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Week 6 – 5th February – 11th February 2022

05/02/2022 – 11/02/2022

Legislation:

Emergency Powers

          The Scottish government is considering making some emergency powers permanent.  The Coronavirus (Recovery and Reform) (Scotland) Bill gives powers in public health to impose lockdown restrictions, allow remote court hearings, close schools and change private sector evictions to disallow some automatic eviction orders.  Opposition MSPs call it a ‘power grab’.

The Online Safety Bill

          will force firms to protect users from fraud and hate crime.  Threats to kill celebrities or MPs will attract up to five years’ jail; spreading covid disinformation will be criminalised, and new harm-based offences relate to the sale of illegal drugs or weapons, suicide promotion, people smuggling and sexual exploitation. 

          Threats to rape, kill, use physical violence or cause serious financial harm will also attract sentences up to five years.  Offensive but not harmful posts are no longer criminal, and you can’t be prosecuted for posts someone does not agree with.

          Meanwhile the Scottish government is forging ahead with another new EU hub in Denmark to join the four EU bases in Brussels, Paris, Dublin and Berlin.  They are located in British embassies, as will be the new Copenhagen hub.

Green Issues:

The Lochran Estate in Perthshire recently incurred a 3-year curb on its general licences after a satellite-tagged hen harrier was found dead in an illegal trap.  Game shooting is not being restricted.  Similarly, Invercauld Estate in Cairngorm is subject to 3-year restrictions after poison-baited hare and rabbit carcasses were discovered.

The £40m Flamingo Land plans for Loch Lomond will be submitted to the National Park Authority at the end of April.  No development will now occur in the ancient woodland of Drumkinnon Wood.  Surveys of birds, red squirrel and hibernating bats conclude at the end of February for inclusion in the final plan which aims for a sustainable resort celebrating wildlife and biodiversity.

Wallaby Eviction

          Conservationist Chris Packham is under fire for recommending that wallabies be evicted from Inchconachan island on Loch Lomond, where they have lived since the 1940s.  The island’s owners Kirsty Young and Nick Jones have signalled their intention to evict despite a petition to save the wallabies collecting over 25,000 signatures.

Six new North Sea oil and gas fields are set to win UK approval, five in Scottish waters and one in English, despite COP 26 promises, and the UK is considering a new nuclear project in Ayrshire, over the heads of the Scottish government.

Better Together?

          One 2014 promise for voting No was that it would keep HMRC in Cumbernauld.  But after 40 years it will close in months. Some staff are taking voluntary redundancy, some will relocate to Glasgow or work from home, but over 30 will lose their jobs. Scottish Labour remain unapologetic for advocating No in 2014, saying if Yes had won, the workers would have lost their jobs years ago!! 

The Real Cost of Being British:

Life Expectancy in Scotland has plummeted to levels last seen under Margaret Thatcher.  Those in the most-deprived areas have an average 24 fewer years of good health than their richer counterparts, and die younger.  Inequalities reduced from 1920 to the 1970s, then increased.  Life expectancy rose till 2012, but has now stalled, particularly for women. Orkney men and women fare best, but Inverclyde is the unhealthiest for men, and North Ayrshire for women.  Overall healthy life expectancy for women is 61.8 years (down from 61.9 years) and for men 60.9 years (down from 61.7 years).

          This is partly due to covid and drugs deaths, but Professor Gerry McCartney, Professor of Wellbeing Economy at Glasgow University, also blames Tory austerity policies since 2010, zero hour contracts, poverty wages and reduced benefits. 

The Pension Myth

          Independence scare stories have started.  Will Scots continue to get pensions from Westminster after independence?  Unionists say no, but pensions depend on contributions paid, not on remaining a UK citizen, which is how British pensioners abroad still get a UK pension.  Ten qualifying years’ contributions entitles you to a minimum pension, and 35 years to a full state pension. The problem arises because the UK decided against creating a fund for National Insurance contributions. Current workers pay current pensions, but Scots who have built up some contributions should get a UK pension or part-pension.

Brexit Price rises  

          Food prices rose by 2.7% in January, due to global price rises, labour shortages, and distribution problems. Prices may rise further in summer when Brexit brings physical checks of goods, as well as paperwork. 

