Countdown to Brexit

Experts aim to illustrate what lies ahead.

Edinburgh University. Photo Credit: Graham Millar

This evening provides an opportunity for anybody who is confused about Brexit and its latest developments to put their questions to a panel of experts on the complex issue.

The event organised by the European Union Society at the University of Edinburgh, hopes to shed some light with an expert panel of various backgrounds as they aim to bring some clarity, one week before the UK Parliament votes on the provisional deal. Their intention is to consider the state of Brexit in general and where are the politics headed at such a crucial time…

The President Emeritus of the European Union Society, Anthony Salamone,  who is also a member of the panel said,

“I think Brexit is confusing, even for people who follow European politics, British politics and Scottish politics. It can sometimes be difficult to keep pace with the developments and I hope the members of the audience will bring their questions and get some analysis and some insight into all the noise that’s going on around us.”

The President of the European Union Society, Robert Jacek Wlodarski, who will be chairing the discussion said,

“I want to cover a wide range of topics as possible. The last time we talked about Brexit with the Economic Society, many speakers were talking about theories, about philosophies and the EU – what they liked what they didn’t like – and we ended up with a fascinating debate but very little practical meaning to it.”

The event takes place at the Playfair Library, Old College, University of Edinburgh at 1800-1930 hrs.

Anthony Salamone discusses the members of the panel

 

Afternoon roundup

 

In this segment Emer Harrison, Liam Mackay, and David Paul discuss Article 50, Paris Riots and the Mars Insight probe.

Fizzy drink health crisis?

A report released by Cancer Research UK revealed children’s shocking fizzy drinks habits, but is this the full story? 

Newspapers are no stranger to doom and gloom,  just today we were told that every day Scottish children consume 600,000 fizzy drinks a day. However this isn’t the full story.

The report released by Cancer Research UK looked at the diets and obesity levels of Scottish children. They found that 1 in 4 were obese, with fizzy drinks being a contributing factor.

Despite consumption of fizzy drinks being high sugary fizzy drink consumption has actually fallen by 21%.

Researchers have been calling on the Scottish Government to further the limit the advertising and sale of junk food special offers. despite the average Scot consuming 12 kilocalories less in fizzy drinks everyday, the consumption of junk food such as confectionery biscuits and cakes has been steadily increasing since 2010.

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Fizzy drinks currently on the market.

There are calls for the Scottish Government to do more when tackling the obesity with suggestions that restrictions on multi-buy offers on junk food and fizzy drinks which could limit children’s intake.

However, the government is holding a consultation for restricting the advertising of unhealthy food. Members of the public have until the 9th of January 2019 to take part.

Families in danger as Edinburgh fire station forced to close over staffing crisis

Fire stations are struggling to stay open.

Marionville Fire Station closed on Saturday due to there not being enough staff to man one fire engine, a union warned.

The fire station, which covers the Restalrig and Craigentinny areas of the city is only one of the many fire stations which have been affected by the staffing crisis.

Fire stations across the city have had their fire engine numbers halved, and specialist roles such as water rescue and major crash response have also taken a hit.

Emergency services are vital to the safety and security of the people living in the community and are at risk due to the lack firefighters.

Ex-Scottish Labour leader Kezia Dugdale blamed the SNP for the staffing problem:

Edinburgh residents have also expressed their disappointment:

Report reveals marginalised Scots hardest hit by tax & spending plans

By Graham Millar

Lone parents, black families and those with three or more children are the biggest financial losers as a result of the tax, spending and local services reforms, a new study has suggested.

With the UK Government’s commitment to the deficit reduction strategy, devolved governments have had to re-shuffle spending and taxation. The report, titled ‘The Cumulative Impact on Living Standards of Public Spending Changes’, and published by the Equality and Human Rights Commission, shows how the Scottish Government’s decision to slash higher and further education budgets, as a means to cope with stricter targets, has caused this detrimental impact.

As a consequence of these cuts, those among some of the lowest household incomes are losing around £450 per year with richer households enduring an even higher loss. By 2022, it is estimated that spending on schools, higher education and further education will have reduced by between 30-50%.

The report also discloses how black households experience the largest overall spending cuts in cash terms, while white households lose less than other ethnic groups. In terms of their final income, lone parent households (predominantly female) are the most greatly impacted than any other demographic.

John Wilkes, Director of the Commission in Scotland, said:

“The findings show just how stark and unequal the combined impact of the recession, austerity and public spending cuts have been. Using this new approach to assessing the combined impact of tax and spend policy reveals that it is the most marginalised who have suffered the most.”

Compared to England and Wales, Scotland’s “pro-poor” policy has led to more positive results. There are various reasons for this, such as population growth – England has outgrown Scotland at a considerable rate – and different spending decisions.

The author of the report, Howard Reed, said:

“This research shows  that the combined impact of tax and social security reforms since 2010 has hit the poorest households in Scotland hardest.” He added, “The Scottish Government’s own spending choices have mitigated some – but not all – of the adverse consequences of the tax and social security decisions made by the UK Government in Westminster.”

