This Week in Scotland – Week 43

Tik Tok and Tourette’s

Shona Craven highlighted a new trend in the online diagnosis of disorders and syndromes via the internet (‘Diagnosing disorders with TikTok is a dangerous trend’, National, 22/10/21). Girls have suddenly presented in vastly increased numbers with nervous tics, coinciding with the rise in popularity of a German TikTok artist who has Tourette’s. Great Ormond Street Hospital in London also highlighted the trend, which may be linked to a desire for a sense of belonging to a group. Internet platforms have algorithms rewarding ‘Likes’, which is particularly attractive to young people needing validation.

This has led us to where we are with the gender war. Young people who do not fit in may identify as trans when they are actually autistic or gay, or indeed have other issues. It is tempting to be able to explain everything away by being in the wrong body. But the explosive growth in the number of young people presenting as trans has in part been the result of social contagion, either in school settings or via online groups.
The Times reported on 29th October 2021(‘Urging Change of Gender to be criminalised’) that from next spring, urging a change of gender identity or sexuality will be a crime, with extra safeguards for adolescents. It is thought this may lead to the demise of organisations like Mermaids or even clip the wings of Stonewall. Medical professionals will escape sanction, as will informal advice from family and friends. All other counseling offered to children under 18 will be banned. Conversion Therapy Protection Orders will allow officials to seize passports of those under 18s to prevent them from being taken out of the country. But Transgender Trend who oppose the current headlong diagnosis of transgender fear it may stifle legitimate discussion.

Legal Aid in Scotland

Scotland’s Legal Aid Scheme is pulling out of the duty solicitor scheme during COP26, despite the Scottish government pledging extra funding. The problem seems to be the rates normally paid to legal aid solicitors are just not enough. Finance for Legal Aid has been slashed, with some solicitors complaining of four times the workload and no increase in fees, meaning they are better off moving to the Crown Office or Procurator Fiscal Service. A number of local bar associations including Glasgow, Edinburgh, and Aberdeen have announced they will boycott the scheme at COP26, including the weekend custody courts to be held in those three cities. Cases due to call at the High Court in Glasgow will be farmed out to sheriff courts outside Glasgow.
As far back as 2017, there were warnings that firms just could not afford to carry on legal aid work, operating at a loss on legal aid work. Up to a third of civil legal aid work and a quarter of criminal legal aid, work is essentially carried out unpaid by solicitors. Although the Scottish Government has put an enhanced package on the table for COP26, it has not yet addressed the generally inadequate funding of the legal aid system, which is claimed to be so bad that even those who qualify for legal aid may find it impossible to find a local solicitor offering the service.

The enhanced legal aid package for COP26 may be because a significant number of arrests are expected, bringing significant attention to Scotland. But why is an adequate legal aid system only available when the eyes of the world are on Scotland? Don’t the citizens of Scotland deserve better every day or is it now the case that the colour of justice is purple?

Scotland and the New Zealand Trade Deal

Boris claimed the flag-waving New Zealand agriculture deal will benefit Scotland enormously. Cutting tariffs on exports between the UK and New Zealand will mean more NZ dairy and red meat imports. The New Zealand deal is reported to be worth zero in terms of GDP increase and in no way compensates for leaving the EU, but UK International Trade Secretary Anne-Marie Trevelyan said British farmers were not to worry as they may now be able to export lamb to New Zealand. Can’t see it myself, when New Zealand itself is a big lamb producer and exporter. What will we do, meet halfway and swap frozen lamb? Would that count as a cultural exchange? The Scottish Government says it was not consulted at all during 16 months of negotiations and it definitely won’t help our climate credentials.

Fuel poverty

Despite Scotland and the SNP being consistently shut out of the new trade deals being negotiated, as well as the Internal Market Act, and generally treated like dirt by baying English MPs, the SNP Westminster group is gallantly fighting to end fuel poverty in the UK, by introducing the Energy Pricing Bill at Westminster to stop firms favouring new customers with better tariffs and to try and stem energy price rises. The Scottish Government has brought in schemes to assist in Scotland, including £1 bn invested in improving energy efficiency in homes, and the Child Winter Heating Assistance payment of £200 for families with a severely disabled child.

Perhaps the SNP Westminster group should focus less on saving England from itself and getting people involved in the workings of the UK Parliament, and more on settling up, getting independence, and getting out of Westminster.

Scotland and a new Erasmus Scheme

Scotland and Wales have signaled their intention to ‘remain’ within the Erasmus Scheme which the UK left on Brexit, despite the EU’s willingness to keep the UK in the scheme. Ursula von der Leyen has stated that Scotland and Wales cannot remain as individual members of the Erasmus Scheme, but the Scottish civil service is holding talks with Europe about a scheme to stand alongside Erasmus. The devolved governments’ objections to the UK’s £105 million Turing scheme centre on the lack of funding for overseas students to study in the UK and its diminished support for disadvantaged UK students.

