Iain addresses East Lothian Fabians

The AGM of East Lothian Fabian Society was addressed by local MSP Iain Gray on the Smith Agreement.

Mr Gray was one of Scottish Labour’s representatives on the Smith Commission, set up by the Prime Minister to recommend what additional powers the Scottish Parliament should have. A well-attended AGM heard Mr Gray describe the background to the commission and summarise its recommendations.

Iain Gray said:

“It is always a pleasure to speak to the County’s Fabian Society, one of the most active in Scotland. I was especially pleased to discuss with them the Smith Agreement, which will see Scotland’s Parliament transformed into one of the most powerful devolved legislatures anywhere in the world.

“When the agreement is implemented Holyrood will have power over around £20 billion of taxation, including all personal income tax, and some £2.5 billion worth of benefits. Yet being part of the UK will continue to guarantee support for citizens when they retire, if they are unemployed, or when they start a family. Being part of that Commission was something of which I am very proud.”

Local Fabian Society Secretary, Noel Foy said:

“Iain is a longstanding member of the Fabians, and it is always good to welcome him to our meetings. On this occasion he gave an excellent presentation on the Smith Commission and was able to give members a real insider’s view of their deliberations and conclusions.”

MSP supports petition against Cockenzie Energy Park in Scottish Parliament

The Coastal Regeneration Alliance (CRA) petition against the Scottish Enterprise proposal for a Marine Energy Park at Cockenzie was considered by the Scottish Parliament Petitions Committee for a second time on Tuesday (3rd March).

The committee considered written submissions from Scottish Ministers, Scottish Enterprise, Scottish Power and East Lothian Council, along with a written response from the CRA.

Local MSP Iain Gray attended and spoke for the petition, asking the committee to continue consideration themselves or by referring the issue to another committee of the Parliament.

Speaking afterwards, Iain Gray MSP said:

“I argued that the written submissions had not satisfied the campaigners or the local community that they would be properly consulted in future, or that their own aspirations for the site would be given proper consideration. Above all, Scottish Enterprise’s submission made clear that they are continuing with the feasibility study on a proposal which the community has resoundingly rejected.

“I therefore asked the committee to continue consideration of the petition. I was disappointed that they did not choose to call stakeholders into committee to explore the community’s concerns with them, but rather chose to do so in writing again. However, the most important thing was that the petition remains “live”, with the possibility of being referred to another committee for fuller examination.”

Dunbar P7 pupils quiz local MSP

Iain Gray MSP returned to Dunbar Primary School last week to participate in a question and session with the whole P7 year group.

Speaking after his visit, Iain Gray MSP said:

“I really enjoyed this question and answer session – the pupils certainly are a credit to the school (and staff!). The visit was particularly timeous as I had referred to Dunbar Primary in Parliament earlier in the week, in a debate on Science teaching. The work that has been led by parents and teachers to develop the Dunbar SciFest has been pioneering and inspirational.

“It was also encouraging to hear afterwards that a couple of the pupils have a particular interest in politics and government. I hope my visit will help to foster this positive interest and that they will pursue it in the future.”

Iain praises work of Dunbar science festival in parliament

Local MSP Iain Gray has praised the work of Dunbar Primary and its annual science festival in a speech in the Scottish Parliament.

Mr Gray, who is also the shadow education secretary, highlighted during a debate on so-called ‘STEM’ subjects – science, technology, engineering and maths – that Dunbar Primary had its own science teacher, and said it was “no coincidence” that the school also hosted a science festival.

Recent evidence given to parliament by the Learned Societies Group and the Royal Society of Edinburgh suggested that 98% of primary and secondary schools depended on external funding for practical work, while the Royal Society of Chemistry in Scotland say there should be specialist science teachers in every primary school.

The Dunbar Science Festival is now in its fifth year and attracts over 8000 visitors annually.

Iain Gray MSP said:

“As a former physics teacher science is a subject close to my heart, so a festival to celebrate it right here in the county is especially welcome.

“And at a time when teachers and heads are under more strain than ever, the things that are most time-consuming and expensive – like science teaching and experiments – are the things squeezed the most.

“Science is so valuable to our economy and will only become more so – the hundreds of thousands of science graduates our economy will need in the next 15 years are at school now, so there’s no time to lose in getting them interested.

“I’ve no doubt that East Lothian will produce more than its share of scientists thanks to the Dunbar Science Festival.”

Parliamentarians call on local shoppers and businesses to buy Fairtrade

This Fairtrade Fortnight (23rd February – 8th March), Iain Gray MSP and Fiona O’Donnell MP are calling on people in East Lothian to choose a shopping list that changes lives.

