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Archives for May 2009

The Investigation: Languages in schools

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Graham Stewart | 11:00 UK time, Sunday, 31 May 2009


Languages blackboard

Clare English takes a look at the health of language teaching in Scottish schools on Monday's Morning Extra.

As BBC Radio Scotland begins its 30 Days in Europe season, members of Scotland's modern languages community have highlighted the need for better language training for primary school teachers and voiced concerns that young Scots will miss out on opportunities snapped up by their more linguistically competent European counterparts.

I want to hear your experiences of language teaching so do call me if a knowledge of foreign languages has helped you in your business, or if you find it difficult to recruit staff with the appropriate language skills.

I also want to hear from you if you're a teacher. Has the teaching of languages improved over the years, or have we failed to make any significant progress?

You can call me on 0500 92 95 00 from 8am on Monday morning. Or you can leave a comment here.

Call the leaders: Iain Gray

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Graham Stewart | 00:01 UK time, Friday, 29 May 2009


Iain GrayAnother of our party leaders' phone-ins on today's Morning Extra. This time it's your chance to call the Scottish Labour leader Iain Gray.

Once again, it's an open line: so rather than me setting the agenda, you're in control. Maybe you fancy coming on to talk about politicians' expenses, mandatory sentences for knife crimes or an issue in your community, such as the siting of waste incinerators or anti-social behaviour -- it's entirely up to you.

You're welcome to leave questions here on the blog or by filling in the contact form. I can't guarantee I'll put your question to Iain, but if you want to maximise your chances it's always best to phone. Call me on 0500 92 95 00 from 8 am.

On Tuesday it's the turn of the SNP leader, the First Minister Alex Salmond.

Do care homes care about dementia?

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Graham Stewart | 09:36 UK time, Thursday, 28 May 2009


The standard of care offered to thousands of Scots suffering from dementia has fallen seriously short of what should be expected. That's the conclusion of a damning report published by the Care Commission and the Mental Welfare Commission. It highlights concerns that residents in some care homes may be being given drugs illegally concealed in their food in an attempt to make them more manageable.

It's a worrying problem, especially given the projected increase in cases:

Dementia graph

Among the findings in today's report:

* 75% of people were taking "psychoactive" drugs, given for behaviour problems, depression or insomnia.
* Concerns that many people had been on the same medication for long periods with no regular reviews.
* 20 people (1.5%) had been given covert medication. In the nine care homes where this was happening staff didn't know enough about how to do this lawfully and safely.
* Only 24% of people had an adequate record of their life history, a key factor in helping to treat dementia. In one case, the sum total of a person's life history was: 'likes cats; likes milk'.
* Around half of all people never left their care home and not enough people get to take part in activities that reflected their needs or interests.

Care Commission
Download "Remember, I'm Still Me" (2.1MB, PDF), report by the Care Commission/Mental Welfare Commission.

Does North Korea change your view on Britain's nuclear deterrent?

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Graham Stewart | 09:55 UK time, Tuesday, 26 May 2009


North Korean army

Is North Korea's testing of nuclear weapons a good reason for Britain holding on to its nuclear deterrent?

The southeast asian dictatorship announced today that it had carried out its second ever nuclear test — in direct contravention of an international ban. And just before we went on-air this morning, reports suggested North Korea had fired two more missiles.

US President Barack Obama has described the action as a "threat to international peace". The UK Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, said he condemned the test "in the strongest terms" and said it would "undermine prospects for peace on the Korean peninsula".

But with 64 Trident missiles stationed on the Clyde alone — and a commitment to renew these nuclear warheads — are we guilty of hypocrisy? Or does an increasing threat from "rogue" states (as US officials have called North Korea in the past) mean we should be hanging on to our military deterrents?

Q&A: North Korea nuclear test
What are North Korea's motives?
North Korea: engage, appease, oppose? By Paul Reynolds, World affairs correspondent
A guide to North Korea

Should gay clergy be allowed into the ministry?

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Graham Stewart | 09:25 UK time, Monday, 25 May 2009


Anti-gay protestors outside General Assembly of CoS

If you thought Saturday's vote backing the gay minister was the end of the matter, you'd be wrong. Today the Church of Scotland debates its general policy on whether to allow gay clergy into the ministry. And if the debate on today's Morning Extra was anything to go by, both the church and society remain divided on this issue.

The General Assembly debate has been sparked by a motion from the Presbytery of Lochcarron and Skye. They're demanding that the Church of Scotland should not accept anyone to be a minister or a deacon who is involved in a sexual relationship outside of marriage with a man or a woman.

