Congratulations to Scotland’s Mercury Prize winners, Young Fathers

Young Fathers

Young Fathers, photo by Sarah Nuehring

Jean has congratulated the hip-hop group Young Fathers, which was formed by Kayus Bankole, ‘G’ Hastings and Alloysious Massaquoi in Edinburgh in 2008, on winning the 2014 Mercury Prize for their debut album, Dead. They are the first Scottish act to win the Mercury since Franz Ferdinand in 2004.

Jean, who is Convenor of the Scottish Parliament’s Cross-Party Group on Culture, lodged a motion in the Parliament celebrating the trio’s success, and also recognising the enormous contribution that immigrant communities have made to Scottish arts and culture, today and throughout our history. Alloysious Massaquoi was born in Liberia, and Kayus Bankole was born in Scotland to Nigerian parents.

The motion, which has so far been co-signed by 11 other MSPs, reads:

Motion S4M-11362: Jean Urquhart, Highlands and Islands, Independent, Date Lodged: 30/10/2014
Congratulations to Young Fathers on Winning the 2014 Mercury Prize

That the Parliament congratulates Kayus Bankole, G Hastings and Alloysious Massaquoi of the Scottish hip-hop group, Young Fathers, on the group’s debut album, Dead, winning the 2014 Mercury Prize; believes that this win is indicative of the strength, innovation and diversity of Scottish popular music today; notes that Alloysious and the parents of Kayus were immigrants to Scotland, and celebrates the enormous and essential contribution that immigrants make to Scotland’s culture.

To watch the video for Get Up, from the Mercury Prize-winning Dead, click here.

Jean backs Orcadian woman’s call to end charity tax breaks for private schools

Orkney resident Ashley Husband Powton, a postgraduate student at the University of the Highlands and Islands, has petitioned the Scottish Parliament to remove charitable status from private schools. She presented 310 signatures in support of the change to the Scottish Parliament’s Public Petitions Committee on Tuesday 28 October.

VIDEO: Ashley Husband Powton answers questions on her petition from MSPs.

VIDEO: Ashley Husband Powton answers questions on her petition from MSPs.

Jean has congratulated Ashley on her campaign and her composure in the face of hostile questioning from some members of the committee.

As charities, Scotland’s fee-paying schools enjoy an 80% reduction on non-domestic rates. The discount cut the tax liability of Fettes College in Edinburgh, whose alumni include Tony Blair, from £209,139 to £41,828 in 2011, while the council-run Wester Hailes high school in one of the poorest parts of the city paid its £261,873 tax bill in full.

Following Ms Husband Powton’s evidence, MSPs agreed to ask the Office of the Scottish Charity Regulator (OSCR) to attend a future meeting of the Petitions Committee to answer questions on their interpretation of the charities rules.

Jean said:

“I congratulate Ashley on creating this petition, and especially on calmly facing down some very discourteous questioning at the Parliament.

“Private schools are one of the ways that privilege and inequality is entrenched in the UK. They enable wealthy parents to effectively buy access to the top universities and the top jobs, ensuring that the people born at the top of society are likely to stay there.

“Private schools’ impact on equal opportunity and social mobility is bad enough, without ordinary people being asked to subsidise them through tax breaks intended to support real charities.

“It is claimed that the schools deserve charitable status because they provide bursaries to less wealthy students. But Fettes, as an example, provides fees assistance to only 10% of its pupils, and only 6 pupils pay no fees at all. The overwhelming majority of privately-educated children are there because their parents can afford to pay up top £30,000 per year in fees.

“Meanwhile state schools, which genuinely exist to serve every child, get no special treatment and are expected to pay their taxes in full.

“Private schools should not be treated as charities. I look forward to hearing OSCR’s response to Ashley’s petition, but if they are not satisfactory I’m sure her campaign will continue, and she can count on my support.”

Anyone can bring a petition to the Scottish Parliament. Find out more about public petitions here.

Jean on the referendum: “It will not stop our ambition.”

