Saturday, 30 May 2015

Councillors back Saltcoats boundary split

A majority of councillors have backed proposals for boundary changes to local Wards that would see Saltcoats split in two.

At a special meeting of North Ayrshire Council, held last week, it was agreed the local authority would respond to the Boundary Commission for Scotland by setting-out plans for new electoral Wards and an increase in the number of councillors in North Ayrshire.

A move by Ardrossan Independent councillor John Hunter to retain existing boundaries and the current 30 councillors did not receive sufficient support.  Instead, a majority of SNP and Labour councillors backed the proposal for boundary changes, which was set-out in a report submitted by council Chief Executive Elma Murray.

The top official’s extensive report argued, “It is essential that ward boundaries, wherever possible align with the boundaries of neighbourhood planning areas.  In order to do so with an acceptable parity of electors per councillor, 35 Members are required.”

However, the Boundary Commission for Scotland has imposed a 10% cap on the increase in councillors per local authority, meaning North Ayrshire could expect to receive an additional three members, taking the total to 33.

Speaking to the3towns.today after the council meeting, John Hunter said, “I don’t see how local people will be better represented by having an extra three councillors across the whole of North Ayrshire.”

Cllr Hunter also expressed concern over the proposal that would see the town of Saltcoats divided in two, with one part placed in a Ward with Ardrossan, and the other linked to Stevenston.

In Elma Murray’s report to last week’s council meeting, the Chief Executive said, “It is important to recognise that while an outsider might view the towns of Ardrossan, Saltcoats and Stevenston as a single conurbation, this is not the view of many residents, whose ties are to their individual town.

“The Council recognises that while ideally it would have been helpful to have three wards reflecting the boundaries of the three individual towns, this is not possible.  The disparity in the number of electors per Councillor would be too high in the case of Stevenston.

“While recognising that there will have to be at least one split, it is important for the preservation of local ties that the number of splits is minimised.  The Council’s proposal retains the towns of Stevenston and Ardrossan in single wards, splitting only Saltcoats.”

If agreed by the Boundary Commission for Scotland and Scottish Government ministers, the changes would create electoral Wards called ‘Ardrossan & Saltcoats North’ and ‘Stevenston & Saltcoats South’.

In further proposed changes, the island of Arran, which is currently in a Ward with Ardrossan, would be moved to a new electoral district with Fairlie and West Kilbride.  Kilbirnie would also be split to form ‘Dalry & Kilbirnie West’ and ‘Beith & Kilbirnie East’.

The Boundary Commission for Scotland will now undertake a public consultation in relation to the changes proposed for local Wards and the number of councillors representing North Ayrshire.  Once complete, the Commission will make recommendations to Scottish Government ministers who have the final say on whether or not changes should go ahead.

Local mum told to 'quit' the UK

An online petition to stop the deportation of a Stevenston woman has attracted more than 4,000 signatures.

Crystal McIver (pictured at her wedding) was born in the United States of America but has lived in Scotland for 29 years.  She was just 15 years-old when the marriage of her Scottish mum and American dad ended.

Crystal’s mum brought her to Scotland where she subsequently attended school before securing employment and paying taxes throughout her adult life.

Married with three children, Mrs McIver only discovered the UK Government had a problem with her residence-status when she returned from a holiday in the Dominican Republic.  Immigration checks revealed she had originally entered the UK on a short-term visa and she was deemed to have ‘overstayed’.

The UK Home Office then wrote to Crystal, giving her ‘Notice to Quit’ the UK by the end of June this year.

The 44 year-old, whose Scottish-born children are now 26, 25 and 19, also now has a grandson and has lived the majority of her life in Scotland.

Crystal’s son said, “My mother raised us and did an excellent job.  She has contributed to this wee country and she should be a UK citizen, so I ask that people please sign the petition to help my mum - a grandmother and mother of three - to remain in the country she loves, and stay with her family.”

The petition, calling on the UK Home Office to allow Crystal to remain in Scotland, can be signed here.

