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Alan Reid

Trident submarine on the Clyde <em>Picture: JohnED76</em>

Trident submarine on the Clyde Picture: JohnED76

By Rob Edwards

The safety of the nuclear bombs and submarines on the Clyde is being increasingly jeopardised by the UK government’s spending cuts, a Ministry of Defence (MoD) report has warned.

The public, military personnel and the environment could be put at risk of accidental explosions, spillages or radiation leaks, according to a new assessment by the MoD’s internal watchdog, the Defence Nuclear Environment and Safety Board.

A summary of the board’s report for 2010 by its chairman, Howard Mathers, says that safety issues “present a risk that it will become increasingly difficult to maintain that the defence nuclear programmes are being managed with due regard for the protection of the workforce, the public and the environment.”

The report by Mathers, posted on the MoD’s website without announcement, warns that there is a “lack of adequate resource to deliver the Defence nuclear programmes safely”. There is an “adverse trend in resources’, Mathers points out, “which I expect will become yet more painful.”

Mathers adds that “the frequency and significance of incidents remain too high as a result of poor control of work”. The principal dangers in the medium term, he says, “are the adequacy of resources, both money and staff complement, and the maintenance of a sustainable cadre of suitably competent staff.”

The MoD was accused by one of its former senior safety officials of allowing defence cuts to “trump” safety. Lessons from previous reports had been “ignored”, said Fred Dawson, who was head of the MoD’s radiation protection policy team before he retired in 2009.

“Decisions were taken in the defence review without a proper consideration of their impact on safety generally and nuclear safety in particular,” Dawson said. “The ability of the MoD’s internal regulator to do its
 job is being compromised by the lack resources.”

The assessment by Mathers is the latest in a series of warnings from within the MoD about the impact of cutbacks on nuclear safety. It comes in the wake of reports last week that UK defence ministers had decided to hand over the management of the nuclear bomb base at Coulport on Loch Long to a group of private companies, including the US arms dealer Lockheed Martin.

Trade unions, politicians and disarmament campaigners warned that public safety would be endangered because companies could be tempted to cut corners. A motion expressing concern was lodged in the Scottish parliament by the SNP MSP, Bill Kidd.

The Coulport sell-off was also condemned as “absolutely horrific” by the SNP minister and newly-elected MSP for neighbouring Argyll and Bute, Michael Russell. “The privatisation of weapons of mass destruction is a policy without precedent and can only be described as both foolhardy and reckless,” he said.

The move, however, was defended by the local Liberal Democrat MP, Alan Reid, who pointed out that the site would still be owned by the MoD. “The Labour Party started the privatisation of our nuclear deterrent,” he said. “This is a continuation of the process begun by Labour.”

An MoD spokesman said: “The MoD takes its nuclear safety responsibilities very seriously. Work is underway to deliver continuous safety improvement in the areas raised by the report.”

Rob Edwards, environmental news and comment.

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The Caledonian Mercury has invited some of those in the election firing-line to send regular bulletins about the personal side of campaigning. Alison Hay is the Scottish Liberal Democrat candidate for Argyll and Bute.

    Monday 25 April
    Disaster! My campaign manager has strained a tendon doing DIY at the weekend and will have to rest his foot for a few days, My husband John has gallantly stepped into the breach and will help me with leaflet delivery over the next couple of days, so I’m back on the campaign trail after having a rest on Sunday afternoon.

    We’re on Lismore this afternoon with my husband driving. Mixed reactions, with ferries and roads the main issues.

    Tuesday 26 April
    Today it has been agreed that we meet at Cairndow Oyster Bar which is about 30 minutes from where I live. Argyll and Bute’s MP Alan Reid is joining John and me to deliver leaflets in Cairndow, Strachur, St Catherines, Tighnabruaich and Kames on the Cowal peninsula. Again, the weather is wonderful and I’m beginning to develop a tan. Campaigning is great in weather like this.

    This evening is the Dunoon hustings and I’m not looking forward to it. Mike Russell and the SNP are in difficult water! They promised the Dunoon residents two new boats in exchange for votes, in 2007. They have failed to deliver and the Dunoon/Gourock ferry service will become passenger-only from the end of June. Dunoon residents are not best pleased.