In her speech in yesterday’s Scottish Parliament debate on the referendum, Jean pledged that she will always be committed to Scotland governing itself. While of course we accept the result, she said, “the idea that 1.6 million people can, overnight, drop their enthusiasm for and excitement about the future is not correct,” and so we should see the referendum as the start of a road not the end.

Jean celebrated the way in which the referendum brought so many people back in touch with Scotland, with campaigners seeing more of the country, and everyone creating their own vision of its future: “The exciting thing is that people have found their place and have, beyond discovering Scotland, discovered politics and even themselves. Through this campaign, we have excited people about the possibilities of their involvement in the governance of Scotland.”

You can watch Jean’s speech at BBC Democracy Live – skip to 1:36:20.

The full transcript of Jean’s speech follows. You can read the full debate in the Scottish Parliament’s Official Report.

I thank the First Minister for his statement and acknowledge the extraordinary contribution that he has made over all these years. I am slightly taken aback by the comments that suggest that he is in the past now. I simply do not accept that. He may be demitting office, but I do not doubt that he still has a huge role to play in Scottish politics.

Similarly, I do not think that the result that we received on Friday morning means that the matter is done and dusted and is the settled will of the Scottish people. It may be the result that was voted for by a majority of people on that big and fantastic occasion, but life goes on and things change. Will everybody who voted yes be content with whatever the vow turns out to be? I doubt it. There will always be people who are committed to Scotland governing herself. I will certainly be one of them, and I know that there are hundreds of thousands of others. We might have another referendum. It might be in my lifetime; it might not be. However, the idea that 1.6 million people can, overnight, drop their enthusiasm for and excitement about the future is not correct. I am trying to say that we can accept the result, but it will not stop our ambition for something else.

One of the really staggering things about the referendum campaign was the way in which people discovered Scotland for the first time. People who had not had the opportunity before and who had not been north of Shettleston were suddenly appearing in Caithness, Shetland and the Western Isles, and in the east, west, north and south for the first time. That raises the question, “Where should we go as a country?” The first thing that we must do is encourage people to get to know what this country is, because without really knowing and understanding Scotland, how can we see what is best for our country? The exciting thing is that people — maybe not enough of us and, for some of us, too late on this occasion — have found their place and have, beyond discovering Scotland, discovered politics and even themselves. Through this campaign, we have excited people about the possibilities of their involvement in the governance of Scotland.

There has been a great deal of talk of the Scottish Parliament having control of the health service in Scotland. The health service was a hot topic and many people in the health service agree that there are issues around the NHS budget and what we should do about that. For me, it is rather like the West Lothian question—it comes down to our being in control. The health service budget does not operate in a vacuum. Two of the biggest pressures on the health service are people being out of work — we know that work is good for health — and people feeling completely powerless in the face of welfare changes, which is making them sick. We need to have the two levers of welfare and creating employment opportunities if we are to relieve the pressure on the health service.

For me, the answer to the West Lothian question will always be independence. There is no sense in MPs from Scotland going to Westminster to vote on the English education service or the English health service — why would they do that? — but there is no way round it. I think that Westminster will turn itself inside out and tie itself up in knots trying to resolve the problem, but there is only one answer for our health, our wellbeing, the discovery of our country and allowing people to take part.

It is not that we do not care about people in Liverpool. I am sick of the argument that, for the sake of universal socialism, we should never govern Scotland. That is nonsense. We can share the work of unions across the world — as a country, we have done that. I care as much about people in Liverpool as I care about people in Bonn, in Gaza or anywhere else where there is real concern for our fellow human beings. However, the answer for us, if we are to do our best by our country, will always be that we must absolutely govern it.

My dedication to an independent Scotland will not be diminished by the outcome that was announced last Friday morning. I suggest that it is only the start of a long road — or a short road — not the end of one.

VACANCY: Parliamentary Office Manager

 

FULL TIME PARLIAMENTARY OFFICE MANAGER

Jean Urquhart MSP requires a full time Office Manager to work 5 days a week in her Parliamentary Office in Edinburgh.

