Friday, 8 December 2006

We need a leader – not a follower

Published: 08 December, 2006
John O'Groat Journal and Caithness Courier

FACING the dangers of modern life, there's a clear difference of perspective between small nations and the self-important world policemen.

Unveiling the worst-kept secret over nuclear rearmament, Tony Blair insists Britain needs the son of Trident.

Here in Scotland, Jack McConnell had previously called for a major debate. He insisted his mind was open. Until this week, that is, when in a belated statement the First Minister complied with orders from London and supported the replacement of Trident. This action shows that Scotland needs a leader, not a follower, and that the Scottish First Minister has simply rolled over for the UK Prime Minister.

It's a dangerous world of double standards. Iran and North Korea can't have them, but the UK and USA must have them. How can any moral argument about international co-operation and non-proliferation of weapons of mass destruction be conducted successfully? How can the PM pretend that we have an independent nuclear deterrent when he knows through his "special relationship" with America that Britain could never fire these weapons without US say-so?

Plainly, US Middle East policy is turning in desperation towards talk with previously sworn enemies like Syria and Iran because the stability of the region needs all parties on board. That's because the tinderbox that is Iraq will not be doused by the nuclear option, nor will global terrorism and the development of post-oil economies thanks to record purchases of UK, French, German and US armaments by dictatorial governments like the Saudis.

Scotland has the dubious privilege of hosting the UK missile base on the Clyde. The dangers of accidents apart, surely the obvious needs of post-industrial Clydeside are for our share of the £25 billion to replace the 10,000 dependent jobs in and around Faslane with productive, peaceful employment. In Holyrood we always hear Labour members say jobs must not be jeopardised.

But economies change and whole new possibilities open up. Before any decision is made in London, Scots will have the opportunity to vote out son of Trident. Not by voting Lib Dem – they just want to cut the number of missiles by half and postpone the decision by eight years – but by arguing that far too little cash is spent on Scotland's real defence needs. Scrap Trident and save our regiments, I'd say, and help peacemaking and peacekeeping under UN auspices.


LAST week a shameful, half-baked decision was taken by Labour and Lib Dem MSPs. They voted for the Bankruptcy and Diligence Bill that would allow, among other things, for the sequestration of a person's home if they were in debt to the tune of £3001 and to set up a Scottish Civil Enforcement Commission, another expensive quango.

Jamie Stone protested that the Enterprise Committee had made "carefully weighed-up deliberations" so that last-minute amendments should be disregarded. Yet the last-minute amendments were backed by Citizens' Advice Scotland, sheriff officers, and even an editorial in The Herald.

If you were a Farepak loser who then splashed out to give the kids their Christmas by taking loans bought from unscrupulous lenders then you could end up in court for debt of sums of less than £3000 but including the interest that then exceeds that sum. In fact, you could lose your house and still have lots of debts to pay in certain circumstances.

Of course, bankrupts lose their property and all other possessions but they then are free from debt. So we have a Lib Dem and Labour government keen to make it easier to cope with bankruptcy but allowing minor debtors to lose out. What is missing is the power to control consumer credit, because that is at present a reserved matter to London. The compelling argument is to control the causes of debt as well as the results here in Scotland.


COUNCIL housing remains just that after the sound and fury of the stock transfer debate. After Highland said "no" an overwhelming number in Inverclyde voted for change. There were exceptions here, as Caithness and Skye voted for change but were drowned out by the aggregate.

I have already stated that the main problem is one of trust. Everyone can see that Glasgow Housing Association has not led to secondary transfer to local housing associations. Tenants here did not lead the demand for a better deal. It is Gordon Brown meddling in Scottish services with Jack McConnell and Nicol Stephen's blessings. He promised debt write-off plus bribes to tenants of new bathrooms and more house-building if they voted "yes".

So why did Caithness tenants vote "yes"? I suggest they want change, they can see the need to break the log jam of council control from Inverness, and for a variety of reasons they did not like the opinions of tenants' leaders in Inverness, Ross-shire and Sutherland being foisted on Caithness voters. The result is stalemate.

Affordable homes are the number one priority, but it is clear this government is not prepared to build them. So if you can't be assured of a home, why bother staying if you are young and mobile? Once again the McConnell/Stephen government hasn't the will to meet such crying needs for the future of this part of the country.

WICK Accordion and Fiddle Club was the worthy winner of Club of the Year title at the Scots Trad Music Awards 2006. I shared the club's delight in an audience from all over the country in the Nevis Centre. Let's give them another round of applause; to be precise in Mackay's Hotel, on the third Tuesday of the month, from September to May.

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