Friday, 25 February 2011


John O'Groat Journal

25 February 2011

After being trailed several times as the threatened cuts to education services in the Far North the blockbuster closures have been fleshed out now by the LibDem-led Highland Council administration. Their wish to close and amalgamate primary schools is a council-wide priority but one that starts far from Inverness.  But I believe that its ‘review’ of schools in Caithness must take as a first principle the pupils' educational needs not cost-cutting. Why is it that only in tough times do school closures loom?
I am working with my council colleagues from all over the Highlands to make it clear to the LibDem, Labour and Independent administration once again that the SNP will be watching them to ensure that they follow Scottish Government policy regarding rural schools and curriculum delivery. This wish-list of school closures would decimate rural Caithness and some town primaries too. It is to be considered by Councillors for the first time after the May Scottish election.
I also think it is vitally important to update you on the SNP position on the administration’s proposal to ‘cease provision of Classroom Assistants in the Primary Sector’. In case you did not know, on the eve of the full Council meeting of just over a fortnight ago, the Lib Dem led administration, without any reference to the opposition, advised the media that they had abandoned their proposal to dispense with the valuable services of three hundred and forty-four classroom assistants.
Whilst many families and employees of the Council took some comfort from this media coverage it is the SNP’s view that this summary was a cruel deception.

The very clear position of the administration is that they remain committed to making the saving identified in respect of classroom assistants and LibDem Councillors Foxley and Alston are both on record as advising that ‘there will be job losses in the Primary sector’.

At the full Council Meeting, the SNP Group proposed the retention of all 344 posts. It proposed funding this from the Council’s £12.957million reserves which, in turn, would be replenished, on an ongoing basis, from savings on energy resulting from the roll-out of the new IT equipment.  

Those savings were reported to the Climate Change Working Group on 3rd February 2011 as being £900,000 and despite some scepticism by the administration about ‘locating the savings’, the Resources Committee on 16th February heard confirmation that savings would be made in this coming financial year.   

It is a source of real disappointment that, for overtly party political reasons the administration was completely unwilling to consider our proposal, which would have saved all 344 posts, and moved their decision to shed posts in the Primary sector until after the Scottish Parliamentary election in May.

The SNP Highland Council Group recognises the need to continually review what the Council does. However, it remains totally opposed to any loss of classroom assistants, a stance with which I totally agree. These assistants have proved great support for teachers in making the Curriculum for Excellence a reality. We do not and will not support the pre-determined ‘review’, of the Highland Council administration, the stated outcome of which will be ‘job losses’.

Increasingly I conclude that there is far too little dialogue in detail as to the Council’s budget costs and cash requirements with the council tax payers in order to keep services in place. I think at all ward meeting the public, not just teachers, need to see how the Council’s cash is spent. Let your local councillors know if you want more details!

My travels took me as far afield as Ullapool, Kirkwall and Thurso last week. That’s why good public transport is close to my heart. Also the Caithness Transport Forum is meeting today [Friday 25th] to review the latest prospects after a hard winter has ripped up our roads and delayed trains and ferries.

The cost of running Northlink and Calmac has been budgeted for by John Swinney and was passed by Holyrood. This will increase from £77.8 million in 2010-11 to £94.4 million in 2011-12. The sharp increase is to be mainly explained by the soaring price of fuel oil which Scotrail’s diesel trains experience as do the bus services. So these shocks are added to the pumps hikes for private motorists after the $100 barrel of Brent crude was passed and VAT increases from 17 ½ % to 20% in January by the London coalition.

At the weekend I became aware of a price hike for bitumen, another oil based product that is the ingredient of our road resurfacing. £80 a tonne is the price for bitumen today for a major local contractor and he is likely to see another rise of 33% next month, just when proper road repairs can begin after the severest frosts pass. We more than ever need the fuel regulator and cap on fuel and oil products in the rural as well as island parts of my vast region. When will Westminster wake up?

Readers will recall what a problem Stagecoach has been on the long distance service to Inverness. I’m getting far too many complaints about insensitive timetable changes from constituents as far afield as Thurso to Evanton and over to Ullapool. When community representatives speak out – as you have to – remind the Inverness manager that Stagecoach receives a hefty subsidy for carrying bus pass holders.

They had better come clean about their commitment to the less profitable routes. It’s not an issue that will go away. However, the bus users of Rosemarkie got a timetabling decision reversed in the favour of their community. It should give heart to all in the North to keep up the pressure to get passenger friendly treatment from such a publicly subsidised bus company.

Thursday, 10 February 2011


John O'Groat Journal

10 February 2011

I’m sure, readers, that you will be cheered by the latest police statistics. Under this SNP Government recorded crime has fallen to a 32-year low and fire deaths have continued to fall over the long term.

In order to maintain these successes in the face of unprecedented budget cuts, reform is now necessary. However, even without the financial pressures, we would still be looking at structural reform. The current set-up for police and fire boards dates back to the 1970s, and needs to be reviewed for the 21st century. Maintaining the status quo is not an option.

The current configuration of eight police and fire boards dates back to the 1970s. They align with the old regional councils, which were abolished in 1996 and as such have no relevance to the current setup. Indeed the Northern Joint Police and Fire Boards take in four of these council areas.

Lib Dem politicians seem attached to Northern Constabulary. That’s no protection for a local service or making the police accountable. The key to locally accountable policing needs a whole new approach. Yet LibDems have made it clear what they are against change. Why not ensure that all councillors keep an eye on the local police area commanders and their staff? So far LibDem spokespeople refuse to say what they are for. Typical!

Labour’s claim that “where they lead, the SNP follow” is somewhat undermined by the drip-drip of Labour politicians appearing in the press to condemn Iain Gray’s support for a single police force. Meanwhile every councillor could grill the police, not just the one in eight who are appointed to police boards and travel the Highlands and Islands rather a lot.

The Scottish Government and most stakeholders including the Police Federation and Fire Brigade Union within the fire and rescue service have reached a consensus that eight services are not sustainable over the longer term. The Ministerial Advisory Group recommended change to the SNP Government which believes there are significant arguments for a single service, but the SNP will continue to consider all options that can demonstrate long term sustainability.

Significant arguments have been made for a single police service, as recognised
by many others across the political parties. However, we want to consult the people
of Scotland. The Cabinet Secretary, Kenny MacAskill wants to widen the debate and that everyone should have their say. Unlike the Lib Dems, the SNP are determined to put bobbies before boundaries.

Our priority is frontline policing and we continue to meet our one thousand extra officers pledge with 17,371 police officers in Scotland. At 30 September 2010 there were 1,137 more police officers in Scotland than at March 2007. Talk of cuts in police staff numbers and compulsory redundancies are based on speculative estimates of possible funding cuts, put together before the SNP published the current budget for 2011/12 with a settlement of 2.6% reduction in police funding.

