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Week 15 9th April – 15th April 2022

Scotland’s Land, Energy, Independence and what we get from the Ferry contract (not a ferry):

09/04/2022 – 16/04/2022                                           

IndyRef2

            Despite the First Minister claiming it is ‘unsustainable’ for the UK to stand in the way of indyref2, a House of Commons briefing of 71 pages has outlined the grounds for a legal challenge if Boris should continue to refuse it.  It is gradually being accepted that the matter would probably go to the Supreme Court. 

            The briefing, written by David Torrance, former political columnist and parliamentary researcher, claims that the UK and Scottish governments ‘agree that the Scottish parliament cannot unilaterally end the Union’, although this will be news to many on the independence side.  It is hard to see why, as an agreement between two parties, it cannot be ended by either side with notice and negotiation.

            Unlike its English counterpart, the Scottish parliament was never abolished, merely adjourned, so surely the reconvened parliament could ‘pick up where it left off’ and end the union as Scotland’s adjourned parliament started it.

            If it isn’t a contract/agreement, what is it?  Scotland can point to numerous breaches of the Act of Union, which may make it null and void anyway.  But either it is an agreement or it isn’t after all a voluntary union, and Scotland is being forced to stay in the UK.

 The IndyX Event

            in Dunfermline recently hosted a range of pro-independence supporters, including Colette Walker, leader of ISP.  The SNP’s Douglas Chapman contributed with a revival of a Plan B (in case no section 30 is forthcoming) which would make the next General Election a plebiscite election if no referendum is forthcoming by the end of 2023.  The election would be fought on one policy only, independence or not, and the election of a majority of pro-independence MPs would be taken as a vote for independence.

Cambo Oilfield

            has been bought up by Ithaca Energy from Siccar Point Energy.  The new owners are pledging to develop Cambo and the nearby Rosebank field.  Shell still owns a 30% stake in Cambo, which is believed to contain 800 million barrels of oil.  Although not finally approved, the UK recently admitted its dependence on the 50% of its gas which comes from the North Sea, so the signs are not good for those who want Cambo and other fossil fuel projects shelved. UK government Energy Minister Greg Hands has said the UK will now do an environmental assessment on Cambo.

Nuclear Energy

The UK Energy Strategy/Nuclear Energy

            Hands also claimed ‘Now is not the time’ to be ideological about energy, but to be practical and deliver… improvement and … security.

            He claimed the UK would not push for new nuclear sites in Scotland, but some sources say that Ardeer Peninsula near Stevenston is still on a short list for a prototype nuclear fusion power plant known as STEP (Spherical Tokamak for Energy Production).

            Scottish Energy Secretary Michael Matheson claims he did not even receive a copy of the energy strategy ahead of its release, but UK Secretary of State for Energy Kwasi Kwarteng says Scotland was consulted.

New ‘Red’ List of fish concerns fishermen

            The Marine Conservation Committee (MCS) has updated its Good Fish Guide of endangered fish to include 14 more seafood species on the red list which denotes overfishing, poor management or environmental damage caused by fishing or accidentally catching wildlife.  

            A red rating covers 161 species, including some monkfish, skates, ray, crabs and lobster.  Shetland brown crab is the only green-rated crab option in the UK.  Some favourites are on the green list, including North Sea herring, English Channel sardines and mackerel, but Celtic Sea cod and whiting are at dangerously low levels.

Illegal scallop fishing

            A shellfish trawler captain has been convicted of fishing in a marine protected zone by towing solid metal framed nets over the seabed, which causes huge ecological disruption of such things as flame shell beds, burrowing sea cucumbers and northern feather star plants, plus purple-pink hard seaweed called maerl.

Sea Eagles

            Angus MacNeil is calling for a cull of sea eagles, after Barra residents recently lost livestock to the birds.  He claims there are clearly ‘too many’ of them, they have ‘god-like, deity status’, and we are getting to the point where their numbers make agriculture unsustainable.   NatureScot points to its Sea Eagle Management Scheme, and has ruled out a cull.  Scottish Green MSP Ariane Burgess called his comments unhelpful, preferring to focus on the sea eagles’ endangered status and the tourists they draw in.

Poverty

            Research from Aberdeen University has shown that poverty affects children even before they are born.  Their study of developed countries including Scotland, England, USA, Netherlands, France and Norway showed that babies from poorer parents are already smaller midway through a pregnancy.

