General Election voting system is not fit for purpose – Liberal Democrats

28th August 2017

The voting system used at the recent General Election is broken beyond repair, according to local Liberal Democrats. Local Party spokesperson Ellen Bryson said the First past the Post system used for Westminster elections was a ‘democratic disaster’ and distorted the way elections operated in Britain.

Mrs. Bryson’s comments followed the publication of a highly critical Report on the 2017 General Election by the Electoral Reform Society which found that the result did not accurately represent how electors voted, distorted the result in all 4 nations of the UK, failed to produce a decisive winner (for the third election in a row) and was more akin to a lottery than a democratic election in a modern European democracy.

In Scotland there were huge changes in 2017, both in vote shares and in representation. The winner in most seats got less than 40% of the vote – such as in Rutherglen & Hamilton West where, as in many seats, the majority was less than 1,000. The worst example was North East Fife where the Liberal Democrats missed victory by only 2 votes.

Ellen Bryson said –

“The United Kingdom is literally the only country in the whole of Europe to use the First Past the Post voting system. The ERS Report shows it is not fit for purpose. It is arbitrary, encourages negative tactical voting, often produces the wrong result and grossly over-represents or under-represents the various political parties, not just across the United Kingdom but within each of Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and England.

In Scotland the SNP lost 21 seats  in June – but still got far more seats than they deserved on their vote share. Both Labour and the Tories were under represented in Scotland in 2017.

Across the UK as a whole, the Tories were over represented by far while the Liberal Democrats, Greens and UKIP all should have been entitled to more seats based on their vote share. In the case of the Liberal Democrats, they have been grossly under represented at every election for the last 60 years.

The results of this electoral lottery are far reaching – there would almost certainly have been no disastrous Brexit referendum under a more proportional election system; quite probably there would have been no Conservative Prime Minister in any of the last 3 elections while, in Scotland, the nonsense of the SNP winning every seat bar 3 in 2015 could not have happened.

Liberal Democrats are clear that the British general election voting system is discredited beyond repair – it is time to replace it with a proportional system like STV (single transferable vote) which gives the power to the voters, produces a fair result based on votes cast, encourages positive voting and is democratic. It is a serious matter indeed when our Parliament does not properly represent the public.”

South Lanarkshire Local Plan

21st August 2017 – Reformer Guest article

The most contentious political issues are often planning matters – the best use of land to enhance and protect local communities while providing the facilities that communities need but don’t necessarily want on their doorsteps. New housing is a prime example.

From 1999-2008, the supply of new housing in Scotland hovered around 25,000-28,000 houses a year. After the financial crash – and the advent of the SNP government – this crashed throughout the last 10 years to around 15,000-18,000 houses a year. Now we need to increase house building to meet population changes – and experts agree that, in particular, we need around 12,000 council and Housing association houses for rent. South Lanarkshire plans to build 1,000 socially rented houses by 2021 – and space has to be found for this and for perhaps twice as many houses for sale.

So it is not surprising that publication of the Main Issues Report 2017 for the South Lanarkshire Local Plan has again raised the thorny issue of preservation of the Greenbelt amidst fears that Rutherglen and Cambuslang could soon be a continuous urban area with East Kilbride. Locally, sites at East Farm, Cambuslang, Newhouse Farm, Newton and Duchess Road, Farme Cross are suggested as suitable for housing on top of existing locations like the remaining sites in Fernhill.

In the past – for example in Drumsagard and Newton – there has been a bad mismatch between the arrival of new houses and the necessary community facilities like shops, restaurants, schools, transport, community hall and play facilities that support them.

Greenbelt provides the “green lung” for urban areas as well as helping to provide a more balanced environment for us all. So the public interest requires a stringent approach to land supply.

The approach should include:

  1. Delivering the land supply for the necessary homes needed
  2. Presumption in favour of retaining current Greenbelt land
  3. Priority for building on unused brownfield sites
  4. Early provision of schools, shops and community facilities
  5. Availability of public transport links
  6. Supporting existing town centres and local shops

There is much to consider as the new Local Plan is developed.

