Thursday 31 July 2008

Victoria Park

A number of residents have pointed out to me what a lovely job the Leisure & Communities staff continue to make of Victoria Park. As you can see below, its looking lovely during this period of summer ...

Letter to the Prime Minister

There has naturally be an expression of real disappointment from residents about the decision to close Lochee Road and Nethergate Post Offices. I have today written to the Prime Minister about the matter, in the following terms:

Rt Hon Gordon Brown MP
10 Downing Street

Dear Prime Minister

I wish to express my deep concern at the handling of the issue of the future of Post Offices by your Government.

The further closure programme of at least 2500 post offices throughout the UK has now impacted upon my own ward in Dundee’s West End, where after a “consultation period” of just six weeks, Post Office Limited has confirmed the closure of two local Post Offices – Lochee Road and Nethergate – which are vital community assets, particularly for the elderly and less mobile. The so-called “alternative” Post Offices are not easily accessible in terms of both topography and public transport.

I am convinced that your Government’s post office closure programme will have a huge impact on the elderly and most vulnerable members of our community as well as hitting small businesses. It is surely an indictment of your Government’s own policy that even cabinet ministers are opposing the closures in their own constituencies - while supporting them for everyone else.

Post Offices are the lifeblood of communities in both rural and urban areas, particularly when they are combined with other services, such as the local shop. When the local post office closes other services often follow suit, which can be devastating for the community.

It is vital that the true social value of this network is included as well as its economic value when looking at the long-term future of this valuable network.

In my view there is a clear need for your Government to listen to the people on the issue of Post Office closures, reverse the current closure programme, and henceforth provide the real investment needed to protect the existing network at its current size.

In addition to existing Post Office services, I believe the network should have an additional main function as the shop front or one stop shop for public bodies and a point of call for information on public services.

A wide range of services should be available in branches throughout the network.
These could include payment of vehicle excise duty, passport checking, bureau de change, Government information services via computer terminals, banking and other financial services, developing the police’s trial scheme - reception points for reporting crime, anti-social behaviour etc. Sub post offices could also act as agencies for the sale of tickets for bus and train travel, theatres, cinemas and concerts and for adult education services.

You should ensure that the Post Office network is the cornerstone of the programme to provide every UK citizen with access to a basic bank account. Post offices can play a key part in financial inclusion – they want and need the additional trade that offering basic bank accounts would provide.

I would urge you to act immediately to end the Post Office closure programme and to provide the necessary investment to ensure that the Post Office network can be preserved and enhanced with its existing number of branches.

Yours sincerely,

Cllr Fraser Macpherson
Convener of Planning & Transport

West End Ward
Dundee City Council

Wednesday 30 July 2008

Post Office Closures : Fraser comments on Wave 102 tonight

Wave 102 5pm news tonight ...

Post Office Closures : Disappointing outcome

A very disappointing outcome indeed today to learn this morning from Post Office Limited that it is indeed going to close Lochee Road (pictured) and Nethergate Post Offices - and indeed close all four threatened Dundee Post Offices.

I have already spoken on Wave 102 and Radio Tay today on the outcome and will be on North Tonight on STV at 6pm - my main point is that, in my opinion, the consultation process has been a complete sham. Here's the news release I issued to the media this afternoon :

NEWS RELEASE : Councillor slams "sham consultation" over Dundee Post Office Closures

Dundee City Council Planning & Transport Convener and West End Councillor, Fraser Macpherson, today slammed what he described as a “sham consultation” by Post Office Limited, which has resulted in the closure of four Dundee Post Offices.

Councillor Macpherson said he was in particular really concerned about the effect of the closures on elderly and people with mobility problems in his West End Ward, who will be affected by the loss of the Nethergate and Lochee Road Post Offices.

Cllr Macpherson said, “The so-called ‘consultation’ by Post Office Limited was nothing more than a sham. In the huge area of North East Scotland, Perthshire and Fife they are saving just three Post Offices – and none of the threatened ones in Dundee are to be saved. The consultation period was far too short and despite over 4000 objections to the closures across the region, it appears that Post Office Limited is more concerned with cutting vital services than listening to local people.

“Having spoken recently with the Postmaster at Nethergate Post Office, to suggest that his thriving Post Office is no longer viable flies in the face of the facts, and I am shocked at the destructiveness of Post Office Limited’s actions. To them it appears profits come before people and that is totally unacceptable.