Take steps to fight cervical cancer

Ardrossan woman Suzanne Fernando is asking local people to help in the fight to combat cervical cancer by taking part in Step’s for Jo’s, a 5-kilometre walk, on June 13th.

Suzanne is a survivor of cervical cancer – giving birth to her youngest daughter, Aaron, while undergoing treatment in 2000 – and now works through Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust to raise awareness of the disease and how it can be prevented.

The local woman told the3towns.today, “Being diagnosed with cervical cancer and having to undergo treatment is an incredibly difficult experience and I want to help make sure as few women as possible are faced with a diagnosis.

“Organising an annual fundraising walk for Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust is a great opportunity to get the community together while raising funds to run support services for those affected, and help educate the public on why attending cervical screening and having the HPV vaccination is so important.

“This is the third year I’ve organised a walk and previous events have always been a great success with everyone enjoying the day.  This year looks to be bigger and better than ever before, with goodies, refreshments, certificates and medals for those who register.”

The 5K walk on June 13th will be held at Eglinton Country Park and will be officially started by North Ayrshire Provost Joan Sturgeon.  Amongst those taking part in the walk will be North Ayrshire & Arran MP Patricia Gibson.

Robert Music, Chief Executive of Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust, said, “We look forward to welcoming the local community to this event organised by Suzanne.

“Steps for Jo’s is a great opportunity for all the family to get active and raise vital funds so that the charity can continue to extend its support network across the UK as well as work towards a future where cervical cancer becomes a disease of the past.

“For those whose lives have been touched by cervical cancer, it’s also an opportunity to celebrate those affected and remember the women who have sadly lost their life to the disease.”

More information and registration for the Steps for Jo’s 5K walk is available on the Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trustwebsite.

Saturday, 9 May 2015

SNP sweeps to victory in North Ayrshire & Arran

The SNP recorded a massive 23.3% swing from the Labour Party to comfortably take the North Ayrshire & Arran constituency at last Thursday’s (May 7th) UK Election.

Labour candidate Katy Clark, who had served as MP since 2005, appeared to pay the price of her party’s closeness to the Conservatives in last year’s Independence Referendum and in terms of social and economic policies.  Ms Clark supported Scotland remaining within the British Union but regularly opposed Labour’s political positioning.

The Scottish National Party’s Patricia Gibson received 28,641 votes to Labour’s 15,068, giving the SNP a majority of 13,573.  Mrs Gibson secured 53% of all votes cast by the people of North Ayrshire & Arran.

The Tories finished a distant third on 7,968 votes.  The United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP) and the Liberal Democrats, who respectively finished fourth and fifth, lost their deposits after failing to secure at least 5% of the votes cast.

After being announced as the new MP for North Ayrshire & Arran, Patricia Gibson told the crowd at the election count in Saltcoats’ St Matthew’s Academy, “The most special thanks go to the people of North Ayrshire and Arran for placing their trust in me.  I will not let them down.”

Mrs Gibson, whose husband, Kenneth, is the SNP MSP for the broadly equivalent constituency of Cunninghame North, committed herself to being a “visible and hard working MP” for everyone in North Ayrshire and Arran, adding, “I will seek to work with others to oppose the austerity agenda, which is causing so much pain in our communities.”

To cheers from SNP activists, Mrs Gibson said, “The people of North Ayrshire and Arran, and the people across Scotland, have spoken and it's time their voices were heard in Westminster.

“As part of a strong group of SNP MPs, I will be your voice.”

Katy Clark said it had been “a huge privilege” to represent the people of North Ayrshire and Arran over the last 10 years, noting, “I've carried out that role to the best of my ability and I've been absolutely clear and honest about the kind of politics I believe in.  I'm a socialist and I believe that radical redistributive measures are necessary in all parts of the UK.”

Ms Clark stood last year for the position of Deputy Leader of the Labour Party in Scotland, but lost-out to centre-right candidate Kezia Dugdale MSP.  Of the position in which Labour now finds itself, Katy Clark said, “I believe Scottish Labour needs to change, and I will continue to argue that we need to go back to our radical socialist roots.

