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March 11th – March 17th, 2023

11/03/23 – 17/03/23

Maritime Investigations

           are coming under the spotlight due to an anomaly whereby accidents involving foreign drilling vessels and rigs in Scotland’s waters are investigated by the country where they are registered.  Two years ago an alleged near-disaster near the Hunterston B nuclear plant was investigated by the Republic of the Marshall Islands, who made recommendations for improvements without apportioning liability. 

           There was no requirement for Marshall Island-registered vessels to undergo any inspection or monitoring while moored in the UK, different conditions like higher winds may pose an extra threat to moored vessels, and there is no enforcement regime for decisions reached by foreign authorities. 

            In another incident, a Welsh rig worker went missing from a Liberian-registered vessel while a platform was being towed 98 miles east of Aberdeen in international waters (beyond 12 nautical miles out) but the Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) and the Marine Accident Investigation Branch (MAIB) would not launch enquiries. They will only act if an incident relates to onboard safety.

            Alba’s Kenny MacAskill says it is absurd for responsibility over an incident involving a British worker’s death not resting  with the police, Crown, Health and Safety Executive (HSE) or the MCA.

UK Monitoring SNP overseas trips

            British diplomats will be ordered to monitor SNP ministers who take trips overseas by accompanying them abroad.  Constitution Secretary Angus Robertson spoke about independence when he met Icelandic prime minister Katrin Jakobsdottir and the UK claims this is Scotland encroaching on reserved areas.  It is not clear exactly how they will stop Scottish representatives speaking, except where Scottish ‘outposts’ are located within UK embassies abroad.

Gradualist Independence?

            Social Security Minister Ben Macpherson MSP caused a bit of a flurry this week by saying Scotland should step back from full independence meantime to concentrate on building support, claiming going too fast would not benefit Scotland.  But his view that it is a long-term project did not resonate with Kate Forbes or Humza Yousaf.  All three leadership candidates claim they would bring independence within 5 years, with Yousaf saying he would consider calling a snap election if the electorate was in support.  Kate Forbes admits to being a gradualist, but rejected any idea that that meant independence was ‘decades away’.

            Meanwhile the SNP finally bowed to pressure to publish its new membership total of just over 72,000, down from a high of over 120,000.

Would the SNP crash Holyrood?

            It has been suggested that if the ‘wrong’ person is elected leader of the SNP that person may struggle to be elected as First Minister.  Concerns surround the possibility that the SNP’s ‘progressive’ wing would refuse to instal Kate Forbes due to her views on gender identity reform and gay marriage, or that the Scottish Greens would refuse to renew the Bute House Agreement due to gender and climate concerns.  Ash Regan has similar gender-critical credentials.   

            Kate Forbes responded by saying that the Greens would incur the wrath of the Scottish electorate if they deliberately scuppered the appointment of First Minister, but if Scotland did fail to appoint a First Minister within 28 days the parliament would fall, precipitating a Holyrood election.  Would the Scottish Greens or the SNP have the appetite for an election just yet, given the controversy over the Greens’ influence on government policy and the recent gender debacle?

Ferry Performance Payments

           Audit Scotland is concerned about £87,000 in performance bonus payments being paid to senior Ferguson Marine managers in 2021/22, despite it being unclear how their performance was measured with no Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) in place. Audit Scotland said the Scottish government was not even aware of bonus payments and did not approve them.

for more go to ‘Where’s Our Ferries?’ on ISP website or ISP on facebook

Carbon Capture Technology

            The UK government committed £20 billion funding in the Budget for carbon capture usage and storage technology to store carbon emissions instead of releasing them into the atmosphere, claiming this may support 50,000 jobs and capture 30 million tonnes of CO2 per year by 2030. 

New Wood Turbines

            A new generation of turbines may solve the problem of disposal of old fibreglass and carbon fibre turbines which are hard to recycle and often end up in landfill.

            Firms in Germany and Sweden are on the point of scaling up construction of wood turbines using laminated veneer lumber (LVL) which can be transported to the site and then fitted together.  It will be cheaper to produce and stronger than steel at the same weight and may allow for taller wind turbines without expensive reinforcement. 