“Ultimately, however, the finger of blame for the dire situation facing the Post Office network lies with the Westminster Labour Government, which has agreed to the closure of at least 2500 post offices throughout the UK. Labour's post office closure programme is having a huge impact on the elderly and most vulnerable members of our community as well as hitting small businesses. It is a sorry state of affairs and I am deeply disappointed to learn of the decision affecting the threatened Dundee Post Offices,” he concluded.

Tuesday 29 July 2008

Tavish Scott's campaign website ...

Tavish Scott's campaign website ...
Pleased to see that Tavish's campaign website (for the Scottish Liberal Democrat leadership) is now launched - click on headline above to view.

Lord Russell-Johnston

Those of us who have been long-standing members of the Scottish Liberal Democrats (and before that, the Scottish Liberal Party) were saddened to learn of the death earlier this week of Lord Russell-Johnston.

Russell became a Liberal MP in 1964, and later, as a Liberal Democrat MP, he served in the Commons until 1997, representing two seats – firstly Inverness for 19 years, and then, Inverness, Nairn and Lochaber, for fourteen years.

He was Chairman of the Scottish Liberal Party from 1970 to 1974, and became Leader of the Scottish Liberal Party in 1974 – a post he held for 14 years, remaining as Deputy Leader of the Scottish Liberal Democrats between 1988 and 1989. From 1988 to 1992 he was also Deputy Leader of the UK Liberal Democrats.

I first met Russell when I was 18 or so, when he attended a Liberal Party event in Dundee in the early 1980s ... a thoroughly engaging man, whose contribution was crucial to the growth of Liberalism in Scotland - particularly in the Highlands - from the 1960s onwards.

Former Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Lord (Jim) Wallace said yesterday :

"It was with great sadness that I learned of the death of Russell Johnston, a friend and colleague for the best part of the last thirty years.

"It was during my last year at secondary school when I read Russell’s pamphlet ‘To be A Liberal’ and joined the Scottish Liberal Party. The core liberal values which he articulated then, together with his commitment to Scotland and Europe, still resonate today.

"That is why his memory will be cherished within the liberal family, at home and abroad, for a very long time to come."

Monday 28 July 2008

Post Offices - a decision likely on Wednesday

In discussion today with the Royal Mail Scottish Press Office in Edinburgh today, I received confirmation that a final decision on the four threatened Dundee Post Offices is due to be announced on Wednesday (30th July).

As residents are well aware, there has been much local concern over Post Office Limited’s proposals to close four Dundee Post Offices. Many constituents in the West End have expressed their opposition to closing the Lochee Road and Nethergate Post Offices, both of which provide an invaluable service to local communities and, along with other city councillors, I have made clear my strong objections to the closure proposals.

The Royal Mail Scottish Press Office in Edinburgh confirmed to me today that an announcement is due on Wednesday regarding the four Dundee Post Offices and have further promised to e-mail me their announcement immediately it is made. I have reiterated the point that Post Office Limited should be listening to local communities and taking into full account the detailed evidence presented to them to make the case for keeping the Post Offices open.

The Royal Mail Scottish Press Office in Edinburgh confirmed to me today that an announcement is due on Wednesday regarding the four Dundee Post Offices and have further promised to e-mail me their announcement immediately it is made. I have reiterated the point that Post Office Limited should be listening to local communities and taking into full account the detailed evidence presented to them to make the case for keeping the Post Offices open.

I am to be speaking on GMTV on Wednesday morning to make the case for our local Post Offices and pleased to have the opportunity to do this.

On an unrelated matter, I was very concerned to learn about an incident in the lane that runs between Tait's Lane and Peddie Street which took place late on Saturday evening, and in which a local women had her handbag snatched at knife point.

You can read the full story in tonight's "Evening Telegraph" (click on the headline above to read this). As I said to the Tele, “Obviously, I’m concerned to learn about the incident and for the woman, who must have had a frightening experience. I should also say, however, that incidents of knife crime in the city are thankfully very limited.

“I urge anyone with information to contact Tayside Police on 0845 600 5705.”

Sunday 27 July 2008

The attack on welfare benefits ...

It is very obvious to anyone reading the Sunday papers this morning that the Labour Party is in total panic after its loss of the Glasgow East by-election and discontent within Labour is being focussed on the failings of Gordon Brown as Labour Leader and Prime Minister.

I don't think anyone can deny that Gordon Brown's performance as PM has been incredibly poor but I personally believe that the problems facing the Labour Westminster Government go much deeper than an unpopular party leader.