There will have to be new ways for the police to investigate misdemeanours so that the process is nationally acceptable. But it could mean that we get a major part of the police structure run from somewhere in the highland area – not necessarily Inverness.

The consultation launched this week presents a range of options for both the fire and police services. These include eight services but with enhanced collaboration; a regional structure with fewer boards; and a single service.

Hard times for public services must not be allowed to overshadow good news. A huge milestone was reached last week with the granting of full status for the University of the Highlands and Islands. I know it is born into difficult circumstance but it can underpin jobs, ideas, careers, young returners to the North and international student intakes to many of its courses.

Thanks are due to the tenacity of many campaigners from the 1930s onwards. However two men in particular set the wheels in motion in 1986. SNP councillor Sandy Lindsay retired from the Aviemore ward and he encouraged his successor Dr Iain Glen to put the creation of a Highland University in his manifesto.

On his election he called for and joined a committee with other councillors including the late Sandy Russell of Kingussie and Cllr Val MacIver of Evanton and others which led to a pact with the Highlands and Islands Development Board. In 1987 the Regional Council and HIDB each pledged £100,000 to kick start the university campaign.

I know it took twenty-five years to arrive at full status but my involvement with the North Highland College and particularly its Environmental Research Institute at Thurso and the Dornoch campus with its Burghfield Hotel School are ground breaking. They deserve a place in the confident future of this collegiate university with campuses scattered from Shetland to Perth.

The most recent fatalities near Castletown were on my mind at the beginning of the TICC committee short enquiry into road safety and young drivers than began this week.

A key witness, Professor Frank McKenna of Reading University, said many campaigns aimed at making young drivers safer were not effective, and could even be counter-productive to their original aim. I asked him about the use of road safety education to influence teenage drivers.

He said: "I think, sadly, the evidence for a great deal of road safety interventions is nil. I think there are all sorts of reasons for that. Road safety is full of well-motivated interventions that are not based on either solid evidence or formal theory.

"When they are assessed often, they have no effects and sometimes they have counter-productive effects."

Prof McKenna said despite enthusiasm for such campaigns among politicians and those who deliver them, they are often not evaluated, and when they are, they are "not effective".

Measures such as increased supervised experience for young drivers and graduated licensing, where the new driver is gradually exposed to more risks, such as night-time driving, had been shown to work. A report will be delivered to Parliament before dissolution in March.

Tuesday, 25 January 2011

Tackling soaring fuel prices

As a Highland MSP I have pledged to bring together Albyn Housing,Scottish and Southern Energy and residents to seek solutions to mountains of debt from electricity bills in so-called affordable homes in Strathpeffer.

Following local press coverage lst weekend I visited residents in Ulladale Crescent, Strathpeffer while campaigning in the village.

I was shocked to read then hear first hand of the debt mountain the heating systems have led to.

I aim to help residents reduce huge bills they pay in houses that are only a few years old.

Rob visits residents in Ulladale Crescent

It is clear to me that a breakdown in communications exists between residents, Albyn housing and the power utility SSE that needs to be mended.

Despite few residents wishing to speak out, there are too many people suffering winter fuel bills that would heat up the sky. Meanwhile they are getting themselves into an electricity and rent debt spiral.

I am trying to set up a round table discussion with all parties. There are residents in many streets in the north and all over Scotland in fuel poverty who need this help. This is happening in the most energy-rich nation in Europe but scots are not yet in control of the revenues. I will focus on Ulladale Crescent, Strathpeffer to try to help but I am seeking information from others in a similar heating bill plight. I hope they will contact me with their stories.

Friday, 14 January 2011

Independence and delivering on promises

A week-long independence referendum promises days of hope in this New Year for the people of South Sudan. They are likely to vote strongly in favour of breaking from the Khartoum-based regime. It is mainly peaceful and joyful. Good luck to them and every support will be needed to end years of neglect and harassment. However they are far from resource poor. Major oil concessions have delayed the change but can fuel their recovery.

Hopefully other examples of newly independent states such as Montenegro can get positive recognition by Scots i.e. when you ignore the sour comments of Labour’s Scottish Parliament leader Iain Gray. In the Far North of Scotland we can see even with the bank crisis that Iceland, Faroes and of course Norway are contenders for sustainable nations with large lists of resources to sustain their future.

This news suggests Scots need to think hard about our future and heed the stark choices that the Scottish Parliament election offers on May 5th.

I glanced this week at reports in The Economist publication, The World in 2011, that per capita income at purchasing power parity (PPP) in each of Austria, Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland and even what it considers to be the much maligned Republic of Ireland is higher than each of France, Germany, Italy, Spain and the United Kingdom. In Norway’s case PPP is 64% higher than in the UK; recognises that the population of each of the more prosperous nations ranges from 4.1 to 9.5 million and that medium-sized nations such as Belgium and the Netherlands and tiny countries such as Iceland, Liechtenstein and Luxembourg all have PPP higher than the five larger nations, each of which has 46 to 83 million inhabitants.

Therefore there is no reason to believe that an independent, resource-rich Scotland could not be as prosperous as so many of our small European neighbours that enjoy less child and pensioner poverty, lower crime levels and better quality of life than in the UK. Unionist politicians must stop decrying other nations and questioning the ability of Scots to successfully run an independent Scotland better than it is run from London.


Like many of you I had to fill up with diesel for my car after New Year. What a rip off the VAT hike and petrol prices have become. Costs to us in the North are far higher due to VAT and delivery charges soaring far from the refineries.

When in opposition down south Tory and Lib Dem parties promised to cut soaring fuel prices. At that time the SNP vowed to make the need for a Fuel Duty Regulator and bring down the cost at the pumps. The Coalition in London have stalled, so petrol, diesel and heating fuel costs have to become key Holyrood election issues.

If fuel taxes were cut by 10p per litre in Scotland that would only cost about half of the estimated £1 billion in extra revenue the Treasury is set to rake in as a result of rising oil prices.

I am finding that this is a huge issue on the doorstep and the forecourts. It is a key illustration of why we need to build up Scotland’s Parliament, and equip it with the full powers of financial responsibility.

A Fuel Duty Regulator – which the Tories supported before the election – would bring duty down when oil prices go up. Cutting fuel by 10p per litre in Scotland would only cost about half of the estimated £1 billion in extra revenue the Treasury is set to rake in as a result of rising oil prices.

It’s a national scandal that in Europe’s oil-richest country, Scots are paying among the highest fuel prices.