    Wednesday 27 April
    The time is 9am and I’m in Connel near Oban. Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Tavish Scott is paying a visit to Connel post office to promote our support for rural post offices. The owner is Rosie Stevenson. She has diversified her post office into a grocer’s shop.

    She opens early to provide filled rolls, papers, etc to the workmen on their way to work. She is very happy with the progress she is making and is happy with the help she has had from Alan Reid.

    Also with us this morning is George Lyon MEP, the Scottish Liberal Democrat campaign manager. A happy time was spent talking to the press and drinking tea supplied by Rosie. We leave about 10am and head down towards Kennacraig to catch the 1pm ferry to the island of Islay. My campaign manager Tony is back, hobbling, assuring me he is better but I’m sceptical.

    We spend the afternoon on the island of Jura and drive 18 miles to Ardlussa over the worst roads I’ve been on yet. At Ardlussa a surprise awaited: visitors can use a small walkie-talkie to send their order to a house about 400 yards away and the lady will bring out your order of tea and you can sit on the beach to drink it. In this weather I can think of nothing nicer.

    Thursday 28 April
    Leafleting in Islay, particularly Port Ellen which we had not done during our previous visit. Then drove to Portnahaven and spoke to another postmaster who has a problem with planning. Back to Port Charlotte and visited the Museum of Islay Life and the local café.

    Then back to Bowmore for the evening’s hustings at the High School. Mr Russell does his usual and tries to blame the school closures on me; he doesn’t get away with it this time. His infamous email was quoted from and his interference as education minister with council business was commented on. He is behaving outrageously and keeps denying he said eight or nine schools “could be taken through with little difficulty”.

    Why the people of Argyll and Bute believe the SNP wouldn’t close schools if it didn’t happen to be election time is a mystery.

    Friday 29 April
    On the ferry back to Kennacraig, then leafleting in Tarbert. Tomorrow is a walkabout in Dunoon. Only four more working days to go to “E-Day”.

    Want to discuss other issues? Join the debate on our new Scottish Voices forum

    Jobs dominated the political communications yesterday, as first minister Alex Salmond outlined the SNP’s vision for reindustrialising Scotland by meeting the party’s target of 130,000 jobs in the low-carbon sector by 2020.

    A word cloud showing the most common words across all of yesterday's press releases. The larger the word, the more it was used.

    A word cloud showing the most common words across all of yesterday's press releases. The larger the word, the more it was used.

    Speaking on a campaign visit to Steel Engineering Ltd in Renfrew, Mr Salmond said:

    “By 2020, our target is to have 130,000 jobs in the low carbon sector. That is a goal which will see the reindustrialisation of Scotland on a huge scale – and just as our shipyards were the workshop of the world in the 19th century, the green energy revolution gives us the chance to become the hi-tech workshop of the world in the 21st century.

    Also raising jobs profile, SNP candidate for Aberdeen Central, Kevin Stewart, said Ed Balls had blundered by exposing Labour dishonesty on the issue of changes to offshore oil taxation.

    Mr Balls is quoted in the Press & Journal saying the oil tax changes were a mistake but when a vote to oppose those tax changes was held in the UK parliament on 29 March 2011 he failed to vote against them despite voting in two other divisions.

    Commenting Mr Stewart said:

    “Ed Balls came north to lecture Scots about their country but has now been caught out being dishonest about Labour’s position on oil tax. It is hypocrisy for him to say he now opposes a tax on oil jobs when he failed to try and stop it in a key vote.

    “It yet again shows why no-one can trust a word Labour says – that the rhetoric doesn’t meet the reality.”

    Labour accused the SNP of the same, however, as it emerged that a flagship SNP council has been forced to admit that compulsory redundancies have not only been made in the last year, but the option cannot be entirely ruled out.

    The SNP manifesto states that the party is “committed to a policy of no compulsory redundancies”.

    However, documents released by Fife council reveal that the SNP-led administration in Fife made 191 compulsory redundancies last year alone.

