Friday, 29 August 2014

YES vote will protect Scottish NHS

Local MSP Margaret Burgess has warned that funding-cuts to the health service in England could impact on Scotland’s NHS if we choose to stay in the British Union at next month’s referendum.

Although the health service in Scotland is already independent and is managed by the SNP Scottish Government, cuts to the budget of the English NHS, resulting from a UK Government drive to privatise the service, will ultimately result in knock-on reductions in funding made available to Scotland.  Known as ‘Barnett consequentials’, any reduction in UK Government spending in England produces an automatic reduction to the block grant that currently funds Scottish Government spending.

Margaret Burgess told, “Only a YES vote will protect Scotland’s NHS from the consequences of UK cuts and privatisation south of the border.

“The future of our NHS has become central to the referendum debate.  We’ve had a distinct Scottish NHS from the day and hour the service was set up, but there is absolutely no doubt that decisions made in Westminster on further NHS cuts and privatisation will have a serious effect on the funding of our NHS and other vital services in Scotland.”

The MSP for Cunninghame South pointed-out that in England Labour Party leaders are warning voters that the survival of the NHS is at stake.  However, Mrs Burgess said that in Scotland, “The same Labour Party is telling voters there is no problem having our NHS funding in the hands of the Tories at Westminster.

"Labour in England is shouting from the rooftops about NHS privatisation, more financial charges for patients and the risk of the NHS being broken-up, but in Scotland the ‘No’ campaign wants to hide these threats.”

The SNP MSP argues it is inevitable that Westminster’s privatisation will affect the funding of Scotland’s NHS, saying, “No privatisation was ever designed to put additional public money into a service.”

Mrs Burgess who is also the SNP Government Minister for Housing and Welfare said, “With a YES vote and independence, we can halt the threat posed by Westminster privatisation.  A Yes vote is the best way to protect Scotland’s NHS – only then will we have the cast-iron protection that our health service needs.

“With that YES vote, we can give our NHS a constitutional guarantee and ensure that it remains a fully public service, free at the point of use.”

Guidance on referendum ballot

North Ayrshire residents are being urged to make sure their vote counts at the Independence Referendum by only marking their ballot paper with one ‘X’.

Concerns have been expressed that some voters might be tempted to write on ballots, such as printing ‘YES’ or ‘No’ in response to the question “Should Scotland be an independent country?”  However, Mary Pitcaithly, the Chief Counting Officer for the referendum said, “I want everyone’s vote to count, whether they are voting by post or in person at a polling place on the 18th of September.

“The safest way to ensure your vote counts is to only put one ‘X’ in the box beside the option you want to choose.  People should also take great care when completing their postal voting statement by inserting the correct date of birth and signature.  Mistakes mean that a ballot paper will not be counted.”

Midnight on Tuesday (September 2nd) is the deadline for registering to vote in the referendum.  Applications to vote by post or by proxy must be received by 5.00pm on September 3rd.

To be eligible to vote, a person must be aged 16 or over on September 18th and be living in Scotland. 

North Ayrshire Council Chief Executive Elma Murray is in charge of things locally.  She said, “The Referendum is a significant historical electoral event.  I want as many people as possible to be involved by first of all registering to vote, and secondly by using their vote on September 18th.

Ms Murray noted, “There is still time to get your name on the electoral registrar to make sure you can vote, but the deadline of the 2nd of September is approaching fast.”

Further information is available online at About My Vote.

Revealed: impact of UK pension reforms

A question posed by Cunninghame North MSP Kenneth Gibson has revealed the shocking impact UK Government changes to pension entitlement could have on Scots if we remain part of the British Union.

During First Minister’s Questions in the Scottish Parliament, Mr Gibson asked Alex Salmond, “What will be the impact on Scotland of United Kingdom Government plans to raise the retirement age?”

The First Minister replied, “Analysis shows that a 65-year-old can expect the lifetime value of their state pension to be around £11,000 less for women and £10,000 less for men in Scotland than the average for the UK as a whole.  What is more, the UK has based its plans to increase the state pension age on increasing life expectancy, but the reality is that Scottish life expectancy is currently the lowest of all the UK countries.  That looks to us like a policy that is made in London without consideration of fairness in Scotland.”

Kenneth Gibson then referred to “the admission by UK Pensions Minister Steve Webb MP that state pensions will be secure” if Scotland votes for independence next month.  The SNP MSP asked the First Minister, “Given that Labour’s Shadow Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, Rachel Reeves MP, announced that Labour would support the Tory-Lib Dem UK Government pension reforms, does the First Minister agree that the only way to develop a pension regime that is appropriate to Scotland’s circumstances is to vote ‘YES’ in September’s referendum?”