Isn’t it good news that the Highlands and Islands could soon have its own university after the UHI Millennium Institute [UHI] cleared a major hurdle to achieving its aim of becoming the University of the Highlands and Islands?

Following a Board meeting shortly before Christmas, the Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education (QAA) formally advised the Scottish Government that it has assessed UHI as fully meeting the quality and standards that university title carries with it.

The Scottish Government held a public consultation earlier in 2010 after UHI’s initial application to the Privy Council last May. The results of that consultation are now being considered by Ministers who will make a recommendation before the final decision is made by the Privy Council early this year.

That would mean the streamlining of funding and administration and the concerns about adequate resources for North Highland College and all the other partners could be placed on a stronger footing.

The great news that the internationally-renowned Environmental Research Institute is set to move into its new high-tech hub on the Thurso college campus is part of a steady improvement in education provision and incidentally like other public investment keep construction industry jobs going in Caithness.

The backing of the Scottish Government for higher and further education is out to consultation. Realistic sums have to be raised to back quality. I hope many of you who want your children to get the best third stage education possible will take part.


The SNP has confirmed that a continued council tax freeze into 2012/13 will be one of the party’s central manifesto pledges at the Holyrood election as First Minister Alex Salmond is set to write to a million Scottish households outlining plans to protect household budgets in these tough times - and detailing the very real costs to families of Labour's plans to increase council tax.

Alex Salmond’s letter will underline the real difference between the SNP and Labour. The message is powerful and compelling, the only way to continue the council tax freeze is to vote SNP.

Friday, 31 December 2010

Looking back over 2010

John O'Groat Journal

31 December 2010

2010 came in with a wintry blast and it is going out with more snow and ice warnings in the coldest December we’ve seen in decades. Our public services and neighbourly behaviour in the North is coping as ever but we don’t have transport systems that can really cope at below 10 degrees Celsius. Deep snow drifts and salt that doesn’t work at minus 15 requires a rethink along Scandinavian lines. On Holyrood’s Transport Infrastructure and Climate Change Committee I have asked for urgent reviews as a key legacy paper for our Parliament’s new team. We close this session in late March before the May election. Meanwhile my advice is - we'll keep our heads as long as we can keep our feet!

Some extra challenges have been set us. After years of Labour hostility to Scotland experienced by us from Chancellor and then PM Gordon Brown it was followed by the LibDem and Tory Coalition Government elected to Westminster last May which promised to show Scotland respect but also to balance the books.

Respect came in very strange forms. The proposed Scotland Bill could potentially cut the Scottish budget even more than the cuts we suffer this year unless the Scots Parliament Unionist majority wakes up. A specialist committee in Holyrood is led by the Calman creator, Wendy Alexander MSP. The key question is - will Scotland be allowed to invest in our abundant assets if we are to have so few borrowing powers in three or four years time? Meanwhile how are we to fill the gap in funding the renewables industry that is straining at the leash when the Fossil Fuel Levy was denied us?

Meanwhile Westminster cuts could see Stornoway and Shetland coastguards go the way of many previously cut from the Pentland Firth area. Rescue tugs including the Stornoway based ‘Anglian Prince’ is under threat. It was funded by Westminster after learning the lessons of the Braer tanker disaster off Shetland in the 90s. With the Nimrods gone from RAF Kinloss our sea areas are being exposed to greater dangers when oil, marine renewables are in full swing and fishing is still very important here. We also know that the north-west and north-east passages round Canada and Russia will soon be ice free long enough for Arctic voyages by our merchant fleets. Why should north Scotland be so ill equipped to benefit, by remote London diktat?

A hesitant end to recession and the long list of job losses in construction don't make a happy tale this year. However a rise in manufacturing is beginning to get Scotland moving. We hope that the success of Global at Invergordon and worldwide can be added to by the frustrating end to the Nigg yard stalemate.

We can also see with our own eyes that packages of cash are building up for the Scrabster harbour project with the allocation of wave and tidal leases making new demands on harbours. Nothing should be done to undermine delicate and ongoing negotiations.

That’s why the Fossil Fuel Levy denied to the Scots Government by the London Coalition is such a miss. I attended the Green Energy Awards earlier this month in Edinburgh. What a breath of youthful vigour and grit for our economy. From Scottish Government to local developers, from offshore wind farm lessees to skilled workers working in oil and gas abroad who want to come home, it's a big hope that 2011 will see the breakthrough a healthy Scots economy requires.

At Scottish level the SNP Government received deep cuts in funds from the London Tories and LibDems like Treasury Secretary Danny Alexander have cut government spending with an unwelcome passion. Student fees as in England will rocket and a Scottish solution will not bring in tuition fees like English universities. Benefit cuts hit the poorest. The privatisation of the Royal Mail threatens small post offices and the universal service obligation are hanging by a thread. My colleagues in Westminster join other MPs to demand that the London Department of Work and Pensions keep its contract to pay benefits and pensions through the trusted local post offices.

Throughout the year the Scottish Government has continued the Council Tax freeze, maintained the small business bonus and scrapped prescription charges to aid families and businesses.

A couple of sporting high spots included the impressive run of Wick Academy in the Highland League and the story of Ross County's Scottish football cup run to the final at Hampden Park. Local pride was only dented at the last moment but the dream of a wee team getting in about the big boys is the stuff of legends and a friendly confirmation that football is best when rooted in communities that care. In Caithness the start of the Halkirk sports and countryside complex is a most welcome initiative in the same community vein.

2010 saw not just the first and very successful Caithness National Mod but a vast leap in self-belief in our native music and languages which the SNP Government has backed to the hilt. The census in March 2011 will include a question on Scots, to which Caithness dialect speakers can place their ticks.

The North Highland Initiative set up by the Duke of Rothesay five years ago hopes to create more jobs. Our local food producers are well served by its expansion. I hosted the awards to the Young Highland Chef of the Year in the Burghfield House Hotel School Dornoch. Back then in autumn we could see the promise of local talent judged the cream by Albert Roux and his team of top chefs. In my village Evanton the local staff of the Coop Foodstore showed that Highland pride could beat 3,000 other stores for customer service across the UK. It was the year of food and drink and our part of Scotland played a big part.

Let's spare a thought for our troops who are at war in Afghanistan and hope for their safe return as soon as possible. And to all of you I hope you are having a Happy Christmas and will enjoy a healthy, peaceful and prosperous New Year. In 2011 together we can make Scotland better.

Tuesday, 21 December 2010


From Rob Gibson SNP MSP highlands and Islands
It came in with a blast of winter and its going out with another whiteout. Our public services and neighbourly behaviour in the North can cope. We'll keep our heads as long as we can keep our feet!

