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Glasgow's missing millions

The SNP is disproportionately targeting Labour-run local authorities, a local councillor claims.

On Thursday Glasgow city council set its budget. Yet again it faces a real terms cut.

The SNP will, as they always do, naturally seek to blame Westminster, and it is true that funding reductions by the UK government have had an effect. But these have been intensified as the Nationalist government in Edinburgh has hacked away at Glasgow’s share of the overall local authority pot year after year.

Since the SNP minority government first allied with the Tories to set a budget in 2008, a habit they continued throughout their first term, Glasgow has lost £370,000,000, in total, and the pace has been accelerating. The Scottish government’s own figures show that if Glasgow got the same share of the pot as it did under Labour, it would have had an extra £96m this year. Glasgow city Council’s estimates for the coming year are that this gap will swell to £109m, as Scotland’s biggest city once again sees its share cut. We now know where at least a hefty piece of the SNP’s £444m underspend has come from. It is money that could have been spent on the people of Glasgow.

The Nationalists insist that they are helpless in the face of Westminster. Indeed this was the line dutifully parroted by Nationalist councillors in the budget debate. At no point were any of them prepared to diverge from the line they were given by Edinburgh and fight for their constituents’ interests.

These lines from Holyrood would be more believable, were it not for the fact that some areas seem to have been strangely shielded from the storm according to figures directly from the Scottish government.

Angus, the only council where the Nationalists have an outright majority, and which sends SNP MP Mike Weir to parliament, has seen its share of the pot actually increase, so that it has had an extra £3m this year than it would under the allocation when the SNP came to power.

Perth & Kinross, run by the SNP with Tory support and returning an SNP MP in Pete Wishart, has seen its share of the pot go up year on year, and had an additional £13m in its 2014-15 budget from these adjustments to funding shares.

Aberdeenshire, the local authority where Alex Salmond had his Westminster seat for many years and where he hopes to have one again, gets an extra £16m this year. Aberdeenshire has an unemployment rate a third of that of Glasgow.

Just as the Thatcher government tore down the democratic structures of the urban centres of England for daring to oppose her, so the Nationalists, similarly intolerant of dissent, are deliberately throttling Scotland’s greatest city.

The formula is simple. Slash a council’s revenue stream, bar it from raising money through the rates, let the difficult cases fall onto the social care roles and then watch as Labour councils are forced to do your dirty work of cuts for you, while you use every crisis to centralise power.

The Nationalists seek to lecture Labour on its roots, while their policies are socialism in reverse. Let us be clear. The redistribution away from areas of need is by definition regressive.  This is not “progressive politics”, it is the antithesis.

The Nationalist attacks on local democracy, most recently articulated by their MSP Joan McAlpine, argue that Scotland’s cities cannot go it alone. Holyrood thinks Glasgow is too feart to stand up to it, to demand that it gets its fair share. The people of this great city do not need to be protected from their decisions by the government in Edinburgh, and still less will they stand for being robbed so the Nationalists can buy votes in its heartlands.

Labour has an alternative. The party has pledged to give the cities of our island the resources to solve their own problems. We are one of the great industrial, cosmopolitan cities of Europe, and given our fair share of money and power there is so much more that could be done. Glasgow must not be denied this opportunity because of nation-building politicians in Edinburgh.

Matt Kerr is a Labour councillor in Glasgow. He tweets as @Cllr_Matt_Kerr.

Niina Tamura
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“Anyone can do it, I promise you!”: meet the BBC’s astronaut-ballerina

Why science needs to be more open to women, minorities - and ballet.

Whether dancing on stage with the English National Ballet or conducting an experiment for her PhD in quantum physics, 29 year-old Merritt Moore often appears a model of composure. But in last Sunday's opening episode of BBC2's Astronauts: do you have what it takes? we got to see what happens when high-achievers like Merritt hit breaking point.

Merritt is one of 12 candidates attempting to win the approval of Chris Hadfield, former commander of the International Space Station. Along with her fellow competitors, who include mountaineers and fighter pilots, the dancer has had to face a series of gruelling tasks designed to measure her potential to operate well in space; from flying a helicopter, to performing a blood test on her own arm.

