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May 4th – May 10th, 2024

May 4th – May 10th, 2024

Can we save Scotland’s Colleges? Should Scotland host the Commonwealth Games?  but first ……

How much Wealth has Scotland Lost?

            Around £50,000 per Scot has left Scotland over the 22 years since the reconvening of the Scottish parliament, an average loss to Scotland of up to £12 bn per year, calculated on the difference between Scotland’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP = what Scotland produces) and the earnings of Scotland’s people and businesses (Gross National Income or GNI).

            Share dividends and profits to companies and individuals has seen £266.350bn leave Scotland, 50% to the rest of the UK and 50% overseas.

           The Common Weal say this amounts to almost more than any developed country which is not a tax haven and has a major economic impact, with over-reliance on Foreign Direct Investment at the expense of home-owned investment.  China has major interests in the offshore wind farm industry, and many foreign governments are making money from Scotland’s offshore revolution, including France, Norway, Sweden and Ireland, with controlling interests also held by privately-owned firms in Germany, Spain, Holland and Japan.  The only country which has no controlling interest is Scotland.        

Foreign Direct Investment (FDI)

            has not made Scotland richer, but poorer, with Scotland in the top group of countries for income and level of development, but it is in the bottom 25 of nations in terms of exporting our wealth, ranking Scotland as a developing nation in that respect.

            The Common Weal fear this leaves Scotland open to exploitation by investors who may threaten to leave if their demands on tax, tariffs and workers’ rights are not met.  Scottish government promises of a nationally-owned energy company were abandoned, with the government only planning for a Building a New Scotland Fund which would invest up to £20bn over the first decade of independence.

Scotland’s Colleges

            The oft-forgotten sister of the more glamorous university sector, colleges provide many of the hands-on skills which we desperately need. They also provide an alternative route to further education for those who think university is not for them, and for those with special needs.  College students often remain in their local area and directly enhance their communities with their skills.

            College funding has fallen dramatically to give a £464m cumulative funding gap since 2021.  And while the Scottish government funds colleges as public sector organisations, the institutions must finance pay deals with staff, despite that these deals exist within a national bargaining framework introduced by the Scottish government.

           Treatment of college staff has been shabby, with most colleges threatening ‘deeming’, that is, docking up to 100% of their pay if they carried out lawful Action Short of Strike (like a boycott and/or work to rule).  College authorities have shown little inclination to negotiate.

           In a week-long series by the Herald, conspicuously absent was the Minister for Higher and Further Education, Graeme Day, save to claim that extra funding for colleges would mean less for something else. Colleges are developing hands-on green technology skills in conjunction with local employers.  They offer everything from Foundation Apprenticeships to professional and trade qualifications to degrees and doctorates.  Access courses can provide a way in for people without qualifications.  Over 250.000 students attend college, more than 40% are over 25 and 15% have a disability, and they serve some of Scotland’s most deprived communities.

Delapidated Ports

           Peel Ports stand accused of not investing in Ardrossan and the Inchgreen dry dock at Greenock at the same time as they have been paid £22 million in dividends.  Ardrossan is in such disrepair that sailings to Arran must go from Troon, and the Inchgreen dry dock is mothballed. Labour MSP Paul Sweeney called the 1992 Clyde Port Authority privatisation ‘…. bandit capitalism’ which led to decades of underinvestment.  The Peel Group is 68% owned by the Whittaker family, with the group owning nearly 38% of Peel Ports itself. 

            Peel Ports also operates facilities in London and Liverpool.  Sweeney accuses Peel of focusing on Liverpool at the expense of Clydeport, which he says has been in managed decline for 30 years.  In 1992 the Clydeport privatisation allowed private owners to take over 450 square miles of shoreline, and despite a 2018 undertaking by John Whittaker to resurrect Inchgreen, a project to decommission vessels has not materialised, although Peel Ports claim they have invested tens of millions of pounds into Ardrossan, Inchgreen, Greenock Ocean Terminal and elsewhere.  

            Shouldn’t the ports be brought back into public control?

Grangemouth Reprieve?

            In a new twist, the plant’s broken hydrocracker unit has been brought back into operation following an investment believed to be around £30 million, although this has not been confirmed officially by Mairi McAllan, the government minister responsible, as this is ‘commercially sensitive’ information.  The unit produces jet fuel, diesel and liquefied petroleum gas (LPG).  It is believed that mid-2025 is the earliest that oil refining will halt, but total closure appears put off at least until 2027, by which time the hydrocracker unit will need further investment.

Windfarms (6)             Health Concerns

            UK government studies show a possible link between living under power lines and childhood leukaemia, and Aberdeenshire medical practitioner Dr Jennifer Sudder now says there is a 50% increased risk of cancer for those living long-term near high-voltage power lines, with strong evidence of leukaemia and brain and breast cancer.

            Those reassuring residents that the risks are minimal are not offering to swap places with them.  The ‘Beauly Buzz’ was first heard over a decade ago from Wester Balblair substation.  After a noise abatement order was served by Highland Council on SSEN, the noise was reduced, but is still there.

