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This Week In Scotland – Week 04

IndyRef2

Speaking on the BBC’s Sunday Morning programme, Nicola Sturgeon said the government would decide “within weeks” when it would introduce legislation for indyref2. Previously the legislation was actually to be tabled within weeks. Now she will do “everything … within my power” to hold indyref2 in 2023. Not exactly watertight, then.

The unionist media claim that support for independence should be higher than 50% to even hold a referendum. Nicola Sturgeon’s apologetic response was that a number of people in Scotland think we can do better than being in the UK, rather missing the point that it is about self-determination, not about whether we do better or worse. Having cited Brexit-related damage as one of the reasons for independence, she did not explain why she has waited 2 years since our final EU exit (and nearly 6 years since the vote) plus another almost 2 years still to come before actually doing anything. She then stated it still depends on covid.

For some reason, Keith Brown, SNP depute leader, seems to think a stonking win for the SNP at May’s local elections will lock the Tories out of power….

AUOB March

Unlike the (mostly) hesitant SNP politicians, Stephen Flynn took part in a march for independence in Glasgow on Saturday, along with Alba Party’s Neale Hanvey. Although the numbers were depleted from the heyday of a couple of years ago, it was encouraging to see the marches start up again, and I am sure they will be at their previous numbers in due course. Pity all Pete Wishart could do was poke fun, instead of asking himself what he has been doing for 20 years to further independence.

Legal:

Contravention of the Treaty of Union

Joanna Cherry has tackled the Judicial Review and Courts Bill for attempting to undermine Scots law, claiming Clause 2 will alter the jurisdiction of the Court of Session. The British Under-secretary of State for Justice admitted as much in a letter to her on 10th November. Such a move is a contravention of the devolved settlement and of article 19 of the Treaty of Union. UK Ministers argue it is just a regulation for the better administration of justice, Judicial Review is the means whereby the decisions of public bodies can be challenged. A legislative consent motion is needed for this to apply to Scotland, none has been sought and none would be given.

The Online Safety Bill aims to establish a new regulatory framework to tackle harmful online content, from extreme pornography to frauds, to hold online services accountable for the design and operation of their systems, to be regulated by a democratic legislature. Social media platforms often delete or censor items in response to orchestrated complaints, particularly gender-critical comments stating biological fact, while leaving violent imagery of women unpunished. The Joint Committee on Human Rights recommended that “sex” should be a protected characteristic for Twitter’s hateful conduct policy, but Twitter has not yet done so. None of this will stop deepfake pornography or violent imagery against women.

The Elections Bill was recently passed by the House of Commons, giving the government more power over the Electoral Commission, and new voter ID requirements The government claims that those without appropriate ID will be provided it free of charge! Of 595 alleged cases of voter fraud in 2019, only 4 led to conviction and 2 to a police caution. This ID will not be needed for Holyrood or local council elections but will be for a UK General Election.

The House of Lords Constitution Committee Respect and Co-operation Report, aimed at strengthening the union, wants reform of the Barnett Formula, and increased scrutiny of bills passed under the Sewel convention (where Westminster can legislate on behalf of Holyrood in devolved matters if the legislation would be the same). Apparently, taking Holyrood’s powers and unilaterally changing the devolved nations’ funding will make our relationship with Westminster “less rancorous”. The devolved parliaments should be more involved where “appropriate” but judging by Scotland being ignored in new trade deals and steamrollered in the Internal Market Act, I wouldn’t bet on it enhancing Scotland’s powers. Echoing the morning after indyref 1, they also call for more devolution within England.

According to the Joint Committee on Human Rights, the Nationality and Borders Bill fails to meet the UK’s human rights obligations, creating categories of refugees, allowing applications to be rejected without consideration, and bringing the possibility of “offshore processing” of claims.

