7 Reasons to Vote SNP- No. 2: A Smarter Scotland

A good education really is one of the most important things anyone can get and, in Scotland, it’s something we’ve always taken very seriously with a long history of providing public education. In Scotland, our education system has always been distinct from that south of the border, with a broader range of subjects in general and the provision of free higher education with all Scottish universities being public universities. In fact, in recent studies, Scotland has been ranked as the most well educated country in Europe and among the most well educated in the world in terms of achievement in tertiary eduction.

It’s no wonder then that the Scottish Government has continually put a great deal of focus into our education system with things such as the abolition of tuition fees, and a continued commitment to closing the attainment gap between the better off and worse off in our society.

It all starts at the very beginning of the learner’s journey, with all pupils in Primaries 1 to 3 now benefiting from free school meals, ensuring that children have a healthy, balanced lunch and saving families around £380 per year per child.

In our most deprived areas, the Attainment Scotland Fund, amounting to some £160 million, is helping to improve literacy and numeracy rates, as well as health and well-being in over 300 primary schools. This is a marked part of the SNP’s commitment to closing the attainment gap in our schools that has resulted from differing socio-economic circumstances.

The SNP has managed to keep spending per pupil higher in Scotland than across the border, with spending per pupil 9% higher in Scotland at primary level and 12% higher at secondary level – ensuring that every child has the resources they need to become successful and confident learners.

Another result of increased attention to eduction is the 607 school projects delivered- the result of a £1.8 billion investment in our schools, meaning that more pupils are now learning in well designed and inclusive environments. The provision of a good, accessible and inclusive environment is crucial in creating a space where pupils feel they have the tools they need to learn, helping them reach their potential in every way possible.

The Education maintenance allowance, which was scrapped in England and Wales, has been expanded by the SNP government to support 57,000 school pupils and college students from our poorest families. Another crucial aid, scrapped by the Tories too, has been the Disabled Students’ Allowance, which has been maintained by the SNP.

At College, the number of full-time college places is now up to over 119,000 places, exceeding the commitment of the SNP’s 2011 manifesto by more than 3,000 places. Our college students can now enjoy the highest bursary anywhere in the UK, allowing students financial peace of mind to study and gain the qualifications they need.

To help college students gain these qualifications, the SNP have invested £530 million in new college estates and buildings with state of the art facilities in Glasgow, Kilmarnock and Inverness, with a further £140 million for the colleges in Fife and the Forth Valley. These new facilities are helping to provide students with an effective learning environment as well as the tools and equipment to excel in their studies.

Our universities are seeing a record number of Scots being supported into and through university studies, with record numbers of those from our most deprived backgrounds more likely to study at university. Our graduates in Scotland are also more likely to go on to further study or employment upon completion of their degrees than in any other part of the UK. As well as that, graduates from Scottish Universities, on average earn more than graduates from other UK universities.

Our universities are also helping to close the attainment gaps too, with our poorest students living at home being guaranteed a minimum support level of £7,625 per year. And more women going to study at university are now choosing to study STEM subjects, with our young women now making up 48% of all those gaining a degree.

These are just a few of the achievements that the SNP have made in government for our education system.

It is clear that an educated population is a more successful one; it is one that drives innovation, earns more, thinks more, pushes our politicians further, and helps us to make a real impact for the better on the international stage. Moreover, an education population is one that is happier, because it drives the change for the better.

The SNP have seen this and have remained, over their nine years in government, committed to ensuring that Scotland’s education system retains its place as one of the best in the world, a real envy of other countries.

It is for that reason that the SNP are committed to ensuring that everyone gets a fair start, that everyone is supported all the way, regardless of personal circumstance, that everyone has the tools they need to excel, that everyone who wants it gets the chance to study in tertiary education, and that everyone in Scotland can truly be the best they can be.

So if you, like myself and the SNP, want to see a smarter Scotland, leading the way forward on the international stage, then it has to be #BothVotesSNP


How Did Student Politics Become So Boring?

There’s an old joke, that’s been floating around for years now, that goes something like this “How many (Glasgow Uni) students does it take to change a light bulb? 76; one to change the bulb, fifty to protest the bulb’s right not to be forced to change, and twenty five to organise a counter-protest.” There is, in fact, one of these for just about every university in the country. However, the joke regarding Glasgow raises a very interesting issue; you see, ten or twenty years ago, perhaps even less than that, this joke would have rung very true indeed, however, at present it appears that it’s getting further and further from the truth. To put it simply: students don’t seem to care any more.

