish Socialist Party has arranged on the issue.

Sunday, 14 January 2007

Custodial sentences bill

Labour's Custodial Sentences Bill was debated in the Parliament last week.
Labour intends to send another 1,100 people to jail, despite the fact that our prisons are already holding record numbers and are bursting at the seems.
All progressive opinion thinks, like us that this Bill is a crock.

These are the notes from my contribution to the debate.

Custodial Sentences and Weapons Scotland Bill
The policy objectives of this Bill are laudable, I certainly want to see
‘a clearer, more understandable system for managing offenders while in custody and on licence in the community, taking account of public safety by managing risk and to have victims interests at its heart’
- the problem is these objectives are just not going to be fulfilled by this Bill.

That View is Widely Held
SCCCJ – ‘Regrets very much that the SE is choosing a path that, far from achieving its objectives would incur huge costs and would have serious negative consequences for the criminal justice system and the safety of Scottish Communities.’
SACRO – ‘The bill aims to make sentencing system clearer, but will not achieve that end and will lead to resources being absorbed when they could be spent more effectively elsewhere in the system.’
CJA’s – ‘We concur with the ambition of the Bill but are concerned that, as described, the Bills purpose will not be fulfilled and may serve to further undermine rather than promote public confidence and understanding.’
J2 Committee Report itself - ‘Committee supports the policy objectives of the Bill, but calls into question whether the measures in the Bill , as currently constituted, can achieve the stated objectives.’

*Impact on the prison population
Things started to go wrong for me with this Bill when despite Ministers and officials saying ‘Nothing in the Bill requires judges to change their sentencing practice’, virtually every witness we heard from suggested they will.
And when SPS’s Rachael Gwynon told us ‘these measures will increase the daily prison population by 700-1,100.’ the alarm bells started ringing everywhere.
A prison population already at record levels and chronically overcrowded to be increased by 20%? HMIP has highlighted again and again his growing apprehension about a return to the 1980’s disruption and riots in our prisons.

Despite the view across the board that short term sentences in custody are wholly ineffective and a hugely expensive failure as far as reducing re-offending is concerned, here we have a Bill determined to take us further up that dead end.
CJA’s - ‘ The Bill would overwhelm the SPS , local authorities and independent providers. It has ineffectiveness built into it.’

Greater Clarity in Sentencing.
‘Transparent sentencing regime will improve public confidence in the CJ system’ says the policy memorandum to the Bill – indeed, but, again, this Bill does not provide it.

Andrew Coyle, Professor of Prison Studies at Kings College London in his evidence said quote [ p180 of evidence]
‘The aim of the Bill ‘to achieve greater clarity in sentencing is admirable. However it is not immediately apparent that the Bill will achieve its aim. Even when approaching it in a positive manner one needs a calculator and a great deal of patience to unravel the arithmetic of what a prison sentence will mean in the future.’
If Professor Andrew Coyle, with his credentials in Criminal Justice cannot fathom out the sentence, what hope is there for the rest of us?

And what ever can he mean? [see Sheriffs Association evidence],
‘The Sheriffs Association does not consider that the Bill will achieve the objective of delivering clarity and transparency in sentencing. Although the custody part of the sentence will be announced at the public sentencing hearing, it will not be possible to predict or state what period will actually be spent in prison or what conditions of licence during the community part of the sentence will be.’
And they even go on, in an unusually humorous vein for them, to ridicule the Bills proposals with an example of an offender found guilty of assault to severe disfigurement - See p 219 of evidence [read it out]

Further aspect of the Bill also open to public ridicule - the ‘anomaly’ that those sentenced to 30 days will spend less time in jail than those sentenced to 15, will have tabloid editors begging for more!
Because those on 15 days or less must serve 100% behind bars whereas sentences over 15 days spend 50% in jail. [no rationale why 15days]

50% to 75% of sentence now served in Custody
Either the Bill will make no difference whatsoever and offenders will continue by and large to serve 50% of their sentence in custody, or worse, despite the aim being to reduce re-offending, people will spend longer behind bars increasing that part of their sentence which does not work and spend less in the community which does and is, we are told, the whole emphasis of the Bill.

