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December 16th – 22nd, 2023

16/12/23 – 22/12/23

The Budget Squeeze, an Unenforceable Parking Ban, but first….

Did Scotland Avert a Nuclear War?

            During the Cold War thousands of staff were located in Scotland at six secret US bases, and it was a Scottish listening post which first detected that Cuban leader Fidel Castro’s brother Raul had visited Moscow in July 1962.  Further Scots surveillance detected that missile parts were being moved across to Cuba.  President Kennedy used the presence of nuclear-armed submarines at the Clyde to force the Soviet Union to climb down. 

            As well as the submarine squadron at Holy Loch, author David Mackay* says bases at Edzell, Kirknewton and Thurso and airstrips at Machrihanish and Prestwick helped the West to face down the threat.  The Edzell base was believed to be the initial source of the information on Raul Castro’s trip to Russia.

            Unfortunately another spying mission from Scottish soil was not so successful.  Giant bogus weather-balloons were floated up from Royal Naval air station Evanton, in Ross-shire, to be caught up in the jet stream and drift towards Russia.  They were carrying gondolas with cameras which would be dropped and then retrieved, but of the 103 balloons launched, only one was successful and its camera gave more than 900ft of film footage and 1000 photos.

            The remaining 102 unfortunately floated off track, crashed or were shot down by the Russians, with dozens also captured by the Russians.  The one successful flight yielded photos of remote parts of Russia and of Yonpo airfield in North Korea.

*David Mackay: Bubbleheads, SEALs and Wizards, America’s Scottish Bastion in the Cold War

Remembering Flight 103

            On Thursday this week it was 35 years since PanAm Flight 103 exploded over Lockerbie, Dumfries and Galloway, in a terror attack which killed 269 people on board and 11 residents of the town whose homes were destroyed when flight debris fell on them starting a huge conflagration. The bomb had been due to detonate over the ocean but a flight delay from London meant it exploded while the plane was still flying over Scotland.

            Thirty-five of those who died were students from Syracuse University, New York, returning home for the holidays.  One person was convicted of the atrocity and even today one is still awaiting trial. 

           As we celebrate Christmas, we should pause to remember those who were looking forward to seeing their families that fateful day but never got the chance, and to remember the town of Lockerbie which was blighted by the tragedy for so many years since.

The Scottish Budget

            Scotland is facing a budget shortfall of at least £1bn from next May, later rising to £1.5bn, comprising £800 million day-to-day spending and a capital (infrastructure) shortfall of £700 million.  Scotland’s funding comes from three source, the Treasury ‘block’ grant based on proportional spending along the lines of England’s funding; taxes set by Holyrood; and borrowing.

            The shortfall has been caused by higher-than-expected pay awards for the public sector, inflation, a chosen freeze of council tax (£300 million) and £100 million to cut NHS waiting lists.

            Scotland is legally obliged to ‘balance its books’, and they always have, which puts the lie to the supposed ‘deficit’ which Scotland only has due to money spent ‘for the benefit of Scotland’, whether it was spent here or not. The shortfall is paid by cuts, tax increases or ‘reprofiling’, essentially pushing back spending commitments to a later date.

            As was widely predicted, a new tax band of 45% has been introduced on earnings between £75,000 and £125,000.  Although NHS Scotland got a 4.3% rise of £550 million, the Hospitality sector did not get rates relief along the same lines as England and Wales, although the poundage rate has remained consistently low in Scotland.  And Scottish benefits will rise by nearly 7% from April.   Over £205 million is cut from the Housing budget, much of it (£189m) from the new homes fund.  Energy efficiency lost over £9 million, rail £80 million, ferries £5.5 million, and social justice/child poverty lost £3 million.  Mental health funding is frozen, and thousands of jobs are once more under threat in the public sector.

Land Reform:

            Former MSP Andy Wightman is due to draft a land bill to tackle a ‘concentrated pattern of ownership unprecedented anywhere else in the world’.  He says little has changed since 2010 when 432 people owned half the privately owned rural land is Scotland, insisting the Scottish government’s proposed 3000-hectare trigger for public interest in land sales is too high, and even setting any arbitrary limit is also unsuitable. He says applying a rule to one holding only means that buyers may own overall much more than that amount but in different parcels of land.

            He wants owners to be ‘ordinarily resident’ on or close to the land they buy, and is calling for local accountability, and wants the Scots law of succession to change, as currently the distinction between heritable and moveable estate means children have no legal right to inherit land, putting Scotland at odds with almost all of Europe. 

            And he is also calling for a revaluation of property values to update them from their 1991 values, which at a stroke would raise much more money for local government.

