Monthly Archives: May 2012

Blairgowrie Advertiser – 24th May 2012

Once again, there is a fight to save the identities of Scotland’s famous fighting units. Already amalgamated into the Royal Regiment of Scotland by the last Labour Government, our famous former regiments exist as battalions protected by their name and cap badge. In amalgamating our regiments, the last Labour Government also promised what they called a “golden thread” that would ensure that the specific heritage and traditions would be preserved in the new regiment.

However, Defence Secretary Philip Hammond, recently suggested that those names didn’t matter and proposed that our battalions be simply referred to by their number. With one stroke of a Whitehall pen he recommended that our famous fighting units be simply done away with and consigned to history. The Black Watch would be referred to as the Third Battalion, or the Third Scots, if you like. This produced uproar from Scotland’s veteran community and those associated with our regiments.  All sorts of campaigns were launched to have this preserved.

And there is a fantastic association in Perthshire with our local regiment, the Black Watch. Hundreds of people turned up for the homecoming parade when the Black Watch recently returned home from Afghanistan. There is a tremendous respect for the way our fighting unit performs an almost unimaginable difficult task on our behalf. It’s about the re-assurance and confidence we feel that our armed forces are the best in the world. There is also the association with our local communities.  Perthshire, Angus and Fife have always been the recruiting area for the Black Watch. Generations of young men have joined up with their comrades to serve in our local regiment.

Such was the furore following the recent announcement, that a cross party campaign was hastily put together at the House of Commons and within a few days we saw the first sign of a climb-down from Government. Philip Hammond revealed to the press that he was now minded to keep the names and we then learned that this u-turn was ordered from the Prime Minister himself. I also secured a House of Commons debate to question the defence Secretary about these plans.  At the time of writing, this debate is still to take place

What we need to hear from the Defence Secretary is that he will maintain the golden thread; that the identities of our former regiments are safe and he is ruling out any suggestion that names will be diminished. Instead of running down our former regiments, this Westminster Government should be promoting them and parading them as an example of everything that is good about the army.

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Blairgowrie Advertiser – 10th May 2012

First of all, congratulations to Councillors Bob Ellis, Liz Grant and Caroline Shires, as well as Councillors Ian Miller, Alan Grant, Lewis Simpson, and Dennis Melloy. By mainly securing re-election on the first vote clearly demonstrates that the people of East Perthshire value the work they have done over the past five years and I am certain that they will work together for the best interests of everyone in the Blaire area.

Very little changed last Thursday for us in the SNP on Perth and Kinross Council. We remain the largest party with 18 councillors, three short of that elusive overall majority, having increased our share of the vote by 3% and coming very close to adding 2 seats to our tally. We won councillors in every ward in Perth and Kinross and, this week, councillors are now busy working on securing a deal that will deliver a new administration.

It was not so good for the Liberals or Conservatives. The Liberals, following the example of the Liberals nationally, lost two councillors, including their group leader. The Conservatives also lost one councillor and failed to re-take the seat where one of their number became an independent. This was a calamitous result for the Tories in what was once described as their “heartland”.

Nationally, we in the SNP had our best ever council result. We won the election, securing the most councillors and securing the largest share of the vote. We also had the most gains and have ended up with majorities in neighbouring Angus and Dundee. Where the media, as usual, concentrated on Glasgow, the SNP gained councillors in every part of Scotland. We have now won four out of the last five national elections and this sets us up perfectly for the next electoral test, the independence referendum.

Where there were concerns about the low turnout, Perth and Kinross surpassed the national average with an average turnout of 44 %. This was the first stand-alone council election since 1995 and with the lack of media coverage and debates, this was actually quite a respectable turnout.

All our new councillors now face a range of diverse challenges. Councils now have a number of new responsibilities and the decisions that are made in council chambers impact on all aspects of our community. I am looking forward to working constructively with all new and returning councillors and wish them all the best in their important task.

Breadalbane Quair and Newsround North – May 2012

I was concerned to see the recent UK Government tax credit changes, which came into force at the start of April.  I believe that the decision will cause severe hardship for working families and could plunge many households into poverty.   A document produced by HM Revenue and Customs in December 2011 showed that 84,900 households in Scotland will no longer be eligible for tax credits when the changes to the threshold kick-in.  This will mean that 118,700 children in Scotland will be affected.

If these families cannot find up to 8 hours extra work a week, they face the loss of £3,870 from their household income.  To try to force people to find more hours of work to make up for the reduction in Tax Credits ignores, firstly, the very real difficulties that there are in the UK job market as a result of the UK Government’s austerity programme and, secondly, the impact that might have on childcare arrangements.

The families affected are not living a life of luxury; they are low income households who will be forced to cut back on basics such as heating costs and new clothes. In addition there is an impact on the wider economy with households spending less money locally, reducing even further the availability of jobs.

The recent budget at Westminster also spelled out a number of difficulties for local people.  The Chancellor’s failed to act on fuel prices, as he used the Budget to confirm that fuel duty will increase in line with inflation.

My SNP Westminster colleagues and I have repeatedly called for a fair fuel regulator, which would prevent high prices at the pump and stop the government receiving a windfall from higher prices.  People in Highland Perthshire, and right across Scotland, are crying out for action to bring down fuel prices, but the Chancellor has ignored calls to reduce fuel duty and forgotten about his pre-election pledge to establish a regulator.

We are producing millions of barrels of oil every day in Scotland yet we are subjected to the highest fuel prices in Europe. With the bulk of the pump price made up of tax, the Treasury should stop this highway robbery because soaring fuel prices are hindering economic recovery.  It means less money for ordinary people to spend, higher costs for producers and is especially damaging in Highland Perthshire where car reliance is high and fuel is a necessity and not a luxury.

In July 2008, George Osborne launched plans for a ‘Fair Fuel Stabiliser’, describing it as a ‘common sense plan’.  As well as being common sense, it is unanswerable and fair for Scotland, given that we pay among the highest fuel prices in Europe. With record North Sea oil and gas revenues flowing to the Treasury, we need to see some of that money used to bring fuel prices down – and to keep them stable – through a fuel duty regulator.

I believe that the decision to freeze personal tax allowances for the over-65s will hit pensioners hard.  Higher personal tax allowances granted to those over the age of 65 – £10,500 for those aged 65 to 74 and £10,660 for those aged 75 plus (2012-13) – will be frozen until they come into line with the basic personal tax allowance.  While the increased personal tax allowances for those under 65 are welcome, the decision to freeze the higher age allowances granted to those aged over 65 will hit pensioners hard.  Given the pressures of soaring fuel and energy costs and significant food inflation pensioners are going to be hit very hard by this new blow to their income.

I can be contacted at my office in Blairgowrie at 35 Perth Street, Blairgowrie, PH10 6DL, you can call me on 01250 876 576 or email me at wishartp@ parliament.uk