01/04/23 – 07/04/23
Peter Murrell Arrested
The former chief executive of the SNP was arrested earlier this week in connection with a police investigation into the whereabouts of money raised by independence supporters for an independence referendum which will not now be held any time soon. Questions arose when it was not apparent from the party accounts where the money is.
Police spent all day at the Murrells’ property, taking away laptops and other records, and apparently interested in a barbeque. They also searched SNP headquarters. Mr Murrell was later released without charge pending further enquiries.
Its auditor Johnston Carmichael resigned before Murrell’s arrest, after a decade of auditing the SNP books.
Fewer than one-fifth of Scottish voters (18%) would support Humza Yousaf challenging the UK over the gender reform legislation. It was a condition of continuing the Bute House Agreement. Neil Gray said they would look at legal advice with the deadline for lodging a judicial review being April 17th. Forty-four percent of voters think he should abandon the bill altogether and 24% think a compromise should be sought.
Following the stooshie over Scotland’s headlong rush to gender self-identification, UK Equalities Minister Kemi Badenoch is considering clarifying that single-sex spaces protected by the Equality Act 2010 apply only to biological females, not to those identifying as women.
It has not been an easy start for new SNP leader Humza Yousaf. The so-called ‘power couple’ at the head of the SNP have now both left their posts, and the SNP appears badly divided on the fault line of gender reform. Now a group of 15 SNP MSPs are reported to be considering operating an unofficial parallel policy which may contradict the government’s official stance.
The Group of 15, many of whom supported Kate Forbes’ leadership bid, will publish their own set of economic policy papers, looking to increase support for independence by business-friendly policies and ‘trickle down’ economics. The group may seek to challenge government legislative plans which do not align with their goals.
The Scottish government’s reluctance to commit to upgrading the A9 and the A96 and their perceived lack of resolution on the ferry problems is another thorn in the side, and they are opposed to an acceleration away from oil and gas, saying more time is needed for a just transition. They oppose the plans for new Highly Protected Marine Areas which would ban all fishing in onshore waters (up to 12 nautical miles from land) and which the government hopes will eventually also encompass offshore waters beyond the 12-mile limit.
Despite reports to the contrary, Kate Forbes has denied she refused a cabinet position in order to devote more time to family life, saying she absolutely loved her post as Finance Secretary and wanted to retain it.
Sentencing the Under-25s
There has been widespread condemnation of the refusal to imprison a convicted rapist aged 21, on the grounds he is too young to be imprisoned according to sentencing guidelines. Instead he will have only 270 hours of unpaid work. The man was 17 at the time of the attack, repeatedly raping a vulnerable 13-year-old girl at Dalkeith Country Park.
What makes it worse is that the attacks occurred on a number of occasions over 4 months in 2018. The Scottish Sentencing Council, established by the SNP government, takes the view that young offenders’ brains have not developed fully, with the part governing self-control developing later than the part controlling impulsive behaviour. The Scottish government washed its hands of it, saying the court must consider all the circumstances, and said all parties backed the establishment of the Sentencing Council.
However, it is hard to see a course of conduct over 4 months as ‘impulsive’. And it calls into question the Scottish government’s plan to allow people to become MSPs at 16. Even older than that MSPs have come up with some very dubious decisions.
A sentencing appeal is planned, and a petition is asking the Justice Secretary to intervene in the case, and to overturn the lenient sentencing guidelines.
Ferries or tunnels?
Angus MacNeil claims that it would be cheaper to build tunnels to Scotland’s islands than complete the overdue ferries, giving tunnels between Mull and Argyll, tunnels across the sounds of Barra and Harris, and even allow a start on one from the Outer Hebrides to Skye.
He has written to Humza Yousaf to suggest that new Transport Minister Kevin Stewart visit the Faroe Islands on a feasibility study. MacNeil envisages twenty-five-year funding from possibly foreign pension funds or sovereign wealth funds.
Harbour Energy in Aberdeen confirmed recently it is going ahead with 350 job losses, claiming the government’s windfall tax had wiped out its profits. Other firms seem set to follow suit, claiming the tax will stop them investing for the future, despite the fact that the UK government will pay over 90% of firms’ investment for them.
