Friday, 24 April 2015

Council to pursue Saltcoats split understands North Ayrshire Council is to press ahead in promoting boundary changes that will see Saltcoats split in two, the western part of town being  linked with Ardrossan while the eastern area becomes part of a Ward dominated by Stevenston.

This newspaper originally revealed the controversial idea in July of last year, when a majority of SNP and Labour councillors supported the proposed change after it was discussed at a council meeting.  At the time, local Independent councillors Ronnie McNicol and John Hunter voted against the plan.

In a paper presented to the July 2014 meeting, Chief Executive Elma Murray argued boundary changes to electoral Wards (the areas represented by councillors) are necessary to align them with Neighbourhood Planning Areas and to comply with Boundary Commission recommendations in terms of the number of electors in each Ward.

Currently North Ayrshire has 30 councillors, but Ms Murray’s paper set-out “exceptional circumstances” that she believed justified the district receiving an additional five elected members.

Following the meeting, North Ayrshire Council submitted its proposal to the Boundary Commission for Scotland.

However, in a recent Tweet, Kilwinning Labour councillor Donald Reid revealed the Commission had rejected the council’s argument for five additional councillors, instead indicating it was minded to allow an increase from 30 to 33 for the next council election in 2017.

This week a council insider told, “The Boundary Commission did not accept the arguments for five more councillors and suggested alternative boundary changes, such as Saltcoats being retained as a complete electoral Ward with the addition of the Whitlees and Chapelhill Mount areas of Ardrossan.

“That suggestion is not considered to be acceptable and the council will go back to the Boundary Commission with our original proposal for the creation of two new Wards – Ardrossan & Saltcoats West and Stevenston & Saltcoats East.”

The proposed division of Saltcoats comes despite Boundary Commission guidance that, as far as possible, “towns should not be split between Wards”.

Race the Prom

A new 10-kilometer road-race organised by the North Ayrshire Athletics Club (NAAC) and supported by KA Leisure and North Ayrshire Council, is already attracting great interest from the public.

The ‘Race the Prom’ event will take place on Sunday, September 6th, beginning at 11:00am from the athletics arena adjacent to St Matthew’s Academy in Saltcoats.  Runners can record their personal time through the use of a ‘race chip’ and organisers point out the course is “virtually flat”.

All finishers will receive a medal, t-shirt and a ‘goody bag’ valued at £20.00, despite entry costing just £10.00 or £12.00.

A NAAC spokesperson said, “The race is being run under SAL [Scottish Athletics Limited] regulations and we are accepting registrations now.  I would urge anyone interested in taking part to please enter as soon as possible to avoid disappointment.  Entries will be accepted on the day of the race only if places are available.

“The race follows a very flat route, which includes the scenic promenade, a short section of trail alongside a golf course, an old railway track and some sections of pavement, with one small hill in the second half of the race.”

The route will be overseen by marshals on the day and will be sign-posted.

Runners can enter online.  See the North Ayrshire Athletics Club website for more information.

Mental Health Services - 'To Integration and Beyond'

Jamie Hepburn MSP, Scottish Government Minister for Sport, Health Improvement and Mental Health, was in Ayrshire last week to open the local NHS Mental Health Services Quality Symposium.

Held every two-years, the symposium gives delegates the opportunity to share good practice between mental health services in order to support the implementation of safer, more effective, person-centred care.

Dr Martin Cheyne, Chairman of Ayrshire & Arran NHS Board explained, “This event recognises the contribution of clinical staff to delivering high quality care.  It celebrates key successes within the service and is an opportunity to share good practice and ideas.

“This year's event focused on the integration of health and social care and the improvements that have already been made, and which go beyond our traditional boundaries in health and social care.”

Jamie Hepburn joined more than 100 delegates to hear about developments in the last two years, and to learn more about how mental health services will change in the future.

Dr Cheyne said, “We were delighted that Mr Hepburn took the time to attend our symposium and hear more about the fantastic work in Ayrshire and Arran.

“NHS Ayrshire and Arran, along with our three local authority partners, formed Scotland's first Integration Joint Boards on April 2nd.  Our staff are working hard to ensure we deliver the three strategic plans in each of the council areas in Ayrshire.  We know there is a long way to go, but by working together we can ensure the best mental and physical health for everyone in Ayrshire and Arran.”

SNP Minister Jamie Hepburn added, “I was delighted to be invited to see the fantastic work going on in Ayrshire and Arran.

“The integration of health and social care means that our local authorities and health service work more closely together to benefit service users.

“The three partnerships in Ayrshire and Arran are the first of their kind in Scotland, and we look forward to hearing more about their work over the coming years.”

Photograph (l to r): Derek Barron, Associate Nurse Director - Mental Health Services; Angela Rowe, Quality Improvement and Assurance Coordinator; Jamie Hepburn MSP, Minister for Sport, Health Improvement and Mental Health; Dr Martin Cheyne, Chairman of Ayrshire and Arran NHS Board; Iona Colvin, Director of North Ayrshire Health and Social Care Partnership.

