Published: 10 November, 2006
John O'Groat Journal and Caithness Courier
IRAQ and Afghanistan overshadow yet another Remembrance Day as our troops cope with near-impossible tasks in hostile lands.
In past wars Scotland has given more than our fair share of service personnel who made the ultimate sacrifice. But the horrors of the Middle East are piling up civilian casualties on a par with those suffered in World War Two Russia.
I'm sure that those who gather to remember the fallen will spare a thought for citizens of countries in which Britain's leaders have meddled. Tony Blair's political epitaph will undoubtedly contain the word "Iraq", so I question how he can appear at the Cenotaph on Sunday with any kind of clear conscience. We all have a duty to see that the world of the future learns from our own history. Messrs Blair and Bush seem to have missed the messages of imperial failure to annex Afghanistan that started as far back as the 1870s.
I don't visit war memorials often, but in many communities you can't help but be drawn to read the names emblazoned thereon. It was a similar feeling when I paid my respects at the Highland Division monument at St Valéry en Caux in Normandy last summer. So many forced to surrender after the French cavalry hopelessly charging the German tanks, the calculations of politicians like Winston Churchill, and the four-year imprisonment of so many Highlanders and Islanders in debilitating captivity.
If the service rendered to this country by our soldiers, sailors and aircrew is to be duly honoured then it is our duty to elect future governments that will reduce their exposure to live fire and restrict our military activity to homeland security and to serve the UN. The days of imperial dreams are hopefully gone, but the subsequent role adopted by London governments as a world policeman cannot be allowed to take more lives.
FOLLOWING the floods and gales I sought a Ministerial Statement to bring home to Parliament how pictures of the floods and damage from Dingwall to Thurso and Kirkwall were so awful.
If 150 miles of Scotland in the central belt had been affected, camera crews would have combed the countryside. But the A9 got blocked in several places so the photos that appeared in local papers the following week, while vivid, only hint at the huge repair and restoration task to come.
The statement was granted two Wednesdays ago before decision time at 5pm. Then I was able to put on record the SNP's praise for the tireless work of the emergency services and our sympathy for householders and businesses so badly affected by these sudden and severe floods and gales, and particularly for the families of the Meridian crew after the fishing boat was lost in the oilfields east of Aberdeen.
As for action, we need a root-and-branch review of the Scottish government's preparations along with new pledges to open the coffers and provide expert advice to mitigate the disruption caused to communications, homes and businesses from such severe weather events.
It will take months to assess the full impact of this event, made worse by climate change, so, in the meantime, the government has to extend other funds to cash-strapped local authorities and utilities for the multi-million pounds of unforeseen costs that do not fit neatly into those for flood-prevention schemes.
As this cuts across the work of many government departments, the First Minister will have to ensure outstanding remedial work from this and previous severe-weather events, such as in the Uists in January 2005, do not drag on. The major issue of island links that can still let raging Atlantic waters filter through is yet to be agreed nearly two years on. So those wanting preparations made to protect crossings on the River Thurso need to get started soon.
Climate-change mitigation will cost a lot, but little or no investment would cost even more in future in terms of the increasing damage that would have to be put right. In the flat river valleys of Caithness, flooded rivers have to be given room to spread out and seep away. Too many choke points at road bridges have to be reassessed. Certainly low-lying areas prone to flooding should not be built on, and a local plan compiled with local knowledge will be essential.
HOW many of our youngsters are Homesmart? Last week I attended a reception organised by the Scottish Council for Single Homeless, hosted by my Central Scotland colleague Linda Fabiani. It attracted seven MSPs from the SNP, Greens, Tories and SSP. They heard about the information campaign to help prevent youth homelessness.
In Scotland in the past year over 4300 young people between 16 and 17 turned to their local authorities because they had nowhere safe and secure to stay. In all 19,400 in the 16 to 24 age bracket sought help. That's over 35 per cent of all homelessness applications.
As more and more of our young people go off to the cities the issue is top priority. That's not to say that in the villages and towns of Caithness there are not circumstances which force youngsters to leave home. That's why the teaching packs for S4 students have been produced. Also young people and their families can access advice about avoiding homelessness on http://www.leavinghome.info
I'm sure that MSPs of all parties will want to give our young people the best start in life. The SNP is committed to see the building of affordable housing where needed and more conciliation services to be staffed to keep families together where possible.