Rev Ian Watson, from the evangelical group Forward Together, which supports the overture says: "What the bible calls for from the very start of creation is that a man and a woman, one man, one woman, should be committed to each other for life and that is where sexual intercourse and expression is best expressed."

On the BBC's Politics Show Scotland, the Reverend Scott Rennie told us he'd been "personally hurt" by the row over his appointment. He says he "felt God's call" to Queen's Cross Parish Church in Aberdeen" and believes there are many other gay ministers in the Church of Scotland. However, they're "caught between a rock and a hard place" because the Kirk doesn't recognise civil partnerships. Changing that attitude, he suggested, may be a way forward. You can watch the full interview on the BBC News website.

Audio/visual links
The Rev Scott Rennie's interview with Glenn Campbell in full
BBC Radio Scotland's series on the Assembly
BBC 2's General Assembly, 2009 programme

Recent stories
Kirk to discuss gay clergy policy (25 May 2009)
Kirk votes to back gay minister (24 May 2009)
Online protest over gay minister (4 May 2009)
Kirk magazine backs gay couples (21 April 2009)

Call the leaders: Annabel Goldie

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Graham Stewart | 00:01 UK time, Friday, 22 May 2009


Annabel GoldieAfter the success of our last party leaders' phone-in, on Friday's Morning Extra it's your chance to call the Scottish Conservatives leader Annabel Goldie.

Once again, it's an open line: so rather than me setting the agenda, you're in control. Maybe you fancy coming on to talk about politicians' expenses, mandatory sentences for knife crimes or an issue in your community, such as the siting of waste incinerators or anti-social behaviour — it's entirely up to you.

You're welcome to leave questions here on the blog or by filling in the contact form. I can't guarantee I'll put your question to Annabel, but if you want to maximise your chances it's always best to phone. Call me on 0500 92 95 00 from 8 am.

Oh, and next Friday it will be turn of Labour's Iain Gray.

Should the Queen invite the BNP to her party?

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Graham Stewart | 10:07 UK time, Thursday, 21 May 2009


Nick Griffin

An elected BNP member has been invited to a Buckingham Palace garden party hosted by the Queen and he intends to bring his party's leader Nick Griffin — a convicted criminal — along with him. Should he be denied this opportunity?

Nick Griffin will accompany Richard Barnbrook, a BNP member of the London Assembly, at the event on 21 July. All members of the Assembly have been invited to the event.

The Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, believes it's a "political stunt" and says that Mar Barnbrook "must either bring a guest who will not provoke political controversy, or consider his invitation rescinded."

In response Mr Barnbrook said: "These things are going to happen more and more as the party goes forward. It is something people are going to have to get used to because if we get elected MEPs, this is the kind of thing we are going to be doing on a regular basis. It is the emergence of a party from beyond the pale to mainstream."

Many of you who contacted today's Morning Extra told me you were disgusted at the party's "racist policies". BNP supporters, however, say they're standing up for Britain's "indigenous population".

However, whatever your views on their policies, should the leader of a party whose members have been democratically elected to positions in many councils be denied an invite to official functions like the Queen's garden party?

British National Party (official site)
HOPE not hate (anti-BNP site)

Relevant news stories:
BNP leader defends policy on race (April 2009)
What's driving the BNP? (March 2009)
EU workers 'no impact' on UK jobs (March 2009)
Hain voices fear over BNP victory (February 2009)
Profile: Nick Griffin (November 2006)
BNP leader cleared of race hate (November 2006)

Is Mr Speaker being made a scapegoat?

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Graham Stewart | 09:50 UK time, Tuesday, 19 May 2009


Michael Martin

UPDATE: The Speaker of the House of Commons is expected to announce his resignation this afternoon.

And that's what we were discussing on today's Morning Extra: is Michael Martin being hounded out by fellow MPs who want to make him a scapegoat, or was his remaining in power undermining the entire instiution of parliament?

Let me know your thoughts on this developing story.

The Investigation: employment agencies

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Graham Stewart | 09:18 UK time, Monday, 18 May 2009


With unemployment at the highest it's been for the last decade, there are thousands of people in the job market at the moment. Many of us will be using agencies to help find work, but what else could you be finding when you send your CV off to an agency?

The Investigation on today's Morning Extra has been uncovering the tricks of the trade used by rogue employment agencies to take advantage of people searching for work. They include advertising fake jobs, failing to check qualifications to work and hefty markups.

They may appear to be victimless scams but industry professionals have told us how they can shatter a job hunter's already fragile confidence.

What has your experience been of employment agencies? Call me now on 0500 92 95 00... or leave your comments here.

Should anyone caught carrying a knife be locked-up?

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Graham Stewart | 09:04 UK time, Friday, 15 May 2009



The Scottish Conservative leader has called for a mandatory two-year jail term for those convicted of knife crime.

