Comment on East Linton rail station progress

Commenting on the announcement that Network Rail has submitted a planning application for the new two-platform railway station at East Linton, Iain Gray MSP said:

“This is very good news for everyone who has been campaigning for a new station in East Linton. It has been many years coming, but this is another important step towards delivering the new station and the benefits it will bring for the village and local rail users.

“I hope that the application can now proceed smoothly and that we will soon see work finally get underway on this vital infrastructure project.”

Call for UK to back suspension of patents on Covid-19 vaccines

Iain Gray MSP has joined 36 other MSPs in signing an open letter to the UK Government calling on it to support the suspension of patents on Covid-19 vaccines and other treatments.

The letter, organised by campaign group Global Justice Now, was sent to the relevant UK Government Ministers ahead of a meeting of the WTO’s TRIPS (Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights) Council meeting yesterday (Thursday).

Speaking about his support for the call, Iain Gray MSP said:

“This week I joined several colleagues in signing an open letter to the UK government calling on them to support a proposal at the World Trade Organisation to waive Intellectual Property rights on Covid-19 treatments, vaccines, diagnostics and other health technologies for the course of the pandemic.

“This call was made ahead of a WTO meeting yesterday, where unfortunately no agreement was reached on the proposal from South Africa and India to waive these rights.

“This is an important issue of global justice which would make Covid-19 vaccines and treatments more accessible and affordable to all countries and I’ll continue to back the campaign.”

Further information about the campaign to waive the IP rights can be found here www.globaljustice.org.uk/news/2020/dec/9/msps-call-westminster-back-suspension-patents-covid-19-vaccines 

Ministers urged to bring forward support on deferred schooling ‘urgently’

Iain Gray MSP has demanded that SNP Ministers bring forward funded nursery and childcare provision for all families that legally defer the entry of their child to Primary One from next year.

By waiting until 2023 to implement the policy, Scottish Labour has said that the SNP risks failing children and their families now.

Today at the Education Committee, Iain Gray called on Maree Todd to reintroduce the statutory instrument with a start date of August 2021.

Commenting, Iain Gray MSP said:

“It is unacceptable that the Scottish government’s legislation to close the Give Them Time loophole and provide an additional funded year of nursery to all parents who legally defer their child’s start to P1 will not actually benefit children until 2023.

“The government has had a year to introduce this legislation, since Parliament backed Scottish Labour’s motion telling them to do so.

“I do not want any further delay, but in committee today I asked the minister to reintroduce the statutory instrument with a new date of August 2021.  That would take her about five minutes to do, but it would mean that all preschool children get their right to funded nursery hours when the new 1140 hour entitlement comes in.

“Failure to do so will be extremely disappointing for the families for which that additional funded year could make all the difference to their child’s life, as well as their finances.”

New figures underline urgent need for extra business support

Commenting on figures released by the Scottish Hospitality Group (SHG) which show that firms in Scotland are only able to claim a quarter of the support available in Wales, Iain Gray MSP said:

“These figures from the SHG are pretty shocking and underline the lack of support businesses here in East Lothian and across Scotland are receiving in comparison with their counterparts elsewhere in the UK.

“The hospitality sector is so important locally, but many businesses are already struggling to survive under the current restrictions. Extra help for these businesses is critical to the future wellbeing of the local economy and jobs.

“Ministers must loosen the purse strings and distribute more of the £2.2 billion of Barnett consequentials they are sitting on to businesses. If they don’t act soon the consequences for the hospitality sector could be catastrophic.”

The figures released by the SHG show that £64 a day on average is available for Scots firms, compared with £269 in Wales, £147 in Northern Ireland and £80 in England.

The industry body also says that many other countries in Western Europe are also providing far more generous support to businesses to help them through the pandemic.

Time for Swinney to swallow his pride and cancel exams

In the interests of fairness and to protect the integrity of the education system, Scottish Labour has today called for this year’s higher and advanced higher exams to be scrapped. 

Data highlighted by education researcher, Barry Black, has demonstrated that allowing the exam diet to proceed will disproportionately damage the prospects of pupils from the most deprived backgrounds. 

The data shows that, as of the 24th of November, as many as 15 per cent of all S4 pupils were not in attendance at school, and that schools in the most deprived areas had significantly higher rates of non-attendance than those in the least deprived areas.   

Scottish Labour has today called on John Swinney to ‘ do the right thing’ by the pupils of Scotland and replace the formal exam diet with an alternative method of examination. 

Scottish Labour has also submitted a raft of Parliamentary Questions to better understand what provisions the Scottish government has in place for preventing discrimination in the exam diet and called for the any new grading methodology used to be made public. 

 Iain Gray MSP said

“This isn’t an easy call, but in the interests of the pupils of Scotland it is time for John Swinney to swallow his pride and cancel the higher and advanced higher exams. 

“The data is clear: pupils in the most deprived areas are more likely to be missing vital class time, and the provisions that the Scottish government have put in place for remote learning cannot fully replace face to face learning. 

In these circumstances the possibility of exams on a level playing field has gone. 

“Pupils and teachers need a decision now, and Mr Swinney needs to focus completely on ensuring awards are made consistently and fairly.  We cannot have another chaotic last-minute decision on schools. 

“Therefore we are calling on John Swinney to cancel the exams now and replace them with a fairer, alternative method of assessment, that will not penalise students based on their socioeconomic background as the Scottish government initially did this summer in the SQA fiasco.” 

Iain welcomes news that Starmer will give prestigious lecture

Iain Gray MSP has welcomed the announcement that Labour Leader Sir Keir Starmer will give this year’s annual J.P. Mackintosh memorial lecture at the University of Edinburgh.

