This Week In Scotland – Week 45

The Free State of Govan

The Free State of Govan issued its first communique promising to work together with the UK government, the Scottish government and Glasgow City Council to tackle climate change, habitat loss and inequality, claiming that the existing national and international structures are achieving nothing.

In the tradition of tackling social injustices, it is worth remembering previous
Govan residents. Mary Barbour, a respected community leader who achieved prominence when she organised the Glasgow Rent Strike of 1915, acted when it seemed like a good idea to intimidate the women left behind when the men went to war by hiking their rents.

The pressure from “Mrs Barbour’s Army” of 30,000 led to the Rent Restriction Act 1915, setting rents for the duration of the war and six months afterwards to pre-war levels. She later became a councillor and a local magistrate, and epitomised Red Clydeside. Don’t we need radical action from politicians now to protect tenants from rent increases which far outstrip earnings?

It is not the first Glasgow Free State. Pollok Free State was a road protest camp set up from 1994 to 1996 to oppose the M77 motorway. Treehouses were built, and an autonomous free state declared, and local school strikes occurred long before they were fashionable. A sculpture made of burnt-out cars earned the name ‘carhenge’ and hundreds of people took to the streets. Maybe it’s time to invoke their spirit.

Elsie Inglis

Another Scottish heroine will be honoured with a statue in her home city of Edinburgh, provided enough funding can be raised over the next year. She was a doctor whose plan it was to provide a medical unit staffed entirely by women. It was rejected by the British War Office but undeterred, she led the Scottish Women’s Hospitals for Foreign Service in Serbia during World War I and died in 1917. Events in Edinburgh throughout the year will, it is hoped, raise the required funds. Her name used to be remembered through the Elsie Inglis Memorial Maternity Hospital, but the latter closed in 1988.

Indyref2

Nicola Sturgeon reiterated to CNN chief anchor, Christiane Amanpour, that an independence vote will ‘absolutely’ go ahead in 2023. Challenged as to what would happen if the UK stood in the way, Sturgeon reiterated that if we all believe in democracy, it would not be legitimate of the UK government to hinder it, and she did not want to go to court to enforce it. Last week she said the same to Der Spiegel, but again did not clarify whether she would actually defy Johnson to hold a vote. There seems to be little hurry about indyref2 and no Plan B, just in case Boris does not see reason. She did, however, beg Boris to rethink the Peterhead carbon capture refusal. So edifying to still be going ‘cap in hand’ to the UK so long after The Proclaimers first sang about it.

A New Role for Sturgeon?

Gordon Brown’s think tank Our Scottish Future thinks Nicola Sturgeon could chair a new UK body overseeing the funding for climate projects for Scotland, England, Wales and Northern Ireland. The projected UK Agency for Climate Cooperation Acceleration would find and fund projects accelerating decarbonisation at the optimum balance of speed, cost and equality.

He argues that she already has the expertise as European co-chair of the Under2 climate coalition of state, national and mayoral governments. The report also argues for the creation of an Office of Climate Responsibility and envisages a ‘Green Corps’ of 16-20 year old volunteers to work on decarbonisation projects, including a UK twinning project involving cities from within the UK.

Tory Sleaze

Another week, another scandal. Owen Paterson was due to be suspended over lobbying infringements, then Boris intervened to try and save him by retrospectively introducing an appeals process, forcing his MPs to pass this dubious measure, only to backtrack and not introduce it after all. The matter had been poised to go to a Tory-led committee reviewing the matter, until opposition MPs refused to participate.

Paterson has since resigned his seat as MP for North Shropshire, triggering a by-election, which despite everything is unlikely to herald a Labour victory. His original transgression was to repeatedly lobby ministers and officials for two companies who paid him over £100,000 annually. There will now be a review of the disciplinary standards process.

It comes at a time when it appears that Conservative party treasurers who donate at least £3 million to Conservative coffers are almost guaranteed a seat in the House of Lords, and the former Attorney General Sir Geoffrey Cox, a current QC and Tory MP, is under fire for earning up to £900,000 as an adviser to the government of the British Virgin Islands, as well as over £1m from outside legal work conducted over the past year.

