SNP Ministers urged to seize A1 feasibility study offer

County MSP Iain Gray is urging Scottish Ministers to seize the opportunity presented in this week’s UK Budget to extend the feasibility study on possible improvements to the A1 north of Newcastle further north into Scotland.

The Budget Red Book, the document that sets out the details of the Government’s spending plans, indicates this will be possible if the Scottish Government agrees to help fund the study. On page 86 of the Red Book it states: ‘A1 Newcastle to Edinburgh – The government is offering to extend the feasibility study on possible improvements to the A1 north of Newcastle further north into Scotland, if the Scottish government will match fund the costs of this study.’

Local authorities, safety campaigners and business groups have been campaigning to extend the scope of the study to include the section of the A1 in Scotland, so far without success. They believe that such a study could help to strengthen the case for improving the single carriageway section of road between the border and East Lothian, where accidents are three times more likely to occur than on sections that are dualled.

Iain Gray MSP said:

“A range of organisations and campaigners, including East Lothian Council and the A1 Action Group, have been making a strong case for a feasibility study on improving the A1 between the border and East Lothian, in the interests of safety, business and tourism.

“It’s disappointing that SNP Ministers have so far refused to listen to this case. However, the UK Government’s Budget offer to extend the study into Scotland presents a new opportunity for the Scottish Government to listen to the widespread concerns expressed about this section of the A1 and rethink its stance on exploring potential improvements.

“I hope that Ministers will now seize this opportunity and enter into a positive dialogue with their UK counterparts about extending the feasibility study and reviewing all of the possible options for upgrading this section of the A1.”

Iain leads Holyrood debate marking anniversary of miners’ strike

County MSP Iain Gray has led a debate in the Scottish Parliament on the 30th anniversary of the 1984-85 miners’ strike.

Mr Gray opened his members’ debate, held on 20th March, by acknowledging what a great privilege it is to represent a coalfield constituency such as East Lothian, and to lead a debate on an important moment in the UK’s relatively recent history. He also welcomed to the public gallery some of those who lived through the reality of the dispute, including former miners from East Lothian.

The MSP went on to reflect on why the 1984-85 strike still has such a powerful resonance 30 years on. He began by reminding people that mining was an industry with a thousand years or more of history in East Lothian and Scotland. Mr Gray suggested the fact that the strike was a struggle not just to save jobs, but a whole industry, was one of the reasons it remains so important to so many people.

Mr Gray spoke about the sense of solidarity imbued in mining families and communities, the strength this gave coalfield communities and how it and many other qualities helped them cope during the dispute. He also described how whole communities mobilised in support of the striking miners, using various examples in East Lothian to highlight the point.

These included the Labour club in Prestonpans, which was turned over to the strikers as their headquarters and soup kitchen, the generous support of the Co-operative in coalfield communities across the county, The Royal Musselburgh Golf Club, which felled its trees for fuel, and the hardship fund set up by East Lothian District Council to help miners and their families.

Mr Gray also paid particular tribute to the women of East Lothian’s mining communities, saying, “Above all, everywhere, including in places such as Prestonpans, Tranent, Ormiston and Elphinstone, the women rose up too, with their husbands, their fathers and their sons, and organised. In the soup kitchens, on fundraising tours and trips at home and abroad and, yes, on the picket line itself, they did not support the strike but rather shared in the leading of it.”

Mr Gray went on to stress the importance of commemorating the miners’ struggle, and, in so doing, also remain true to the ideals which sustained mining communities throughout their struggles – community, solidarity, justice and fairness. He ended his speech by suggesting that these ideals will ensure that the men and women of the coalfields will never really be defeated.

Speaking after the debate, Iain Gray MSP said:

“Representing coalfield communities in East Lothian these past seven years has enabled me to build up a strong understanding of how local miners, mining families and mining communities were affected by the 1984-85 strike. It is clear that the dispute has left lasting scars on many individuals and communities, and retains great significance to those were involved 30 years ago.

“For these reasons I was keen to mark the anniversary at Holyrood. This members’ debate enabled some of the many important aspects of the dispute and its lasting impact on coalfield communities to be considered in Parliament. I was particularly pleased to highlight the great solidarity shown with the striking miners in communities across East Lothian, as well as the support of the wider labour movement and East Lothian District Council.

