23/09/23 – 29/09/23
When is free land access not free? What’s in store for Taymouth? But first…..
The Rutherglen/Hamilton West By-election
Going into the final week of campaigning for the Rutherglen/ Hamilton West by-election, the ISP is the only party fielding a candidate who puts Westminster in its place by saying that if elected, we would not take a seat in a foreign parliament which does nothing but sneer at Scotland. Colette Walker is also the only candidate who has a central policy commitment to protecting women’s single-sex spaces and the safeguarding of vulnerable groups including women, the disabled, the elderly and children.
If the voters of Rutherglen and Hamilton want a new vision and focus for independence, the ISP and Colette Walker is the clear choice.
On October 5th
SNP may hike tax to write of Meals Debt
Shona Robison said no decision had yet been made whether to raise council tax in Bands E to H by respectively 7.5%, 12.5%, 17.5% and 22.5%, which would raise £176 million for local authorities and has been mooted as one solution to writing off council school meals debt.
North Lanarkshire Council
have made the staggering decision to shut 39 community facilities – libraries, swimming pools and community and sports centres – to balance their budget. The move will save £4.7 million towards their £64 million budget deficit over the next three years. They examined regular usage and condition of the facilities, plus how much would be needed to modernise older venues. The council intends to phase in closures while offering users alternative venues.
But critics say the council should use the ‘tens of millions’ due to them in the next few years from Strathclyde Region Pension Fund surplus to prevent cuts and upgrade facilities.
The council was already under fire for its alleged ‘fire and rehire’ policy for Early Years Practitioners, and this round of savage cuts are unlikely to go ahead without a mammoth fight.
Private Rents Soaring
Rent levels for all private tenancies in Scotland have risen by 6% overall in the last 12 months, double the Scottish government cap of 3%, which only applies to existing tenancies. Landlords can increase rents by any amount if it is a new tenancy. The average Scottish rent is now nearly £1000 a month and tenants’ organisations are now calling the rent legislation ‘badly flawed’ and in need of change.
Free Land Access Isn’t Free:
Public bodies like Forestry and Land Scotland (FLS) must be forced by the government to ditch sky-high fees which have the effect of restricting access to popular events including the Ben Nevis Ultra, West Highland Way Race and Aviemore Triathlon, along with the blizzard of red tape required by some venues, including steep fees, restrictions and notice periods of up to two years.
NatureScot and the UK Ministry of Defence also stand accused, with critics saying this is setting a precedent for other bodies and landowners to hike fees and restrict access, including ‘permission process’ charges and lengthy notice demands. NatureScot says landowners need one to two years’ notice for walking or running events with more than 200 people. Although most landowners do not charge, a minority seem to feel that free access rights do not apply to events on their land.
Shane Ohly of Ourea Events said the Cape Wrath Ultra required a ‘licence fee’, and the Ministry of Defence charged £700 for event runners to cross its land in the Pentland Hills. Landowners cannot charge for access to land, but permission is needed for facilities like toilets, car parking, or if land management operations are likely to be impacted.
FLS have started charging fees at some of its 300 car parks, sometimes without any prior local consultation. Recent additions to charging are Fearnoch Forest and Sutherlands Grove near Oban, which are so far from other car parks that visitors are forced to pay.
Even when a local consultation rejects the idea of charges, it can be ignored as it was in Pitlochry regarding charges to visit Faskally Forest. Fees have been introduced in East Kintyre’s Port-na-Storm and Dalbeattie Town Wood car park.
Golden eagle numbers have risen in southern Scotland to the highest number for 300 years to the present total of approximately 46. Another pair of golden eagles, Edward and Iona, are now an item, and Moffat , which was Eagle Town in 2021, hosted the third Eagle Festival from September 22 – 24 this year.
Earlier this year, eight eagle chicks were brought from all over Scotland for release in the Moffat Hills this summer.
Funnily enough, 9 years after Scotland was told there was no more oil, the UK government has just given the green light for development and production of the Rosebank oil field off Shetland, which it is thought could be worth a colossal £30 BILLION to the Treasury. Most of the oil produced will be exported rather than used in the UK, but campaigners have vowed legal action against the UK government.
Its development could mean a pipeline being laid through the Faroe-Shetland Sponge Belt, a protected area of the North Sea, disrupting wildlife. The field may produce as much as 69,000 barrels of oil per day (8% of the UK daily output) plus 44 million cubic feet of gas every day. Not bad for a commodity which was definitely running out in 2014.
Spending Plans Derailed:
It is feared that the upgrading of hospitals, prisons and other infrastructure may be delayed or abandoned due to a £26bn funding shortfall, says Auditor General for Scotland Stephen Boyle. The plans for this parliamentary term did include infrastructure investment of £34.2bn, but only £26bn worth have been identified by the Scottish government, with detailed plans for only £14.9bn of these.