    As part of plans to axe around 500 staff in a bid to save £16 million over the next year, SNP council leader Peter Grant has admitted that “there will be occasions when compulsory redundancies can’t be avoided” and Sharon McKenzie, Fife council’s human resources manager, has said that “redundancies can’t always be confined to the volunteer pool.”

    Scottish Labour’s candidate in Mid Fife and Glenrothes, Claire Baker, said:

    “This latest revelation comes as a humiliating blow to one of the SNP’s key election pledges. It speaks volumes that one of the SNP’s flagship councils has already made almost 200 compulsory redundancies and is now admitting that more are on the table.”

    Next on the word cloud are the two largest parties’ leaders with Alex, Salmond, Iain and Gray placing unusually highly. The appearance of both leaders’ names is linked to the rather odd appearance of asda, and supermarket – both of which appear on the right of our cloud – as the supermarket’s Ardrossan branch was the site of a clash between the two parties.

    Both men were campaigning in Ardrossan last night, when Iain Gray and his campaign team stopped at an Asda supermarket to pick up some provisions on the way to a public meeting in Ardrossan Civic Centre.

    Unbeknown to them, Alex Salmond was campaigning in the same supermarket – but Labour claim that he was ushered up the aisles and kept shielded from Mr Gray.

    Scottish Labour Leader Iain Gray said:

    “If I’d have known Alex Salmond was there, I’d have gone up and asked him why he is hiding his date for an independence referendum. Sadly he was kept well hidden until I’d left.”

    The SNP tell it differently, claiming that it was Iain Gray, not Mr Salmond who fled the store after being approached by the local newspaper.

    SNP campaign manager Angus Robertson commented on footage taken by Kevin Paterson, reporting for the Ardrossan Herald, which shows Iain Gray leaving the store, turning to avoid an SNP activist and ignoring a question from someone in the shop asking “are you not hanging about?”

    Mr Roberston said:

    “This footage makes an absolute mockery of the claims in a Labour press release issued this morning and raises serious questions about the negativity, dirty tricks and misinformation at the heart of Labour’s “re-launched” campaign.”

    Mr Gray’s comment referred to Labour’s call for the SNP to name the date of their proposed referendum on independence. The Scottish Labour leader called for the SNP to reveal their date saying:

    “Don’t hide your plan for independence. Tell Scotland the date you want to hold the referendum and tell us today.

    “Don’t hide behind the pathetic excuse that it would be a ‘mistake’ to reveal the date you already know. If Labour forms the next government, we will not be distracted by a constant campaign to break up the UK. It will be jobs, jobs, jobs and jobs again.”

    Services, local and communities appear as Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Tavish Scott joined Alison Hay, Scottish Liberal Democrat candidate for Argyll and Bute and Alan Reid, Liberal Democrat MP for Argyll and Bute at Connel post office in Oban to campaign on the party’s plan to continue the Post Office Diversification Fund.

    Commenting, Tavish Scott said:

    “The Connel post office is a local store, cafe, paper shop and a post office. We want to see more post offices growing their businesses and cementing their place at their heart of their local community.

    “They are a genuine lifeline for many vulnerable and older people in particular. We need to protect these services.”

    Scottish Greens dismissed this claim, however, pointing to the privatisation of Royal Mail being championed by Vince Cable.

    Legislation to enable Royal Mail to be privatised is just weeks away from completing its passage through Westminster. Greens argue that the Royal Mail is a vital public service that should stay in public hands.

    Patrick Harvie, the Greens’ top candidate in Glasgow, said:

    “It’s bare-faced cheek for Liberal Democrats to be posing outside post offices pretending to care about them while Uncle Vince in Westminster is getting ready to sell off the Royal Mail for a short-term profit. It’s time for the Lib Dems to understand that we are talking about a genuine public service, not just some indistinguishable commercial operation, and that if they had any principles whatsoever they’d be opposing these daft plans.”

    Also campaigning for better local services, Scottish Conservatives unveiled plans for another round of town centre regeneration funding, totalling £140m over the course of the next Scottish parliament.

