Friday, 1 May 2009

Budget Blow to the Highlands

THE Westminster Budget details have damaged the North of Scotland once again. Diesel fuel duty dealt an above inflation increase and whisky at 14p a bottle dearer. Each hits major economic activity in our area.

The First Minister Alex Salmond has just raised the international profile of whisky on a recent trip to China, then inexplicably the UK Government target the industry unfairly.

This point was rammed home by Gerry O'Donnell, director of The Famous Grouse, at a reception I hosted in Parliament last week. It was a collaboration with the RSPB to safeguard the Black Grouse that attracts 50p from every bottle of Black Grouse whisky. It does not deserve to fail.


Alex Salmond as an MP has spoken in the House of Commons of the need to reflate the Scots economy. Bogus 'efficiency savings' could amount to £500 million each year jeopardising thousands of jobs. This may well contribute to Scottish opinion that sees the SNP Government as far more competent than the UK Labour regime.

Certainly with Mr Brown's moral compass in smithereens and dodgy forecasts of good economic news before this year's end from Chancellor Darling we surely need full powers in Scotland to tackle the problem.

Remember, the big banks based here collapsed due to poor regulation in London. Scotland, like our neighbours in Europe wants re-regulation as fast as possible.

This makes the views of the SNP all the more relevant in the European election in June as they coincide with those of most of our continental partners.

Along with my colleague Linda Fabiani we have asked both the conveners of the Holyrood Economy and Finance Committees to explore a plan for a joint enquiry into the banking crisis that has cost us so dear. We await any support from Labour and Tory members Earlier this week the Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs, Richard Lochhead visited Alness to discuss with local people how their "drive, determination, talent and imagination have made a great difference in their areas". I quote from the opening to the Scottish Government, Rural Funding Opportunities Guide. When we sat round the table in the Board Room at Alness Heritage Centre last Monday morning the upbeat tale of the Easter Ross town's revival unfolded. We then visited the Alness allotments society at Milnafua.

If anything illustrates the current spirit of the town it is the huge demand for allotments. People want to grow fresh food and gain from cheaper produce during the recession. But the issue of growing more locally requires a Highland-wide policy. I'm delighted to see the Council will issue a consultation on allotments next month.

However the key issue is available land. As one of my SNP councillor friends put it, there is no shortage of land in the Highlands. Only the price demanded by housing developers has pushed this up. I was delighted to hear ideas for other areas of Alness. I most certainly believe that the Milnafua allotments set a new standard. Surely the old land settlement laws can be invoked to provide more sites?


ON Tuesday I hosted a seminar entitled Voices of Congolese Women, in partnership with The Women's International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF) on its 94th Anniversary. One of its founders was Chrystal Macmillan, a suffragette from Scotland.

The situation in the DRC has never been worse as we heard from several Congolese women themselves. In many African countries women represent the majority of the population and are responsible for the daily survival of their communities, yet are frequently abused, ignored or barred from the decision making process.

That must change if progress is to be made.

Photos: Top from left to right - Rob Gibson MSP, Anne McLaughlin MSP, Minister for External Affairs Michael Russell, a young student and interested member of the Congolese community living in Glasgow, Dr Aileen McLeod, another interested member of the Congolese community living in Glasgow, Maureen Watt MSP.

Bottom - The event's speakers, guests and MSPs coming together after the seminar.

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