No GP Crisis in Scotland but.. – Talking-up Scotland

I do hesitate to make these comparisons between NHS Scotland and NHS England as they always go one way and I then start to feel a bit uncomfortable. However, if I want to talk-up NHS Scotland in a defence against our Loyalist media bias, it’s the only readily available comparator with a Tory government to blame for it all.

Anyhow, the Guardian piece above, does carefully and unusually, state that this is about only England, based on NHS England research.

So dear reader, how do you think things are in Scotland? Could be better, but health provision like education or policing is infinitely improvable and so could always be better. What is clear though is that there is no crisis in general practice in Scotland.

1. 93% of Scots can get an appointment in two days!

From research published in the Scotsman on 25th April 2018:

‘More encouragingly, it also found 87 per cent of people found it easy to contact their GP practice, while more than nine out ten (93 per cent) were able to get an appointment within two days.’

2. GP vacancies in Scotland are only just over one-third of the level in England

Based on a survey by the GP magazine on 6th July 2018, Pulse, the Independent reported today:

‘GP vacancies (in England) rise to record levels despite recruitment pledge, survey suggests. Long patient waits and unsafe, rushed appointments are unlikely to end any time soon as vacancies have risen from 9.1 per cent to 15.3 per cent since the (UK) government pledged 5 000 more doctors.’

In sharp contrast, the GP vacancy rate in Scotland was only 5.6% at the end of 2017.

3. There are significantly more GPs per head of population in Scotland

So, the ratio of GPs to overall population is:

4. The Scottish Government is taking steps to ensure there are more GPs, and doctors in general, coming through the system.
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NHS Scotland’s waiting time targets abused again by BBC Scotland? – Talking-up Scotland

Nearly all of the NHS Scotland targets are for treatment within a period of time for between 90% and 95% of patients. Anything below that is described as a failure to meet the targets and is the trigger for ministerial apologies, opposition attacks and miserable patient interviews, but I think I’ve noticed something interesting and vulnerable in these reports.

I haven’t done the research. I’ve just got an emerging wee thesis. The typical waiting time for removal of wee theses in 18 weeks. Here it is:

Reporting Scotland tell us about every failed target on the day it is released by ISD. They always tell you that the target was failed and that it has now been failed for whatever period of time it has been failed.  They sometimes tell you what the actual target percentage is but not always. They rarely if ever tell you what the actual percentage seen on time was.

I’ve noticed this pattern recently and will be watching from now on to see if it repeats to suggest a propaganda tactic. I’ll have a look back at some earlier reports for evidence too. Why? Well, is it possible that the omission of the actual performance percentage and of the target percentage is because both, when presented that way, seem very high and may trigger an unpredictable response in many viewers?

Targets are almost always 90% or 95%. Performance commonly ranges from around 70% to over 90%.

Now, imagine your base assumptions about whether or not a percentage score is good or not derives mainly from your own experience in educational assessments, in school or in college or at university, or in some craft or professional programme. Isn’t 70% really pretty good, an A? In all my time on the way to a BA Hons (2.1), even as a mature student, I only once reached 82% and commonly scored in the 65% to 75% range. Isn’t 70% for most of us, evidence of greatness and 95% evidence of freakish unworldliness?

So, is there a danger that viewers will think performance by NHS Scotland is actually pretty damn good across the board and that the targets are a bit OTT?

There is evidence that in Scotland and in the UK ,we have come to treat what should be longer term aspirational targets as opposed to everyday minimal targets.

A bit of context from an international study in 2014, is illuminating:

‘Most countries are following the UK 4-hour target as it is recognised that there is a benefit to adding in a time constraint. Victoria and Ontario [Canada] both have set the achievement target lower, at 75% and 90% respectively, compared to 95% in England [and Scotland]. Moreover, neither system actually meets their target, and especially in Victoria there are few consequences to this. In Stockholm [Sweden] the county monitors performance on the 4-hour target but this is not nationally mandated.’

Dundee is Scotland Coolest City – Scotland Info Guide

V&A Dundee – photo Ross Fraser McLean

I bet you didn’t see this one coming right? Don’t be mistaken though, Dundee is going from strength to strength and now Lonely Planet has named Dundee as one of their Best in Europe for 2018. And it’s not just Lonely Planet who point point out Dundee as the Go To City for 2018. Prestigious publications like The Wall Street Journal, CNN, Bloomberg and the Guardian all citing the city in their 2018 travel itineraries. Famed for its continual reinvention, particularly after the decline of traditional industries such as whaling, shipbuilding and jute manufacturing, the city has transformed into a capital of cool – home to some of the country’s most exciting examples of design, innovation and culture.

