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.

Monday, 15 September 2008

Plea not to ignore the Highlands

Telecom companies told: Don’t leave us behind

By Sue Restan
Published: 15/09/2008

Politicians are calling for telecommunications companies to include the Highlands when rolling out new technology in the UK.

Maxine Smith, who is one of the councillors for Cromarty Firth ward, said they seemed to ignore rural areas.

She said the latest 3G mobile broadband service was not yet available in most of the Highlands.

It is the third generation of mobile phone standards and technology, enabling network operators to offer users a wider range of more advanced services while getting greater network capacity.

Services include wide-area wireless voice telephony, video calls, and broadband wireless data, all in a mobile environment.

“It is important that we do not accept being left behind with technology or being left out of companies' programmes when new concepts are thought of and introduced in other places in the UK,” said Councillor Smith.

“The Highlands is as important as any other area in Scotland, England or Wales and should be equal in terms of infrastructure and tech- nology.”

The SNP councillor added: “Now this issue has been brought to my attention, I will be lobbying different quarters until the Highlands is brought on to a level playing field.”

Highlands and Islands SNP MSP Rob Gibson said he was about to do a consultation with people in various parts of the country about broadband rollout.

He is also keen to identify the places without 3G coverage.

Mr Gibson said: “My view is that the telecommunications companies could get a lot more business, from both Highland residents and visitors, if we had 3G.”

A spokesman for Vodafone said 3G was available only in a small area around Inverness and an even smaller area in Elgin.

He said there were no plans to increase coverage in the next six months.

“The rollout is always going to be a business decision and coverage is focused on the major conurbations. As was the case with 2G, it is an evolving pattern of coverage,” said the spokesman.

An Orange spokeswoman said:

“We already offer 3G coverage in high population areas in the Highlands. We will continue to invest to enhance the experience for our customers.”

Thursday, 11 September 2008

Gibson welcomes marine milestone

News release


Highlands and Islands SNP MSP Rob Gibson has hailed the news that OpenHydro has successfully mounted a tidal turbine on the sea bed of the Pentland Firth.

The device was lowered onto the sea bed by a unique barge which was developed by OpenHydro for the purpose and is the only one of it's kind in the world (whose home port is Kirkwall).

Commenting on the news Mr Gibson said...

"This is a monumental moment in the development of the Pentland firth and will go down as a milestone in the furtherance of green energy both in Scotland, Europe and the world."

"Great credit has to go to the European Marine Energy Research Centre and OpenHydro for their sterling work which has led to this situation. It shows what can be achieved through co-operation and a common purpose."


Gibson hails 'Fishing for Litter' initiative




Highlands and Islands SNP MSP Rob Gibson has hailed the ‘Fishing for Litter’ initiative coordinated by KIMO International, a pan Local Authority International Environmental Association, by lodging a congratulatory motion in the Scottish Parliament today.

The initiative has encouraged 54 fishing boats from the UK, Denmark, the Netherlands and Sweden to voluntarily collect over 400 tonnes of litter from the North Sea already. Over the next three years the initiative aims to encourage 100 boats to collect another 500 tonnes of marine litter from the waters around Scotland.

Commenting, Mr Gibson said...

"This is an excellent example of the kind of attitude everyone should take toward preserving our environment. I was only too happy to commend KIMO international and all the fishermen involved with the project in my motion to the Parliament. "

"Litter in the North Sea is not only environmentally damaging but also costs thousands per year in lost time, damage to nets, fouled propellers and contaminated catches. The Save the North Sea project demonstrated that, on average, each tonne of marine litter that accumulates in fisherman’s nets costs £1,300 in lost time alone. This goes to show that voluntary work such as this does pay off in the end."

Jimmy Buchan, skipper of the Amity II and one of the stars of the TV's "Trawlermen" series, has been participating in the initiative for several years and commented on Rob's motion saying:

"It's a great programme and from a fisherman's perspective I can tell you that it's working. Each year I go out I'm catching less and less litter and it's because of what we as fisherman are doing. We're going about our day to day jobs but also picking up this litter and disposing of it in a responsible manner and that is having a noticeable positive effect."