Labour's announcement on further welfare "reform" announced a few days before the Glasgow East by-election sums up how much Labour Ministers have managed to disconnect themselves from the people. Given the reliance upon Incapacity Benefit of many Glasgow East families, headlines along the lines of "Incapacity benefit and income support to be axed" (Times, 21st July - click on headline above to view) highlight the arrogance of a government that is out of touch.

But it is not simply the handling of the future of Incapacity Benefit. I have had a number of constituents contact me about the Government’s plans to reduce the backdating period for Housing Benefit from 12 months to 3 months. The change will also affect Pension Credit and Council Tax Benefit and I am very concerned about the impact this will have on low income families and pensioners.

The Liberal Democrats are strongly opposed to these measures. We believe they will have a severe impact on some of the most vulnerable claimants and increase their risk of falling into poverty and even losing their homes.

This is not the first time these changes have been proposed. The Labour Government tried to reduce the backdating period for Housing Benefit and Council Tax Benefit in 2000 but withdrew their proposals after a Social Security Advisory Committee report strongly criticised them.

This time, the Government says it needs to reduce the backdating periods for these benefits in order to pay for a new system for pensioners to claim all of their benefits through one application. While the Liberal Democrats have been pushing the Government for years to simplify the benefits system, it should not be paid for by penalising a group of particularly vulnerable claimants.

In the case of Housing Benefit, the Government’s proposals could lead to increasing levels of homelessness. Citizens Advice Bureaux, who deal with thousands of people with Housing Benefit claims every year, rightly argue that, since those who get backdated benefits have to provide substantial proof of their entitlement throughout the period of claim, it is money they genuinely need for rent and council tax arrears, and without it they are likely to fall further into poverty.

LibDem MPs have signed House of Commons Early Day Motion 1778 on Benefits Backdating and will continue to put pressure on the government to scrap these ill thought through proposals. It is yet another example of a Labour Government that has lost its way and simply now living on borrowed time.

Saturday 26 July 2008

Hillside Road/Glamis Drive junction

In recent months, I have had a number of complaints from residents about the condition of the road at the junction of Hillside Road and Glamis Road.

As this junction is the only entrance to Hillside Road, Hillside Drive, Hillside Place and Hillside Terrace it gets a considerable amount of traffic, and I have therefore raised this concern with the City Council.

The City Engineer has now responded in the following terms :

"The Roads Maintenance Team is aware that the carriageway surface in Hillside Road and particularly the junction, is less than ideal.

"It has been assessed for possible inclusion in surfacing programmes along with others throughout the city. Unfortunately due to financial constraints and when considered against other streets it has not been possible to include Hillside Road to date.

"An annual review will be carried out again within the next few months and Hillside Road will again be considered for inclusion in a surfacing programme.

"In the meantime the area supervisor will continue to inspect the carriageway and make safe as required.

"Please note that I have been advised that unfortunately rapid rhino repairs to the junction would not work because the carriageway construction below the surface is a dry bound mix.

"Extensive standard patching could not be justified because of cost - it would be more cost effective to use surface treatment such as ralumac/nimactocote or possibly in situ retread for the whole street, however this street's priority would need to be considered for such treatment against other similar streets throughout the city."

I will be keeping a close eye on the situation and will discuss the matter further with the City Engineer when the Annual Review of roads maintenance projects is carried out later this year.

Friday 25 July 2008

Busy Friday

Firstly, after a week of detailed discussions within the City Council, I am pleased to report significant progress towards ensuring the 72 bus service continues.

After a meeting with the Chief Executive of the City Council today, I spoke again with the Operations Manager at Stagecoach Strathtay, and thereafter over 50 phone calls to residents who either attended the recent meeting at the Paton's Lane Sheltered Lounge about the future of the bus service or contacted me about the matter. Over 50 calls took ages (hours to be exact!) but residents are very pleased at the progress.

Here's the news release I issued earlier, reported in tonight's "Evening Telegraph" :

NEWS RELEASE : Good news as vital City Bus Services set to be retained

Dundee City Council’s Planning & Transport Convener, Cllr Fraser Macpherson, today announced that, following discussions between the City Council and Stagecoach Strathtay, two vital city bus services – the 69 serving Broughty Ferry and the 72 serving the West End – look set to be retained in a revised format.

The two bus services had been set to be withdrawn completely from 18th August, following an announcement by the operators Stagecoach Strathtay, but Cllr Macpherson said that, subject to committee approval on 11th August, the City Council had reached agreement with the bus company to retain the routes on a limited timetable.

