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October 22nd – October 28th, 2022 Week 43

SNP Rebellion over Gender Reform

            The SNP government faced an unexpected rebellion at Holyrood yesterday over their gender reform plans. Seven SNP MSPs, including Ash Regan, Minister for Community Safety, voted against the proposal, with two SNP abstentions.  Ash Regan had resigned as a minister hours before the vote, which was passed to the next stage by 88 to 33.  As Nicola Sturgeon did not allow her MSPs a free vote on this matter, it forced them to disobey the party.  It will be interesting to see what punishment will follow.

Pests out of control

            Scotland has seen a big rise in the number of rodents, particularly due to Brexit-induced supply and regulatory problems and also the fact that they are becoming resistant to commonly-used pesticides.  Pest control visits were up to nearly 46,000 last year.  Brexit means companies must now complete a UK-specific regulatory process.

            Most callouts to councils are for wasp control, with callout numbers doubling, as well as increased callouts for bedbugs and street rodents, which always spike after the Fringe in Edinburgh, but are increasing generally due to increased travel after covid restrictions were eased.  Mice and rats, which used to be a seasonal problem, are now year-round, in part due to people dropping litter and causing overflowing bins.  People need to be vigilant, not leaving food litter, keep places tidy with no food wrappers, clean houses regularly and ensure that the home is not excessively damp as this can be conducive to beetle and other insect infestations.

Blood scandal

            Thousands of Scots should have already received an interim payout of £100,000 for blood transfusions infected with Hepatitis C or HIV in the 1970s and 1980s.  The payments will be tax-free and national insurance-free and will not affect any benefits being received by recipients.  Scottish Infected Blood Support Scheme (SIBBS) members – beneficiaries or widows/widowers/ partners of those who have died – may finally be able to obtain some justice for their suffering.

Eco Matters:

            Anglers could be prohibited from eating salmon they catch in Scottish rivers, if a Scottish government proposal goes ahead which aims to conserve numbers by forcing anglers to catch and release salmon.  Anglers already voluntarily release 95% of rod-caught Atlantic salmon.  However, the Scottish Gamekeepers Association (SGA) says a blanket ban returning 100% of their catch voluntarily is heavy handed and some feel it will adversely affect tourism. 

Hydrogen:

            The Scottish government believes renewable hydrogen could be the ‘new oil and gas sector’ on independence, when they foresee being able to ‘reform the energy market’, develop energy resilience and lower costs, as well as new market frameworks for renewable hydrogen and carbon capture and storage.  Green hydrogen is the most efficient, using renewable energy to split water into hydrogen and oxygen, while blue hydrogen is produced from natural gas. 

            Scottish hydrogen will be showcased at European Hydrogen Week in Brussels.  The Scottish government hopes to generate 5GW of power by 2030 and 45GW by 2045, but critics argue using hydrogen for domestic heating is less economic, less efficient, more resource intensive and has a greater environmental impact than other alternatives like heat pumps and district heating systems.  The Scottish government envisages investment in blue hydrogen projects in the 2020s before moving on to green hydrogen production by 2045.

Migrant Fishermen

            numbering up to 1000 may be working on Scottish and other UK boats without any workers’ rights due to a legal loophole allowing them to be employed on short-term seafarers’ transit visas instead of the proper working visas which would give them official immigration status.  These transit visas were intended to allow seafarers from other countries to board ships in UK ports before departing to international waters, but if misused, it makes them totally dependent on skippers, and reluctant to complain as they have no legal status.  The International Transport Workers’ Federation is calling for skilled worker visas to be used as they should be.

Ferries

            The Scottish government is to sign contracts by the end of 2022 for two ferries costing £115 million to serve Harris and North Uist, making a total of six ferries under construction. It is hoped that all six will be deployed by 2026.

Energy Bills

            in Scotland may further rise by up to £100 annually to fund the construction of new nuclear plants in England due to the UK government’s use of a Regulated Asset Base (RAB) funding model for eight new nuclear plants in England by 2030.  Nuclear companies will be paid levies by electricity suppliers who can pass these charges directly on to consumers’ bills.  Jim Cuthbert, former chief statistician at the Scottish Office, thinks final costs could exceed projections due to the long time lag in construction of a nuclear plant, as much as 8 to 9 years, and the possibility of budget under-estimates in the first place and budget overruns later on. 