Opening of V&A Dundee

The eye-catching event for this year in Dundee, and perhaps even for Scotland, is the much anticipated opening of V&A Dundee. Set to open on the 15th of September, the Kengo Kuma-designed attraction will be the jewel in the crown of the city’s tourism offering and provide an introduction to over 500 years of brilliance, ingenuity and achievement in Scottish creativity and the best examples of design from around the world. So what else has Dundee on offer? Let’s have a look at some of the other things that might tempt you to visit Scotland’s coolest city:

A feast for foodies

Sample some of the city’s tasty delights thanks to a diverse range of trendy bars, boutique restaurants and unusual eateries. Draffens is a unique speak easy bar, renowned for its inventive cocktails, tucked away in a hidden location within the city centre. Or raise a glass to Verdant Spirits, the first distillery in Dundee for 200 years and Scottish Gin of the Year in 2017. Inspired by the growing popularity of ‘Mother’s Ruin’, plans are now underway to open a gin school and visitor centre. Of course, no trip to Dundee is complete without trying an authentic Dundee pie or ‘peh’ at a local butchers such as Scott Brothers or why not have a slice of the iconic Dundee cake? This bakery favourite is still lovingly created at bakers like Clarks’ Bakery or Goodfellow & Stevens.

A new take on some old favourites

With so much to see you’ll be spoiled for choice so how about sightseeing with a difference? Dark Dundee offers entertaining and informative walking tours around the city, partnering with venues such as Verdant Works, HM Frigate Unicorn, and The Howff, a 16th century graveyard in the city centre, to tell spine-chilling tales of the city’s sometimes gruesome past. If you prefer sightseeing on the go try Run the Sights, which combines a run with a guided exploration of some of the city’s most interesting and beautiful locations. Finally, see the city from the glorious River Tay with Pirate Boats, an exhilarating one-hour boat trip packed with anecdotes and local lore to bring the scenery to life.

Exciting new additions

Dundee is chock-full of exciting experiences but here are some new additions to the city’s travel offering. OpenClose is an exciting street art project, showcasing the best in local talent. The city-centre art trail aims to brighten up unexplored nooks and crannies with 18 individually painted doors by 18 local artists. This year, OpenClose has extended into the Stobswell area of the city with 20 more new street-art locations to explore. For thrill-seekers a visit to the new 5-star Foxlake is a must. Dundee’s new wakeboarding centre at City Quay has premises opposite the APEX Hotel and within sight of the HM Unicorn.. Finally, Slessor Gardens, Dundee’s new public space, has been warmly embraced by the citizens and now with the advent of massive outdoor gigs, visitors can experience the waterfront for themselves. The inaugural concerts happened in 2017 and this year Steps, Rita Ora, Simple Minds, The Pretenders, and KT Tunstall will be hitting the right notes with music fans in the city.

A city built on design

Dundee was in competition with 50 other global cities to join the City of Design network in 2014. It was named the UK’s first City of Design by the United Nations for the diverse design innovations. Dundee’s contributions to the world, include aspirin, biomedical research which has led to hundreds of new cancer drugs, comics including the Beano and Dandy, orange marmalade, and video games including Lemmings and Grand Theft Auto. Today the city’s vibrant population of young people continues to create and contribute to the city’s design reputation, including fashion and lifestyle designers Hayley Scanlan, Isolated Heroes, Abandon Ship Apparel and globally recognised luggage designers Lat56. Dundee’s young people are currently co-designing the opening event for V&A Dundee in September and the city’s first ever Dundee Design Parade is set to take place on Saturday 26 May as part of Scotland’s Year of Young People celebrations.

The Comic Capital

Dundee is the birthplace of the Beano – Britain’s longest running children’s comic published by DC Thomson. Every week, children and adults across the world can follow the antics of legendary characters like Dennis the Menace.. Read an issue of The Beano Comic on the newly named Bash Street or check out the city’s best-loved comic characters, like Desperate Dan and Minnie the Minx in statue form. This year from June to October, to celebrate the Beano’s 80th birthday, the McManus will become The McMenace as The Bash Street Kids take over the museum.

A warm welcome for all

From legendary ships to the stunning shorelines of Broughty Ferry, Dundee is perfect for an accessible adventure. Handily Access Review website Euan’s Guide has created an informative guide to the city, packed full of highlights and advice to help visitors with access needs get the most from their trip. From wheelchair access on the Gun Deck of the only wooden warship in Scotland, HMS Unicorn to the induction loop system that film lovers can enjoy in the cinemas at Dundee Contemporary Arts.

For more info on Dundee go to www.dundee.com.