Young People in Care

A record number of young people’s suicides in care during lockdown is adding to the pressure on the government to properly fund mental health services. Funding for residential care for young people north of Dundee was promised five years ago but has still not appeared. And lockdown has been particularly tough for children and young people in care.

Twenty-four young people in care died in 2020 and 21 the year before, but there may be more who had left care before taking their own lives and would not be recorded on the statistics. The causes were varied, including some having complex medical needs, but many were by suicide, with the majority of these in after-care support for older teens after leaving residential or foster care. Young care experienced people also tended to drug misuse or alcohol misadventures. Many know at least one friend who has taken their life and they, in turn, suffer PTSD, depression, and other conditions like ADHD. The Care Review of February 2020 promised to change things. Promise Scotland is the organisation charged with delivering those improvements through its Promise Partnership Fund to support children and young people in or at risk of care, and families, to the tune of £4mn a year till 2024/25. The Promise aims for every child, including those in care, to grow up loved, safe and respected.

Glasgow University research has shown that mortality rates for care-experienced children are 5 times higher than for children in the general population.

Sadly, it is also the case that children exiting care have even had to apply for homeless accommodation while they are still in care. Recently the Scottish Government announced they would review every child’s death and learn lessons, but it appears that a major factor in the lack of services is a lack of funding. Even for adult mental health problems, too many people are sent home as there is not enough inpatient capacity to keep them where they will be safe.

Climate and Conservation

is of growing importance in much of Scotland’s rural landscape. Rewilding should form part of Scotland’s green investment, with the double benefit of new businesses and jobs, and restoration of natural habitats to increase biodiversity. In Arran, the Community Seabed Trust works to protect the marine environment and has created jobs in diving and kayaking. Its Discovery Centre has had 12,000 visitors. The conservation and restoration of Scotland’s forests, grasslands, and wetlands is big business for Scotland, supporting 39,000 full-time jobs and generating £1.4bn for the economy.

Scotland’s peat bogs can play a crucial part in containing carbon as a counter to the vast emissions of carbon dioxide going into the atmosphere, but much of it remains degraded despite the Scottish government’s commitment to restoring it. This matters because degraded peatland emits 30 tonnes of CO2 per hectare per year. The missed target is partly due to lack of skilled workers and a short window each year when the work can be done (after winter, but before bird breeding season), but in the year when Scotland is hosting COP26, it seems high time for a renewed effort.

Scottish Government agency NatureScot has been found to have acted unlawfully in issuing licenses to kill beavers without also issuing a written explanation as to why it is justified, meaning beaver killing was treated as a routine rather than a last-resort measure. Rubber-stamping the killing of beavers must now be halted and future licenses must give detailed reasons why it is necessary as the last resort for land management purposes.

But not only the rural economy. We can now produce ‘green’ steel. Using Electric Arc Furnace technology could rekindle Scotland’s steel industry, according to Zero Waste Scotland, reusing instead of exporting the 820,000 tonnes of scrap steel produced yearly, and remaking new steel from scratch using low carbon electricity.

ScottishPower Renewables

is investing a further £6bn in offshore wind farms in the North Sea off East Anglia. The apparently Scottish firm is actually owned by Spain’s Iberdrola, bringing 7000 jobs to East Anglia (!) The Portuguese firm EDP Renewables is investing in Scotland’s wind power. Ocean Winds is involved in the Moray East and Moray West windfarm projects, as well as bidding for offshore leasing through ScotWind fixed and floating projects.

Carbon-Neutral Whisky

The Bunnahabhainn Distillery is on course to be Islay’s first Net Zero Distillery by early 2022. They have installed a biomass energy centre fuelled by forest biomass and spent malt, costing £6.5mn, and funded by Clean Energy. They also aim to make their gin production of Tobermory and Mountain Gin carbon-neutral. Others are joining the change to Net Zero, like Eden Mill who has announced a carbon-neutral facility for Guardbridge in Fife.

Space

The Scots space rocket to be launched from the Space Hub Sutherland will be one of the most environmentally friendly ever, being 90% more eco-friendly than standard launches. It will use renewable ultra-low carbon biofuel and will leave no debris. But who does this benefit? Us or the Americans? I’m not sure we need a space hub when we still have 20% of Scottish children living in poverty.

Insulate Britain

is now in its third week of protests blocking motorways, including protesters gluing themselves to the road, necessitating police appearing with saline solutions to free them, presumably before arresting them. They want to force the government to insulate all properties in Britain and are continuing despite injunctions banning them from all highways and roads in England.

