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March 23rd – March 29th, 2024

March 23rd – March 29th, 2024

Tourist Centres closing, Rainbow Lanyards banned, but first …

Where are Our Priorities for Children and the Elderly?

            Aboyne Primary School in Aberdeenshire is at the centre of a furious row with Tempest Photographers over school class photos which gave parents the opportunity to have a picture of the whole class or a picture with the special needs children airbrushed out.  It is not clear who made this decision, but the school say they will not use the photographers again. Aberdeenshire Council apologised and Tempest are investigating.

          After planned spinal surgery was cancelled 7 times since September, 10-year-old Eva Tennent’s spine curvature is now inoperable.  One of Scotland’s 3 paediatric spinal surgeons has been suspended, but it is unclear why, although the surgeon, Chris Adams, had earlier met with a BBC journalist and accompanied him on a visit to Eva in hospital.  Several cancellations were due to staff shortages.  Mr Adams had previously told the BBC that nursing shortages at Edinburgh Royal Hospital for Children and Young People were causing children to wait three times as long for surgery, with one child having to go to Newcastle for a further assessment.

            Eva has Rett Syndrome, a genetic disorder affecting brain development, and has advanced scoliosis which twists her spine, whose curvature almost doubled last year.  Her mother says Eva’s life may now be shortened. The Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health (RCPCH) said the number of children waiting for services had more than doubled in 11 years, from 4,898 in October 2012 to 10,512 in September 2023.  They say delaying children’s treatment may be worse than for adults as children can lose forever the window for effective treatment.

Review of Scottish Abortion Legislation

            Scottish ministers will consider abortion law reform for Scotland which could mean the end of rules which allow termination up to the point of birth for foetuses with Down’s Syndrome.  A ministerial group is being convened to consider it before the end of this parliamentary term in 2026, and there will be a public consultation.

            Most pregnancies can only be aborted up to 24 weeks under the 1967 Abortion Act, but in England, Wales and Scotland doctors can authorise an abortion if ‘there is a substantial risk that if the child were born it [my italics] would suffer from such physical or mental abnormalities as to be seriously handicapped’, meaning Down’s babies can be aborted up to birth.

            Sir Liam Fox is tabling a Westminster amendment to the Criminal Justice Bill which would, as he put it, ‘stop people with Down’s syndrome being treated as second-class citizens, ….. an absolute, utter travesty’. Unfortunately, there is rarely much publicity of the good lives which people with DS can live now with better medical and educational opportunities.

Island Dementia Care Centre Closing

            Argyll and Bute Health and Social Care Partnership (HSCP) has caused fury with its decision to close Bute’s only specialised care facility at Thomson Court for those living with dementia and providing family respite.  Another two centres on the mainland at Oban and Dunoon may also close.  Currently Thomson Court is full (7 beds), meaning anyone else requiring 24-hour care must go to the mainland. Over recent years other provision has gradually closed down.  All the council could say was that a decision on closure will not be made this year.

Rural: New Grouse Shooting Laws

            approved at Holyrood requires licensing for killing red grouse and to use traps to catch wild birds, and will restrict the practice of muirburn (controlled burning of heather and other plants).  The SNP’s Jim Fairlie said the Wildlife Management and Muirburn (Scotland) Bill was only needed due to continued raptor persecution, laying the blame firmly on the grouse-shooting community for failing to stamp it out.

            Ross Ewing of Scottish Land and Estates said the legislation had gone over its original remit in introducing offences for which licences can be suspended or revoked, saying some of these have no connection with land managed for grouse-shooting.  The Scottish Gamekeepers Association have specific concerns over the snaring ban which the legislation introduces, with the British Association for Shooting and Conservation saying the bill ‘poses a risk to sustainable grouse moor management, predator control and muirburn and will be ruinous to the rural economy’.

            Taymouth Castle owner Discovery Land Company has abandoned its plans to build a golf vehicle maintenance depot on land which had been earmarked for affordable homes at its estate for the mega-rich.  Initially they insisted the homes development could still go ahead even with the golf development, but after thousands of objections were lodged with the council, DLC has withdrawn its application, but if another application is submitted, objectors will have to mobilise all over again.  The golf area application would have included a workshop and chemical facility storage to the rear of residences in Kenmore.

Rural Economy

            Kate Forbes backs the Coul Links golf course development near Dornoch in Sutherland, saying the Highlands ‘did not have the luxury of ignoring major economic opportunities’.  She believes that most objectors were not locals but people ‘pontificating on the future of the Highlands from the central belt’.  ‘Communities for Coul’ says that the new development would bring in funds to regenerate and restore the whole area, and that the golf course will encroach on only 0.1% of the Loch Fleet Site of Special Scientific Interest, but opponents ‘Not Coul’ reject this, saying the course would seriously damage habitats and wildlife. The National Trust for Scotland, RSPB Scotland and Scottish Wildlife Trust are also against the development.

