04/11/23 – 10/11/23
Scotland’s Pyrotechnic Problem, Green Ambitions go Awry, but first …
Will Independence Supporters all become ‘Extremists’?
The UK is planning to broaden the definition of extremist to include anyone who non-violently undermines Britain, its parliamentary democracy, values and institutions. The work by civil servants on behalf of Michael Gove raises concerns over legitimate organisations which oppose the existence of the UK. Gove’s Levelling Up will be publishing its findings shortly.
But it is worth noting that belief in Scottish independence was declared to be a protected belief under the Equality Act 2010 following Chris McEleny’s victory over the Ministry of Defence in July 2018. He had alleged discrimination when the MoD revoked his security clearance when he challenged for the SNP depute leadership.
Women: The Declaration for Biological Reality
seeks to strengthen women’s rights and protect single-sex spaces. Signatories want the NHS, police and other public bodies to stop displaying ideological symbols like rainbow flags and instead uphold biological reality over self-declared and often nebulous gender identity.
Ministers are attempting to clarify that ‘sex’ in the Equality Act means biological sex. The declaration has been signed by a number of MPs including Neale Hanvey, with campaign coordinator James Esses claiming an existential risk to women and children and free speech, calling it a mass delusion permeating the whole of society. Signatories come from all fields and the declaration can and should also be signed by ordinary members of the public.
Poverty: Aberdeen Library Closures
Aberdeen City Council is currently reconsidering its decision to shut six libraries, but campaigners are not hopeful. Its funding shortfall was £47 million, leading to cuts in transportation, nurseries, pools, gyms and school bus routes, and although some cuts may be reversed at its December meeting, the libraries have already been stripped of equipment and furniture.
Aberdeen will be cutting £40 million next year, following this year’s £47 million. Some libraries appeared to be closed due to low footfall, but Laurie Mackay of Save Aberdeen Libraries has shown that not all closed venues reopened immediately after covid, so the low footfall may give a misleading figure
Govan Law Centre advised campaigners in the spring that the closures may have been illegal as they did not consider residents with protected characteristics like age or disability, with the position further complicated by Humza Yousaf’s apparently unilateral decision to freeze council tax next year.
Social Bite Dundee
will be opening a recovery centre in Dundee for those struggling with addiction. Its first homeless village in Edinburgh supports 20 people with housing, teaching new skills and work placements, and the new Dundee project will also support other vulnerable people with addictions, not just the homeless.
The Rent Cap is Lawful
Landlords have lost their judicial review of the Scottish government’s rent freeze which later became a 3% cap on increases, and which applies until March 2024. The Court of Session ruled that many arguments fell ‘far short’ and were ‘premature’ including that the rent controls would be indefinite. The Scottish government does intend to introduce ‘long-term’ rent controls among other housing policies to tackle homelessness. Tenants’ union Living Rent have welcomed the judgment.
Business: Rise in Insolvencies
There has been a worrying increase of 20% over the last year of businesses becoming insolvent, with various reasons including high interest rates and political instability abroad. Eleven Scottish-based companies went into administration in the third quarter of 2023, 22.2% over the numbers in the equivalent quarter in 2022.
This is partly due to more stringent enforcement measures by HMRC and other creditors, who previously preferred forbearance and restructuring to enforcement. Insolvencies affect all sectors from retail and construction to real estate and professional firms.
The collapse of Orkney Fishermen’s Society
into administration is being blamed firmly on Brexit, with recruitment issues forefront in the demise of this supplier of crabs, lobster and other seafood. It has been sold to Orkney Crab and all 55 jobs are safe. At a UK level, Richard Hughes of the Office for Budget Responsibility admitted overall output is down by 4% thanks to Brexit, the pandemic, energy costs and adverse weather, with skills shortages particularly in rural areas.
Roman Road Discovered in a Garden
A cobbled road dating back 2000 years and built by the Roman army of General Julius Agricola has been unearthed in a cottage garden in Stirling. Originally connecting to a ford crossing the River Forth, the road was reused in the 2nd and 3rd century invasions of Scotland. Hailed as the most important road in Scottish history, the homeowners admit it is strange to be able to walk on a road used by the Picts, William the Conqueror, Oliver Cromwell, Kenneth MacAlpin and Robert the Bruce.
Health: Children with Long Covid
Professor Jason Leitch, pivotal in Scotland’s response to Covid, was forced to apologise for a webinar comment labelling parents, advocates and campaigners for public health measures ‘extremists’. Unfortunately for him he was heard by Helen Goss, a campaigner and mother of a child victim living with Long Covid, who is extremely frustrated by the lack of help from the NHS, social care and education services, saying people have lost jobs to care for children or been forced to move homes to buildings without stairs, or forced to move due to reduced income.