Copy of motion to the Scottish Parliament:

Short Title: Fishing for Litter
S3M-02531 Rob Gibson (Highlands and Islands) (SNP): That the Parliament congratulates KIMO International and all the fisherman involved in the Fishing for Litter initiative; commends their work in reducing North Sea marine littering by bringing ashore litter gathered in their nets while fishing; applauds the goal of the initiative to encourage 100 boats to take part with the aim of collecting 500 tonnes of marine litter from the waters around Scotland over the next three years; notes that 400 tonnes of litter have already been collected by the 54 boats involved in the imitative, which is run in the United Kingdom, Denmark, the Netherlands and Sweden, and finally notes its benefit for all those using the North Sea and UK beaches as well as the positive financial impact on the UK fishing industry due to a reduction in the amount of marine litter.

Link to KIMO International's Save the North Sea Project comprising the initiative:

S3M-02531 Rob Gibson (Highlands and Islands) (Scottish National Party) Fishing for Litter

Short Title: Fishing for Litter S3M-02531 Rob Gibson (Highlands and Islands) (SNP): That the Parliament congratulates KIMO International and all the fisherman involved in the Fishing for Litter initiative; commends their work in reducing North Sea marine littering by bringing ashore litter gathered in their nets while fishing; applauds the goal of the initiative to encourage 100 boats to take part with the aim of collecting 500 tonnes of marine litter from the waters around Scotland over the next three years; notes that 400 tonnes of litter have already been collected by the 54 boats involved in the imitative, which is run in the United Kingdom, Denmark, the Netherlands and Sweden, and finally notes its benefit for all those using the North Sea and UK beaches as well as the positive financial impact on the UK fishing industry due to a reduction in the amount of marine litter.

Wednesday, 10 September 2008

Gibson calls for wider screening of BBC Alba

News release
Immediate release


Highlands and Islands SNP MSP Rob Gibson is calling on the UK Government and BBC to allow the BBC's new Gaelic channel to be available to terrestrial viewers via freeview as soon as possible.

BBC Alba, which launches next week, will only be available to satellite viewers. It is not due to be put on freeview until the digital switch over (due for 2010) and that will be subject to a review from the BBC Trust.

Mr Gibson said..

"I very much welcome the launch of the Gaelic service. I wish all those involved with it the best of luck and am sure it will go onto be a success. The potential to promote the language and culture through a dedicated channel is genuinely exciting and the possibilities are vast."

"However the rather large fly in the ointment is that for around a year and a half it will only be available through satellite. Given the public money being spent on the channel and the fact that it is under the banner of BBC it strikes me as ridiculous that it will only be available to those that have private satellite rental. The fact that the appearance on freeview is subject to a review by the BBC Trust is a worry. If they do not give the go ahead then it could really stymie the development and impact that the channel could have."

"I am not entirely sure how and why this situation came about, but in the light of the Broadcasting Commission For Scotland's report which seeks more access to Scottish output for Scottish viewers, I hope that a speedy and sensible decision can be reached and that we see BBC Alba on freeview before 2010."



Copy of Motion Rob lodged in parliament

S3M-02511 Rob Gibson (Highlands and Islands) (Scottish National Party): BBC Alba - Speed Up Freeview Option— That the Parliament welcomes the launch of the BBC Alba Gaelic television channel; wishes that all those involved will make the service a success; notes the potential that it has to boost the profile of the Gaelic language while informing and entertaining people throughout the country; however also notes, with disappointment, the fact that this service is not intended to be available through Freeview until after the digital switchover and that this will be subject to a review by the BBC Trust, and calls on the UK Government and BBC to speed up this process so that the channel has the chance to be watched by Gaels and non-Gaels throughout the nation who possess a Freeview box but do not have cable nor a satellite television.

Tuesday, 9 September 2008

Farmer GM


Alex Johnstone MSP in The Farmer [August issue] labels critics of GM technology Luddites who stand in the way of progress and lampoons the SNP Government as ‘puritans and technophobes’ for sticking with the precautionary principle. He unaccountably ignores that this is also the policy of many of our European neighbours. Of course for Alex, London knows best, that’s where Gordon Brown’s free trade views would stop any support for home agriculture in favour of cheaper, lower quality and potentially GM food imports. In short Alex ignores the widespread evidence that GM is not the silver bullet to dispel fears among Scottish farmers that they could incur an ‘unnecessary competitive disadvantage’ unless they embrace ‘cost saving’ GM technology.