Many of these tasks left Merritt far outside her comfort zone. “I’ve only failed my driving test three times and crashed every car I’ve gotten into - but I think helicopters are different?!” she joked nervously before setting off to perform her first-ever helicopter-hover. Yet after a shaky start, her tenacious personality seemed to pull her through. “I’m good at being incredibly persistent and I don’t give up,” she told the space psychologist when asked to name her strengths.

Merritt also believes it is persistence (and hours of practice) that have allowed her to excel in two disciplines which are typically seen as requiring opposite traits: ballet and science. While studying for her PhD at Oxford, she has continued to perform as a professional dancer around the world. It's a stunning feat by any measure, and when I talk to her on the phone this weekend I ask whether it’s only possible because she’s some kind of genius? “No!” she exclaims, with a winning mix of genuine shock and self-deprecation. “I’m as far from a genius or a natural dancer as you can get - everyday I just feel like flailing mess! My thought process is that if I can do it anyone can do it, I promise you!”

But there is one thing that Merritt thinks might be holding back others from pursuing a mixed career like hers – and that’s the way the scientific world is run.

“They kind of self-select themselves,” she says of many science-professionals she’s met. "You get some people who are not incredibly understanding of those who perhaps approach [physics] in a different way, or who need a different type of schedule," she says. "They look down on people who are different from themselves, which is really difficult; I think that’s why women have difficulties, and I think that's why minorities have difficulties."

A report from the Royal Society on Diversity in Science would appear to support Merritt’s conclusions. It showed that women are significantly underrepresented in senior scientific roles, and that black and minority ethnic graduates are less likely to go on to work in science than their white peers.

So how can these trends be reversed? For Merritt the answer lies as much in schools as it does with targeted scholarships and support groups. Science education needs to be re-branded, she says, so that thinking creatively is actively encouraged from a young age; “It makes no sense to divide it up and say everyone either has an analytic mind or a creative mind." Simply leaning a set of very technical facts from a textbook drives her “bonkers” - but “when there’s passion behind something then anything is possible.”

If she could one thing about physics education, Merritt says she would switch things up so that the “exciting bits” get taught first - such as the latest thoughts on quantum computing or DNA repair. Then if students do choose to continue, they’ll know why they need to study the boring, rigorous parts too. “You’re like right, I need to learn about a harmonic oscillator because that’s how I’m going to understand this quantum computer.”

More cross-fertilisation between science and arts could also help the ballet world, she believes. “I can visualise my centre of mass, how gravity is working on different parts of my body, and how the torque effects my turns – and I think that’s a massive help,” Merritt says of her dancing.

But that’s far from all. When performing she often finds herself thinking about the more bizarre and “mind boggling” sides to physics: “Why is there all this dark matter in the Universe? What is that?! - when that’s going on in my mind, my legs become free because it means I’m not thinking about whether I look bad, or if something is right or not. I’m just inspired - and I want my dancing to be inspiring rather than self-critical all the time.”

Focusing on actions rather than self-image was definitely something Merritt's parents encouraged from a young age. Her dad’s work as an entertainment lawyer in LA meant he was particularly alert to the stereotypes that were being laid on young girls. And, as a result, Merritt and her sister grew up without TV or fashion magazines. Her dad was even initially worried about the mirrors in ballet classrooms

But self-criticism is also very hard to avoid when your antics are being broadcast to the nation on Sunday night TV.

“When you see yourself on screen you just feel incredibly vulnerable,” she says, “they are getting the raw emotions of how you’re reacting to stuff that you’ve never done before in your life!”. What Merritt’s episode one journey showed however, is that knowing yourself makes it easier to bouceback from nerves and self-doubt. And that perhaps more of us should be encouraged to believe that you don't have to choose between the stars on stage or the ones in space. 

The next episode of BBC2's Astronauts: have you got what it takes? will air on Sunday 27th August at 9pm.

India Bourke is an environment writer and editorial assistant at the New Statesman.