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Week 7 12th February – 18th February 2022

12/02/2022 – 18/02/2022

Prospectus (or 2) for Independence

            The Scottish Greens will be joint contributors to the Scottish government’s Prospectus for Independence, but will also prepare their own prospectus.  Lorna Slater said the government vision for independence is not the same as theirs, but is unsure if the Green prospectus will be one or more papers, or how it will be brought forward.  When asked whether indyref2 would happen in 2023, she said that was the ‘plan’, ‘vision’, ‘what they are committed to’ and ‘next year is a good year’…

            So that’s it nailed down, then…

Better Together?

Gene Editing and Genetic Modification

            Genetic Modification (GM) involves inserting new genes into crop DNA, while Gene Editing (GE) removes undesirable gene parts.  EU law does not allow either procedureIt is now being introduced via Statutory Instrument through DEFRA (Dept for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) rather than through parliamentary legislation.  Using a Statutory Instrument removes legal requirements for risk assessment, public consultation and governmental consent before going ahead.  They need only email DEFRA and publish the message.  It will only apply to organisms that could have ‘occurred naturally’ or via (slower) traditional techniques, but these are not defined, nor is how to assess them.

            The UK government wants to classify GM and GE separately and allow GE in England.  Wales and Scotland will not introduce these measures, but under the Internal Market Act, Scotland will not be able to stop genetically ‘edited’ food entering Scotland.  Worryingly, DEFRA says this is the first step to a wider reform programme whose direction is unclear.  The House of Lords Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee (SLSC) is accusing the Tories of ‘governing by diktat’.

Green Issues:

‘Green’ Freeports:

            The SNP/Green coalition has fallen out over the agreement for two Scottish ‘green’  freeports. Bidders must agree to reach net zero by 2045 and comply with fair work practices.  Scottish and UK ministers will together assess bids this year, with work starting in spring 2023.  Finance will be from the Scottish government and UK Treasury, with the UK committing £52 million.  The SNP Trade Union Group are challenging the party leadership that ‘greenports’ are contrary to the conference agreement last September, which demanded six strict requirements.

            Freeports are special economic zones offering tax breaks and lower business and customs tariffs.  Part of the UK’s levelling up agenda, Scotland’s Finance Secretary Kate Forbes seems enthused.  Freeports are built around one or more air, rail or seaport hub and can extend up to 45km beyond that.  Proponents argue they bring jobs and investment and cut red tape, but opponents argue they draw investment and workers away from other areas, increasing inequality rather than creating new jobs, even attracting criminal gangs. Internationally they have been linked with crime, money laundering, smuggling, counterfeiting and low wages.

Greenwashing finances:         

            The United Yemeni Community in Scotland (UYCS) is urging ‘Keep Scotland Beautiful’ to refuse a £100,000 donation from BAE Systems for the Upstream Battle campaign to clean up plastic pollution in the River Clyde and tributaries. It is dismayed as BAE is supplying arms to Saudi Arabia’s war against Yemen which has claimed 377,000 lives, 70% of whom are children.

Peatland Restoration:             

            Stirling University researcher Nicola Horsburgh, working with SEPA (Scottish Environment Protection Agency) and Global Footprint Network, has calculated Scotland’s biocapacity (renewable natural capital of forests, grazing land, crop land and oceans, essential to human wellbeing) minus the consumption of natural capital, giving Scotland’s ecological deficit.  Zero deficit means a country is renewing the natural capital it consumes.

            Peatlands cover 25% of Scotland, comprising 2% of Scotland’s natural capital, but adds 40% to the ecological deficit due to peatland degradation.  Peatland locks in carbon, but degraded peatland releases carbon into the atmosphere.

            Current restoration plans mean the deficit is only reduced by 7% by 2050.  Horsburgh’s team found that over 60 years, 65% of peatlands could be restored at an average cost between £2 and £17 per tonne saved.

Derelict Land

            Land Reuse Month in March will focus on reusing and improving the 11,000 hectares of vacant and derelict land in Scotland.  Four online seminars hosted by the Scottish Land Commission will involve stakeholders like the Scottish government, environmental groups and housing advisers, but does not appear to involve the public.  The government has established a £50m low carbon Vacant and Derelict Land Investment Programme. 