Cllr Macpherson said that both routes provided a lifeline service for many – particularly elderly people – who live in streets that would otherwise not have a bus service. He sais that, as the ward councillor for the West End, he was very aware of the impact of the loss of the 72 service on constituents, many of whom live in sheltered housing and are very reliant upon the service, particularly as the main bus services are a steep climb uphill.

Cllr Macpherson added that he was grateful to Cllr Derek Scott from the Ferry Ward for his highlighting similar concerns about the impact of the loss of the 69 service in Broughty Ferry.

Cllr Macpherson said, “After a rather frantic week of discussions to try to get a satisfactory solution to this issue, I am pleased that we have a way forward. It will allow a minimum of three return trips each day on both the 69 and 72 services along the existing routes. Stagecoach had already indicated it would be prepared to run a reduced route service along the eastern part of the 72 route and their Operations Manager has confirmed to me that it will proceed with this in addition to the three full-route return journeys per day.

“The report to the Recess Sub-Committee will recommend that the Council assists this initially to the end of the current financial year to allow the services to be promoted during that time to encourage greater use and it also gives the City Council time to progress proposals for community transport to assist different communities across the City who do not have easy access to the main bus services.

“I am extremely grateful to all my constituents in the West End who highlighted the impact the loss of the 72 service, particularly Friends of Magdalen Green and West End Community Council. The fact that a petition of 526 people was collected in just a few days highlights the strength of feeling on this issue. I am also grateful to Cllr Derek Scott for raising similar concerns about the impact in parts of Broughty Ferry had the 69 service been completely withdrawn.

The matter will now be discussed at the City Council’s Recess Sub-Committee on 11th August where a report on the proposals will be tabled. Thereafter, subject to approval, City Council officers and Stagecoach Strathtay will discuss finalised timetables. Cllr Macpherson said that, during a recent packed meeting of West End residents to discuss the future of the 72 service, the Operations Manager of Stagecoach Strathtay had agreed to meet again with residents once matters had progressed and Cllr Macpherson confirmed that he would be arranging this meeting for immediately after the matter has been discussed and hopefully approved at Council Committee.

In conclusion, Cllr Macpherson said, “Clearly the matter still requires committee approval and the proposal sees only a limited number of buses per day, but it’s a great step forward from the position a few days ago, when it looked likely these services would be lost.”

And, talking of the Evening Telegraph, tonight's paper includes my comments on the result of the Glasgow East by-election (click on headline above to view). A total disaster for Labour and I'd rather not be the Labour MP for Dundee West ... The LibDems got horribly squeezed but given past results in similar circumstances (eg Hamilton South) I suppose I should be unsurprised. Ian Robertson, our candidate, performed well (as, in all fairness, did Margaret Curran, but the tide was otherwise).

I'll leave it to Ian to give the final word, sent to all of us who are members of his Facebook page:

Thank you all for your support and kind words. We fought an excellent campaign in the constiuency where I grew up and which means so much to me.

The result was unexpected and not great for the party but the 'squeeze' was brutal and there was no more we could have done.

An excellent team were behind all our efforts and they deserve huge praise for the positive and impressive campaign we ran.

Normality beckons now and a few well earned weeks off before I return to my new electronic smartboard and the great kids of Bellahouston Academy.

Feel free to leave this group now and I will dismantle it with a tear in my eye shortly!

Ian Robertson

Scottish Liberal Democrat

On Tay AM last night ...

Along with the Director of TACTRAN, Eric Guthrie, I appeared (in my capacity as TACTRAN Chair) on Tay AM's Business Matters programme last night. You can hear it by clicking 'play' below:

Thursday 24 July 2008

Update : Path adjacent to Seymour Lodge

If you click on the headline above, you'll recall that, back in February, I raised the issue of the state of the pathway to the side of Seymour Lodge (the thoroughfare from Shaftesbury Road to Perth Road), which is extremely well used by residents in the West End, but currently in very poor condition (see below).
At the time, I contacted Tayside Police to request that the Force upgrade an area of pathway as it is in their ownership, and I am now pleased to advise that the Police have now confirmed that the upgrading works will take place at the start of September.

A Tayside Police representative has now written to me as follows :

“I can confirm that an order has been placed this morning with Tayside Contracts for carrying out the works to Seymour Street.

“It is anticipated that they will be on site at the start of September to carry out the works. We tried pushing for an earlier start date but due to their commitments with the school projects that is not possible.”

The pathway has deteriorated badly over the years and the commitment to resurface it and create a proper pavement edge will be a boon to local pedestrians. I am grateful to Tayside Police for its positive response on this matter.

