Ross High students welcomed to Holyrood

Two groups of Modern Studies students from Ross High School have been welcomed to the Scottish Parliament by the county’s MSP, Iain Gray.

Mr Gray met the groups of S5 students, who visited Holyrood on two separate days, and answered a wide range of questions about how the Parliament operates and his own role as East Lothian’s constituency MSP.

The visits were part of the Parliament Education Service’s ongoing School Visits programme to introduce children from across Scotland to Holyrood and how it works. Several East Lothian schools have now visited the Parliament to find out more about what goes on there and the work done by MSPs.

Speaking after the visits, Iain Gray MSP said:

“I was really pleased to welcome these two groups from Ross High and try and answer their questions – they gave me quite a grilling. I hope that the pupils found their visits interesting and informative, and that the experience has helped encourage their political engagement.

“Schools in East Lothian certainly work very hard to help ensure that young people here are well informed about our political process and the work of the Scottish Parliament. I commend all the staff who organise these important visits and look forward to many more local schools to Holyrood in the future.”

Ross High Modern Studies Teacher Thomas Munro, added:

“All the students benefited from the experience seeing and experiencing democracy in action and Iain Gray did well fielding a number of difficult questions from S5 students who were first time voters in the Independence Referendum.”

Visit for more information about the Parliament’s education service.

Ross High visit

Iain supports Macmillan coffee mornings

Local MSP Iain Gray today backed Macmillan Cancer Support’s ‘World’s Biggest Coffee Morning’ and urged people across East Lothian to visit a coffee morning over the next week.

The annual fundraising and awareness event sees the cancer support charity ask people across the UK to hold a coffee morning and raise money for people living with cancer. In 2013, 154,000 people signed up, raising a record £20 million.

Iain Gray MSP said:

“Macmillan’s coffee mornings are a great way to help raise much needed funds to support cancer care. East Lothian has a fantastic record of supporting this annual event with dozens of local coffee mornings held across the county. I urge everyone to go along to their nearest event and give their support for such a worthy cause.”

Supporting Macmillan coffee mornings

Letter from Holyrood: Energy park plan is ‘unacceptable’

The intricacies of newspaper deadlines mean that I am writing this before the referendum, but you will be reading it well after the result is known.

Whether the outcome was a “yes” or a “no” vote I hope that by the time you do read this politics will be turning its attention back to the important questions of how we now make our country fairer, improve the way we look after our elderly and vulnerable citizens, equip our young people with the skills and education they need, and above all create high quality jobs for them so they can make the best life possible for them and their families.

We do have to balance these priorities though. That is why in recent weeks I took time out from the referendum campaign to make clear that I consider the Scottish Government’s current energy park proposal for Cockenzie unacceptable.

I do want to see new jobs created on that site, even energy related jobs, because we have lost good jobs in the power station over the years. However the proposal we have before us, with a huge increase in the industrial footprint and significant loss of amenity, not least the dividing of neighbouring communities, is not one I can support.

No doubt it will be difficult to find ideas to replace the power station which everyone will like, and of course any development will require significant investment from somewhere to go ahead at all. Nonetheless, community opposition to the existing proposal could not be clearer, nor could their sense that they have not been listened to or consulted.

I do think that there is a long way to go with these issues, so we do have the chance to argue for something which is more acceptable to local residents.

Grassroots issues like this were often drowned out in the noise of the referendum debate. I’m glad they are the centre of our politics again.

Energy park proposal “unacceptable”

Iain Gray MSP has written to hundreds of concerned constituents to tell them he does not support the energy park as proposed by Scottish Enterprise for the Cockenzie Power Station site.

Mr Gray has received several hundred letters in a campaign organised by the Coastal Regeneration Alliance. In his reply he says,

“Thank you for your letter outlining your concerns regarding the Scottish Enterprise proposals for the site of Cockenzie Power Station, which I share.

I will always support what is best for East Lothian, and would not therefore dismiss out of hand ideas which might create high quality job opportunities especially for our young people. However the proposal submitted by Scottish Enterprise, with the increase in industrial footprint, impact on roads, local amenity and damage to the John Muir Way is, in my view, clearly unacceptable.

Decisions regarding this proposal will be for Scottish Ministers and the planning authority (East Lothian Council), and I will have no role in any such decisions. It is also the case that the land is, as I write, still owned by Scottish Power, and how they decide to dispose of it will of course have a bearing on what happens in the future.

However, this does mean that I do not face legal restriction on taking a view, as is the case with our local Councillors.

Therefore, and since this is a Scottish Government proposal, I have met with the Minister responsible, John Swinney and have made him aware of the unprecedented level of community concern which has already been expressed, and made clear to him that local residents do not feel they are being consulted or listened to. I also took the opportunity to make clear to Mr Swinney that there are other proposals for the site, for example tourism related proposals which should not be overruled out of hand.

I will make him aware of your letter and the hundreds of similar letters and petitions I have received.