Recently the NFUS turned up the decibels for GM as fuel, pesticide and fertiliser prices have sky rocketed. This may be drowning out reasoned debate when reducing producer costs is Jim McLaren’s main goal. It is noteworthy that he also displays apparent altruism with his claim that GM can feed the hungry world. But of course the inflated price of imported soya for animal feed is the main trigger for concerns among Scots livestock producers. Simultaneously pro-GM researchers offer genetic modification of blight resistant tatties. Could this be the tipping point for agribusiness to break the loose consensus on the precautionary principle that the Scottish Parliament has adopted broadly since devolution?

Hard evidence is widely available that GM technology is expensive, destructive to the environment and leads to dependency on huge seed and chemical corporations. Let’s turn to the agricultural equivalent of the International Panel on Climate Change (IPPC) whose former director is now director of the International Assessment of Agricultural Science and Technology for Development (IAASTD). This body, initiated by the World Bank, was formed by UN co-sponsors FAO, GEF, UNDP, WHO and UNESCO. Nowadays even Tories in Scotland accept the facts of global warming so why don’t Alex Johnstone and his friends accept the findings of the IPPC’s agricultural equivalent?

The IAASTD has concluded that data on a range of genetically modified crops shows highly variable yields, greater in some places and less in others. It doesn’t rule out safe GM crop development in future but rightly concludes that if the multi-million pound investment by corporations in transgenic research and development had been applied to improving conventional methods of local food production and distribution then the current world food crisis would have been more successfully addressed.

The overwhelming conclusion of IAASTD is that small-scale farming and ecological methods provide the way forward to avert the current world food crisis. That’s why my Parliamentary motion lodged in June welcomes the UK Government’s approval of the IAASTD reports without reservation as confirmed in a written Commons statement by Douglas Alexander MP.
I believe that 400 world scientists in the IAASTD are a formidable peer group to assess agricultural knowledge, science and technology. So I concluded my recent motion by encouraging the Scottish and UK governments to mainstream the thrust of the IAASTD report in agricultural policy development.

In the meantime Charles, Duke of Rothesay has been accused of an ignorant rant against GM crops which he dubbed ‘the biggest environmental disaster of all time’. As pro-GM scientists lined up to slate the Prince the raw nerve of the multinational biotech industries and their cheerleaders was exposed. In fact after 25 years of its development 2.4% of global agricultural land is under GM crops. Despite billions spent on GM research and development, GM crops have not improved yields. Even in the USA, the only partner in IAASTD to demur from its conclusions had two thirds of its agricultural land growing non-GM crops in 2007.

The crunch issue for Scottish producers and consumers is to heed the science, not ignore it. That suggests to me that the Scottish Crop Research Institute should be at the cutting edge of the reorientation of agricultural science and technology towards agro-ecological sciences, more organic, smaller scale and focused on producing good food locally, as advocated by IAASTD.

Here are a few practical suggestions. First, test the GM-free blight resistant Hungarian tattie, Sarpo Miras. Also evaluate and collaborate with Welsh and Irish research into developing their GM and blight free varieties. Second, how about toting up the costs to see how much protein production at home can be achieved? Is it dearer than the total environmental, human and transport costs of soya from Brazil or Argentina? Does the huge mark up by the major importer get counted? Are Scottish produced feed costs including lorry and ferry costs to transport winter feed any more expensive? Thirdly, if intensive pig and chicken production is too costly, why not extensify? Finally follow the example of the farmers who are restarting muck spreading, growing clover and planting triticale to fix nutrients ahead of other crops.

Alex Johnstone claimed that ‘at every stage in the development of modern agriculture there has been one group of another who have objected to progress’. Surely not the IAASTD? For it is the best guide for Scottish farmers who should also heed the Scottish Government’s pro-science precautionary policy that deems cultivating GM crops in Scotland is unacceptable and undesirable. Protecting a clean and natural environment to underpin a Scottish National Food Policy, this can’t be the sole property of producers. After all, the key question asked by the NFUS is ‘what’s on your plate’?

Rob Gibson MSP for Highlands and Islands

Monday, 8 September 2008

Gibson welcomes report's findings

News release

Immediate release


Rob Gibson SNP MSP for Highlands and Islands has welcomed the conclusions of the Royal Society of Edinburgh into the crisis in hills and Islands Agriculture.

