'WEEKLY, it seems, the Scottish Government is making announcements about policy proposals or budget decisions which are about protecting and defending Scotland from decisions taken by the Tory Government in London.

Because they have spoken about little over the last few years other than their opposition to a second Independence Referendum, you might not have realised that the Tories were prepared to sell licences to allow private companies to carry out fracking operations under your house.

The impact of fracking on many different aspects of the environment is potentially so huge that the Scottish Government, quite rightly has been taking a cautious and precautionary approach. And rightly too – this is not a reversible process. If harm is done, it cannot easily be undone.

As part of that precautionary approach, the Scottish Government announced a moratorium – effectively pressing the pause button on any potential fracking activities - while it ran a public consultation and examined evidence over health and public safety.

The consultation was the second largest ever run by the Scottish Government, receiving 60,535 valid responses – and the results were unequivocal, with 99% of responses opposed to fracking.

People in Southern Perthshire and across Scotland have very clearly expressed that they have deep concerns about the development of fracking, which is precisely why that moratorium was put in place while the evidence was carefully examined.

The judgement is now clear – we could not be confident that fracking would not undermine public health or our climate change targets so we could not pursue fracking.

And then we have the planned roll-out of Universal Credit – an ill-designed, flawed system that all the evidence shows is causing hardship to people across the country.

Unfortunately, the Scottish Government has no powers to deal with the worst aspects of Universal Credit, including delayed payments, cuts to the work allowances, and the appalling “rape clause” applied to the tax credits within Universal Credit. But where we do have powers, we are acting to improve where we can this flawed UK benefit.

We are using those powers. From now on, people making new claims in what are called ‘full service Universal Credit areas’ – Fife claimants will be in this category from December - will be offered the choice of changing the frequency of their payments from once to twice monthly and to have the housing cost element of their Universal Credit paid directly to their landlord – social or private. This can help people manage their money in the way that best suits them.

Universal Credit is failing the people it is designed to support, driving more people into poverty. The 6 week wait, which can often be longer and deliberately built into the system, is unjustifiable - pushing people into crisis and rent arrears, and having to rely on food banks and emergency payments to get by. This roll-out needs to be halted now'.