Leaders: Suspending Holyrood for EU campaign makes sense

THE EU referendum is a defining political issue and we should encourage MSPs to add their voices during the debate's final days

Picture: Neil Hanna

With the fifth session of the Scottish Parliament now well under way, there can be no doubt that there is much work do be done in Scotland. Whether it is the need for widespread improvements to the country’s ailing education system or the question of whether greater powers are employed to improve the fiscal situation, MSPs new and old should prepare for an industrious five years that will hopefully result in a better, fairer nation.

But while the not insignificant matter of running a country and holding the Scottish Government to account should occupy our politicians most years, 2016 is an extraordinary exception. The referendum on Britain’s membership of the EU is the most important event in the calendar. Informing the public of the choices at their disposal must take priority.

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After all, the outcome stands to impact on Scotland in a variety of ways. The vote will have repercussions for our vital agriculture and fisheries sector, but equally its aftershocks will be felt across our wider economy, education and health system.

It is for this reason that the prudent suggestion put forward yesterday by Mike Rumbles should be seized upon by our parliamentarians. Mr Rumbles, the business manager for the Scottish Liberal Democrats, believes the importance of next month’s referendum justifies Holyrood being suspended in the lead-up to the vote.

The MSP for North East Scotland argues that the move would allow MSPs to campaign in the crucial final days before 23 June, a date he says will “shape the future of our country forever.”

“We will choose to either remain in the EU and lead Europe, or cut ties with our friends and neighbours and go it alone. This will impact on jobs, on our universities, on the NHS and other public services. It is right that this debate gets the attention it demands,” Mr Rumbles added.

It is hard to disagree that the week leading up to the referendum should be about our place in Europe and nothing else. Westminster is due to break for a recess a week before the vote, returning on 27 June. There is, of course, an argument that those 650 MPs are sufficient in number to conduct the campaign, but those seeking a full spectrum of viewpoints in Scotland are at a disadvantage, given that we have just one MP apiece from the ranks of Conservatives, Labour and the Liberal Democrats.

That does not encourage a robust debate about one of the defining issues of our generation and we should fully expect our MSPs to be able to enrich the discussion. In any case, it is reasonable to have doubts as to whether our politicians are devoting their full concentration to domestic matters. Europe overshadows and defines all of them and it deserves to be the focus when the time comes.

Mr Rumbles has provided a welcome reminder that Holyrood did not sit in the 28 days leading up to 2014’s independence referendum. This referendum is no less significant and the Scottish public deserves to hear from as many voices as possible.

Conflicting dietary advice must end

Ordinary consumers who seek out a healthy, balanced diet find it difficult enough, courtesy of the bombardment of information that exists in magazines and online. From supposed miracle ingredients to short-lived fads, there is no shortage of advice – much of it conflicting – to make our weekly supermarket more troublesome than it need be.

But when the bodies charged with offering the public definitive advice on what foods are good or bad for us cannot agree, what chance do any of us stand? The unhelpful row that has broken out between Food Standards Scotland (FSS), Public Health England, the National Obesity Forum and Public Health Collaboration is a case in point.

It centres on a report published by the latter two organisations which accused the likes of FSS of colluding with the food industry in promoting products low in fat and cholesterol. In turn, the FSS and PHE have criticised the study, claiming it is “confusing” and deters people from making changes to their diet.

Indeed, the FSS cites separate research which shows more than two thirds of Scots are confused by seemingly contradictory dietary advice. In a country that does not have its health problems to seek, this is a regrettable state of affairs, and the contretemps between organisations who exist to guide and inform the public’s choice makes matters worse.

There appears to be something of a political turf war going on between these bodies, but surely if they wish to act in the best interest of ordinary people, they must put aside their differences and agree to provide lucid and authoritative information. Otherwise the guessing game in the supermarket aisles will continue.