Annabel Goldie made the pledge at her party's Scottish conference in Perth.

It was also the subject of heated debate at First Minister's Questions in the Parliament yesterday — as you can hear for yourself on Scotland at Ten's coverage.

Ms Goldie told the First Minister that knife crime in Scotland was now at "epidemic proportions" adding it was "blighting every community in our country". She was joined by the Scottish Labour leader, Iain Gray, who told MSPs that 45% of homicides involved a blade. He also said 71% of convicted "knife thugs" didn't go to prison, while 65% of those who did received terms of less than six months.

However, the First Minister quoted Detective Chief Superintendent John Carnochan of Strathclyde's Violence Reduction Unit who believes that simply sending all offenders to prison isn't the solution. As Mr Carnochan explained on today's Morning Extra, we need to look at the root causes including the culture of alcohol in this country.

We also heard today from John Muir, whose son Damian was murdered in Greenock in 2007 after he was stabbed eight times. Since then he's been campaigning for automatic jail sentences for those caught carrying knifes.

So who's right? Is an automatic prison sentence a proven detterent that would change our knife culture? Or is it just a headline-grabber?

Double standards over MPs expenses?

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Graham Stewart | 10:27 UK time, Tuesday, 12 May 2009


George Foulkes attacks BBC presenter

Have you seen the clip where Lord George Faulkes turned his fire on a BBC News presenter?

The Labour MSP clashed with Carrie Gracie after she asked if MPs who'd abused their expenses should pay the money back. Lord Foulkes told her off for interrupting, accused the media of ignoring the good work MPs did and demanded to know how much she was paid.

Told it was £92,000 a year, he said she was being paid "nearly twice as much an MP - to come on and talk nonsense".

...and to think I do the same for much less than that!

But has Lord Foulkes got a point about the transparency of publicly-funded employees? Or is he merely trying to deflect attention from the controversy over MPs' expenses? He took some of your calls on today's Morning Extra.

It follows on from Tuesday's phone-in when we discussed similar sentiments from the actor Stephen Fry. In an interview with the BBC's Newsnight on Monday night he said: "I've cheated expenses and I've fiddled things, you have, 'course you have. Let's not confuse what politicians get really wrong — things like wars, things where people die — with the rather tedious bourgeois obsession with whether or not they've charged for their wisteria."

"We get the politicians we deserve, it's our fault more than anybody else's this been going on for years and suddenly because a journalist discovers it it's the biggest story ever."

'Nonsense' said those of you who took part in Tuesday's programme. Despite my attempts to argue Stephen Fry's point on his behalf, you weren't having any of it! And the public's revulsion with MPs appears to be backed up by a poll in The Times suggesting a sharp drop in support for Labour and the Conservatives, with the Liberal Democrats and smaller parties, including the British National Party, benefiting.

Stephen Fry on expenses

MPs' expenses: time to say sorry and call an election?

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Graham Stewart | 08:07 UK time, Monday, 11 May 2009



Another bad morning for Parliament. On Friday we saw the expense claims of Labour ministers splashed all over the front pages; today it's the turn of the Tory front bench who've been claiming for light bulbs, dog food and a leaky pipe under a tennis court.

Is it now time for all MPs to say sorry, call an election and start over again with a clean sheet? (UPDATE 0959: Gordon Brown has apologised on behalf of MPs for their expenses claims.)

You were all in agreement on today's Morning Extra that something had to be done, although Peter in Glasgow called to point out that most of us are guilty of double standards.

"There's a culture of cheating in this country," he told me. "When I was in business the number of people who said: take cash and save me the VAT, it used to really annoy me. And the number of guys who worked for me who'd fiddle the expenses."

Has he got a point? Do we all milk the system, especially when the rules allow it?

At the moment MPs audit their own expenses, but plans for an independent auditing body to oversee claims are expected to be approved today. I did like Pete in Perth's suggestion: "Why don't we call ordinary people to Parliament like jury service?"


Taking life or taking liberties?

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Graham Stewart | 07:56 UK time, Friday, 8 May 2009


Dr Philip Nitschke

Should people be told how they can kill themselves? Australian doctor Philip Nitschke is in Glasgow this weekend giving information to people on how to do just that. He believes in the freedom for everyone to end their life. On today's Morning Extra I gave you the chance to put your points to him directly.

It's a highly controversial subject and many of you were horrified. Paul in Aberdeen texted me with his personal story: "Suicide devastates lives. I was left to bring up my three young children after my husband took his life — we all have to live with the consequences for the rest of our lives."

