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This Week In Scotland – Week 02

Referendum 2023

The SNP is partnering with the Greens and Believe in Scotland to launch a series of seminars looking to the ‘2023 referendum’ which the First Minister now says she will do ‘all in her power’ to hold. The first focuses on Brexit and how Scotland rejoins the EU. They will also be updating the Growth Commission as the economic case for independence and the Social Justice Commission report on poverty.

Apparently no referendum on whether Scotland will rejoin the EU. And SNP members (I was one then) were lukewarm about the right-wing Growth Commission report. Tony Guigliano, SNP policy convenor, stated flatly that Alba would not be in the new partnership as he “want(s) to win the referendum”. Nor are ISP. Strangely we were also left off the invitation list to Aberdeen Independence Movement’s (AIM) Progress to Yes event in Aberdeen. This has been deferred to May, presumably to give time for our invitations to arrive.

None of this will worry Anas Sarwar, Scottish Labour leader, who refuses to countenance independence and will not allow any Scottish Labour candidate in May to support independence. Very democratic.

Catalonia

A legal battle between Spain and the exiled Catalan leaders is ongoing at the European Court of Justice (ECJ). Belgium earlier refused to extradite former Catalan Cabinet minister Lluis Puig to Spain, but Spain is pursuing extradition of the Catalan leaders through the ECJ. Former Catalan president Carles Puigdemont has been arrested in Italy. It is possible that the suspended European arrest warrants against Puigdemont, Clara Ponsati and Toni Comin may be reinstated. Romania and Poland back Spain’s attempt to get Puigdemont extradited. It boils down to whether EU countries can pick and choose what they enforce or are EU decisions supreme over national laws? Poland is already in hot water for rejecting the supremacy of EU law over Polish law. Catalans remain uncomfortable about the general lack of EU support, and if the ECJ backs Spain in this question, what chance for Catalan independence? But at least they wouldn’t have to back the UK against Scottish independence.

Legal

The Scottish Government consultation on changes to the regulation of the legal profession involves three proposals which each involve a regulator accountable to the Scottish Parliament. The profession argues this impinges on the regulator’s independence, threatening the separation of powers and the rule of law. Current suggestions to abolish jury trials in Scottish rape trials are causing concern. Juries may safeguard against the politicisation of judicial decisions, or they may be swayed by current societal trends. Of 2343 rapes and attempt rapes reported to Police Scotland in 2019-20, only 130 led to a conviction. One-quarter of the 300 court cases were not proven. Another worrying trend creeping in is the requirement for women to refer to their alleged rapist as “she” in court if the male identifies as a female. Could that lead to an acquittal, then, as it is only biological males who can rape? Women and Trans: Judging by the groups Shona Robison consulted, the SNP appear to have already decided on gender reform. Despite a pledge to consult other interested parties, they have only consulted five government-funded pro-trans groups, but no religious or feminist groups like ForWomen Scotland. The Equality Network, Scottish Trans, Stonewall Scotland, LGBT Youth Scotland and LGBT Health and Wellbeing have been aggressively pushing for gender reform and in 2020-21 received government funding totalling over £1mn. Religious sensibilities had already been spectacularly swept aside in the Equality Impact Assessment (EIA) for the recent schools guidance on transgender inclusion. The EIA admitted its aim was to look primarily from the standpoint of transgenderism. 12/01/22 Hot off the press – MurrayBlackburnMackenzie are meeting with officials from the Scottish Government Gender Recognition Unit (eh?) next week. Let’s hope it is a genuine attempt to find out what women (52% of the population) feel, and act accordingly.

Boris and that Garden Party

We may soon endure another Tory leadership contest and even a snap general election. Despite all the previous scandals, the latest stooshie over a garden party at No 10 may sink Boris, coming as it did on the same day as 365 of Boris’ fellow citizens died of covid, alone in the hospital, with families forbidden from visiting.

Housing

Ariane Burgess, Scottish Greens MSP for the Highlands and Islands, has pointed out a problem hindering attempts to upgrade housing in the form of a 20% VAT rate on construction work to retrofit existing buildings. The Royal Institution of Chartered surveyors claims VAT rate reduction would generate £51bn in the UK and bring 345,000 construction jobs to the housing sector.
Short-term Lets

Holyrood’s Local Government Committee have backed a licensing scheme for Airbnb-type lets, rather than just registration, feeling this will give police and local authorities more powers to deal with antisocial behaviour and criminality associated with some lets.