The hesitant end to recession and the long list of job losses in construction don't make a happy tale. However a rise in manufacturing is beginning to get Scotland moving. We hope that the success of Global at Invergordon and worldwide can be added to by the frustrating end to the Nigg yard stalemate. From Scottish Government to local developers, from offshore wind farm lessees to skilled workers working in oil and gas who want to come home it's a big hope that 2011 will see the breakthrough.

At Scottish level the SNP Government received deep cuts in funds by the London coalition of Tories and LibDems who have attacked government spending with an unwelcome passion. Student fees in England, benefit cuts that hit the poorest, the privatisation of the Royal Mail, a paltry Scotland bill that is more set to keep Holyrood accountable than to give the Scots Parliament the powers to invest in our huge natural assets.

Throughout the year the Scottish Government has continued the Council Ta freeze, maintained the small business bonus and scrapped prescription charges to aid families.

Other high spots included Ross-shire and Scotland warming to the story of County's Scottish football cup run up to the final at Hampden Park. Local pride was only dented at the last moment but the dream of a wee team getting in about the big boys is the stuff of legends and a friendly confirmation that football is best when rooted in a community that cares.

 2011 to see not just the 25th anniversary celebrated by our home grown Feis Rois but a vast leap in self-belief in our native music and languages which the SNP Government has backed to the hilt. Also in my village home the local staff of the Coop Foodstore Evanton showed that Highland pride could beat 3,000 other stores for customer service across the UK.

Let's spare a thought for our troops who are having to wage war in Afghanistan and hope for their safe return will be as soon as possible. And to all of you have a Happy Christmas and a healthy, peaceful and prosperous New Year.

Rob Gibson SNP MSP for Highlands and Islands

Friday, 17 December 2010

Severe Weather

Severe weather, deep snow, ice, disrupted roads, rail cancellations, schools closed, concerns for the old and infirm. In the North and North East of Scotland they happen nearly every year and occasionally more than once a year.

Mostly we can cope, however we do wish to know that the Council, Stagecoach, Scotrail and Bear are keeping as closely to their contracts as we can expect. So the unexpectedly high snow dump on thirty miles round central Scotland may have a useful outcome.

When I last wrote to you a fortnight ago I listed four events I’d hope to reach that weekend. Two were cancelled due to the dangers posed for people trying to travel. So a visit to Kirkcudbright will have to wait. As for Perth, I did get there in the evening for the Scots Trad Music Awards along with many others but the SNP’s quarterly National Council earlier in the day had to be abandoned. Things did improve markedly during the day to allow bus and rail travel to return to approximately normal.

Notwithstanding our individual calculations as to what was possible, the central belt snows led to the resignation of Transport and Climate Change minister Stewart Stevenson for his unfortunate presentation on TV. Forget decency and hard work. Forget a winter resilience report published last September that lists lessons from last winter’s excesses. Forget the world-renowned Climate Change legislation. On screen Stewart misused the phrase ‘first class response’ and questioned the accuracy of the weather forecast. Unreal.

Keith Brown MSP for Ochil, whose family have Brora connections, takes over the Transport berth. And another report will be gathered on lessons to learn whilst making doubly sure existing communications between agencies and the public are tip top.

As a member of the Transport Infrastructure and Climate Change Committee I am asking a number of key questions. Does it take an impending election for opposition leaders to take an interest in severe weather when it hit Central Scotland? What would make them interested in the much more frequent weather issues in north and north east Scotland? And is it because of our Green Party committee convener has an anti- road transport agenda that he did not make a committee spot to debate the Winter Report from last year. It was published last August, after all.

I welcome the Scottish Government commitment for the next year to preserve the number of core college and university student places. The SNP will also protect the main research excellence grant budget in cash terms. Despite deep cuts ushered in by London Tory/LibDem coalition, no existing student in Scotland will see grants decrease in the next academic year.

Meanwhile in England universities and students see deep cuts and soaring tuition fees. We saw that seven Scots LibDems backed the Tories, while Far North member Viscount Thurso abstained from supporting Nick Clegg’s backing for the tuition tax.

Tripling of fees will have serious consequences for higher education north and south of the border. Scottish students studying in England will be saddled with mammoth debts and there will be a knock on effect for Scottish spending as Barnett consequentials are cut.

Again Labour in London certainly can't protect Scotland - only the SNP in Scotland can do it: if we have the powers. People in Scotland will have an early opportunity to pass judgment on the LibDems at the elections next year and this betrayal will haunt them at Holyrood.

The Tories introduced loans, Labour brought in fees and the LibDems have now helped the Tories increase them. Only the SNP is left as the party for students in Scotland offering them the opportunity to be part of something better.

The Scottish Government has published a Green Paper on Thursday December 16, 2010 on finding a uniquely Scottish Solution to sustainable funding of higher education. This will allow a wide and mature debate in which all sensible ideas will be considered apart from one - tuition fees.

I was appalled last weekend to hear a commentator on London TV say that the Scottish Government had cut student and university support. Far from it, the Scottish Funding Council is carrying out a Scottish policy to maintain free education at colleges and universities here. It is part of the Scottish intent to grow our economy and build sustainable jobs and communities.


Contrary to opposition taunts in Holyrood, a TNS opinion poll shows a surge in support for Scottish independence.

The poll shows a record 40% of Scots want to see the Scottish Parliament have the powers of independence. The TNS poll conducted over St Andrews Day shows 40% support the Scottish Parliament having the powers and responsibilities to enable independence, with only 44% opposed.

The TNS poll follows findings by the Scottish Social Attitudes Survey which shows that support for Scottish independence rises to almost half (45 per cent) if taxes were to go down by £500 – with 62 per cent also saying that the Scottish Parliament should take the most important decisions about welfare benefits, while 57 per cent say thesame about taxes.

The Holyrood scrutiny of the Scotland Bill published by the UK Government is a huge opportunity for Scotland to gain the financial responsibility it needs to prosper – but as currently drafted it falls far short of what is needed.

This poll shows that people across Scotland see the need for this country to gain the powers other countries take for granted, so we can compete on a level playing field, attract business, grow the economy and create a wealthier nation – the only alternative to the savage Westminster cuts agenda.

Friday, 10 December 2010

Energy, traditional music and the Scotland Bill

Amidst the snowdrifts and black ice the beating heart of Scotland was on display last weekend. I was privileged to attend the Green Energy Awards and the Scottish Trad Music Awards - two vibrant strands of Scottish life in rude health.

There were eighty-eight tables at the Edinburgh International Conference Centre last Thursday night, although some two hundred guests called off due to weather. This display of a young and thrusting industry has huge import for us. Many have a Highland interest. Among the award winners of the Best New Business was SeaEnergy Renewables which not only pioneered the Beatrice demonstrator turbines in the Moray Firth but also have made strategic partnerships in Taiwan. Their local partners will deliver the Moray Firth offshore wind farm in the next ten years.

