Tuesday, 21 April 2009

Credibility of nuclear deterent in 'tatters'

Published in the John O'Groat Journal, 10 April 2009
MARINE spatial planning is much in the news. Its importance to the diverse uses of the Pentland Firth cannot be overstated.

It will be supervised by the new marine management body Marine Scotland which has direct responsibility for marine science, planning, policy development, management and compliance monitoring measures. It is also clear that the gulf or divide between devolved and reserved powers of Holyrood and Westminster affect how this will develop.

When my colleagues from the energy committee were up here last month the various regulatory regimes came into focus. Scrabster harbour controls waters out to Dunnet Head, Orkney Islands Council controls Scapa Flow. Meanwhile, the Maritime and Coastguard Agency has responsibility for shipping and the Crown Estate rubs its hands with glee at the thought of enhanced rents from harbours and marine renewable sites when they develop wave and tidal power capacity.

I am glad Scottish ministers will publish a renewables action plan later this year and that they recognise our ports sector in Scotland is diverse and adaptable. Also, I am glad to see recognition that our Caithness ports are well placed to pursue commercial opportunities in partnership with the expanding marine renewables sector, as Stewart Stevenson told me last week at finance and sustainable growth question time.

He confirmed that the recently-reconvened forum for renewable energy development in Scotland's marine energy group is considering the marine renewable industry's port and transport needs. The identified needs will be set out in the Scottish Government's renewables' action plan.

I went on to ask him to identify the Scottish, UK and European Union funding streams which ports such as Scrabster, Scapa Flow and those in the Cromarty Firth can access to speed up the development of tidal and wave devices in the Pentland Firth.

He replied that it is indeed important that we maximise access to all sorts of funding sources for our harbours, and that funds are available from all. That is particularly the case in light of the substantially higher than expected interest from developers, as a result of the Crown Estate's recent round one leasing programme for the area. The Scottish Government is keeping a very close eye on funding from all possible sources.


I HAVE always been concerned that one of the hidden snags to using the huge power of the Pentland Firth would be that other reserved power outwith the civil law, the Ministry of Defence. Just what its approach is to new equipment in the seas used by their ships and submarines has yet to be fathomed.

On a wider level of UK defence policy, it was shocking to learn last week, through an admission by the MoD, that UK nuclear submarines had been involved in 14 collisions since 1979. Parliamentary questions also revealed that there had been 213 fires on board nuclear submarines.

Last month's mid-Atlantic collision between HMS Vanguard and Le Triomphant was serious enough, but the catalogue of near disasters is extremely disturbing. One collision is one too many – especially when it involves a submarine carrying weapons of mass destruction. The possible consequences are unthinkable and, additionally, more than 200 fires aboard nuclear submarines over the past 20 years is equally grave. We do not know what use subs make of the seas around Caithness and Orkney but it is a factor to be openly explored.


THE overture by President Obama to Russian President Medvedev at the recent G20 meeting in London was a breath of fresh air as he sought the eventual elimination of nuclear weapons. However, Prime Minister Brown is still seeking to upgrade Trident.

This follows a procurement debacle which has seen the MoD unable to answer basic questions as to whether new missiles will fit in the replacement Trident submarines. The credibility of the nuclear deterrent is in tatters and it should be scrapped.

Most Scots oppose the Trident weapons system, based on the Clyde, and the worrying catalogue of incidents raises serious safety concerns. As my Westminster colleague Angus Robertson MP, the SNP defence spokesperson, said: "Now, more than ever, the time is right to remove nuclear weapons from our waters". We could recycle the taxes into peaceful marine uses.


A NEW business development programme, designed to help food and drink producers secure lucrative supermarket listings, has been launched by Scotland Food and Drink, Sainsbury's and the Scottish Government.

Eleven food and drink companies from all over Scotland will soon start the six-month programme. A similar course, operated by Scottish Enterprise in 2001, resulted in sales boosts in excess of £10 million – an increase of 85 per cent.

The programme will consist of hands-on workshops to introduce companies to buyers and success stories. Mey Selections, our local brand of iconic Scottish meat, biscuits, cakes and cheese – all of which originate from within a 100-mile radius of the Castle of Mey – has been chosen. This is one of many imaginative moves by the Scottish Government food policy.
Published in the John O'Groat Journal, 10 April 2009

Richard Lochhead, cabinet secretary for rural affairs and the environment explained: "In the current economic climate we are determined to do everything we can to help deliver a sustainable and profitable future for our retailers, farmers, producers and suppliers. Later this year we will unveil the next steps in Scotland's first-ever national food and drink policy, which is aiming to boost business and put more Scottish food on consumers' plates, while at the same time delivering major health and environmental benefits."

The Highlands and Islands needs a fully functioning food network. Unlike Jamie Stone (Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross Lib Dem MSP) and other opposition members, I know that a sustainable model is not dependent on HIE funding changes. Budget cuts are not the issue as he and Labour colleagues allege. The SNP is seeking to ensure a sound future for food producers here and across Scotland.


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