Fairtrade products have been produced by small-scale farmer organisations or plantations that meet Fairtrade social, economic and environmental standards. The standards include protection of workers’ rights and the environment, payment of the Fairtrade Minimum Price and an additional Fairtrade Premium to invest in business or community projects.

Mr Gray and Ms O’Donnell are longstanding supporters of the important work undertaken by local campaigners and East Lothian Council to secure Fairtrade status for the county and many of its towns and villages.

Iain Gray MSP said:

“Fairtrade Fortnight reminds us all that by making a few small changes to our shopping habits we can make a real difference to producers and workers in the developing world.

“East Lothian already has an excellent track record on supporting fair trade. But we can always do more. I hope that local people will continue to play their part by opting for fair trade products whenever they can. I also welcome the example being set by pupils at Sanderson’s Wynd who are encouraging people in Tranent to back Fairtrade Fortnight.”

Fiona O’Donnell MP said:

“Tackling poverty isn’t just about giving aid and Government assistance, it must also be about increasing trade opportunities and ensuring that producers are paid a fair price for their work.

“The UK can be proud that even in these challenging economic times we are choosing to spend more on fair trade products. It is a testament to our shared values of social justice that last year we spent over £1.5bn on fair trade products, allowing producers in the developing world to invest in their businesses and local communities.”

Visit www.fairtrade.org.uk/fortnight to see how Fairtrade is changing lives in those areas and to get involved in your area.

National Voter Registration Day welcomed

Iain Gray MSP and Fiona O’Donnell MP are helping to highlight this year’s National Voter Registration Day (5 February) which aims to encourage more people to register to vote.

National Voter Registration Day was launched to help increase education and awareness about the importance of registering to vote. Last year some 50,000 people across the UK joined the electoral register as a result of the day’s various activities. This year the campaign is aiming to see 250,000 new people registered to vote.

Iain Gray MSP said:

“While we saw a remarkable level of voter registration prior to the Scottish referendum last year, it is important to maintain people’s interest and ensure that they stay registered. National Voter Registration Day is therefore an important opportunity to engage people, especially young people, and raise their awareness about the importance of voting and how to get on the electoral register.”

Fiona O’Donnell MP said:

“Being registered to vote is one of those things everyone should do. It’s fundamental to our democracy in ensuring that people are able to have their say. It is still the case that too many people have not been registered and so I welcome the work that National Voter Registration Day is doing to raise the profile of voter registration and help to encourage more people to get registered.”

Find out more about National Voter Registration Day at http://bitetheballot.co.uk/nvrd/

Storytelling week is opportunity to get behind Ross Rocks Reading

As National Storytelling Week gets underway (31 January-7 February), county parliamentarians Iain Gray MSP and Fiona O’Donnell MP have highlighted their support for local reading initiative, Ross Rocks Reading.

Launched last year, Ross Rocks Reading involves all schools in the Fa’side ward and aims to encourage local children to read out with school. Ms O’Donnell and Mr Gray have welcomed the initiative and are encouraging local families to use National Storytelling Week as an opportunity to introduce their children to new books.

Iain Gray MSP said:

“Children who read well by 11 tend to do better at school, get better exam results and achieve greater success in the workplace. They’re also better placed to give their own children the best start in life.

“Schools in East Lothian have an excellent track record of developing innovative ways of fostering a positive attitude towards reading. Ross Rocks Reading follows on from Dunbar Reads Together and other local initiatives. Together with national campaigns like ‘Read On. Get On’, they can make help a real difference to literacy levels.”

Fiona O’Donnell MP said:

“Reading is so critical to every aspect of a child’s future that we have to do everything possible to help encourage it. That’s why initiatives like Ross Rocks Reading are so important and I commend all the teachers and parents who are helping to make it happen.

“National Storytelling Week is a great opportunity for parents to find new stories to share with their children, or to revisit stories from our childhoods. I remember when my own children were learning to read and how they could become completely caught up in a book. Some of the stories they enjoyed then have stuck with them for life and they are now sharing them with their own children.”

For more information about Ross Rocks Reading see its facebook page or follow it on twitter.

Find out more about National Storytelling Week at www.sfs.org.uk/national-storytelling-week

Volunteers commended on walled garden progress

County parliamentarians Iain Gray MSP and Fiona O’Donnell MP have visited the historic Amisfield Walled Garden and paid tribute to the huge amount of work being undertaken by volunteers to develop the garden.

The politicians were shown around Amisfield, the largest walled garden in Scotland, by Kate Rycroft, Chairman of the Amisfield Preservation Trust, Chris Avery, its Secretary, and June Tainsh, its volunteer co-ordinator.

They explained about how the garden is being restored from a neglected overgrown state purely by volunteers, with the vision being to establish it as a community educational resource and visitor attraction.

Speaking after the visit, Iain Gray MSP said:

“Amisfield Walled Garden is already one of East Lothian’s most interesting visitor attractions and I enjoyed going back for an update on its progress. It is remarkable how much has been achieved there in recent years by the hard work of its dozens of dedicated volunteers. As well as the progress on the garden itself, it was also useful to find out more about the links that the garden is developing with localschools and other groups.”

Fiona O’Donnell MP said:

“While we were not seeing it at its best at this time of year, we still got a real flavour of what Amisfield Walled Garden has to offer and why it has become such a popular local visitor attraction. The huge contribution made by the Trust’s committed volunteers, who come from across the county, was very evident. It underlines the difference that enthusiastic volunteers can make to a project they care about passionately.”

Kate Rycroft of the Amisfield Preservation Trust said:

“We were delighted to welcome Fiona O’Donnell MP and Iain Gray MSP today to show them the progress being made to restore the historic walled garden and to explain the wide range of activities on offer to the local community.”

To find out more about the garden to how to become a volunteer, visit www.amisfield.org.uk

Science in schools faces “perfect storm”

Local MSP Iain Gray has told Parliament that the SNP Scottish Government has been ignoring warnings that Scotland’s schools are facing a looming crisis in science teaching.

Former physics teacher Mr Gray, Scottish Labour’s Shadow Cabinet Secretary for Education, recently led a Holyrood debate where he claimed that science teaching in Scottish schools is facing a “perfect storm”.

A recent report by the Learned Societies Group (including the Royal Society of Edinburgh) showed spending per head on teaching science subjects is significantly less than in English schools.

An Institute of Physics report ‘Brightest Minds go furthest’ shows that physics graduates who enter teaching are lower paid than their peers, and that there is looming shortage of physics teachers.

Speaking after the debate, Iain Gray MSP said:

“The Scottish Government’s own figures show a fall in numeracy levels at all levels, primary and secondary. This means science teaching in Scottish schools is facing a perfect storm. Low investment, teacher shortages and falling numeracy levels. All are adding to concerns about the impact of the new curriculum on pupil numbers choosing science.

“To make matters worse, much lower pass rates in the new National 4 examinations for maths and science than for other subjects are fuelling fears that this will discourage pupils from choosing to take these subjects in the first place.

“This year, 2015, marks the 150th anniversary of the publication by James Clerk Maxwell of his theory of Electromagnetism and the equations which underpin so much of our everyday technology today.

“These equations are just as important as Albert Einstein’s E=mc2. However the chances of today’s Scottish school students ever rising to those heights of scientific achievement again will be reduced significantly if the Scottish Government does not act now to invest in science education.

“County schools do some great work in science teaching, with regular visits from the Institute of Physics’ “Lab in a Lorry”, and the highly successful Dunbar Science Festival, but teachers need to see their efforts better supported by government.”

“Real concerns are being expressed by science teachers and bodies like the RSE but they are falling on deaf ears. Scottish science has a proud past, but if it is to have a great future, SNP Ministers need to wake up and take action now.”

Help with energy debt is available

With Debt Awareness Week taking place this week (26 January-2 February), Iain Gray MSP and Fiona O’Donnell MP are calling on East Lothian residents to ensure they are taking advantage of free help and support available for anyone struggling with winter energy bills.

Iain Gray MSP said:

“The cost-of-living crisis is putting extra pressure on household finances and many people are worried about rising debt. Nobody should suffer in silence and there is a range of help and advice for any residents who are having problems paying their energy or other household bills.”

Fiona O’Donnell MP said:

“I want all my constituents to be aware of what help is available for them. Keeping on top of winter bills and managing debt is so important and I urge residents in East Lothian to get in touch with their energy supplier to find out what support is on offer.”

Scottish Gas has a successful partnership with StepChange Debt Charity – organisers of Debt Awareness Week – which helps customers by offering manageable payment plans for their energy and other household debts.

It also funds The Scottish Gas Energy Trust – an independent charitable trust set up 10 years ago. British Gas has provided the Trust with £75million to help people living in fuel poverty. The Trust provides grants to help with energy arrears as well as a wide range of advice and is open to everyone, not just Scottish Gas customers.

Other support that Scottish Gas provides includes flexible payment plans, referral to the Warm Home Discount scheme which gives eligible customers a £140 discount on their electricity bill, and identifying if customers are eligible for free insulation or boiler replacements.

To register for extra help, customers or someone acting on their behalf should call 0800 072 8625 (or 0800 294 8604 if they have a Pay As You Go meter).