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Education becomes the latest Scottish sector to be targeted by BBC Scotland – Towards Indyref2…

Teaching has become the latest target for the BBC in Scotland in what appears to be a campaign aimed at portraying Scottish institutions as failing.

This morning the BBC Scotland radio phone-in programme hosted by Kaye Adams featured education as the subject.  One caller, who called herself Joanna, lambasted the teaching profession and claimed to have recently left the sector.

During the call which approached an astonishing 15 minutes, Joanna described herself as a “middle manager” and said she knew nobody who was happy in the profession.  She claimed her former colleagues would end their day slumped on the sofa drinking half a bottle of wine.

However, later that afternoon the call was used as the basis for a headline news article by BBC Scotland.  An online article Former teacher tells minister ‘teaching is an undoable job’appeared as the fourth top story.

The article began: “A teacher who left the profession because it became an “undoable” job has told Scotland’s education secretary the profession is a ‘disgrace’.

“Speaking to SNP MSP John Swinney, former teacher Joanna told the cabinet secretary she would never work in a school again.

“She told him many teachers felt under pressure, took medication and felt ill at the thought of going to work.”

The targeting of teaching follows a string of BBC Scotland headline news reports which portayed a variety of Scottish institutions and initiatives negatively.  Recent examples have included the Scottish Police Force, the Scottish NHS, ScotRail and the Scottish Fire Brigade Service.

Initiatives such as the Baby Box have also been targeted as has Scotland’s reputation as a welcoming country.  Only yesterday BBC Scotland claimed research showed Scottish drug users consumed the most cocaine in a single session than addicts anywhere else in the world.

This latest attack on a Scottish institution coincides with the advent of the exam season.  Last year BBC Scotland mounted a sustained attack on Scotland’s examination system [See video below].  A similar approach by the broadcaster is expected this year.

Indyref2 would like to do more news pieces. Feel free to make a contribution towards this goal.

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Is education policy driving Scotland and England apart? – What Scotland Thinks

There is an assumption in public debate that – regardless of the outcome of the referendum – devolution has already caused Scotland and England to drift apart, and especially in education policy. The best-known of all the policy divergence is on student fees. In university classes now in Scotland there are students paying nothing and students paying a great deal. That has always been so, but the difference now is that the divergence is between citizens of the same state.

Equally significant is the radical departure in the structure of secondary schooling. The deliberate creation of diversity in England was started by Margaret Thatcher and John Major. It was given a strong impetus under the Blair government, and has become the most visible education policy of the present UK government. This is in stark contrast with both Wales and Scotland, which have done absolutely none of this. Scotland and Wales have still essentially a common structure of comprehensive, non-selective secondary schools, not diversified in any way.

Even more profound are changes to the curriculum in schools. On the one hand are the reforms in England introduced by the former Education Secretary Michael Gove, who tried to re-establish a traditional curriculum based on what he sees as the emancipating power of knowledge. This approach is centred on traditional subjects, such as English and Maths, and on teachers as experts. In contrast, the Scottish approach, in the form of the ‘Curriculum for Excellence’, is described by the Scottish Government as placing ‘the child at the centre of learning provision,’ rather than emphasising the knowledge that is to be learnt or the teacher that is to impart it. This Scottish approach is supported across the political spectrum, in contrast to the controversies in England which Mr Gove’s reforms have provoked.

So the differences seem stark. But are they? Evidence from evaluations and from public opinion suggests that the headlines and much academic commentary may have exaggerated the divide.

Take fees. If we compare opportunity rather than mechanisms of opportunity, the conclusion from careful research is that the differences in the financial regimes have no effect on the educational outcomes. Professor Nicholas Barr of the London School of Economics has noted that the difference in student finance does not mean that someone from a working class background in Scotland has a relatively better chance of attending university than someone in England from the same background. Moreover, public opinion is very similar in Scotland and England. While according to the 2013 British and Scottish Social Attitudes Surveys, 69% of people in England support means-tested fees, so also do 64% in Scotland..

Much the same is true of the structure of secondary schooling. Research in many countries (for two examples click here and here) has shown that, on the whole, the structure of a school system – even the presence or absence of selection – makes little difference to outcomes, whether these are achievement in examinations, social mobility, or civic values. Meanwhile, public opinion on how schools should be governed is very similar in Scotland and England. In the 2013 social attitudes surveys, the proportion in favour of private companies running schools was 12% in Scotland and 19% in England. So far as charities running schools is concerned, the proportion in favour was 29% in Scotland and 37% in England. True, Scottish opinion is more favourable to comprehensive schooling than English views (68% compared to 51% in the 2010 British and Scottish Social Attitudes Survey), but that difference long pre-dates devolution.

