Published: 26 October, 2007
John O'Groat Journal and Caithness Courier
EARLIER this week, at a meeting held in Glasgow, MSPs and councillors, anti-nuclear weapons campaigners and church leaders gathered to plan resistance to the development of son of Trident.
The UK Labour Government, the Tory opposition and to a great extent the Liberal Democrats at UK level all agree: Britain won't be Britain without a credible nuclear weapons capacity. No seat at the UN Security Council, no longer a world policeman... there's a lot at stake. Not least for the Lib Dems, whose one hope of power in Westminster is a hung parliament at the next election.
When it comes to civil nuclear matters regarding Dounreay, John Thurso and Jamie Stone opt out of party policy which is against nuclear reactor development. I see that the Scottish Lib Dem leader Nicol Stephen is saying that Scottish Parliamentary representatives should remain silent on the Trident issue because it is a reserved matter – imitating the position taken by Labour's leader in the Scottish Parliament, Wendy Alexander.
This directly contradicts Mr Stephen's message to Lib Dem activists at his party's pre-election conference in February where he attacked a Labour memo telling Labour Party branches to avoid all mention of Trident and Iraq, and also said that Liberal Democrats would not keep quiet on those issues and would hold Labour "accountable to the voters of Scotland on May 3".
So what's changed now? Well, the Lib Dem MP John Barrett is breaking ranks with his leader and is listed to be speaking at an anti-Trident rally on November 3 in Edinburgh. Also there's an SNP Government in Scotland that is seeking popular support for moves to block Trident deployment on the Clyde.
Obviously the Lib Dems have to oppose the SNP because it's a reserved matter and Mr Salmond, they feel, should concentrate on the NHS and education, not pick fights with London... so why do so many MPs dabble in Scottish Parliament matters?
But Mr Stephen and his dwindling band of supporters should ponder this. In a tight budget settlement with the lowest increase for any of the last several years, the Scottish Government is being hampered from delivering more police on the streets, more teachers and smaller classes, and a fully-funded NHS, because UK priorities are to spend billions on the Trident replacement, continuing to pay a huge cost in soldiers and cash to fight in Iraq and Afghanistan. At the same time, Brent crude oil hits a new high of $90 a barrel, which pours taxes into the Treasury but not into the Scottish block grant. Scotland's health, economy and safety and the people's wishes go against those who seek political power in London at Scotland's expense. The Scottish people want rid of Trident. They also show strong support for the SNP Government's efforts to stand up for our nation.
DURING the tattie holidays we were invited to a wedding in Brittany. The Le Lay family were celebrating their oldest son's wedding. We joined in with gusto, and a couple of days after the celebrations we saw the apple harvest for their distillery that makes cider and spirits. It was a delight to see apple varieties growing in the orchards that go to make good live cider.
On a smaller scale it's also apple harvest time here at home. The Discovery and Stirling Castle varieties have done well in our garden this year. But you'll never see these in the supermarkets. There are many old Scots varieties that grow well where we live. Since fruit is one of the low-maintenance crops, anyone with the space should be planting some apple trees.
ALSO in Brittany I had the chance to speak in Nantes at a conference of the French Society for Scottish Studies. It was organised by the research centre on national identity and intercultural matters based at the local university. Their annually colloquium focused this year on Scottish national identity in which 22 papers were read and debated over two days. My own contribution on "The Scottish Political Scene Today" had potentially the graveyard slot – first thing on Saturday morning – but amazingly the room was packed with more than 60 attendees, half of whom were students who forsook their beds on a fine Saturday morning to be there.
The slot overran due to the interesting questions that probed the Scottish body politic and found it in rude health. Then I was driven speedily across town to an old warehouse where Annie Thiec, one of the Nantes politics lecturers, conducted a half-hour conversation on the same subject for transmission on Euradio. It is a multicultural radio station run by three journalists and a dozen students from all over Europe. It has the backing of the EU Europe for Citizens programme. An FM station broadcasts locally, and the podcasts and streaming for internet audiences allow debate and discussion of views from citizens of the 27 partner nations.
By the way, the conversation was in English with Annie Thiec who completed her thesis on the momentous 1995 Perth and Kinross by-election which was won by my colleague Roseanna Cunningham, now an MSP – a fact she told me afterwards.
Out there in the world there is a growing interest in Scotland and Scottish studies. Our First Minister, Alex Salmond, has much to tell from his recent US trip. But we are far behind the Irish in academic recognition. Their culture, history and progress is studied in dozens of dedicated departments in universities the world over. Our universities are keen to make these links; several already do, but it is all the more urgent that the UHI Millennium Institute gains its full charter as the Highlands and Islands perspective is most attractive to many of the Scottish Diaspora.
Whether it's Trident, broadcasting, higher education or cultural showcases, if Scotland's government doesn't speak up, hard experience indicates that London cannot be relied upon to do so.