The 2011 election campaign is in its final days, and our word cloud clearly shows that the issues dominating the first day of the final week are a council tax freeze and Scotland’s problem with alcohol.
A report by BMA Scotland which reveals that GP consultations where alcohol was a factor are costing the NHS an estimated £28 million a year in Scotland, has draw comment from Labour, the Lib Dems and the Scottish Conservative parties, lifting both alcohol and consultations to prominence on the Cal Merc cloud.
Liberal Democrat justice spokesperson Robert Brown said:
“The cost of alcohol abuse in Scotland is huge. It not only has an impact on public health as these figures reveal but can have a damaging effect on wider society. There needs to be stringent action in Scotland to tackle the root causes of alcohol abuse to reverse these worrying figures.
He went on, adding:
“We need to focus on early intervention when tackling alcohol abuse issues, specifically working with families with complex needs and parents with substance misuse problems.”
The report showed that on one day in April, alcohol was a factor in more than 5,500 consultations in general practice – equating to 6 per cent of all GP consultations.
Murdo Fraser, Scottish Conservative health spokesperson, said:
“It is never pleasant to see these figures and they confirm once again what a problem Scotland has with alcohol. Put simply, Scotland has a drink problem and urgent, effective action is required to tackle it – to change our culture and to better educate people, particularly youngsters, about avoiding the pitfalls of alcohol abuse.
“We must ensure that those underage find it more difficult to purchase alcohol to begin with, rather than focusing all our attention on initiatives that deal with after the event. Many responsible businesses comply with the law in selling alcohol and we would rather the irresponsible licence holders who sell to underage buyers were made to pay.
“The SNP’s indiscriminate blanket minimum pricing, which had no evidence base, would penalise responsible drinkers, harm the Scotch whisky industry, cost jobs and was probably illegal, was never the answer.”
Scottish Labour’s candidate in Clackmannanshire and Dunblane, Dr Richard Simpson, said:
“These figures confirm that alcohol abuse is a major problem in Scotland and reducing the level of problem drinking should be a priority for all political parties in Scotland.
“Labour believes that we need to start with better enforcement of existing legislation. There should be zero tolerance of rogue retailers who break the law by selling alcohol to children. We will also take action to reduce the caffeine content of alcoholic beverages, because there is growing evidence that the combination of caffeine and alcohol is dangerous. However, we will continue to oppose the SNP’s plans for minimum unit pricing because we do not believe it is right to punish pensioners and responsible drinkers on low incomes.”
From left to right on our cloud, the term council tax freeze is clearly dominant – and five-year can be seen floating under tax – as a result of a challenge by the SNP to the Labour, Tory and Lib Dem parties to spell out how much they would increase the council tax by after their proposed freeze ends next year.
Finance secretary and SNP candidate for Perthshire North John Swinney said:
“It is time for Labour, the Tories and Lib Dems to end their silence and spell out exactly how much they would let the council tax rip after next year. The London parties all have form on imposing a council tax whammy on Scots. The Tories hiked the council tax by 40 per cent, and it went up by 60 per cent under first Labour and then the Lab/Lib Dem Executive.”
“The council tax freeze is a major issue in the election, and we will press the other parties daily to tell the people what their council tax whammy plans are.”
As part of his response to the YouGov poll in the Scotsman newspaper, first minister Alex Salmond will say:
“The council tax freeze is the big issue on the doorstep – it is hugely popular when every other bill is going through the roof, and puts clear tartan water between the SNP and the London parties. It provides vital help for families in tough times.
“People back the SNP’s record in government, and the only way for Scots to get the council tax freeze in the next parliament is to grab it with both hands by voting SNP with both votes on Thursday. Labour, Tory and Lib Dem parties are all against the five-year council tax freeze – they must end their silence before polling day and spell out exactly how much they want to hike the council tax by.”
Investment is the economic term of the day, used variously by Labour, the SNP and the Scottish Greens.
Former prime minister Gordon Brown attacked the SNP’s flagship policy of an independence referendum, saying it would lead to years of uncertainty and put off economic investment at a time we need it most.
Mr Brown said:
“In the last year, 10,000 Scots joined the dole queue when unemployment should have been falling. The urgent task is to get Scotland back to work, to create jobs, growth and investment. The SNP’s answer, as it is to everything – break up Britain.”
Explaining the risks of a referendum, he added:
“If the SNP spend the next five years making independence the dominating issue in Scottish politics, it will not be risk-free. Investors will look at the debates on what type of economy, currency, tax system, fiscal policy we have and say ‘get back to us when you have made up your mind.’
“In these fragile economic times, this distraction risks the recovery, risks investment, risks jobs, risks prosperity and risks the wellbeing of the country we all love.”
But the SNP dismissed Mr Brown’s claims as a spokesperson said:
“This is an embarrassing effort from Gordon Brown. In the Scottish Parliament campaign in 2007 – before Gordon Brown crashed the economy – he campaigned with Labour’s top business backer in Scotland, Jim Spowart, the founder of Intelligent Finance. In 2011, Jim Spowart is backing the economic record of the SNP Government, stating that we have ‘earned the confidence of the vast swathe of Scotland’s business community.'”
Name-checking several investors, he added:
“Scotland is securing global investment after investment under the SNP – including from Mitsubishi, Doosan Power Systems, Gamesa, and Amazon – and employment has increased in Scotland for nine months in a row, with a higher employment rate in Scotland than the UK as a whole.”
Finally yesterday, the Scottish Green Party began the final week’s campaign push by launching a mini-manifesto for business with policies including support for community and publicly-owned renewables, boosting construction with a house-building programme and plans to reinvigorate Scotland’s town centres.
Alis Ballance, the Scottish Greens’ top candidate for South of Scotland, said:
“During this election the Scottish Greens have consistently offered a positive vision for the future of Scotland. Our plans to support and stimulate the Scottish economy are no different. The challenges ahead for businesses are formidable: the impact of climate change, rising energy prices, and the ongoing financial crisis all threaten to eat away at profits and reduce opportunities.”
She went on to say:
“Scotland is blessed with renewable sources of energy and we can rebuild our economy around these resources. Generating energy generates revenue, and communities and local authorities around Scotland should focus on this as a source of funding to invest in social enterprises, to reinvigorate our dilapidated town centres and to support youth training programmes.
“The new era will need new financial institutions and the Scottish Government is not powerless. We can facilitate the growth of credit unions and mutual societies, and we can back the kind of capital investment that secures long-term jobs, not the short term dead end of motorway building.”