Finally, on the curriculum, the irony is that Mr Gove’s reforms owe more to Scottish educational traditions than does current Scottish policy. ‘Having grown up in Scotland,’ he said in 2009, ‘I identify the principle that all should have access to the best with the Scottish Enlightenment ideal of the Democratic Intellect.’ That Mr Gove’s thinking reflects his experience and understanding of education in Scotland suggests that his ideas are not as alien to Scottish preconceptions as has often been claimed. Scottish debates might in due course find rather more to admire in some of what he proposed than seems possible in the heat of the referendum arguments.

Public controversy can conceal deeper continuities. There are more similarities of culture, of opportunity, and of cultural ideas between Scotland and England than the rhetoric of politics sometimes indicates. If Scotland does decide to leave the UK, it will not be because the country has a fundamentally different educational philosophy from England.

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Criminal Proceedings in Scotland, 2017-18: A tale of enviable good news concealed by BBC Scotland

Criminal Proceedings in Scotland, 2017-18, contains several pieces of evidence suggesting progress in Scotland which Humza Yousaf’s equivalents in the non-Scottish parts of the UK would sell their grannies for, yet ignoring the above dramatic good news and many other trends reported below, Reporting Scotland found a way to extract and construct a bad news story out of this extensive report:

Yesterday, Jackie Bird told us:

‘Almost 80% of people jailed in Scotland received sentences of less than a year according to new figures. That’s despite government plans to ask courts not to impose such short prison terms and instead use community sentences such as unpaid work.’

You see how they did this. They decided that all sentences up to 12 months, rather than those up to 3 months were ‘short sentences’, found less progress there and snuffled out this wee truffle they could selectively foreground:

Of course, we cannot see what proportion of those sentences were in the 6 to 12-month range. Do we actually want those reduced? Are they short sentences at all? Not to my mind, they’re not.

The report is 106 pages long and stuffed with other headline-worthy news, all ignored. Here’s my extract:

Handling offensive weapons:

Oh how, the ministers in London, England and Wales would drool over the above. Of course, RS would feel able to just report the last year and ignore the unwanted trend. You’ll remember many other times when they have preferred the longer view just to get a bigger headline percentage.

Overall convictions trend, still ongoing:

Convictions for crime continued to fall steady in the years since the SNP came to power. Multiple factors will be contributory, but the government of the day and its policies must take some of the credit just as, surely, they’d take any blame.

Average length of sentences:

The average length of sentences goes up and this is good news because it means fewer and fewer are going to prison for minor offences especially where violence is not involved. The average is now based on a smaller number serving longer terms thus increasing it. This trend shows the Scottish system encouraged by the Scottish Government has learned the key lesson that very short sentences are both ineffective and often make things worse by exposing minor offenders to the malign influence of those who have committed more serious crimes.

Fewer younger people convicted:

Though convictions for all groups have declined over the last ten years, the decrease has been most dramatic for the youngest group (under 21) and, less so, for the second youngest group (21-30). This is, of course, particularly good news as these are the groups most likely to be involved in crime. Similarly, the rate for males has declined dramatically from 46 per 1 000 population in 2008 to 28 in 2017-18. The rate for females has declined from 8 per 1 000 population in 2008 to 6 in 2017.

Spread the real news!

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Eradicating pupil illiteracy in Scotland

It is mid-morning at St Mary’s primary school in Alexandria, a bleak, post-industrial town north-west of Glasgow that often features on Scotland’s list of areas of multiple deprivation. In Margaret Mooney’s primary 1 class, 20 five-year-olds have gathered on the floor at the teacher’s feet, pretending to be trains. “Ch, ch, ch, ch, ch,” they intone, small arms circling wildly like the wheels of a locomotive.

Mooney turns the page of a giant, colourful book. “This is the one where you are allowed to be cheeky to the teacher,” she says, pointing to the letters “th”. “What sound do they make?” The children stick out their tongues and blow through their teeth, before dissolving into giggles. “Cheeky, cheeky children,” says Mooney. “Let me see how cheeky you can be.”

They are too young to know it, but the children in Mooney’s class are part of a remarkable experiment, one that has proved so successful that it is being held up as a model for education authorities across the world and has caught the eye of Britain’s new prime minister. Gordon Brown has been taking a keen interest in events in West Dunbartonshire, and has held talks with Dr Tommy MacKay, the educational psychologist who pioneered the scheme.

Back in 1997, MacKay persuaded West Dunbartonshire council to commit itself to eradicating pupil illiteracy in its schools within a decade. This year, it is on track to reach its target, becoming what is thought to be the first local authority in the world to do so.