A 7% real-terms fall in the capital block grant from the UK to Holyrood is expected between this year and 2027/28. The Auditor-General spoke of delays and increased costs on dualling the A9, electrification of the Borders Railway and a new college campus in Dunfermline. There is a £1.1bn maintenance backlog on NHS properties, and 22 Private Finance Initiative projects are due to return to the public sector by 2030, with possible final contract payments and costs to be assumed by the public sector.
Former Scottish government maritime adviser Roy Pedersen is calling for an enquiry into what loans of nearly £129 million of public money was spent on. Ferguson Marine say it doesn’t know. Auditor General Stephen Boyle does not have the power to investigate further, but government ministers could make an order to open up records for examination. Ferguson Marine received the loans prior to nationalisation in December 2019.
Pedersen says the Glen Sannox currently under construction could struggle to berth in bad weather and that the government could have got several catamarans with slightly smaller capacity which would be cheaper but perfectly adequate for operational requirements.
The Rosyth Ferry
We are closer to the return of the Rosyth Ferry as a direct passenger link to Europe, with ‘high level talks’ ongoing with a European port to reinstate a service which stopped five years ago. The nearest ferry connection for Europe is currently in the north of England. The last passenger service from Rosyth was in 2010, but it continued as a freight ferry till 2018.
A petition for its reinstatement reached over 6000 signatures. Any new service is again to be run by DFDS, but will not go to Zeebrugge this time.
Pollution for Perthshire?
Discovery Land Company is under fire over its developments at Yellowstone National Park in the US and Guana Cay Reef in the Bahamas. Golf course constructions like the one planned for the Taymouth Castle Development are said to have led to chemicals damaging ecosystems in other places, and also to broken promises about community benefits, such as in Barbuda, where the firm pledged more than $10 million after Hurricane Irma for rebuilding local schools, a medical centre, restoring a lagoon and beachland and building a new airport. The only one to materialise so far is the airport which can accommodate ‘almost any size private aircraft’.
In Yellowstone in Montana, the US Environmental Protection Agency have highlighted multiple violations of the Clean Water Act and in the Bahamas the corporation is said to have burned down an entire forest, with chemicals now seeping into the reefs near the golf course. The Guana Cay Reef has lost 40% of its coral cover in two years, according to campaigners.
Salmon Farming Concerns
Local residents are campaigning against plans proposed by the Loch Long Salmon Company, which have two proposals lodged for semi-enclosed salmon farms. Under this regime, an impermeable bag separates the salmon from the sea, and faecal waste is brought ashore and treated, but campaigners say the technology has not been proved. There is one installation in place in Norway, but information on it is withheld due to ‘commercial confidentiality’ so it is hard to assess.
Campaigners also say the 16 jobs it would allegedly bring are not needed in an area which already has a shortage of workers and the accommodation needed to house them. Some claim that semi-enclosed pens may be the answer to a record 17 million salmon mortalities last year, some due to sea-lice levels and sea predation. Animal Equality UK said salmon farms are an eyesore, deterring tourists and polluting the environment, causing mass salmon suffering.
Islands Aren’t ‘Remote’
The Scottish government has removed the word ‘remote’ from the title of its ‘Remote, Rural and Islands Housing Action Plan’ after a backlash from among others the Mull and Iona Community Trust, saying it shows central government’s real attitudes to areas which are not remote to those who live there. For them it is the Central Belt which is remote.
However, others feel such a designation is vital if island communities are to get the services they need like efficient ferries.
The Scottish government had previously excluded Shetland from maps of Scotland, which has since been corrected. Just as well, as under The Islands (Scotland) Act 2018 it was actually illegal to exclude an accurate representation of Shetland and its geographical position.
Majority of Seats or Majority of Votes?
Pete Wishart seems to think a de-facto plebiscite election should be decided by a majority of votes, contradicting his party leader’s plan for a majority of Westminster seats.
Both have selective memories. Yousaf forgets that when the SNP had 56 of the 59 Scottish seats they did not press home that advantage, and Wishart forgets that even in the heyday of the SNP at that 2015 election, the SNP did not get a majority of votes.
Wishart wants to add in the votes going to other independence parties, but does not clarify if ISP or Alba votes would count. And would it be a majority of eligible voters or votes cast?
How about instead voting in pro-independence MPs who will then abstain and withdraw to Scotland one by one till the whole government is back where it should be?
A householder in Oban had the fright of her life recently when awoken by her pet kitten crying in the night. Fearing someone had broken in she went downstairs only to discover the culprits were two goats which had escaped their enclosure, jumped a fence and opened the door to her home before dragging clothing around and jumping onto a sofa.
They took a taste to the corner of a table and also ate Katherine Mackenzie’s birthday flowers before settling down on a £300 rug. Once she was over the shock, she appeared to forgive goats Chaz and Dave for their nocturnal wanderings, but hopefully their enclosure will be made a bit more secure from now on to prevent a repeat home invasion.