Now, that might seem like a rather harsh statement, but it does appear to have some substance behind it if we begin to look at some of the numbers. Let’s firstly jump into the most basic bit of student politics, i.e., the Students’ Representative Council elections. Every year, the Glasgow University student body elects members to the SRC: the SRC deals with everything from individual school representation, to various equality positions, to clubs and societies, etc. To put it simply, for the vast majority of things that affect the students on a day to day basis, the SRC runs the show. It therefore seems reasonable that such an election should garner a lot of attention from the students and that turnout should be quite high. Unfortunately this was not the case.

Excluding the individual school representatives and college conveners and the president, the average number of votes cast for the Welfare and Equal Opportunities positions sat at around 1600, with three of the positions (Gender Equality Officer, Race Equality Officer and Environment Officer) being uncontested. The sabbatical positions (VP Education, VP Student Activities and VP Student Support) averaged about 1800 votes cast for each position. The position of SRC President, the highest student position in the university, had only 2935 votes cast. It should be noted that Glasgow University has a student body of roughly 25’000 students, all of whom are eligible to vote in these elections. Hardly a resounding turnout.

Why not cast our minds back to the Glasgow University Independence Referendum which took place in February last year. It gained a huge amount of media attention, being hailed as the first real test of the straight yes/no question “should Scotland be an independent country?”. However, on campus, it received very little real attention with near enough no campaigning actually going on about the university. Once again a student population of roughly 25’000 were called to the polls to debate what is, arguably, the most important question of our generation’s lives. The turnout was a measly 2281 votes cast, less than 10% turnout.

And if my point still needs proving, have a look at the recent election for University Rector, the highest elected position in the entire university. The rector is responsible for liaising with the student body and listening to their comments and concerns in order to voice them in sessions of the University Court (the administrative body of the university) which he is also responsible for chairing. It’s a pretty big role and it attracts a lot of attention, this time even from the students. Come election day, though, the turnout sat at 6’560 ballots submitted, a turnout of roughly a quarter of those eligible to vote.

So why is this? Our election turnout is horrifically poor (this isn’t even counting the two unions’ elections or the GUSA elections), the political societies’ attendances are tiny, the sheer lack of politics of any kind on campus is, frankly, quite upsetting. Political stalls, when they do sprout up, are simply walked by with no conversation struck up at all, political campaigners stand very lonely outside the unions as people try desperately to avoid them. Even simple political discussion is nowhere to be heard: start talking politics over lunch in the QM and you’ll quickly be told by others to stop talking because “oh, it only ever causes arguments.” “Save that stuff for the silly societies.” Those societies which are, due to such attitudes, now almost impossible to find, now have such low attendance that discussions just have no atmosphere either.

And of course those discussions are meant to cause arguments, because arguments make us think; they make us defend our points of view, they force us to listen to the pros of the other side, the force us to make decisions and actually get stuff done! The idea that you shouldn’t talk politics and avoid arguing, whilst all nice and cuddly-cosy warm, is, in the long run, going to get us nowhere, it’s going to cause people to simply stop thinking and stop caring.

Now the reason I’ve centred this around a university (apart from the fact that I’m a student at that university) is that universities are places to think; they are places where we expect the next generation of our best and brightest, our scientists, doctors, teachers, philosophers and leaders to come from. But how can a university bring such people into society if, during their years there, students are being conditioned not to partake in politics, not to think, not to debate and not to speak out on the issues important to them? Very simply, it can’t. The result of the decline in student politics will result in a decline in the number of educated people taking an active interest and role in politics, it will result in a decline in the number of people willing to speak out on radical issues, it will result in a very small number of people going into politics with a very inoffensive middle ground view. It will, in short, result in a society that drives to middle of the road to sit there in neutral.

There are likely to be a large number of reasons for all of this; the increase in political apathy an general over the last decade or so, the increasingly international population of students who don’t see politics over here (even in their university) as any of their concern, etc. But if one thing does remain certain, it’s that we need to increase political interest in our universities once more, because if we don’t we may quickly find ourselves sliding down a very slippery slope to complete political apathy – the point at which democracy fails. I don’t think any of us want to see that too soon.

Chemtrail Crack-Pot Conspiracies

Hello once again, I know after weeks of complete inactivity, you’re now getting two posts in one day! Aren’t you lucky, eh? I write this post mostly as a response to a small group of people with whom I’ve been having a debate on the subject of “chemtrails”, but also as a general response to the, frankly crazy, conspiracy as a whole. Now, hopefully, this won’t be quite as long as this morning’s article, but it should outline the main reasons why the very notion of the chemtrail is a ludicrous one without any real basis. So, here we go:

How the Jet Engine Works:

A jet engine is a surprisingly simple piece of kit that relies on Newton’s Third Law of Motion to propel an aircraft forward, the famous ” To every action there is always opposed an equal reaction: or the mutual actions of two bodies upon each other are always equal, and directed to contrary parts.” (from Newton’s Principia).

