Ms McAlpine contrasted the Scottish Government’s record of investment in the region with decades of Westminster neglect – and the failure of the UK government to secure a good settlement for Scotland’s farmers in the new EU CAP deal.
The SNP MSP commented:
“The recent visit to the region by the Westminster Select Committee on Scottish Affairs is a politically motivated publicity stunt. Unlike the Scottish cabinet meetings in Selkirk, Hawick and Stranraer, the committee was not open to the public, just pre selected guests. Why do unionist Westminster MP’s suddenly have an interest in the south of Scotland two months before a vote on Scottish Independence? This visit was simply another demonstration of solidarity by the Labour Tory Liberal anti independence pact.”
“The problems of people in southern Scotland: low wages, high fuel and household heating costs, cuts to welfare and tax credits, terrible broadband and mobile connectivity, poor access to small business finance via the banks and the worst CAP payments in Europe are all areas of policy reserved to the Westminster government. What are these MPs going to do about that?”
“If the Scottish Parliament controlled these areas of policy, and had control of our country’s vast wealth, we could tackle these issues as a priority. Instead of having the lowest per hectare CAP payments in Europe an independent Scotland would be €1 billion better off.”
“The Scottish Parliament under the SNP has shown it understands rural Scotland and has done its best with the limited powers we have at our disposal. A council tax freeze has ensured that the one household bill controlled from Scotland doesn’t rise. We have continued free personal care for the elderly and free bus travel as well as scrapping tuition fees and prescription charges. All these things mean families in Southern Scotland are better off than their friends and neighbours across the border at a time of rising living costs.”
Ms McAlpine pointed out that because telecommunications are regulated by Westminster, broadband and mobile developments favour high density urban areas. More than half of Scotland’s land mass has been left with no 3G access as a result, and broadband is patchy.
Ms Mcalpine said:
“The Scottish parliament has no powers in this area but the SNP government still found the money to address Westminster’s rural connectivity failure. Last year for example the Scottish Government stepped in to announce a massive £264 million investment in high speed broadband which aims to connect 95% of properties by the end of 2017 – a policy which has already benefitted 120,000 homes and businesses in the south of Scotland. But if Westminster had forced the telecommunication companies to pay attention to rural areas in the first place, the south of Scotland would have been connected long ago.”
Ms McAlpine said the area’s poor transport connections were a result of years of under investment by Westminster before the Scottish Parliament opened in 1999. Progress had been made since then, but was hampered because the Scottish Parliament does not have the borrowing powers needed to invest in infrastructure.
“David Cameron can announce a high speed rail link to London costing £50billion that stops in the Midlands because he has those powers. The Scottish parliament simply has no access to that kind of money. It must find the investment for road and rail improvement from a fixed grant decided in Westminster. That fixed grant to Scotland has seen an 11% real terms and a huge 26% cut in capital thanks to the Tory Liberal coalition.”
“Even when new borrowing powers are introduced they are far too limited. Scotland needs full control of its finances.”
Ms McAlpine pointed out that the SNP was investing in the south despite cuts in its grant from London. She pointed to the SNP stepping in to save Dumfries’s Crichton campus, upgrading the A75, completing the Borders Railway the commitment to the new Dumfries hospital plus local health centres and more than doubling the number of Modern Apprenticeships across the south.
Ms McAlpine also pointed out that the SNP had devolved decision-making about economic development from the government agency Scottish Enterprise to local councils such as Dumfries and Galloway and Borders.
She warned that the select committee may have mislead the public by claiming the South of Scotland could access more European funds by working with councils in the North of England.
“The EU does make funds available for cross border projects, but these are mainly for projects involving different independent countries. Therefore we need to vote Yes in September to make the most of these cross border funds.”
And she warned of the consequences of voting no:
“According to the UK Government another £25 billion cuts have still to come – while Labour promise to be even tougher than the Tories. That will hit families in the south of Scotland and take funds out of the local economy. One thing is clear – these cuts will go ahead whatever party is in power at Westminster and the only way to stop this is to vote Yes in September and hand control of Scotland’s future back to the people who live here.”
South of Scotland MSP Joan McAlpine has slammed Westminster policies that damage the south of Scotland and said a visit to the region by a committee of the House of Commons was an politically motivated publicity stunt.