A week at Westminster with Gordon MP Malcolm Bruce

Single police force too remote from us

As a Westminster MP I have watched the process of creating a single Scottish police force with dismay and some alarm. Here in the North East we have had in Grampian Police a force which has coped well with its responsibilities for protecting the Royal family and the North Sea along with effective community policing in the City and Shire.

Whatever issues there may have been, strategic decisions and accountability have been contained and determined locally.

Now all of that will change as the overall strategic direction will be determined in the central belt by police officers under more direct political control than ever before.

There may have been a case for more strategic co-ordination within the police and even for the merging of some forces but the centralising tendency of the Scottish Government looks more and more like control-freakery.

I am glad my Liberal Democrat colleagues in Holyrood opposed this move constructively but remain disappointed that other parties, especially Labour, went along with it. The North East needs representatives who will speak up for our area rather than just be the voice of Government to our area.

Curriculum for excellence in crisis

With three children in Aberdeenshire schools and as a regular visitor to schools right across Gordon, I am well aware of how much work is going into the development of the Curriculum for Excellence.

It is, therefore a matter of concern that there is growing uncertainty about the lack of preparedness for exams in the new curriculum with some state schools sticking with some of the current exam options and some private schools opting for the English curriculum.

Of more concern is the suggestion that far from broadening pupil choice it is narrowing their options, which has always been the criticism levelled at the English curriculum.

It does make you wonder what ministers and officials have been doing to allow this to develop at such a late stage. Curriculum for Excellence was launched years ago with support across the spectrum but it is essential that today’s secondary pupils are not the victims of a botched experiment.

BA and Virgin confused over landing slots

Having raised concerns about the threat to landing slots for Aberdeen flights into Heathrow posed by the potential takeover of BMI by British Airways, I took my concerns to Secretary of State for Scotland, Michael Moore, along with my colleague Sir Robert Smith.

The takeover is being challenged under competition rules at both UK and European levels with rival bidders Virgin claiming that BA paid over the odds for anti competitive reasons.

However, it has raised further concerns with me that both have chosen to give interviews to local North East media claiming that the landing slots would be safe in their hands.

The trouble is that both have said that the combined nine daily slots from Aberdeen to Heathrow would be protected. This might be reassuring if it were not for the fact that there are currently twelve flights a day from Aberdeen to Heathrow rising to thirteen when the summer timetable comes in.

I have written to both airlines to seek clarification and assurance.

Work experience companies bullied

I am frankly surprised that some of the companies engaged in the Government’s work experience programme have allowed themselves to be bullied into reviewing their participation. Former Marks and Spencer boss Stuart Rose rightly called on them to show some backbone.

It seems perfectly reasonable to offer young people the opportunity to gain some basic experience of working while seeking employment and still claiming and receiving benefits. In some cases it may lead to a job but, even if it does not it will enhance any CV to show application.

Of course, such jobs often offer fairly basic work but most of us have done this at some time in our lives and it certainly does no harm for future high flyers to have such basic experience.

If these companies, feel that to offer work experience without payment is somehow wrong and demeaning then I would suggest that they should not withdraw from the programme but offer to pay those on their work placements at least the minimum wage.

Devo Plus route to federalism, not break up

I welcome the launch of a new campaign led by former Liberal Democrat MSP, Jeremy Purvis, one of Scotland’s brightest young politicians. Called Devo Plus the idea is to allocate to the Scottish Government a sufficient share of the taxes raised in Scotland to fund the responsibilities devolved.

This looks to me like the beginnings of an approach to a federal settlement which I have always supported not least because it takes an objective and sensible look at what is best devolved, shared or reserved. It gives Scotland a high degree of control over domestic affairs, sufficient autonomy to manage them and proper accountability for their stewardship.

I’ve been amazed at how many people of every age and gender have expressed astonishment in recent weeks that we could be threatening to break up of the UK. Most people seem to have a strong sense of their Scottishness but recognise how much we hold in common with the rest of the UK – i.e. their Britishness.

The debate needs to be serious and every possibility should be thoroughly considered. I remain convinced we need to resolve as soon as possible whether the majority of people, in Scotland want to stay in the UK or breakaway. If we choose to stay, as I hope we will, then ideas like Devo Plus show how the UK can continue to offer a dynamic future for Scotland.

Scotland really try but not enough

I shared the frustration as part of a crowd of more than 64,000 at Murrayfield that Scotland, in spite of some determined and enterprising play that yielded two good tries could not manage to do quite enough to beat France.

I was there with my two sons on what is becoming an annual pilgrimage since my elder son settled in Edinburgh. My nine year old saw them beat Italy last year but sadly did not see a repeat result against France.

Our seats seemed to be surrounded by French supporters who sang the Marseillaise with gusto (what a fine anthem that is) and were good hearted in victory.

Scotland has nothing to show for its participation in the Six Nations so far but this was an entertaining match in which Scotland showed real potential – though the press were less forgiving.