SNP Government are using “industrial scale evasion” to thwart Freedom of Information laws

14th August 2017

A call for an enquiry into the operation of the Freedom of Information legislation and what has been described as the “problem of industrial scale evasion” by the SNP government has come from the Liberal Democrats.

The call from the Party comes after countless complaints from journalists, opposition parties, the independent Information Commissioner and open access campaigners about the Scottish Government’s adherence to freedom of information laws. Criticisms include failing to reply to requests, late responses, minutes of meetings not being taken so they can’t be released and special advisors becoming involved in assessing the responses collated by expert civil servants “for accuracy”.

Rutherglen Liberal Democrat Councillor Robert Brown said:

“Robust freedom of information arrangements are vital in any true democracy – but they can be thwarted by a government that wants to manipulate it. Liberal Democrats introduced the Freedom of Information Act in Scotland when we were in Government in Holyrood and it blew a wind of change through attitudes to public information. Indeed it was one of the major achievements of the Scottish Parliament and I was very pleased as an MSP at that time to help to bring it in.

However the regular evasion and shilly shallying by the Scottish government since the SNP came to power is entirely unacceptable and it is time for a full independent review. The lack of timeous release of information frustrates investigative journalism and hides Important information that the public should know about and which the Scottish government would prefer they didn’t know about.”

Robert Brown – New study shows Brexit will damage Rutherglen & Cambuslang

28th July 2017

Rutherglen Liberal Democrat Councillor Robert Brown claimed today that Rutherglen and Cambuslang would be hard hit by Brexit, after a new study showed that Scottish cities would be damaged by the likely downturn in trade after the United Kingdom leaves the European Union, regardless of whether it was a so called “hard” Brexit or a “soft” Brexit

The study published this week by the think tank Centre for Cities and the Centre for Economic Performance (CEP) at the London School of Economics analysed for the first time the potential impact of both a ‘hard’ and ‘soft’ Brexit on British cities in the ten years following the implementation of new trade arrangements with the EU. Glasgow, Aberdeen, Edinburg, and Dundee were within 50 areas likely to be worst hit regardless of a soft or hard Brexit.

The research also showed that all British cities were set to see a fall in economic output as a result of leaving the EU, because of the predicted increase in trade costs that both a ‘hard’ and ‘soft’ Brexit will bring. The economic impact will be almost twice as big in the event of a ‘hard’ Brexit, which the research predicts will bring an average 2.3% reduction in economic output across all UK cities – compared to a ‘soft’ Brexit, which will result in a 1.2% decrease.

Robert Brown said:

“Rutherglen and Cambuslang cannot afford this sort of damage to our businesses and jobs. While this important and worrying Report is focused on cities, we know that communities like Rutherglen and Cambuslang are within the economic orbit of Glasgow and affected for better or for worse by the economic performance of the city. Many people who live here have jobs with companies in Glasgow

This report shows that a Brexit, whether soft, hard or multi-coloured will have a significant negative impact on Glasgow along with the other major cities across Scotland – and so on Rutherglen and Cambuslang too.

Both the Scottish and UK economies are struggling at present and we need to build that strength not take it away. Theresa May and Ruth Davidson and their Tory Government cannot just waive these numbers away.

The time is coming soon when the public will demand a rethink on Brexit. People last year did not vote to make themselves poorer. The question on the ballot paper was not whether we wanted to destroy our economy and the prosperity of our cities.

This is why Liberal Democrats want to give the people a chance to exit from Brexit with a vote on the deal when it is known. This is the right and democratic thing to do.”

Local Liberal Democrats welcome new Party Leader

24th July 2017

Local Liberal Democrats have welcomed Vince Cable as the new Liberal Democrat leader. Rutherglen Councillor Robert Brown commented that Vince Cable had the standing and experience to make sure the Liberal message was strongly heard, not least on the way forward on Europe.

Vince Cable was at one time a Labour Councillor in Glasgow – he is therefore well placed to attract support across the political spectrum.

Robert Brown said:

“Vince Cable has predicted that Brexit may not happen and that he wants to offer “an exit from Brexit”. It is increasingly clear that the whole sorry Brexit process is a slow-moving car-crash and that it is time to think again.