The lecture, established in honour of the county’s former MP John Pitcairn Mackintosh who died in office in July 1978, has moved online this year and will be given by Mr Starmer at 11am on Friday 11th December.

He intends to address the future of Scotland in the United Kingdom and outline how the next phase of devolution can build a more democratic and socially just Scotland in a modern UK.

Mr Starmer will follow in the footsteps of numerous senior political figures, academics, journalists and others, including former Prime Minister Gordon Brown, former First Ministers Donald Dewar and Jack McConnell, and former Chancellor of the Exchequer and Better Together leader Alastair Darling, in delivering the lecture.

Iain Gray MSP, who is Chair of the lecture’s East Lothian Committee, said:

“The J.P. Mackintosh lecture is well established as one of the most prestigious annual events in British politics. It has been an important and fitting way to remember J.P. Mackintosh’s significant contribution to political and policy debate in Scotland and across the UK.

“Many senior figures from politics, academia and journalism have given the lecture over the years, covering a diverse and fascinating range of subjects. I’m delighted that Sir Keir Starmer has agreed to deliver this year’s lecture and look forward to hearing what he has to say on the future of devolution.”

Find out more about the lecture and how to sign up at https://johnpmackintoshmemoriallecture.eventbrite.co.uk

‘Unfair and illogical’ plight of local “wet pubs” raised at Holyrood

The plight of “wet pubs”, which unlike pubs with kitchens have not been able to open after East Lothian moved into Level 2 Covid restrictions last month, has been raised at Holyrood by local MSP Iain Gray.

Mr Gray highlighted the issue at Finance Questions in Parliament yesterday, asking the Cabinet Secretary for Finance Kate Forbes to look again at the regulations that are currently keeping non-food pubs in Level 2 closed.

Unfortunately, despite the issue having been raised previously by other MSPs, Ms Forbes’ reply was not very illuminating, and she appeared to not even grasp the seriousness of the situation facing these businesses.

Speaking afterwards, Iain Gray MSP said:

“Since East Lothian moved into Level 2 of the Scottish Government’s Covid restrictions a number of local non-food or “wet pubs” have been in touch to highlight an unfair and illogical aspect of the rules for hospitality venues in this level.

“Pubs with a kitchen are permitted to open but those without one are not, despite many being desperate to do so. My colleague Colin Smyth MSP has raised this issue with Ministers on numerous occasions since the start of the new level system of restrictions, because several pubs in Dumfries and Galloway were affected.

“I raised it again yesterday in Parliament with the Cabinet Secretary for Finance. Unfortunately, despite a couple of attempts, she did not even seem to grasp the problem and the difficulties facing wet pubs.

“Ministers have failed to listen so far, but I will continue to work with colleagues to pursue this issue and argue the case for a level playing field for wet pubs.”

Mr Gray’s question and the Cabinet Secretary’s response can be viewed here.

Iain thanks posties for going the extra mile this year

With the usual festive visits prohibited by public health restrictions this year, Iain Gray MSP has written to Royal Mail delivery offices across his constituency to thank them for going the ‘extra mile’ during this incredibly difficult year.

Mr Gray has traditionally visited a local delivery office to thank staff personally for pulling out all the stops to sort and deliver mail in the forthcoming busy Christmas period as well as for their hard work throughout this exceptional year.

But with lockdown restrictions making visits impossible this year, Mr Gray has instead sent Scottish Parliament Christmas cards to each delivery office to thank staff who have been among the crucial key workers keeping the country going during the pandemic and lockdown restrictions.

The Festive Season is Royal Mail’s busiest period, as millions of people shop online for gifts as well as sending Christmas cards and parcels. Royal Mail also plays a key role in e-commerce for many businesses sending goods to customers throughout Christmas shopping season.

Iain Gray MSP said:

“Our postmen and women were among the heroic key workers who kept society going during lockdown. The festive period is always extremely busy for them, but with the likelihood of a significant increase in mail and parcels, this year is set to be even busier than usual.

“A huge amount of effort will again go into delivering a first-class Christmas all over the country, and I wanted to take the opportunity to thank our postal workers for their dedication now and throughout the year.”

The last recommended posting dates for Christmas are:

Second Class – Friday 18 December 2020

First Class – Monday 21 December 2020

Find out more about Christmas posting dates and other Christmas mail issues at www.royalmail.com/christmas/last-posting-dates

Ministers urged to act on ending ‘cruel’ live animal exports

Following the news that the UK Government have launched a consultation on ending live animal exports, Iain Gray MSP has joined growing calls for the Scottish Government to stop dragging its heels on the issue and get on with ending the cruel practice.

Iain Gray MSP said:

“Scotland’s reputation for high-quality, ethically sourced produce is one of our agriculture sector’s greatest strengths and East Lothian is a vital part of that reputation for excellence.

“Allowing Scotland’s animal welfare standards to fall behind the rest of the UK would certainly do huge damage to that reputation. Many East Lothian residents have contacted me over the years to tell me how strongly they feel about this important matter.

“The Scottish Government needs to stop dragging its heels and commit to working with the UK Government to end once and for all the cruel and unnecessary practice of live animal exports.”

Iain welcomes announcement on vaccine rollout

Commenting on the First Minister’s announcement that the rollout of the first COVID-19 vaccinations in Scotland should begin next week, Iain Gray MSP said:

“The news about the vaccine rollout is the day we have all been waiting for. It is a very welcome development, which gives hope to us all after nine months of pandemic tragedy and hardship.

“My thanks go out to all those involved in developing this and other vaccines. We must now ensure that vaccines are rolled out safely, but quickly across Scotland, including to those living and working in our care homes.

“I know people in East Lothian will look forward to finding out more detail on when they can expect to have access to the vaccine. In the meantime, however, it will remain vital to continue following public health advice until we are told it is safe to relax these measures.”