A Cheaper Housing Solution

may be available if the idea of British ex-pat Stuart Phipp catches on here. His Cannes factory produces housing built round steel frames driven into piles, the exterior is fibre cement cladding and a membrane, with polyurethane sprayed between the membrane and the plasterboard inside. The factory can make one house every hour. A four-bedroom house costs around £33,200, and less per unit for bulk orders. A heat pump provides central heating and hot water for around £25 a month. A big obstacle here, though, is the price of land.

Part of the deal is that the government provides the mortgage, part of which is interest-free over 25 years, so it has the advantages of being cheaper to build and cheaper to pay off.

Short Term Lets:

Legislation requiring a licensing scheme for Airbnb-type properties was passed at Holyrood by 87 votes to 33, although it does leave it to local authorities to set the conditions, so it is unclear how effective it will be.

Transport:

A 20-year investment strategy unveiled by the Scottish government envisages tunnels or bridges to replace key ferry routes, a transformed metro system for Glasgow to incorporate rapid transit, light rail and metro, increased links to Edinburgh and Aberdeen and a much-increased active travel network for walking, wheeling and cycling, connecting towns and villages to cities to encourage us to ditch our cars. It aims to “improve” the A83 at Rest and Be Thankful (but no word on the A96 dualling in the north-east), plus further fixed links between the Outer Hebridean islands.

North Coast 500:

The Scottish National Investment Bank (SNIB) is investing £4.45mn in Highland Coast Hotels to enhance the North Coast 500 tourist route, to upgrade four hotels, providing both hotel jobs and up to 40 supply chain jobs.

Scotland’s Drugs Crisis:

The lord advocate Dorothy Bain QC is in favour of drug consumption rooms, defying the UK, and is awaiting proposals being developed in conjunction with the police. Heroin-assisted treatment is still only available to a handful of people in Glasgow. Six months ago Angela Constance announced the advent of drug consumption rooms, but none have appeared.

Scotland’s drugs deaths are three times higher than the rest of the UK and are the highest in Europe. Much of the available funding is ring-fenced for residential rehab, which many campaigners say is less successful than community-based treatment, but only 40% of the Scots who need it are getting treatment.

Last year possession of personal heroin and cocaine was decriminalised, and some legal regulation of drugs would break the power organised crime gangs have over communities and users.

GP Futures

The current model of GP provision is unsustainable, according to Gillian Martin, Convenor of the Health, Social Care and Sport Committee. The future may be helplines, websites, walking groups, and accessing other health practitioners like a physiotherapist or pharmacists. Perhaps the aim is to make us so hacked off with trying to access the NHS, we just embrace private healthcare.

Women and Trans Issues:

Women’s groups who met with the Scottish government over proposed gender reform do not feel greatly encouraged. The legislation goes before parliament on 24th February.

However, the Equality and Human Rights Commission have come up trumps this week for women, calling on the Scottish government to pause further gender reforms, pending more detailed consideration. The EHRC is writing to the Scottish government shortly with guidance for single-sex service providers, and it also wants a pause on banning trans ‘conversion therapy’ (the encouragement of counseling before headlong gender self-affirmation) until families, teachers and doctors have adequate protection under the law, and a review by Dr Hilary Cass is complete.

The EHRC has also told the Scottish Census that requiring transgender people to accurately record their sex in the census does not breach their right to privacy. for more on women’s and trans issues, go to Isp Safe in Scotland

A publicly-owned energy company

According to the Herald on Sunday, Scotland may lose up to £3.5bn to £5.5bn a year failing to set up a national energy company to manage renewables (‘Scotland set to ‘lose billions’ from ScotWind by failing to set up state-owned energy firm’). The Common Weal argues that creating such a company would have been within the remit of the government, saying the recent ScotWind leasing round has gifted assets to the international corporate capitalist sector with no guarantee of supply chain jobs, and it will be the private sector who will walk away with the profits.

Finally,

Taxi for Johnson?

How long will Boris Johnson survive as PM? Day after day there are new party revelations. It is amazing they had any time for government business. What is perhaps more worrying is that one favourite to succeed him is Jacob Rees-Mogg, who seems to be still living in the eighteenth century.

Be careful what you wish for…

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