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This Week In Scotland – Week 47

Europe

The EU is in a mess over migrants, national legislation and borders. It condemned Hungary in 2018 for criminalising those helping asylum seekers. Lithuania and others want the EU to help them physically strengthen their borders against migrants. So far the EU has refused. Ukraine (not in the EU) claims the Belarus/Poland migrant crisis is a strategy by Russia not only to invade Ukraine but to destroy the EU, and the EU’s confused treatment of refugees may let Russia in.

The UK is accusing France of colluding in illegal immigration. The tragic drowning of around 30 migrants waved away by French police into the English Channel on a flimsy dinghy highlights the tensions, with Priti Patel still wanting those saving migrants from drowning to face up to 10 years in prison. And some migrants, having endured a harrowing Channel crossing, are then immediately being transported by bus over 500 miles to Dungavel Detention Centre in South Lanarkshire. Migrants are allowed to claim asylum in the first safe country they get to. Apparently, France does not think it qualifies as ‘safe’.

Plaid Cymru’s Pact with Labour

Scotland’s First Minister has hailed the spirit of cooperation in Wales in the Pact between Plaid Cymru and Labour to promote 46 centre-left policies, including limiting second and holiday homes. If agreed by Plaid members, it would give the parties 43 out of 60 seats in the Senedd, which may later be increased to 100.

Nicola says pacts/coalitions are ‘grown-up politics’. But in Scotland, the coalition isn’t doing anything as radical as limiting second homes. Instead, it is trying to bludgeon through unpopular gender reform while abandoning popular policies like a National Energy Company. Deals can lose you, core supporters. Nicola also supported a 4-nation approach to Scotland’s energy supplies. She went all-out to save England from itself over Brexit. Sometimes it isn’t easy to see who the Scottish National Party is governing for.

Elimination of Violence Against Women Day

As part of a six-week campaign originating in the United Nations, local authorities and other groups will be participating in marches, workshops and activities to demand an end to violence against women. It runs this year from November 25th to December 10th, and most areas will include a Reclaim the Night March demanding women are safe to go out and about at any time. Go to your local council website to find details of all the local events which will be taking place.

The ISP will be marking the event with an online discussion in January involving both men and women, discussing the causes of domestic violence and ways to end it going forward.

Misogyny as a Hate Crime

Ahead of a final decision in February by Baroness Kennedy’s working group on misogyny, Justice Secretary Keith Brown said making misogyny a hate crime would send out a very clear message. The group is considering whether the characteristic of sex should be included with the hate crime framework as a statutory aggravation and/or if sex should be added to stirring up hatred offences. P.M. Boris Johnson ruled out legislation making misogyny a hate crime as it would overwhelm police, who should be left to focus on ‘real crimes’. The Police Service of Northern Ireland deputy chief constable disagreed, and the PM was left in no doubt that he had not given the right answer.

Mesh Implant Compensation
The Transvaginal Mesh Removal (Cost Reimbursement) (Scotland) Bill is being debated at Holyrood. The procedure was stopped in 2018 after the government finally listened to women instead of brushing them off, but private mesh removal operations cost between £16,000 and £23,000. The bill aims to repay the money women spent to go private. Concern was raised about women who may have since left Scotland, and this will be addressed at Stage 2 of the bill. Women suffered many different injuries including nerve damage, organ perforation and mental health suffering. Some died as a result of complications.

Brazil and Logging

Brazil’s National Institute for Space Research data shows that 5110 square miles of Amazon rainforest were felled between August 2020 and July 2021, mostly by miners and illegal loggers, land grabbers and cattle ranchers (‘Deforestation jumps putting COP pledges to the test’, David Pratt, Sunday National 21/11/21). The areas lost are staggering, equating to the size of Belgium or 17 times as big as New York City. Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro continues to press on with further destruction of Amazonian resources.

Acorn Project

The UK decision not to support the Carbon Capture Plant at St Fergus risks as many as 15,000 jobs going elsewhere, possibly the north of England. But even when it appears local is best, they may lose out on Scottish government contracts, as did Burntisland Fabrications (Bifab) in Fife, who bid to supply turbine jackets for the Seagreen Wind Farm on Fife’s shoreline, but lost out to Indonesia and India,

Ardnamurchan Estate, owned by Donald Houston, a big Better Together supporter, is
in dispute again with ramblers over access rights. Woodland Renewables is applying to have access restricted, claiming it goes through a working wood yard and is a public health and safety issue. Highland Council and Ramblers Scotland oppose him. It will get to court next February.

