Monday, 29 June 2009

The First Armed Forces Day

I fully back the efforts in support of our armed forces personnel around Armed Forces Day and through Help for Heroes. Like most families in this country we have relations and friends serving today in places like Afghanistan. They need all our support.

I was invited to take part in the parade in Tain at 3pm on Saturday 27th June. Unfortunately the late arrival of my invite meant I had agreed engagements on the North Coast. But I will be glad to support the spirit of the day.

It is one of the anomalies of the UK that our armed forces have to rely on voluntary action of this kind. Meanwhile our taxes never seem to be spent on the top priorities such as ensuring an end to lack of equipment for our forces on the front line. Yet there has been no shortage of funds for the nuclear deterrent. But I am glad to see that despite an unsettled world the Liberal Democrats are at last seeking an end to Trident and even David Cameron is questioning its necessity in financially difficult times. The SNP has long called for it to be axed.

I recall a slogan we used many years ago - Support our Troops and Scrap Trident. The Scottish Government with its Minister for Veterans is helping to cushion the return of our heroes after their service to the nation and press the UK Government to close the nuclear bases on the Clyde.

Rob Gibson SNP MSP Highlands and Islands
4 Grant St., Wick, Caithness

Saturday, 27 June 2009

A world-leading Climate Change Bill

A wee thank you that I was delighted to receive -
Dear Rob

On behalf of Christian Aid, I would like to thank you for all the work that you undertook to secure a strong climate change bill. Christian Aid, alongside other members of the Stop Climate Chaos Coalition is delighted at the strong interim target and many other measures in the legislation.

We are heartened that MSPs from all parties listened to the thousands of Scots, including many Christian Aid supporters, who campaigned for a strong climate change bill. As our new pal, Arnold Schwarzenegger said yesterday, "Scotland's ambitious and comprehensive targets encourage other nations to step up to the plate as we look toward an international agreement in Copenhagen, and it sends a message to the world that we must act now and must act swiftly."

Coming ahead of the talks in Copenhagen Scotland has also sent a signal to developing countries what can be achieved in industrialised countries with the right political will.

I hope you enjoy a good break over recess.

With best wishes.


Policy and Parliamentary Officer
Christian Aid

Friday, 19 June 2009

Euro poll dealt Brown body blow

Published in the John O'Groat Journal & Caithness Courier
What a month in the break-up of trust in British politics as the European Union election results dealt a near-fatal blow for Gordon Brown’s reputation. Then he was forced into a cabinet reshuffle by serial resignations of key cabinet colleagues and MPs many up to their necks in sleaze were axed from standing again. His dither and deep unpopularity made Mr Brown seek succour in diversionary tactics. Let’s discuss democratic renewal he thought. We should sort out the MPs’ expenses row, get the economy on course and set up major commissions to report back sometime.

Transparency was to be the order of the day. A week later, however, a secret enquiry into the Iraq war was announced which gave the game away. Hanging onto power in the elective dictatorship that is UK rule was after all Brown’s default position. Fortuitously Sir Kenneth Calman’s year- long Commission into Scottish government reported earlier this week, Gordon ticked a box in his sham review of Westminster by adopting Calman which he claimed as ‘bold and realistic’.


Let’s have a closer look at the aims of the PM and the Unionist-inspired Calman report. Its key aim is to show “how to improve the financial accountability of the Scottish Parliament, while preserving the economic Union and the social Union which define Scotland’s relationship with the rest of the UK.”

How does this help us in Scotland to get a sustainable economy, a growing population and build a future on our huge natural and intellectual assets? Does it provide real tax powers and access to revenues of oil and gas? It does not.

Incredibly the Unionist balancing act emphasises Scottish government accountability, not normal tax powers. Giving the Scots Government more room to vary income tax is not sought by any party. Refusing to offer Scotland more than borrowing powers that local government already has keeps the purse strings firmly in the Treasury grip in Whitehall. This epitomises Whitehall control freakery.

This report tries to counter the SNP government’s widely discussed National Conversation. This week the First Minister spoke with an audience of around 170 people in West Lothian. He suggested that the SNP referendum plans for independence would be published on St Andrews Day and hinted that Calman’s minimum improvements for devolution could form a third question. Gordon Brown has admitted that ‘it’s the constitution, stupid’ that we must address.


What put Brown and Calman in perspective was the Euro election results which were a historic SNP victory in Scotland. Here in the Highland Council area the SNP vote rose by 8.6% on 2004 Euro result. In comparison the Lib Dems were up 6.1%, Labour down 6.3% and the Tories down 2.5%.

The SNP are the only party to make a significant advance at the expense of Labour, with a ten point surge since the last European election – it was the biggest anywhere in the UK and double the swing from Labour to the Tories UK-wide.