The report calls for the Scottish Government to review its spending on the higher education and further education where the greatest cuts have taken place. It also recommends that the UK government should consider mitigating the vast negative changes to reduce disproportionate impacts on some groups in our society.

InSight lands on Mars

After months in space and a truly harrowing entry to Mars’ atmosphere, NASA’s InSight probe gently touched down on Mars.

The Insight probe — the full name of which is actually Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport — touched down safely on Mars’ Elysium Planitia at 7:52pm on the evening of Monday November 26, making it the eighth successful unmanned mission to Mars in the history of mankind.

WATCH: The moment InSight touched down:

At at a post-landing briefing at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California Insight’s Project Manager Tom Hoffman remarked “I’m very, very happy that it looks like we have an incredibly safe and boring looking landing location”.

Elysium Planitia, located in the northern hemisphere and near the equator of the red planet, is a soft sandy plain on the Martian surface — a perfect spot for InSight to carry out its life purpose: to study the geology of Mars’ core.

Essentially an interplanetary geologist, the InSight probe is distinct from the famous Mars Rovers, in that the probe will remain in place for the duration of its mission. It will dig deep into the Martian crust, searching for so called marsquakes and drawing a picture of what lies beneath the surface from the data it collects.

“In the coming months and years the history books will be rewritten about the interior of Mars” Michael Watkins, JPL’S Director predicted in the press briefing.

Before the mission can officially start, more definitive checks will be carried out to assure the spacecraft’s on-board equipment and mechanics have survived the tough entry into Mars’ hostile atmosphere.

InSight entered the planet’s atmosphere at 12,300 miles per hour and slowed itself down to a walking pace in around seven minutes. A combination of rockets and parachutes allowed the craft to land safely on the plain, which has been described as being as horizontal as a car park in the famously flat Kansas.

credit to Nasa - Scott

NASA’s probe InSight. (Photo Credit: NASA)

The landing concluded a journey which began in May 2018 and 300 million miles away on planet Earth. The Insight probe was launched from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California on the May 5, 2018, from an Atlas V-401 Rocket, making it the first Mars’ mission launched from the west coast of the United States as opposed to Florida on the east coast.

 

InSight was closely followed by two NASA CubeSats — miniaturised satellites about the size of a briefcase — called Mars Cube One or MarCO. These types of satellites are easily and relatively cheaply sent up to orbit earth but this mission marks their first use deep in our solar system, offering the possibility of improved communications and data collection infrastructure in deep space.

Probes over People

The landing is great news but looking at the bigger picture of deep space exploration you might be moved to ask — where are all the people?

It’s a good question and it is one that is getting asked more and more of late. Since the discontinuation of the shuttle program in 2011, NASA’s operations have become a lot more geared toward unmanned scientific exploration.

Think of deep space milestones of late; the curiosity rover on Mars, the New Horizons probe responsible for beautiful close ups of the dwarf planet Pluto, and now Mars’ InSight.

Since the last mission to the Moon in the 1970’s there have been no humans beyond low-Earth orbit. As we approach the 50th anniversary of Apollo 11’s historic first landing on the Moon and see private companies like SpaceX inch ever closer to perfecting their own space launch systems, the question regarding when humans will next explore deep space in person will become central to U.S space policy.

Under the current administration NASA has received a slight increase in funding to just under US$20 billion — a rather modest amount as federal agencies go — and outlined goals for a permanent presence on the moon as the main deep space goal acting as a way station for an eventual trip to Mars.

Credit to NASA

The hope is to station humans on Mars in the future (Photo Credit: NASA)

The fundamentals of these plans pre-dated the Trump administration as the space agency developed a new Space launch system and deep space craft called Orion.

Some outlandish proposals have been put forward by the Trump administration, such as the so called “Space Force”— an American military presence in space. The idea has been met with derision, with Former U.S. Navy Captain and retired Astronaut Mark Kelly tweeting that it was ‘a dumb idea”.

However, NASA’s official line remains true to the goal of putting humans on the red planet.

Only exploring low earth orbit might seem like having stayed in the shallow end of the pool but it has been responsible for falling costs more reusable space technology and so more access to space.

NASA’s Administrator Jim Bridenstine reckoned optimistically in InSight’s post landing press conference when asked will humans will get there; “I’m going with the mid 2030’s”.

The plight of Hidden Door

The winner of last year’s “Best Cultural Event” at the Scottish Thistle Awards, the not-for profit Hidden Door Festival is in dire need of funds.

Edinburgh is a deeply creative city. There’s always something going on, a festival or a show or a gallery opening or a theatrical event – always something, right up to the Fringe Festival itself. Hidden Door Festival is one such event, and it’s a pretty good one at that. Hidden Door seeks to give a little limelight to lesser known performers and artists, as well as putting on a few big acts to make sure there’s a hell of a show.

