Published: 30 March, 2007
John O'Groat Journal and Caithness Courier
I WAS delighted to be photographed with Marie Curie Cancer Care workers at the weekend. Their distinctive yellow daffodil badges are sprouting on lapels while their Fields of Hope are blossoming for real in many communities across the land.
Happily it was sunny for the photo, but the task for which the charity raises funds covers some of the most painful and traumatic health events humans can ever suffer. The Marie Curie terminal care service and campaign for the right to die at home have my full support, and that of many others, according to the postcards they receive.
Scots are not the healthiest people in Europe but, like those of other developed countries, expect longer life as a fact and an aspiration. However, the longer you live, the more likely it is that diseases of older age such as heart conditions, Parkinson's disease, cancers and dementia will have to be planned for and coped with. Nevertheless charities carry a huge burden of care.
I fully back a huge effort to improve our health, much of which means self-help, as well as funding a free NHS to cope with the inevitable. My own minor experience in the past few months with a wee skin cancer on my right ear certainly opened my eyes to hospitals, patients and their treatment today. The healing process is ongoing. So I'm glad we spotted my lesion, thankful for skilled NHS treatment, and ready to buy a broad-brimmed hat while taking regular skin care seriously in future.
I begrudge not a penny of my taxes to keep the health service local. The successful Caithness maternity fight was a success. We must take as much medicine to the people as possible, except for the most serious operations. Let's make sure our taxes are well used right here in Caithness.
TALKING of taxes, no sooner had the Chancellor of the Exchequer sat down after his last Budget speech than his spin machine was making false claims. He is showing a new level of desperation to talk down Scotland's economic opportunity. This simply underlines Labour's panic at the success of the SNP's positive campaign and Alex Salmond's correct projection of increased oil revenues from the Scottish North Sea.
The Treasury itself admitted figures in the Budget's Red Book on which Mr Salmond based his forecast that do not support the Chancellor's claim of income offshore falling away. Indeed we should look at Norway, where they have built up an oil fund for future generations that is now worth £190 billion in a short ten years. That's the thinking Scotland needs, and the power to use oil revenues for the post-oil age, not to bankroll illegal wars like Iraq and to pay for son of Trident.
At the weekend the SNP published independent figures confirming that North Sea oil revenues are rising, not falling, and that in the next six years they will be £55 billion compared with £34 billion in the previous six. The figures are provided by the House of Commons library and show that the projected North Sea revenues based on the GDP projections amount to £55 billion for the period 2006/07 to 2011/12.
Scotland's oil wealth is an enormous asset that is growing in value, and no amount of Labour efforts to pull the wool over our eyes can disguise that fact. It is essential that voters understand why this coming election is for high stakes: the sustainable future of Scotland, as proposed by the SNP, or a rake's progress of New Labour in London.
SUCCESSFULLY decommissioning Dounreay is acknowledged widely as the key issue facing the Caithness economy. UKAEA, its partner AMEC, HIE and the local socio-economic study all agree. As I said in the Parliament last year, "We need a commitment from HIE and the Enterprise Minister to back a centre of excellence based in Caithness for both the development and export of nuclear decommissioning skills and also to set up a major collaboration with the EMEC centre in Orkney to promote wave and tidal power in the Pentland Firth."
So May 3, 2007, is about electing a new government for Scotland that we can trust to deliver for the Far North. The biggest policy issue we face locally was addressed by Dennis MacLeod, who learned his trade at Dounreay before majoring in the mining world. He summed up the challenge in his book Grasping the Thistle by saying that UHI must gain full university status so as to back local sustainable jobs creation.
He concluded: "Ironic as it is, the prospect of a new era of Scottish success in the field of power generation is arising directly from the failure of a previous dream – the dream of nuclear generation from a fast reactor. Final success may well come not from what man put into the dome on the shore, but from what was sweeping past it, twenty-four hours a day, and has been since the dawn of time!"