End to automatic unconditional early release of prisoners
Ministers–driven by public's understandable confusion about how six months means three months and a year equals 6 months, and their irritation at people who commit more crimes while out on licence.
But the truth is, that will continue with this bill
First, 50% [or 75%]of sentence still served in custody and 50% [or 25%] now as ‘community sentence’.
Secondly, prisoners still likely to be committing crimes when out on licence; especially since ‘supervision’ of short sentences [category where re-offending rates at its highest] based on no more than a promise of ‘good behaviour’!

I Welcome ‘Community based’ sentences
Because we know it has a far better chance of success than custody. Context ; for first time on record their were more community disposals in Scotland last year than custodial disposals

Paradox is that all the experts welcome community sentences but judges, eager to feed the public's apparent appetite for longer sentences will on previous experience in all likelihood cut back on that part of sentence which does any good. - BONKERS
Overwhelming evidence suggests we should scrap short sentences in custody. They don’t work and costly failures.
ADSW/COSLA p292 evidence
‘When people who have been in jail for a few weeks or months come out , they just want to forget it all –block it out. Therefore programmes delivered in the community have far more meaning to people.’
Its about time Executive showed the political courage to face down ignorance and hysteria.

Unrealistic Expectations Given to Public
Much of the evidence we received at Committee felt Bill was in danger of reducing public confidence and protection by putting resources in all the wrong places.
Risk Management resources - SPS currently risk assesses 3,000 prisoners /year; Bill proposed that is increased to 12,000
CJSW supervises 600 offenders per year; Bill suggest 3,800
-Supervision resources needed
Either no real supervision at all –be of good behaviour - obvious risk- or we direct thin resources to all the wrong targets.
Resources should be centred on high risk
-Support resources needed
Need a holistic approach – housing, relationships, alcohol, drugs, benefits, stability of community setting vs break up of all those factors by taking out of community and into custody!
See evidence from Professor Roger Houchin [p192]
‘The most profound shortcomings in the Bill concern the very limited consideration it gives to the community part of the sentence. It places all the obligations on the offender but makes only the scantest reference to the duties of authorities to enable the offender access to opportunities support in services of housing, employment, education and training, counselling , health care and financial management commensurate with aiding their full rehabilitation.’

Cost And Efficacy
Costs implications huge and criticism that spent in wrong areas.
SPS – 2 new prisons for 1,100 more daily population - £200m
SPS- more prison staff pro rata -£6m - writing risk assessment reports for people who should not be serving custody sentences.
CJSW – 10% more qualified social workers , which if you can even get them - £7.25m - but applied less than effectively.
Training for the existing staff in new reporting etc £11m

Unusual in my experience that a Stage One report has so many criticisms and questions still to be answered by the SE.
In my view much of this Bill unravelled during the evidence taking session….SCCCJ, CJA, Risk Assessment, Voluntary Sector, SPS, Sheriffs.

I am convinced that Bill would result in judges increasing the sentences to be served in custody; more people going to jail for longer – precisely the opposite advice we were repeatedly given as to what works.

For these reasons SSP will not support the Bill.

Thursday, 11 January 2007

Bring back our buses

The issue of bus services is becoming more and more acute across the country and in my home city of Edinburgh in particular. Yesterday I managed to secure a debate in the Scottish Parliament about this very issue.
There are links below to the video and transcript of the debate from the Parliament website as well as some articles from the Evening News. I've also included my speaking notes.

Edinburgh Evening News 27th Dec

Edinburgh Evening News 10th Jan

Scottish Parliament Transcript

Scottish Parliament Video

‘BRING BACK OUR BUSES’ [7mins] Wed 10th Jan 2007
Thank members for joining me for this debate which I think raises 3 important issues in particular.
One is the impact that cutting bus services and increasing fares has on public transport provision in Edinburgh and the Lothians,
Second is the role greater public transport provision can play in reducing social exclusion, global warming, pollution levels and road accidents.
And thirdly that free public transport across Scotland is now firmly on the agenda.

