Sunday, 31 August 2008

Gibson corrects 'geographically challenged' Peacock

News release
Immediate release


SNP MSP has called Peter Peacock 'geographically challenged' after the Labour MSP claimed that there was no Highlands and Islands representation on the Scottish Governments Food and Drink Leadership Forum.

Mr Gibson pointed out that one of the members, Ken Mackenzie, was born, schooled and lives in the Highlands.

Mr Mackenzie grew up in Drumnadrochit, studied at Inverness Royal Academy, and lives in Inverness. He was heavily involved in the year of Highland Culture as well as communities throughout the region in his capacity as Chief Officer for the Scottish Co-op.

MR Gibson said...

"Last time I checked Inverness was still the capital of the Highlands and Drumnadrochit hadn't magically moved to a greenfeild site outside Barcelona. That seems to suggest to me that some one hailing from Drumnadrochit and living in Inverness is indeed a Highlander. So the claim that there is no Highland Representation on the forum is wrong, unless Peter Peacock and the Labour Party knows something about geography that I don't."

"I find it fairly amusing and mildly worrying that a former convener of Highland Council and Education Minister could be that geographically challenged! I know that Scottish Labour are looking to go in a new direction, I only hope (for their sake) that Peter Peacocks isn't their navigator! Or they might find themselves up the strath without a paddle!"

"Are Labour prepared to support the working groups from throughout Scotland that will help build the first National Food Policy Scotland has had?"


Friday, 29 August 2008

Lesser used languages may be key to self-esteem

Published in the John O'Groat Journal

Friday, 29 August 2008

MATTHEW Fitt, author of Butt and Ben A Go-Go, science fiction in broad Scots, was one of the panellists in my Festival of Politics slot last Friday.

We were joined in a packed Committee Room 3 in the Parliament by Neasa Ní Chinnéide, president of the European Bureau for Lesser Used Languages, Billy Kay, broadcaster and author of The Mither Tongue and Neil Mitchison from the European Commission. We discussed the prospects for minority languages in our own country in the context of the European Year of Intercultural Dialogue.

From the floor we heard from Swiss, German and Finnish audience members as well as several Scots who want to see Gaelic and Scots well-supported and given equal status alongside English, where appropriate in our multilingual nation.

A teacher of English asked the panel if Scots is really a language. She said she found no difficulty in teaching Burns poems and the like in her English lessons. The reply was that there are richer and weaker dialects of Scots from Shetland, Orkney through Caithness, Moray and all the way through Scotland to Ulster; however the panellists showed that Scots derives from an older strand of English than modern English and has developed separately. Despite persecution as slang it has a literature of over 600 years and, while weakened by monolingual school teaching, the Doric or Lallans or broad Scots survives as the daily speech of around one and a half million of us today.

Matthew Fitt is also a co-author of many publications for kids by Itchy Coo Books. He has been encouraging school children in over 500 classrooms across Scotland to have fun getting their mouths round the guid Scots tongue. This week he is in Thurso and Wick.

Most countries in Europe speak several languages daily and often look after them better than Britain has done. So Matthew's school visit in Caithness should be unremarkable. But this is Scotland where speaking anything other than correct English in school has long overshadowed young lives. Speaking Scots in Caithness classrooms comes at an interesting juncture. The controversy among some as to the role of Gaelic in the county begs some related questions. Should the richness of Caithness dialect have equal status in spoken and written forms with English?

In my view a Gaelic proverb helps us answer this. It says "Tìr gun chànain, Tìr gun anam", namely "a land without a language is a land without a soul". So when Scottish people were or are denied the right to speak their preferred tongue, be it Scots, English, Gaelic, Urdu or whatever, it is no way to bolster their self-esteem. I look forward to reactions to Matthew's impact on Caithness school children and their parents, for self-esteem is a key ingredient in a confident society.

Energy resources here in the Far North could deliver us cheaper electricity in the long term, if investment in renewables is seen as a national priority. Guess which government values the energy potential of the Pentland Firth? Certainly not the UK Government. Last week they stamped down hard on tidal and other renewable projects in the North and on our islands by refusing to allow lower grid connection charges than the punitive rates set by OFGEM.