Wednesday 23 July 2008

Post Offices - update

I have today written to Post Office Limited asking that it promptly advises of the outcome of its consultation exercise with regard to Dundee Post Offices.

Residents in the areas that the Nethergate and Lochee Road Post Offices serve have contacted me asking when Post Office Limited will make a decision about the future of the Post Offices that they have said are under threat. People are naturally concerned at the possible loss of their local post office and anxious to learn the outcome of the recent consultation process by Post Office Limited.

The consultation ended on 8th July and we have yet to hear further from Post Office Limited. One constituent advised me that she has been checking the Post Office website daily to see if there is any news update on the outcome but there has been no update since 8th July.

I have therefore written to Sally Buchanan, Network Development Manager at Post Office Limited, asking that the outcome of the consultation process and Post Office Limited’s final decisions are made known as a matter of urgency. I think Post Office Limited owes it to the affected communities to make its intentions known as soon as possible.

Tuesday 22 July 2008

Sinderins Court update - lift repairs now underway

I am pleased to advise that the vital permanent repairs to the lift at Sinderins Court commenced yesterday.

I have this morning been assured by Home Scotland’s Maintenance Officer that work to make permanent repairs to the lift were commenced by Home Scotland’s contractors Scotech at 10am yesterday and that both Home Scotland’s Maintenance Officer and their lift consultant has since paid a site visit to ensure that everything is progressing as planned.

The lift problems have caused significant problems for the sheltered tenants, breaking down some 17 times (click on headline to view earlier item about this) and although a number of temporary repairs were made, Home Scotland concluded that the complete replacement of the lift’s control panel and hydraulic unit was vital if further breakdowns were to be avoided.

Home Scotland has since advised that its normal 12 week tendering process for capital works was speeded up to enable the permanent repairs get underway. It is envisaged that the installation works will take place over two weeks and although a third week will be required for testing the new lift system, the lift should be fully operational by then.

I am very pleased that the lift at Sinderins Court is now being fully repaired – the previous lift problems were of great concern to residents who greatly rely on their being a properly functioning lift for access to and from their homes.

However, it is vital the work takes place as swiftly as possible as elderly residents cannot be without the lift for any prolonged period of time.

Monday 21 July 2008

Helicopter flights : update

Further to my blog entry yesterday, you can read the article about this subject in today's Courier, by clicking on the headline above.

Sunday 20 July 2008

Helicopter Training Flights Suspended

I've welcomed news that Dundee Airport has temporarily suspended helicopter training flights from the airport, pending a review by the Airport Manager and Highlands and Islands Airports Limited (HIAL), the owners of Dundee Airport.

As residents are aware, in recent weeks I have raised numerous complaints from residents about noise caused by helicopter training flights and I am therefore pleased that a review is now taking place.

The noise complaints have come particularly from people living in the areas to the north west and north of the airport – and am aware that my colleague on Fife Council, Cllr Tim Brett, has also raised noise concerns with the airport following similar complaints from some of his constituents in the Wormit area.

I have now received confirmation from the Airport Manager that he has suspended the training flights pending a review and he has promised to update me when HIAL considers that it has come up with a solution.

I intend to meet with the Airport Manager before any helicopter training flights recommence in the future as I will wish to learn the detail of any solution HIAL arrives at. I do, however, commend the airport for reacting positively to the concerns raised.

Saturday 19 July 2008

Back to business ...

We're just back from a couple of weeks on holiday in the States (which sort of explains the relative lack of blog updates recently!)

Back to usual updates over the next few days but, meantime, can I bore you with a few holiday snaps ...!

Above : We went to New York first - here's Janet in Times Square

Above : In New York for the 4th of July - despite drizzling rain that night, the fireworks were really spectacular.

Above : And great to see Scotland getting promoted in the centre of New York

Above : New York - Times Square - can't escape the politics!

Above : After New York, we had four days in Las Vegas - extremely hot but we had a great time!

Above : And then on to Boston - here's me there - not been to Boston before - very impressed, lovely city with loads to see.

Above : Good to see "Focus" extends to Boston!

Above : Janet in Boston

Above : We were canvassed in the street in Cambridge, MA, when visiting Harvard by a really nice lady from the Democrats and had to politely explain that, although supportive, we don't actually have a vote ... anyway, this is me there, making the preference clear!

Friday 18 July 2008

Tavish on the LibDem leadership election

This election to lead our party comes at a moment of great opportunity for the Scottish Liberal Democrats. While Labour and the Nationalists bicker over the constitution, people are facing enormous challenges as a failing economy impacts on their daily lives. I want our party to talk their talk.