I want to start by acknowledging the service that First Bus and LRT especially provide for the people of the Lothians. I stood alongside both sets of drivers on their picket lines last year in support of their pay claim.
I am proud that Edinburgh retains one of the few publicly owned bus companies in the UK.

But both co’s must acknowledge that cuts to vital community bus routes in recent months have damaged their reputation and ability to deliver a universal service;
No 12 Jewell to Portobello cut, No 13 route via Blackhall curtailed,
No 18 to ERI from the Gyle curtailed
[Edinburgh pensioner Irene Paterson gathered 3,500 signatures for her petition keep the service via Hunters Tryst going]
No 20 in West Edinburgh curtailed,
No 38 from North Edinburgh to the ERI curtailed,
No 60 Dumbiedykes into town curtailed,
No 67 Ratho to Wester Hailes cut.
Getting from one part of the city to another without going through centre is increasingly difficult.
Fare Increases
Neither cuts in services nor fare increases lead to greater passenger no’s.
As the South Queensferry Bus Users Group has demonstrated, the £3.60 First Bus fare to Edinburgh, up 44% in 6 months, is not going to encourage more people to leave their car at home or even travel at all.
Only 1 in 3 families in the poorest areas of town has a car.

Likewise the inflation busting fares increases announced by the train operating companies over Christmas again will not encourage people to travel by train. Britain already has the highest fares in Western Europe.
Since 1990 bus fares;70% of all public transport journeys by bus; up 24%

‘Service’ to Communities
Public transport has to be seen as a service, one vital to the economy and to communities they serve - not as a money making industry.
Buses often offer a vital lifeline for vulnerable people and isolated communities with few alternatives to fall back on… cars, taxi’s etc.

Since few routes outside the lucrative mass transit of the big cities make money it is understood that we need to subsidise public transport.
The question is to what extent and to what end? Not to fatten the profits of private bus companies

I applaud South Queensferry Users Group and the Bring Back Our Buses campaign and support their arguments for route development.
I applaud the efforts of those Community Councils who argue that it is necessary our transport system be universally inclusive.

This Debate in wider context
Mrs Thatcher once sneered that if you were still travelling by bus when you were 40 you were a failure. Well the spokeswoman for the ‘Chelsea tractor’ brigade spectacularly failed to understand the issues.
Fortunately others saw it better and passenger numbers are again rising after a decade of decline.
LRT passenger numbers are up 25% in 6 years and they have ordered 42 new buses –with the very latest ‘Euro 4’ low emission diesel engines

Public transport is rightly considered the primary way to reduce traffic volumes, reducing CO2 and NO emissions.
Compared to cars they reduce these emissions / passenger mile by 88%.

Everyone is facing up to public transport being the best option.
I see that all the main parties in the city are now arguing for more money to be put into our bus services;
Labour – Ewan Aitken ‘£1m more for the buses if Labour gets re-elected’ Liberals, SNP and even Tories all agree.

Just as well because Ian Craig, Managing Director of LRT has highlighted the need for more money if the services demanded by the public are to be delivered.

Making Public Transport Free - Affordable to All
The SSP is committed to introduce free public transport for all in Scotland, to provide a better alternative to the car and offers genuine social inclusion - travel for all.

-Executive has introduced free public transport for senior citizens, welcome but many pensioners often don’t have a local bus to get on
- Minister announced on Monday 16-19 year old discounted travel and two free ferry journeys for youngsters on the islands...again quite right.
-Kenny McAskill’s interesting proposal to have everyone travel free on Edinburgh’s buses rather than develop the Tram system
- Euan Robsons call for carers to be allowed to travel free – when with their loved one/client – an eminently sensible idea.
But all too little on their own to make a lasting difference.

Scotland has a higher use of public transport per head than UK, we would therefore benefit proportionately more from free travel.
Those on low incomes rely on public transport far more would save between £400-£500 per month.
But wider benefits still accrue since;
-57% of companies believe traffic jams greatly disrupt their businesses.
- Road accidents cost the Scottish economy £1.4bn annually.
- 4 out of 5 designated Air management Areas failed to meet their targets for reducing air pollution
- Reduce Scotland’s dependence on oil – cars.