In passing I must applaud the first issue of Energy North a supplement published by Scottish Provincial Press. If proof were needed on and offshore renewables will provide skilled jobs at all levels in our Highland future.

For me the annual celebration of Scotland’s rich musical traditions is a must see event. This year Perth was the host and for the third year BBC Alba screened the edited highlights. The riches of local talent were on display and won awards. Our own Julie Fowlis won album of the year for Uam. Matheu Watson from the Heights of Strathpeffer won up and coming artist of the year and Eilidh MacKenzie, Gaelic singer of the year. I could list so many from the north who won. But let’s celebrate the key role of the Feisean movement as acknowledged by many of these winners. Our own Feis Rois has been pivotal over the decades in delivery a carrying stream of talent to the wider Scottish river of sound.

Announcements by the Minister for Culture, Fiona Hyslop MSP have underlined the support of the SNP Government for parity of esteem of our traditional music alongside other art forms. She found cash for the Youth Music Initiative to continue till 2012. This employs many tutors of traditional music based here. Also the new website of 130 traditional Scots and Gaelic songs for use by teachers and student in the Curriculum for Excellence has been unveiled. And Fiona announced in Perth a sum of £250,000 for Creative Scotland to develop its support for traditional music in its overall scheme of development.

These are testament to a Government that values the traditions of Scotland that are both a source of pride and identity and create many jobs in far flung parts of the land, not least in Ross-shire.


This week in Holyrood we have debated the new Scotland Bill proposed by the LibDem and Tory London Government. The dominant issue is cuts ordered by London government that most Scots think are too far, too fast, yet we have no immediate way to change our lot. But there is another way. We can have home rule instead of LibDem/Tory rule.

A stronger Scottish Parliament won’t magic away the cuts but it can make them more manageable. With more powers we could help our economy grow and protect the things that matter.

With full independence we can go further still, creating jobs and prosperity here in Scotland. The SNP trusts the Scottish people to decide the right path for our nation. That’s why we want a referendum on independence. Instead we are offered a referendum next May on a voting system that isn’t more democratic.

Our families and our future together with independence can make Scotland much better. Now that would be something to sing about, even in the snow!

Thursday, 9 December 2010

Article for Independence 5 by Highlands and Islands MSP Rob Gibson

As a candidate and MSP you can get into some campaigns that po-faced journalists love to ridicule. Back in 2002 I worked with a volunteer at the Strathnaver Museum to show that JRR Tolkien had pictured the Lonely Mountain and Middle Earth in NW Sutherland.

History shows that New Zealand got the honours, the work and the tourists when the Lord of the Rings trilogy became blockbusters. However, nothing daunted this summer’s labour relations and cash issues clouded the setting for the new Hobbit movie in NZ. For a while.

Reports that the filming might be moved because of contractual disputes led me to relaunch my bid for Sutherland as a good place to film Middle Earth. According to legend the writer of the Hobbit had actually visited the area. JRR Tolkien is said to have visited Sutherland despite denying he had ever been further north in Scotland than Dundee. Perhaps he should have been asked how far north west he travelled.

My informant said that Tolkien’s name was written in a guest book in the Duke of Westminster’s hunting lodge at Achfary but proof has not been forthcoming. Nevertheless NW Sutherland would be an excellent location for filming the Hobbit. The spectacular lochs like Loch Stack and mountains like Arkle and Foinaven lend themselves to the story.

Indeed Ben Stack, pictured, bears an uncanny resemblance to the Lonely Mountain in the Tolkien book. And Celtic and Norse mythology referred to the areas around nearby Strathnaver as the Middle land. Sutherland and Scotland deserve to be the home of the Hobbit where the scenery matches the grandeur of the book and also would undoubtedly boost tourism and the film industry in Scotland.


Another early set of questions in Parliament got me stick. I questioned the light pollution from badly designed and unnecessary street lamps in Shetland. What a waste of money answering such a fancy railed one Sunday paper. Yet climate change debates view all this in a new light, so to speak.

This year the London-inspired cuts loom for our councils which propose to switch off every second street lamp. Why is inappropriate street lighting de rigueur for remote villages as well as city centres? Because it’s another asinine power reserved by law to Westminster! All over Brittany which I often visit and no doubt much wider, they switch the lights off at midnight in the villages.


However, the most persistent nonsense we north members are called to answer is the southern English obsession with synchronising their clocks, in winter, with continental time, whether we in Scotland like it or not. With shorter hours of light the further north you go nothing can alter going to school or work in the dark, or in the depths of winter lightening the return journey in the evening.

So avoiding the obvious attempts by hacks to make a Scotland v England rematch I responded to the latest Tory private member’s bill in Westminster. If they are so keen to change the clocks, as the Daily Mail reported I said, they should get up an hour earlier and see the light.

Friday, 3 December 2010

Budget, Scotland Act and Winter Arrives

John O'Groat Journal Column 3rd December 2010

Last week a new IPSOS MORI poll gave overwhelming backing to key SNP policies set out in the SNP Government’s budget including freezing the council tax, supporting the NHS, abolishing prescription charges and freezing pay for those earning over £21,000 as the party maintained its polling position from before the 2007 election.

The poll conducted immediately after the budget also gave positive approval rating for Alex Salmond, the only leader to reach over 50% is over three times that for Iain Gray and more than double all the opposition leaders combined with Lib Dem leader Tavish Scott receiving a negative rating of -4 as the party continues to do the Tories dirty work in Scotland.

On the back of a tough budget caused by Tory/Lib Dem Westminster cuts, Alex Salmond’s leadership ratings are rising to near record levels, and our core policies of a Council Tax freeze as part of our social contract with the people to sustain measures such as pay restraint, support for front line services and economic recovery receive overwhelming backing.

The SNP is delivering popular measures of substance, while Labour has no coherent stance on either the Council Tax freeze or pay freeze. Three-and-a-half years into office SNP support is at the same high levels as when we won in 2007 – which is a remarkable achievement for any administration. Support rises for governments in the run-up to an election, and as Labour come under increased scrutiny their inexperience and inconsistency will be exposed as they seek to push up taxes for every Scottish household and back LibDem/ Tory tax plans that will slash Scotland’s budget.


On St Andrew’s Day this year the LibDem and Tory Coalition Government published the

Scotland Bill which is set to devolve a few more powers to the Scottish Parliament the most important being greater tax varying powers by 2015. Significantly already we know that the important Aggregates Tax and Airline tax won’t be part of it.