“I've always stood for Labour values and I believe the people of North Ayrshire and Arran still believe in Labour values.  Unfortunately, the party that has been before them has not lived up to that image.”

Ms Clark, broadly acknowledged as a hard-working constituency MP over the past ten-years, added, “I will continue to fight for a Labour Party that puts the interests of ordinary working people first, a party that delivers for the working class, and a party that's true to our radical and socialist roots.”

The 13,573 majority secured by the SNP last week is the largest since 1931 when the local constituency was called Bute & Northern Ayrshire.  At the election 84 years ago, the winning candidate was the Unionist Party’s Sir Aylmer Gould Hunter-Weston, who secured a 14,240 majority over Alexander Sloan of the Independent Labour Party (ILP).  In a remarkable coincidence, Mr Sloan was the great-great-grandfather of Katy Clark.  The ILP man subsequently served as MP for South Ayrshire from 1939 until his death in 1946.

The Central Ayrshire constituency, which includes Irvine and part of Kilwinning, was won by the SNP’s Philippa Whitford with a majority of 13,589 over Labour’s Brian Donohoe who had been the area’s MP since 1992.

Across Scotland at last week’s election, the SNP swept to a historic landslide victory, winning 56 of the country’s 59 seats.

The full result in North Ayrshire & Arran was:

Patricia Gibson (SNP) – 28,641
Katy Clark (Labour) – 15,068
Jamie Greene (Tory) – 7,968
Sharon McGonigal (UKIP) – 1,296
Ruby Kirkwood (Lib Dem) - 896

Photo: North Ayrshire & Arran Returning Officer Elma Murray announces the election result with Patricia Gibson (SNP) and Katy Clark (Labour) looking on.

Labour councillor re-tweets post linking SNP to Irish terrorists

A North Ayrshire Labour councillor who previously used social media to call the SNP “UKIP in tartan trews” caused further controversy shortly before last week’s UK Election by re-tweeting a post that stated “vote SNP, get IRA”.

By re-tweeting the offensive post to his 669 ‘followers’, Largs-based councillor Alex Gallagher appeared to endorse the sentiment that the party forming Scotland’s democratically-elected government could somehow be equated with an Irish terrorist organisation.

The poster of the original tweet tried to link the SNP with the IRA after a Scotland-based Irish republican flute band – the James Connolly 1st Republican Flute Band – marched past George Square in Glasgow while a pro-Scottish independence rally was taking place.

However, the SNP had nothing to do with the pro-independence rally, which was arranged and run by an organisation called Hope Over Fear, a movement closely linked with Solidarity, a left-wing political party led by former MSP Tommy Sheridan.

The march by the James Connolly 1st Republican Flute Band was celebrating the 40th anniversary of the band having been formed in Glasgow and had nothing to do with the Hope Over Fear rally.  The route of the band’s parade was approved by Labour-controlled Glasgow City Council.

The tweet re-posted by Cllr Gallagher also received backing from far-right and protestant sectarian organisations, which attempted to conflate the two separate events in Glasgow, with one Twitter poster stating, “the SNP brought the IRA to Glasgow’s streets”.

The full post re-tweeted by the Largs councillor read:  “How anyone can vote SNP after yesterday’s performance is beyond me, vote SNP, get IRA #SNPout”.

The Twitter account of the person behind the tweet that was re-sent by Alex Gallagher shows the individual has previously posted his support for the far-right United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP), has re-tweeted posts from Tommy Robinson (former leader of the fascist English Defence League) and has also posted support for Glasgow Rangers and Chelsea Football Club.  Another of his posts shows a British Union flag with the acronym “WATP” (We Are The People).  The account also carries a grossly-offensive anti-Islam post depicting the Prophet Muhammad.

Cllr Gallagher has not responded to previous requests from the3towns.today, which asked him to explain comments he has posted or re-posted on social media.

At last week’s election the Labour Party was virtually wiped-off the political map of Scotland, losing all but one of its seats to the SNP.  The North Ayrshire & Arran constituency, where Alex Gallagher is a Labour activist, saw a massive 23.3% swing from Labour to the SNP.