John O'Groat Journal
By Rob Gibson MSP
Published: 24 October, 2008
IN recess weeks, regional and party activity never ceases.
During these "tattie holidays" I have been at engagements in the Far North as well as in Falkirk, Fife and the Fair City of Perth thus far. With all eyes focused on the world financial turmoil, our SNP conference in Perth last week had to address these big issues. And it did so successfully. As if our round of speeches, fringe meetings and socialising were not enough, many activists, including myself, took the bus to Glenrothes to put in a couple of hours' campaigning in the important by-election due on November 6.
A bit of history was played out on that trip. It concerns the man who led the student raiders on Westminster Abbey at Christmas 1950. Ian Hamilton drove the Stone of Destiny back to Scotland from London nearly sixty years ago. Last Thursday, now an octogenarian, he drove four of us from the campaign HQ in Markinch a couple of miles to Coaltown of Balgonie for our canvassing stint. Then he returned to his task of stuffing envelopes.
Yes, there's a Caithness link – he bought his current car in Halkirk and had much pleasure in describing his journey there to make the purchase. Ian appears in a cameo role in the new film about his exploits called Stone of Destiny which is now on general release.
Make no mistake, young and old alike get the bug for Scottish freedom. This was underlined by Professor James Mitchell, of Strathclyde University, who gave the annual Donaldson Lecture at the SNP conference. His research shows that the SNP attracts far more young people into politics than all other parties put together. That was evident at various events from the Young Scottish Nationalist Karaoke to the Conference Review and Ceilidh as well as the conference debates.
We even attracted a cross-party performance from the House of Commons rock band MP4. (Get it?) Our own Pete Wishart MP, the former Runrig keyboard player, has two Labour MPs on lead guitar, bass guitar and vocals and a Tory on drums. The dance floor filled up with all ages. Maybe in another world it could have been Tony Blair on lead guitar.
SERIOUS politics in the conference hall was dominated by constructing a Scottish response to banking woes and the sudden end to an all-party truce over the crisis. It had been all too tempting for Gordon Brown to display the gut unionist argument against small nations. Iceland's bank troubles provided the pitch and he tried to score a winning goal against the SNP.
Not only does London Labour continue to rubbish Scotland's ability, were we independent at this time, to manage such a financial crisis, they have taken to besmirching the record of our neighbours Ireland, Iceland and Norway as well.
This is the same Gordon Brown who has lectured other European leaders for the past decade on the need for deregulation. Now his tune has had to change. As my colleague Dr Aileen McLeod highlighted in the Europe debate, a European-wide financial regulatory agreement is much needed. We have to learn from Norway and Sweden, who sorted out their own banking crises a decade ago. How did they do it, and how can Scotland escape from the jaws of the City of London, the most unregulated financial centre of all? The Prime Minister coined the phrase "stronger together, weaker apart". As with many issues, such as agriculture, green energy and environmental concerns, Scots have more friends in France, Ireland, Austria and Denmark than does London Labour. So the European elections next June are a straight choice between co-operation with our neighbours to create a confederal Europe of free partners or continued thralldom to boom-and-bust thanks to bankrupt London.
FUEL, food and heating costs are hitting most families. Wherever you live, be it Glenrothes or Caithness, we await Chancellor Darling's undoubted demand for higher taxes to pay for unprecedented Government borrowing. Mr Brown says we need to spend our way out of this crisis. But the cost will hit high streets after the failures in Threadneedle Street where the Bank of England has its HQ.
That's why I seconded the topical resolution at the SNP conference on climate change. It argued that we must press ahead with marine renewables to create jobs and clean power; also home insulation will reduce heating costs and can employ construction workers who are caught in the house-building slump. Meanwhile in Europe, the Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS), the continent's main means to curb the greenhouse-gas emissions of big industry, must not be watered down due to fears that big firms will take jobs elsewhere in this recession to avoid compulsory carbon-emission costs essential to the ETS.
The Scottish Government can use its limited powers to kick-start building affordable homes, helping create a shared equity scheme for first-time buyers – but we also look to Ed Miliband, London's Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change, to fight for a full ETS in Europe. Interconnectedness is inescapable but a seat at the top table is essential for Scots to have our say in such vital matters.
FALKIRK welcomed the Royal National Mod, the annual Gaelic festival, with open arms last week. Meanwhile, the last-ditch bid by Caithness councillors to stop the entry of Gaelic road signs to the county sends mixed messages for Mod 2010. A genuine Caithness welcome would underscore the regenerative powers of culture and languages that accompany the surge of interest in tidal power potential. Well done, Dounreay, for backing the Mod – let's hope our councillors do too.
-Rob Gibson MSP