This year’s Budget Statement managed to keep people guessing for the first time in some years, as pre-briefing to the media was kept to a minimum.
I was delighted that the Coalition Government was able to confirm the key Liberal Democrat commitment to increase the income tax threshold again to £10,500 - in effect securing a tax cut of £800 for workers during this Parliament and taking many lower earners out of paying income tax altogether.
This together with another Liberal Democrat flagship policy of childcare support for working parents will be welcome news for those trying to manage household budgets.
There was good news for Scottish distilleries too with a freeze on the duty on spirits and the scrapping of the duty escalator on spirits which increased duty by 2% above the rate of RPI every year since 2008.
Given that the escalator was thought to have contributed significantly to the dramatic downturn of whisky sales in the domestic market to the tune of 16 million bottles in the last five years, I had campaigned for it to be scrapped and think it was the right move to support an important Scottish business sector given the Scotch Whisky Industry supports 35,000 jobs across the country.
The boost to pensioners in allowing people to choose how to spend their pension pot instead of being forced to buy poor value annuities and giving people over 65 attractive returns on savings bonds should also prove very welcome.
Advantages of being in Europe ring true
As a committed European I am happy to support the UK’s continued membership of the EU and as a Liberal Democrat I am proud to be in the ‘Party of In’.
The Nick versus Nigel debates when Nick Clegg goes head to head with Nigel Farage on radio and television ahead of the European elections should prove interesting and will provide what I think is a rare opportunity, given the current media climate, to promote the many benefits of EU membership.
One such benefit was highlighted recently by Scottish MEP George Lyon who with his Liberal Democrat colleagues secured a European Parliament amendment calling for the abolition of mobile roaming charges which has a significant impact on tourists and businesses alike trying to stay connected when abroad.
Together with another mobile phone announcement - that the EU has passed rules ensuring greater compatibility of all new electronic devices on the EU market by requiring them to be compatible with a universal charger – this is another welcome victory for European consumers and one that could not realistically have been won without the collective clout of the EU.
Kintore station delay disappointment
I was disappointed to see the Transport Minister confirm this week that work on opening Kintore railway station will now not start until 2016.
Kintore has grown significantly in recent years, and sorely needs better transport links.
The experience with Laurencekirk shows that when new railway stations are provided, people will make use of them.
Having a station at Kintore would not solve all its transport problems at one fell swoop – but it would at least be a start. Instead, the Scottish Government is sending mixed signals, stating its support for the project, but delaying its delivery.
The Scottish Government seems curiously reluctant to invest in rail in the North East. At the same time, it has announced its intention to develop a high-speed rail link between Glasgow and Edinburgh by 2023 – despite the fact that it is already spending hundreds of millions upgrading the existing infrastructure.
Meanwhile, most of the Aberdeen to Inverness line (and part of the Aberdeen to Edinburgh railway line) is single track. The proposed Crossrail service between Aberdeen and Stonehaven seems to have been similarly shunted into a siding.
A fifth railway line between Edinburgh and Glasgow, or upgrading the single track line between Aberdeen and Inverness? I know which I’d prioritise.
6 Months to the
We are fast approaching the day when the people of Scotland will make the biggest, most important decision in a lifetime – whether to stay in the United Kingdom family, or to break away and go it alone.
The Better Together campaign is seeing strong and increasing support across Gordon.
If you think Scotland is stronger within the UK, I would urge you to get involved with the campaign – there are a wide variety of things you can do to help.
If you are leaning towards voting for separation or if you haven’t yet decided I would urge you to look into the arguments for and against in more depth.
The much-vaunted White Paper raised more questions than it answered.
We have already seen exactly what the SNP thinks about the North-east demonstrated by court cutbacks, the centralisation of our local police and fire services and lack of funding for our infrastructure.
There are real uncertainties in breaking away from the rest of the UK - not least in the currency we would use and our relationship with the EU - and the conditions that might attach.
We have built and operate many great institutions together which I believe the people of Scotland would miss being part of.
Meanwhile, the Liberal Democrats have provided an alternative plan to independence, involving more powers being given to the Scottish Parliament.
This is in my view the best solution which would still allow us to benefit from being part of the United Kingdom.
Gordon schools 175th
I am delighted to be attending the 175th anniversary celebrations of the Gordon Schools in Huntly on Saturday.
The school was, of course, built on land donated by Elizabeth, Duchess of Gordon, as a memorial to her husband, the 5th Duke of Gordon – the last of the Gordon dukes.
Bearing in mind the martial traditions of the Gordons, it is appropriate that the celebrations begin with a parade through the town, themed on the conflicts that have taken place in the 175 years since the school was founded.
Let’s hope that the weather is fine for the day – I know that the pupils (both current and former), teachers, parents, local residents and the community at large will be working hard to make the day a success.