Over 10,000 children in Scotland were estimated to have Long Covid in May 2022, suffering symptoms from extreme fatigue and muscle ache to cardiovascular, neurological and gastrointestinal problems. It does not as first suspected only affect children with underlying health conditions, and Long Covid can develop after any episode of the disease. Long Covid Kids Scotland supports over 250 Scots families, but it appears to be the tip of the iceberg.
The Scottish parliament paid out £23.5 million in MSP expenses last year, 5.5% up on the previous year. Expenses include staff and office costs for elected representatives and travel costs, and the party leader allowance more than doubled from the previous year to £28,220. Staff salaries of £19.1 million comprised the bulk of the expenses.
Green: Scotland will miss Net Zero on public vehicles
While the rest of us must scramble to meet green targets which have already started to bite in Glasgow, the Scottish government is some way off target for its own vehicles, with Mairi McAllan admitting that their own fleet has only 69% ultra-low and zero emission vehicles, with some departments faring better than others. Transport Scotland have 50% zero emission vehicles, but Scottish Forestry have only 8% zero emissions, Forestry and Land Scotland 4% and the Scottish Prison Service only 2%. The lack of rollout of electric charging points, particularly in rural Scotland, is also a growing issue.
Alarms ringing over Pyrotechnics and the Green Brigade
A conference will take place this month at Hampden Park involving the SPFL, Police Scotland and the Scottish government on the growing problem of pyrotechnics at Scottish grounds.
The recent Dundee-Rangers game at Dens Park had to be temporarily abandoned due to a large number of flares and smoke bombs in the away end, with the smoke triggering alarms in the ground. Scottish Fire and Rescue local commander Jason Sharp said that some pyrotechnic devices can reach temperatures of 1200 degrees and can continue to burn after being discarded, risking spectators and passers-by. Police Scotland pointed out that taking pyrotechnics into a football stadium is illegal as well as highly dangerous.
And Celtic have reached the end of their tether over the Green Brigade, banning them from matches and suspending some season tickets over continued ‘political’ and safety issues at matches, including the use of pyrotechnics and forcing open fire exits at games in September. The club felt forced to act to stop the perceived reputational risk to the club, but stress it is not due to the support shown for Palestine.
Scottish Water’s Huge Bonuses
State-owned Scottish Water paid a total of nearly £1 million in bonuses to 3 executives over the last 5 years, despite public sector pay rules suspending performance-related bonuses for over seven years. The Scottish government has approved the payments and confirm that Scottish Water has a ‘longstanding’ exemption from the rule, and state-owned CalMac and Ferguson Marine are not on the list at all.
Cumbrae islanders are demanding action over what they describe as ‘discriminatory’ ticketing issues, plus a 70% rise in fares. Ferry operator CalMac have also done away with season tickets, meaning regular commuters would be paying nearly £800 over 220 working days, compared to a season ticket price of £463 last year.
Monthly tickets are being phased out by the end of April, and six-month tickets are already gone. Islanders can only buy single tickets at offices, although they are available digitally, but two single concession tickets cost a third more than a day return would, and teens cannot buy a ferry ticket direct without an adult.
Islanders fear the lack of daily return tickets will affect the ability of nurses, care home staff, teachers and other essential staff to work there. Cumbrae does not benefit from the Road Equivalent Tarriff (RET) scheme, despite the fact that RET is supposed to be uniform across all of Scotland’s ferry network, and there is a feeling that tourists are prioritised over islanders.
Calmac counters that there is a 10-journey product and multi-journey and return tickets are available online and over the phone.
Fiona the Sheep has been rescued from her lonely exile at Balintore in Easter Ross by a team which abseiled 800 feet down the cliffs to hoist her up in a precarious bag which threatened to break at any time. She appeared quite relaxed during the rescue, and is now on her way to a new home at Dalscone Farm animal park in Dumfries. Apart from being in dire need of shearing, she is well and looking forward to her new life.
Smoke, a Bengal cat from Fife, was reunited with his owner five years after going missing, thanks to a microchip scanned when he was taken to the vet. He had been kept as an indoor cat for 5 years a mere 3 miles from his home. And Twinkle, a Scottish horse from North Berwick, has become a TikTok sensation for his quirky facial expressions, with over half a million followers including Jason Derulo and other celebrities who want to feature him in their work.