Wild Animals in Travelling Circuses

The Scottish Government has published the findings of a public consultation on the use of wild animals in travelling circuses. The results clearly indicate that the Scottish public are strongly in favour of an outright ban – with 98% of respondents demanding an end to the practice.

I welcome these findings and strongly believe that a travelling circus is no place for a wild animal.

A vast body of evidence shows that travelling circuses do not offer a suitable living environment for wild animals. Too often the lives of these animals are blighted by unacceptable deprivation, confinement, and abuse.

The British Veterinary Association, while formally backing a ban, has stated: “the welfare of these animals is emblematic of the way we treat all animals under the care of humans. The welfare needs of non-domesticated, wild animals cannot be met within a travelling circus – in terms of housing or being able to express normal behaviour.”

The Labour Party firmly believes that animals should not be subjected to the unacceptable conditions of circus life. We have been a strong advocate for introducing a ban (we made it a manifesto promise at the General Election), and we will continue to campaign hard to bring an end to this cruel practice.

With a clear mandate from the Scottish people, support from professional organisations, and a strong evidence-base, it is time for the Scottish Government to take decisive action to ban the use of wild animals in travelling circuses.

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Community Empowerment Bill Passed

SAGSI have been involved with the Community Empowerment (Scotland) Bill through my work as a member of the Rural Affairs and Climate Change Committee. The bill was passed by the Scottish Parliament last Wednesday.  It will provide a stronger legislative framework that will empower community organisations through the ownership of land and buildings, improve the process of community planning, and enable communities to have increased access to, and have a stronger influence over, the decisions that really matter to them.   I was particularly pleased that the representations made by the Scottish Allotments and Gardens Society were acted on and that the problems created by the SNP Government’s first draft were sorted out when we amended the bill.

Scottish Labour strongly supports the principle that communities should be given more opportunities to work together to improve people’s lives. The bill is a huge opportunity to ensure that we tackle inequalities and that we look after our land and buildings. Scottish Labour therefore strongly supports the ambitions behind the bill. We see it as dealing with unfinished business from the Land Reform Act that we passed in 2003.  For me the extension to urban Scotland is very important and will create new opportunities for communities in our towns and cities.

Yet, the bill itself leaves new unfinished business.  Important issues were raised by the Land Reform Review Group, including those around compulsory purchase orders and compulsory sale orders, which will now be considered by the Scottish Law Commission.  More work will need to be done.  Crucially, we need to build capacity and support in our communities to ensure that we deliver the social justice and regeneration of communities that are at the heart of the bill.

I hope that a more constructive and positive set of relationships between landowners and communities will flow from the legislation.  Its very existence will be good across the country, and it will raise people’s aspirations. The bill is about empowerment and opening up new opportunities for our communities, particularly those that are disadvantaged. It will create new opportunities, and as MSPs we need to ensure that our local communities will benefit from the changes.

If you would like to read my full speech, please visit the link provided below:



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Tackling Our Long-Term Health Challenges

Earlier this month, the Scottish Parliament discussed a Labour motion which addressed the ability of NHS Scotland to deal with the increasing levels of demand placed on its key services. The debate was in response to the call from the RCN and the royal colleges for a genuine debate about the way forward for the NHS. In my speech I took the opportunity to raise my worries over the capacity of NHS Lothian to respond effectively to the numerous challenges ahead:

The region covered by NHS Lothian “has people who are experiencing ill health as a result of deprivation; it has people with multiple and long-term health conditions; it has a population that is growing month on month, with no sign of that changing; and its population is changing, with more older people living longer, who will have many more contacts with our NHS, whether with GPs, our care system or our hospitals”

NHS Lothian is now dealing with more patients than ever before, and, on average, those patients are becoming increasingly harder to treat – due to the prevalence of age-related illness and levels of deprivation.