Responding, Alex Salmond said, “I do agree with that.  In drawing attention to the comments of Steve Webb before a Westminster committee, Kenneth Gibson draws attention to an important point, which is that the ‘No’ campaign has spent a good amount of time trying to tell people in Scotland that their pensions would not be safe in an independent Scotland.  Now the UK Pensions Secretary, Steve Webb MP, has admitted that is not the case.

“We are entitled to ask when the Better Together – Labour/Tory - leaflets that allege something that is clearly not true are going to be withdrawn, and whether the Liberal Democrats - Steve Webb is a Liberal Democrat member of Parliament - will insist that their Better Together colleagues stop trying to peddle myths and scaremonger to the people of Scotland.”

Former Council Chief Executive dies

Bernard Devine, a former Chief Executive of North Ayrshire Council, has died.

Mr Devine, who lived in West Kilbride, was 68 and passed-away last Wednesday (August 27th).

One of Scotland’s longest-serving local government Chief Executives, Bernard Devine came to Ayrshire in 1986 to take up the top post on Cunninghame District Council.  It was Mr Devine who oversaw the transition from Cunninghame District to North Ayrshire Council in 1995/96.  A North Ayrshire Council spokesperson said, “It was a challenging period for Scotland’s local authorities, which were going through reorganisation for the second time in two decades.  Bernard oversaw a raft of changes that came with the transfer of responsibilities from the old regional councils to the new unitary authorities.  Through unsettling times he confidently led North Ayrshire Council through the reorganisation and into the next millennium.”

Mr Devine held the Council’s most senior post until he retired in 2004.  A former colleague said, “He was a quiet and caring man.  His door was always open.  You could never disturb him. Staff could walk straight into his office and discuss anything that was bothering them.  He had a great ability to put people at ease.”

Elma Murray, who has been Chief Executive at North Ayrshire Council for the past five years, worked with Bernard Devine in the early years of the authority.  Ms Murray said, “I was saddened to hear the news that Bernard had died.  I had worked with him in the Council’s IT department in Irvine between 1995 and 1998.  I have very fond memories of him.  He was someone that I was able to learn a lot from.”

The Council Leader, SNP councillor Willie Gibson added, “I know from our longer-serving members of staff that Bernard was a respected figurehead who was always fair with people.  My condolences go out to his family during this time of deep sorrow.”

For the Labour Group, Cllr Peter McNamara said, “I will never forget the help that Bernard gave me.  He was a quiet, unassuming man but he was very diligent in carrying out his duties as Chief Executive.  It was a joy to work with him.”

Mr Devine is survived by two sons and a daughter – James, Kenneth and Susan.  The family was struck by tragedy some years ago when elder daughter Anne died suddenly at the age of 29.  Mr Devine’s wife, Alice, died in 2006.

Help prevent suicide

“If you can read between the lines, you can save lives”.  That's the message ‘Choose Life’ is sending out to Three Towns residents for Suicide Prevention Week, which runs from September 8th-12th.

Despite a 19% reduction in the suicide rate since 2002, around two lives are still lost each day in Scotland.   A Choose Life spokesperson said, “For each suicide, the impact on those left behind lasts a lifetime. The idea that suicide shouldn't be talked about is a remaining taboo and doesn't help those grieving or the many people who may be feeling suicidal right now.”

Choose Life’s 'Read between the lines' campaign is aimed at tackling the stigma around suicide and helping to further reduce unnecessary deaths by raising awareness that if a person is worried about someone, asking directly about their feelings can help save lives.

The campaign acknowledges that signs of potential suicide can be ambiguous, but encourages people to be alert and to take seriously all signs of distress, even if the person seems to be living a normal life.  Asking a person about what is troubling them has been proven to make a positive difference.

Alana Atkinson, Lead for the National Programme for Suicide Prevention at NHS Scotland, explained, “It is difficult to take something positive out of a situation where people find their personal circumstances so desperate they feel compelled to take their own lives.  However, we are continuing to see a reduction in the number of people who have died by suicide in Scotland.

"In saying that, it is vital that to address the complex and challenging issue of suicide, everyone needs to work together.  We all have a role to play in reducing the number of preventable deaths by suicide."

Ms Atkinson said the campaign encourages people to be aware of any signs that someone they know isn't quite themselves or if they notice any changes in their behaviour that causes concern,” adding, “It also lets them know where they can get help from our partners, Breathing Space and Samaritans."

The campaign hopes to reach men and women who are likely to be in greatest contact with people most at risk of suicide.  Statistics show that around three-quarters of suicides have been men in every year since 1990 and that males between the ages of 30 and 59 are most likely to take their own lives.

Help and advice is available by calling Breathing Space on 0800 838587 or Samaritans on 08457 909090, or by visiting the Choose Life website.