           Farmers worry that the physical land upheaval for installing pylons and cables will risk spreading potato cyst nematode (PCN), a pathogen which destroys crops.  Residents complain that SSEN’s community engagement is not ‘meaningful’ and they feel, with good reason, that they are just an inconvenience to be got out of the way.  Scotland Against Spin (SAS) say windfarm developments are buying up properties to silence objectors and are thus worsening Scotland’s rural housing problems.

Freeports (6)   What is The Verdict?

YES, say….

            Humza Yousaf said that the Scottish government is working with the UK government and is ‘very confident … that fair work is absolutely embedded’ within any investment from outside Scotland. He did not think they threaten Scotland’s economy or efforts to rejoin the EU, saying it’s ‘better than the model that would have been imposed on us’.  Kate Forbes is a fan.

           Trade Minister Richard Lochhead said there was no evidence it would prevent Scotland rejoining the EU, although the EU doubts whether UK freeports conform to the post-Brexit trade deal. Douglas Chapman says the difficulty for Scotland is that ‘we don’t have our own maritime strategy’, saying he was ‘not going to watch the English ports get government subsidies’ to disadvantage Scottish ports; Rosyth has lain dormant for 20 years; and ‘in the absence of a strategy’ the freeport will do! Calum Macpherson, Chief Executive of Cromarty Greenport, calls all objections ‘negativity’ to be rejected in favour of talking up the Highlands and Scotland to ‘celebrate’ the ‘new industrial clean energy revolution’.

            Ivan McKee, former Business Secretary, calls the criticism overblown, arguing that robust monitoring and withdrawing tax breaks would ensure compliance, although as Scotland has jurisdiction only over Land and Buildings Transaction Tax and Non-Domestic Rates reliefs, would this be enough?

            The possible economic benefits are not quantified.

NO, not under any circumstances ….

            The Independence for Scotland Party (ISP) remain fully opposed to ‘green’ or any other freeports.  Apart from the snappy title, they have nothing going for them, benefitting only multinationals with the slashing of ‘red tape’.  Colette Walker, leader of the ISP, and other members have engaged around the country with people who have no idea of the potential negative impact of freeports, but no MPs or MSPs have attended to answer our concerns. 

           The SNP Trade Union Group claim that the Scottish government cannot force through conditions requiring fair work, and the UK may not be able to guarantee a fair work condition for one part of the UK only due to the Internal Markets Act, which requires level terms of trade between the constituent parts of the UK. 

           Tax expert Richard Murphy says they are nothing more than tax havens, saying the most taxed and regulated countries in the world are also the most prosperous and fair, and those with low taxation and regulation are associated with high levels of crime, low income, unstable government and corruption.  Markets must be controlled, he says, and the sheer size of Scotland’s freeports is a problem, being too large and without natural boundaries.  It may be difficult to regulate taxation of employees who work both within and outwith a freeport.  Who monitors it and regulates it?

            He warns that freeports are a free ride to employers and companies at the expense of the people of Scotland, but with such a level of support from government, it is down to ordinary people to oppose them.

NewSNP Regime

            After the takeover of the SNP leadership with only one scare en route, we have another ‘continuity candidate’ in John Swinney, to be joined by Kate Forbes as Deputy FM.  It remains to be seen whether they can shake off the dead hand of the Scottish Greens and ditch all the unpopular policies which have brought the SNP so low.  And will they accept the findings of the Cass Report?

Should Scotland host the Commonwealth Games?

            Glasgow is being suggested as host for the Commonwealth Games in 2026 partly because there is infrastructure in place already from the 2014 Games.  But experience suggests it may not benefit local people at all.  Almost as soon as the bid to host the 2014 games was made in 2005, developers snapped up land in Dalmarnock, rightly believing they would be pivotal in delivering the Games.  Many made a handsome profit, but the promised regeneration of the East End of Glasgow did not materialise.

            Local homes and the Dalmarnock Community Centre were demolished to make way for the Legacy Hub built on Springfield Road, and Dalmarnock lost the community and shopping facilities it had before the Games, with the nearest supermarket now near Rutherglen.  They were also promised a nursery and healthcare facility in the Hub, but they never materialised.  Dalmarnock’s life expectancy is still far lower than elsewhere in Glasgow, and the promised further development of the Athletes Village, due to start in 2023, has been put back until later this year at the earliest.  The legacy of the games has been more of the same poverty and lack of hope.

Finally,

The Maryhill Flag

            is the first flag for an urban area to be officially recognised in Scotland, its design chosen following a public competition in 2020 and officially unveiled in 2021.  Its colours represent different features of the area, the design representing a narrowboat on the Forth and Clyde Canal.  The two blue bands represent the canal and the River Kelvin, the red stands for community passion and the black for Maryhill’s industrial heritage.

            This week the Lord Lyon Dr Joseph Morrow handed over the Letters Patent of the flag to two members of the local community, which has proudly used the flag since 2021.  Melanie Farrow, CEO of Maryhill Burgh Halls Trust, said she hopes that further local programmes will be developed featuring the flag, which is now a legal entity in its own right and can be flown alongside the Saltire.

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