“I also emphasised the vital role played by local women who rose up too, with their husbands, their fathers and their sons, and organised. In the soup kitchens, on fundraising tours and trips at home and abroad, and on the picket line itself, they did not just support the strike but rather shared in the leading of it.

“The debate was also an opportunity to remember the 200 victimised miners who were unable to go back to work at the end of the dispute, including prominent figures here in East Lothian, and the 600 whose names, even now, should be cleared of unjust convictions. SNP Ministers have so far refused to listen to calls for a review of these convictions, but I will continue to argue for justice for the coalfield communities no matter how many years pass.”

Iain lends support to WWF’s Earth Hour

Iain Gray MSP is lending his support to WWF’s Earth Hour on Saturday 29 March by becoming an Earth Hour star and celebrating our brilliant planet.

As 8.30pm strikes that evening, millions of people across the world will switch of their lights for an hour in a graphic demonstration of support for people and wildlife threatened by climate change. When the lights switch off, it is our planet’s time to shine.

By becoming an Earth Hour star, Iain Gray and others are offering their support for a brighter future by committing to take more action beyond the hour to tackle climate change. One of the things that politicians can do is commit to introducing new measures to reduce our own emissions in Scotland. This includes reducing emissions from our homes, transport system and from our energy production.

Mr Gray is urging constituents, local businesses and organisations to join in and be Earth Hour stars for WWF’s Earth Hour.

Last year more than 10 million people in the UK and 157 countries took part in the world’s largest participation event. Some of the world’s most recognisable landmarks including Edinburgh Castle, the Forth Rail Bridge, Big Ben, The Sydney Opera House and the Eiffel Tower switched off for Earth Hour.

Scotland celebrated the hour with schools, individuals, organisations, community groups and iconic buildings joining the big switch-off.

To join the growing community of people supporting WWF’s Earth Hour, visit www.wwfscotland.org.uk/earthhour

Iain Gray MSP said:

“WWF’s Earth Hour campaign is a powerful way of seeing just how much energy we all use to light our towns and cities, and gives us a unique opportunity to reflect on our environment and our effect on it.

“I’m therefore pleased to lend my support by switching off on 29 March, and would encourage as many people in East Lothian as possible to do the same.”

WWF Scotland director Lang Banks said:

“WWF’s Earth Hour is an extraordinary annual event that focuses the world’s attention on our amazing planet, and the steps we need to take to protect it.

“In this momentous year for Scotland, we are glad that so many politicians are keen to be Earth Hour stars, and support more action to protect our planet from climate change and other environmental threats. We encourage everyone to be part of the world’s biggest celebration of our brilliant planet, to show their support for planet friendly decisions by our leaders.”

Letter from Holyrood: Support for fairly traded products

This year’s Fairtrade Fortnight ended on 9 March. It has now become a well established part of the annual calendar of campaigning and awareness events and is one that I always make sure I support. It is a really valuable opportunity to promote awareness of the concept of Fair Trade and encourage more people to think ethically and buy Fairtrade products. It is also a time to reflect on the success of the Fair Trade movement and what it has achieved since its early days in the 1960s.

Even when I worked for Oxfam in the eighties, Fair Trade was an idea few were aware of, and FT Fortnight a much smaller event than it is now. The idea that mainstream shops and supermarkets would be stocking Fairtrade products seemed very optimistic. Fairtrade volunteers in all of our communities have made that happen. The range and quality of products now available is quite remarkable.

I have been fortunate enough to see firsthand the difference that Fairtrade can make for farmers and communities. One year ago Scotland achieved Fair Trade Nation status, a fantastic achievement which came about largely as a result of the dedicated work of local campaigners, including many here in East Lothian. Working as ordinary citizens in their own communities, thousands of people have set out to make a difference to the lives of farmers and workers in developing countries.

Everyone who has been involved in the various campaigns and activities aimed at promoting Fairtrade over the years, can rightly be proud of the huge contribution they have made. Of course, Fairtrade Fortnight enjoys considerable support here in East Lothian and I was delighted to visit Fair Trade coffee mornings in Dunbar and North Berwick to mark the event. The most important thing, though is to seek out fairly traded products all year round!

Gray slams MacAskill’s refusal to think again on court closures

County MSP Iain Gray has slammed the complacency of Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill after he dismissed concerns raised by East Lothian Council about the capacity of Edinburgh’s courts to deal with additional cases from Haddington.