Last year Malcolm Wicks, the UK energy minister, assured the Caithness Regeneration Conference of his support for future clean-power plans. David Cairns from the Scotland Office in Whitehall said the same. Now we know they don't really go the distance. Now we know that Scotland needs to forge ahead and make partnerships with our North Sea neighbours to build a super grid, which incidentally Gordon Brown's Government also disapproves of when they criticised direct contacts being made with the Norwegian Government by Jim Mather, our energy minister in Alex Salmond's team.

The lesson is straightforward, energy security in Scotland will have to be organised by Scots with our neighbours on agreed terms. These neighbours should include England, Wales and Ireland, so we need to demand an equal say for the Scottish Government with the others involved. Anything less will leave us at the mercy of London ministers with other ideas.

Hard-hit electricity and gas customers know full well that while we pay through the nose, shareholders enjoy huge profits made by supply companies. Investing for the future does not mean going to the ends of the earth. We want investment right here. A couple of weeks back EDF, Electricity de France, a nationalised company, was about to take over British Energy but did not like the asking price.

Meanwhile Norway and other energy rich countries have not allowed their residents to suffer as we do here. Norway's national oil company Statoil oversees a whole range of energy developments, on and offshore, and works in partnership with the oil majors. That national interest has been lacking in free-market Britain and now we reap the whirlwind. We have to demand much more than windfall profits to cushion oil and gas price hikes. As politicians and public down south get in a lather, our needs in the colder north are even more urgent. That's why the Scottish Government needs full control over energy development so that price reductions can become a reality and investment gives us real energy security.

Meanwhile a YouGov poll in Scotland showing that 74 per cent agreed that the UK Government should introduce a windfall tax on the energy companies was mirrored across the UK.

About 700,000 Scottish households are already living in fuel poverty and Energywatch are warning that the latest price rise could increase that figure to 1,000,000 by the end of 2008. The SNP has constantly called on the London Government to bring forward measures to boost the economy and protect people facing fuel poverty. Will Gordon Brown take decisive action to help? Your guess is as good as mine.


Games act review announced

News release/Environment Release
Immediate release


Highlands and Islands SNP MSP Rob Gibson has welcomed a response from the Scottish Government that it will start a review of the Games Act before the end of the year.

The response came from Environment Minister Michael Russell in a Parliamentary question on the subject from Rob Gibson.

The Minister stated that the Government intends to carry out a review into the Act before the end of the year.

Mr Gibson, who challenged the Scottish Executive to carry out a similar review 4 years ago when the EU prosecuted the UK for failing to sufficiently protect: black grouse, ptarmigan, red grouse and partridge, said…..

"I welcome the Scottish Government's pro-active response. The intention to review the Game Acts before the year's end is good news. It will allow stakeholders to have their say before changes are proposed."

"For my part the longstanding anomalies of grouse, black grouse and ptarmigan being both game birds and environmentally endangered species has always been a puzzle. I hope that common sense can prevail and that a new regime of protection for all wild birds will result."

"The Scottish Executive did not agree to a review when asked in the past. The new attitude shown by the SNP Government is most welcome and shows it values both sustainable economic development in rural areas and protection of endangered species."



Copy of Q & A regarding gaming laws.


29 August 2008
Index Heading: Rural Affairs and the Environment - Rob Gibson (Highlands and Islands) (SNP): To ask the Scottish Executive whether it intends to conduct a review of the Game Acts and, if so, when the review will commence, what its timescale will be and what opportunities will be available for stakeholders to make a contribution.

Mr Michael Russell:

The Scottish Government does intend to conduct a review of the Game Acts, which will commence before the end of the year. Early tasks will be to assess the scope of work required and to set a realistic timeframe. Part of the process will be a public consultation, providing stakeholders the opportunity to contribute.


