ToW 11/02/23 – 17/02/23
Nicola Sturgeon Resigns
On Wednesday this week, Nicola Sturgeon resigned as First Minister of Scotland and Leader of the SNP. It comes after a turbulent time in Scottish politics dominated by the ill-fated gender reform legislation which brought the intervention of the UK government to block it.
Ms Sturgeon remained tight-lipped on exact reasons for her resignation and refused to be drawn on who will succeed her. She has been the major presence in Scottish politics for eight years, but her legacy will be mixed. Despite great SNP election success, this has not translated into any real movement on the SNP’s core aim of independence.
Failure on Homelessness
Councils must offer temporary accommodation for a person or household they assess as unintentionally homeless but in 2021-22 the failure rate for councils has gone up by 20% (725 instances, 695 of them in Edinburgh). The previous year the total had been 595 cases. But some of the accommodation offered to those presenting in Edinburgh was in Leicester or Newcastle. Fife failed in 20 cases, Orkney in 10.
Since the start of 2013 the Homelessness (Abolition of Priority Need Test) (Scotland) Order 2012 meant all unintentionally homeless were entitled to settled accommodation, with councils allowed to house them temporarily until settled accommodation is available. Sometimes people have claimed that councils have advised them to contact other housing providers first then come back if they don’t get anything.
£50K for coronation ‘celebrations’?
Inverclyde council unanimously voted to spend up to £50,000 to fund an extra bank holiday to celebrate the king’s coronation, despite the council earlier highlighting a funding shortfall of £3.8 million, but said the coronation funding would come from existing budgets, while also asking for local authorities to have greater flexibility and not have so much money ring-fenced. Inverclyde is currently consulting over possible cuts to services and facilities, and 25% of children in the area live in poverty. The cost of treating the day as a holiday will cover council buildings and offices being closed on Monday 8th May, and any staff who do have to work will be paid public holiday rates.
Salmon and Scotch
Exports of whisky were more than £6 bn last year, up over 20% over 2019, with sales value up 37%. The American market took £1 bn worth, with India taking the most by volume. The SNP Trade Union Group calculates that a special levy on its sale could raise up to £1bn from corporate suppliers, with some criticising the strength which the lobbying arm of the Scotch Whisky Association appears to wield in government.
Rural Affairs and Islands Secretary Mairi Gougeon said the government would continue to listen to the sector and ‘….. remove barriers to trade’ for an industry which employs 11,000 people in Scotland, 7000 of them in rural areas.
Rapidly-rising import taxes are putting increased pressure on small businesses, some of which may fold. For products imported from Europe VAT has risen from 20% to 34%, which makes even established businesses less viable. Dr Antoinette Fionda-Douglas has a start-up sustainable fashion business in Edinburgh, and believes government should give preferential business rates which reward sustainability. She is also hoping to work with Scottish mills to establish a new Made In Scotland knitwear brand going forward.
How to rescue the Scot Wind debacle
Dr Craig Dalzell of Common Weal is suggesting a way to rescue what many regard as the failure of the ScotWind leasing round. His proposal is to immediately revive plans for a Scottish publicly-owned energy company. He cites two approvals at conference from SNP members, plus the support of the Scottish Greens for the project. The government refusal to countenance such a proposal are puzzling. Was the ScotWind project too large to manage publicly, or would a firm along the lines of the proposed Welsh company be too little to make a difference to consumers?
Even now, as the fine detail is currently being worked on in the contracts, he suggests a ‘break clause’ could be inserted, to be activated if commitments like supply chain benefits are not met. The publicly-owned company would then be able to step in and take over the project.
Another important point is the length of leases. Developers often ask for 99 year or even perpetual leases, but shorter terms would keep some control and allow for re-negotiation as time passes. There must also be robust terms which force firms to leave an area as they found it, rather than extracting profits then moving on.
Arran Outdoor Education Centre (AOEC)
North Ayrshire Council will be voting on whether to close this centre permanently and the Community of Arran Seabed Trust (COAST) is extremely worried about the effect that would have not only on outdoor education but on its own operations. COAST have a binding five-year partnership agreed with the council to use AOEC infrastructure to operate its new research vessel RV COAST Explorer, which is due to be launched in spring 2023, which is obviously now under severe threat.