We have the unprecedented situation of an incompetent Conservative Prime Minister and government who seem incapable of negotiating with the European Union – and a Labour Opposition leader who has totally lost the plot. Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour Party have given the Tories a blank cheque on a hard Brexit. I cannot recall a time when the Opposition on the key issue of the day was so pathetic.

Vince Cable and the Liberal Democrats offer a different future and I think we will be joined by quite a few Labour and Tory MPs looking for a way out of the mess as the Brexit negotiation plunges onwards and downwards.

I welcome the letter last week from senior figures across Scottish politics, business, academia and the arts calling for a halt to Brexit. Liberal Democrats have argued all along that Theresa May will never be able to get a deal for Britain outside the EU as good as the one we now have as members of the European Union. This is one of many signs that public opinion is turning against Brexit.”

Robert Brown expresses concerns about proposed Rutherglen house building sites

21st July 2017

Commenting on the Local Plan Main Issues Report in connection with the 3 East Farm sites, Rutherglen South Liberal Democrat Councillor Robert Brown said:

“I am unenthusiastic about these proposals. A growing population means there is a need for new housing but it is preferable if this is located on brownfield sites wherever possible.

Like many local people, I am also concerned about further erosion of the Green belt and of agricultural land around Rutherglen.

These 3 sites are substantial, catering for about 300 houses in all. The only realistic access is onto Cathkin Road which is narrow, winding and overgrown with a difficult exit at the bottom. The Report says “access from Cathkin Road is achievable” which is hardly an overwhelming recommendation. I am not convinced that cars for 300 houses coming out on to an unsuitable country road is ideal. There are already safety ssues at the junction with the Inchmurrin estate further up.

The Report points out that there are issues with services, and indeed with school capacity – and everyone knows the amount of water that pours off the Cathkin Braes in winter.

I think these sites will prove pretty controversial.”

Burnside RBS Closure is “A significant hammer blow to the local Community” – Robert Brown

14th July 2017

The confirmation from Royal Bank of Scotland that their Burnside branch is to close on 12th October is “a significant hammer blow to the local community”, according to Rutherglen South Liberal Democrat Councillor Robert Brown who represents the area.

Robert Brown said:

“The Royal Bank seem to have forgotten that personal customers, local businesses and local Voluntary Sector groups are their base, as they have been for several hundred years.

It is the Bank that had to be bailed out by the public after the financial crash – and indeed is still part owned by us – because the greed of its top management almost collapsed the UK economy.

It does not look as if RBS are even yet focusing on their local customer base or thinking in terms of providing the services that people want.

Burnside branch is a busy branch- there are usually customers in it, whatever the time of day. In Burnside, many customers are older and less keen on using online banking facilities – they prefer a more personal service. Local businesses too need a facility to receive cash taken in by their business. I have always supported the role of the Post Office and Royal Mail but the Post Office facilities are not a satisfactory alternative.

When the closure was proposed, I asked RBS to reconsider but I also suggested to them that they might look at the option of sharing public access facilities with the other Banks which could save them some money whilst still providing public access banking arrangements to Burnside customers. Unfortunately this was rejected – indeed their first letter was clearly a standard reply and I had to contact them again for a proper reply.

It seems to me quite obvious that the so called consultation was never intended as anything other than a box ticking exercise.”

Full Report promised on Cathkin Relief Road situation

1st July 2017

A full report on the implications of the collapse of Land Engineering, the contractors on the Cathkin Relief Road, has been promised by South Lanarkshire Council, following a demand by Rutherglen South Liberal Democrat Councillor Robert Brown. Land Engineering went into administration at the end of May following the completion of the road construction but leaving a number of landscape and other aspects unfinished.

Robert Brown said:

“The contract for the Cathkin Relief Road involved Land Engineering being responsible for finishing off the landscape work and, crucially, maintaining the landscaped areas in a decent condition for 5 years afterwards. Clearly, with the firm going into administration, this is all up in the air.

