11/11/23 – 17/11/23
Risky Roads, Ferry Turmoil and Big Cats, but first….
Should Scotland Make Ecocide a Crime?
Scottish Labour MSP Monica Lennon has launched a Member’s Bill at Holyrood which would bring in sentences of up to 20 years in jail for harming the environment. Major polluters could see 10% of their worldwide turnover over 3 years seized, or 20 years in prison. Ms Lennon is aiming to prevent harm before it is done. Individual decision makers in government and business could also be targeted.
All Scottish local authorities will now be able to charge double council tax on Second Homes, replacing the default 50% discount that applies at present, although in practice many local authorities already charge 100%. A second home is one not used as a primary residence but occupied for at least 25 days a year.
Lorna Slater claims that using Secondary Legislation rather than primary legislation enables ministers to be ‘nimble’ and has introduced the Circular Economy Bill as an overarching enabling bill to be followed by specific secondary legislation, to significantly increase re-use and recycling rates, restrict the disposal of unsold consumer goods, increase littering penalties, and legislate on single-use items. Opposition politicians say this is legislating by the back door without as much time for consideration as primary legislation would have.
The same mechanism was used by the government in establishing the National Care Service, with details left for secondary legislation.
HPMAs Finally Binned
The Scottish government’s plans for Highly Protected Marine Areas for 10% of Scottish waters have been belatedly abandoned, with the revelation that most of the 55% consultation approvals came from a single campaign, showing the danger of relying on consultations to the exclusion of all else. Without campaign group responses, 76% of respondents opposed HPMAs, with only 20% backing them. The Sustainable Inshore Fisheries Trust wants the government to allocate area for creelers, dredging and trawlers as well as set-asides for nature restoration.
New Projects Under Threat
Many new infrastructure projects including hospitals, roads and railways are at risk of being shelved because of a lack of Scottish government funding. All future infrastructure plans have been paused to establish affordability. They include National Treatment Centres worth £400 million. Three of the 10 promised several years ago have been opened but centres for new hips, knees, endoscopy, general surgery and ophthalmology may not appear.
Scotland is facing a spending gap of £1 bn in the next financial year, which may rise to £1.9 bn by 2027-28, and projects under threat include the upgrading of the A9 and A96.
A taskforce to help communities devastated by Storm Babet met on Thursday this week and promised householders whose homes were flooded up to £1500 and businesses up to £3000. The UK Treasury has reallocated £60 million of funding earmarked for Scottish capital projects to be used instead to fund the flood response, particularly vital for Brechin, which was extensively flooded and partially evacuated. The Brechin Bridge entrance to the town is still closed, with people facing Christmas or even longer in temporary accommodation.
Brechin residents had begun to feel abandoned and Angus Council will need funding for years to come. The Bellwin Scheme allows councils to get compensation from the Scottish government for expenditure on emergencies and the deadline for applications from councils has been extended to four months post-storm.
SNP Red Lines
Humza Yousaf has previously said he would prop up a minority Labour government at Westminster despite saying that Labour was shameful in not committing to scrapping the 2017 two-child rule which restricts child tax credit and universal credit to the first two children in a family. This may prove to be a ‘red’ line for candidates seeking selection.
Roads At Risk
Scotland’s roads problem is not limited to the A83 Rest and Be Thankful. In 2004, 57 people had to be airlifted at Glen Ogle after being trapped between two landslides, and in October, a car was swept into a ravine at the A83 with its occupants barely escaping with their lives after a month’s rainfall fell in 36 hours. The A816 from Lochgilphead to Oban was hit by six thousand tonnes of debris which fell onto it at Ardfern on October 7th, which is causing major disruption, including to salmon farmers and other businesses.
Also on October 7th the A83 at Glen Kinglas suffered eight landslips, one of which blocked the A815 Dunoon junction, causing the villages of Lochgoilhead, Strachur and Cairndow to be shut off and diverting others onto ferries. On other occasions it was the A83 north of Cairndow, the A9 north of Dunkeld, and the A85 at Glen Ogle.
Work starts later this year on an A83 debris-flow shelter costing £470 million, although the Friends of Loch Lomond and the Trossachs preferred a raised viaduct plan.
Excess rainfall destabilizes the slopes, but a lack of trees and possible overgrazing also contribute. Scotland has tended not plant trees for this purpose, and sheep on the hillside compacts and erodes the soil, preventing trees taking root.
Rail lines must also be better monitored, as evidenced by the Stonehaven Rail Crash in 2020, when a landslip derailed the train, killing three persons.
Extreme Fuel Poverty,
defined as spending over 20% of the household’s total taxable income on heating after housing costs are met, has doubled in Scotland since before the pandemic, despite the Scottish government’s 2040 target of a maximum 1% of households in extreme fuel poverty, and a maximum 5% in fuel poverty, defined as spending over 10% of total taxable income on heating. According to the Scottish Fuel Poverty Advisory Panel, of 2.5 million Scottish households, nearly 750,000 were in fuel poverty, up 12.4% from 2019; over one fifth of Scottish households (23%) were in extreme fuel poverty.
Tourism: Visitor Levy
VisitScotland backs a visitor tax which may raise as much as £118 million, as does Cosla (the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities) although a survey by the Federation of Small Businesses in Scotland found over half were opposed, with 69% of accommodation and food services businesses also opposed. Cosla wants cruise ship accommodation included and some councils also want to tax campervans and motor homes, although enforceability would be problematic, if not impossible.
The levy would affect hotel, B&B accommodation and holiday lets, including Airbnb. Visitor levies are not uncommon in continental Europe, but has caused quite a furore in Scotland. Set-up costs range from £3,000 to £10,0000, plus £300 to £400 a year associated with tax returns, as well as IT systems and staff. Taxes raised should be reinvested in the areas where they are raised.
A new ferry connecting Rosyth with Dunkirk in France came a step closer with the visit of Dunkirk officials to Scotland to tour facilities at Transport Scotland’s HQ in South Queensferry and then on to Grangemouth and Rosyth. The new service may be up and running by spring 2024. Ferguson Marine Port Glasgow has an uncertain future without significant financial support according to Audit Scotland. It also queried why Ferguson paid bonuses to senior officials without first getting Scottish government approval. Economy Secretary Neil Gray ruled out a request for millions to support the shipyard, giving only a vague ‘commitment’ to finding a way forward for the yard.
The Glen Rosa will be ‘launched’ on 12th March 2024, but this will be a symbolic gesture only, marking the first time it enters the water. Further work will be required to make it ready for use. And Transport Minister Fiona Hyslop refused to rule out opening up ferry routes to competitive tender, but CalMac may get a contract extension when the present contract expires in September.
Yell and Unst tunnel action groups commissioned a feasibility report on connecting them to mainland Shetland. The seafood industry brings a third of all employment, including half the male jobs in Unst and Yell, business which is time sensitive in transporting perishable seafood. Unst is connected to Yell and Yell to Shetland by ferry.
The group will now gather information from the oil, renewables and fisheries industries and service providers on area geology, and financing may come through a public-private partnership with toll payments on completion of the tunnels.
The Scottish Biodiversity Strategy
is under consultation until mid-December, aiming to halt biodiversity loss by 2030 and reverse it by 2045. One proposal is to protect 30% of land and sea for nature by 2030, and institute legally binding nature restoration targets against itself. It calls for delivery of a new national park (already planned), six other nature restoration areas and nature networks allowing wildlife to spread. Agricultural subsidy reform could be conditional on nature restoration. The government is committed to reducing deer numbers to allow tree growth, wants to limit muirburn and enforce raptor persecution laws.
Muirburn is already regulated by the Scottish government. It provides new shoots for grouse but may destroy other species’ habitats. Upland regeneration may provide resilience against flooding, but planting in peaty soil releases more carbon into the atmosphere than the growing trees will sequester.
The Scottish government admits that private finance is needed, but it should move away from carbon credit financing which takes decades to restore lost forests and may involve planting in the wrong place, subsidising large corporations and just pushing up land prices.
NHS Lothian Audiology Failings
Major failings in the service resulted in profoundly deaf children being misidentified as having hearing, some others identified as autistic instead of deaf, and 162 children having a delayed diagnosis which likely affected their speech and communication. Sixteen should have had cochlear implants and 54 children are subject to further examination.
Meanwhile the number of specialist teachers of the deaf in 2022 were 40% down on 2021 numbers, totalling just 100, and half of these are approaching retirement age.
NHS Lothian is facing up to £1bn in compensation payments, with possibly as many as 23,000 children affected by sub-standard tests over several decades.
Although electric bikes can only legally travel up to 15.5 mph, some can reach speeds of 30 mph and complaints are rising about the behaviour of some drivers such as riding the wrong way around two-cycle paths, going through red lights and bike modifications such as throttles, which makes them motorbikes needing driver registration, insurance and taxes. Some e-bikes have been seized and drivers charged with offences, but those being injured by them must sue drivers personally for compensation.
Are big cats stalking Aberdeenshire? New photos have emerged of a large and long black beast which may be a huge dog, or a very fat cat, or even a black panther. The latest sighting near the appropriately named Blackdog village was by Gordon Welsh, a local ghillie, deerstalker and farmhand, who photographed the animal, albeit from a distance.
He refused to be drawn on what he thought it was, save that it was ‘slightly like a panther’ or a crossbreed. Worryingly, he says he has seen lynx, panthers and crossbreeds ‘all over the place’. Police Scotland have not confirmed the sighting.