Scotland would lead the world in providing free public transport.
It has however been implemented in selective areas already.

Hasselt in Belgium
Town popn: 69,000- with a car ownership of one car per 2.12 residents experiencing dreadful congestion in the 1990’s decided in 2000 to introduce a free fares scheme
-passenger journeys rose 870% and they turned the problem around.
Danish govt. now studying the experience to repeat it there, so too in
Melbourne - supporters of a state wide free travel scheme in Victoria.
Matthew ParrisAbandoned Thatcherite attitude in light of experience ‘I was wrong to oppose Ken Livingstones fares campaign in the 1980’s.’ Cheap fares have to be the way forward.’
Visit Scotland published a report highlighting the case for free public transport for all in Scotland.’ [Tomorrow’s World May 2006]

So How Do we Do it?
First Step is to allow Local authorities to again regulate the bus routes, timetables and fares in consultation with local communities and groups like BBOB’s and South Queensferry Users Group – real democracy in action at the grassroots.
Prior to 1986 bus services were regulated and licensed this way.
Deregulation saw first aggressive price wars over route domination and then cuts to services as the profit motive usurped public service.
Public cross subsidy fosters genuine co-operative development of routes.

Annual transport revenues in Scotland [last years figures] £593m.
+ Set up costs and cost of extra buses, staff etc needed £700m.
Total cost therefore £1.3 billion – yes it is a lot of money, but
i. Surely no-one will now argue money is not there, not after that £25bn Trident announcement!
Ii ‘Doing Nothing is Most expensive option’.- Sir Nicholas Sterns review on impact of global warming.
Iii The cost savings to health service from reduced road accidents and pollution, from business and wider economy savings. Could be offset against this cost.

I believe this approach to be a radical and socially just contribution to the huge issues of poverty, health and climate change now facing us.

Tuesday, 9 January 2007

Trident in the Evening News

I sent this press release to the Evening News on Saturday, this is the full version and the link below will take you to the published version!

MSP to Join Faslane Anti Nuclear protest
Lothian’s MSP Colin Fox will join a protest outside Faslane Naval Base on Monday [8th Jan] as the opposition to replacing Trident nuclear missiles intensifies.

With the Westminster Parliament due to vote on replacing Britain’s nuclear deterrent next month Fox believes Scottish public opinion is solidly against Trident.
‘I have been campaigning on this issue throughout the country over the past few months and the response illustrates the widespread opposition there is to our ‘nuclear weapons of mass destruction’.
‘Whilst Tony Blair is intent on obtaining even more of these weapons most people consider them obscene. It is clear Labour just cannot be trusted on Trident. It is plainly a pro nuclear party now.
By contrast, I believe these weapons to be both immoral and illegal. They fall foul of international law because they cannot distinguish between enemy combatants on the one hand and innocent civilians on the other.
‘Having read the governments white paper ‘Maintaining the UK’s Nuclear Deterrent’ I do not believe they have made the case for replacing Trident. And I fail to see how Tony Blair can lecture other countries about not developing nuclear ‘WMD’s’ and then turn round and spend upwards of £25bn on a second generation of Trident missiles. It makes a mockery of Britain’s commitment to the nuclear non Proliferation Treaty.’
‘Opinion in Scotland is sharply against Trident and its replacement. I am certain that an Independent Scotland would simply not accept these weapons being based here.
The recent vote at Holyrood revealed many Labour MSP’s hiding behind a cowardly position of ‘It’s a Westminster decision, it’s not for this Parliament. Well I disagree, this is an issue for us all. The electorate are entitled to know where everyone stands. And Monday is about making clear where I stand.’

Monday’s protest is part of a year long effort by Scottish CND called ‘Faslane 365’ which seeks to keep the issue at the forefront of public opinion.

Faslane 365

I attended the Faslane 365 blockade yesterday with my parliamentary colleagues, Frances, Carolyn and Rosie. I've copied my speech below and will add links to the various news stories about the event.

Faslane 365’ Jan 8th 2007

Intro* May I begin by congratulating ‘Faslane 365’ for organising today and this year long protest.

