Friday, 23 November 2007

Ormlie group can be proud of its energetic efforts

Photo: Rob Gibson MSP with Louise Smith of Ormlie Renewables at the Caithness Heritage Fair in Wick.

Published: 23 November, 2007
John O'Groat Journal and Caithness Courier

THERE'S been a positive change of public mood in recent months. All across Scotland you meet people at events who feel that the pace of Scottish life has gone up tempo.

It was just great to win the 2014 bid to host the Commonwealth Games, but we must ensure that athletics and sport in Caithness can benefit out of it. People are glad to support Scottish success and they believe lots of good will flow from it.

Locally, I much enjoyed the Caithness Heritage Fair in Wick on November 10. So much effort is put in by a wide variety of groups to spice up and enjoy the life of Caithness, of yesteryear and today. For instance, the huge interest in family history is shown by the depth of knowledge of members of the Caithness Family History Society, while Wick Youth Club has had great success in promoting the playing of rock music by a cohort of youngsters; they gain positive feelings from their achievements in the Music-Link-Media workshop.

Talking of achievements, Ormlie Community Association can be rightly proud of its award gained from Energy Action Scotland for the Caithness Energy Advice Project (Energy SOS – "Shout Out Savings!"). Louise Smith and her team are starting the practical work to engage every householder in the area on ways they can take part in climate-change mitigation and adaptation. Put simply: warmer, cosier homes that don't use excess electricity.

I also visited Dunbeath Heritage Centre on the same day. We had a fascinating discussion about the possibilities of rolling out a lot more information to schoolchildren and others about the linguistic mix of place-names in this area. In some cases, three different language roots are involved. Nan Bethune hopes to see a lot more engagement by schools in understanding how Caithness has been a cultural crossroads for many centuries. Indeed, Neil M. Gunn shows that interface in many of his stories and novels. With the coming of the Royal National Mod to the county in 2010, it should trigger a far better local understanding of our complex roots.


THERE has been a widespread welcome from many parts of the country for the decision by the Scottish Qualifications Authority to make questions on Scottish history an essential part of the Higher history exam from school year 2010/11. The exam will contain a mandatory Scottish section, so I would join in the congratulations to those teachers, academics and politicians who campaigned successfully for this decision and believe that, after years of Scottish history being overlooked in secondary schools, pupils at Higher level will finally have a chance to learn about and understand their own heritage and the part that it played in the creation of the modern world.

In the context of the Curriculum for Excellence, this should require the SQA to equip every teacher involved with materials that relate to the local involvement in national events and the national significance of events locally that have been overlooked at qualification levels. It's another example of a quango resolving to apply an aspect of the SNP election manifesto without the need for any law to be passed. I'm so glad they have, because under the Labour/Lib Dem regime of the past eight years there was even a suggestion that history wasn't a necessary discrete subject in secondary schools. We gain in confidence when we know of our own national and local story.

Rob Gibson MSP with Louise Smith of Ormlie Renewables at the Caithness Heritage Fair in Wick.


THE Government economic strategy was debated on Wednesday afternoon in Holyrood and the SNP won the day by accepting an amendment from the Tories in the name of Derek Brownlee which added, at the end of our motion, "and, recognising the importance of small businesses to the Scottish economy, calls on the Scottish Government, if additional resources become available, to prioritise the acceleration of the full implementation of the reductions in business rates for small businesses announced in the budget on 14 November 2007".

Surprisingly, this did not find favour with Labour and the Lib Dems. They ignore the realities of life in the Far North and across Scotland. Not only will the SNP's commitment to the small business bonus be delivered, as promised in our manifesto, it will have a major part to play in the new targets of increasing the wealth of every family by £10,000 in the next few years. Of course the tight budget settlement makes it difficult to deliver by April 2008, but it will be fully implemented by 2011. So let's praise John Swinney for his ability to stick to these sustainable growth measures.

However, there has been a huge orchestrated campaign by Labour and the Lib Dems to talk up broken promises. If the debate was about starting to improve the numbers of police on our streets, about reducing class sizes in P1 to P3 to 18 in the next four years, things would look differently. But I have to say that every extra teacher trained and deployed, every extra police constable in place, and every new dentist trained in the new Aberdeen dental school sounds like good common sense to me. Of course, though, opposition wants to see things happen instantly, even if this bunch in opposition had the last eight years to deliver.

And in that I hope the mood of optimism among people who will benefit from the council tax freeze and all the other SNP budget measures will agree that we can do so much better by having all the economic levers that normal nations have. Devolution can be made to work better, but there's no substitute for the logic of full powers.

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