Direct relevant experience of administrative office work is preferred as is a working knowledge of Scottish politics and the Scottish Parliament.  You will be expected to use your own initiative as well as working as part of a team.

Other key skills include:

  • Knowledge, understanding and experience the issues affecting the Highlands and Islands
  • Knowledge and understanding of the Scottish political scene
  • Effective communication skills, both written and verbal
  • Effective organisational skills
  • Excellent standard of administrative skills with a demonstrable working knowledge of Microsoft Office applications, such as Word, Excel, Access and Outlook at an advanced level
  • Experience of diary management and/or correspondence desirable
  • Sound problem-solving, attention to detail with the ability to exercise sound judgement and initiative, often within a tight timescales
  • An understanding of the Parliament’s structures and processes
  • The ability to form and maintain effective working relationships with internal and external stakeholders
  • Ability to work under pressure and maintain confidentiality
  • Flexible approach, with the ability to work unsupervised whilst working as part of a small team

For further information, including a full job description, please contact Gary Cocker at gary.cocker@scottish.parliament.uk or on 0131 348 5053.

Applicants should submit a detailed CV and covering letter showing how they meet the requirements above by 5pm on Wednesday 24th September to:

      Parliamentary Manager, Room M3.20, Scottish Parliament,

      Edinburgh, EH99 1SP or via e-mail to gary.cocker@scottish.parliament.uk

      Interviews will be held in Edinburgh on Monday 29th September.

 

 

Jean calls for sanctions on Israel

Palestine flags at sunset

Since Israeli forces started bombarding Gaza two weeks ago, over 500 Palestinians have been killed. Most of the dead are civilians and more than a fifth of them are children. Last Thursday, Israel also launched a ground invasion of Gaza.

Jean has lodged a motion to allow the Scottish Parliament to express its condemnation of this attack, and to call for disinvestment and sanctions to put pressure on Israel to end its violence against Palestinians and its illegal occupation of Palestine:

Motion S4M-10638: Jean Urquhart, Highlands and Islands, Independent, Date Lodged: 22/07/2014
Gaza Under Attack
That the Parliament condemns Israel’s assault on Gaza; believes that, in this and similar operations, Israel has shown little regard for civilian casualties; understands that, as of 21 July 2014, over 500 Palestinians have been killed; notes the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs estimate that over one-in-five of those killed are children; urges Scotland’s public bodies to disinvest from companies operating in Israel or occupied Palestine, and calls on the UK Government to pursue sanctions against Israel.

The motion has already been signed by John Finnie (Independent, Highlands and Islands), Patrick Harvie (Green, Glasgow), Alison Johnstone (Green, Lothians), Christine Grahame (SNP, Midlothian South, Tweeddale and Lauderdale), Cara Hilton (Labour, Dunfermline), Malcolm Chisholm (Labour, Edinburgh Northern and Leith) and Jim Hume (Liberal Democrat, South of Scotland). You can see an up-to-date list of supporters on the Scottish Parliament’s website.

Jean said:

“Over the last two weeks, Israeli forces have killed over 500 Palestinians in Gaza. Most of those killed are civilians; over one in five are children.

“When we see the horrifying reports and pictures, it is easy to feel powerless. But we’re not powerless, and we’re not blameless. Without the ‘staunch support’ offered by Western leaders like David Cameron, the brutal occupation of Palestine could not happen. We all have a responsibility to stop our governments supporting oppression in our name.

“I’m so proud that the Scottish Government has said our country welcomes Palestinian refugees and those in need of medical treatment. But without control of our own foreign policy, we need to demand that the UK Government act to end this assault and the occupation that gave birth to it.

“If this was any other conflict, there would have been sanctions years ago. I’m asking the UK Government to pursue sanctions against Israel now, to show that we will no longer support the violent occupation. The first priority, as demanded by Amnesty International, should be a total embargo on weapons.

