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This Week In Scotland – Week 49


Storm Arwen and the North-East

Energy firms have spent £730m on resilience in the last five years, but speaking in committee at the House of Commons Paul McGimpsey of the Energy Networks Association blamed the wind going in the wrong
direction, from north-east to south-west, thus devastating commercial plantations which did not have the same resilience (roots, branch strength, drainage) of other types of forestry, bringing down power lines at the edges of the forestry.

Others blame the failure to cut back dangerous trees and maintain drainage systems properly. What about power lines following railway lines, which may be easier to maintain, rather than being all over the
countryside? What about burying power lines underground? We need more resilience for mobile phone masts to secure broadband in rural areas, particularly with homeworking.

The whole power system needs an overhaul. Connecting electricity into the National Grid becomes gradually more expensive the further you get from London. Consumer prices are kept artificially high by the Big 6 now that the illusion of competition has been smashed with the insolvency of smaller energy companies. We need a National Energy Company. Weren’t the SNP/Greens going to do that?

We are hugely indebted to the workers who went out tirelessly in awful conditions during Storms Arwen and Barra to reconnect our supplies. They were the heroes in this debacle. But rural areas need more. The cost of the damage will be in the millions, but this and our inconvenience are nothing compared to the three lives lost to the storm, one in the north-east of Scotland.

Acorn Project:

The Greens claim Scotland is at the ‘end of the age of oil and gas’, but sector regulator Oil and Gas UK (OGUK) argues new oil and gas projects are needed to protect supply and avoid imports.

Notably, no Scottish Tories corresponded with government ministers in support of the Acorn Project in St Fergus, not even those representing the north-east like Andrew Bowie (West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine MP), Douglas Ross (Moray MP), and David Duguid (Banff and Buchan MP) despite the 20,000 jobs it may have brought. The Tories won’t want “It’s Scotland’s Renewables” to replace “Its Scotland’s Oil”, so are unlikely to divert current oil and gas subsidies to support renewables.

Nigg Offshore Wind (NoW)

Nigg may be part of the Just transition. It will be the UK’s largest offshore wind tower factory, opening in 2023, and creating more than 400 full time jobs. The £110m joint Scottish/ Spanish project will get financial support from Highlands and Islands Enterprise.

Kilgallioch Wind Farm

Kilgallioch in Dumfries and Galloway is going to build another 11 wind turbines, taking the total to over 100, but only 20% of the 145 jobs created in the construction phase will go to local people. Shades of BiFab being overlooked for renewables jobs on their doorstep?

Indonesia’s Unintended Climate Consequence:

Indonesia’s COP26 pledge to cut greenhouse gases and end deforestation by 2030 looks on shaky ground, because to reduce transport emissions, it is clearing forests to plant soybeans or oil palm trees to provide biofuels. Less CO2 is absorbed, but this results in more greenhouse gases than diesel.

Robots and Assisted Living

To mark the United Nations International Day of Persons with Disabilities (December 3rd) Heriot-Watt and Edinburgh Universities working through the National Robotarium have launched an initiative to develop technology to assist those with neurological conditions in returning to some of their former independent living. The new technology may help in supporting people after a stroke, monitor deteriorating conditions like dementia, and further roll-out innovations like voice-activated equipment.

The robotarium is part of the Data-Driven Innovation Initiative supported by £1.4m. from the Scottish Government and £21m from the UK government via the Edinburgh and South East Scotland City Region Deal. Presently used for residential short breaks, Leuchie House, North Berwick, will host trials involving patients and families to assess how best robots and artificial intelligence can help in a home setting.

Mental Wellbeing

Your mental health is boosted by spending time in the UK’s woodlands, according to new research by government-funded Forest Research, who calculate the savings to the NHS as £141m in England, £26m in Scotland, £13m in Wales, and £6m in Northern Ireland. Depression is reduced by 7%, and even in urban areas, the presence of trees increases wellbeing, possibly saving the NHS £16m each year in mental health costs.

Automated bots scalping goods

Ever heard of it? It is the practice used by unscrupulous buyers using bots to circumvent maximum purchase restrictions by retailers and then selling goods on at vastly inflated prices. The consumer pays higher prices and gets no returns protection. It applies particularly to such things as games consoles, must-have Christmas toys, phones, and watches. SNP MP Douglas Chapman campaigns against it and has now written to the Secretary of State for Digital, Media Culture and Sport, Nadine Dorries, and raised an Early Day Motion in the Commons.