And three firms who challenged what they called the UK government’s unfair sale process of collapsed provider Bulb to rival Octopus Energy have lost their court challenge.
The Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP)
is the unwieldy name for the new UK trade deal with the Asia-Pacific region, although many including the Scottish government are less than enthused, saying it will add only £1.8bn a year to the economy after 10 years, adding only 0.08% to the economy, compared with the 4% fall in GDP caused by Brexit. The UK is the first European nation to join the bloc comprising Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore and Vietnam, and 99% of UK exports to the bloc will be zero-tariff.
The UK claims it has protected food and animal welfare protections, environment and data protection, as well as protecting prices paid for NHS drugs, but Scotland remains unconvinced.
It may also mean that the UK will not be able to rejoin the EU customs union, making any thoughts of a return to the EU that much further away.
New Pylons Will Disfigure the Highlands
Campaigners are angry about the proposed construction of a new line of pylons through the Scottish Highlands and are vowing to fight energy firm SSEN regarding the plan stretching 100 miles from Spittal, Caithness, to Beauly, Inverness. They say these power lines should be put underground. Campaigners say that the proposed pylons are ‘Glasgow tower block size’ between 50m and 60m in height every few hundred metres, and say that residents were only consulted about where in a 1km-wide strip of land they should be sited, not about the height or numbers or whether they should be sited there.
Strathpeffer residents are particularly outraged about the despoiling of the conservation area, Knockfarrel hill fort, Castle Leod and the Loch Kinellan crannog, with damage to habitats, loss of rare species, and land used by walkers and mountain bikers. They want a public inquiry into the matter, particularly as they claim local residents did not receive adequate notice to prepare objections.
SSEN Transmission seem impervious at this time, saying they are seeking feedback on potential routes within the 1km area, as well as opinions on substation locations, which would inform further consultation later this year. There is still time.
Let SSEN know your views via its initial consultation which runs until April 14th, which will inform its further plans.
A number of health boards have spent a total of £26 million on agency staff between December 2022 and February 2023, although this figure may be higher as NHS Tayside did not supply figures. Over 34,000 shifts were covered by agency nurses, with each 8-hour agency shift costing £106 an hour approximately, compared with less than £15 paid to a newly-qualified nurse.
In the year to March 2022, NHS Scotland spent just under £89m on agency nurses, compared to £4 million a decade earlier, and locum doctors cost £102m in 2021-22, double the 2014 total of £67m.
GP contract ending
Inverurie Medical Practice in Aberdeenshire has taken the decision to hand back its GP contract to the NHS, meaning 25,000 patients have to be taken over by other local practices. Ten per cent of practices have closed since 2008, with only 928 remaining in 2020 compared to 1025 in 2008.
Almost 700 tenants have been subject to eviction proceedings since the eviction ban last September, with the Wheatley Group obtaining 86 eviction orders for rent arrears, with at least 125 social housing tenants evicted from their homes since the advent of the law. Landlords can apply for and be granted an eviction order during the ban and enforce it when the ban ends on September 30th this year, and the ban does not cover those with arrears of six months or more or social tenants with debts of over £2,250. Average arrears are over £4,000. Nearly 30,000 homelessness cases were recorded last September, 11% up on the previous year.
Meanwhile tenants’ union Living Rent organised a protest outside Partick Housing Association (PHA) over a planned 7% rent increase. The firm says only 12% of tenants completed a consultation, but refused to say how many respondents agreed with the price hike. Ironically, tenants are then being given ‘handouts’ from the housing association to cover electricity and food, making them feel like ‘charity cases’ and other tenants queried the legitimacy of the consultation. Some accuse the Scottish government of throwing social tenants ‘under the bus’.
The North Coast 500 road at Bealach na Ba (Cattle Pass) has been named one of the world’s most dangerous roads by car rental comparison site StressFreeCarRental.com, having the steepest ascent of any road in the UK, rising from sea level at Applecross to over 2000ft within 4 miles, complete with switchbacks and a very narrow road. Some are calling for the stretch to be removed from the NC500 altogether due to its increasing use by campervans unsuitable for the road.