Michael in Baillieston emailed to object to us even inviting the doctor onto the programme: "This man is entitled to say what he wants, but not to be projected into my home by the BBC at my expense. It is obviously not in the public interest to give a platform to the promotion of suicide."

Dr Nitschke argues that he isn't promoting suicide and is simply giving people choices, an argument which another victim of suicide, Mary in Glasgow, agrees with. She texted: "My husband comitted suicide, it was the most selfish act but it was his choice and we should have the right to our own ultimate choice. My mother at 94 would love that option."

And Angus in Perth says: "Part of the problem is our inability to recognise that we cannot and should not fight to preserve all life regardless of the quality of life."

Dr Nitschke says his non-profit organisation, Exit International, is intended to help older people obtain "pieces of equipment that people can put in a cupboard and forget about". But he's not had a smooth time since coming over from his native Australia. Two of his suicide workshops in Dorset were cancelled after the venues pulled out.


Why people went to euthanasia workshop (5 May 2009)
Dozens attend euthanasia workshop (5 May 2009)
Euthanasia doctor allowed into UK (2 May 2009)
Venues cancel 'suicide workshops' (Oct 2008)
Suicide workshops for the over-50s (13 Oct 2008)
'Dr Death' unveils new suicide aid (17 Nov 2003)
Euthanasia machine comes to UK (5 June 2000)

What's devolution done for you?

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Graham Stewart | 07:37 UK time, Wednesday, 6 May 2009


Scottish Parliament exterior

10 years on and 140 pieces of legislation later, has the Scottish Parliament changed your life for better or worse? Here are just some of the achievements (or failures, depending on your point of view) the Holyrood Parliament has brought:

And, oh yes, there was that building too! One of the biggest early controversies of the past 10 years was the cost of the £414m Scottish Parliament building — which opened 3 years late, at 10 times the original estimated cost. But is Holyrood, nonetheless, still a worthwhile addition to Edinburgh's skyline? It has, after all, won a total of nine major architectural awards.

What will the next 10 years bring? Would you like to see more devolution with additional powers for the Scottish Parliament or full independence? Thanks for you comments on today's Morning Extra. You can continue the debate here.

Are Scotland's churches out of touch?

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Graham Stewart | 07:40 UK time, Tuesday, 5 May 2009


Rev Scott RennieA fifth of Church of Scotland clergy have signed an online petition against the appointment of an openly gay minister.

But the Reverend Scott Rennie's parish at Queen's Cross Church in Aberdeen say they're happy with their new minister and believe that the national Kirk should be a broad church, encompassing a wide range of beliefs and lifestyles.

The online petition states: "We urgently alert all commissioners to the 2009 General Assembly to the extreme gravity of the situation. We urge the Assembly to support the position of those who stood to defend Christian orthodoxy in Aberdeen Presbytery, and ensure instead that the Church will apply and assert in practice its clear doctrinal position on all matters of marriage and human sexuality, by refusing to condone homosexual practice in general, and among its leaders in particular."

Is faith absolute, or can it change and be adapted in line with social mores?

Should Mrs Thatcher apologise to Scotland?

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Graham Stewart | 09:03 UK time, Monday, 4 May 2009


Mrs Thatcher 1979 election

Curious that Mrs Thatcher chose to celebrate the 30th anniversary of her landmark 1979 election victory with a visit to Glasgow at the weekend. The title of David Torrance's new book, "We in Scotland: Thatcherism in a Cold Climate" says it all. Even after all those years, the Iron Lady and her legacy still provokes a negative reaction from the Scottish public — as the overwhelming majority of callers made clear on today's Morning Extra.

Take Margaret Curran for example. The Glasgow Baillieston MSP has called on the former Prime Minister to say sorry for neglecting Glasgow's heavy industries and for introducing the hated poll tax that contributed so much to her downfall after 11 years.

Mrs Curran said: "Margaret Thatcher should apologise to Glasgow for her policies that wreaked havoc on our city. The constituency I represent is still trying to recover from the destruction that ensued from her plans and political approach. This is the woman that closed down our shipyards and steel mills, believed that unemployment is a price worth paying, and then told us that she knew best."

Should Mrs Thatcher apologise to Scotland? Or should we, in fact, be thanking her for saving us from ourselves — as the former Scottish Secretary Michael Forsyth did in Glasgow on Saturday evening?

At a dinner organised by the East Renfrewshire Conservative Association, Mr Forsyth praised the former Prime Minister for rescuing Britain from the "horrors of Labour in the 1970s," congratulated her for taking on the trades unions, for "unleashing a new age of enterprise and wealth creation," privatising businesses and selling council houses.

So what was Mrs Thatcher's legacy to Scotland? Did she break "the dependency culture"... or just break society?


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