Special praise is due to him for mentioning International Women's Day and the things that the Liberal Democrats are doing for women in Government. The boys usually don't do that kind of stuff so I am well impressed.
GERS figures show Scotland better off in Union
Last week, the Scottish Government published the Government Expenditure and Revenue Scotland 2010-2011 (GERS) figures which outlined the clear benefits to Scotland of being part of the United Kingdom. The figures show that while Scotland contributes £53.1billion in taxes to the UK Treasury, it receives £63.8billion in spending. They also outline that the UK Government spent £15.5 billion on social protection and welfare last year, double the oil and gas revenue alone. This support is vital for Borderers and Scots and shows that there are major questions to be answered by the Scottish Government about how such assistance would be provided in an independent Scotland.
It is up to those seeking independence to explain what the benefits of leaving a system which equally shares risk and reward would be. In my constituency in the Scottish Borders, we greatly benefit from the shared welfare and social security spending as well as in other areas, such as a shared currency and the freedom with which we can trade with our English neighbours. That is why I will be campaigning against separation from the UK and for Scotland’s place in the UK family.
How the Liberal Democrats in Government are helping women
The celebration of International Women’s Day last Thursday was a reminder of how much has been achieved in the last 100 years since IWD was founded. Yet it was also a reminder of how much still needs to be done to attain full equality for women at home and abroad.
The Liberal Democrat constitution outlines our party’s strong commitment to fairness, equality and human rights and I am proud that in Government, we are furthering equality for women. Abroad, we are doubling our aid to Maternal, Newborn and Child Health which will save the lives of thousands of women in pregnancy and childbirth and enable 10 million couples to access modern methods of family planning. We believe this support will help women stay healthy and empower them to make choices to determine their own lives.
Here at home, we are lifting 1.1 million of the lowest paid workers out of income tax, more than half of whom are women. We are also providing an extra £300 million for child care support under universal credit, establishing a new system of shared parental leave and promoting equal pay and good practice in the workplace. For too long, women have experienced a glass ceiling at work because of their gender and the Coalition Government is committed to tackling these barriers by bringing more flexibility and fairness into the system.
The loss of six young soldiers in Afghanistan last week shocked and saddened the whole country and was a grave reminder of the huge sacrifice made by our armed forces in one of the most dangerous places in the world. The work of our men and women in Afghanistan is absolutely vital for the security of the UK and the freedom of the Afghan people and the deaths of these young men remind us of the ultimate price paid by some to secure this goal. In the Borders we have a strong connection to the armed forces and I know that our thoughts and prayers will be with the families at this terrible time.
As discussions over the Scottish Government’s independence referendum continue, business groups in Scotland have come forward in the last couple of weeks, saying that delaying the referendum until 2014 would be extremely damaging for the Scottish economy.
Major companies such as SSE and the Weir Group have raised concerns about the uncertainty surrounding Scotland’s future and the affect this will have on their investment decisions. CBI Scotland has also raised issues about the length of time Scotland would have to wait for a vote under the SNP’s plans.
The prospect of this referendum is therefore clearly causing uncertainty to businesses and I am urging them not delay and hold the referendum as soon as possible. At the moment, the Scottish Government are insisting on a referendum in 2014, but we are proposing autumn 2013, a 500 day wait as opposed to a 1000 day wait.
Fair trade Fortnight
I have supported Fair trade for many years and it’s great to be back in Fair trade fortnight, during which the brand is promoted and people are encouraged to buy the products and support the movement. Last week I was involved in an event at the Co-op in Jedburgh where many Fair trade items were on display. The range of goods now available is absolutely phenomenal having grown from one chocolate bar in 1992 to over 3,000 products now.
The Fair trade brand ensures that producers in developing countries are paid a minimum guaranteed price for their goods and in return, producers agree to maintain employment and environmental standards. If we buy Fair trade, we are directly supporting this good work and ensuring that farmers in developing countries earn a decent living.
Fair trade and fair prices are not however issues experienced only in developing countries. Here in Berwickshire we have seen many farmers put out of business by unfair practices. That is why the Liberal Democrats in Government are backing a Grocery Code Adjudicator to ensure that such practices can be reported anonymously to protect farmers and hold retailers and processors to account.
Last weekend I attended the Scottish Lib Dem Conference with a number of colleagues from the Borders and it was a good time to catch up with old friends from all over Scotland. During the conference I gave a speech which outlined the work the Liberal Democrats are doing in Government to invest in our communities and make Scotland fairer.
The Liberal Democrats are committed to fair taxes and in Government, we are cutting income tax for those Scots who work hard but face rising prices and financial strain. When we entered government, people started paying income tax when they earned just six and a half thousand pounds but from this year, they will not pay a penny on their first eight thousand. That means we are taking over 90,000 Scots out of income tax altogether and cutting the bill for two million more. Thousands of Borderers will benefit from this measure which will put more money back in their pockets at the end of the month.
We're also investing £70 million as part of a UK-wide super fast broadband strategy. Here in the Borders, we desperately need faster broadband and this funding from the UK Government will provide the boost our businesses and communities need. Our coastal communities in the Borders will also benefit from the Coastal Communities Fund which I launched at St Abbs a few weeks ago. The fund uses UK Crown Estate profits to devolve money direct from central government into cities, towns and villages and will mean that our local communities here in Berwickshire can apply for a share of this funding.
These measures show that despite the economic difficulties facing Scotland and the UK, Liberal Democrats in government are prioritising investment in Scotland's people and communities. I know that businesses and families in the Borders will hugely benefit from these moves and I am committed to continuing this work to make Scotland a fairer, more prosperous place.