Published in the John O'Groat Journal, 27 February 2009
IT makes your eyes water thinking about the demands of the Chancellor of the Exchequer Alistair Darling.
He wants us to find "efficiency savings" of £1 billion on the Scottish budget from 2010 to 2012. Right now, as agreed with local councils, actual savings of two per cent from the services and costs of all public bodies are being returned for frontline use. Mr Darling's ideas are very different. They amount to a £1bn raid on the Scottish budget.
The Downing Street downturn is going to hit every family and community. That's why the Scottish Government's First Minister, Alex Salmond, told the British-Irish Council last week that Scotland and Wales need borrowing powers just like Westminster. This week he has met with Messrs Brown and Darling to press the point.
Some of you may know of the Calman Commission, a damp squib lit by the Labour, Tory and Lib Dem parties in the Scottish Parliament to review devolution. You will be keen to know how such issues like borrowing powers for Scotland were received by Calman to dig Scotland out of depression. It seems that a veto has been placed on anything radical like tax powers, but Andy Kerr, speaking for Labour, agreed to the need for borrowing powers. After 10 years of devolution when Scotland's Parliament takes on more and more responsibilities, the Labour Government in London is hanging on grimly to every lever of control that it can.
The polls in England suggest the Tories are set to trounce Labour whenever a UK election is called. My hunch is that we will have to wait until spring 2010 for that.
This year, meanwhile, on June 4, the European Parliament elections are held.
Most electoral tests are a referendum on the popularity and effectiveness of the current UK Government. So it is obvious to me that Labour will get a shock.
A YEAR ago I was on committee business in Brussels exploring the development of climate change laws. Earlier this month, as part of a delegation from the energy committee, I joined colleagues in Brussels to take the temperature on the EU Commission's plans for clean energy, and carbon capture and storage (CCS) plans which hugely affect Scotland.
The message is that Scotland has 40 per cent of the EU's renewable capacity. So why does London's man in Scotland, Jim Murphy, keep pestering us with demands to build nuclear power stations? The fact is that we have a growing UK distribution grid. Ofgem, the electricity and gas regulator, forces our producers to pay more to access the grid if the source of the power is north of Derby.
So I very much welcomed comments by Scotland's chief scientific adviser Anne Glover about the enormous clean, green-energy potential that exists in Scotland.
Speaking on BBC Scotland's Politics Show last Sunday, Professor Glover confirmed that Scotland has the scientific and engineering skills to develop 40 per cent of Europe's renewable potential. Her intervention confirms that Scotland's ambition to develop our renewables potential is matched by our capability.
Scotland can and will be a world leader in clean, green energy. Our wealth of natural resources, combined with our scientific and engineering leadership, means that the country can develop 40 per cent of Europe's renewable potential.
I hope Jim Murphy and Labour leaders were listening to the chief scientific adviser's remarks. Every penny wasted on new nuclear technology in Scotland would be a penny less for the development of clean, green energy. Scotland is well on course to be the clean, green energy capital of Europe – we already have a greater installed capacity of renewable energy than nuclear.
Developing this massive potential is the way forward for energy security and safety in Scotland.
We can secure clean, low-carbon energy by harnessing Scotland's vast green potential and tackling climate change without adding to the burden of toxic radioactive waste.
That's one of the reasons why the SNP Government is so enthusiastic for clean power in the Pentland Firth as a key to our local economic future.
OVER the recess, from February 15 to 23, I have undertaken a series of meetings with the Scottish Ambulance Service, Highlands and Islands Enterprise, the UHI Millennium Institute and, along with other MSPs, British Telecom, to discuss how we kick-start the Far North economy. I am hearing positive messages. So when it comes to speaking up for the Far North I am optimistic; if we pull together we can sort out various issues.
The Working Time Directive will have to be negotiated and the SNP and UK Governments will get it fixed for retained firefighters and ambulance crews without scaremongering.
The UHI is gradually reaching the point when it will be a full university and be ready to play an even bigger part in the knowledge economy we need to succeed.
British Telecom will have to show us what it takes to get satisfactory broadband speeds for our rural areas. This will require government help, hopefully backed by the European Recovery Programme which identifies broadband connection as a key tool in spending our way out of the recession.
With the Euro polls coming round in June, a big SNP vote will underpin that positive message and show that Scots are ready to take advantage of our great resources and ride out the international financial gloom with the determination to land on our feet.