Muirburn:

            A row is raging over the Wildlife Management and Muirburn (Scotland) Bill which in its present form would allow muirburn to continue if it was to prevent or reduce wildfire risk.  But this alleged benefit is disputed by Trees for Life (TfL), who say it is not a recognised fire-prevention technique, causes some wildfires, and say the Scottish uplands is more fire-prone due to the prevalence of heather and purple-moor grass.  The RSPB and TfL say muirburn should continue only as a last resort.

            Muirburn takes place over an area equivalent to over 200,000 football pitches, risking carbon-storing peatlands releasing carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.  If the bill passes, a licence will be needed for muirburn at any point in the year, but with differing requirements depending on the reason they are doing it.

Are 16-year-olds too young?

            Another strange departure for the SNP/Greens.  Apparently it was okay for gender reassignment to begin at 16, with social transitioning even earlier, but now they have decided that 16 is too young to marry.  Yet they also propose that 16-year-olds can become MSPs.  So are they too young at 16 or not?  The United Nations has voiced concerns that marriage at 16 could lead to child exploitation.  England and Wales raised the age to 18 this year due to similar fears, and there will be a formal Scottish government consultation next year.

            Under 18s are still allowed puberty blockers and the gender reform bill was going to allow them to change gender at 16.  Thank goodness it was binned.

Trans Terminology

Should we have to refer to males who say they are women as ‘she’?

Yes, according to Melissa Poulton, a Green Party Westminster candidate who previously stood as a male for the Conservatives, but who now claims to be a ‘proud lesbian’.

No, according to Redditch MP Rachel Maclean, the Equality Act 2010 provisions and the case of Maya Forstater, where gender critical (GC) beliefs were proved to be protected under the law.  Logically, upholding GC beliefs must include the right to describe someone’s sex rather than their self-declared gender identity without being labelled as transphobic. 

This particularly matters in court settings, where knowingly telling an untruth is generally frowned upon, but is increasingly demanded by trans activists.  In the case of rape, it may wholly undermine a prosecution, as if rape can only be committed by a male, and a victim must call her attacker ‘she/her’, might a conviction be for sexual assault rather than rape?

The Scottish Prison Service (SPS)

         Hot on the heels of assuring the public that the SPS can conduct accurate (predictive) risk assessments on violent males in the female estate, SPS have now been allowed to opt out of having female staff strip-searching male-bodied inmates. 

         Is that because they know they are males and are afraid of getting charged with sexual assault?  If so, why aren’t they concerned about women having to share spaces with male-bodied trans prisoners?  If a risk assessment is good enough to protect female prisoners, why would it not be good enough to protect female prison staff?

         In good news for women it was announced this week that the Scottish government will not seek to appeal to the Supreme Court over Alister Jack’s use of the s35 power to block the gender reform bill.  The UK government intends to recoup its legal costs of £150,000 from the Scottish government, who will also have to pay their own costs of about £250,000.

Health:

Patients are facing a journey of hundreds of miles from Argyll and Bute after a hospital’s only blood cancer specialist was removed by NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde.  Up until now, Oban’s Lorn & The Islands Hospital served the area through a monthly visit from a consultant haematologist.

Patients in Danger?

            Some nurses are being forced to work up to 18 hours a day, potentially endangering patient safety, according to Freedom of Information requests made to NHS Lothian, Ayrshire and Highlands, although NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde and NHS Tayside said it would be too expensive to supply the information, and no reply has been received from Forth Valley.

            Nearly 10% of nursing posts are vacant as of June 2023, with 1400 nurses quitting the profession between March and September this year, 8% up on last year.          

Parking Ban May be unenforceable

            Some councils have warned that they will be unable to enforce the new government ruling on pavement parking, despite it being illegal from December 11th, with some councils saying they lack enforcement powers and may have to delay the rollout for months or even years.  A third of Scotland’s 32 councils say they do not have the Decriminalised Parking Enforcement (DPE) powers needed for implementation.  Edinburgh will be enforcing the ban from next month, and Aberdeen, East Dunbartonshire, Midlothian and North Ayrshire will follow later in 2024.  Glasgow is not meeting until May to decide its next steps.

            Although DPE powers became available 30 years ago, West Lothian, Dumfries and Galloway, Orkney and Shetland have not formally applied for DPE powers.  Inverclyde will not commit to a start date and South Lanarkshire favours persuasion over enforcement.

Finally,

There once was a Lonely Voter

            One lucky voter in Amulree, Perthshire will get their very own ballot box at Amulree polling station, being the only voter in the Perth and North Perthshire constituency polling district PLM.  Amulree is a hamlet near the river Braan, six miles from Crieff.  After a suggestion someone could chap on their door and hand over the voting form, election manager Scott Walker confirmed this was not possible and the polling arrangement has to stand.  The voter will not be entirely alone as the polling station is shared with the neighbouring district, PCT, which has 102 residents, and the two cannot be merged as they are in different wards.             

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