The Vow

            Rosyth dockyard workers were threatened with huge job losses if Scotland voted Yes in 2014, but a No vote would ensure Scotland’s shipbuilding future.  Of 2000 skilled staff employed then, Rosyth has since lost 450 jobs, and in 2016 lost an aircraft carrier contract to a Dutch company.  Clyde shipbuilders were promised thirteen Type 26 frigates, later reduced to 8, of which they currently have a contract for three, with only promises for the rest.

            Rosyth does, however, get to store and maintain seven of the 20 obsolete submarines.  And there still seems to be money to increase Trident spending.

Care Leavers

            The Welsh government recently announced plans to give £1600 per month for two years to care leavers at age 18.  This is taxable and may affect benefit entitlement.  The Scottish government wants a similar scheme as an ongoing commitment to care-leavers.  It will consider a Minimum Income Guarantee during this parliamentary term.  Minimum Income tops up the poorest incomes, while Universal Basic Income (UBI) gives money to everyone over 16, regardless of income.

Legal:

The Nationality and Borders Bill

            is currently being considered by the House of Lords. Clause 28, the offshoring of asylum seekers while claims are pending, and Clause 35, reinterpreting the 1951 Refugee Convention, are contentious.

            No country has agreed to offshoring.  Ghana refused, and apparently Rwanda is being considered, but if anti-discrimination laws there are inadequate, it would contravene Article 3 of the European Convention of Human Rights (ECHR).  Australia operates offshoring in Nauru, but allegations persist of poor healthcare, scant food and even attacks by locals.  The UK government minister responsible, Lord Wolfson, claims every state can interpret the Refugee Convention as it wants, although this contravenes the 1969 Vienna Convention. 

Health

            Edinburgh’s National Robotarium, in collaboration with Heriot-Watt University and the University of Edinburgh, has been awarded £1.25m from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council to better identify cancer-affected tissue, avoiding unnecessary tissue removal.  A new method allows mechanical measurements to be taken around the target area, particularly useful in keyhole surgery.

Job help for Epilepsy Sufferers

            Only just over one third (36.9%) those with epilepsy are currently working, while many suffer discrimination, including under-employment, compared to their qualifications. Employers often seem wary of employing epilepsy suffers.  Epilepsy Scotland’s new campaign aims to increase epilepsy awareness at work and provide information.

for more information, go to https://www.epilepsyscotland.org.uk, for their Occupational Health Guide to workers’ rights and advice for employers.

Short term Housing Lets:

            Following a consultation with industry bodies and the public, Edinburgh Council is asking councillors to approve its plans to designate the city a short-term let control area. If approved at the planning committee on February 23rd, the council will ask the Scottish government to implement the proposal.

Social Enterprise

            Greater Good Glass has been established by Joe Myles and Dougie Smith as an ethical alternative to traditional window companies.  It will use the profits from Myles’ woodwork business, which he has until now been using to provide woodworking services voluntarily to small businesses and charities, to extend a similar service to glass fitting. They do not bring contracts for signing on the first visit, only assessing what is required, and emailing their terms. They do not advertise except by word of mouth, and if they get more work than the two of them can handle, they will employ others who will have to sign up to an ethical code but who will be paid more.

Women and Trans Issues:

            Twenty LGBT organisations have called on the UN to revoke the status of Britain’s Equality and Human Rights Commission for standing up for women’s rights in Scotland’s and their stance on trans ‘conversion therapy’ in England and Wales.  Loss of status would mean the EHRC could not participate in the UN Human Rights Council.

            It is reported the EHRC is planning guidance recommending blocking the 99% of trans people without a Gender Recognition Certificate (GRC) from accessing single-sex spaces.  Trans lobbying groups are angry, but don’t address women’s concerns about safeguarding, vulnerability, fairness, equality and safety in sport.

Women omitted from an event honouring women

A plaque commemorating the 50th anniversary of the first women’s football match between Scotland and England was presented to Greenock Juniors FC chairman Tommy Sutherland, without any women present.  The SFA who organised it could not explain the lack of female representation.    SNP MSP Stuart McMillan and Inverclyde councillor Tommy McVey, both present, apparently had no comment on the matter.

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

Beware of falling birds

            Welsh motorists were stunned to see 200 starlings fall dead from the sky in Pembrokeshire last week.  One wildlife expert thinks they were startled by something, became disorientated, then also flew into something.  Witnesses reported a flash in the sky an hour earlier and later a loud electrical-type bang (not a bird scarer).  Then the birds just fell from the sky. 

            The Animal and Plant Health Agency and RSPB are investigating.  

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