*Proud as the National Convenor of SSP to be with you today. As you know the SSP are proud supporters of the disarmament movement and have been here many times before. You know you can trust the SSP on Trident.
NO party done more to keep the issue in the public eye and to mobilise opinion.We consider these weapons to be immoral, illegal and a colossal waste of money.We would rather see it spent on peace, on health, education and social services instead.

The Govt’s Case*

This is such a profound political issue that I fear any party which has MSP’s, MP’s and MEP’s both for and against nuclear weapons is not a principled party at all but merely an accommodation.Equally it is dishonest in my view to hide behind the excuse that this is a Westminster issue – this is not a Westminster issue, this is an issue for all humanity. And this is certainly an issue for the Holyrood Parliament, one which it is morally and politically obliged to take a stand on.

* Tony Blair and Jack McConnell like to lecture us, and with not a little pompously, about how they are courageous enough to take ‘difficult decisions’ - usually a euphemism in my experience for doing the opposite of what they were elected to do. Replacing Trident is just such an example.I say to all MSP’s, stand by your principles. You cannot easily claim to be in favour of peace and international goodwill and then hold the threat of nuclear annihilation over humankind.

*I have here the MOD and Foreign Office case for ‘Maintaining the UK’s Nuclear Deterrent’.• ‘It is a fundamental responsibility of Government to provide for the security of the UK and its citizens now and for the future’ it says.And that ‘security’ can only be provided using Trident can it? We don’t have conventional weapons for that? only 4% of the defence budget, that our conventional ‘weapons of mass destruction’ and our continuing ability to illegally invade sovereign nations will not be diminished in any way.
‘The future is uncertain: accurately predicting events over the period 2020-2050 is extremely hard’ the Govt paper goes on. So why spend upwards of £25bn on Trident then if cannot predict it being used?What do we know of the world?

*The USA -The only country in the world ever to have fired nuclear weapons at another nation, is also the country which has a bigger stockpile than all 8 other nuclear states put together.[USA has 32,500 individual nuclear warheads]And has also just invaded/occupied IRAQ and look at the security that has brought the world!

* Looking at the world through the eyes of the 180 countries who don’t have nuclear ‘deterrents’; they see UK, the world fifth biggest military exporter, the country which went into an illegal war alongside the Bush cowboy in Iraq with a constantly deployed nuclear threat able to strike anywhere in the world.Now announces plans to develop a second generation of nuclear WMD’s at a cost which is beyond the GDP of most countries of the world. They must surely wonder -Who protects the world from US and UK Nuclear WMDs?
‘There is a potential risk of state sponsored terrorists armed with nuclear weapons.’ it adds.Fact: there are 9 countries with nuclear weapons – US, Russia, France, China, UK, India, Israel, Pakistan and now North Korea. ‘Currently we know of no state that has both a nuclear capability and the ability and intent to use it against our vital interests.’But Britain has the CAPABILITY, and regards INTENT it admits it would defend ‘OUR VITAL INTERESTS’ the very reason it gave for invading Iraq.Following the disastrous war in Iraq it also has ’FORM’ on acts of aggression.
‘The UK is committed to working towards a safer world in which there is no need for nuclear weapons.’YET UK just announced plans to build second generation of Nuclear weapons at cost £25bn. ‘We have an excellent record in meeting our obligations under the Nuclear Non Proliferation Treaty.’YET UK just announced plans to build second generation of Nuclear weapons at cost £25bn.

*How dare Tony Blair lecture other countries about not developing nuclear weapons and then turn round and spend perhaps £25bn of our money on WMD’s!
Democracy : Scotland – Nuclear Free. Keep Up the Pressure An Independent Scotland would get rid of Trident. I have not the slightest doubt, because it is plainly the ‘settled will’ of the Scottish people to do so.Tony Blair - ‘There will be a full public debate on Trident 2’. Not so, it is a charade, told decision already made. Yet majority of Scots are opposed.All the more reason we must make it an election issue at Holyrood 2007.Because it is an issue for Holyrood, an issue for humankind.
SSP will continue to be at the forefront of the opposition to Trident today and everyday.