Climate protesters are promising to cause havoc at COP26, but at least the trains should run after a deal was accepted by the RMT union at the eleventh hour. And the cleansing workers’ strike is also apparently off. The Insulate Britain protesters would have a shock if they glued themselves to roads in parts of Glasgow plagued by rats feasting on piled-high rubbish.

Scotland’s foreign aid

commitment via its International Development Fund is now up to £15 million and when independent will be 0.7% of its Gross National Income (GNI), although dwarfed by Norway (1.02% GNI) and Luxembourg (1.05% GNI). The UK meanwhile continues to cut its aid budget, from 0.7% to 0.5% GNI, and the Education for Development Summit hosted by the UK this summer missed its target by $1bn. The UK has cut its malnutrition prevention aid by 70% over 3 years. Save the Children UK has said that British help for hungry children in Yemen, Somalia and Sudan is ‘near collapse’, but creditably Scotland recently offered £250,000 to alleviate starvation in South Sudan.

The lack of affordable homes does not just affect Edinburgh and Skye. Many tourist hotspots are finding they cannot recruit and retain staff, and it is the same for medical staff. Everyone wants to make money up to a point, but it is reaching a critical point in Scotland. If we really want homes for local people, and affordable places for critical workers to move to, maybe some sellers have to lower their expectations.

This is where the Scottish Government’s capitulation on the Short-term Lets Licensing Scheme is unforgivable. At a time where more stringent measures even than that are needed more acutely than ever, we will have a much watered-down system thanks to the lobbying of UK Hospitality and others.

When is the Scottish Government going to tackle the housing problem coherently? We do not just need new builds, we need to bring back into use derelict land and repurpose unused buildings. This may involve a fast-track planning system. We need to set rent controls rather than hope rent pressure zones reduce demand over time. Or is it alright as long as government ministers aren’t reduced to living in caravans waiting for an adequate property to come on the market? I suppose you have a lot more choice and it’s not so much of a problem when your basic wage is approaching £70K a year.

One of the big things we hoped for from an SNP government was to redress Scotland’s inequitable land laws. So far we have had a mediocre attempt at setting rates for sporting estates (somehow the powers that be managed to overvalue most of the estates, leading to a reduction of 90% of the bills on appeal). We have done nothing to bring the land use of the big estates into line with the expectations of the people as to how land is used (fewer grouse moors, more access for people, more weekend huts, even tax and inheritance laws encouraging the break up of big estates). It does not matter so much who owns the land, as long as they run it for the benefit of all the people, but they aren’t doing that at the moment.

Speaking of which, villagers are in a race against time to raise the money to buy land for a nature reserve from the Duke of Buccleuch. The Langholm Initiative is running a crowdfunder to raise at least £150,000 to buy 5300 acres of moorland and three residential properties to add to the already established Tarras Valley Nature Reserve which was successfully bought out in March.

A lot of land is still bought and hoarded by corporate investment firms, apparently under the nose of the Scottish Government. Benny Higgins, executive chairman of Buccleuch Holdings, wished the Langholm Initiative the best, aiming as it does to preserve habitats, restore woodland and preserve and renew peatlands. Maybe he could charge a lower price and this would help them more than warm words. Why are we buying off one of the richest men in Scotland at the market rate?


The Scottish Fiscal Framework Review

Starting in early 2020 this will probably have a further detrimental effect on Scotland’s finances to add to the effects of Brexit and Covid. Its aim will surely be to weaken Holyrood and strip its powers. Scotland gets a proportionate amount based on the population of what is spent in England. Last month’s announced increase in National Insurance contributions (including from Scottish taxpayers) was originally going just to fund England’s Social Care System until an outcry forced it to concede that Scotland will now get £1.2 bn (eventually). In 2922 the Health and Social Care levy comes in.

Scotland and the Budget

Scotland should get an average of £4.6bn annual increase in funding over the next few years. £172mn is also coming from the Levelling Up Fund and Common Ownership Fund. Aberdeen will get a new marketplace, and Inverness and Westfield Roundabout in Falkirk get £20mn each. Other projects around Scotland will also benefit. Universal Credit tapers have been amended so that more people keep more of their benefit, rather than just losing £20 a week as was originally planned.

Scotland also gets a 9.7% population-share equivalent of any special spending outwith the norm; for example, England’s NHS got £5.9bn to tackle NHS backlogs built up during the pandemic.

It remains galling that Scotland pays £60bn annual tax to the UK coffers. Scotland is handed back only around half of this amount annually as a block grant, with the remainder kept by the UK for shared services like defence and foreign affairs.

Scottish Hospitality Sector

The Scottish Hospitality Group wants vaccine passports scrapped after its first week of implementation, citing fraught exchanges between door staff and patrons. The sector received support from the Scottish government during the covid crisis but has been vocal in criticising what it sees as illogical rules of implementing covid regulations when the sector was reopening and now its opposition to vaccine passports. The sector is also reeling from the recent spiking of drinks/injecting women which has led some young women to organise ‘Girls’ Nights In’ as they are too fearful of venturing out.


