Fox hunting legislation in Scotland not fit for purpose

I have lodged a motion in Holyrood to raise awareness of research from the League Against Cruel Sports that highlights fox hunting legislation in Scotland is not fit for purpose. While a focus is on this issue UK-wide, I am urging the Scottish Government to evaluate what legislative changes are required.

I was happy to see the hard work by anti-fox hunting campaigners rewarded this week with the SNP adopting a strong stance towards the cruel blood sport in England and Wales, however it is important that we take this opportunity to get our own house in order north of the border.

You can read the text of my motion, and keep track of which MSPs add their names in support, here.

Spare kids from callous cuts

It’s the school holidays, and for many parents and young people these lazy days of summer will be bookended with ­emotion as the transfer from one school year to the next takes place.

Indeed, for those leaving school it can be a real ­life-changing experience, going from a school ­environment into (hopefully) work, training, college or university.

Recent figures showed that most school leavers are going into such positive destinations but there’s another set of figures that has been overlooked and to which we should pay more attention.

The proportion of school leavers with Additional Support Needs (ASN) ending in a positive destination such as further education or employment has gone up slightly from 82.5 per cent in 2012-13 to 84.4 in 2013-14 but this remains below the rate for those without ASN at 93.4 per cent.

A young person with ASN might be being bullied, have behavioural or learning difficulties, be deaf or blind or be looked after by a local authority.

Across the Lothians 20,000 children have ASN. The main factors tend to be learning disabilities and dyslexia. Across Scotland there are more than 140,000 pupils (21 per cent of the school population) with ASN, and it disproportionately affects children from lower income families and areas of deprivation.

The requirement for additional support varies across a spectrum of needs and circumstances. It tends to be best that support is integrated rather than singling out the pupil. Children and young people usually want to be seen as no different from their classmates. The approach should be to view children as individuals and tailor support to their needs.

The Scottish Government has admitted that not all children with additional requirements have received the support to which they are entitled, and as ministers continue to collect information about this issue, more children are being recorded as having additional support needs. We need to ensure best practice is being shared so we can ensure an inclusive and equal education system.

Local authority budget cuts impact on the learning of our most vulnerable pupils, and I know teachers are worried that there are bigger cuts to come. We cannot ignore the link between deprivation and additional support needs, and we cannot stand by while local authority budget cuts impact upon the most vulnerable young people in our society.

All too often ASN provision is seen as a soft target for cuts and those in the sector tell me they feel their already under-funded vital services are increasingly regarded as a luxury.

The earlier a child’s additional support needs are identified and provided for, the more likely they are to enjoy a healthy development into adulthood.

We have a responsibility in Holyrood to support local authority service delivery and I urge the Scottish Government to speak to councils without delay to identify how we can protect and enhance the provision for those with additional support needs across Scotland.

 

This article was originally published in the Evening News (7 July)

Games legacy? Still possible. Start with swimming.

In terms of spectator sport, this summer might not have the buzz of last year’s Commonwealth Games but we’re still spoiled for choice. Wimbledon’s underway (come on, Andy!), the Tour de France is getting into gear and next month Beijing will host the World Athletics Championships at the famous Bird’s Nest Stadium.Swim

 

Spectating is all very well, but what of that much-talked-about legacy the Glasgow Games promised? The event itself was spectacular, there’s no denying, and I’m sure it inspired many young people across Scotland to take up a new sport or devote more time to an existing passion.

 

Given our reputation for poor health, I’m excited by the idea of Scotland on a journey towards becoming a nation of active participants and not just spectators. But already there are warning lights on the dashboard and we should not ignore them.

 

A recent study of residents living near where the Games took place in Glasgow shows that levels of taking part in sport and exercise have dropped. There were of course benefits for local people in terms of sheer enjoyment of the spectacle and Games-related work opportunities, but it’s disappointing that the legacy appears to have hit the first hurdle. And it’s ironic to note the finding that access to local sports facilities was disrupted during the Games. I agree with Professor Ade Kearns, principal investigator on the study, who said there is a big job to be done.

 

The other warning light is the recent decision by Scottish Ministers to end funding for a scheme to improve the standard of swimming among primary school children.