Local residents are mobilising to oppose the move which is subject to a vote on March 1st.
DC Thomson, Dundee
In a bombshell announcement 300 employees will be made redundant at iconic Dundee publisher DC Thomson, to try and plug a £10 million financial hole. The majority of the jobs will go in the publisher’s magazine section to concentrate on continuing The People’s Friend, the Beano, Bunkered and Puzzler. Lesser-known titles like Evergreen, Living and Animal Planet will close. Staff at the Beano will have to reapply for their jobs. Roles are being reassessed. Some jobs may go at the Courier and Press and Journal. The National Union of Journalists (NUJ) has voted to fight the cuts, even though DC Thomson has never officially recognised the union.
Those affected are particularly angered that £10 million of cuts are being made after £24 million was paid in dividends to shareholders last year, part of a £110 million dividend payment over the last 5 years.
SNP demand Carbon Compensation
Following the failure of The Vow in 2014, which promised among other things that Scotland would get a Carbon Capture Utilisation and Underground Storage (CCUS) facility at Peterhead, the project was put in the mix for the 2021 round of funding. However, it failed to be awarded funding under Track 1 and had to content itself with Reserve Status. Now SNP Westminster leader Stephen Flynn has written to Rishi Sunak calling for immediate funding for the Acorn project to assist in Scotland’s plans to decarbonise industry through carbon storage, as well as promote hydrogen infrastructure projects.
Mental Health is Suffering
Scotland’s mental health has deteriorated greatly over the last four years judging by the number of mental health calls to NHS24, which have increased 580% in that time to over 139,000. It is believed that mental health began to deteriorate during covid, but since then we have had to contend with a cost-of-living crisis and fears over the war in Ukraine enveloping more of Europe.
throughout Scotland are being mooted as a suggestion for housing Ukrainian refugees who are currently housed in ferries which are unsuitable for the long-term. The £10 million modular housing plan may follow the Irish prototype and may be built on greenbelt land, industrial sites and beside shopping centres. It is to be delivered by Palladium Group, who specialise in humanitarian relief in disaster zones.
Caledonian Maritime Assets (CMAL) has asked its lawyers, London firm Addleshaw Goddard for a King’s Counsel (KC) to examine whether there were any irregularities relating to the procurement of new passenger ferries. Questions have been raised as to whether all bidders received the same specification information. There is a simultaneous ongoing enquiry by a public audit committee of the Scottish Parliament into the delays surrounding delivery of the ferries.
St Kilda Sheep
The Soay sheep of the St Kilda archipelago are an anomaly in not being covered by the animal health and welfare laws which protect every other UK sheep resulting in them living in terrible conditions, ill, tormented by parasites and even starving. Over 12,000 adult sheep and 4000 lambs have died over 20 years. Uist-based vets David Buckland and Graham Charlesworth are critical of the National Trust for Scotland (NTS) and the Edinburgh-University led St Kilda Soay Sheep Project (SKSSP), saying the NTS has failed to accept any responsibility for the sheep despite inheriting St Kilda island in 1957. The SKSSP largely takes a ‘hands off’ approach despite having monitored a population decimation of up to 70% from illness and starvation in some years on Soay, Boreray and Hirta.
Scotland’s Chief Veterinary Officer, Sheila Voas, classes the St Kilda sheep as wild animals, not protected by the Animal Health and Welfare Act (AHWA). The Uist vets think the sheep should qualify as ‘feral sheep’ and therefore be included in AWHA protection.
Who will succeed Nicola Sturgeon? The front-runner appears to be Angus Robertson, but Kate Forbes, Humza Yousaf and John Swinney have all been mentioned. But will SNP members forget the gender reform vote (Kate Forbes) or the parlous state of the health service (Humza Yousaf)? Is Angus Robertson or John Swinney the man to take Scotland to independence?
Perhaps someone new will emerge from the shadows. Interesting times.