I therefore took the opportunity to stress the need to invest in Lothian’s GP practices, which have become increasingly understaffed and underfunded, in the hope that this may help alleviate some of the strain.   As the first point of contact for the vast majority of us, I believe GP practices must play a larger role in the future of our NHS, but to do this increased resources will need to be provided by the Scottish Government.   I raised this issue directly with the Cabinet Secretary for Health in relation to the £50m GP fund she has available.

If you would like to read my full speech, please follow the link below:

I strongly believe a wider, more preventative approach to health is urgently needed with a focus on poverty reduction, investment in active travel, action on obesity and support for carers. We also need to make the case that investment in our environment has positive health benefits, whether it’s allotments and greenspaces or improving air quality. Yesterday the Lancet published a paper arguing that climate change will set back global health advances by 50 years. You can read it here: http://press.thelancet.com/Climate2Commission.pdf

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Student flats consented for Homebase site

Homebase Map

The Scottish Government’s planning reporter has granted permission to UNITE Group PLC for the development of student accommodation at the Homebase site on St Leonard’s Street, Edinburgh.

The appeal follows a decision by the City of Edinburgh Council to refuse the application earlier this year.

Assessing the application, the reporter judged that as the site was ‘adjacent’ to the university campus and that, although it would increase the proportion of students in the local population, it would not lead to a loss of family housing. You can read the full decision here.

The decision is the latest demonstration of the shortcomings of the Council’s existing policy on student accommodation, based on the appropriateness of the location and ambition to limit excessive concentration of student housing in local communities.  I recently contributed to a council consultation on the issue which details my concerns around the issue.

In an attempt to support retention of the current Homebase store on the site following a meeting with local residents I wrote to the company.  In response, Homebase stated that while they were keen to remain at the site, the landlord had made clear its intention to develop the site.  As a result, there was no prospect of the store’s lease being extended beyond the end of July.

This is a disappointing outcome and I will be continuing to lobby the Council to improve planning guidance.  We need to strike the right balance between supporting the growth of our universities while preserving cohesive and sustainable communities.

We particularly need new housing developments to address the city’s affordable housing crisis.  I will be meeting with the new President of Edinburgh University Students Association as I also have concerns about the affordability of new purpose built student housing and would be interested in seeing more cooperative housing options being pursued.

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Update sought on City Deal

Earlier this week I questioned the Scottish Government’s Business Minister on support for an Edinburgh Region City Deal.

City Deals are agreements between government and city regions, giving those areas the ability to take charge and responsibility of decisions that affect their area

Last year, a City Deal was announced for the Glasgow and Clyde Valley region.  The deal will bring over £1.1bn of investment that will support key infrastructure projects, generating thousands of jobs and helping drive economic growth.  It’s estimated that 15,000 will be created during the construction phase, with 28,000 permanent jobs created in the long term. Continue reading

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Scottish Government must investigate fox hunt claims

Earlier today I hosted an event for the League Against Cruel Sports to screen the video opposite, revealing evidence that fox hunting is continuing in Scotland.

The evidence presented by the League Against Cruel Sports is deeply concerning and the allegations must be fully investigated by the Scottish Government.

Fox hunting is a cruel pursuit and we need to know that Ministers are serious about properly enforcing the law passed by the Scottish Parliament in 2002 to ban it.  The Scottish Government should also consider the merits of the proposals to change the law put forward by the charity.

At the same time as enforcing the ban in Scotland, the SNP should underline its opposition to the practice across the UK by stating clearly its objection to a repeal of the law in England and Wales.

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Student Housing in Edinburgh


At the end of last month, I submitted my comments to a City of Edinburgh Council consultation on student housing.

My comments, which can be read in full here, were informed by the work I’ve been doing with residents in the Southside to highlight concerns about the high number of proposed developments seeking planning permission.

The residents I have met and spoken with at public meetings and at surgeries recognise the contribution of the city’s universities to our economy and equally welcome the contribution made by students to our communities. Continue reading

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Hutchie Vale’s Defibrillator Success

Shockingly Easy

Last week, members of the Hutchison Vale Community Sports Club unveiled a new automated external defibrillator.