Is Scotland being short-changed by the UK?

The SNP says yes, by over £5bn. Starting with the Levelling Up Fund, which said it would match for Scotland and Wales the receipts we would have got from the EU. Instead of £375m promised to Wales, they only received £46m by November 2021. Scotland has not received £1.3bn of the £1.5bn promised. The Scottish Government is funding the City Deals more than the UK, £849m compared to £438m, and has mitigated some Tory austerity through the Scottish Child Payment (£360m by 2023/24), £81m Discretionary Housing Payments including £60m to cover the bedroom tax and £41m in the Scottish Welfare Fund.

Health funding falls short by £103m, plus £3.04bn from the Brexit divorce bill, although the UK claims EU funding will be made up by 2024/25.

Drugs Deaths

The Scottish Parliament’s drugs taskforce chair and vice-chair both resigned, allegedly due to pressure to speed up results. The problem is complex, and behind drug use is often child abuse, poor education, jobs and housing, an endless downward spiral including prejudice by others. Too often we victim-blame. A recent policy change in the Scottish Prison Service has already saved lives. Letters to prisoners infused with etizolam caused 5 deaths last year. Now, prisoners do not get the originals, but photocopies.

Energy

Scotland’s energy producers are charged most to connect to the national grid. Scotland’s electricity network is 52% of the total (9300 km compared with 8700 in England and Wales), but transmission charges are highest by far in the north of Scotland, where producers pay £7.36 per megawatt-hour (MWh) to connect to the grid, compared to £4.70 in south Scotland, 49p in England and Wales, and the south of England, where operators are actually paid to connect. This is despite Scotland having 25% of Europe’s wind resources, and 60% of the UK’s offshore wind capacity. Why don’t we insist on better?

Price Rises

Many are calling for a one-off windfall tax on oil and gas firms to raise £1.2bn to soften the expected 50% price rises in April, which follow the October rise of 12%. Higher North Sea oil and gas profits from higher prices means companies will pay £2.3bn more tax. Firms who got tax breaks in leaner times should maybe now help out consumers.

Energy Action Scotland (EAS)

has shown that 40% of homes in the Western Isles are in fuel poverty, compared to 13% in East Renfrewshire. Overall, 24% of Scotland’s households experience fuel poverty, defined as spending over 10% of the household income on energy after housing costs. EAS is urging the UK to cut VAT on energy bills. Over 2000 excess winter deaths are attributed to cold and damp housing, which makes OVO energy’s recent suggestion of doing star bursts to warm yourself up particularly insulting.

The Ferry Industry Advisory Group

wants urgent action on Scotland’s ferries. Half CalMac’s fleet is over 25 years old, with 1000 ferry sailings delayed by mechanical problems over the last 5 years. The cost of two ferries under construction at Ferguson Marine has soared to £300 million. Ten vehicle ferry operations run year-round services, four run by local authorities, four by private companies, with NorthLink commercial company running services on behalf of the Scottish government. State-owned CalMac leases ferries from Caledonian Maritime Assets Ltd (CMAL). Despite a ten-fold state funding increase in 20 years, the current system is not fit for its purpose and it is unclear whether the recently acquired ferries will be ready for the summer.

Cosla is again demanding an increase in councillors’ pay. They say councillors would get £19,562 for the average 38-hour week worked if it paid the Real Living Wage. The current salary amounts to £18,604 or less.

Northern Ireland

Foreign Secretary Liz Truss has threatened to trigger Article 16 of the Northern Ireland Protocol, overruling parts of the Brexit withdrawal deal. The mechanism aims to prevent a hard land border between Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic. DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson states unionists do not consent to the protocol, and the UK must protect Northern Ireland’s place in the UK Internal Market. He is threatening to remove his ministers from the Stormont Executive if progress stalls.

Finally,

Morrisons supermarkets have started 2022 by scrapping the ‘Use By’ date on their ownbrand milk, to be replaced by a DIY ‘Sniff by’ date, to tell if milk has gone off. No clear instruction what to do if you have no sense of smell, or your sense of smell never returned after covid.

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