Friday, 6 June 2008

Why should we be suffering from high fuel prices? Holyrood diary June 6, 2008

When I first stood for the Scottish Parliament in 2003 I campaigned about the undoubted capacity of the Far North to produce a massive new stream of clean power. When you look out to sea, I argued, from the Caithness and Sutherland coasts towards the Beatrice Oil Field, it had accrued huge benefits to the London Treasury over the past twenty five years from its product. The pipeline from Beatrice to Nigg on the Cromarty Firth drew that oil into the world markets and the tax into London coffers. Future oil and clean power should fund Scotland’s regeneration.

Today the new oil finds off Lybster may be smaller than Beatrice but they are all the more precious given the upward spiral of oil prices in a world still guzzling far more than is left to dig up. Three cheers are due for the hook up of the small tidal machine off the island of Eday produced by Irish company Openhydro onto the national grid. This marks a clear step forward for clean marine power. Each of these examples shows how important secure sources of energy are for the future.

That’s why this week’s exchanges between the Scottish Government and the London Treasury on the price hikes in oil are critical. Farmers, hauliers, fishers and ferry operators are hit hard and shoppers face bigger bills to meet the cost of living. So let’s take a closer look at what should be done.

Last week I spoke in the Member’s debate led by my Western Isles colleague Alasdair Allan MSP. As reported in the ‘Groat I want to see every party in the Scottish Parliament agree to send a united message to Chancellor Darling in Whitehall. The SNP has tried to promote a fuel price regulator and that seems to be gaining ground among some Labour MPs down south.

This week First Minister Alex Salmond hit back at Chancellor Alistair Darling in a row over North Sea oil revenues. Last Sunday Mr Darling rejected Scottish Government claims that the Treasury is in line for a GBP4 billion windfall as the cost of oil continues to rise.

But the First Minister replied: "This was an extraordinary and unfathomable statement for the Chancellor to make. There is no scintilla of doubt that Scotland's black, black oil is pouring billions more into the Treasury's coffers - filling the Chancellor's financial black hole. The only person denying that obvious fact is the Chancellor – leading him to undermine the credibility of his entire budget and all the forecasts announced as recently as March."
Alex Salmond also renewed calls for the fuel duty regulator and for the planned fuel duty rise in October to be ditched. These will be subject to amendments in Westminster in the next few weeks led by SNP MPs. In the Scottish Parliament I will continue to ask each of the parties to agree to a united plan of campaign because the immediate oil hike is not going to ease, starting with my Highlands and Islands colleagues to show willing.

WEEK IN, week out the First Minister has batted aside the bitter barbs of the Labour opposition. To cover their negativity he now faces the claims from Labour leader Wendy Alexander that he is grandstanding on the international fuel crisis to deflect attention away from the SNP's policy failures.

Labour's Scottish leader said it is time for the First Minister to "put up or shut up” and should concentrate on issues he can have a direct impact on. She wilfully ignores the tightest budget settlement issued by her party colleague Alastair Darling and the biggest demands on that block grant ever. So I hope all of you, dear readers, back Mr Salmond who has written to the Prime Minister Gordon Brown, urging agreement between the two administrations for the creation of a Scottish oil fund.

It cannot possibly be right that in this energy rich nation we are experiencing the pain of soaring fuel prices, with no direct gain from our own North Sea revenues. Even under the current constitutional arrangements, we can make a start in Scotland.

As a minimum, it is perfectly reasonable for Scotland to have a pro-rata share of the Treasury's oil windfall. Even an initial 10% share of this year's windfall would be £500 million - a substantial sum, which could form the basis of long-term Scottish oil fund – just like Norway has set up.

GREEN, amber and red are the Scottish Ambulance Service code for low to high level provision, roughly from remote west Sutherland to Wick. The ambulance crews do a great job but are undoubtedly overstretched. This was recognised by the Cabinet Secretary in her statement on Wednesday showing the Scottish Government cares to sort out the difficulties that have built up through the UK health pay and conditions being set without the rural areas in mind. Additionally I have spoken in the Remote and Rural Health debate on Thursday in which I argued for an appropriate funding regime to underpin the health services in sparsely populated communities. That is work in progress and the SNP Government is listening and learning from the past set up. I’ll keep you posted.

ALAN HENDRY’s promotion is a great reward for sterling work in editing the ‘Groat. Transferring his work base to HQ in Inverness inevitably follows. We have a reading public in Caithness who deserve the best in local flavour he ensured that flourished. Congratulations to Karen Steven in taking over the editorial chair.

No comments: