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Week 14 : 2nd April – 8th April 2022

Week 14 : 2nd -8th April

All Under One Banner (AUOB)

         The latest rally for independence in Arbroath at the weekend saw SNP President Mike Russell challenged by AUOB Organiser Bob Fotheringham on how many more mandates the SNP needs to pursue independence.  Russell claimed he will spend every waking hour of his life trying to secure independence, saying the bill would go before Holyrood whenever we want, but when people shouted ‘Now!’ he did not respond.  

        Eva Comrie gave an impassioned speech about people facing huge energy bills in an energy-rich country and contrasted Norway’s wealth with our poverty, highlighting their Sovereign Wealth Fund which benefits the people, instead of the UK system, flogging off our assets to private holders and distributing profits to shareholders first, while ordinary householders’ bills rocket.

         Russell cast a bit of a forlorn figure after that, wandering round the field, a far cry from the adulation which would have been the SNP’s a couple of years ago while we still believed.

Women and Trans:

Lap-dancing clubs

         in Edinburgh are to be closed down after a 5-4 vote from the city council regulatory committee.  The council felt the present four venues for sexual entertainment was incompatible with the Scottish government’s zero tolerance of violence against women and girls, defined by the government as including commercial sexual exploitation (lap-dancing, pole-dancing, and stripping).

         Some councillors argued limiting the number of venues would ensure safety, but thankfully the majority (narrowly) rejected that proposal.  The union representing exotic performers incredibly claimed the ban, coming into force on April 1st, 2023, ‘discriminates against women’.

         Legal challenges may follow on the grounds of violating the club owners’ human rights, but exploiting women for money apparently does

not violate the women’s human rights. 

         Who do these clubs benefit?  Mostly men, unless you subscribe to the ‘sex work is work’ mantra that it is an income for the women working there and they are free agents.  Baroness Kennedy, the SNP government misogyny adviser, felt that these clubs promote violence against women.  Many women agree.

EHRC guidance

         NHS diversity monitors in England are openly calling for the new guidance on single sex spaces issued by the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) just to be ignored to allow transwomen to still occupy spaces such as hospital wards meant for single-sex use only.

         It is worrying that they see fit to just ignore this ruling, much as organisations petitioned the UN to disaffiliate the UK EHRC when it earlier came out for women’s rights, a move which subsequently failed.

         The  trans lobby don’t like the Equality Act’s protections for women, which is strange.  If transwomen are women, why don’t they understand our fears over males in single sex spaces? 

Economy:

         Northern Ireland’s freight firms are considering moving business from Scotland due to the lack of progress in upgrading the A75 and the A77, claiming the A75 from Cairnryan is actually dangerous.  Stena Line have called on the First Minister to address the problem urgently.  A review by the UK government says the A75 is the road most in need of an upgrade anywhere in the UK and ‘not fit for purpose’.

         Current speed limits on the A75 limit haulage viability due to the nine-hour driving limit for HGV drivers, necessitating another driver to be deployed to take over, further reducing route viability.  Most of the road is single-lane with speed restrictions.

         Stena Line and P&O spent £200 million in 2008 on the basis that the Scottish government would upgrade the roads, but nothing has happened.

Ferries (continued):

         It is alleged that taxpayers have lost £80 million+ as part of a £106 million public loan to protect CalMac over the award of the ferry contract to Ferguson Marine, awarded without the usual financial refund guarantees, to ensure CalMac’s continued viability.  CMAL says the £82.5 million of the loan already drawn down was ‘eliminated’ (no longer repayable to the government) when Ferguson Marine went into insolvency in 2019, making it a taxpayer loss.

         Updates on the Scottish government website show that Hull 801 failed a stability test in October, finding an ‘essential’ piece of stabilising work was omitted by the yard when in private ownership, and concerns remain that the two vessels are overweight and therefore not safe.

NatRail

         Nicola Sturgeon has so far failed to explain why NatRail’s predecessor ScotRail’s chief Alex Hynes has been kept on in the same role in the nationalised rail operator at a salary of £330,000 a year, despite previous calls for him to resign over the Stonehaven rail crash, and mounting opposition to ticket office closures and threats to union terms and conditions.

Police Scotland

         Rural police station closures are destroying the link between

communities and the police.  Since the creation of the single force in 2013, 140 dedicated stations and offices, many in rural areas, have been sold to balance the books.  The Scottish Police Federation is concerned, as are the public and elected representatives.  Selling 96 properties made £28.5 million. 