Friday, 17 April 2015

Bookies back SNP win in North Ayrshire & Arran

With little more than two-weeks until the UK Election (May 7th), bookmakers are listing the SNP as favourites to win the North Ayrshire & Arran constituency.

Over the past month the major betting organisations have moved from having Labour and the SNP neck-and neck, to the Nationalists slightly ahead, and now apparently pulling into a clear lead.

All bookies offering prices currently have the SNP ‘odds on’ for a victory in the local seat.  For example, Bet365 has the party at 1/9, meaning you would need to place a bet of £9.00 to win just £1.00. William Hill’s odds reflect even more confidence in an SNP victory at 1/10. 

Ladbrokes, Coral and Bet365 put Labour at 5/1 - a £1.00 stake would win £5.00 if Labour’s Katy Clark retained the seat she has held since 2005.

A local bookmaker told, “The odds we offer reflect the probability of an outcome.  At the moment it is a strong probability the SNP will win North Ayrshire & Arran.”

To take the seat, SNP candidate Patricia Gibson needs to overturn a Labour majority of almost 10,000 from the last UK Election in 2010.  However, Mrs Gibson’s husband, Kenneth, is currently the SNP Member of the Scottish Parliament for the broadly-equivalent seat of Cunninghame North.  In 2011 Mr Gibson secured an SNP majority of 6,117.

Other candidates for the North Ayrshire & Arran seat are placed at ‘long odds’: Liberal Democrats – 150/1; Conservative and UKIP – 100/1. 

Union boss backs Labour's Katy Clark

The leader of Unite, Britain’s largest trade union, is heading to Saltcoats to support Katy Clark, Labour’s UK parliamentary candidate for North Ayrshire & Arran.

Len McCluskey (pictured) will speak at a public meeting in Saltcoats Labour Club on Thursday (April 23rd).

Katy Clark, defending a majority of almost 10,000 from the last UK election, said, “I'm delighted to welcome Len McCluskey.

“During my time in Parliament I have worked closely with the trade union movement on a number of campaigns, so it is great to again have their backing at this General Election. 

“This meeting is a chance for constituents to come along and hear why it is important that we vote for a Labour Government that will make a real difference for workers across the country.”

Although Unite is Labour’s biggest donor – giving the party over £10m in the past five-years – Len McCluskey has previously raised the prospect of the union axing its funding unless the party produces more left-wing policies and pledges to end Tory austerity measures.

Thursday’s public meeting begins at 7:30pm in Saltcoats Labour Club, Hill Street KA21 5ES.  

Labour plan to continue Tory austerity

Patricia Gibson, SNP candidate for North Ayrshire & Arran, has claimed Labour’s Scottish leader, Jim Murphy, has been “hung out to dry” by London-based party bosses.

Mrs Gibson spoke after Jim Murphy claimed there would be no further spending cuts in Scotland if Labour formed the UK Government after the election on May 7th.  However, just one day after Murphy’s comments, the party’s Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer, Ed Balls, and Shadow Business Secretary Chuka Umunna both indicated cuts would continue under Labour.

Mr Umunna went as far as to state, “The Leader of the Scottish Labour Party will not be in charge of the budget.”

Patricia Gibson said, “Labour’s Leader in Scotland, Jim Murphy - or manager of its ‘Branch Office’ as his predecessor so starkly put it - has been cruelly exposed and hung out to dry by his own bosses at Westminster.

“Ed Miliband, Ed Balls and Chuka Umunna have made it crystal clear that a majority Labour Government would continue with Tory-Lib Dem austerity.

“Mr Umunna destroyed what little credibility Jim Murphy and Labour in Scotland have when he stated the party planned cuts, not just this year and next year but for the whole of the next parliament if they form the government.”

Mrs Gibson noted, “Only the SNP now stands against austerity and cuts to public services that the Tories, Labour and Lib Dems wish to continue imposing on Scotland.  Only a strong group of SNP MPs, fighting Scotland’s corner, can ensure a change of direction at Westminster and help build a fairer, more equal and prosperous Scotland.”

Saturday, 11 April 2015

Jim Sillars to address Ardrossan public meeting

Veteran socialist and campaigner for independence, Jim Sillars, will be one of the speakers at a public meeting next Sunday (April 19) in Ardrossan Civic Centre.

Mr Sillars was the Labour MP for South Ayrshire from 1970 until 1979.  He left the London-run party and formed the Scottish Labour Party before becoming a member of the SNP.  In 1988 Sillars was the SNP candidate in a by-election campaign in Glasgow Govan, securing a remarkable victory for the party.

Also listed to speak at the event organised by the Radical Independence Campaign (RIC) are Cat Boyd (socialist and feminist campaigner), Jonathon Shafi (RIC activist and member of the editorial board of the Scottish Left Review), Robin McAlpine (contributor to the Common Weal project, which set out a socialist vision for an independent Scotland) and Ayrshire RIC activists Lynsey McKinnon and Heather Anderson.

Explaining what lies behind the Radical Independence Campaign, Heather Anderson told, “It is more than an independence campaign.  We stand for a social alternative to austerity and privatisation; a modern republic, committed to equality; we are internationalist, opposed to war, nuclear weapons and nuclear-armed NATO.”