The plug being pulled on Scottish Swimming’s Top Up programme is likely to mean greater numbers of adults who lack confidence in the water. Crucially, swimming is not a compulsory part of the curriculum in Scotland, unlike in England, and the provision of primary school swimming lessons varies extensively between local authorities. We know, for example, that children in the most deprived areas are more likely to be non-swimmers. Overall, between 30 and 40 per cent of children leave primary school unable to swim.

 

Ministers claim Scottish Swimming has received more than £5million over four years but this is a drop in the ocean when you consider that the Scottish health budget is over £12billion a year. Spending more on preventative measures to make activity a normal part of daily life will help reduce the pressure on the health service in the long run.

 

It’s not just a health issue and a life skill but it’s an issue of social justice. We know that financial pressures stop many families from going swimming. And because the provision of free swimming varies across Scotland, those living in poverty are excluded.

 

In the region I represent – Lothian – a single family swimming session can cost £8.65 in Musselburgh, £10.90 in Midlothian, £12.50 in Edinburgh and £13.70 in West Lothian. Start to add transport costs and kit onto that and you can see how unaffordable an option it becomes for low income households.

 

Among the recommendations made by Scottish Swimming and Save the Children to the Scottish Parliament’s Health Committee inquiry into community sport back in 2012 was continuation of the Top Up programme – the same one the government has now cut. They also called for investment in opportunities for children from deprived neighbourhoods, and an entitlement to learn to swim for all primary school children. They highlighted that some local authorities provide free transport during the school holidays for young people to get to leisure centres and swimming pools. We should be encouraging this approach right across Scotland.

 

Swimming has obvious health and safety benefits. It involves cardiovascular activity, which strengthens the heart and lungs, and helps with endurance, flexibility and balance. Drowning is a real risk for children. Scotland and the rest of UK rate among the worst countries in Europe for drowning prevention, according to the European Child Safety Alliance. Scotland only scores 1 out of 5 on water safety, with the ECSA highlighting the fact that we don’t have swimming lessons as a compulsory part of the school curriculum. 19 European countries including Sweden, Denmark, Norway and Finland have made swimming lessons compulsory. So often we look across the North Sea to our Scandinavian neighbours for inspiration on equality – why not on swimming?

 

Children who enjoy swimming have the option to pursue it as a competitive sport, with all the positive experiences that can bring, working towards goals, learning to be part of a team and developing confidence. It’s also been shown that swimming is good for children’s mental health, and families that spend time swimming together can develop strong bonds.

 

Last summer Sport Minister Shona Robison talked of giving every child the opportunity, facilities and support to learn to swim. And last summer Scots swimmers stood out, from Hannah Miley and Ross Murdoch to Michael Jamieson and the brilliant teenager Erraid Davies. For years the Scottish Government knew the Games were coming, and from early on talked about a legacy. It’s still possible to achieve it, and making swimming a compulsory part of the curriculum would show we’re serious.

 

 

 

Women aren’t a minority, but the under-represented majority.

Support for Women 5050 has grown in recent months and I’m sure it will continue to do so.  Political engagement in Scotland bloomed during the referendum and that heightened level of involvement has continued. AJ 5050 bag1

 

Many women, young and old, become engaged during that campaign, found their voices and contributed on both sides of the debate.  It’s essential that they are encouraged to continue.

 

There is more discussion now about the need for fair gender representation in politics, but there are still those who are convinced that our representatives are all there on merit.  Globally, almost 90% of parliamentarians are men.  This tells me that action is required to provide a truly level playing field.

 

After all, I’ve attended meetings packed with women campaigning to keep local nurseries or hospitals open.  With less cash, less access to private transport and more likely to have had their much needed benefits cut, women understand the impact of these decisions.

 

But there are too few women able to influence the debate in our Council Chambers and in the Scottish Parliament.

 

It’s time now to make sure that far more women are involved in making and voting for these decisions.

 

My Party, the Scottish Greens, insists that 50% of winnable seats have women candidates.  So it can be done.  Women aren’t a minority, but the under-represented majority.

 

Please get involved and support Women5050.  Your support will make a difference.