All those MPs and their endless expenses scandals have worn me out, so I'm taking a break for the next week-and-a-bit! I'll be leaving the programme in the more-than-capable hands of Shereen Nanjiani. So do call her from 8am weekday mornings on 0500 92 95 00, text 80295 or email using this form. And I'll speak to you again on-air and on-line on Wednesday 1st July.
Archives for June 2009
We'll it's all clear now, isn't it? Westminster's culture of secrecy has been laid bare with the official online publication of MPs' expenses.
It's just that there's an ocean of blank ink over any details deemed to be private or against the interests of security.
What we do know is that Scotland's 59 MPs have claimed a total of around £25m in allowances since 2005, with 48 of them billing the taxpayer for more than £400,000 each.
The politicians are doing their best to make amends. The total refunded by MPs across the UK now stands at nearly £50,000 and rising. But the country's most expensive MP, Eric Joyce, isn't prepared to add to the pot. I don't know if you saw Newsnight Scotland last night. If you did you'll have heard the Labour MP for Falkirk West engaged in a heated exchange over whether he'd paid capital gains tax on the sale of either of his two properties.
The state of our roads got you talking this morning. We heard how councils face a repair bill of up to £2bn for Scotland's crumbling road network after failing to tackle a backlog of serious maintenance and repairs. And your stories backed up those concerns.
Many of you feel less should be spend on speed bumps and more spent on essential maintenance. It was also interesting to hear a few of you raise the issue of pavements as well as roads. We heard some horrendous stories on today's Morning Extra of people who've been injured by tripping over badly-maintained surfaces.
You can continue telling me your experiences here.
Should we ban smoking in cars when children are passengers? A leading paediatrician says kids need special protection from this kind of passive smoking.
Professor Terence Stephenson, who's the new head of the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, said children should not have to breathe in their parents' cigarette smoke.
"Why on earth would you light up in your car whilst your children are sitting happily in the back? On the assumption that you wouldn't pass the packet round and invite the kids to light up, why make them breathe tobacco smoke at all?"
Professor Stephenson says second-hand smoke had been linked to chest infections, asthma and ear problems in children. He points out that the Canadian province of New Brunswick, California, South Australia and Cyprus have successfully introduced legislation of the type he's proposing.
But many of you who called me on today's Morning Extra were alarmed that the liberty of smokers is being attacked yet again. So would it be a better idea to educate parents and make them responsible for their own actions rather than legislate? Is the nanny state the right approach?
Tell me what you think by joining the conversation!
Is it a good idea to give the Scottish Parliament more powers? The Scottish Secretary's backing the Calman Commission's proposals to give Holyrood more control over taxation. That means we could end up paying different income tax levels from the rest of the UK.
But, to quote Bruce Forsyth: should we go higher or lower?
Many argue that a lower tax regime could boost the Scottish economy by giving us a competitive advantage over the rest of the UK. Others will argue that we need to higher taxes in order to boost our public services. Would you be prepared to pay more?
And more generally, do you think Calman's proposal reprsent a new chapter for devolution... or another step towards independence?
Digesting the Calman report calls
BBC Scotland's political editor, Brian Taylor, blogs on Calman
In quotes: Calman report reaction
'Radical' Holyrood powers urged (Mon 15 June)
Warning over 'Scottish oil tax' (Fri 5 June)
Calman warning to SNP government (Sun 29 March)
Are we parnoid about child safety? On today's Morning Extra Lesley Riddoch investigates our increasingly risk-averse society and asks whether it's wise to keep children cooped-up inside all day?
She looks at the experience of Norway where most kindergarten children play outside — whatever the weather.
But it's not just a matter of letting our kids play outdoors. Take recent stories about home baking stalls being banned from school fundraising events on the grounds of "health concerns". Or bans on kids playing conkers because some children have nut allergies. Other schools have severely reprimanded kids for throwing snowballs.
Are we becoming too cautious about childrens' welfare? Or are you happy that we're now a lot more aware of the dangers children face in what is an increasingly dangerous society?
