Scotland’s economy needs a boost. Our public services need investment, not more cuts. And the businesses that employ millions of people across the country are crying out for help.

But the response from the government is to impose more cuts and increase the costs on businesses.

If the SNP’s £1.5billion of cuts to local services like schools and care of the elderly since 2011 hasn’t been bad enough, businesses and public services now face big increases in their business rates.

Business rates are a tax charged on non-domestic properties. For example, shops, offices, hotels and factories have to pay tax for using a building. The amount paid is determined by the value of the property and the revenue raised goes to councils to fund services like schools, care of the elderly and roads.

In recent months, there has been a revaluation which means the business rates to be paid will change. For some companies and public services that means the business rates they pay will fall. That’s obviously a good thing for those in that position.

But for many businesses and public services their rates will rocket. Time and again we have heard from the owners of small businesses – like local cafes and small hotels – who say they will have to go out of business because they can’t afford to pay the huge rates hike. In my own are of Portobello, the Beach House cafe will have to close if it doesn’t get relief.

These are small, locally owned firms that are the lifeblood of communities across the country. Often they employ people from the local community and boost the economy. A business rates hike could be the final straw for them.

Nationalist ministers seem to be sticking their fingers in their ears and pretending there isn’t a problem. But even Alex Salmond has said that there is a problem that needs to be addressed.

It’s not just businesses that will face a big increase in business rates. Public services like the NHS and universities face having to pay more.

Last year the SNP was warned by health boards that the NHS could face a bill of up to £30million. This is money that would have to be redirected away from already hard pressed budgets, putting even more strain on services across the country. At a time when the future of maternity units, children’s wards and even entire hospitals is in doubt because of SNP cuts, a £30million increase in business rates will be too much for the NHS to handle.

Yet while the NHS faces having to fork out more, Sports Direct could see its business rates fall. You read that right. Sports Direct, the firm that has been accused of imposing Victorian working conditions, could be better off but the NHS could face a £30million bill.

The SNP can do something about this. The budget will reach its final stage in the Scottish Parliament this week. Nationalist ministers can stop the cuts to local services and protect businesses that help our communities to thrive. It just takes political will.

From Friday, Scottish Labour members and trade unionists will gather in the Fair City of Perth for our annual conference. It’s a chance to catch up with old friends and make new ones.

But much more important than that, conference is the most important policy-making body in our party. And on Friday we will confirm our commitment to Scotland remaining in the UK.

The theme of our conference is that together we are stronger. First and foremost, that applies to the constitution. By working together across the whole of the UK we can achieve so much more than we ever could by breaking off on our own.

Independence would be a disaster for the public services that we all value. At the weekend a new report estimated that a separate Scotland would face immediate spending cuts worth up to £19billion. These are cuts that would hammer our NHS and schools. That’s not a risk I am willing to take with Scotland’s future.

But people are getting really fed up with the SNP’s obsession with independence. With so many other problems facing the country – from a crisis in our NHS to a growing gap between the richest and the rest in our classrooms – it’s time for the Nationalists to focus on the day job.

The SNP must rule out another independence referendum altogether. Instead of constantly trying to divide people, the government should try to bring everybody together to improve the life chances of our people.

The battle to prevent Brexit at all costs moved to the House of Lords this week. This is an opportunity for Parliament to force Theresa May into a rethink over some of her Brexit plans.

For example, members of the Lords will seek to give reassurance to EU nationals who have made Britain their home.

We should be absolutely clear that Brexit is going to happen. We had a referendum and people voted to leave the European Union. That has to be respected.

But people didn’t vote to make themselves poorer, and they didn’t vote to give Theresa May a blank cheque to impose a version of Brexit that is designed entirely to appease the right wing of the Tory party.

Now I am not the greatest fan of the House of Lords. I think it should be scrapped in favour of an elected senate of the nations and regions.

But as when the Lords made the Tories think again about their plans to cut the tax credits of working families across the UK, there is now an opportunity to hold the government to account on Brexit. It’s an opportunity that shouldn’t be passed up.

February marks LGBT history month. It’s a chance to reflect on how much progress has been made in securing the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people in our country. Civil partnerships and then equal marriage shows that as a society we are moving in the right direction.

But the reality is that more than half of lesbian, gay and bisexual young people continue to experience homophobic bullying. We cannot rest until all people are treated equally, regardless of who they love.

It’s no surprise that tickets for an Ed Sheerangig are selling for a lot of money online. But the news that tickets for a Teenage Cancer Trust charity gig are being resold by touts for extortionate rates online is sickening. To profit from the illness of others is shameful.

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