            Two petitions calling for planning permission to be refused have garnered over 125,000 signatures, with ecologist Dr Tom Dargie, leader of the Not Coul campaign, saying there is no rural depopulation there, nor do they need more seasonal jobs.  The Scottish government has again called in the decision of Highland Council to grant planning permission after first doing so in 2020.

Finance

Scotland contributed over £14 bn more to UK coffers over the last decade, with its public sector generating annual revenue of £73.3 bn last year (8% of total UK contributions). In 2022/23 North Sea oil revenue was £10.57bn, 90% of which is from Scottish waters.

         But the Just Transition Fund has been slashed by 75% this year, with MSPs demanding an explanation from the Scottish government over the future of the £500 million 10-year fund set up to help the north-east of Scotland and Moray transition from oil and gas.  For 2022/23 its funding was £20 million, then £50 million for 2023/24, but for 2024/25 it will receive just £12 million, which does not bode well for the remaining 7 years of the fund.  And access to funding has been problematic, especially for not-for-profit and community organisations.

Tourism

 All 25 of Visit Scotland’s Information Centres will be permanently closed over the next two years, with the reasoning that many people have gone online.  But it may put people off that they know there is no visitor centre where they could have found help in getting accommodation.

Bizarrely, Humza Yousaf said he understood VisitScotland’s point of view but agrees that tourist information centres ‘have a place’ in Scotland.  So he agrees visitors need information, apparently in person, but also agrees with visitor centres closing!  All of them.

Energy: North Sea Oil Spills

            There have been more than 2000 North Sea oil spills since 2011, with 215 being in marine protection areas, with 1175 tonnes spilled.  Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) had 308 tonnes of oil spilled in them since 2011 mostly from rig, mostly below 2 tonnes and averaging 2 kg.  The biggest spill was 605 tonnes of natural gas condensate at the Elgin field platform in 2012, with the second worst one in 2020 where 238 tonnes of diesel spilt into the Faroe-Shetland Sponge Belt MPA. And the problem will only worsen with the UK granting hundreds of new oil and gas North Sea licences.

Record Grangemouth Profits

            After being labelled ‘economically unviable’ and earmarked for closure, Grangemouth oil refinery has just posted a pre-tax profit of over £100 million, and despite North Sea oil revenues over the next two years estimated to hit £17.25 billion.  Petroineos Manufacturing Scotland Ltd now admit that a loss of £51 billion in 2020 was impacted by the pandemic and subsequent tentative recovery.

            Yet Scotland and the UK point-blank refuse to invest £60-£80 million needed to restart the hydrocracking unit at Grangemouth to produce jet fuel and diesel, plus Liquefied Petroleum Gas (LPG).  The UK government recently provided a £600 million guarantee to Ineos’ billionaire owner Sir Jim Ratcliffe to build the biggest petrochemical plant in Europe in Belgium.  Grangemouth is connected to the Forties Pipeline System for crude oil intake from the North Sea and to Finnart Ocean Terminal for crude oil import and finished products export. But the UK’s cap on production of sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) is allegedly standing in the way.

Ferries

            Ferguson Marine chief executive David Tydeman has been sacked, but is still entitled to six months’ pay in lieu of notice, a cool £102,000.  He had just told Scottish ministers there will be further delays to two ferries under construction at the Inverclyde yard.  He received £57,500 for the first two months of his contract, over £20,000 more than the pro-rata rate, and £40,000 bonuses in 2022/23. Minister-in-charge Mairi McAllan could not update MSPs on ferry delays and said the sacking was a matter for the state-owned firm’s board, but vowed to ‘leave no stone unturned’ to secure a future for Ferguson Marine.  But not for Grangemouth.

Rainbow Lanyard banned

            Holyrood has finally banned rainbow lanyards, with staff now having to wear standard purple lanyards and remove pins and badges supporting campaigns.  Maggie Chapman of the Scottish Greens is predictably outraged, but as Mark Smith pointed out in the Herald (‘A ban on the LGBT rainbow: how did Scotland get here?’, 23/03/24) inclusion has veered so far off-piste that it is exclusionary.  Women attending Holyrood have had to remove scarves in the suffragette colours of purple, green and white supporting gender-critical protests, and last year gay people attending at Edinburgh University were jeered by those waving rainbow flags for trying to view the documentary ‘Adult Human Female’, with a woman forced to remove a badge saying ‘Scottish Lesbians’.

          Over the last decade the rainbow flag has become intrinsically linked with the campaign for gender self-ID, with gay women in particular a target for vicious activists who want to compel them to accept biological males as sex partners if the men identify as women.

Finally,

Gary the Gorilla is back

            but he is only half the gorilla he used to be.  The 8ft statue was taken last year from Reynard Nursery in Carluke, South Lanarkshire, but was spotted months later by workers operating for Bear Scotland on the A92 near Dundee, where Gary had been dumped in bushes.  But on closer inspection, only his rear half was there.  The front half remains missing, but at least the road crew have recovered their composure after the initial shock of seeing a gorilla’s rear end staring back at them.

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