It is clear that there are still a lot of loose ends to be finalised. The grassed areas leave a good bit to be desired, there are areas which need to be cleared of stones and leveled off and there are poor finishes in some parts along the outside of the project. There are other individual issues, some resurfacing of neighbouring roads and some community benefit promises to be taken forward such as the path through the wood from Glenfarg to Hillhead Avenue. On top of that, there is the complex issue of maintaining the landscape, cutting the grass, replacing and maintaining bushes and bringing some landscape area up to scratch. The Council’s own Land Services are doing some work on temporary maintenance but that needs to be put on a proper basis as soon as possible.

I also want to see the precise financial position – how much has been kpt for retentions, what is the financial impact of the 5 year maintenance arrangement, have we lost any money due to the administration and so on.

The Chief Executive, at my request, promised an early report on all this and I am sure the local community will be keen to know the position too as soon as possible. I hope the promised Report will at least focus the key issues and provide a plan going forward.”

Local Plans for deprived areas a shambles – Robert Brown

1st July 2017

40% of Rutherglen zones and 20% of Cambuslang areas are identified as being in the most needy areas of South Lanarkshire for deprivation and inequality. And Rutherglen South, Rutherglen Central and North, Cambuslang East and Cambuslang West are amongst 9 Neighbourhood Planning Areas proposed for particular action in a report to the Council’s Executive Committee on Wednesday.

But the Council proposals for the future of community planning in these areas received a rough passage at the Council’s Executive Committee on Wednesday.

Rutherglen Liberal Democrat Councillor Robert Brown described the proposals as being like a “mint with a hole in the middle” because there was no plan for how things would work in the local area or how local communities would be consulted or involved. Other Councillors attacked the lack of consideration given to poverty in rural areas.

Under severe pressure from Opposition Councillors, the SNP administration agreed to set up a Working Group to examine the arrangements.

Robert Brown said:

“I thought this huge 80 page Report largely missed the point and missed out almost entirely how Locality Plans would work and how the local community would be involved. To be honest, it was a bit of a shambles.

Everyone agrees that there are significant areas of multiple deprivation, not least in the Rutherglen and Cambuslang areas, which need extra action to give people more opportunities, to boost employment and family incomes and to tackle the many aspects of multiple deprivation.

The problem was that the Council have been told by the Scottish government to produce Locality Plans on far too tight a timetable and without any review of how it all fits with existing arrangements. My personal view is that the Rutherglen and Cambuslang Area Committee and the other Area Committees should be given more powers, the successful Neighbourhood Management Boards in areas like Cathkin and Fernhill should be built on, and other arrangements like the Housing Forums should be reviewed to ensure a wider public involvement and a closer link with the Area Committee.

I hope the Working Group which has now been agreed will look at all this and come up with some decent arrangements.”

Liberal Democrats welcome Frank’s Law to support free personal care for under 65s

1st July 2017

Proposals being put forward in a Member’s Bill in the Scottish Parliament to provide free personal care for people under 65 with a serious degenerative illness have been welcomed by local Liberal Democrats.

Rutherglen Liberal Democrat Councillor Robert Brown said that Liberal Democrats in the Scottish Parliament had been key to delivering free personal care for over-65s – but that it was now urgent to extend this to the smaller number of people under 65 who were in similar need.

The proposed legislation is known as Frank’s Law as a result of a campaign by Amada Kopel whose husband Frank – a former Dundee United footballer- was diagnosed with dementia when he was 59.

Robert Brown said:

“There is some way to go on this yet. I understand the Members’ Bill has the support of all Parties except the SNP. However the Scottish Health Secretary has promised a review over the summer and I hope this will prove positive. Liberal Democrats passed a motion at our last Conference in favour of Frank’s Law and it is supported by the Tories and Labour in Edinburgh.

Frank’s Law aims to end the situation where people under 65 who have conditions such as dementia, motor neurone disease, Parkinson’s, multiple sclerosis and cancer have to pay for the care they need. The situation of people under 65 with degenerative illnesses like this is tragic and difficult and there is no obvious reason why they should not receive the support that others get. The pressures if you have dementia or MND for example are the same whether you are 55 or 75.”