    In the last parliament, Scottish Conservatives delivered a £60m Town Centre Regeneration Fund, which benefited communities the length and breadth of Scotland.

    Speaking from Peterhead Harbour in Banffshire & Buchan Coast, where she was joined by local candidate Michael Watt, Annabel Goldie, Scottish Conservative leader, said:

    “Scottish Conservatives pledged a Town Centre Regeneration Fund in our last manifesto and we delivered. We delivered £60m of help to town centres and high streets across Scotland, despite Labour and the Lib Dems trying to vote it down.

    “That is real help in these tough times and, because we have taken difficult decisions, we can do more to boost local economies and give people more pride in their community.”

    Iona Abbey cloisters <em>Picture: David P Howard</em>

    Iona Abbey cloisters Picture: David P Howard

    The Caledonian Mercury has invited some of those in the election firing-line to send regular bulletins about the personal side of campaigning. Alison Hay is the Scottish Liberal Democrat candidate for Argyll and Bute.

      This week sees me continuing my “overseas” travel, interspersed with some council business but with ramifications on the campaign.

      Monday 18 April
      What a beautiful Monday morning – where better to be than on a CalMac ferry heading to the Island of Bute, the shortest crossing in Scotland from Colintraive to Rhubodach, time roughly ten minutes.

      I have a date with Bute FM at 10am. They‘re asking all candidates the same question: why should the people of Bute vote for them? Easy question, how long have your listeners got?

      In the evening it was the Bute hustings, and with Argyll and Bute council proposing to put North Bute primary school out to formal consultation the evening looked set to be a bit of a bumpy ride for yours truly – as it turned out to be. The SNP education minister denying he had interfered with the process and me saying he had, entertainment for all.

      Tuesday 19 April
      Education meeting at the council, where the council decides to put 11 schools out to formal consultation – a 12-hour meeting which ended at 10:55pm. Not a good day and all councillors very unhappy to be in this situation, but the education department needs to take its share of the pain of the cuts.

      Wednesday 20 April
      Today I’m stuck at my computer writing answers to questions from the Oban Times, the Argyllshire Advertiser and the Campbeltown Courier. Don’t these journalists realise I’ve got an election to win?

      I just make the deadline with two minutes to spare, raised blood pressure all round. In the evening off to Oban for a visit to Atlantis Leisure, Oban’s swimming and sports facility. I’m there for the opening of the new children’s soft-play area, a great success.

      Thursday 21 April
      Back on the high seas again, this time to Mull and Iona. This evening in Craignure, where Lesley Riddoch will host the Mull hustings, and before that Alan Reid MP, Tony my campaign manager and I have a great day. I meet an old friend on Iona who takes me round and I spend time speaking to the Mull and Iona Community Trust and seeing round their new community and charity shop and centre.

      The hustings evening went better than I feared: the issues discussed were sustaining rural communities and infrastructure, eg roads, health care, fairer ferry fares and inevitably schools.

      Friday 22 April
      Weather continues to be bright and sunny, Argyll and Bute at its best, no midges yet! I caught the 8:45am boat back to Oban and drove home. I have to be at Auchindrain museum today for the opening of the refurbished tearoom and visitor centre.

      The museum is taking down a tattered old saltire flag and replacing it with a new one. The old one is being respectfully folded and cremated. The new tearoom looks fantastic and the museum is now set for a good summer.

      Saturday 23 April
      Went with my husband to Bridge of Orchy to knock on some doors. Bridge of Orchy is tiny and is at the extreme edge of the constituency, and is often forgotten about. I think it important to try and visit every town and village at least once, and the towns more than once, during the election. It’s amazing the number of times people have said to me “You’re the first candidate we’ve seen”. As it’s Easter weekend, I’m having this evening off to visit relatives in Taynuilt.

      Only ten days to go and the pace is hotting up. Next week Oban, Mid-Argyll, hustings in Dunoon on Tuesday evening, across the seas to Islay and Jura with a hustings on Islay on Thursday evening, back to Tarbert, finishing the week back in Dunoon on the Saturday. I’ll write again on Sunday next.