I have also met with the steering group of the Coastal Regeneration Alliance to hear their concerns first hand, and promised to work with them to explore what the community would consider an appropriate way forward for the site. I do believe that this could involve some new industry, but not the massive increase in industrial footprint and consequent loss of amenity which the current proposal suggests. I am pursuing information the steering group asked me to find, and will continue to work with them.

I believe that this has a long way to go, and that local communities must be listened to. But the current proposal is not acceptable.”

Iain opposes plan to axe two of county’s councillors

Iain Gray MSP and Fiona O’Donnell MP have rejected proposals to reduce the number of councillors serving on East Lothian Council from 23 to 21.

The Labour politicians have submitted a response to the Local Government Boundary Commission for Scotland’s Electoral Review for East Lothian outlining their opposition to the planned reduction and supporting the position taken by East Lothian Council on the issue.

They have urged the Commission to rethink the proposal and keep the number of councillors at their current level.

Iain Gray MSP said:

“I stated my opposition to these proposals as soon as they became public. I really cannot see any rationale for reducing the number of councillors in East Lothian. The county’s population is growing rapidly and the local community structures, such as community councils and area partnerships, are working well.

“Given that a reduction in the number of councillors is likely to mean a significant redrawing of ward boundaries, the whole exercise will be damaging and disruptive to local communities and the council’s work. I have urged the Commission to rethink its plans and maintain councillor numbers at their current level.”

Fiona O’Donnell MP said:

“East Lothian has one of the fastest growing populations in Scotland, so cutting the number of councillors just doesn’t make sense. East Lothian Council works well for local communities. That success is partly down to hard working councillors who do their utmost to serve local communities. Reducing their number will make their job harder and that could have a negative impact on services.

“The Commission says its proposals are based on deprivation, but it has not produced proper evidence to back this up or justify reducing the number of councillors here. With cross-party support for keeping our councillors at the current level, I hope the Commission will listen and reconsider its plans.”

County planning pressures highlighted as Scotland’s population reaches all time high

The Registrar General’s Annual Review of Demographic Trends has confirmed that Scotland’s population reached an all-time high of an estimated 5,327,700 people in June last year.

With the latest projections suggesting that the population will go on rising to 5.78 million by 2037, local MSP Iain Gray has highlighted the figures as further evidence of the pressure on local planning and public services, and, in particular, the need to build more new housing in the county.

The review also confirms that the population will continue to age significantly, with the number of people aged 65 or over rising by 59 per cent in the period up to 2037. It also expects the number of households to rise from 2.40 million in 2013, to 2.78 million over the same period.

Iain Gray MSP said:

“These latest figures from the Registrar General confirm the continued growth in Scotland’s population, and projected future growth. While this is a generally welcome development and is set to bring benefits for Scotland’s economy, it also highlights growing pressures on planners when it comes to housing and public services.

“East Lothian is already having to accept a large number of new housing developments and these figures suggest that this is set to increase as the population continues to grow. The review also reiterates the fact that we have an ageing population and that this brings about other challenges in relation to people’s health and social care needs as they get older.

“These pressures come at a time when East Lothian Council and many other authorities across Scotland are already facing significant budgetary difficulties. It underlines the important need for the Scottish Government to do more to support local authorities, particularly places like East Lothian which we know are facing rapid population growth.”

Letter from Holyrood: An invitation to the parliament

Now that summer is here most groups, Guilds, Rotaries, Probus clubs, all take a few weeks off. However this is the time when longsuffering Secretaries have to turn their mind to next year’s programme of speakers and events.

This column is a timely reminder then, that as your MSP I am always happy to fill one of those speakers’ slots and provide an update on what is happening in Parliament. For the more adventurous groups, why not think about a visit to the Scottish Parliament.

Many local County groups have come in to see the Parliament. Although the building itself is not everyone’s cup of tea, in my experience people often change their view when they see the interior which includes some stunning spaces, not least the Debating Chamber itself which I think is much more impressive in reality than on TV. (Some might think it is more impressive without the MSPs there, but I could hardly say that).

Touring the parliament with your MSP does mean you see some areas the official tour does not reach, will have one or two East Lothian connections pointed out, and maybe the occasional anecdote thrown in too. I always end tours with a chance for visitors to ask me any questions they wish. If your group would be interested, call my office on 01875 616 610.

Meanwhile, if you missed the fabulous Great Tapestry of Scotland when it was in Cockenzie House, it is back on display at the Scottish parliament until September 13th. Designed by County artist Andrew Crummy, with many panels related to east Lothian and many of the stitchers from here, it really is worth seeing. You may even get the opportunity to make a stitch in a new “People’s Panel” which is being created during the Tapestry’s stay.

Call for people to turn their lights out to mark WW1

Iain Gray MSP and Fiona O’Donnell MP are urging local people to take part in commemorations to mark 100 years since the outbreak of the First World War by turning out their lights on Monday 4 August.

Mr Gray and Ms O’Donnell are supporting the Lights Out campaign, which is inviting people across the UK to switch off their lights between 10pm and 11pm on 4 August and light a single candle in a shared moment of national reflection.

