December 10th - Dec 16th 2022 Week 50
Ferries, windfarm profits and NHS gaslighting women….
The new plans outlined in the Second Strategic Transport Projects Review (STPR2) backs mass transit systems for Glasgow and Edinburgh, including the extension of Edinburgh trams to the north and the south of the city, making 45 recommendations in total for the next 20 years. But the funding for this project is uncertain. It aims to combine bus rapid transit, trams, and light rail and metro rail services to complement traditional railways. It also outlines the potential of ferry links between the Sound of Harris and Barra and between Mull and the mainland, as well as updating port infrastructure. Work has started on 38 of the 45 recommendations.
But a separate north-east strategy earlier omitted any extension of services to Ellon, Fraserburgh and Peterhead, with no commitment to cutting journey times from Aberdeen to Edinburgh, or to dualling the rail line running through Usan, near Montrose, with the Scottish government saying there are local solutions available and they are not a national project, so would not sit in the STPR2 remit.
Highland Council is seeking to force windfarm owners to pay them over 5% of their profits to put towards a Norway-style windfall fund for local services in Skye, Lochaber and Caithness to pay for affordable housing, transport links and to alleviate fuel poverty. The council approved this measure and is pressurising the Scottish government to make this into law. At present, private firms are ‘invited to make a voluntary contribution of £5000 per year per megawatt installed’, regardless of how much energy and revenue is eventually generated. The Liberal Democrat councillor for Fort William, who moved the measure, pointed out that current wholesale energy price is up from £30 per MH to £150, but almost all the profits go out of the area, away from where it is generated.
NHS still gaslighting women
The Ayrshire and Arran NHS policy ‘Supporting Trans Service Users’ compares women who object to biological males on single-sex wards to ‘racists’ who may have to be removed from the ward for telling the truth. The policy is currently being reviewed by the health board. Nurses are told to tell women who raise these concerns that ‘there are no men present’. The health board claims that those with the protected characteristic of gender reassignment are entitled to care according to their ‘current gender identity’ (which if it is being promoted under Equality Act provisions is incorrect, as the EA is based on sex-based rights, not gender-based).
Ferguson Marine workers have voiced concerns that the two ferries under construction will never enter service, as not being ‘fit for purpose’. Some parts purchased for the vessels may now be out of warranty as they have been lying round for so long. The lack of an in-house design team at the yard has sparked fears that they may not win further contracts either if they manage to supply the two ferries. There are concerns over a non-compliant axilock (used to connect pipe lengths without gluing or fusion) which was not spotted on review, and perceived risks over site sub-contractors, including concerns over a lack of experienced tradesmen and experienced supervisors. Cables, pipework and accuracy of production drawings are also a concern. Bizarrely, the age of workers was alleged to have resulted in a ‘lack of buy-in from the workforce’, although this was not further explained.
Glen Sannox will not initially be running as dual fuel with Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) due to the failure to order sensors as part of the fuel safety system. For some reason it may take 36 weeks to order the sensors, with the Scottish government not even notified of the omission for 3 months after its discovery this year, despite stock checks in 2021 and 2022 having found that the sensors had not been ordered.
the new SNP Westminster Parliamentary Leader appears not keen on a UK General Election or a Scottish one as a plebiscite. This week he used an Opposition Day debate to seek to take control of the House of Commons order paper for January 10th, 2023 and present a Scotland Act 1998 (Amendment) Bill giving Scotland the ability to change parts of Schedule 5 of the Scotland Act governing matters reserved to the UK government, including the constitution, but this was voted down by the House.
Some favour a campaign of peaceful direct action to force the UK’s hand, with a reconvening of all the people plus MPs/MSPs to add to the pressure for change. Gordon Brown has made a predictable intervention into the independence melee proposing to make Scotland ‘a bit more independent’, with the power for Scotland to enter into international agreements, the House of Lords to be reformed and provosts directly elected in Scotland, although it is not clear what that would achieve. Anyone remember the Vow?
Holyrood is already falling behind in its plan to keep up with new EU legislation to make re-entry to the EU easier, according to Holyrood’s Europe Committee, with at least 599 changes made to EU legislation which affects devolved matters since Scotland left. The Scottish government said it is aligning with EU legislation on single-use plastics and water quality, but decided not to align on electric charging points at car parks and appears to be picking and choosing what it aligns with. There is no comprehensive overview policy to keep up with what the EU is doing.
It appears Scotland is not using its powers under the EU Continuity Act to keep fully in step. Scotland would also have to commit to joining the Euro in order to become an EU member, although it could choose the timescale. Scotland is no longer represented in the European Parliament or via the UK in the European Commission, and its Brussels office does not appear to have sufficient resources to undertake the task of monitoring EU legislation. The UK’s Retained EU Law (Revocation and Reform) Bill will result in many EU measures falling automatically at the end of 2023, unless specifically retained by the UK, which also appears not to have the resources (or will) to study which measures should be retained.
Fox Hunting on Foot
Licences have been issued by Forestry and Land Scotland to Three Straths Fox Control Association for a foot pack to kill foxes in the south Inverness ar ea, despite strong objections due to the possibility of illegal activity including disturbing protected species. Foot hunting involves a huntsman, with colleagues acting as beaters, using hounds to chase foxes from cover to be shot. The FLS’ own experts strongly objected.
The Hunting with Dogs (Scotland) Bill is currently going through Holyrood to replace the current law.
are not getting enough support due to a 40% fall in specialist support teachers over the last decade. There are now only 100 teachers with the mandatory qualification, compared to 165 in 2011, with another 45% due to retire over the next decade. The National Deaf Children’s Society wants a Scotland-wide workforce strategy to be undertaken by the Scottish government, including funding places for qualified teachers to do the mandatory training which equips teachers to be both teachers and an invaluable link between deaf children and their hearing families.
The Scottish Government Resilience Room declared a major incident in Shetland this week due to heavy snow bringing down power lines, with up to 6000 people without power. Some will not be reconnected till the end of the week, despite the best efforts of SSEN staff brought in from the mainland. Over many parts of Scotland the temperature will not rise above freezing for a number of days. Shetland Islands Council and SSEN have contacted priority vulnerable customers and are urging people to check on vulnerable neighbours if possible and safe to do.
Cost of Living/ Scottish Budget Review
Many Scots will be paying a lot more for their mortgages, due to recent rate rises, unless on fixed rates. Worst hit are those on standard variable rates and those whose fixed rate ends. Energy costs will also rise further for many next April.
In Thursday’s Budget Review John Swinney gave free rein to local authorities to raise council taxes without any limits set. Saying there would be no justification in councils raising council tax by double digits, it would still be up to them as he cannot legally impose a cap. He is giving councils £550 million extra resources in 2023/24, but councils are warning of a £1bn shortfall and say that the £550 million only replaces a previous real terms cut and that the actual increase is only £70 million.
Higher and top rates of income tax have been raised by 1p, which will raise £129 million, while freezing the higher rate threshold will generate another £390 million, with £34 million from increasing the Additional Dwelling Supplement. Social care workers get £10.90 an hour, not the £15 an hour the STUC wanted. There was limited help for business, and some benefits which the Scottish government is responsible for will rise by 10.1%, although not the Scottish Child Payment. The £20 million set aside for an independence referendum has been redirected to the Fuel Insecurity Fund instead and peak rail fares will be scrapped.
Greens out of touch?
Gillian Mackay MSP has urged ministers to open a conversation with people about reducing meat and dairy consumption by 2030, as well as a ‘shift in behaviour needed to move people out of their cars and onto public transport’. She has nothing much to suggest by way of realistic, comprehensive public transport for rural areas, particularly shift workers, and nothing to say about the effect on Scottish agriculture of drastic cuts in meat and dairy consumption.