Hidden door CREDIT - Tom Parnell

Photo Credit: Tom Parnell

The non-profit, all volunteer festival’s final distinction is its reclamation of unused and derelict spaces around the capital. This came to a head last year when the festival resurrected the old Leith Theatre while the festival was on, which also paved the way for the theatre to stage several events during the Fringe Festival during the summer.

All funding from the event goes back to the contributors and to funds future festivals. Hidden Door has made amazing progress in utilising old, forgotten parts of the capital. All this could be lost, however, as the organisers are struggling to make the money needed to put on the festival next year.

Originally, the goal was to raise £80,000 between August and December. However, as the end of the year approaches, the festival has only managed to raise a quarter of its goal. There’s two options: if the festival raises its initial goal, the annual 9-day event goes on as planned. If at least £40,000 can be raised, there will be a Hidden Door “weekender” – the same promotion of emerging artists, the same fascinating venues, but across a smaller timescale.

Hidden door 1 - CREDIT TO Tom Parnell

Photo credit: Tom Parnell

Essentially, Hidden Door needs your help. One can either donate directly on their fundraising website, or you can attend the Hidden Door Christmas Art Sale this weekend at Skylight Cafe. The sale, which takes place on Friday 7th and Saturday 8th will feature 200 artworks donated by supporters of the festival as well as the emerging artists that have been part of the festival in past years.

In conclusion, while the capital has a lot of cultural events, losing any of them is a blow to Edinburgh’s unique reputation. Also, none of the shows, galleries, and gigs can take place without a little bit of support being thrown behind small-scale artists – this is exactly what Hidden Door exists to do. So please, support this festival in any way you can. It’s a pretty worthy cause, and when it’s on next year, you’ll be very happy that you did.

 

Theresa May begins five day debate

Theresa May will desperately bid to push through her Brexit deal this week

Theresa May has begun five days of debate over her Brexit deal in an attempt to sell it to MPs in Westminster in what is being called the ‘meaningful vote’.

The prime minister will spend eight hours per day fielding questions arguing that her Brexit deal delivers on her commitments to end free movement and the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice. MPs are set to cast their final votes next Tuesday evening.

The Importance of the Deal

The future for Theresa May and the UK government are resting of the outcome of the vote. If MPs reject the deal, it is likely that there will be a vote of no confidence in the Prime Minister and the current government. With 100 conservatives saying they intend to vote against the deal, the odds are currently stacked against Theresa May.
Opposition MPs have said that they would also trigger a second EU referendum if the deal collapses.

Dr Marc Geddes, lecturer in British politics from the University of Edinburgh, said that the majority of MPs are unsatisfied with the way that May is handling the deal: “the Brexit vote, we have been repeatedly told, was all about ‘taking back control’ and returning sovereignty to Parliament. For the government to then ignore the will of Parliament is why so many MPs are angry.”

Potential outcome

The outcome of the next few days of debate is uncertain. It is unlikely that Theresa May will gain the majority vote, but where will that leave parliament? Geddes believes that “it partly depends by how much May loses.

If it is a significant chunk of the House of Commons, then there are question marks over her authority as prime minister – though I think it is unlikely that she will either resign or be pushed out by losing the [majority vote] motion.” There are other possibilities, however. Article 50 could be extended, or perhaps there will be another Brexit referendum. There could also be a no-confidence vote in Theresa May or even a confidence vote in HM Government.

What will happen next?

At this stage, what will happen after the next five days of Theresa May’s debate and after the vote is cast next week is uncertain, but updates will come throughout today and we will keep you updated with the latest.

Click here to see news on the Brexit deal as it happens.

Missed today’s headlines?

Liam Mackay and Emer Harrison have today’s front page round-up.

Read about Nicola Sturgeon’s £200,000 pledge.

 

Update: French PM renounces fuel tax rises

Latest: French Prime Minister, Edouard Philippe has announced a suspension on fuel tax hikes, after protesters took to rioting in the French capital and surrounding areas.

Following crisis talks in Paris today, the PM renounced the policy put forward by President Emmanuel Macron. He stated that the fuel increase will be suspended for six months.

“No tax is worth putting the nation’s unity in danger.”

French motorists began protesting the tax spike in mid-November, when leader Macron announced the price rise was a necessity to combat climate change. However, the protests took a violent turn when political protesters known as “Yellow Vests” began violent clashes with authorities.

The riots, which saw over 130,000 people take to the streets in protest saw major damage to multiple homes, cafes and stores throughout Paris has seen more than 400 arrests since the clashes began. Over 133 were injured, including 23 members of the French security forces.

The action took a sinister turn Saturday afternoon when an 80 year old woman was killed after being struck with a gas canister thrown during the troubles. The unnamed woman, who was at home at the time of the incident, was struck in the head whilst closing her shutters. The woman was taken to hospital but died in the operating theatre. Two more people have also been killed.

Macron and Philippe’s approval rating have hit a new low as the violence spread across Paris and the hope is the suspension of the tax increase eases tensions between protesters and the government.

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