Friday, 6 February 2009

An urgent need for concensus

THE passage of the Scottish Government's budget has occupied the headlines following the Labour and LibDem parties playing politics with the proposals ten days ago.

Additionally the two Green MSPs would not accept the assurance of John Swinney the Cabinet Secretary for Finance that the home insulation scheme they desired would be funded to the tune of £34 million.

Under threat was the process of setting the council tax in each local authority. The council tax freeze which has cushioned hard-pressed householders in this recession was threatened. If the budget was not adopted over £220 a year more would have been demanded from Highland taxpayers. A whole raft of proposals was included in the SNP Budget to help us ride out the recession. Of course with no borrowing powers for the Scottish Parliament, unlike Westminster, the Northern Ireland Assembly and local councils, the SNP plans had one hand tied behind our backs.

In effect Labour and the LibDems voted against abolition of business rates for 120,000 struggling, small businesses, against accelerated investment in affordable housing, cash for free personal care, additional spending in the NHS, extra cash to put more bobbies on the beat and funds to reduce prescription charges.

Last Thursday common sense began to dawn as the Labour leader had his ears pinned back by Mr Salmond. Iain Gray in voting against the budget had put 35,000 jobs in jeopardy said the First Minister as he underlined the SNP's determination to pass the budget quickly to insure that these investments can be saved. Now this will involve moderation from all parties. Why did Labour and LibDems play politics with local services in a recession? I'm sure Gordon Brown would not want a Scottish election at this time.


THE SNP government has approved 24 renewable energy developments in the last eighteen months — more than in the whole four years up to May 2007.

With the recent approval for the Siadar marine energy project in the Western Isles — an internationally significant development — Scotland is leading the way in green energy. Siadar, the two bio-energy plants under way at Tullis Russell and Diageo in Fife, offshore energy in the Pentland Firth and Scotland's future role in the North Sea Super grid will all create jobs in construction and in operation as well as cutting our reliance on non-renewable energy sources.

The Energy Committee enquiry continues to occupy my attention and I am delighted about the above news. However, we need to gain support from the European Investment bank for our renewable energy developments. I am deeply dissatisfied with the failure of the formerly high flying Royal Bank of Scotland which played no part in funding renewable projects in Scotland, instead it supported such clients abroad. I am hoping that the UK Government's control of the bank's assets will bring instructions to reassess the risks of tidal and offshore wind projects. They certainly can't be as crazy as the billions lost to sub-prime mortgages that were waved through by the previous management.


THE Climate Change Bill is now centre stage. House insulation was an issue regarding Green dissent from the budget, but the same day I shared a prize in the MSP Home Challenge for the Best Future Energy Saving Plans. In attempting to get the biggest reduction in CO2 equivalent emission from our Evanton home we started favourites. Our house has the lowest overall emissions even after others did better at reducing electricity uses. I will report on the difference our solar panels make when fitted.

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