Gibson welcomes ferry review announcement

News release
Immediate release


Rob Gibson SNP MSP for the Highlands and Islands has welcomed an announcement from transport Minister Stewart Stevenson that the Scottish Government will carry out a ferry review.

The review will consider current provision of ferry services and what improvements should be made to meet future needs.

Mr Gibson said...

"I welcome the positive Ferry Enquiry response by the Scottish Government. Stewart Stevenson's announcement of a Ferry Review will allow realistic assessment of existing and new routes. That should take certain proposals such as the Lochboisdale to Mallaig out of the realms of speculation. "

"In the meantime the potential to fund and build new ferries for specific routes, for replacement and improvements to roll-off equipment can be considered. The forthcoming Parliamentary debate planned for 10th September on the Transport Committee Enquiry, which triggered the Government responses, is expected to examine the priorities for lifeline services to Scotland's islands."


Thursday, 28 August 2008

Rob out and about

Here, Housing Minister Stewart Maxwell MSP met SNP Cllr Maxine Smith and myself to discuss regeneration projects in Invergordon.

One recent project is a series of murals with the latest to appear at the Invergordon Rail Station. Here on the arch is a commemoration of the surrender of the 51st Highland Division in 1940 at St Valery in Normandy. Many of the Seaforth Highlanders came from the Easter Ross area and all across the North. They often left for service by rail from this very station.

Here, Marie McGill CEO Highland Hospice and I were able to discuss an upcoming Parliament reception for the organisation on 28th October. We discussed the Audit Scotland review of palliative care services in which services in the Highlands gained high praise.

Below is a photo of Invergordon Station exemplifying the necessity of my campaign for disabled access from the northbound platform to the southbound with access provided by a ramp from the road bridge that links each side.


S3M-02433 Rob Gibson (Highlands and Islands) (Scottish National Party): Green Pig Project Begun

The Parliament welcomes news of the trialing of animal feed made from home-grown protein; in particular, congratulates the Scottish Agriculture College for backing the international research collaboration on the Green Pig project that plans to use appropriate home-grown legume varieties to reduce the importation of expensive soybean meal; recognises the need to drastically reduce soya imports that impact adversely on the environmental and social needs of producer countries and the expensive long-distance transport costs of this high-protein animal feed for use by Scottish livestock producers; further notes the likely benefits of lessening the input of nitrogen required by home-grown alternatives such as oilseed rape; and believes that the excellent pedigree of earned by Scottish scientists in conventional plant breeding can be best deployed to develop high-protein animal feed on Scottish farms and crofts that will take a natural and essential place in Scotland's National Food Policy.

Monday, 25 August 2008

S3M-02434 Rob Gibson (Highlands and Islands) (Scottish National Party): Grid Connection Charge Scandal

That the Parliament condemns the announcement by the UK Government that it is to stop subsidies for renewable energy developments in Orkney and Shetland and its comment that there is only a marginal case for keeping them in the Western Isles; believes that this move will place a real question mark over Scotland realising its full renewable energy potential in tidal, wave and wind power; recognises that with this new policy the UK Government is making it less attractive to set up renewable schemes away from the south east of England, which will adversely affect Scotland’s remote and rural economies; further believes that this announcement will not lead to a reduction of carbon emissions, and therefore calls on the UK Government to rethink its decision.

Supported by: Jamie Hepburn, Keith Brown, Tom McCabe

Lodged on Monday, August 25, 2008; Current

Tuesday, 19 August 2008

The Black Isle Show

At the Black Isle Show on 7th August I was happy to present certificates to rural employers who took on work experience placements under the LANTRA scheme.

Here we have Alan Balfour of Loch Duart Salmon:

And here with all the prize winners and staff of LANTRA and Highland Council who made the rural work experience scheme possible.