The STUC throws women under the bus

The Scottish Trades Union Congress recently voted against a motion from Paisley and District Trades Council delegates to preserve women’s single-sex spaces. Many women are trade unionists but apparently do not matter as much as virtue signaling to fewer than 1% of the population. The STUC Women’s Conference supports self-identification, committing to addressing the issue of transgender equality, but not to vulnerable women’s rights, and wrongly claims the Equality Act’s single-sex exemption provisions were for women and girls, including trans women.

It also shows that they have not understood that the nature of women’s fight against men-identifying-as-women being allowed into single-sex spaces isn’t transphobia, it is the lack of safeguarding and the determination of women to uphold exclusionary rights conferred on us by the Equality Act 2010 for safety reasons. These rights are conferred to females, so legally CAN and MUST exclude males, including males-who-identify-as-women.

The STUC action is problematic for a number of reasons. First, women’s rights rest on biology, not identity, and the STUC is refusing to see that the risk of predatory males increases with self-identification. They are taking huge safeguarding risks with women’s and girls’ safety.

On a personal level, as a lifelong trade unionist, I am beginning to feel I cannot continue as a union member while trade unions continue this stance against women.

It would soon re-focus their ideas if all-female trade union members boycotted and left their unions. We should set up our own all-female (not all-women) unions. We are allowed to under the Equality Act, as a proportionate means to a legitimate aim, the aim of ensuring women’s rights are not trampled on, including by trade unions.

The prosecution brought against Marion Millar over certain tweets has been discontinued by the prosecution, although it will be reviewed and they reserve the right to bring it back at a later date, though this is unlikely. Since first being called in August, it was then deferred to October 4th and again to November 1st, but it is to be hoped it is now at an end.

Police Scotland

What kind of message does this case send out? A former Police Scotland Sergeant went online while working to try to arrange the sexual abuse of a 10 year old child, asking her mother if she would share the child with him. After admitting to being sexually attracted to children, he was nonetheless spared jail as according to his lawyer he had suffered enough by losing his wife, children, grandchild, police career, and £60,000 pension. It’s not clear which was regarded as the biggest loss. He also repeatedly sent grossly offensive sexual messages.

Despite Sheriff Allan McKay admitting the male was a danger to children, he said it would be better for the society for him to be left in the community. So no jail and he likely keeps a pension, albeit reduced, as he resigned from the force.

The man has since moved to England, but will monitoring by English police be enough? It is to be hoped that his Scottish record would show up in any job applications, but who knows?

Another police constable admitted sexual assault on a schoolgirl. These are just two of the over 40 Police Scotland officers and staff who have stood or are due to stand trial for offenses ranging from threatening and abusive behavior to sexual assault of a schoolgirl, collecting pedophile images and domestic abuse, fraud, and firearms offenses. Officers or staff members convicted of an offense do not automatically have to resign or be sacked. This seems to come down to the decision of the Professional Standards Department. They appear to have their work cut out.

Would Norway lap up Denmark’s news?

Too often in Scotland, we have little chance of finding out what is actually going on in Scotland. We have Anglo-centric news in the main broadcasts, plus a ‘regional’ (!!!) 15-minute BBC news programme which sadly for Scotland seems to excel only in putting Scotland down. In any case, it is routinely chopped down to about 10-12 minutes. BBC Scotland does feature Scottish stories like the drugs deaths scandal, but it is hidden away from BBC1 Scotland, for fear that people might watch it. Sky makes no concession at all to a Scottish news broadcast.
STV news is better because it features regional news from different parts of Scotland rather than the ‘one size fits all’ approach of the BBC. This has to be a priority going forward. At the moment the only dedicated television news channel is the mostly voluntary Broadcasting Scotland, which features news from Scotland, the UK, and abroad, but due to its reliance on donations, it is hard to see it moving mainstream soon.

Borders residents don’t even default to a Scottish broadcaster but to the news from the northwest of England. Some have suggested the BBC in Scotland should come under Scottish control, but whether this can happen under devolution is unclear.

And finally

A Scottish fishing trawler, Cornelis Gert Jan, and its crew are currently held in Le Havre and Royal Navy boats have been put on standby while the UK Government considers its next move. Liz Truss, the Foreign Secretary, summoned the French ambassador to a showdown meeting on Friday. The row centres over whether the trawler’s paperwork is in order and permits them to be fishing.

The trawler skipper is possibly facing criminal charges. In retaliation, the French are threatening to block all British fish landings, impose acres of red tape, and/or cut off power to Jersey and Guernsey. The dispute seems to be over them not having the electronic permits but only having the written permits which apparently sufficed in the Brexit transition period.

Could it be Cod War II?

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