RIC also currently campaigns against fracking – the unconventional extraction of gas – and opposes the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), a proposed agreement between the United States of America and the European Union, which, if implemented, would mean national parliaments could not prevent private American companies from taking-over publicly-run services, such as the NHS.

A large crowd is expected at the Ardrossan public meeting, which begins at 2:00pm in the Civic Centre, Glasgow Street.

Labour councillor's 'offensive' comments

A North Ayrshire Labour councillor has caused outrage after referring to the Scottish National Party as “UKIP in tartan trews”.
Despite the SNP having formed the democratically-elected government of Scotland since 2007, Largs-based councillor Alex Gallagher (pictured) equated the party with the far-right, fringe party led by Nigel Farage.  In Scotland, UKIP has just one elected representative, the much-ridiculed David Coburn who scraped the last MEP place at last year’s European Election.

Posting on a website covering tax issues, Cllr Gallagher said of an article that praised the Scottish Government led by Nicola Sturgeon, “The SNP talks left but acts right: they are UKIP in tartan trews.” contacted Alex Gallagher regarding his comments, asking him to clarify in what way the moderate left-of-centre SNP could be equated with the far-right UKIP.  The Labour councillor did not respond.

Ardrossan SNP activist Gavin Lundy condemned the comments of the Labour councillor, saying, “Phrases like those used by Alex Gallagher are being thrown around by Labour politicians attempting to scrape-back the progressive credentials their party has lost.

“This is clearly nothing but a contrived campaign tactic, which the people of Scotland see right through.”

 Eighteen-year-old Mr Lundy, who comprehensively defeated Alex Gallagher in a debate during last year’s Independence Referendum, told, “Any party, like Labour, which supports austerity, has no ‘Left’ credentials.  Any party, like Labour, which is prepared to spend billions-of-pounds on nuclear weapons, while people rely on foodbanks, has no right to claim it is on the ‘Left’.

“Alex Gallagher’s Labour Party is being rejected by Scots because it has abandoned them and abandoned its core progressive policies.

“Rightly, people now look to the SNP and other progressive parties to supply the Left’s backbone.”

Alex Gallagher’s comments are seen to be particularly offensive given recent revelations that UKIP MEP David Coburn had referred to SNP Government Minister Humza Yousaf as “Abu Hamza”, a convicted terrorist.

Coburn’s reference followed a long list of offensive comments and social media posts by UKIP members, including Tweets by then Plymouth constituency organiser Ron Northcott in relation to a protest in Edinburgh during a visit by Nigel Farage.  Mr Northcott Tweeted:

 “Just saw a clip of Jocks haranguing Nigel Farage.  Unbelievably, one strung a whole sentence together – ‘Scum’, and was sober”. 

This was followed by:

“Amazed that 50 Jocks could get out of bed that early. It’s not signing on day, is it or is the chemist open?”

Five candidates contest North Ayrshire & Arran

Valid papers were received from five candidates before closure of nominations for the UK Election to be held on May 7th.

Following the deadline at 4:00pm last Thursday (April 9), North Ayrshire & Arran’s Electoral Returning Officer Elma Murray confirmed the local constituency will be contested by Katy Clark (Labour), Patricia Gibson (SNP), Jamie Greene (Conservative), Ruby Kirkwood (Liberal Democrat) and Sharon McGonigal (UKIP).

Bookmakers expect a very close contest between Labour and the SNP, despite the incumbent, Ms Clark, defending a majority of almost 10,000 from the last election in 2010.

Contacted by, four of the UK’s biggest betting organisations provided the following odds for the North Ayrshire & Arran constituency:

Paddy Power: SNP 1/4 – Labour 11/4
Ladbrokes: SNP 1/6 – Labour 7/2
William Hill: SNP 3/10 – Labour 12/5
Coral: SNP 2/9 – Labour 7/2

The other candidates are seen as ‘also rans’, quoted at 100/1.

The latest national opinion poll, published on April 10 by YouGov, has the SNP pulling even further ahead of Labour (49% to 25%).

Labour’s Katy Clark was first elected in 2005 for the then constituency of Cunninghame North.  With a name-change to North Ayrshire & Arran in 2010, Ms Clark was re-elected, beating the SNP’s Patricia Gibson into second place.

Prior to entering politics, Katy Clark worked as a lawyer for trade union UNISON.

SNP candidate Patricia Gibson is a teacher of English and a former SNP councillor on Glasgow City Council.

Mrs Gibson lives in Kilbirnie with her husband, Kenneth, who is the SNP Member of the Scottish Parliament for the local constituency of Cunninghame North.

The Conservative & Unionist Party is fielding Jamie Greene, a Greenock-born executive with a multi-national broadcast network.

Ruby Kirkwood, a former North Ayrshire councillor for Irvine West, is flying the flag for the Liberal Democrats.

The far-right United Kingdom Independence Party is being represented by Kilbirnie woman Sharon McGonigal.

The UK Election will be held on Thursday, May 7th, with Polling Stations open between 7:00am and 10:00pm.

Polling cards are currently being delivered to the homes of registered voters across the constituency.