            The model has been used when borrowing to invest in infrastructure funding in the UK like the national grid, rail and airports and may encourage an over-estimation of costs, particularly if problems are encountered during the build.  And as in the privatised water industry, financial investors can extract profits including windfall profits.  It could be arranged that windfall profits would go instead to consumers, but so far have not.

Spin Doctors

            Criticism has been levelled at the Scottish government over the £3.7 million spent on public relations staff and press officers in the last year, double the amount spent in 2006-07.  Eighteen special advisers each earn an average of £60,000, some higher, at the same time as £560 million of cuts were recently announced by John Swinney, including ‘efficiency savings’ of £18.7 million and ‘enhanced recruitment controls’ including a recruitment freeze.  Special advisers are not required to be politically neutral, in contrast with permanent civil servants.

Peat Extraction

            International fertiliser company ICL stands accused of extracting peat from a site in Dumfries and Galloway while failing to follow planning conditions on how much peat was  extracted, and how the area would be restored at the end of operations.  The local council are monitoring events but have yet to start enforcement action, although the company’s request to extend its operations beyond another two years was rejected.

            Calls for a ban on peat-based compost have not yet been implemented by government, with Scotland refusing to take part in joint consultation plans with England and Wales.   The UK has announced that the sale of peat for use in amateur gardening will be banned from 2024, although not for professional horticulture.  Scotland will be launching a consultation at some point, and exceptions from Scotland’s new National Planning Policy will exempt industries which are of national importance which have no reasonable available substitute.

            Scotland has missed its peatland restoration targets four years in a row, last year only restoring 8000 hectares of degraded peat against a target of 20,000 hectares.

Police Scotland

            are facing losing up to 4500 staff and officers if the Scottish government sticks to its plan of a flat-rate financial settlement yearly until 2026/27, according to Calum Steele, Scottish Police Federation general secretary. Citing the need to keep funding percentage pay rises over the years, he says the only option will be job cuts which will compromise any hope of retaining service to the public.  Already many crimes are dealt with by phone without police attendance, and many areas have no police presence at all.

Database Pictures

            Police Scotland are also engaged in a mammoth sifting-out of database pictures of suspects which may have been kept unlawfully due to the people later being found innocent or not even being charged.  Scottish Biometrics Commissioner Dr Brian Plastow, however, is backing the rollout of facial recognition technology ‘with safeguards’ as an enhancement of public safety.  But he went on to say that the forensic ‘digital strip searches’ of rape victims’ phones must be proportionate.

Rishi Sunak

            Unlike his predecessor in post, he has at least contacted Nicola Sturgeon, but unfortunately appears to be doubling down on bypassing and ignoring Holyrood.  Post-Brexit set-ups including the Shared Prosperity and Levelling Up Funds are paid directly to recipient projects in Scotland, even if they relate to devolved matters.  Scottish Tories claim people do not care who helps communities, as long as someone does, but they also do not admit that ‘broad shoulders’ solutions like furlough help are not offered because the UK is so well off, but because it does not operate on a fixed income and is a currency issuer.

            In some ways Sunak wants to meddle more, by creating a standardised methodology for measuring the performance of public services across the UK to enable easier comparisons of performance by nation.  Tory MP Andrew Bowie first said Sunak would look to work in devolved areas without Scottish government consent, then later said that overruling or overriding the Scottish government would be unsustainable.  

The SNP Parliamentary Party

            at Westminster attempted this week to have parliament meet behind closed doors.  David Linden invoked standing order 163 on the grounds that the Conservatives have no democratic legitimacy over Scotland.  Although the motion failed, Linden said there would be more such actions from the SNP.

            However, the SNP were not prepared to support an Alba protest by MP Kenny MacAskill over the £3.4 bn Eastern Link undersea cable superhighway to bring offshore wind energy ashore from the North Sea, then on to England, asking why England gets cheap energy while Scots remain in fuel poverty.  The SNP group walked out of the chamber just as he was stating to speak.

Finally

Congratulations go to the pupils of Dunoon Grammar School who recently won the World’s Best School award for Community Collaboration, beating finalists from Brazil and India.  The school has been involved in national and international projects in Malawi, Costa Rica and Ghana, helping to build schools and hospitals.

            It also helps those nearer home, and the school has amended its curriculum to offer courses like tourism and maritime studies which are relevant to their local community to try and halt the brain drain of young people leaving the area for work opportunities.

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