Essentially what happens is that a vast volume of cold air is sucked into the jet engine and compressed by an array of fans until it heats up to a temperature hot enough to sustain the combustion of the jet fuel. This superheated air is passed into the “hot section” of the engine, where it is mixed with the jet fuel and ignited by an electric spark (much the same as the spark plug in your car’s internal combustion engine). The burning fuel and hot air are thrust backwards out of the turbine, and this is where Newton’s Third Law of Motion comes into effect; the force of the fuel and air being thrust backwards generates a force equal in magnitude in the opposite direction which is responsible for driving the aircraft forwards.

So then, what’s coming out the back of this engine? Well, a couple of things, firstly the Carbon Dioxide and other by-products of hydrocarbon fuel burning. One of these by-products is something quite harmless and very simple, and this is the one that we see; it is, of course, water. Nothing more sinister than that makes up the trail.

When the water, now exceedingly hot, is ejected from the rear of the turbine it cools and condenses, forming tiny ice crystals resulting in the white haze we see. This is very close, in fact, to the process by which clouds are formed, simple condensation; which is where we get the correct name for this phenomenon the “contrail” or “vapour trail”. These trails should only appear at altitudes of roughly 26’000 feet or above, where the temperature is below about -40°C, or in regions where it is very cold at altitudes below 26’000 feet. This is consistent with observations.

So Why Can’t There Be Harmful Chemicals in There Too?:

Well, apart from the fuel by-products which, of course, contribute to climate change, there are a couple of reasons, some physical/chemical, others political and some quite simply logistical.

Let’s look at a picture of a contrail… in fact, in order to remain reasonable neutral for now, let’s call them cirrus aviaticus. So, yeah, let’s look a a quick snap of a plan and cirrus aviaticus being projected behind it.

Boeing 747-400 seen emitting Cirrus Aviaticus

So, let’s examine this picture a little, shall we? The first thing we notice is that the trails appear to start several dozens of feet from the exhaust port of the engine, and this is for a very simple physical reason; a heated substance requires time to cool. What you are seeing here is the time it takes the superheated moisture being ejected from the engine to cool and condense to form the clouds behind the jet. Chemicals being sprayed downwards would not necessarily require this time; look for example at the Red Arrows (the world-famous RAF display team) who eject a coloured smoke out of the rear of their planes during displays. This smoke, much like any other gaseous or smoke based chemical, appears right at the port from where it is being ejected, unlike the Cirrus Aviaticus.

But suppose the chemicals are coming from the engine itself, they would then require time to cool, and may in that case, much like the water, require time to become visible. This is a valid point, however it does require messing with the chemistry of the aviation fuel in order to inject the chemicals (what ever they may be) into the fuel to be ejected. This would have a number of effects, not least of all messing with the combustibility of the fuel used, something that is very precisely calculated for modern aircraft. It would also require fiddling with the already very high precision piece of equipment that is the modern jet engine. Adding more pipes and lines into a jet engine is more easily said than done.

But supposing that the chemicals can appear in much the same way as the water and behave in the same physical and chemical manners, and suppose that the chemicals can easily be injected into the fuel stream and into the engine without affecting the performance of the plane. We now have the question of “where does it go?” We’ll we’ve already established that any chemicals being mixed with the fuel is a bad idea, so where would one put a tank of chemicals?

The simple fact here is that there isn’t room. A modern jet is built so that there is very little spare room left. Empty fuselage space is wasted space which is added weight for no reason, which wastes fuel and in turn wastes money. The simple answer here is that there is no space for any extra chemical tanks on a plane.

And my final point is this; why? Quite simply why would airline companies or governments bother to poison us from the air? Forget for a second why they would bother in the first place, but why from altitudes of more than 25’000 feet? The fact is that such a practice would be hideously inaccurate, inefficient and expensive; think about crop dusting, it’s only ever really done from heights of less that about 100 feet. Above heights of about 100 feet winds begin to carry chemicals far off of their intended course, which of course, means more of the chemical is required, which costs much more too.

Not only that but it would require world governments who are generally opposed to one and other to agree to mass poisoning of their peoples. There are much easier, cheaper and diplomatic solutions to mass poisoning, such as water supply contamination, crop contamination, etc.