Some of the key findings are that Scotland needs to:

● recognise that the continuing decline in hill and island agriculture has implications
for biodiversity, landscape management and food security

● develop a Strategic Land Use Policy Framework to provide a more integrated and
coordinated basis for decision-making

● substantial shifts in decision-making and delivery of public resources from
centrally-based agencies to regionally-based structures

● recognise the importance of tourism and stimulating economic growth and radically
reform the support structures for tourism

● halt the closure of rural post offices until a new, wider rationale is developed

● recognise that combating climate change now needs to be a major factor and that
the EU should be urged to give credit to forestry investment in meeting emissions

Commenting on the report entitled 'Committee of enquiry into the future of Scotland's hills and islands' he said,

"Many of the Society's recommendations underline the need for more powers over land use policy in Scotland. Investment as well as more hands-on local planning are both required. But undoubtedly the maintenance of crofts and family farms growing mixed crops and livestock are a key component. Clearly the small size of such farms retains more people. Also the Cap's Single Farm Payment scheme has paid producers who have failed to continue to produce. It must be reformed to support the needs of least favoured areas and small producers."

"Meanwhile the UK has powers to save post offices, arrange a favourable connection regime for renewable energy and taper fuel prices would all be required. These have not been applied, therefore the Royal Society report is only part of the solution. Independence and a much more devolved decision taking structure within Scotland will be the real saviour of our rural and island economy."

Note to editor:

Link to report

S3M-02516 Rob Gibson (Highlands and Islands) (Scottish National Party): Real Garlicky Win

That the Parliament congratulates the Really Garlicky Company in Nairn for its Best Farm Entrepreneur win at the Country Living and Waitrose Made in Britain Food Awards and recognises that during Scottish Food Fortnight local companies throughout the nation, and especially in the Highlands and Islands, are key to delivering good quality tasty food and will play a key factor in the development of the Scottish national food policy.

Supported by: Jamie Hepburn

Lodged on Monday, September 08, 2008; Current

S3M-02511 Rob Gibson (Highlands and Islands) (Scottish National Party): BBC Alba - Speed Up Freeview Option

That the Parliament welcomes the launch of the BBC Alba Gaelic television channel; wishes that all those involved will make the service a success; notes the potential that it has to boost the profile of the Gaelic language while informing and entertaining people throughout the country; however also notes, with disappointment, the fact that this service is not intended to be available through Freeview until after the digital switchover and that this will be subject to a review by the BBC Trust, and calls on the UK Government and BBC to speed up this process so that the channel has the chance to be watched by Gaels and non-Gaels throughout the nation who possess a Freeview box but do not have cable nor a satellite television.

Supported by: Jamie HepburnLodged on Monday, September 08, 2008; Current

Friday, 5 September 2008

Save the Titians

Letter published in the Herald

Saturday, 30 August 2008


The National Galleries have revealed the urgent need to pay £100 million for the star pieces in the Bridgewater Collection in return for a continued loan of the other 25 paintings for another 21 years. All this haste is due, we are told, to the ultra-rich 7th Duke of Sutherland reassessing his family assets in view of current auction room prices for Old Masters. This raises several thoughts and serious questions for our public galleries and the ordinary tax payer.

Photo: Rob below the Duke of Sutherland's statue on Ben Bhraggie

Tracy Emin has called for a UK-wide subscription at a pound a skull which has eerie echoes from the time of the First Duke. She may not know that the late aristocrat's 'man of business' James Loch raised three monuments to the late Duke following a call for subscriptions in 1833. Many gentlemen of Sutherland gave generously and every tenant, left after the Duke's clearances, gave dutifully, thankful, no doubt, that they had been spared the evictions which were wrought by Loch and Sellar in the previous two decades. All the names were printed in a memorial for the gratifying estimation in which the First Duke was held by the gentlemen and inhabitants of Sutherland. The Herald is correct in saying that the infamous statue on Ben Bhraggie was erected in 1837, but having seen the correspondence in the National Library I can assure your readers that it was not completed till the end of 1838.

Nevertheless the Bridgewater Collection existed long before the 2nd Marquis of Stafford was rewarded with his dukedom. However since then death duties have complicated the inheritance processes of the rich. So loans to galleries and reassessments of asset values have to be done. I'm not against public subscriptions for such major works of art. Indeed the Scottish Government rightly indicated it will support the collection. Surely an appeal to the ultra-rich should be the first port of call, not from the pennies of the poor? However a couple of other matters need to be aired.