In his reply to Mr Gray and council Chief Executive Angela Leitch, the Justice Secretary confirmed that despite the concerns that have been highlighted by the council and legal experts, he has no plans to rethink the parliamentary orders which will close the court in January next year.

Iain Gray MSP said:

“This latest response underlines how blind the Justice Secretary has been to the very clear and evidence-based case against closing Haddington’s courts. It demonstrates once again just how unconcerned and complacent he is about the impact that closing Haddington’s courts will have on the delivery of justice here.

“Rather than addressing the serious concerns that have been raised, Mr MacAskill simply rehashed the same old excuses and justifications for going ahead with the closure. He has even tried to suggest that closing our court will be good for justice in East Lothian, and that victims and witnesses will be better off travelling to Edinburgh.

“I don’t think that many local people, particularly those in the east of the county, will share his optimism about the prospect of having to travel through to Edinburgh for court appearances.
“Worst of all, despite it being absolutely clear that the closure is ultimately down to the Justice Secretary and the SNP Scottish Government, Mr MacAskill still refuses to take responsibility for the decision, choosing instead to hide behind the Scottish Court Service.

“While it looks like the closure will now go ahead next January, I will continue to hold the Minister and his colleagues to account for their decision, and ensure that no-one in East Lothian is left in any doubt about who is responsible for ending the local delivery of justice in the county.”

MSP marks 500th anniversary of birth of John Knox

Iain Gray MSP has supported a motion in Parliament to mark the 500th anniversary of the birth of one of Scotland’s most important historical figures, the theological reformer John Knox who was born in Haddington.

The motion notes Knox’s contribution to modern Scotland and Protestantism, and that he is recognised as the founding father of the Scottish Reformation and of Presbyterianism in Scotland. It also acknowledges the events taking place in Haddington and elsewhere in Scotland to celebrate the important anniversary.

Iain Gray MSP said:

“John Knox is one of the really towering figures in Scotland’s history and it is fitting that we should mark this significant anniversary at Holyrood. I agree entirely with the sentiments expressed in the motion and welcome the fact that it acknowledges Haddington as Knox’s birthplace.

“The work that Knox did all those years ago was incredibly influential in Scotland’s development, not only theologically, but also in other important aspects of society. I hope that people of all faiths and none will take the time to find out a little more about Knox and his contribution to Scotland in this anniversary year.”

Iain supports Marie Curie Great Daffodil Appeal

Wearing his daffodil with pride, Iain Gray MSP lent his support to Marie Curie Cancer Care’s Great Daffodil Appeal at the Scottish Parliament this week.

Mr Gray met staff and heard about the work of the charity that cares for terminally ill patients and their families across Scotland. He also handed over a bag of donated clothing to help stock the charity’s shops.

The Great Daffodil Appeal is Marie Curie’s biggest fundraiser, which encourages everyone to give a donation and wear a daffodil pin in March. The money raised will help Marie Curie Nurses to provide more free care to local people with terminal illnesses in their own homes and in the two Scottish Marie Curie Hospices in Edinburgh and Glasgow.

Iain Gray MSP said:

“I’m delighted to support Marie Curie Cancer Care’s appeal, and would encourage as many people in East Lothian as possible to do so too.

“Terminal illness very sadly affects so many of us, either personally or someone we know and care about. The work organisations like Marie Curie do therefore in giving people a dignified end close to loved ones can’t be underestimated.”

Richard Meade, Head of Policy and Public Affairs Scotland said:

“It’s thanks to the support of MSPs such as Iain Gray that we can spread the word about the Great Daffodil Appeal and raise vital funds to support terminally ill people in Scotland. Every March millions of people across the UK support our biggest fundraising campaign and it’s easy to join in, simply give a donation and wear your daffodil pin.”

To find out how you can get involved in the Great Daffodil Appeal visit www.mariecurie.org.uk/daffodil or call 0845 601 3107.

Gray and O’Donnell give their support to county Fairtrade Fortnight events

The county’s MSP and MP attended two local Fairtrade Fortnight coffee mornings on the weekend to show their support for the annual awareness raising campaign.

Iain Gray and Fiona O’Donnell first went to the Dunbar Fairtrade Group’s coffee morning at the Townhouse, where they supported the group’s message to local people to swap their usual cuppa for Fairtrade tea or coffee. The pair then dropped into the North Berwick Fairtrade Partnership’s breakfast event at St Andrew’s Blackadder Church and chatted to people about their reasons for supporting Fairtrade.