Thank you, RG

Monday, 18 August 2008

The Assynt Highland Gathering

Pictured: Rob at the Assynt Highland Gathering with Chieftain Alex Dickson and his wife Agnes

Pictured: Rob and Dr Aileen McLeod at Clachtoll after the Assynt Games where Rob visited a crofter to discuss the Shucksith Report

Friday, 15 August 2008

S3M-02401 Rob Gibson (Highlands and Islands) (Scottish National Party): Highlands and Islands-Friendly Quality Mark

That the Parliament supports a proposal from Sanday Community Council in Orkney for the Scottish Government to award a Highlands and Islands-friendly quality mark for those mail order companies and couriers that do not charge extra for delivering goods to postcodes in the Highlands and Islands; considers that the extra charges that some firms impose for customers in remote and rural areas are unfair, unjust and effectively treat those residents as second-class citizens; welcomes the idea of promoting firms that practise a “one price for all” policy, and calls on those firms that impose extra costs for deliveries to rural areas and islands to follow best practice examples such as Amazon and the Royal Mail.

Supported by: Jamie Hepburn, Jamie McGrigor, Dr Alasdair Allan, Aileen Campbell, Bashir Ahmad, Dave Thompson, Stuart McMillan, Mary Scanlon, Nigel Don, Kenneth Gibson, Dr Bill Wilson, David Stewart, Bill Kidd, Robin Harper, Christine Grahame, Gil Paterson, Bob Doris

Lodged on Friday, August 15, 2008; Current

See S3M-02401.1 (Amendment to motion):

S3M-02401 Rob Gibson (Highlands and Islands) (Scottish National Party): Highlands and Islands-Friendly Quality Mark

That the Parliament supports a proposal from Sanday Community Council in Orkney for the Scottish Government to award a Highlands and Islands-friendly quality mark for those mail order companies and couriers that do not charge extra for delivering goods to postcodes in the Highlands and Islands; considers that the extra charges that some firms impose for customers in remote and rural areas are unfair, unjust and effectively treat those residents as second-class citizens; welcomes the idea of promoting firms that practise a “one price for all” policy, and calls on those firms that impose extra costs for deliveries to rural areas and islands to follow best practice examples such as Amazon and the Royal Mail.

Supported by: Jamie Hepburn, Jamie McGrigor, Dr Alasdair Allan, Aileen Campbell, Bashir Ahmad, Dave Thompson, Stuart McMillan, Mary Scanlon, Nigel Don, Kenneth Gibson, Dr Bill Wilson, David Stewart, Bill Kidd, Robin Harper, Christine Grahame, Gil Paterson, Bob Doris

Lodged on Friday, August 15, 2008; Current

See S3M-02401.1 (Amendment to motion):

Energising the Far North with a new mood of optimism

LAST week I saw the huge onshore drilling rig at Swiney House, Lybster, for the first time. I've been away from the Far North for six weeks. Far too long, I know, but Siberia and holidays ran hard against the end of the parliamentary session.

With the SNP Government announcement of ambitious energy grid plans between Scotland and Norway, we have a major European dimension to take into account. Thus I had the pleasure of inviting one of our EU policy advisers, Dr Aileen McLeod, to see the North's energy potential for herself. She is one of our European election candidates in her own right whilst at present working for Alyn Smith MEP.

Retaining control of energy policy in Scotland is one of the SNP's red-line issues in relation to the debate about the Lisbon Treaty. Of course its proposals, fortunately, have been kicked into touch by the majority of Irish voters in their referendum. However, with the First Minister's visit to Caithness next month, let's recognise we have a huge part to play in making Scotland energy self-sufficient. We export 10 times the oil we currently use, though the price benefits are yet to be won for our citizens instead of the London Treasury.

The Lybster rig has an important role to retrieve oil from close offshore which is symbolic of a new mood of optimism regarding energy production in the Far North. However, it underlines my long campaign to ensure that the railway to Wick is upgraded, not least to convey bulk freight to the south. The lack of interest from HITRANS and many other bodies has been revealed, but the transfer of oil from Lybster cannot be contemplated on the already overburdened A99 and A9.