The life saving device allows for a quick response to certain cardiac arrhythmias (or irregular heartbeat) which can lead to cardiac arrest and is designed to be simple to use.

Members of Hutchie Vale have been supporting the Evening News ‘Shockingly Easy’ campaign which aims to see the devices installed at every sports club in the Lothians.

The campaign was set up in memory of 13-year-old Jamie Skinner who died in December 2013 following a suspected heart attack while playing football for Tynecastle FC.

Every week in the UK, 12 apparently fit and healthy people under 35 lose their lives due to undiagnosed cardiac conditions and the early use of defibrillation can significantly increase the chances of survival.

Earlier this year, the Scottish Government published a national strategy looking at the issue of out of hospital cardiac arrest.  The strategy outlines a number of action points to improve care at every step of the so called chain of survival from early recognition through to aftercare.  It also highlights the need to raise public awareness and to create a culture of readiness.

I have lodged a motion in Parliament, congratulating Hutchie Vale and calling for early action to implement the Scottish Government’s strategy.

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Campaign to protect Europe’s Nature Laws

The Scottish Wildlife Trust has joined a Europe-wide campaign to ensure that European laws protecting our wildlife and wild places are not weakened.

The European Commission is currently reviewing the laws covering habitats and bird life and the Defend Nature campaign has set up a website to allow people across Europe to submit their views

Earlier this year the Scottish Parliament’s Rural Affairs Committee, of which I am a member, agreed to our work on EU priorities for the year ahead.  The review of the directives was identified as an area to monitor and the Committee will request updates from the Scottish Government when required.

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Decision delayed on controversial Stockbridge licences

Photo: Jon Davey PhotographyLast week, Edinburgh’s licensing board deferred a decision on a series of licences linked to the controversial Edinburgh Accies development in Raeburn Place.

The £8m development, which has already been granted planning permission by the Council, will include a 5,000 capacity stadium, a cinema, bars, restaurants and retail units when completed.

The licences sought would allow the on-sale of alcohol until 1am, extending to 3am during the Festival and Festive seasons.  The Licensing Board decided to defer a decision until after a site visit to hear concerns.

The licences, and the scale of the development have prompted widespread local opposition and I share the concerns that have been raised by many in the community about the scale and appropriateness of the proposals.

During the planning process in late 2012, I lodged objections highlighting the disproportionate scale of the development in relation to the commercial elements which had been built in to the proposal to maximise income and the impact that this would have on residents and business.   I was clear at the time that I did not object to the ambition of improving and modernising the sports facilities of the proposal but was worried about the potential traffic and adverse community impact that would result.

Many of these concerns have been brought into sharp focus by the licence applications – with residents worried about antisocial behaviour, noise disturbances and traffic chaos associated with the development.  A number of premises in the development look set to offer on-street dining and drinking in close proximity to people’s homes.  Then there are the problems associated with late night closing times with large numbers of people leaving venues at a time when there is no public transport.  At times when the stadium hosts events, there are real concerns about the impact on transport and earlier this year the Scottish Public Services Ombudsman rebuked the Council for not ensuring a transport study was conducted.

I believe it is clear that the proposed licences would significantly impact on residents’ quality of life – all in an area which is already well served by restaurants and bars and which is now at risk of overprovision.

In Edinburgh, we do not have to look far to see comparisons with areas where residential communities living alongside the night time economy negatively impacts on people’s quality of life.  In my time as an MSP, I’ve dealt with countless complaints from residents in the Grassmarket for example and those experiences should be properly considered before a final decision is taken.   You can see my submission to the Licensing Board which highlights these issues here.

I have heard many residents express a view that they would be happy to support a smaller scale development.  There is support for the ambition of Edinburgh Accies to develop the site to put themselves on a more secure financial footing but it is vital that the development is proportionate, and does not conflict with the neighbouring community.

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