When the project was launched, West Dunbartonshire had one of the poorest literacy rates in the UK, with 28% of children leaving primary school at 12 functionally illiterate – that is, with a reading age of less than nine years and six months. Last year, that figure had dropped to 6% and, by the end of this year, it is expected to be 0%. In all, 60,000 children have been assessed, and evaluations show that children now entering primary 3 have an average reading age almost six months higher than previous groups. In 1997, 5% of primary school children had “very high” scores on word reading; today the figure is 45%. Across the UK, it is estimated that 100,000 pupils a year leave school functionally illiterate.

Synthetic phonics, where children learn to sound out the single and combined sounds of letters, has been at the core of the scheme but it has not been the only factor. A 10-strand intervention was set up, featuring a team of specially trained teachers, focused assessment, extra time for reading in the curriculum, home support for parents and carers, and the fostering of a “literacy environment” in the community. “The results we have now are phenomenal,” says MacKay.

When he approached the council with his proposal, he was not sure what response he would get. “I sent a letter to the director of education. It was one of these things you expect to find they are interested in, but will put in the bin. What I was saying was: why not try doing something that has not been done anywhere before in the world? You could eradicate illiteracy.”

His letter coincided with a decision by the Scottish executive to offer funding packages for early intervention in literacy and numeracy. What made West Dunbartonshire different from other authorities launching literacy projects at the time was that it wanted a cradle-to-grave system that involved the entire community.

“What we were looking at doing had never been done in the world before, bringing about inter-generational change in a whole population,” says MacKay. “We deliberately built in things other people weren’t doing: vision, profile, commitment, ownership and dedication.”

The approach was two-pronged. First, a robust early intervention programme from nursery onwards reduced the number of children experiencing reading failure. Then, those who did fall through the net were caught in the later years of primary school and given the intensive, one-on-one Toe by Toe programme. “You pick up every one of them, and you blooter them with individual help,” says MacKay.

Lynn Townsend, head of service for education at West Dunbartonshire council, says the project would not have succeeded if they had not focused on the few falling through the cracks. “If we were to achieve our goals, we really needed to be doing something with them,” she says. “There used to be a sense that if kids had not got reading by secondary, there was no point in teaching them. That is no longer appropriate. Nobody gets left behind.

“We have seen dramatic results. Kids in primary 7 who could not read at all now can, and it opens the world to them. It means secondary school is going to be meaningful. It really does change lives.”

As new research has been done, new strands have been incorporated. “We started very much with the emphasis on synthetic phonics. That’s one strand now. We have a West Dunbartonshire approach now,” says Townsend.

Headteacher Charles Kennedy noticed the difference the scheme was making when he took up his post at St Mary’s school after working in another area. “I was struck by the level the children were at, the pace and the impact,” he says. “And also the way they were enjoying it. It’s vibrant and it’s alive.”

A key component has been parental involvement. “Research shows that middle-class kids have had thousands of hours of reading practice before they get to school,” says Townsend. “A lot of our homes just can’t or don’t do that.” A home support system was set up and regular parents’ evenings held to introduce them to phonics. Nursery children are given a startpack with reading materials to prac tise at home.

Officials say that often during the parents’ meetings, one or two will approach staff and admit that they can’t read. They are advised about where they can find help and support.

MacKay hopes the project’s success will have far-reaching implications for West Dunbartonshire as a community. “We believe that, ultimately, we are looking at a stronger economy, lower crime rates and a lower prison population.”

Townsend believes the scheme has worked because there was a collective determination to see it through. “We stuck to our principles. When the funding was reduced and stopped by the executive, we maintained it,” she says.

Interest has been immense. MacKay has spoken about the project in countries as far away as South Africa, and a delegation from Dublin was in West Dunbartonshire at Easter. The Centre for Public Policy Research held it up as a model for other education authorities last year.

The new prime minister has been aware of it for some time. A spokeswoman for Brown confirmed that he had met MacKay and was “very interested” in the project. It is understood that they had several discussions while Brown was chancellor and that he was keen to know how the scheme might be rolled out across the UK.

“Many of our primary schools are in some of the most deprived areas of Scotland, yet they perform above the national average,” Townsend points out. “That is staggering. If you say from the outset, we are going to eradicate illiteracy in 10 years, which politician does not want to be part of that soundbite?”

