29/07/23 – 04/08/23
Rural Destruction, Scotland’s Roads, and first
The Scottish Rural and Islands Parliament
will meet in November, with over 40 rural organisations discussing matters with a view to informing government policy. It will be held at the Nevis Centre, Fort William, with the Scottish government providing £80,000 to enable it to be held. Rural and island areas form 98% of Scotland’s landmass and Humza Yousaf is keen for them to ‘have a say’ in decisions affecting them.
Is Scotland being bought up and killed off?
In March Lorna Slater announced a £2 billion finance deal with two private banks to open up more of the country to forestation, with the deal possibly capturing 28 million tons of greenhouse gases over 20 years and create over 450,000 acres of woodland. The Borders has 74,000 acres of woodland identified for such a project.
But in the rush to plant fast-growing conifers, the Scottish government stands accused of harming Scotland’s ability to feed itself in the future, and of replacing native species with faster-growing imports. Firms buying up vast areas of land are not even in the timber industry, but are buying up land solely with the view to planting trees for use in carbon-offsetting.
But this is being done with aid of government forestry grants and the trees planted are often non-native Sitka spruce and Douglas fir trees, which grow much faster than the native Scots pines, which would benefit native wildlife.
Over the last 10 years, over 200,000 acres of new woodland has been created in Scotland, and last year alone 228 woodland creation applications were approved by Scottish Forestry, the body which is supposed to regulate it. Much of the new forestry has been on land unsuitable to agriculture, but increasingly farms up and down the country are being cold-called by companies eager to cash in, and the National Farmers Union of Scotland (NFUS) fears the destruction of the rural economy and way of life. The ‘Carbon Clearances’ may prove as destructive as the Highland Clearances of the 18th and 19th centuries.
Prime agricultural land has been sold off between Rhynie and Huntly in Aberdeenshire. Scottish Forestry claims that less than 2% of all planting since 2015 has been on agricultural land, and says native species must be included in any planting.
Children Falling Behind
Many children are being reported as having delayed development due to the pandemic, failing to reach developmental milestones. It is admitted that 20% of children reviewed need extra support, but nursery practitioners believe the true figure may be as high as 50%. Emotional and behavioural development, problem-solving, personal and social development, speech, language and communication all appear to have been affected, and some children need help even to socialise now that they are at school. There have always been a disparity between rich and poor households in terms of needs. The Scottish government is devoting £1 billion to early learning and childcare this year and said Scotland already outstrips the rest of the UK in terms of support offered to parents.
Many more staff are needed, but the 1140 free hours of childcare for 3- and 4-year-olds has meant that staff in the private sector are more attracted to council jobs with better pay and conditions.
Scotland Needs Better Roads!
Maybe it takes a government minister to experience the pain we feel to see why we are demanding better roads. Kate Forbes often drives the A9 from her Highland home to Edinburgh and is a vocal proponent of the long-needed upgrading of that main Scottish artery.
It was her turn to experience the A75 and A77 in Wigtownshire a few weeks ago. The main freight corridor between Scotland and Northern Ireland, the A75 linking Cairnryan with England and the A77 linking it to the rest of Scotland. A total of £67 million worth of goods travels these roads daily, with the 10% of traffic at the Maybole Bypass comprising HGVs travelling to and from Cairnryan ferry terminal.
She rightly points out that huge amounts of traffic travelling at a snail’s pace INCREASES emissions, nearly two tonnes more CO2 every day than they would on a dual carriageway. Calls to upgrade these roads is not just to benefit trade, but to end the deadly toll of an average casualty every three days on these roads. Some improvements are recommended under Strategic Transport Projects Review 2 (STPR2).
The A1 to England is also in need of an overhaul. The A9 Perth to Inverness has also exacted a deadly toll in lives taken and families destroyed, but despite earlier SNP commitments road upgrading is coming up against enhanced climate assessments demanded by the Greens-in-government. And they seem to have completely forgotten the A96 Inverness to Aberdeen.
How many of the Scottish government’s 45 national draft recommendations of STPR2 last year will be implemented? Scotland’s transport links are in dire need of help.