News Links

BBC News -

Daily Record -

Monday, 1 January 2007

And now for somethning completely different - Its Musselburgh races!

Perhaps the Michael Palin's Diaries [1969-1979] I got for Christmas were playing on my mind, or perhaps it was just the beer, but Musselburgh races has a definite 'Pythonesque' feel to it today.
Then again it could just be that a 71 year old man winning one of the handicaps is a highly unusual event at a race meeting. He is now officially recognised as the fastest man in Scotland. To add insult to national injury he was English.

And before you think I have taken leave of my senses - a 71 year old man winning at Musselburgh races- I assure you it is true. Let me just explain one or two important facts.

Scotland's oldest sporting event the 'Powderhall New Year sprint' -first run in 1870- is now run at Musselburgh because the original venue, Powderhall, - a greyhound racing circuit in Edinburgh - has closed down. The athletics event today offers a cash prize to the fastest man or woman to cover 110 metres [originally it was 110yards of course] and professional runners come from all over the world to compete.

This years handicap event, run on the grass inside the last furlong, was won by Tony Dobson from Leeds. His success was certainly no fluke. Having won his first round heat and his semi final as the fastest qualifier at 11.60seconds, it was perhaps no surprise that he started 6/4 favourite to lift the £4,000 first prize.
The history books will record that he had a 28metre start to beat all comers. But what is absolutely amazing about This years victor is that he is 71years of age!
What does it say about the pride of Scottish man and womanhood?

Anyone else think they saw this once before, in a Monty Python sketch?

The horses? Well I had two winners - Barracat and Leslingthomas- and two seconds, so I was well pleased. But to tell you the truth, the only name I will remember in the morning will be Tony Dobson, 71, from Leeds. And do you know what? He has promised to come back next year and defend his trophy!!!!!!!!

Fox reacts to Saddam execution

On The death of a Tyrant - End the Bloody Occupation of a 'Sovereign' Nation

SSP National Convenor Colin Fox commenting on the execution of Saddam
Hussein today suggested Britain and USA examine their own consciences at
this time.

“As some one who campaigned against the tyranny of Saddam Hussein for
decades I shed few tears for his passing. But this is no time to let the
fact that the British and US governments made it him what he was sink into
silence. Saddam Hussein was their 'muscle in the middle east' for two
decades. They funded him and armed him throughout, in the barbaric war with
Iran and when they turned a blind eye to the massacres of his own people.”

“The statements by Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett in London and from
White House infer that this execution was a matter of internal Iraqi
politics and the independent decision of a 'sovereign nation”

“Unfortunately this smacks of a continuing duplicity from two governments
which illegally invaded this sovereign nation in 2003 and occupy it still.”

"The execution of Saddam Hussein changes none of that. And neither does it
change the horror that is the day to day reality for millions of ordinary
Iraqi's. It is surely something to reflect upon that the Iraqi population
will openly admit they preferred the days of Saddam to the miserable life
and death they face now.”

“The key question facing the world today remains, was the US/UK invasion in
2003 the right way to get rid of Saddam Hussein's tyranny in Iraq. And the
emphatic and inescapable answer is no it wasn't. “

'”Looking at the sectarian carnage in Iraq today, with more people dying
each season than were killed on 9/11, the illegal invasion remains morally
repugnant and Saddam's execution even politically irrelevant amidst all

"The sickening sectarian carnage of violence which the US and British
invasion unleashed is the daily reality for thousands of ordinary Iraqis and
will continue and perhaps even be accelerated by Saddam's execution in the
short term."

"The brutal truth is that the war and the occupation launched by Bush and
Blair has spawned a horror against which the execution of Saddam is likely
to be little more than a further bloody footnote."

"The SSP believes the war in IRAQ to be a catastrophic failure of policy by
Bush and Blair and will define them forever more. “

“The longer the illegal US/British occupation continues the greater the
bloodshed for the Iraqi people and the greater the defeat for Britain and

'Today it is appropriate to repeat again the need for the immediate
withdrawal of all UK and US troops from Iraq and bring this nightmare to an