Local Government

Cosla (the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities) is pushing for £12bn. from Holyrood in the Scottish Budget in December. Last year it only got £11bn, but would prefer as much as £12.6bn. as their finances are just not keeping pace with demand. Local government is adopting the “Live Well Locally” campaign to fund early intervention work in alcohol, drugs and child wellbeing, with the idea that prevention is better than cure.
Cosla has also been pushing for higher salaries for elected councillors, which
would increase the pool of potential councillors but would not be popular with social care clients who have had warnings that councils may cut their services. Garden waste is still collected, but for an extra fee, and bin collections in some areas are three-weekly, not fortnightly. Roads are becoming a series of potholes joined together by a sliver of tarmac.

What seems clear is that local government urgently needs an overhaul. 32 unitary councils are too big and unwieldy to operate effectively at the local level and do not adequately involve local people. Their financing through council tax seems much like the poll tax, and before that, the rates. Possibly an Annual Ground Rent payable by everyone (at differential rates) is the answer to provide adequate funding.

The Scottish Sovereignty

Research Group
contends that Scotland already has the power to get independence and join
EFTA (European Free Trade Agreement) and thereby have access to the EEA (European Economic Area). A section 30 order will be continually rebuffed, but a referendum without it would be subject to legal challenge, boycotted by unionists, and not recognised by the UK. The group foresees problems with the Electoral Commission over the voting franchise (who can vote), timing and terms of reference.

So it proposes instead that if at least 30 of the 59 SNP MPs vote to withdraw from the Treaty of Union, the Scottish government should then confirm this by announcing itself the sole parliament representing the Scottish people, and announce Scotland’s withdrawal from the Treaty of Union. Margaret Thatcher would have recognised that a majority of SNP MPs in the Scottish seats at Westminster was enough. No doubt it would be challenged. But we do need a Plan B.

The question of a hard border with England must also be addressed. A lot would depend on whether Scotland went back into the EU. If so, and England did not, some border controls would be needed. If England was difficult, the border may initially be as fraught as the Northern Ireland border, but it is to be hoped that we could use technology to take away most of the customs problems and time delays we have so far seen with lorries stacked up near Dover, and expensive bureaucracy.

Scotland’s Housing Crisis

Macdonald Aviemore Resort recently hosted a meeting to discuss ways for local people to afford homes in the Highlands. A dearth of affordable housing for locals results from often empty holiday lets and second homes. Housing minister Shona Robison repeated that the government’s £3.4 billion Affordable Housing Supply Programme has supplied over 6000 affordable homes in rural and island communities since 2016.

But following pressure from UK Hospitality, she is reluctant to regulate housing lets and Airbnb. It is argued we need second homes for tourists or where would they stay? Well, what about hotels, who also need the trade? Ultimately if you push out local people, there is no one to serve in the restaurant or work in the pub or shop.

Perhaps the housing market needs a short, sharp shock, an embargo for a year on sales not currently pending, unless those sales are to local people, then reconsider it. As it is, the regulations demand local authorities consult till October 2022, then operators obtain an operating licence by July 2024, although for existing operators the date is April 2023. So still two years for local housing to be bought up by those who can offer over the odds, leaving local people out.

And leaving it to local councils risks holiday homeowners also being on the council and deciding they don’t want/need a licensing scheme after all. We need
solutions now, not posturing. Faffing around with pretty useless consultations and
toothless regulations won’t help.

Temporary Accommodation

Even the homeless can owe money on their housing. The Ferret reported in the Sunday National (‘Homeless people in arrears of £34m to Scots councils….’21/11/21) that £34mn is owed to councils for temporary housing. Debt accrues if the rent exceeds the housing benefit available, but Shelter has accused some councils of possibly illegal levels of rent, charging full rate for temporary housing. People spent an average of 199 days in homeless accommodation last year, and over 13,000 people are in temporary accommodation in Scotland, a 12% rise last year.

The human cost is high. Accommodation may be unsuitable for disabled adults or children, and people often report feeling unsafe. Drugs may be available, and because it is ‘take it or leave it’, people may be charged exorbitant rents. New legislation intended to end the use of B&Bs as temporary accommodation was put on hold due to covid.

These residences may operate a curfew or forbid residents from staying out overnight on pain of losing the accommodation altogether, and there is little mental health support. The Scottish Government does operate a Discretionary Housing Payment scheme where there is a shortfall in the money available via housing benefit and universal credit (both UK benefits). But it is clearly a false economy to spend vast amounts of money on temporary accommodation when the cost of new or converted housing would be much cheaper and provide permanent homes.

Finally,

Will Peppa Piggate sink Boris?

Following unfortunate allegations about former P.M. David Cameron in his university days, this time it may be Peppa Pig who sinks the present P.M. Peppa is apparently promoting British exports, along with toy cars promoting the British car industry (with appropriate engine noises from the P.M). Maybe he forgot he was addressing the CBI and thought he was at home. Certainly, there have been doubts raised as to the command of his brief that day, appearing to lose his place on his notes just to round things off. No worries for the government of a whole country then.

 

 



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