“I’m also asking Scottish public bodies like local councils, universities and the NHS to look at their investments and withdraw money from companies that operate in Israel and occupied Palestine. Individual Scots can do our bit by boycotting Israeli goods, just as we did to help defeat apartheid in South Africa.

“Please write to your MSPs and ask them to support the Scottish Parliament motion calling for sanctions on Israel. It will be noticed, and it will help secure justice for Palestine.”

There will be a demonstration in support of the people of Gaza in Inverness High Street this Saturday, 26 July, from 12 noon until 1pm, and every Saturday while the attack continues.

Jean pulls out of Danny Alexander’s ‘publicity stunt’ A9 summit

Picture of HGV tanker. Caption: The average speed of HGVs above 75 tonnes is currently in excess of 50mph.
Source: A9 Safety Group.

Jean, along with fellow Highlands and Islands independent MSP John Finnie, has withdrawn from Danny Alexander’s “Highland Infrastructure Forum” discussion group on the future of the A9 after their participation was used in the media to claim they are supporters of the Treasury minister’s campaign against average speed cameras. Both Jean and John are firmly in favour of the cameras, which will save lives on the notoriously dangerous road.

Jean and John explained their decision in this letter to the Highland papers:

“We agreed to take part in the ‘Highland Infrastructure Forum’ after Danny Alexander presented it to us as an effort to gather ‘a wide range of opinion’. But the first time the group appeared in the media, its members – including us – were described as ‘leaders of a campaign battling to block the A9 average-speed cameras’.

“The one-hour-long first meeting of the group includes a 20-minute press conference. That shows what the priority of the ‘Forum’ really is.

“Of course we were aware of the risk that Alexander’s group would simply be a publicity stunt for his own campaign, but real discussion is important enough that we gave it the benefit of the doubt. Unfortunately, a publicity stunt is exactly what it turned out to be.

“The A9 is one of the most notorious roads in the country. On average, one in three cars on the A9 is speeding, making collisions more likely and more deadly. Average speed cameras will save lives.

“The only people who have anything to fear from average speed cameras are those intent on breaking the law and risking lives.

“We are both 100% behind this measure to make the A9 safer. We’ll discuss this issue with anyone, but we won’t be used to whitewash an MP’s publicity campaign. We won’t be taking part in Danny Alexander’s project.”

The websites of the Strathspey and Badenoch Herald and the Ross-shire Journal both originally said:

“Leaders of a campaign battling to block the A9 average-speed cameras scheme will meet in Inverness on Friday.

“MP Danny Alexander’s Highland Infrastructure Forum, which includes representatives of Highlands and Islands Airports Ltd, the Scottish Council for Development and Industry, the Federation for Small Businesses, the Scottish Tourism Alliance, and Highlands and Islands MSPs Jean Urquhart, John Finnie and Mary Scanlon, will take place at the Palace Hotel.”

After the MSPs contacted them to point out the mistake, both papers immediately corrected the story by removing Jean and John’s names from the articles.

£2.5m to help rural communities build their own broadband

Jean has welcomed today’s announcement of an extra £2.5m to help rural communities build their own broadband networks.

The Scottish Government is already investing £410m in the Digital Scotland Superfast Broadband programme, but this extra money, announced by Nicola Sturgeon this morning in Thurso, will go to help communities that are too remote to benefit from standard broadband schemes.

The funding will be managed by Community Broadband Scotland, which works across the country but is run by Highlands and Islands Enterprise.

Jean said:

“The internet has revolutionised our world, bringing it closer together than ever. So a fast, reliable internet connection is even more important in remote rural areas than in the cities. But it can be hard to get that connection to communities far from the nearest telephone exchange.

“This investment means more communities in the Highlands and Islands will be able to build local broadband networks using technology like satellite broadband to overcome the distance.

“From Eigg’s community energy company to the worker ownership of Loch Fyne Oysters, we in the north have shown time and time again that local people can manage big projects. I’m delighted that the Government have recognised that by giving our communities the opportunity to build their own solutions to the challenge of rural broadband.”