Topics

Source

https://www.theguardian.com/education/2007/jul/10/schools.primaryeducation

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Should BBC Scotland’s Graham Stewart resign as state broadcaster misses 100% success in critical NHS target performance? – Talking-up Scotland

Should I be flattered? In a rare communication since his former boss tried to have me sacked, a BBC Reporting Scotland reporter has had a go at responding to my recent piece on how a BMA study undermines their agenda on NHS targets. Here’s the TuS report:

Here’s one of Stewart’s three tweets in response:

Taking this as evidence of a principled position by our state broadcaster, why did they, then, miss one of the targets which NHS Scotland had met 100% and for the fifth year in succession? Could that be suppression of information?

Here is the one they conveniently missed:

The target is for 90% of patients to be screened within 365 days of receipt oi referral. Demand for the screening had gone up 5.36% since the last quarter yet 100% were screened within 365 days. The target has been met since in was first measured in 2015.

This is a quite significant and newsworthy target given that its failure to be met in England has had wider and shocking consequences for corruption in the NHS, benefiting the private sector and politicians and for related mental health conditions. See:

IVF failures create knock-on effects in women’s mental health

Failing to treat infertility can result in problems and further costs for the NHS in other areas. A Danish study of 98 737 women, between 1973 and 2003, showed that women who were unable to have children were 47% more likely to be hospitalised for schizophrenia and had a significantly higher risk of subsequent drug and alcohol abuse. See this:

IVF in England has become a licence to print money.

As we tumble toward a hard Brexit and trade deals with the USA allowing the private sector into the heart of the NHS, we can see how things will work out in the already privatised IVF service in England and contrast it with the state-controlled and regulated version, in Scotland. See this from the Guardian today:

‘Private fertility clinics routinely try to sell desperate patients add-ons that almost certainly don’t help – why isn’t more done to monitor the industry?  Around three-quarters of all IVF cycles fail. And results vary with age. Figures from the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) published in March state the average live birth-rate for each fresh embryo transferred for women of all ages is 21%; for those aged under 35, it is 29% – the highest it has ever been. For older women, the picture is bleaker: 10% for women aged 40-42, for example. IVF is expensive. And what makes it worse, says Hugh Risebrow, the report’s author, is the lack of pricing transparency. “The headline prices quoted may be, say, £3,500, but you end up with a bill of £7,000,” he says. “This is because there are things not included that you need – and then things that are offered but are not evidence-based.”’

IVF in England has created opportunities for the private sector

In Tory-run NHS England, only 12% of boards offer three full cycles in line with official guidance. 61% offer only one cycle of treatment and 4% offer none at all. Private treatment costs between £1 343 and £5 788 per cycle.

Why some UK politicians would like more privatisation in the NHS

There are 64 Tory and Labour (New) MPs with ‘links’ to private health care. Why would we trust them to protect the NHS? See this:

Perhaps Stewart could pass this to the BBC Scotland Disclosure Team to investigate?

For more, see:

A CONSTITUTION FOR SCOTLAND – The Orkney News

By David Younger

constitution we the peopleI attended the launch of the Scottish Constitution on 1st December in Glasgow. I have to say the attendance was disappointing but, in the light of my own views and those of many others, it was perhaps not surprising. There is a general feeling among supporters of the drive for independence that the constitution can be dealt with after independence – an opinion which, until Saturday, I shared.

The presentation by Mark McNaught was a compelling case for the adoption of a Scottish constitution – and at the earliest opportunity.

Let us consider the current situation. Only three countries in the world (four, if you prefer to think of Scotland as a separate country) do not have a written constitution. Every other country does and in the case of democracies, the rights of citizens to be protected from the excesses of their governments and their rights and freedoms are codified both nationally and internationally. We have no such contract with our government and this creates an effective vacuum where our rights as citizens are concerned. The rights we do have are not guaranteed in any way and only exist because no government has yet legislated against them. And such legislation is happening right now. Take the Investigative Powers Act just passed in Westminster. It is the greatest assault on the right to privacy in any democracy and would be patently unconstitutional in most other countries, but in Westminster, it goes through on the nod and without even a word in the media. There is no reason why further rights could not be stripped from citizens of what is increasingly becoming a fractious and ungovernable country.

There are also more serious long-term consequences for the overall functioning of government. The number of times the UK government has been taken to court over various actions it has taken – and lost – is staggering. But what happens as a consequence? The government changes the law to make the action in question legal. Job done. And no long-term legislation is considered. No planning for the future when, after all, any plans put in place by this government can be overturned by the next one. This gives us patchwork legislation, laws which are passed only when there is an immediate need for them, and passed often without parliamentary scrutiny or consideration for the knock-on consequences, while existing legislation – often archaic – simply lies on the statute books.