Signatories to a letter from concerned business leaders and economists were also published and it shows a wider Scotland wants greater debate about the bill that will only focus on the recommendations of the Calman Commission. When the bill goes through its stages in Westminster, the Commons and Lords must discuss and agree a greater level of fiscal responsibility for the Scottish Parliament.

The North is well represented on the distinguished list of signatories by Dan Macdonald property developer of Macdonald Estates and mining millionaire Dennis Macleod from Helmsdale.

They argue that the best way forward would be to devolve most current taxes to the Scottish Parliament since this would make politicians more accountable for the financial decisions they take, while giving them both the incentive and the fiscal tools necessary to achieve improved public services and faster economic growth.

Further, it would help to foster a healthy relationship between Westminster and Holyrood.

All of the main Scottish and UK parties agree that the Scottish Parliament should have greater financial powers. The debate is now about which powers should be devolved and when. We hope that the publication of this bill will lead to an open-minded discussion about what is in the best interests of Scotland and the UK as a whole.

The opportunity now exists to fashion a new, sustainable financial settlement to underpin the devolution settlement. We believe that ultimately the Scotland Bill should be measured by the economic levers and responsibility it transfers.

The political scientist Prof John Curtice of Strathclyde University made an important comment on the proposed Scotland bill. On BBC Newsnight Scotland on Monday evening he said, “The truth is – that bill that is published tomorrow – is in fact the true legacy of the Nationalist victory in 2007. The nationalists haven’t been able to get that referendum bill through, but their victory in 2007 forced the Labour Party in particular to re-think its attitude towards devolution, to work together with the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats to produce this proposal that the Coalition is now putting forward. So, the SNP will undoubtedly put out a lot of criticism about this, but the truth is, they are probably principally responsible for this proposal at least getting as far as the statute book.”

That suggests that unless a strong vote is made by people for the SNP no other party will make any meaningful change in Scotland’s government.


Much more urgently on most minds have been the deep freeze from the polar winds that have paralysed so many communities. My own week began on Monday digging out the car at home in Evanton. My first steps to get to Parliament to get to Inverness station. Train left slightly late and reached Perth on time, however, rail disruption further south left no driver and conductor available. Half an hour went by and a relief crew were ready.

Rob digging out the car on Monday Morning
In Edinburgh I trudged through the slush to the flat with the roller bag as I needed the contents later this week for the Green Energy Awards in Edinburgh on Thursday night. Two committee meetings some questions and a speech followed at Holyrood.

I am returning the favour to Dr Aileen McLeod’s whose adoption meeting takes place in Kirkcudbright on Friday. Aileen came to support me at my adoption as SNP candidate for Caithness, Sutherland and Ross in the middle of last month. On Saturday I’ve to get to Perth for the SNP quarterly national council meeting and then join friends at a table for the Scottish Traditional Music Awards which is also in town that evening.

But above all I have nothing but praise for the train and bus crews that keep us moving and the health workers and social work staff who tend the old and inform in such difficult weather conditions.

Friday, 19 November 2010

Missed Opportunities and Opposition Confusion on Tax

John O'Groat Journal Colum 19 November 2010

The SNP's flagship plan for a minimum price on alcohol was rejected by Labour LibDems and Tories at the Scottish Parliament. Commentators lashed the opposition and one usually hostile critic Angus MacLeod of The Times newspaper said Nicola Sturgeon’s speech was the best he had heard this year in Parliament.

Her amendment was rejected by 76 votes to 49 proposing the 45p per litre minimum pricing measure. What a sad day for Scotland when party politics took precedence over the very clear consensus among many public health bodies across the UK.

The measure had the support of the medical profession, including all four UK Chief Medical Officers, the BMA, the Royal Colleges of Nursing, Physicians, Surgeons and GPs, the Faculty of Public Health, the British Liver Trust, the Association of Chief Police Officers in Scotland, many publicans and retailers and the World Health Organisation – and there was clear evidence that it would have made a big difference to the huge problem of Scotland’s relationship with drink.

Despite this Unionist parties did not want to see the SNP Government get credit for dealing effectively with chronic alcohol misuse, which has been allowed to get worse while previous governments failed to act.

Previously the smoking ban was supported by all parties as it was a crucial intervention to massively improve health and wellbeing.

Labour and the others have failed to come up with any other proposal to effectively deal with the alcohol problem. They had no real grounds for rejecting minimum pricing – other than party politics.

Yet the cost of alcohol misuse to Scotland's economy and public services in £2.25 billion each year, with 3,000 deaths, 42,000 hospital stays and 110,000 GP visits directly linked to alcohol. At the same time, alcohol is 70% more affordable than in 1980 - and during the same period consumption has increased by around 20%.

The problem is so serious that doing nothing is not an option. They will have to explain to the electorate why they failed to support minimum pricing which had such wide and informed support behind it.


This week John Swinney, Cabinet Secretary for Finance and Sustainable Growth presented the most challenging budget he has yet had to present, indeed, it is the most challenging budget in the history of devolution.

No-one is under any illusions about the scale of the cuts imposed on us by the UK Government. Two-thirds are the legacy of the previous Labour administration, while the remaining third due to the Tory-Liberal Westminster Government which is cutting too far and too fast.

Their cuts agenda threatens a Scottish economic recovery which, between April and June this year, saw the strongest GDP growth of any major world economy bar Germany, largely driven by the construction sector. But Scotland’s recovery remains fragile.

Therefore, we want to do all in the power to safeguard that recovery, protecting jobs and household incomes across Scotland from the worst impact.

The scale of the challenge we face was made clear last month when Chancellor George Osborne announced his Comprehensive Spending Review, which cuts Scotland’s budget by £1.3 billion next year.

Hard choices are needed, but we can ensure cohesion within our communities by developing a “social contract” with the people of Scotland.

Council tax soared massively under both Labour and the Tories, which is why the SNP took the decision when we came to office in 2007 to freeze it across Scotland. Thanks to our partnership with local councils, that freeze has now been delivered for three years running. It has brought much-needed relief to households in every part of the country.

If that help with household bills was a welcome boost in better times, it has become absolutely essential in the current economic climate.

Labour leader Iain Gray thinks council tax bills should rise, just as people are dealing with pay restraint and rising household bills looming through a rise in VAT.

The SNP disagrees and wants to continue the council tax freeze for the next two years. Also scrapping prescription charges, will make the pay restraint that is necessary fairer and more acceptable which will enable us to protect employment, by maximising the resources available to invest in front line services and economic recovery.

Salaries account for approximately 55 per cent of Scottish Government revenue spending so pay restraint can save nearly £300 million in the budget, as a result protecting some 10,000 jobs in Scotland next year.