            At the end of their life, they can be disassembled and the wood re-used. The towers can also be used as a carbon sink reducing the turbine’s own emissions by 30%.  The wood tower emits 90% less emissions than steel, reducing and storing more CO2 than it emits. 

Young People’s Bus passes

            Free bus travel for young people is alleged to be behind a rise in anti-social behaviour in Livingston, with children meeting in the local shopping centre, particularly on Friday when schools finish early, to indulge in anti-social behaviour, upsetting local shoppers. 

            This mirrors claims last year that this was happening in Glasgow city centre. First Bus has seen a slight rise in youth disorder, although it is not definitively linked to the free bus scheme.  One of its buses was badly damaged recently in Mosspark, Glasgow, when a fire was deliberately started on the top deck of a bus.

            The Confederation of Passenger Transport (CPT) Scotland has reiterated these findings.

Tenants still facing eviction

            The number of tenants being taken to court to evict them has doubled since last year, now numbering 224, a rise from the usual 100 a month prior to the eviction ban last September.  Social landlords are also involved.

            The Scottish government recently confirmed that the eviction ban and rent cap would remain in place until next September.  Landlords can still apply for eviction notices during the ban and enforce it when the ban ends, and it does not exempt those with arrears of six months or more or social tenants with debts over £2,250.  Landlords can also evict if they need to sell the property or live in it themselves due to financial hardship. 

Signature Pubs Group

has taken action to help staff through the cost-of-living crisis.  The group has 22 venues in Scotland, and has introduced loans, discounts, free meals, increased maternity pay and increased bonuses for staff.  This is helping recruit and retain staff, which has been an increasing problem since Brexit and Covid.  The group has seen its costs increase by £2.4 million a year.

Edinburgh the Home of Artificial Intelligence

            This year marks six decades of research on artificial intelligence (AI) at the University of Edinburgh, which began in 1963 under Professor Donald Michie.  This led to the university’s 1965 Experimental Programming unit and the Department of Machine Intelligence and Perception in 1966.  It made Edinburgh the European capital of AI research, attracting others to Edinburgh, eventually making a multi-million-pound business.

            Professor Michie trained as a biologist after World War II, but on returning to Edinburgh later, he invented the MENACE machine (Matchbox Educable Noughts and Crosses Engine) which learned how to play.  Experimental robots were developed under his guidance (FREDDY 1 AND 2), but funding for AI research was always sporadic.

            After his retirement he created the private-sector led Machine Intelligence Research Unit (MIRU) in Glasgow, which later worked on NASA’s space shuttle landing system and even an early version of the World Wide Web. 

            Edinburgh later developed chatbots and other AI technologies, leading to Edinburgh’s School of Informatics; and a National Robotarium in collaboration with Heriot-Watt University. Today the New Real, a partnership between Edinburgh University, the MIRU unit (later renamed the Alan Turing Institute) and Edinburgh festivals is looking to use AI in the creative sphere, keeping Edinburgh at the forefront of AI research.

The Budget

            The Scotch Whisky Association is upset that the Chancellor raised alcohol duty by over 10%, saying it means 75% of the cost of a bottle goes straight to the taxman. The tax rate on alcohol should also rise with the alcohol volume.  The Chancellor predicts inflation will fall and there should be no recession.  Corporation tax rises to 25%, but there are tax breaks for businesses too.

            The Energy Price Guarantee will remain at £2,500 until July, although the amount actually paid depends on use. It is hoped prices will actually lower from the summer.

            Scotland will get £320 million as its ‘budget’ share over 2023/24 and 2024/25.

Nuclear Energy is now Green

            according to the Chancellor.  As part of his Budget he launched the Great British Nuclear Scheme (GBN) aiming for nuclear energy to supply a quarter of UK electricity by 2050.  He also launched a competition to make small modular reactors to be a prototype if they prove viable.  You really have to check it’s not April Fool’s Day on some of this.

And finally

Douglas Ross got….. a Bridge

            As he announced the rest of the Budget, Jeremy Hunt also gave £1.5 million for the Cloddach Bridge near Elgin, coincidentally in Douglas Ross’s Westminster constituency.  Ross had lobbied for this, as it had fallen into disrepair.  Moray Council must now make a business case and raise matching funding to complete the restoration.

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