One of the more toxic consequences is a positively paranoid obsession with the concentration of power. Thus, with no constitutional guarantees , the powers of local authorities have been stripped to the point where there is no longer any meaningful local democracy. And, inevitably, there is conflict with the devolved administrations. With Northern Ireland effectively out of commission and Wales reduced to puppet status, this leaves Scotland, and the Scots are not taking abuse lying down.

In light of this obsession with power, it is perhaps inevitable that the UK government would want to remove itself from the EU. But Scotland doesn’t. Three quarters of us want to stay and many of us look to our own government to make that happen. The conflict comes to a head shortly and 29th March represents the point where any action we contemplate has to be put into effect.

So why do we need a constitution now, rather than at some time following independence?

Professor McNaught has made, in my view, an incontrovertible case for now rather than later. In the first place, we need a baseline protection for our right to self-determination including free elections without outside interference. This would make the process of holding a referendum considerably easier. Also, there are concerns on the part of supporters of the union – many of them “soft” supporters. These include suspicions that the SNP are trying to create a single-party state, and that old chestnut, pensions. In short, too many people want to stay with the devil they know rather than take a chance with the devil they don’t know. With no written constitution, people are no more confident of their place in an independent Scotland than they are now. Supporters of independence should not dismiss these concerns lightly – they matter deeply to those who hold them. If effectively addressed, their votes in favour of independence are what will take us comfortably over the finishing line. Constitutionally guaranteed rights can go a very long way toward creating confidence and ultimately support. In effect, having a baseline constitution in place can weaponise our campaign in what promises to be a very messy battle ahead.

For those who still think that the constitution can wait until after independence – that it has no value in the present campaign – there is a further matter to consider. When Scotland becomes an independent country and does so without a written constitution, we become vulnerable to outside interests, corporate in particular, which can subvert or derail our attempt to create the state that we want for ourselves. Currently we have considerable protection in the EU but, even if we continue our membership seamlessly after independence, we are still only protected under EU-wide legislation which covers only fifteen percent of all legislative areas. Furthermore, that protection is only courtesy of the constitutions of other member states. We need our own constitutional authority to be in place on the day of independence in order to maintain our freedom to design the country we want to live in.

Professor McNaught has carried out a huge amount of work so far but the constitution is not something to be handed down from on high. It is the will, the rights and the aspirations of the people of Scotland – a sort of instruction manual, if you like. With that in mind, the Constitutional Commission are asking everyone to become users on the scottishconstitution.com website, propose amendments, raise individual concerns and to comment on any specific matter which they have an interest in, to literally help develop the law. I implore everyone to get involved, you don’t need expertise and all comments and submissions are given equal consideration. The end result will define the kind of nation you and I want to live in and bring up our families. It is the key to our future.

The principal question now is how we encourage the Scottish government to unambiguously adopt this constitutional platform, so it becomes THE governing structure in an independent Scotland. Like other Scots, elected officials have never lived under a codified constitution and so, few appreciate its value and power. However, all can be convinced if the right arguments are advanced. Your job as citizens in a democracy is to read and understand the constitution and the rights it confers and contact your MSPs, speak with them and convince them of its importance for the future of Scotland. This will also help to bench test the democratic mechanisms that will make this constitution function.

Time is short. Please visit the site, add your own comments as you wish. Express your own concerns. And, please contact your MP, MSP and any party activists that you know.

Spread the word!

Scotland, It is Time

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By Jason Michael

SOON IS A RELATIVE TERM when we discuss the fortunes of nations. No doubt the Irish republican rebels of 1798, even after their defeat and as they stood on the scaffold, said to themselves: Soon Ireland will be free. What we can endure, what we can achieve in our lifetimes is limited by our allotted three-score and ten years. Our lives are short. Soon to us is forced by our mortality to be immediate. But this urgency is lacking when we talk of the nation. We can say that soon Scotland will be free, and this is true – soon Scotland will be free, but it remains just as true that we may never live to see it. I believe, and in fact think it a certainty, that Scotland is moving unstoppably towards independence, but whether or not that will happen soon – relative to me – comes down to our actions in the here and now. What we do or fail to do can hasten or delay that inevitability.

On Hogmanay a friend, an independentista podcaster, got in touch to plan a road trip around a number of Yes groups. He told me that a mutual friend, a fellow blogger, was in the doldrums. As you will well know, bouts of depression – as in the low ebbing of optimism – are par for the course in political activism. Our friend is “losing faith.” He’s finding it hard to believe Nicola Sturgeon will call an independence referendum. It wouldn’t comfort him to say that we will have independence, but that that might take a while. It has taken long enough.