In return for an understanding that pay restraint is required, we can relieve pressure that people face with their household bills. Other measures such as reducing senior civil service costs and removing bonuses will also be needed.

Amid the tough choices which this week’s budget outlined, one thing above all is crystal clear, the financial damage inflicted on Scotland by the UK Government means that we literally cannot afford to cede economic control to Westminster. There is no point in having a pocket money parliament when the pocket money runs out.

And the next age of self-government must see Scotland take charge of its own future, with independence and financial responsibility. That way, with the economic powers other nations take for granted, we can take decisions in Scotland, for Scotland, and develop a growth strategy as the only alternative to a decade or more of Westminster-imposed cuts.


A bright spot last week was the annual Business in the Parliament conference. I invited Gary Reid of Thurso’s award winning bakers to be my guest. We agreed that the networking opportunities were excellent and the debate hugely valuable for businesses across Scotland.

Friday, 5 November 2010


Last Thursday the LibDems and their Tory allies were heavily defeated by the SNP, Labour and the Greens when they tried to tell the Scottish Government that it could have the £191 million Fossil Fuel Levy surplus to spend on immediate priorities for renewables development, such as harbour infrastructure.

We had been waiting for the Comprehensive Spending Review to find out how the London coalition was going to tackle this longstanding sore. Labour had prevaricated in office, giving hints before the Westminster election in May that they would make it available. This did not happen.

Over the summer the SNP Government was told by the Treasury that it was nigh on impossible to change their rules in order to release this small amount of money that was raised in Scotland and is urgently required for Scottish marine renewable development.

Instead the LibDem motion in Holyrood conveyed the London Government message that offered us a £250 million sub to the new Green Investment Bank, purely for Scottish use, you understand. But only after it is created in 2014.

Meanwhile the Scottish Government was urged to draw down the £191 million now and use it for harbour development etc. Just one snag, £191 million would be cut from our Scottish block grant next year – yes a 100% penalty! Yet the LibDem speakers told us that it was time the SNP Government started cooperating with London, and, implied we should do as we are told!

Right when we are suffering drastic cuts in our coffers they want us to cut even more. And this despite Chris Huhne, the Coalition Secretary for Energy and Climate Change, seeing with his own eyes the urgent need for cash on a visit to Caithness and the northern isles last month. As previously reported he re-announced a £2 million grant from the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority's regeneration fund for the Scrabster harbour development package.

SNP MSPs were furious with the LibDems. Even more so with John Thurso and Michael Moore staging a carefully choreographed question session in Westminster the day before our debate so as to show how keen the LibDems are to see renewable development.

As I said in the Holyrood debate, that was smoke and mirrors. Michael Moore pretends that he cares, but refuses to make Scotland's money available when it is urgently needed without a penalty of equal amount to the Scottish block grant. Tell that to the people of Caithness and the enterprising board of Scrabster Harbour Trust, which is trying to facilitate the renewables revolution in the very week the Inner Sound seabed lease was awarded to MeyGen who want to use Scrabster as a base.

There is zero respect for the Scottish Parliament in London and among Liberal Democrat MSPs a similar view. In reality, our efforts to promote renewables could set back by more than three years. What a record for five months of Liberal Democrats in the UK coalition.

No wonder that Stewart Stevenson, the Minister replying for the SNP Government rounded on the LibDems. He said,

“It is absolutely vital that the money is made available to Scotland immediately and in a way that is additional. It will enable us to start making investments in Liberal areas right across Scotland—Scrabster harbour, Orkney, Shetland and Kishorn. Liberal voters will be looking at the behaviour of their MSPs in denying them access to the money with some grave concern indeed.”

The debate about port developments to support marine renewables in Scotland has taken a new turn this week. HIE has to support the delivery of the Scrabster package as a matter of urgency.


You may now see how urgent and important was the First Minister’s Conference call in Perth three weeks ago that “The independence I seek is the independence to create jobs”. It is precisely that subject that the Economy, Energy and Tourism committee explored on its visit the Isle of Skye last Monday. As vice convener I was pleased to see our committee visit the Highlands again, for we came to Caithness on a fact finding visit on energy matter eighteen months ago.

Much comment has been made on the effectiveness of HIE to back the transformation of Caithness and many other mainland areas and islands outwith Inverness. I know that the SNP Government expects it to pull out the stops to deliver government policy, such as marine renewable development. That will be the litmus test for the Far North. HIE bosses will be heard in committee in January.


You know I have a soft spot for stopping climate change. Yes, it’s a large peat bog in the Flow Country. That’s been the subject of much comment on radio and papers this week. I led a member’s debate on Thursday evening to coincide with the IUCN UK Committee peatland enquiry held in Edinburgh University.

It means that large areas of peat bog if kept wet or rewetted can hold as much carbon dioxide and methane as can be saved from half of other sources of emissions in this country. Scotland has 80% of the UK’s peatlands and of the 175 peatland countries of the world the UK is in the top twenty.

No it isn’t sad compared to watching the X Factor on TV. There could be new jobs both for the Environmental Research Institute in Thurso to measure the health of the bogs and workers wielding spades and diggers to rewet the Flows to help the process.

It is hard to imagine us thinking of the Arctic prairies of the Flow country in this way twenty years ago. But today the world appreciates there worth. So should we all.

Friday, 29 October 2010


All the news from Westminster on forthcoming public service cuts must not be allowed to hide the positive option for Scotland. This was spelt out clearly at the recent SNP Conference in Perth in plain language by the First Minister and party leader Alex Salmond. He said

“Either Scotland stays in the Westminster straightjacket of low growth, public sector cutbacks and blighted futures or we take responsibility and deliver the better society we all want.” And he followed on, “The Independence I seek is the independence to create jobs.”

In Ross-shire there is no doubt that the SNP is setting the policy agenda as elsewhere ahead of this year’s Scottish budget and the 2011 Holyrood elections. A series of opinion poll questions show the SNP is hearing the views of the people of Scotland and responding to their priorities.

A YouGov poll carried out immediately after SNP conference shows that Labour and the LibDems are on the wrong side of the argument, with strong public support for SNP plans to freeze the council tax for two more years and to abolish prescription charges. Labour has failed to back both policies with Iain Gray specifically calling for council tax to increase. 59% of people back the SNP’s decision to extend the council tax freeze. Here in Highland the LibDem council leaders agree with Gray.

In addition, the SNP plans to extend the living wage and call for more financial powers to help grow Scotland’s economy. It’s the only alternative to a dismal decade of cuts from Labour, Lib Dem and Tory London governments. Support for the full powers of independence are increasing since the UK Election.

Over the coming weeks the SNP will continue to listen to the priorities the public share with us through our website. We will set out further details of the policies we will pursue in government now and at the election.