Iain Gray MSP said:

“Fairtrade Fortnight is an important time to help raise awareness about the huge difference that Fairtrade can make to the lives of farmers and workers in some of the poorest parts of the world. East Lothian has a proud record of promoting Fairtrade values and I was pleased to be able to show my support by attending these events in Dunbar and North Berwick.”

Fiona O’Donnell MP said:

“It’s great that communities in East Lothian are so supportive of the Fairtrade movement and do so much to promote it, especially during Fairtrade Fortnight. I want to thank the organisers of the Dunbar and North Berwick events for inviting us to join them and making us so welcome. It was fantastic to see so many local people, and especially young people, supporting both events.”

County academy’s success is hailed at Holyrood

The success of the East Lothian Hospitality and Tourism Academy in being honoured with a prestigious UK-wide Times Educational Supplement Further Education Award, has been hailed at Holyrood by county MSP Iain Gray.

Mr Gray has tabled a motion welcoming the pioneering project’s success, which came via Edinburgh College in the University HE Access Widening Participation category. The college is one of three partner organistions that run the academy, along with Queen Margaret University (QMU) and East Lothian Council.

Iain Gray MSP said:

“The East Lothian hospitality and tourism academy is an excellent initiative. It has quickly developed an enviable track record for creating new opportunities for the young people who have gone through the programme. I am delighted that its work has been recognised at these prestigious awards.

“The hallmark of its success has clearly been the strong partnership that has been forged between Edinburgh College, which received the award on this occasion, QMU, East Lothian Council, and its many industry partners. I want to congratulate everyone involved in the academy on this success and wish all the partners well with developing its work in the future.”

The academy, which was launched in 2012, smooths the transition between school, college and university, and aims to open up opportunities for 16-18-year-olds who might not have considered themselves suited for further or higher education.

In its first year, the academy recruited 34 S5 and S6 pupils from East Lothian schools and gave them the chance to take part in a two-year programme of practical work experience and theory at Edinburgh College and QMU, leading to industry-recognised qualifications.

Following this initial two-year programme, students can move on to a related course at the college or university, or to a job in the sector. Thirty of the first group of students completed HNC and employability modules, with 18 going on to study the full HNC in 2013-14 while still at school, four progressing to Edinburgh College to study the SVQ2 Professional Cookery, and eight moving into employment.

Employers supporting the academy include Marriott, Novotel, Macdonald Hotels and Resorts, Jurys Inn, Mercure, Prestonfield, Best Western and Fraser Suites Edinburgh.

Across-the-board increase in use of county train stations welcomed

New figures released by the independent regulator of Britain’s railways show that all of East Lothian’s train stations saw increases in their use for the period April 2012 to March 2013, with Prestonpans station recording an increase of over 12 per cent.

The Office of Rail Regulation’s estimates of station usage statistics record the number of passengers travelling to and from each station (entries and exits). The figures are based on ticket sales data recorded in rail industry systems.

All of the five stations within Iain Gray’s East Lothian constituency showed increased usage in the period 2012/13 compared with the same period in 2011/12. The increase of 26,432 at Prestonpans station was by far the largest, taking the total number of entries and exits up to 237,070.

Longniddry showed the second biggest percentage increase (8.83%) taking its total up to 177,840, while Drem’s increase was estimated at 7,906 (7.48%) to total 113,556. North Berwick recorded an increase of 19,598 up to a total of 489,680, representing a 4.16% increase. Dunbar station showed an increase of 3.13% over the year.

Mr Gray welcomed the increased station usage as good news for public transport in the county and suggested that it also underlines the strong case for the introduction of a new Dunbar local service.

Iain Gray MSP said:

“I welcome the fact that all five of the stations in my constituency have seen good increases in their use over the period covered by these figures. This is positive news for the travelling public, the local economy and train operators. While the operators still have many issues to address, not least the cost of fares, the figures show that the public can be enticed to use trains more frequently.

“This bodes well for the future of train travel in East Lothian, including the proposed Dunbar local service. The increasing use of train services certainly underlines the strength of the case for linking Berwick and Edinburgh via Dunbar and developing a new station at East Linton. I will continue to take every opportunity to champion the case for improving local services.”