Not the constitutional navel gazing of the others, but the challenges that we all face on energy costs, fuel prices and the rising cost of food.

The temptation for political parties can be to talk about the things that motivate and interest them and not the things that concern the voters.

There is of course a balance to be struck and I apologise to no one for the many occasions when I have challenged Labour politicians on issues such as the introduction of identity cards, the environment or forty-two detention without charge. But talk to many of our fellow Scots today and they will tell you that for the first time in many years they are worried about job security, wage levels and how to service the massive debt that many of them have.

This link is to my statement made on Monday 7th July on the reasons - personal and political - why I am running for Leader -

I want also, to bring energy, determination and drive to ensuring that the party pulls together and in the same direction. Our party is not just about MSPs in Holyrood. Nor MPs at Westminster. We are stronger when our elected members in Brussels, London, Edinburgh and town halls across Scotland work, engage and debate with party members. I am determined that should happen.

We have got to be at the cutting edge of debate. I am convinced that we should seize both the short term opportunities that lie ahead but also think about the long term. I took decisions on rail investment in the previous Government that will be opened by whoever is the Transport Minister in 10 years! But these decisions were right - right for the environment, transport policy and the long term.

I have served on Sir David Steel's commission on more powers for our Parliament. That needs to be radical and bold. My commitment is to encourage our party conference to bubble with new ideas - ideas form local parties and members. But this manifesto is the basis of further ideas and thinking I want to bring to Scottish politics.

I have been in touch with many party colleagues across in Scotland since I launched my campaign. I want to speak to as many members as I can in the coming weeks. I look forward to those discussions.

Let us make sure that we use this election to engage, energise and drive the party to new heights.

With best wishes

Tavish Scott

Tuesday 8 July 2008

Tavish for Scottish LibDem leader

I'm backing Tavish Scott for the leadership of the Scottish Liberal Democrats - Tavish is both able and likeable and will be an excellent successor to Nicol.

I reproduce below the news release recently issued by Tavish confirming that he'll be a candidate :

Shetland MSP Tavish Scott has announced he is running to be the leader of the Scottish Liberal Democrats. Speaking in Lerwick, he said,

“I want to lead the Scottish Liberal Democrats at a vital time in our country’s future.

Over the past twelve months Scotland’s political landscape has radically changed.

The nationalists have formed their first government - and have shown themselves to be as opportunistic in office as they always were in opposition.

Labour is sinking under the weight of its own internal strife - and on the watch of its own Scottish captain.

And the Scottish people are being sold short as never before.

Because amid all the fervid noise and bitter acrimony between Labour and the SNP, peoples' worries are being ignored.

Scottish families are feeling the pinch:

The pressure on the jobs market.

The rising cost of food and fuel.

The increasing cost of housing.

Scots are asking their government for help.

But their voices are being drowned out by an ever more acrimonious and pointless feud between the SNP in Edinburgh and New Labour at Westminster.

That's not good enough.

Our party must speak to Scotland’s people about those things that most concern them and not just those that most interest politicians.

So I want the Liberal Democrats to transcend the nastiness and narcissism that characterises so much of Scottish politics today.

I want to energise our party with new thinking and a fresh approach that speaks to the needs and concerns of Scotland.

Scotland needs a Parliament that helps families worried about paying their bills.

Scotland needs a Parliament that can improve our schools and hospitals at a time when there is less new money to invest.

And we must ensure that the rights and freedoms of every Scottish man and woman are protected.

We'll need big thinking to tackle these challenges.

But big thinking is what the Liberal Democrats do best.

The big achievements of the Scottish Parliament' first eight years were Liberal Democrat ideas.

But time has moved on and so must we.

So under my leadership, I want the Liberal Democrats to take the lead in setting the agenda in Scottish politics. Why I'm Standing

Our agenda must address the needs of every community in Scotland.

I was brought up here in Shetland.

I am what Shetland made me.

And I've had the good fortune to represent this community in the Scottish Parliament for nearly ten years.

This is where I've learned at first hand what community means.

This is a strong community where people know each other, trust each other, and help each other.

I entered politics because I recognised that Shetland has its own needs and circumstances.

And that our community needed a local voice to speak up for our concerns.

So I want our party to look at ways to improve life for every Scottish community.

What I do for Shetland I want to do for Scotland.

The Issues Matter

Above all, I believe that ideas and policies still matter in politics.

Tony Blair took the politics out of politics.

That short term advantage for New Labour has left more people than ever disillusioned, disenchanted and switched off from party politics. It’s time for politics to mean something again.

