Monday, 22 September 2008

Promoting the very best of Scotland

Published: 12 September, 2008
John O'Groat Journal and Caithness Courier

BEFORE I joined the colourful, musical protesters from traditional music groups outside Parliament a week ago, I questioned the culture minister Linda Fabiani if monetary support for the traditional arts from the Scottish Arts Council ought to be provided on the basis of their ability to promote the vitality of our living traditions?

Given the omission of the traditional arts from the previous administration's national companies programme, is it time to investigate whether a national company or agency should be set up to progress those arts?

She replied that the Scottish Arts Council is having discussions with those who were not successful in that flexible two-year funding round. The Government wants to promote the very best of Scotland and the uniqueness of its traditional culture, though the national company model might not be appropriate or celebrate the diversity and the wonderful traditions of our culture. However the Government's responsibility is to protect our traditional cultures and we are very willing to have that discussion.

My local SNP branch has submitted a motion for debate at the SNP annual conference to resolve the means to set up sustainable support for our unique culture.


'HAVE you been to the new Tesco, their steaks are better than the Asda ones?" two young female commuters were heard to say on the northbound train from Edinburgh last Thursday evening. Welcome to Scottish Food fortnight.

Last weekend Dr Rajendra Pachauri, chair of the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), suggests that one meat-free day a week would significantly reduce CO2 emissions. Then eating even less meat would go much further. Welcome to Scottish Food fortnight.

In response, renowned Scots food expert Joanna Blythman is quoted in the Observer as saying, "universal prescriptions for solving the world's food crisis should be treated with suspicion." As to "wet, green Britain, it lends itself to livestock production". Welcome, indeed, to Scottish Food fortnight!

Recognising that cattle and sheep production are key to areas like the Far North of Scotland, we take pride in the achievements of Mey Selections. No doubt they count as part of the eight per cent increase in demand for home-grown Scottish food. And I worry that siren voices in commercial farming are unprepared for the changes that are really necessary in production methods to tackle climate change.

Importing soya protein from Brazil cannot continue. Habitat destruction in the Amazon rain forests is a direct result. Furthermore, our concerns for lax animal welfare standards in South America have led to bans on Argentine beef imports. But much of it is grass-fed. Are our farms and crofts fully geared to grass-fed livestock? Do we produce enough winter feed in Scotland? Could we follow the Scottish Agricultural College pilot and grow more animal protein such as peas and beans?

During Scottish Food Fortnight, families may be tucking into tasty, locally-produced food. For most of us it's just as big a treat. For if we follow the example of the young women I mentioned on the north train, the only criteria will be price. Taste, origin, production methods and proper payment to the producer must go hand-in-hand in a serious Scottish Food Strategy. In heeding the IPCC advice we could eat one meat course less per week, but let's buy the local, tasty option that the supermarkets refuse to stock in quantity. Then we could afford a treat and reward some hard-pressed producers in our own back yard.


LAST week in Parliament, Forestry Commission Scotland held a reception for "Woods in and around towns" (WIAT). One example, at Easterhouse in Glasgow's east end, has been cleaned up. Gone are the junkies' needles, only pine needles and broadleaves now. And people do enjoy woods and respect them when given ownership and management. Such remarkable stories are repeated around Scotland.

When will Newtonhill woodland near Wick become a pleasure ground again? My recent inquiries with the Forestry Commission suggest that finding a safe, convenient solution will be agreed.

The gates of the community woodland were padlocked in March by the Highland Council after the discovery of poisonous substances resulting from the old refuse dump there. As the John O'Groat Journal reported, Friends of Newtonhill group sprang into action to pursue the development of alternative land following news the contaminated site might never reopen. Securing adjacent farm land to replant a new wood has been considered by the Forestry Commission. I believe they will.

Meanwhile work at Dunnet and Rumster forests, Guidebest and Achvarasdal, not to mention Borgie, show various forms of woodland management and replanting. Spurred by successive Scottish governments we are making forests human-friendly for horse riders, dog walkers, mountain bikers, joggers and those just seeking a quiet stroll. Even in tree-starved Caithness there are pockets of woodland that our neighbours in central Scotland would visit. More power to the volunteers who reclaim and maintain the woods and to Forestry Commission Scotland for embracing so enthusiastically the recreation role of our forests.


THE Scottish Government's programme for this session was debated in Holyrood. My contribution welcomed the freeze in council tax and the plans to bring in a fair, local income tax which is attracting Lib Dem support, so there is hope that unionist Labour and Tories can once again be dismayed by radical changes for the better emanating from Holyrood.

The bulk of my speech welcomed the forthcoming Climate Change and Marine bills. Pentland tidal power can counter CO2 big time by powering far more homes and businesses than using electricity in Scotland alone. Such a prize for the Far North is well recognised.

But I linked both bills in my contribution for fears are being voiced about SNH's plans to extend the Special Protection Area into the Pentland Firth. I believe the Marine Bill will balance out conflicting uses.

The Lib Dem closing speech by Ross Finnie acknowledged my hopes. He reminded us that marine spatial planning will be defined therein. I am glad that the promise of tidal power is propelling a demand for balanced planning of our seas.

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