Zero return for Scotland on carbon-saving innovations

Tasmina Ahmed-Sheikh pointed out this week that the original commitment to the Peterhead carbon capture proposal was as early as 2005. This was meant to develop the world’s first full-scale hydrogen powered electricity generating station. The measure was quickly buried by Alistair Darling and Gordon Brown on grounds of cost. How very better together of them..

The same firm who would have developed it in Peterhead, BP, is now leading the consortia in the North of England developments, which were picked before Peterhead. The process splits methane into clean-burning hydrogen, and carbon dioxide to be stored offshore in saline aquifers. Tasmina estimates that £350bn oil revenues have gone to the UK treasury with no return apart from jobs which benefit relatively few, and many of the jobs are filled by those from outside Scotland.

Greenwashing and land hoarding

Andy Wightman is calling the Real Wild Estate company ‘land speculators’ after it was revealed it plans to buy huge tracts of Scotland and elsewhere in the UK to re-wild, restore biodiversity and store carbon. This involves over 100,000 acres over the next 10 years, primarily marginal land, forestry and hunting estates. The venture offers ‘sustainable financial returns’ to investors, many being corporations and wealthy individuals wishing to offset their carbon emissions elsewhere against the land acquired. There appear to be no plans to share any profits with the communities.

Community Land Scotland claims that the problems associated with the big estates, environmental degradation, loss of biodiversity, human depopulation, and hugely concentrated land ownership, will only worsen under the proposals, and says much public subsidy will go into this land acquisition through the UK government’s post-Brexit land management schemes.

Of course we need to re-wild. Of course we need to diversify. But we need to engage our brain before we support ‘net zero’ projects. It’s probably best summed up by Greta Thunberg’s comments when she was reprimanded for swearing during a sing song at COP26.

Tidal Funds

While visiting Nova Innovation’s Leith turbine facility, the SNP Westminster leader Ian Blackford has called for ring-fenced funding of at least £71m by the end of this month from the UK for tidal stream energy. It has been estimated tidal stream power could provide 11% of the UK’s current annual electricity. So a possible major Scottish success story dependent on the largesse of Westminster, being begged for by SNP politicians.

What will the NHS become?

Our GP system seems to be in no hurry to return to business as usual. Triaging of patients over the phone is still the norm, but the flip side seems to be that if you do get to see a doctor, they spend a lot more time with a patient, rather than the ten-minute slot. The government says there are a record number of GPs working in Scotland with more per head than in the rest of the UK, and 99% of this year’s GP training posts have been filled. But some medicines are being substituted with cheaper alternatives and you must refer yourself for things like physiotherapy.

The Scottish Ambulance Service also operate a form of phone triage. The problem is this is via call handlers, rather than clinicians, at least in the initial stages. And they always ask how old you are. Why? Do you go down the pecking order if you are ‘too old’? Ambulance says it is hoping to fill 356 vacancies for paramedics, ambulance technicians and care assistants by March, so that it can maybe go back to service as normal without the support of army medics.

Is it part of a plan to ration GP and ambulance services to the point where they can say there is declining demand, then withdraw services which then have to be replaced by the private sector?

At Accident and Emergency units, medics are concerned over patients waiting for hours on a trolley and being treated in corridors, resulting from increasing demand on A&E and reducing bed numbers. Elective care resumption is dependent on emergency care not getting out of hand over the winter. The RCN claims they are short of thousands of nurses and a third of them have said in an indicative vote they are prepared to strike.

NHS Pharmacy First Scotland, launched in July 2020, has been piloted to relieve pressure on GPs by diverting patients first to a qualified pharmacist. Health Secretary Humza Yousaf claims it has saved over 200,000 GP appointments and can deal with minor ailments like urinary tract infections, shingles and impetigo. A consultation with the pharmacist may result in advice, medication or referral to a GP.