Under my leadership the Liberal Democrats will be the party that tackles the issues, provides the solutions and is not afraid to tell the truth.

We must connect our core values of freedom, fairness and community to the problems that are facing Scotland today.

And show that while others bicker and carp we are ready to provide the answers.

It will require consistency, clarity and courage to get that message across.

I have the experience to deliver that change, and the hunger for that challenge.

And that's why I'm standing.”

Wednesday 2 July 2008

Nicol's shock decision

As the greatest fan of Nicol Stephen, I'm really sad at his decision to stand down as Scottish LibDem leader, but I have sent him a message wishing him, Caris & the family every good wish.

Here's Nicol's message to party members :

Last week I informed the Convener of the Scottish Liberal Democrats that I intended to stand down as Party Leader.

Today I am formally announcing that decision, with immediate effect. Everyone involved in politics knows that there are stresses and strains on family life.

But when it goes beyond that, when it crosses a line, something has to be done.

And at that stage - when you have to make a choice between family and politics - there can only be one answer. The health and wellbeing of your family has got to come first.

With four children between the ages of 4 and 12, my family has got to be my priority.

As an MSP representing a constituency well away from Edinburgh, I have been away from home at least four working days each week for more than nine years.

As a party leader the responsibilities have been even more demanding. You have to be available every day, every week. There is rarely a weekend, a birthday or a family holiday when the demands of the job do not intrude.

That is not to complain – long hours and long absences from home go with the job.

But it can all have an impact.

And when that impact becomes too great, it is time to put my family first. I will continue to represent Aberdeen South in the Scottish Parliament. I intend to remain a strong campaigner on behalf of my city and my constituents.

It has been an honour and a great privilege to lead the party over the last three years and to be part of the first generation of Liberal Democrats to be in government in Britain since the Second World War.In that time the Scottish Liberal Democrats have achieved much for the people of Scotland. We succeeded in scrapping student tuition fees, in setting bold targets for renewable energy and in delivering a fair voting system for local government.

As a Minister, I welcomed the chance to deliver the Parliament’s first cut in business rates, to introduce enterprise education for every child and to kick start new wave and tidal projects to release Scotland’s potential to be the renewable energy powerhouse of Europe.

And, during my time as leader, the Party shook the foundations of Scottish politics when Willie Rennie gained the Dunfermline and West Fife by-election from Labour. We also gained Dunfermline West at the Scottish election, and across Scotland saw our number of votes and our share of the vote increase – a notable achievement for a party which had been in power for eight years.Our party is united and our shadow cabinet team has been taking the fight to the SNP in Parliament with a strong and consistently effective performance.And I have enjoyed challenging the new First Minister at question time each week. I will miss that.

I will miss it all, a great deal.

My hunger for change in Scotland – tackling global warming, building the role of young people in our country and stopping the slide of civil liberties – is no less now than when I started in politics 25 years ago.

However that drive and that passion comes at a price. And it is a sacrifice that that my family should no longer have to make. Their happiness is more important than any political office and that is the reason for me standing down as leader of the Scottish Liberal Democrats.

Our new leader can be assured of my total support and my constant encouragement. It has been a fascinating few days in Scottish politics and today’s announcement will be for most another unexpected twist.But the fundamentals are clear.

The Liberal Democrats are united, strong and growing.

Labour are coming to the end of their time at Westminster. The SNP are starting to find government tougher than they expected. Broken promises catch up with you. And the Conservative strategy of continually propping up the SNP in Holyrood remains to me simply staggering.

I believe that there is a huge opportunity for our party at this time. It is going to be an exciting few years.

And I wish my successor great success.

Finally, I want to thank friends and colleagues for their support, advice and encouragement. They know who they are Рat Westminster, at Holyrood and across Scotland. I will not get into that clich̩ of mentioning a long list of those who have meant so much to me over the years, but they know who they are!

Above all, however, I want to thank my wife Caris and my four kids for all their help - and all they put up with - in supporting my life in politics!

That other cliché is for a politician to say he is looking forward to spending more time with his family.

In my case it happens to be true.

Perhaps my announcement today should alert people to the demands which are placed on politicians and their families.

For me, it is simpler than that. Recognising those demands, it reflects what I must do - as a personal, not a political, priority.

Thank you,

Nicol Stephen MSP

Wednesday activities

Today started with a site visit to look at various manhole covers on Perth Road west of the Invercarse Hotel - these have sunk (as the photo - right - shows) and the site visit with a local resident and City Council officials has resulted in various repairs being raised with Scottish Water and British Telecom.
Thereafter, I attended the first meeting of the Whitfield Regeneration Board (in my capacity as Planning & Transport Convener).