All the talk is that the LibDem and Conservative coalition in London expect private firms to take up the work the public sector has to cut. Huge loans required to stabilise the pound sterling after the crash of 2008 can be coped with better if we grow the number of jobs people had.

During the recess, at my own expense, I visited the huge complex of cooperative industries in the Spanish Basque Country around Mondragon. After 50 years development the workers are still the bosses. There are now two hundred and fifty-six coops in the group. They employ over 90,000 workers who have their own coop social security system, health service, university and bank. their turn over is 16,700 million Euros in 2008.

I defy anyone to say that there is only one solution to strengthening our local and national economy. However Mondragon is also based in Basque culture and language, it breeds local self-esteem. and now they have factories in China and Brazil to name but two outposts of their work.

It should be noted that Basque parliament has more economic powers than Scotland raising all its own taxes….

Can we learn from them? Surely so! Last week I noted Lord Thurso calling for competing firms to join together to free up and use Nigg to create new jobs. Remember that Scottish Government wants offshore renewables developed, yet Highland Council under the LibDems has baulked for eighteen months against compulsory purchase of Nigg. Another approach is needed, you say? Some of Lord Thurso’s councillor colleagues are in the competing firms, so I don’t see competing firms actually cooperating. You have to build that ethos from the start. If Highland Council has the guts, change can come.

An independent country like Norway with the rich resources Scotland also has would not have such fearful local ‘leaders’.

Saturday, 23 October 2010

I recently signed the VoteforSport Pledge agreeing to act as a Sporting Champion upon your election to the next Parliament.

In the elections on May 5th 2011 Scotland will elect the Government that will take Scotland up to and beyond what is arguably the most exciting time ever in Scottish sport, including the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow and the Ryder Cup at Gleneagles. This is Scotland's greatest chance to get it right, to deliver a lasting legacy from this excitement and to recognise that sport is not just an income generator and medal winner - it is a vehicle by which to improve and enhance our nation. Sport is Scotland's missing link.

Rob Gibson signs the VoteforSport pladge

Friday, 22 October 2010

Rob Gibson MSP addressesthe Munduz Mundu festival's supporting a language declaration

Be part of better... a Basque example

We should be feeling a bit more pride for our country following the fine medal tally and performance at the Commonwealth Games. Did you see the rapturous passing on of the baton from India to Scotland for the friendly games in Glasgow in 2014?

In Caithness I enjoyed the opening of the Mod and the wonderful procession of talented musicians and performers who came north to enhance our culture. We should all welcome expressions of our healthy cultural life. As I’ve said before they are the experiences that make life richer.

In between the Mod and leading a Highland Games and music party to the Basque Country I breathed in the positive air of the SNP conference in Perth. Be part of better was the campaign spelled out there.


Winter's is on its’ way at the end of the golden road of autumn biting winds of the arctic will begin to blow, brining a new season. At the start of this week the biting winds of budget cuts were announced, bringing with it a era of austerity, which will be as keenly felt and last longer than the impending winter.

Whilst we look to the North for the coming winter we can look to the South for cuts. As individuals are powerless to stop the onslaught of this winter the Scottish Government is powerless to stop the spread of cuts from Westminster. As it stands just now the Scottish Parliament does not have the financial powers which would allow a Scottish solution for a Scottish problem.

Unable to borrow or pull the financial levers which other countries in the world take for granted the Scottish Government is reliant of a block grant from the Westminster Government. So cuts to the block grant from the UK Government mean that the Scottish Government have to make the money go as far as it can. Given this week’s announcement it seems that cuts are greater than anticipated.

Not for the first time in history the Labour Party has left a legacy of debt and economic mismanagement on a grand scale. Not for the first time the Conservatives have come in wielding the axe with privatisation on their mind, however this time they are aided and abetted by the Liberal Democrats, who in the main seem to have forgotten their SDP roots in their embrace of power.

As we see this week these cuts are deep however they would have been under Labour too (witness Alasdair Darling declaring that if Labour won the election then he would implement cuts which were deeper and tougher than Thatcher).

The Conservatives are clearing up the debt left by Labour the only way they know, ruthless public sector slices and the vulnerable left to fend as best they can. The Lib Dems are contributing with zeal, Labour is trying to absolve itself of responsibility and the SNP Government has to make the best of it, without sufficient powers at its disposal to do things differently. Any Scottish Government would be in the same position regardless of colour.

The Scottish Parliament was set up to find Scottish solutions to Scottish problems. However at the moment neither the Parliament nor Government have those powers. It is like facing down a force 10 northerly on Dunnet Head in a t-shirt. That’s why the First Minister and SNP leader Alex Salmond told the SNP conference that ‘the independence I seek is the independence to create jobs’.


Readers, you should be in no doubt that Scotland faces stark choices next May. But so do many other peoples. Some have full powers over their futures. Others like the Basque provinces of Spain already have more powers to raise taxes than we do. I found out more about them when I supported the Scots Highland party whose games skills and music captured the hearts of thousands of Basque people of all ages. In Ordizia the Highland Games attracted four thousand spectators. In Burlada near Pamplona fifty thousand local people enjoyed the fund raising festival for their local Basque language school which is run on cooperative lines. The addition of Scots guests was highly popular.
Cllr Roy Peterson, School Head and
Rob Gibson MSP with Language Declaration

 I had the pleasure of contributing to a declaration that all those who wish to speak their own languages should be supported and encouraged. The Munduz Mundu festival goes from town to town each year. It helps some cultural or education purpose there. What a good idea.

What did the Scots contribute? At a civil society level, leaving politics to the side the Basque mood is to end memories of violent disagreement between Basque and Spanish ideas of government. It is civic and non-party call for change for the better.

Rob visited the Mondragon cooperatives seen around
their valley home in the heart of the Basque country
 After the festivals I fulfilled a dream of thirty years standing to visit Mondragon the home of the biggest Basque cooperative movement which started in 1956 as a way to educate some local young men and make work in the Spain of the Franco dictatorship that was down on all things Basque.

The local priest Jose Maria Arizmendiarrieta applied Catholic social doctrine to start cooperative working. Today it consists of two hundred and fifty six enterprises and foundations. They are committed to greater social wealth through customer satisfaction, job creation, technological and business development. This has embraced continuous improvement, promotion of education and respect for the environment. In 2009 92,000 work in its companies, and a total turnover of 16 million Euros. Factories in China and Brazil are but the latest ideas being developed.

I’ll tell you more of this in due course because it works. Would that we could find model of work that are resilient and release our potential? That’s what drives me to work for a consensus in the Far North to find the best ways for our skills to build not just jobs but a common belief we can do it.