1200 community pharmacies are involved, and the government is considering rolling out the scheme to cover more clinical conditions. It is also looking at a community pharmacy hospital discharge scheme to speed up hospital discharge, utilising ePrescribing and EDispensing. The government has pledged spending of a further £28m in primary care services this year, including multi-disciplinary teams working in and around GP practices.

But dentistry is facing an exodus of dentists from Scotland’s NHS, according to the British Dental Association, which claims the current funding regime is unsustainable. A survey found that 80% of dentists think their practice will reduce the numbers of NHS patients if reduced funding goes ahead in April, when the Scottish government plans to end all coronavirus support to dentists.

The proposed National Care Service for adult social care does not augur well, given some people’s recent experience of being asked by their care providers to tout around friends and family to make up deficiencies in local social care. A letter to the National outlined how Argyll and Bute, Fife and the Lothians have all warned clients they may need to ‘amend’ care packages, with Argyll and Bute going further and asking clients to contact friends and family to make up for staff shortages.

The Scottish Government is asking the UK government for more visas for care staff, a shortage of which was not entirely unforeseeable after Brexit. Are there really not enough UK based staff to replace a shortage they knew was coming? More likely it is the miserly £10.02 an hour offered.

According to its published consultation on a National Care Service, the government does not feel national ownership of services is desirable. The Independent Review of Adult Social Care felt ‘it would be enormously expensive to take social care into public ownership, expenditure that could be better used working to improve care’.

It seems they even envisage some possible overlap into children’s services in the interests of a holistic approach to families. The new service will be involved in procurement, standards, and improvements in staff conditions, training and development, but will not directly employ staff or ensure parity of pay and conditions.

It’s worrying times for our NHS.

Judicial Review of Gender Representation on Public Boards

Judges are asking the Scottish Government for an explanation as to why equality laws were not complied with when the Scottish government changed the definition of ‘woman’ to include ‘men who have changed gender’ contrary to the Equality Act 2010, which prescribes ‘woman’ as ‘a female of any age’. For some reason this amendment occurred very late in the legislative process, with little parliamentary scrutiny and no consultation.

The Scottish government changed the definition of woman from ‘a female of any age’, to include, ‘a person who has the protected characteristic of gender reassignment’. This would include men transitioning as women but exclude women transitioning to men, despite that they remain biologically female.

The Equality Act does not allow conflation of two protected characteristics. ‘Woman’ and those with ‘protected characteristic of gender reassignment’ are separate protections, and one cannot be changed to just incorporate the other and then give it a new definition.

During the Judicial Review, the QC for the Scottish Government, Ruth Crawford, admitted the Scottish Parliament did not consider it in debate. Lord Pentland pointed out that instructions must have been given to parliamentary counsel to draft the clauses and they must have reflected a policy. She could not give the explanation he asked for, but agreed to look for the answer and provide it ‘if something’s there’.

The effect of the change would mean that the law, intended to give 50/50 representation of men and women on public boards, would say if there were 50% men and 50% men-who-identified-as-women, that would be equality!

Police Scotland

have further tightened up their vetting process. New recruits must now further confirm to the force at the end of their selection process if any of their original details have changed (such as, presumably, something like a pending case).

Six hundred recruits have failed to pass vetting procedures over the last 5 years, with one more caught by the latest enhanced procedure. Reasons given include recruits having past convictions, giving false information, having connections or associations with third-party convictions and general integrity. Residency and financial status were also cited. However, if convictions or other irregularities occur after they are in post, there is no automatic procedure or tariff of punishments. It appears to be wholly left to Professional Standards to decide if there will be any punishment, and if so, what.

And finally,

Seven- year- old Callum Isted has been invited to speak to MSPs following his campaign for a reusable water bottle and access to water for all Scottish schoolchildren instead of the single use one his school used to provide for Friday lunches which the children got to take home on their half-day (on Mondays to Fridays pupils had water or milk provided in a washable cup).

As part of his campaign, he walked the John Muir Way, raising £1400 to buy steel bottles for all the pupils at his school, Dedridge Primary School in Livingston. and petitioned the Scottish government on the matter. Adults could do with taking a leaf out of his book.

 

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