On Monday 16th January, Scottish Secretary Alister Jack took the unprecedented step of using powers under s35 of the Scotland Act to block Scotland’s recent gender reform legislation. It is the first time this power has been used, and the Scottish government has vowed to fight it. Jack objected on the grounds that the legislation would adversely affect UK-wide equality laws, would substantively change what is a ‘man’ or ‘woman’ for purposes of the Equality Act and the process would be ‘open to abuse and malicious actors’. Just the objections which women voiced but were ignored.
The ferry network recently lost 2 ferries for weeks due to problems with rust and a bow visor, and Arran is concerned about a repeat of their Christmas food shortages. As the MV Hebridean Isles could not berth at Ardrossan due to the poor condition of the fendering, the service was temporarily transferred to freight-only from Troon to Brodick, with other ferries taking cars and foot passengers.
The oldest CalMac ferry is the Isle of Cumbrae at 47, half the fleet’s ferries are over 25 years old, and repair costs have soared from £9.5 million in 2011 to £28.5 million in 2021. Mull and Iona Ferry Committee (MIFC) and Arran Ferry Action Group blame bad management and the state of the vessels, plus the inability to replace them.
Meanwhile, the Scottish government has had to earmark another £160 million to try and deliver Glen Sannox and Hull 802. They had already allocated £61m for 2023/24, plus two tranches of £36m and £47m, as well as £15 million in this year’s budget, but John Swinney is only ‘hopeful’ they will be completed, with design gaps which ‘significantly risk’ their delivery.
The UK government has bypassed Holyrood by giving levelling-up funding for a new roll-on roll-off ferry for the Fair Isle.
Social Rents set to rise by 11%
The Scottish government plans to lift a ban on rent increases by social landlords, meaning tenants may pay up to 11.1% more when the rent freeze ends shortly. Net operating surpluses of social landlords will rise to over £305 million in 2026-27 from £132 million this financial year, but rent arrears in the sector are almost £170 million. Ministers may be planning to extend the cap on rent rises for private accommodation only, not social housing.
Shipbuilding order under threat
The spring defence review is expected to cancel a multi-billion-pound order for five new Type 32 frigates in Scotland. Existing work on Type 26 frigates at BAE Systems Clyde and Type 31 frigates at Babcock Rosyth declines towards 2030 and the Type 32s would have guaranteed Rosyth shipyard from 2028 with up to 1200 jobs, but now they are looking instead at job losses.
The plans were actually cancelled by the Navy and now depend on money being restored to their budget by Rishi Sunak.
Two successful bids were announced for Scotland, one in Inverness and Cromarty Firth and the other in the Firth of Forth, centred on the Port of Leith, despite the latter bid being ineligible as not having a written commitment of support from their local authority until after the deadline for submissions had passed. The Clyde Green Freeport bid said the Forth bid should therefore have been rejected. Each will receive £26million start-up funding from the UK government, tax reliefs and other incentives from the Scottish and UK governments.
John Swinney believes they will bring new high-quality, well-paid jobs, promote growth and regeneration and help achieve net-zero, but Ross Greer thinks it just hands over public cash to multinationals, with no hard climate or fair work targets, drives down worker and environmental regulation, and benefits only big business.
The UK government this week gave levelling up funding for the regeneration of Cumbernauld town centre, the Forthside area of Stirling and Inverclyde, among others. Meanwhile Glasgow is planning £51m education cuts, possibly 800 teaching posts, schools closing early on Friday and the end of free swimming lessons.
Crofters Threatening Hostile Takeover
Assynt Crofters’ Trust (ACT) is threatening to invoke the Community Empowerment (Scotland) Act 2015 which amended the Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2003 to allow the purchase of land being managed in a way which ‘results in or causes harm’ to environmental wellbeing. They want to purchase the mountain of Quinag from the John Muir Trust (JMT) as they oppose JMT’s deer culling plan which aims to protect the last fragments of Scotland’s Atlantic rain forest. JMT says the ACT could instead fence in areas for deer for their own possibly sporting aims.
NatureScot have allowed the cull, which is part of a wider aim to cull 20% of Scotland’s one million deer in the next five years to protect young trees and peatland.