Now I’m not saying that aviation is as clean as a whistle, there are still harsh chemicals associated with the exhaust fumes that contribute to climate change and there is still a lot that needs to be done. However, the idea that Cirrus Aviaticus is down to “Chemtrails” is quite simply a ludicrous conspiracy theory designed to scare the common layman who knows no better, and that is something I cannot stand.

As usual, feel free to chime in via comments etc, and I do apologise for the length of this article, I tried to keep it as short as I could. Thanks for reading.

It’s Tuesday and I’m Knackered… Let’s do Some Astronomy!

Hello once again everyone, so in keeping with my attempt to keep thing interesting around here and have posts happening at least semi-regularly I thought I’d update you on my week so far. Yep, it’s Tuesday and I already feel as if an entire week has gone by, at least I have tea, ginger snaps and Joseph Haydn to keep me going.

I spent six hours at the Glasgow University Observatory today, just outside Maryhill and towards Bearsden, it really is a wonderful place – out of the way, quite and full of positively incredible gadgets to keep you busy for weeks. I’m currently in the process of conducting an experiment, with the aid of three of my peers, into determining a limb darkening profile for the sun. It’s an interesting experiment that looks at how the outside of the disk of the sun as we look at it appears dimmer than the centre.

To conduct this experiment, they have given us free reign over the 12″ telescope in the main dome of the observatory. It’s every kids dream set up, a telescope in the an observatory dome that we can rotate with some ancient looking switches. The most childishly fun part? We can only access the dome via an access hatch on the observatory roof, this involves climbing a ladder onto the roof, scrambling across the top of the observatory and hopping through a small door underneath the dome.

Childish fun aside, we’ll be using a Meade 12″ LX200 and a Canon EOS 600D DSLR to take pictures of the sun in the visible range, analyse the photos via Matlab, most likely with a Markov Chain Monte Carlo method, and trying to determine a limb darkening profile for the sun. It’s a great experiment as it involves making observations of our own sun, the only opportunity we get to observe a real star close up. It also means we get our hands on some pretty cool gear and we don’t have to worry about staying late to make any night observations.

Unfortunately, with this being astronomy, there is quite a bit of ugly maths involved, but hey, I’m sure we’ll get around that sooner or later. On the astronomy front, this Friday I will be travelling out to Brediland primary school to help give a series of talks to the children about astronomy. I will be going out with the Astronomy Group from the university with the mobile planetarium, I have no doubt it will be a great chance to get some of the kids really hooked on space and science in general.

Recently our universities have seen a huge spike in kids interested in and applying for science related degrees, and it’s an area I am really passionate about. The more kids we get into science early, the more researchers, developers, doctors, engineers and teachers we will have later; and that’s something that will be better for us all. Education is something I am quite passionate about pushing as knowledge really is power, and with the world facing so many problems – disease, over-population, global warming, etc. – and the opportunities being presented to us – cures, space travel, clean energy, etc. – we need, now more than ever, a new generation of young scientists to push us forward.

The main thing that we need to do though is to make science interesting for kids. When I was at primary school we never got talks like the ones we’ll be doing on Friday. Science was never made particularly interesting, the only reason I pursued it was because I was a curious kid who was never quite happy with the half-arsed answers provided by teachers, much to their annoyance. However, many kids, especially in today’s schools, don’t have this curiosity; they are taught what to think, to jump through the hoops. We no longer teach kids how to think, we no longer seek to inspire in them that curiosity to find out how things work, why they do certain things, to reach out and see what’s out there.

That’s what I want to do, I want to give kids that spark to ignite the flames of curiosity and drive them to reach for further knowledge, to unlock the secrets of our vast and wonderful universe. That’s all it takes, a little fun, a little bit of interesting material and you have kids hooked, they want to learn more. Half an hour in the mobile planetarium, show them a few stars, planets, nebulae of galaxies… but there’s so much we haven’t seen yet! Well, there’s one way to see it all, and it’s called science.

Half an hour in a mobile planetarium and you may just have created the next group of astrophysicists, engineers, doctors, teachers, astronauts… etc. Or maybe they’ll fall asleep in the darkened dome, I don’t know, we’ll just have to see.

It does mean that I will not be coaching the school kids curling on Friday evening as normal, however I have also been coaching another group on Saturday mornings and it looks like I may be getting more coaching work popping up in the future, which is something I really enjoy doing, and if I get paid for some of it, then I shan’t complain.