      Want to discuss other issues? Join the debate on our new Scottish Voices forum

      A polling station signSo Gordon Brown has done it: we’re off. The election countdown has begun and there are just 29 days left to win the election.

      When the polls close in just over a month some political careers will be broken and others will be just beginning. But what will have happened in Scotland?

      Labour is defending 39 of Scotland’s 59 seats, the Liberal Democrats 12, the SNP seven and the Tories just one.

      The most likely outcome after 6 May is that the overall picture will remain pretty much as it is now. Labour will end up with the most seats, by a comfortable majority and the other parties will battle it out for the rest.

      That simple assessment, however, glosses over a great many individual constituency battles which could determine, not just who ends up in Downing Street, but the shape of Scottish politics for years to come.

      The Conservatives haven’t had more than one seat since their Scottish wipe-out in 1997, but they will be hoping for more this time (their current seat is Dumfriesshire, Clydesdale and Tweeddale).

      If they can win three or four seats in Scotland, it would start to put them back on an electoral map they have been all but absent from for a long time.

      Not only that, but with the UK majority for either of the big parties possibly going to be in single figures, those three or four seats could make all the difference to David Cameron’s chances of success.

      The SNP goes into the election with a target of 20 seats made by Alex Salmond. This is very ambitious for a party which only has seven MPs and which never does as well in Westminster elections as it does at Holyrood.

      The Nationalists are also in danger of losing at least one of their existing MPs and, if they do, they will need to make significant progress elsewhere just to get into double figures.

      The Liberal Democrats always seem to buck the poll findings at Westminster elections. The polls say the Lib Dems are going to get squeezed by the two big parties but the likelihood is that they will hang on to most, if not all, of their existing constituencies simply because they have cultivated such healthy personal votes in their areas.

      As for Labour, the party has most to lose as it is defending so many seats in Scotland, and while it may lose a few, it is difficult to see its traditional vote crumbling to any great extent. The chances are high that the block of Labour seats from west and central Scotland will arrive in the Commons again in 30 days’ time.

      But there are a number of interesting battlegrounds. Here are just a few of them:

      Edinburgh South. This is a genuine three-way marginal. Labour hold the seat with a majority of just 405 over the Liberal Democrats. The Tories are in third but believe they have jumped ahead of the Liberal Democrats to become the main challengers to Labour. With sitting MP Nigel Griffiths standing down as the candidate just a few weeks ago, this has left Labour with problems and a new candidate in Ian Murray.

      This could go to any of the three parties, Labour, Lib Dem or Tory.

      Dunfermline and West Fife. This is a Liberal Democrat-held seat, won by Willie Rennie in a 2006 by-election. He has had four years to embed himself in the community and Liberal Democrats tend to do that very well. There have been off-the-record suggestions, however, from both Labour and the Liberal Democrats that Labour may be about to take this seat back. On a recent flying visit to Scotland, Nick Clegg, the Liberal Democrat leader, was preparing to change his itinerary at the last minute to go to Dunfermline.

      That might not mean anything but at this stage, when everyone in looking for signs, that is not a particularly encouraging one for the Liberal Democrats.

      Glasgow East. This was another by-election loss for Labour, with John Mason winning this seat for the SNP in 2008. The Nationalists have been talking up Mr Mason’s chances of hanging on in this traditional Labour area but Labour strategists are confident of taking it back, particularly with local MSP and strong candidate Margaret Curran contesting the seat for Labour.

      Perth and North Perthshire. This was won by the SNP’s Pete Wishart at the last election thanks mainly to the Nationalist vote in urban Perth beating the Tory vote in rural Perthshire. The Tories believe this is a seat they can win and will be hoping that many of their former supporters, who used to vote Conservative before 1997, will return and giving them the chance of ousting Mr Wishart.

      Argyll and Bute. Liberal Democrat Alan Reid won this constituency in 2005 but the SNP believes it can take it this time, particularly as the Nationalists won the roughly equivalent seat for Holyrood in 2007. As with most rural island seats, local issues could predominate here – an area of strength for both the Libs and the Nats. This could be a close one.