Fossil Fuel Boilers
Following the furore over Patrick Harvie’s home heating plans, the First Minister has somewhat softened the government stance on the matter, saying he will ‘see how far we get’ with the plans, saying that ultimately they would try to do things ‘in a way that doesn’t overwhelm people in terms of their own costs’. But that lets another cat out the bag. He seems to be saying that ordinary people WILL be meeting the costs, rather than government.
Many older people would prefer flexible working as a precursor to retirement, and while 58% of those aged 55 and over work flexibly, a further 19% would like to. It is thought that this may help meet skills shortages found in many businesses since Brexit.
Twenty percent each of the over 55s would like compressed hours over shorter periods, or more remote or home working.
The UK announced a Back to Work Budget including £70 million to help the over-50s stay in or get back to work. Scotland’s Workplace Equality Fund is partly assisting in this, although it is not limited to older workers, and 82% of Scottish workers either already work flexibly or want to, but only 28% of jobs are advertised as such.
Flexibility Works, partly funded by the Scottish government, b is a consultancy and training organisation which offers help to employers to achieve this.
are looking at this season with trepidation. Although half of all Scottish businesses have enough staff, in accommodation and food services this falls to one third, and 90% of them have had to adjust their opening hours or their range of services. Less than a quarter of businesses think they can get enough staff to meet their needs.
Some businesses are calling for sky-high energy deals to be replaced with deals on a lower rate for a longer period, that the VAT threshold should be raised from £85,000 to £100,000, or that the Scottish government could apply different business rates relief to tourism and hospitality businesses as they are vulnerable to volatile costs like energy and staff. But staff need better transport links to rural firms/venues, possibly with accommodation supplied, and the abandonment of the proposed ‘visitor levy’.
The Marine Conservation Society
has called for better sewage monitoring in Scotland following the revelation that over 35,000 pieces of sewage-related matter were found on Scottish beaches in 2022, mostly in the Lothians, but only 3.4% of storm overflows are monitored and reported on in Scotland, compared to over 90% in England and Wales. SEPA reported that despite this 87% of Scotland’s water environment was rated as good or better. Part of the discrepancy in monitoring is due to the huge area of coastline in Scotland, much of which is not oft-frequented.
Local Democracy Overruled?
Over half planning applications (80 out of 151) appealed to SNP/Green ministers are overturned, with critics saying this is undermining local democracy. The highest number of overrules were in West Lothian with 8 in Edinburgh, and 7 each in Fife, highland and Renfrewshire.
And the government also overruled wind turbine decisions in 139 out of 309 applications. Scottish charity Planning Democracy says the figures suggest ‘developers… [not local communities] are driving our planning system’.
is not yet the answer to our climate ambitions. Three-quarters of hydrogen is ‘grey’, made from high carbon natural gases, which powers most gas boilers and stoves, but creating a huge amount of emissions. ‘Green’ hydrogen is produced from zero-carbon electricity from wind turbines or solar panels, is very expensive and likely to remain so. It demands huge volumes of cheap renewable electricity which does not yet exist in Scotland.
‘Blue’ hydrogen is produced using fossil fuels, releasing CO2 which is captured and stored underground, but it is not yet to the scale needed. The greenhouse gas footprint of blue hydrogen could be greater than burning natural gas or coal.
The Scottish government held 30 meetings with oil and gas lobbyists where hydrogen was discussed, and a further 70 meetings with companies seeking to benefit from the rollout of hydrogen technologies. The Scottish government has pledged £100 million to the industry.
Pumped Hydro Storage
But energy firm Drax has got the go-ahead from the Scottish government for a £500 million project to construct a new underground pumped storage hydro plant in Argyll at its existing Cruachan facility. The technology enables excess electricity produced by wind turbines to be stored and used later. Drax will invest the £500 million provided the UK government provides the updated financial stabilisation mechanisms needed for long-term projects11.
In better news
Thurso’s AMTE battery production facility has managed to get a loan from Arena Investors to bridge it until it gets a new investor. It had been days away from going into administration, and it allows breathing space until September’s hoped-for deal with an unnamed investor who has offered £2.5 million in return for 80% of the company’s issued share capital.
The company announced plans last year to invest in a large factory at the former Michelin tyre plant in Dundee.