So the week may only just have started, I may wish that it was already Friday evening, but there is a lot still to come, this week may require quite a bit of tea, I fear. I may also try and get a decent, full post up some time soon. For now, though, I think a bit of a rest before tomorrow kicks off. Thanks for reading

Have a nice

The Right to an Education

If you come from Scotland, or indeed anywhere in the United Kingdom, as I do, you will be aware of the on going debate surrounding University tuition fees. If you come from somewhere else or were just not aware of that fact, then, yeah… that’s what’s happening. The reason this debate is going on, and has been going on is because of the polar-opposite approaches taken on either side of the border; in Scotland university tuition is free for all Scots studying their first degree. In England and Wales – still part of the same country – this is not the case, with universities being given the ability to set their own levels of tuition fees. Currently, these fees are capped by law at £9’000 pa, however, that still leaves students with a possible debt of £27’000 as soon as they leave university, and that’s not including extra loan amounts for living expenses. The fact that our young people have such a large debt looming at the end of their degree course, in an economic climate where getting a job upon leaving university is not guaranteed, even unlikely, is simply not acceptable and is causing more and more young people to drop any hopes of going to university on financial grounds.

The fact of the matter is, that university is once again becoming a class segregated affair, and I don’t mean teaching classes, I mean that university is becoming something only the middle classes can easily aspire to. With fees at their current level, and the government looking at plans to raise or even scrap the cap, we may begin to see a situation where prices simply spiral out of control leaving the students from the poorest backgrounds unable to partake in higher education. The argument given is generally that the economy cannot cope with the cost of introducing government funded tuition fees, however it still manages to support things such as MPs’ pay and expenses, the royal family and trident? It is simply not a valid argument. It has been estimated that scrapping tuition fees would cost the taxpayer around £4 billion, in comparison the cost of the U.K.’s ‘Trident’ nuclear deterrent is closer to £15 billion of taxpayers’ money, now I’m only a physicist, but I’m sure 15 is a lot bigger than 4.

The idea that young people should be priced out of education due to the economic climate is not a god enough answer; the NHS complains about a lack of doctors and nurses, school class sizes grow due to a lack of teachers, businesses collapse because of poor financial advice, British manufacturing and technology production slump due to a shortage in qualified persons. It’s almost as if there is a link between these cases and the rise in the number of young people not attending university. With fewer people holding degrees and advanced qualifications, of course our economy is going to suffer.

There is also the argument that young people need to know how to manage money, how to pay off debt and that if they start of with debt they will feel like they have to work harder to pay it off. Nonsense, in a country where even people with years of experience and multiple qualifications are struggling to get a job, what chance does the young graduate with little work experience have? And to start that with 27k and upwards already needing to pay off? It is simply not fair, nor is it feasible, to expect young people to cope with such a situation.

And what about the class situation? Why should that be fair? That only those who have come from a wealthy family should have the chance at an education? Again, unfair and completely unacceptable in modern society. Why is it then such an issue? People claim that it will demean degrees, or that people will go to university not wanting to go or simply doing a ‘Mickey-mouse’  degree. There seem to be so many reasons that people seem set against it, that it will somehow undermine everything British and that the economy will collapse and all of England will be sucking into a gaping hole in the Earth’s crust. But it is nonsense; we need only look at the situation in Scotland.

In Scotland, all Scottish young people who wish to go to university to study can do so, with their fees paid for by the Scottish government. What’s more is that it is sustainable, it works. Young Scots have the ability to study in higher education regardless of financial background, with the knowledge that when they come out the other side, the only debts they will have are those for living expenses. The degrees are not diminished either, there are not a flood of people with pretend degrees walking around. Why? Because the universities don’t offer silly degree titles and people tend to study at university because they want to do so; many people choose not to and just go into employment from school or go to colleges. But the simple truth is that it works.

The other truth is this; it is their right to receive an education, based on their ability, not on the size of daddy’s wallet. As much as the Tory led government would have us believe, not all poor people are idiots, and not all rich people are clever. I know plenty of people from less well of backgrounds who simply couldn’t have dreamed about going to university had tuition fees been in place, yet are excelling in their fields at university level. If people want to be educated, and have the ability to do well in their field, then they have every right to be educated.

I cannot abide by this idea that one should be excluded from such a basic right as education simply due to financial background. If we continue to impose tuition fees on our young people, we will suffer in the long run; with fewer doctors, teachers, politicians (not necessarily a bad thing), scientists, architects, etc. Tuition fees are not good for the economy, in fact they may well prove to be quite detrimental to our economy and to the country as a whole. Britain has had a fantastic record of world leading education, world renowned scholars, philosophers and scientists. Let’s keep that record up and scrap tuition fees.


I apologise for the rather rushed nature of this post and the absence of posts for a while, but I have been engaged in the nitty-gritty world of politics, I will explain in my next post. For now, however, thanks for reading and, as usual, feel free to leave comments and continue the debate in the comments section.