Some hours of "day job" work later, I attended the handing over to Stagecoach Strathtay of a petition of some 526 signatures to help save our 72 bus service. See photo below.

We owe a great debt of gratitude to the local people who organised the petition and collected over 500 signatures in just a few days –it gives a clear impression of the strength of feeling in the West End community that the 72 bus service is a vital lifeline for many – especially elderly – people, and we call on Stagecoach Strathtay to save this vital bus service.

The whole community in the West End has pulled together to help the campaign including community groups like West End Community Council and the Friends of Magdalen Green, and I am heartened that so many local people are making their voices heard.

Stagecoach Strathtay has agreed to meet with us later this month. The bus company has made clear that it is now prepared to run a more limited service but we don’t think it is acceptable and it wouldn’t cover areas like Newhall Gardens, Royal Victoria Hospital, Ninewells Hospital and Tesco Riverside, and serving these is vital for local people.

I think it must be remembered that the 72 bus service currently gives a service to many who otherwise would not have a local bus service and it is the most elderly and vulnerable who would be worst affected if the bus was withdrawn.

I am hoping that, between now and our meeting with the bus company later in July, Stagecoach Strathtay will decide to agree to keep the 72 on the road. There is no doubt that there is an extremely strong case to keep this service, which is so beneficial to our community.

Later this afternoon, I attended the Beacon Management quarterly meeting with Tayside Police, which covers policing issues in the area, and a useful meeting with one of the local housing associations later on which resulted in one constituent's repairs concerns being addressed.

Dr Liz Dick

Dundee Liberal Democrats were extremely saddened to learn yesterday of the death of Dr Elizabeth Dick, a stalwart of the local party, and, before the days of the LibDems, of the Dundee SDP.

Liz stood for the SDP (and later Liberal Democrats) in Dundee West at a number of general elections and in the 1999 Scottish Parliamentary Election. Back in 1983, she came third with 7,976 votes (17.1%), three votes ahead of the SNP, the best result in a generation. It was the real start of building the organisation in the city.

Liz was extremely active in the Scottish Liberal Democrat Party, a leading member of the Scottish Green Liberal Democrats, serving on the party Executive, and a frequent and eloquent speaker at party conferences.

Liz helped build the party - in Dundee in particular - and she was delighted to see us winning our first council representation in the City for many years in 2001. The fact that Dundee Liberal Democrats are now a real force in Dundee is thanks to Liz and her colleagues in the 1980s and 1990s who built up the party organisation. We owe a great debt of gratitude to Liz and are saddened at her passing.

Tuesday 1 July 2008

Tuesday Update …

Apart from a busy day on the "day job" front, I took part in a lively joint surgery with Alison McInnes MSP at lunchtime at Blackness Library.

We also visited the Sound Sense project - click on headline to view more - which is doing superb work to help deaf people in Dundee, Angus and Perth & Kinross.

As part of Alison's visit to Dundee, she visited Nethergate Post Office to meet the Postmaster, Mr Farhat Baig, and add her voice in support of the campaign to keep the vital Dundee Post Offices open. See photo (above right).

After her visit to Nethergate Post Office, Alison said, “I am very disappointed at the decision of Post Office Ltd to recommend closure of the four Dundee Post Offices at Lochee Road, Fairmuir, Broughty Ferry Road and Nethergate. All four provide a vital service for the communities they serve.

“It was very clear from my visit to Nethergate Post Office today that this Post Office is extremely busy and that the Postmaster has invested to improve the Post Office facilities. Mr Baig gave me detail of the continually improving sales at Nethergate Post Office and, with around 1200 customers every week, any suggestion of closing this Post Office makes no commercial sense for Post Office Ltd.

“I am strongly backing the campaign by local councillors and others in Dundee to save all four Post Offices and am writing to Post Office Ltd making clear my formal objection to the closure plans.”

I am pleased to say that the campaign to save the four Dundee Post Offices is really gathering momentum and getting support right across Dundee. In the West End, many residents have contacted me in support of the campaign.

At Nethergate Post Office, it is very clear that Mr Baig, the Postmaster, has built up an excellent business which is vital for the local community and with an increasing, not reducing, customer base, I think the case for keeping this Post Office open is very strong indeed.

We will be continuing the campaign to save the four Dundee Post Offices right up to the closing date for objections on 8th July and urge residents to make their feelings known to Post Office Ltd.