The moment will mark precisely a century since Britain declared war on Germany and formally entered the First World War at 11pm on 4 August 1914.

The Lights Out campaign is inspired by the words of the then Foreign Secretary, Sir Edward Grey, who famously remarked on the outbreak of the war: ‘The lamps are going out all over Europe; we shall not see them lit again in our lifetime.’

Millions of people across the UK are expected to take part in Lights Out, which will see hundreds of public buildings and iconic landmarks such as the Houses of Parliament, Tower Bridge and Blackpool Illuminations also turning out their lights.

The project is being organised by 14-18 NOW, the official cultural programme for the First World War Centenary Commemorations, with particular support from the Royal British Legion.

Iain Gray MSP said:

“The First World War was a conflict that changed Britain forever. It touched every family, affected every community and fundamentally altered our country’s place in the world

“The centenary anniversary is a unique opportunity for us to commemorate those who served and sacrificed for us on the frontline and the home front, and to think about the profound impact the war had on our society.

“I hope people across East Lothian will join in with the Lights Out campaign and turn out their lights between 10pm and 11pm on 4 August. With the busy lives we lead today, the simple act of pausing, switching off the lights and lighting a candle will be a very powerful tribute.”

County parliamentarians meet Dunbar track starlet

County parliamentarians Iain Gray MSP and Fiona O’Donnell MP recently met with local athlete Maria Lyle and heard more about her blossoming athletics career.

14-year-old Maria, from Dunbar, is a sprinter competing in the T35 category at 100 and 200m. She is one of several young people being supported by the Bank of Scotland Local Heroes Programme.

Maria has already won a gold medal at the DSE National Junior Athletics Championships in 2013 and bronze at the English Athletics senior disability championships. She also broke the World and European Senior Record in T35 200m on her international debut.

She is currently ranked number one in the world for both the 100m and 200m T35 events. Last year she won East Lothian’s Sportsperson with a Disability of the Year Award.

Iain Gray MSP said:

“I really enjoyed meeting Maria and having the opportunity to chat to her about what she has achieved so far and her plans for the future. At just 14, she has already enjoyed incredible success, including setting two world records and being ranked number one in the world in her events. I’m sure that she will go on to achieve much more in the years ahead and become one of the next big names in athletics.”

Fiona O’Donnell MP said:

“I was hugely impressed by Maria’s quiet confidence and her ambition to make it to the top of her chosen sport. She has already experienced great success in her short career, but there is a lot more to come. She is also a fantastic ambassador for sport in East Lothian and I wish her continued success. I also commend the Bank of Scotland Local Heroes Programme for the support it provides to young athletes.”

David Robertson, Local Director, Bank of Scotland said:

“At Bank of Scotland, we are delighted to continue our support of 19 athletes via the Local Heroes programme. It’s very important to offer these young athletes structured support at a crucial time in their sporting development and help act as a catalyst in their journey to becoming elite athletes. We wish Maria continued success in what is a key period in her sporting journey and we are really delighted to be a part of it.”

Since 2008, working in partnership with SportsAid, the Local Heroes Programme has supported over 1,200 young athletes with financial and practical support at a time when they need it most. It provides athletes with an award of £1,000 towards training costs, opportunities for them to learn more about being an elite athlete and support to help build their profile and confidence in public speaking.

Maria Lyle

Increase in housebreaking must be addressed

County MSP Iain Gray is urging people in East Lothian to be vigilant about protecting their homes from break-ins, following the publication of new police figures which show a recent surge in reported cases of housebreaking in the county.

The latest figures show that the number of reported housebreakings in the county increased from 220 in 2012/13 to 321 in 2013/14, an increase of around 45 per cent. Reported cases of theft, including shoplifting, and motor vehicle crime, also increased locally over the same period.

The Police Scotland management information statistics, which provide details on reported crimes and detection rates, were released just after a spate of recent housebreakings in Ormiston, Pencaitland and Humbie, which served to underline the increased threat from this type of crime.

The figures also contained more positive news for East Lothian, with an overall reduction in violent crime. There was also an increase in the number of domestic abuse incidents which resulted in a crime report.

Speaking about the statistics for East Lothian, Iain Gray MSP said:

“These figures cover the first full year since Scotland’s national police force was established. One of the concerns about moving to a national force was the potential loss of local focus for policing in different communities. While it is probably too early to reach any definite conclusions, these figures do help with understanding of what has been happening on reported crime and detection rates across the country.

“There are certainly some positives for East Lothian, particularly the reduction in violent crime. But the standout concern has to be the large increase in the number of housebreakings locally over the last year. Prevention is clearly vital to tackling this type of crime. Residents should take appropriate steps to safeguard their properties and belongings and make it as hard as possible for criminals to commit this sort of crime.

“However, I will also be speaking to local police about this worrying increase and will ask them what action they are taking to combat it. Break-ins should not be regarded as merely a property crime because the impact they have on the individuals and families affected can be devastating. Local people will want to be reassured that catching and prosecuting those who commit housebreaking crimes remains a priority for Police Scotland.”