Friday, 22 May 2009

London can learn from Scotland's open democracy

IT would be just grand to think that the current crisis engulfing Westminster would lead to real democratic change. That's not going to happen by holding a general election as the Tories say.

However, a huge SNP surge in such a vote could force a fair voting system on the Thames and boost the needs of Scotland's popular claim to achieve maximum powers for Holyrood.

This would go far beyond the expenses scandal to question how any incoming government in London could build rather than thwart democracy, which Westminster has studiously avoided for centuries. The resignation of the Speaker is no solution.

People I meet on my constituency duties have been disgusted with erring MPs and their lax expenses rules. Folk are incredulous at the slipshod administration of Westminster and want to believe in anything other than the incompetence of the Brown regime that caps it all. The emptiness of debate in that place is good reason enough for a speedy solution.

As an MSP representing the Highlands and Islands, I am incensed that the London scandal prompts open season on all politicians. Our Holyrood expenses system is receipt based, strictly policed and shows all the costs and details we are allowed online. Yet the mudslinging is indiscriminate. If ever London needed to learn from a modern, open democracy it is now that Scotland, once again, shows the way.

My friend Nina MacAulay, of Drumbeg, sums up the disgust of many folk. Returning her own and her late husband's war medals to highlight the depths to which Westminster's values have fallen in people's eyes.

Meanwhile, bills have to be paid and jobs are still jeopardised by the serial failure of successive governments in London to properly regulate the banks. Despite the deep recession, commentators and journalists who lazily accepted Gordon Brown's word that boom and bust were banished for ever now need scapegoats to hide their collusion in that fantasy.

While the planet heats alarmingly, Sri Lanka burns, soldiers still die in Afghanistan, more firms file for bankruptcy, and the papers still ignore the roots of these world problems yet they search for every last ounce of scandal from the "Palace of Varieties".


MEANWHILE, I've been working with health workers, hauliers, harbour boards, distillers, green energy developers, farmers and crofters, to name a few, with their issues, problems and opportunities.

They want the good name and the good services of the Scottish Parliament and Government to help them save their jobs, services and precious family homes. I believe that Westminster must fix its broken self in time for folks to see the European elections on June 4 as a chance to let Scotland prosper again in a European community that increasingly values our clean energy, wholesome food and democratic instincts. Otherwise, those who vote will punish parties responsible for the culture of secrecy and lax financial morality that sums up the UK. Instead of hope there may be spite, instead of future prospects for Scots it could be vengeful anger at all politics.

Photo: European Parliament candidate Dr Aileen McLeod with North MSP Rob Gibson. The pair found a domestic "tirlick", or propeller, common on Caithness farms 50 years ago, during a trip to Kirkwall.


WEDNESDAY was EU Maritime Day and fell the day after the only direct shipping route to the heart of Europe restarted. The Scottish Viking sailed into Rosyth from Zeebrugge to a big welcome and a reception in Edinburgh Castle for those responsible.

More locally, last weekend I was travelling between Scrabster and Stromness on the NorthLink ferry Hamnavoe. The weather was fair and the ship on its best behaviour.

My case work on the need for a CT scanner, fair fuel prices, hospital cleanliness and tourism promotion in the Homecoming year also led me to revisit EMEC to track the progress of marine renewables development.

After hours I campaigned with my colleague Dr Aileen McLeod, one of our European election candidates. She has gained much insight into Brussels thinking as policy head for Alyn Smith MEP.

Indeed, European policies have often helped life here. No, I don't mean the disastrous Common Fisheries Policy, but two examples are farmers and those seeking clean water who have much to thank the community for. Scots know that the SNP is the only party that represents Scottish interests alone. We have the allies in Europe that will help us to turn Scotland into a member state.

In Kirkwall, earlier this week, we visited the Alternative Energy Agency. We spied an old propeller on display which drove wee domestic windmills on farms and crofts from the 1930s to 1950s. In Orkney and Caithness they were called "tirlicks". The one on display had been used on a Caithness farm. It is a Lucas Freelight and delivered 12 volts – enough to light the kitchen and the byre.

Considering the technological leap to today, with the Whitelee wind farm on Eaglesham moor able to power all homes in Glasgow, we have seen a Scottish renewables revolution. And to think that the waves, tides and sun can do the same is magic. Except it is more than that. Future generations of Scots will thank us for being pioneers. Amazingly we can lead the world in marine power. Twelve volts in 1940has led us to 12 gigawatts in 2020.

Rob Gibson MSP

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