            Low birth weight is associated with later problems like high blood pressure, Type 2 diabetes, heart attacks, asthma, and ADHD. It is not clear whether the problems of poverty are caused by lifestyle choices or other things such as the stress and worry associated with poverty.

Transport

            The yearly saga of the Rest and Be Thankful route lumbers on, never quite settled, but almost £1 million has been paid over five years for a diversion route via the Old Military Road.  The government seems to have ruled out compulsory purchase of land to offer a permanent solution.

The Tourist Tax

            may be back up and running, at least in Edinburgh, if the SNP form the next administration there, and would apply to AirBnBs, hotel beds and guest houses at a rate of £2 per room per night (maximum charge £14), but it depends on Holyrood passing the legislation which stalled in March 2020 at the start of the pandemic. 

Finland

            is ‘courting its own destruction’ according to Russia, if it applies to join NATO.  After the brutal Ukraine invasion, it is difficult to second-guess Russia, who claim joining NATO is a provocation  That was why  Ukraine didn’t join NATO and gave up its nuclear weapons decades ago.  That didn’t work out too well, and it is hard to be confident that Finland, the Baltic States and even Sweden would not be next on Moscow’s list. 

            This matters for an independent Scotland.  Would giving up Trident stop us being a target, or make us one?

Women and Trans:

Lorna Slater

            is facing calls to be stripped of her ministerial responsibilities following her comments on gender critical commentators, comparing us to racists and anti-semites, saying we are not worthy of being included in any discussion about our own rights.   Not included AT ALL. She also made unsupported claims that women’s rights groups are being supported by unnamed American Christian organisations.

            Meghan Gallacher, Scottish Conservatives gender reform spokesperson, and Alba’s Tasmina Ahmed-Sheikh, have both complained  to Nicola Sturgeon, asking her to refer Ms Slater to the independent advisers on the Ministerial Code, but so far nothing.

The Land

            Who owns Scotland?  Increasingly it is companies buying up land to offset their carbon emissions elsewhere.  Couldn’t the Scottish government have foreseen that ambitious climate targets would lead to just this problem?

            Land campaigner Andy Wightman has highlighted the problem of derelict land which continues to be hoarded and neglected.  Eleven thousand hectares of land in 3500 sites round Scotland are derelict, one third of it for decades, and often in the most deprived areas. 

            A Register of Vacant and Derelict Land is held by each council. Some is unusable without decontamination, and if previous owners no longer exist (in the form of companies) it falls to the public purse to decontaminate the land.  Legally, communities have the right to buy abandoned land, even against the owner’s will, but it is a complex and lengthy process.

Secret Estate Sales

            are enabling big parts of the Scottish Highlands to be sold off before ever officially coming to the market, thereby excluding the local communities from the chance of a buy-out, even without rocketing land prices.

            Nearly two-thirds of last year’s Highland sporting estate sales were private, and a third went to overseas buyers.  Businesses and investors are snapping up land to offset carbon emissions.  The big pull is no longer salmon and game, but woodland and rewilding, causing the price of land to rocket, Scottish farms up by 31% last year, and Highland sporting estates by 87%.

Crofting Buy-Outs

            Land reform legislation is not planned until 2023, although it is unclear what they intend to do then.  The Scottish Land Fund, which supports community buyouts, is doubling to £20 million by 2026, but essentially gives money to landowners from the taxpayer.

            And it only works with landowner cooperation.  Lesley Riddoch has highlighted the problem with croft buyouts, citing Great Bernera, which, despite organising a buyout, is bogged down because the absentee owner thinks the valuation too low. Despite the islanders offering £135K (double the asking price of £70K) the owner says nothing, meaning he nominally remains a willing seller.

            The crofting buyout legislation has never been successfully used and islanders are angry that an absentee owner with little interest in their home can stymie the process. Couldn’t the Scottish government change the legislation to set a presumption in favour of occupiers and set time limits for an owner to respond realistically to proposals?

Finally,

            The community benefits to Scotland of the new Turkish ferry contract have been revealed as £35,000 for local projects plus an exchange scheme for three Scottish apprentices to work in the Turkish yard for one week each year for three years.  There is nothing in it for Scottish-based sub-contractors, partnerships, or parts and equipment supply in Scotland, but was apparently adequate for the government to sign off on the deal.

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