Sir Harry Lauder (right) didn't appear to mind being called a "Jock" judging by the lyrics of his famous song "Stop yer tickling, Jock," but not everyone takes it as a joke. A British Airways pilot from Dunblane is suing the airline for racism after he was called "a Jock" and told to go back to his welfare state paid for by the English.
Douglas Maughan, from Dunblane, also claims there's a "canteen culture" of racism in which derogatory racist terms are routinely used. You'll no doubt remember the comments Kelvin Mackenzie made on Question Time a couple of years ago when he said of the Scots' attitude to money: "The reality is that the Scots enjoy spending it, they don't enjoy creating it which is the opposite of down in the south."
More recently — and again on Question Time — the historian Dr David Starkey described Scotland as a "feeble little country" and said Robert Burns was a "deeply boring provincial poet."
So is there a racism against the Scots prevalent in the UK? Or are we just being overly sensitive? That's what we were talking about on a lively (!) Morning Extra today. Do please continue the debate here.
Living conditions in our jails have been transformed over the last few years. Slopping out is no more, jails are kitted out with better facilities, and the imprisonment of children under 16 is coming to an end.
The outgoing chief inspector of prisons says his seven years in the job have been a success, but Dr Andrew McLellan says that "the evil of overcrowding" is in danger of harming our prisoners.
So if prison isn't working at the moment, what do we do about it? We could, of course, build more jails, but Dr McLellan doesn't think that's the right approach. Instead, we should be putting fewer offenders behind bars and give them community sentences instead.
Those views are in line with what the Scottish Prisons Commission recommended last year and many of those proposals have since been taken on by the Scottish Government. But are they right? Does prison work? And would community sentences be more effective, less costly and a more re-assuring signal to victims of crime that offenders are repaying their debt back to society?
Scotland's Choice - report of the Scottish Prisons Commission [28KB]
Empty jail workshops 'shameful' (21 Apr 2009)
Prison and court slated in report (18 Feb 2009)
The government minister James Purnell has nailed his colours to the mast, calling on the Prime Minister to step down. But would you be more likely to vote Labour if someone else was in charge? Or is a Conservative victory almost guaranteed no matter WHAT Labour does?
On today's Morning Extra we kept you up-to-date with developments as Gordon Brown began to re-shuffle his Cabinet. Health Secretary Alan Johnson is to replace Jacqui Smith as home secretary, Alistair Darling will stay in his job as chancellor and Jack Straw will stay justice secretary.
So is the Prime Minister successfully re-asserting his authority?
Normally loyal Labour MP Barry Sheerman told BBC News he wanted Mr Brown to stand down and predicted many of his backbench colleagues would vote that way if they were "liberated by a secret ballot". But one group of Labour MPs have told the BBC they may delay their plans to circulate an e-mail gathering support for Mr Brown to quit. And cabinet ministers have been rallying round Mr Brown following Mr Purnell's surprise departure, with none so far indicating they are ready to follow his lead.
There's been a worrying rise in badger baiting and urban wildlife crime in Scotland. And not a week goes by without stories of cruelty against domestic pets. Many of you told me on today's Morning Extra that you think the penalties aren't severe enough.
As our reporter Phil Goodlad revealed this morning, the Scottish Badgers charity say 2009 could be one of the worst years for crimes against the animals, with 70 incidents reported so far. This represents two-thirds of the total figure in 2008.
Meanwhile, Strathclyde Police said the hunting of roe deer in Glasgow's east end was also on the increase, perhaps due to the rising price of venison.
But we also heard plenty of your stories about cruelty towards domestic pets and the problems of mindless attacks by those with airguns.
The final party leaders' phone-in on today's Morning Extra and it's the turn of the leader of the SNP, The First Minister Alex Salmond.
It's your open line to the man who runs the Scottish Government, so do use this opportunity to call me and put your question direct to Mr Salmond. It can be about anything that's on your mind, from politicians' expenses and the recession to independence and issues that affect your local community. You're in control.
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 Alex, but if you want to maximise your chances it's always best to phone. Call me on 0500 92 95 00 from 8 am.