First, it was hinted by the John Leighton, director general of the NGS that 'we have known for decades that a moment like this would arrive'. The public should be told how many more works of art in the national collection are on loan, what their current market values amount to and whether the owners are likely to repossess their works as a result of their revalued family assets that could be threatened by death duties and burden the nation with more appeals for large sums.

Second, isn't this one of the very obvious ways that a National Oil Fund for Future Generations could have been invested? Unlike Norway which has amassed 200 billions in 12 years, we in Scotland have no such cushion for unexpected national costs and events.

Third, had the Sutherland family not fallen out and split their assets a hundred years ago, perhaps the 90,000 acres of Sutherland still held by the other branch of the family, under the ancient Scottish Earldom, could have been donated for national use and local development of the communities it still constrains. That would have kept the jewels of the art world and removed another bastion of private landed interests from our unfree land.

Rob Gibson MSP
4 Grant St., Wick

Thursday, 4 September 2008


Speech from Rob Gibson SNP MSP on the Scottish Government's Programme

3 September 2008

I am delighted to welcome the Government's programme. I will first concentrate on the wealthier and fairer aspect. There has been talk about helping disadvantaged communities and the need for social justice. I cannot think of a more immediate way to achieve those goals than by abolishing the council tax.

Johann Lamont: Will the member give way?

Rob Gibson: Not at the moment, thank you. I will develop my argument first.

The people in my part of Scotland who have higher fuel bills, transport costs and food costs and lower incomes will welcome the abolition of the council tax even more than those in many other parts of the country. On the doorsteps during the election a year ago, that issue was first on their minds. In all the opinion polling since then, a majority of those who say that they will support each of the parties in Scotland support a local income tax and want an end to the council tax. That will be achieved in this year by the Government, which I welcome very much.

Johann Lamont: Will the member give way?

Rob Gibson: No, thank you—not just now. We must get away from the kindergarten attacks about property versus income. Eventually, we will have a chance to discuss the issue in more detail, but I cannot think of a better way of dealing with the unfair council tax and its increases than the freeze that started this year and its abolition in due course. We may have to revisit the issue in future if we give local government more powers.

I move on to two issues with which I am particularly involved in the Parliament and which are to do with the greener aspect as well as the wealthier and fairer one. I am delighted that we will have a climate change bill and a marine bill. The linkage between the two is important in the area in which I live. The First Minister, in describing the conflicts on the sea, said that the "demands on Scotland's marine and coastal environment" affect "the energy sector, shipping, fisheries, tourism and conservation."

We must find ways in which to accommodate each of those issues. I echo the points that have been made that the forthcoming climate change bill must be as effective as possible, but I believe that the Parliament will find a means to achieve that. In the committee system, we will reach a consensus and find practical ways to measure and make progress.

I will give a little example to show how we will resolve problems through the proposed marine bill. At present, in trying to give effect to the EU birds directive, the Government has asked Scottish Natural Heritage to consider extensions to some of the special protection areas. It is proposed that one such area in the Pentland Firth, covering Duncansby, Dunnet Head and Stroma, should include the coastal waters 2km offshore into the inner sound. The proposal has been criticised locally because of its potential to interfere with the development of tidal power schemes. The proposed marine bill has the capacity to deal with those conflicts. Indeed the Government will consider the extension of such special protection areas to make sure that the environment, birds—in the case of the Pentland Firth—and tidal power development can be accommodated. That is entirely possible given our geography.

As we become more capable in the Parliament and the country of being at ease with the environment and development—economic development is at the centre of the Government's programme—we see in the proposed climate change bill the ability to take a front-facing role on global action. We and our neighbours have a great opportunity to contribute to the wider European picture. I suggest to the chamber that through non-legislative measures, such as the extension of renewable energy production in our country, we can contribute to meeting not only our own electricity needs but those of our neighbours in the south—England, Wales and Ireland—and in Europe.

The energy resources of the far north, which I represent, could deliver cheaper electricity for us 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? It is certainly not the UK Government. A fortnight ago, it stamped down hard yet again on allowing favourable grid-connection charges so that electricity generated here can be sent to market. Someone has to tackle the Office of Gas and Electricity Markets; clearly, the British Government is not doing so.