Nicola Sturgeon has stated that if the UK Gov blocks a section 30 order for an Independence referendum we might hav… twitter.com/i/web/status/1…


THE BLACK SALTIRE#FBSI (@80_mcswan) November 22, 2018

We’re all feeling that pressure right now. I trust Nicola Sturgeon, but I’m old enough to realise she’s not a god. She’s not Scotland’s saviour. She may well prove to be an instrument of our salvation, but in real life – in national politics – there are no saviours. At some point, as a movement, we will have to grow up and stop looking for messiahs. We ourselves – Sinn fhèin – are the only ones who can save us, and in realising this we must renew the struggle for independence on our own terms; prepared to drink from our own wells – depend on our own reserves and resources – rather than lazily looking for a champion to come and save us. We are our own champions.

Brexit poses an existential threat to Scotland; not only to devolution – which is not and cannot be permanent, but to the present campaign for independence. London’s self-destructive determination to leave the European Union at any cost can easily lead to the end of devolution and a total state clampdown on independence, and we would do well to think on this seriously as a movement. Neither we nor our movement is invincible. The dream can end, at least for the foreseeable future. This is why Brexit – if we are to see independence in our lifetimes – has shifted the timescale of another referendum, it has made it urgent.

We are told and we have been led to believe that the devolution we have at Holyrood is or can be made permanent, but in legal reality this is a fiction. Westminster is the only sovereign parliament of the British state, meaning that the sovereignty the national parliaments of Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland enjoy are but a measure of Crown sovereignty devolved by Westminster. In British law the Edinburgh parliament is merely exercising the power of Westminster by the grace of Westminster because its power is derived from that sovereign parliament. We may think that sovereignty in Scotland is derived from the people of Scotland, but this is not how our democracy works in reality. Our parliament is a limited Westminster in Scotland, and it operates according to the understanding of Westminster sovereignty and not Scotland’s.

Saying the Scottish parliament is “permanent” or that it can be made so are legal fictions. Westminster cannot cons… twitter.com/i/web/status/1…


Jason Michael (@Jeggit) January 02, 2019

“An Act of the UK Parliament might say that the Scottish Parliament is permanent,” writes Professor Mark Elliot, deputy chair of Law at the University of Cambridge, “but that will not necessarily make it so. This follows because, at least on an orthodox analysis, the UK Parliament is incapable of legally diminishing its sovereign authority.” This is true. Principally because the British parliament is sovereign, it cannot bind future UK parliaments to an imposed limitation of its sovereignty. Either a state parliament is wholly sovereign; able to enact any legislation and at any time, or it is not sovereign at all. In sum, Westminster can and will end Scottish devolution the moment our parliament poses a significant enough challenge to its own sovereignty.

Brexit fundamentally changes the playing field of 2014. Independence then would have inflicted serious damage on England, but membership of the EU and the benefit of European law would have secured our independence and provided for the economic basis both of Scotland’s survival and that of the rUK. Out of the EU, suffering the catastrophic cost of a no-deal Brexit, the English state simply cannot afford to function without Scotland’s resources. In such a context, then, Westminster will not and cannot allow Scottish independence. Any parliament in Scotland – like the Irish parliament of 1919 – that pushes for independence will be closed. And without a parliament in Scotland the movement for independence loses its democratic leadership and its natural focal point. Uncentred and unrepresented, the Scottish independence movement will be forced into the Irish dilemma – fight or die, and physical force against the British state is not an option.

There is a simple truth.

To stop Brexit in Scotland and across the rUK, Nicola only needs to announce her intentio… twitter.com/i/web/status/1…


Norma 🏴󠁧󠁢󠁳󠁣󠁴󠁿 Learmonth (@Norrie30) January 03, 2019

Time is fast running out. On 29 March, eighty-five days from today, these conditions will be realised when the United Kingdom leaves the EU – and most likely without a deal. If we are to guarantee independence in our lifetimes, then the time to act is now. Nothing, of course, is impossible, but the likelihood of yet another opportunity like this presenting itself within the next fifty years is slim to none. We have a threefold mandate under the present conditions to call another independence referendum, and time on this is even running out.

The First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, promised us that when the final details of Brexit were known she would revisit the question of a referendum. We know the final details of Brexit. More than this, we know the nature of the state that took us to the very brink of utter madness. Whether or not Brexit is an apocalypse, we now know we have a government in London that is eager and willing to take us right into the jowls of annihilation if doing that gets it what it wants. There isn’t going to be a reversal of Article 50. There won’t be another Brexit referendum or a “people’s vote.” There will be Brexit, and that will be the most chaotic and dangerous Brexit on offer. There is only one way out of this for Scotland. There is only one way to ensure the permanence of our parliament and democracy. It is time for us to do that. It is time for another independence referendum.


Brexit is Scotland’s Chance for Independence


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