My colleagues in the Dornoch Rail Link Action Group and other constituents contact me to ask what progress we can make. Others have suggested that the rail spur to Lybster could be reopened to link with the line at Wick. Indeed one correspondent asked if the possibilities of a rail route direct to Helmsdale can be surveyed. For my part I'm delighted that the First Minister announced the important upgrades to the Inverness-Perth line as well as the incremental developments on the A9. Personally, my resolve to campaign even harder to get a multi-modal transport system – i.e. rail and road fit for the 21st century – does not stop at Inverness.

THE cost of fuel is on everyone's lips. We fear for the poorest and weakest in the community when winter comes along. Incredibly Gordon Brown is bungling along without any clear ideas to help. We must await his economic plan in September. But a seemingly unintended leak has suggested that families may get a winter heating allowance. Surely plans to increase the insulation in houses would be a longer term approach? But no, nothing but a quick fix seems on the cards.

In contrast, the Scottish Government has boosted the grants for home renewables such as solar panels. But with oil on an ever-rising spiral we really have to get every family involved in energy saving.

I am glad that the Highland Council will be setting the CHaP scheme in Wick on a sound footing. Tighter management was needed and some problems need urgent attention, but it is the way ahead. I have backed it from the start but optimism needs realism to kick in and the council takeover is a statement of intent as to the delivery of the scheme in full.

THE outline of a three-year plan to help deliver a sustainable and profitable Scottish fishing industry that has adapted to high fuel costs has been published by the Scottish Government.

The plan was agreed by fisheries secretary Richard Lochhead and the industry's Fuel Task Force when they met in Aberdeen, where it was announced that, as a first step, resources totalling almost £29 million will be made available to implement the three-year plan. This includes focusing £26 million from the European Fisheries Fund on measures to help the fishing industry adapt to rising fuel prices.

The plan puts in place a range of innovative fuel efficiency measures to cut fishing boats' fuel consumption and running costs. It aims to improve the marketing of Scottish seafood to boost its brand, reputation and value, and drive forward other efficiencies by reducing some non-fuel costs, such as e-log books, and tackling the issue of discards.

Scottish ministers reiterated their determination to continue to press the UK Government and European Union for additional aid.

Richard Lochhead said: "The Scottish Government is determined to help the fishing industry adapt to high fuel costs and, although we can't control the price of fuel, we will do what we can to help in other ways. The fishing industry has been particularly hard hit with the crippling increase in fuel prices. Fuel costs count for as much as half the earnings of boats and cannot be passed on.

"Through the Fuel Task Force we have worked closely with the industry to pull together the outline of a three-year plan of action that will help the fishing industry in Scotland adapt to cope with rising fuel costs."

The Scottish Government has earmarked almost £29 million – a combination of Scottish and European funds – to support this plan of action. Despite limited resources, Edinburgh is willing to do all it can to make these go as far as possible to help our fishermen and the industries and communities like ours.

It is very disappointing to endure the continuing lack of financial support from the UK Government.

Scotland cannot alone address the wider economic impact of rising fuel prices. Therefore it will be a big issue in both European and Westminster elections when they come along.

Tuesday, 12 August 2008

At the butts

Reprint of a letter in the Herald on this glorious 12th of August [when grouse shooting begins] from some years ago...
by the late SNP Cllr Sandy Lindsay of Aviemore


Discussion regarding the right of individual Scottish citizens to walk on open ground clearly upsets those persons who wish to amuse themselves by shooting birds and animals.

My father was a beater, flanker, then loader in the butts and I have early experience of the kind of people who engaged in this "sport". They gave the impression of being extremely unhappy and disturbed. The appearance of the women particularly frightened us children.

Deprivation is not confined to the less affluent sections of the community, and it is pretty obvious that many of the shooting fraternity have been deprived in their early years of love and affection.

Their wealth is such that they are able to sterilise large areas of the Highlands for their cruel amusement. What they really require is support and help of a psychiatric kind from the rest of us. If need be, I will endeavour to arrange with our social work department and the health board for this treatment to be made available.

Also a service such as the Samaritans could be extended to these misguided people along the lines: "If you feel the urge to kill a defenceless creature phone for help and advice."

Cllr Sandy Lindsay, Kincraig, Kingussie.