         Deputy Chief constable Will Kerr claims many of those buildings were not fit for purpose, and that the rollout of mobile devices allowing police to do admin work gives them more time in the community, claiming there is now stronger operational competence and better access to all policing capabilities.

         He does not clarify how people feel more connected to officers who are no longer there, nor how three super-service centres for call handling and three for control rooms enhance service to the public better than local centres did, nor how waiting times for call answering lead to frustrated callers giving up, nor how stretched operational resources particularly in rural areas allows make officers scramble from one call to the next rather than connect with the community.

Wild goat hunting

         Shooting trips are being offered by five companies charging up to £1000 to kill wild goats and £8000 to kill rare stags in the Highlands, Borders, Argyll and Bute and Dumfries and Galloway.  The British Association for Shooting and Conservation (BASC) claims culling feral goats is necessary, but it is unlikely that trophy hunters are indulging in responsible culling.

         The Scottish government promised a review of shooting laws, which unfortunately was paused due to the pandemic. The Campaign to Ban Trophy Hunting is aghast that no progress has yet been made to this review, particularly given the public outcry evident in a Survation poll in 2019 which showed that 89% of Scots respondents backed a trophy hunting ban.

Highland Estates

         owned in tax havens received nearly £70,000 in covid grants from Highland Council, as the Scottish government limited itself to a very narrow EU blacklist of tax havens.

Aberuchill Estate

         in Perthshire has an unusual sign saying ‘Welcome to Aberuchill’, then detailing the distance of the estate from various Russian destinations, including Moscow, Novokuznetsk and Ivanovo.  In an attempt to show their pro-Ukrainian credentials, it is rather drawing attention to the vexed topic of foreign ownership of Scotland.  Despite reportedly being pro-Putin until quite recently, some have come out against the Ukraine invasion. It highlights Scotland’s powerlessness in inflicting sanctions without UK permission, and its inability to stop much of Scotland’s heritage being carved up by foreign ownership.

MacGregors Landing

         is advertised as the perfect place to buy a plot of land near Balquhidder in Perthshire, but without making it clear the land is in a flood area and has no planning permission to build structures.  The Loch Lomond & the Trossachs National Park Authority were forced to step in and issue a temporary stop notice on plots already sold, and warn those contemplating buying that no planning permission exists for structures.

Tourist Tax

         Despite being a key part of the government budget deal with the Greens, the much-vaunted tourist tax has now been shelved, with no sign of the ‘enabling bill’ needed to bring it into force and allow local authorities to set a tax.  Despite many areas experiencing a tourist boom, resulting in major stresses on inadequate infrastructure, the Scottish government strangely claimed ‘now is clearly not the time’, citing the recovery from the pandemic and respect for the local election period.

Western Isles Fuel Poverty

         According to Energy Action Scotland, 57% of residents will shortly be in fuel poverty, which would be the highest level in the UK.  Rises in petrol and diesel prices will also hit hard.  Renewable energy from the Western Isles is pumped to the mainland, with some saying it should first go to local residents.  Businesses are looking at electricity costs doubling, and it is feared some will give up the fight and close altogether. 

Northern Ireland

         Tensions are rising in the province over the Brexit Protocol, which some Unionists claim is an assault on the union, forcing Northern Irish businesses into closer ties with the Republic due to the difficulties of trading with Great Britain under the Protocol.  Some fear this leads Northern Ireland towards union with Eire. 

         Ulster Unionist Party (UUP) leader Doug Beattie recently had a window smashed at his constituency office, and a bomb hoax at an event attended by Irish Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney in north Belfast following a van driver being hijacked at gunpoint has been blamed on the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF), stoking fears of a return to sectarian violence.

         UK Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Brandon Lewis, admits the protocol is not sustainable in its present format.  Northern Ireland matters due to its close links to Scotland and the fact that violence there has tended to make its way to the mainland if it escalates.

Finally,

Drive as I say, not as I do:

         22 Scottish government ministers stand accused of hypocrisy for waging a war on motorists while themselves being ferried round in a fleet of cars.  Figures show almost 300 journeys made in one month, with Rural Affairs minister Mairi Gougeon making 27 car journeys in a month on official business.

         The government claims cars are used when public transport was ‘not

viable’, an argument which seems to cut no ice when it is shift workers living in the country dependent on private vehicles.  Try evading the Low Emission Zone when you have to work late at night in a city and there often just isn’t public transport in the country.

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