Women’s Rights:

Scotland’s Census in 2022 is heading for a judicial review on whether the Scottish government is acting lawfully in allowing people to self-identify their sex according to their gender identity.

Canadian women find themselves in particular danger now from the government’s intention to criminalise gender-critical views.

After a backlash from parents and teachers, UK ministers are considering backing down on plans to criminalise those wanting to hit the pause button on children changing gender. But they will be banning gay conversion therapy.

The Scottish government wants to know about teens’ sex lives. Despite the objections of Children’s Commissioner Bruce Adamson and many others, the First Minister is pressing ahead with a survey, stating that councils can choose to issue it, and children can choose to complete it. But parents cannot withhold consent to it, only ask for it not to be given to their children.

The Ferry Saga Takes a New Twist

Comhairle nan Eilean Siar (CnES – Western Islands Council) is angry that the Scottish government has neglected to put any islanders on the board of David MacBrayne Limited (DML) which runs CalMac ferries. Transport Scotland said it would be inappropriate to impose limits on where board members came from and only gave new positions to mainlanders.

Uisdean Robertson, CnES Transportation and Infrastructure Chair, claimed that as they will be based in Inverclyde they will have little experience of how acutely islanders are affected by the transport debacles. Incredibly the Scottish government claimed that it is committed to ensuring islanders’ views are represented and have asked the new chair to show how to do this as a priority. Maybe by putting some actual islanders on the board?

The new chair is Erik Ostergaard, currently leading Caledonian Maritime Assets Limited (CMAL). Also selected were Scottish Police Authority member Grant Macrae, Sharon O’Connor of the Accounts Commission, and Tim Ingram, chair of the Western Isles Health Board’s audit committee.

Drugs Safe Rooms

Safe rooms as eventually endorsed by Douglas Ross after meeting with drug abuse survivors and activists has been a short-lived success. His UK boss Boris Johnson quashed the idea, with the UK policing minister Kit Malthouse and the Home Office stating these rooms would be centres of criminal activity. Last year there were 1339 drugs deaths in Scotland. Dorothy Bain, the new Lord Advocate, feels Scotland may not need the approval of the Home Office anyway.

Douglas Ross and the Scottish Tories support a Right to Recovery Bill to Holyrood, giving addicts a legal entitlement to receive treatment.

Brexit and Levelling Up
Compensation to Scotland for Brexit amounting to £172m is dwarfed by the EU’s 1bn euro (£850m) as Ireland’s compensation for Brexit. The amount promised in 2016 to Scotland was £1.5bn, but so far Scotland has only received £172m from the levelling-up fund. These funds from the UK’s Shared Prosperity Fund are applied for and paid direct to local authorities, bypassing Holyrood altogether. Eleven of Scotland’s 32 councils benefitted, but it does pit councils against each other for funding. The UK also states that Scotland will receive EU structural funding until the end of 2023, and thereafter the Shared Prosperity Fund will match EU funds in Scotland.

Airbnb and Licensing
Airbnb hosts claim to be bewildered by the Scottish government’s short-term lets licensing plans. Speaking to Holyrood’s Local Government Committee, they said that 51% of hosts they surveyed would cease to rent out their properties if regulations were introduced. The Association of Scotland’s Self-Caterers claims licenses could cost as much as £1500, and are concerned with the inclusion of bed and breakfasts in the regulations.

Airbnb claims it contributed £677m in 2019 in gross value added to Scotland’s economy, supporting 33,500 jobs, offering a flexible, scalable solution to accommodation at times of major events. No mention of the 12,000 Edinburgh flats taken out of the local housing market or the resulting economic and social upheaval and costs to those forced out.

Finally,

another mixed week for Boris. He welcomed the birth of his baby girl and may hope he can self-identify as having the ‘baby brain’ usually blamed for new mothers’ forgetfulness/ distractedness. He claimed not to know who funded the £67,000 refurbishment of his flat, despite exchanging WhatsApp messages with the person concerned, and only recovered his memory just before the media broke the story.

The Tories will be hoping he regains his grip soon and will be hoping for no further memory lapses. They were fined £17,800 for failure to keep proper records relating to Boris’ forgotten flat refurbishment. Will there be a new inhabitant in 10 Downing St to welcome in the New Year we wonder? (And we don’t mean babies).

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