The week outside Westminster


News emerged that Scots drink 20 per cent more alcohol than the rest of Britain. SNP Health Secretary, Nicola Sturgeon concluded that it made the case for a minimum price for alcohol. Responding, Shadow Health Secretary concluded:

“The truth is that Alex Salmond and Nicola Sturgeon are promoting a scheme that will increase the profits of the supermarkets, but won’t provide a single penny for more police officers or alcohol treatment.”

• A report by the Nuffield Trust found that Scotland had the least productive NHS of anywhere in the UK, despite enjoying high health spending and some of the largest numbers of doctors and nurses. A spokesperson for the Scottish Government said the data used was out of date.

• Conservative Leader, Annabel Goldie, claimed that a Conservative victory at the next election would give David Cameron a mandate to govern Scotland, regardless of how many seats the party won in Scotland. She continued, “Whatever happens at this British general election, whoever wins, unionism will beat nationalism in Scotland.” Responding, the SNP’s Westminster Leader, Angus Robertson said, “For Annabel Goldie to say that the way Scotland votes in a general election doesn’t matter shows the Tories cloaked in their old anti-Scottish colours.”

• The Government’s budget passed its first stage in Parliament, but not without criticism and concessions. Labour opposed the proposals for failing to reinstate the Glasgow Airport Rail Link. John Swinney hinted that high earners in the public sector could face pay cuts in order to gain Lib Dem support, whilst the Telegraph reported that SNP ministers were split on the key question of the moment, to cut or not to cut?

• Independent MSP, Margo Macdonald, who suffers from Parkinson’s disease, unveiled her bill to give the terminally ill the right to die. Publishing the bill she said, “I believe that dying is part of life and I see no contradiction at all in the autonomy of the individual being recognised in how they live their life and how their life will end.” MSPs will get a free vote on the issue.


• The news that the NHS in Wales was “falling behind” other parts of the UK was greeted with some scepticism. Mike Ponton of the NHS Confederation in Wales concluded, “The report measures performance in terms of productivity, but this method misses out much of what the NHS does and fails to measure what really matters – the quality and safety of care.” The Conservatives however were not quite so critical of the report, with Health Spokesman Andrew R T Davies saying:

“Patients and staff have long had concerns that too much money is wasted on bureaucracy and not enough is reaching the frontline, where it could make a significant difference to the experiences of patients.”

Membership of credit unions in Wales reached a milestone this week, with 50,000 people taking part in such schemes across the country, an effect of the credit crunch according to experts.

Unemployment across Wales fell by 8,000 between September and November. While welcoming the figures, Deputy First Minister, Ieuan Wyn Jones warned that Wales was not out of the woods yet. Likewise, Shadow Welsh Secretary, Cheryl Gillan urged politicians not to get complacent as the economy remained fragile.

• Unions and local government were reported to be at loggerheads over plans for a pay freeze.

Northern Ireland

• There were signs that a deal on devolution and justice could be in sight. Acting First Minister Arlene Foster concluded, “policing and justice will be good for all the people of Northern Ireland”, while Gerry Adams remained hopeful of a deal. However, TUV leader Jim Allister accused Sinn Fein of holding a gun to the DUP’s head. The UUPs Basil McCrea warned that his party would not be used for “window dressing”.

• DUP Environment Minister, Edwin Poots ruled out a probe into allegations over former DUP MP and MLA, Iris Robinson’s lobbying activities on behalf of property developers.

News that council staff faced significant pay cuts angered unions. NIPSA spokesperson, Bumper Graham said, “With inflation set to go over 4% and members already on the lowest pay, we cannot accept this massive real pay cut.” Speaking for Conservative run Local Government Association, Jan Parkinson concluded, “This decision has not been taken lightly. Councils are facing a perfect storm of falling revenues and increasing demand for services.”

• It emerged that the NHS in Northern Ireland had the largest proportion of managers than anywhere else in the UK.

Quote of the Week

“He thoroughly deserved the title “voice of rugby” and was a fantastic ambassador for Scotland and his native Hawick right around the world. His contribution to the sport of rugby cannot be over-stated.”

Scottish First Minister, Alex Salmond on the sad news of the death of the Scottish voice of Rugby, Bill McClaren

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