850ft turbines in Scotland
At least 14 major proposals for ‘super wind turbines’ up to 850ft in height have bypassed local authorities and gone straight for Scottish government approval due to their size, with plans for 245 wind turbines across Scotland aiming to fast-track wind and hydrogen development. While admitting landscape issues must be considered, Scottish Renewables claim the sector supports 10,000 full-time jobs and brings in £2.5 bn annually.
The 850ft turbine(s) will be at Dunside in the Lammermuir Hills, proposed by EDF Renewables on land owned by Roxburghe Estates. NatureScot objects on aesthetic grounds to both the numbers and height of the turbines. RWE Renewables UK is proposing 26 turbines over 750ft tall situated between Eredine and Furnace in Argyll and Bute.
Vital flood defences costing £1bn are planned to protect 13,000 properties, with 28 ‘priority’ flood schemes, but only 6 are due for completion by the end of 2023. Another six of the 28 have been paused, and Musselburgh’s flood scheme will cost 10 times its original estimate of nearly £9m (£96m), partly due to belatedly including repairs to a seawall (£52m) and partly to replacing four bridges in the town. Arbroath’s will cost 9 times as much as planned. Priority schemes get 80% of their funding from the Scottish government, with 20% from local funding.
Critics including the Scottish Greens suggest that cheaper nature-based approaches would be more effective and save money through tree planting, re-meandering previously straightened rivers, and digging ponds.
Edinburgh goes Vegan
by becoming the first capital city in Europe to commit to dropping meat from its menus in schools, hospitals and nursing homes, opting for a ‘plant-based treaty’ promoting vegan food over meat and dairy. The move has been slammed as anti-farming. Jake Swindells of the Scottish Countryside Alliance said the council was ‘…pandering to misinformation about livestock farming’, and that the 65% of UK farmland best suited to growing grass could not just be repurposed to grow other crops instead.
A petition due to be considered this week is calling for Scotland’s laws to be tightened to stop the ultra-rich from suppressing free speech. SLAPPs or Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation essentially force the withdrawal of articles in face of the threat of costly long drawn-out litigation which would bankrupt most people. Both the UK and the EU are drawing up plans for such legislation, but Scotland is not.
Sticking plaster for the A83
The current diversion via the single-track Old Military Road through Glen Croe will continue, with another £30 million to be spent improving the road, which is unsuitable for lorries, tankers or buses, but which costs one-tenth of the amount for a better, two-way diversion. Work starts later this year but its timescales are unclear, and nets and catchpits do not currently keep the road open. Transport Scotland have given a £25m contract for ‘advice and design management’ to two Canadian firms, but a permanent solution may be a decade away.
Is Scotland going too far too fast away from fossil fuels?
The Scottish government’s newly-revealed draft energy strategy is under fire following the revelation that over £40bn was paid to Norway last year to buy half the UK’s oil and gas supplies, claiming it is supporting jobs in Norway but not at home. Oil and gas supplied 75% of the UK’s total energy in 2021. Offshore Energies UK (OEUK) has warned the UK may need to import almost all its supplies if North Sea exploration is cut off too soon. By March last year, Norway supplied more gas to the UK than the UK did.
regularly travel round the UK’s roads, but worryingly they have logged up 40 safety incidents in the last three years, including breakdowns, crashes, brake faults and power losses. On one occasion an ‘erratic driver’ interfered with a convoy. The locations, dates and details of incidents are kept secret, with the MoD saying transportation of nuclear weapons occurs only when necessary, with public safety paramount. Warheads are conveyed regularly between Burghfield nuclear weapons factory in Berkshire and the Royal Navy armament depot at Coulport in Argyll and Bute.
The intense shinty rivalry between Newtonmore and Kingussie was recently revealed in ‘Giving It Stick’ from Tern Television, transmitted by the BBC. The sport is claimed to be the precursor of golf and ice hockey and has been adapted and developed in football. Film-maker Greg Clark shows the strong links between shinty and Highland communities, where men play for their home town and do not transfer to other teams. Beginning in the fifth century, its aggressive attributes were deliberately cultivated to keep men fit and increase clan loyalty. By the 18th century it was Scotland’s most popular game, and is credited with reversing some of the Highland population decline by fostering strong bonds of loyalty to family and community.