Last year, Malcolm Wicks, the UK energy minister, and David Cairns, assured the Caithness renewables conference that they were right behind them in developing renewable energy. People have seen right through that. Significantly, Gordon Brown's Government warned off the Scottish Government from talking to Norway about a super grid. Surely that is an inhibitor of the development of clean energy in Scotland to enhance our opportunities to reduce climate change. It is a good, practical example of where Scotland needs to be in control, where we need to work with our neighbours and partners and why the Scottish Government has to be in charge of our energy development. That is possible through the Government's programme and I commend it to Parliament.


Tuesday, 2 September 2008

Gibson urges volunteers for children's panel

News release
Immediate release


SNP MSP Rob Gibson has urged adults in the Highlands and Islands to help improve the prospects for children who have been neglected or abused by getting involved in children's panels.

Mr Gibson was talking at the start of this year's campaign to recruit more children's panel members.

He said...

"The Children's Panel is an important institution in public life. It can make a real change on the lives for youngsters who have undergone a turbulent time in their lives.

"By listening to those that have been neglected, abused or have fallen foul of the law and ensuring support is in place early we can improve the future outlook for them, the locality and Scotland as a whole."

"Children's panels can help children realise their potential, however for them to continue there needs to be volunteers. No special qualifications are needed and people from all backgrounds will help deliver a balanced system to improve the life chances for young people in the region."


Note to Editor:

Ways to apply to join the panel:
Call: 0845 601 2770
Text: Panel3 to 61611

Monday, 1 September 2008

Scottish minority languages on the agenda at Festival of Politics

Published in Holyrood Magazine

Tuesday, 26 August 2008

Progress has been made to recognise minority languages in Scotland but more must be done at both the domestic and EU level, according to a panel at the Festival of Politics.

Speaking at the ‘Linguistic Diversity in Europe – Let’s Begin at Home’ event chaired by Rob Gibson MSP in the Scottish Parliament, specialists in the field engaged in a lively debate on the way forward for Scots and other minority languages within the European context.

Neasa Ni Chinneide, native Irish speaker and President of the European Bureau of Lesser Used Languages, an organisation partly funded by the European Commission that promotes and funds minority languages in Europe, described the shift in culture and attitudes towards language taking place across Europe. It used to be the case, she said, that minority languages were viewed as a threat to cohesion and any mention of them would make EU politicians ‘sweat’. However major advances have been made in recent years to recognise and promote lesser used languages, she told the festival. The move by the French Government, “the European state with the strongest leaning towards monolinguislism”, on 21 July to recognise regional languages in their constitution was a major step which demonstrates this shift, Ni Chinneide said.

A disparity between the way Scots and Gaelic are treated by the UK and Scottish Governments was highlighted by Billy Kay, broadcaster and author of The Mither Tongue. Kay told the audience that although Scotland is home to 1.5 million Scots speakers compared with 60,000 Gaelic speakers, Gaelic has a highly effective lobby and gains more recognition and representation than the more widely spoken language with a Gaelic television channel due to be launched next month. He lamented the way Scots had often not been taken seriously by the political establishment in the past, recalling a former Scottish Culture Minister telling him he had thrown his invitation written in Scots in the bin, referring to it as ‘funny writing’. Kay commented: “I would say the UK is probably the second most hostile country in Europe to its minority languages.”

Mathew Fitt, author of Butt n Ben A Go Go and Education Officer with Itchy-Coo, an imprint for children’s books in Scots, spoke about the use of Scots in education. He said that a lot of progress was being made on this front under the SNP Government with Scots included in Curriculum for Excellence following a campaign. Fitt, who has visited around 500 schools across Scotland to promote the use of Scots in education, told the festival that in his experience when children are asked to speak in Scots in the classroom, the language they often use in the home, they fill with confidence. Fitt said: “Scots has often been ignored in the past and airbrushed out. This is changing but it must change faster.”

Ni Chinneide agreed that education was a key battleground for the promotion of minority languages, at all levels from primary to third level. The other chief battleground, she said, is media. New media, including internet and digital television channels, present a major opportunity for languages to break into the mainstream she added.

Neil Mitchison, the European Commission Representative in Scotland, stressed that the debate on Scotland’s minority languages must begin at home. Political decisions must be taken in Scotland first and then the EU can play a role, acting as an umpire in the process, he said.