Many Scots are seeking fuel help through a £4m support fund from the Scottish government, administered by Advice Direct Scotland. Claimants must be referred by referral partners via

www.homeheadingadvice.scot

Energy:

          Following recent price rises, France refused to allow price rises of 45%, capping it at 4%; Italy is threatening to prevent companies trading; Norway is paying 50% of people’s energy bills from its Sovereign Wealth fund; Germany intends to cap price rises at 5%; some Danes will get a tax-free government cheque; and Spain is cutting some household taxes and imposing a temporary windfall tax on energy firms.

Compare with UK consumers who will get a £150 reduction in council tax and a forced loan of £200 paid by government to the companies to reduce our bills in October, but repayable by us, not the companies, over 5 years from 2023. 

Scotland has £290m as Barnett consequentials for energy help.  All households which get council tax reductions in any band will receive £150 council tax rebate, as will all households in bands A to D.  This may be paid by councils or credited towards the council tax bill.  £10m additional money goes to the Fuel Insecurity Fund for those at risk of self-disconnection or who are self-rationing energy use.

This is at the same time as Shell made £14.2bn profit in 2021, BP made £9.5bn and Exxon made £16.9bn.

The ScotWind auction

has proved controversial.  Professor David Toke of the University of Aberdeen described it as “..brilliant”, but says Scotland and the UK must encourage developers to “source more jobs from the UK”Despite this being a condition of bidding, most successful bids are from companies based outside Scotland.  Failure to actually invest in the local supply chain attracts only a £250,000 fine.

          Professor Toke claims the “contracts for difference” issued for renewables like offshore wind are “greatly reducing consumer bills” compared with other energy sources.  Professor Graeme Roy of Glasgow University’s Adam Smith Business School hopes the £700 million raised will revitalise Scottish manufacturing industry, destroyed over 40 years, but this won’t happen.  Dr Craig Dalzell of CommonWeal claims the bid prices were too low, and the annual rent accruing will be paltry.  Bifab in Fife is a warning.  They largely lost out on contracts for the Seagreen Wind Farm on their doorstep, in favour of bringing wind turbine jackets halfway across the world, providing jobs overseas.

Carers

          The pandemic has laid bare social care shortcomings for the disabled and  unpaid carers.  Council care packages are under severe stress, some even stopping overnight, and most council amenities used by disabled people closed, increasing pressure on carers.  Respite care is patchy.  The Carers’ Allowance of under £70 per week for 35 hours’ caring duties a week is scandalous.  Less than £2 an hour?  The Scottish government’s Carer’s Allowance Supplement of £231.40 is paid twice a year, and they also introduced a Young Carer Grant of £300 a year for those aged 16 to 18 who care for someone at least 16 hours a week. 

Mental Health Crisis

88% of professionals surveyed by the Royal College of Psychiatrists (RCPsych) in Scotland thought mental health was already insufficiently resourced, 84% that there is a significant increase in those seeking help.  The Communities Mental Health and Wellbeing Fund of £15 million supports adult community care, and is part of the £120m Recovery and Renewal Fund set up by the Scottish government last year.

          The Scottish government is spending £4.3m to tackle airflow in schools.  Air filters, extractor fans and chopping the bottom off some classroom doors will improve airflow and slow coronavirus, which is rising fast and steep among children.  Despite children being hospitalised or developing long covid, and staff covid absence increasing, Nicola Sturgeon has decreed that masks in schools are no longer required for staff or pupils!

Women and Trans Issues:

Raith Rovers’ costly error?

          Having signed David Goodwillie from Clyde FC, Raith Rovers swiftly regretted it when author Val McDermid ended her sponsorship, women’s team captain, Tyler Rattray, volunteers and directors resigned, and the women’s team now competes as McDermid FC.  Many will never support Rovers again.

          Not criminally charged, Goodwillie was found liable in civil court, but appears not to have paid any compensation.  It is dispiriting that many feel he was harshly treated.  The civil case judge said the woman could not give meaningful consent, but society has some way to go to stop victim-blaming.

for more on women and trans issues, go to ISP – Safe in Scotland and ISP on Facebook

 Thankfully, though, £12 million has been found for a 100-page book on Queen Elizabeth for all UK primary schoolchildren.  This is ‘patriotic’, you understand, but teaching Scottish history like the Clearances and suppression of Gaelic is ‘nationalist propaganda’. 

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