Sadly the Euro turn-out was far too low to compare results with the 2007 Scottish poll which returned the SNP minority government in Edinburgh. Here in the Highlands and Islands SNP still has a clear lead over other parties. Our all-Scotland approach of matching policies to meet local needs in tight financial times is appreciated by a growing support for the party of Scottish Government.

Our MEPs Ian Hudghton and Alyn Smith were re-elected. In truth we were close to gaining the third Euro seat out of six which could only strengthen further the voice of the Highlands and Islands. Alyn’s work on the Agriculture Committee in Brussels has been widely praised. Ian has held the line on repatriating parts of the Common Fisheries Policy to Scottish control and both have championed the new industries in marine renewables which will come good for many jobs in our area that will migrate from nuclear decommissioning to wave and tide power projects.

The other backdrop to Calman is the newly published poll of Holyrood voting intentions YouGov for the Sunday Times published last weekend. SNP has doubled its poll lead over Labour in the Scottish Parliament constituency vote since the previous YouGov poll in April – and puts the parties and MSPs who support Scottish independence within touching distance of an absolute majority in the Scottish Parliament: just five seats short.

This direction of travel in voters’ minds is for more powers to shape our lives by decision of the Scottish Parliament.


Getting on with good government, Richard Lochhead Cabinet Secretary for Agriculture unveiled a package of new measures to help livestock producers in fragile areas such as ours. The immediate 18% increases in payments to farmers and crofters in Less Favoured Areas hopes to stabilise sheep and cattle production. I’m sure this will help the quality products marketed through Mey Selections and also points to the need for cash to be targeted at producers instead of armchair agriculturalists who took Single Farm Payments decided at historic levels in 2001. They then cut production. This is tied up with another important issue, the steep decline of sheep produced from our hills and glens.

I know that a complex weave of estates with shooting policies, fuel costs, hauliers margins, the need for more local abattoir development and a closer targeting of scarce agricultural support funds all play their part. The general welcome for the SNP Agriculture Secretary’s proposals and understanding among farmers and crofters that they have allies in Europe is a sign that Scotland can weather the economic storm and produce more of the wholesome food our citizens need. Now to tackle the supermarkets which refuse to pay the proper price for such quality produce.

Tuesday, 16 June 2009

Gig review: Isle of Eigg Anniversary Ceilidh

The Scotsman
Published Date: 16 June 2009
-By Sue Wilson
IN A thoughtful speech on Saturday at the opening of Eigg's new Croft House Museum, MSP Rob Gibson reflected on the importance of continuity to communities such as this. Even while the island's 21st century crofters invest in solar panels and polytunnels, many of life's fundamentals here – as represented by the museum's evocative artefacts, testament to one family's history over the last century – remain unchanged.

In many ways, the same applies to the collective merrymaking that holds sway over Eigg the weekend before midsummer, at the islanders' annual celebration of having bought their homeland in 1997. This year's headlining band, The Chair, came all the way from Orkney to raise the roof of the community hall, mixing up Balkan, blues, funk and reggae influences with their frontline fiddle and accordion tunes. And they were followed by several hours of DJ Dolphin Boy's majestically maverick beats. Highlanders and islanders have been perfecting the art of righteous fun for centuries, and the profound, even primal conviviality underpinning Eigg's ceilidh felt truly, transcendently timeless. Come late Sunday afternoon, as the sun continued to beam down in defiance of all forecasts, and a lone bagpiper struck up outside the café, his choice of Gordon Duncan's gorgeously poignant The Sleeping Tune seemed only too appropriate.

The rest of Saturday's main gig had featured redoubtable regulars the JaMaTha Ceilidh Band, comprising the likes of mandolin ace Dagger Gordon, Andy Thorburn on piano and local percussion legend Eddie "Spoons" Scott, who kicked off a marathon night's dancing.

Next up was fellow Eigg resident Donna MacCulloch, leading a rock-style band on bagpipes, in a dynamic set of self-penned tunes. Once again, the material and instrumentation might have been novel, but the shared delight they engendered felt at least as ancient as it did modern.

Friday, 12 June 2009

'Liberation' hope for Nigg

I'M glad that the LibDem-led Highland Council regime has finally launched the last stage consultation on liberating Nigg from its long half life.

The SNP has argued at council and parliamentary levels for this from the start because Nigg is a key part of the fabrication base including the building of offshore windmill jackets. The proposals for around 200 such wind towers to function around the Beatrice oil platform will take several years to achieve. That's abundantly clear as the Economy Energy and Tourism Committee, of which I am vice convener, reaches its conclusions on our year-long energy enquiry. Scotland's clean energy options must be grasped firmly here or we could literally miss the boat.


IF the Euro elections show any one thing clearly it is a historic SNP victory in Scotland. Building on the 2007 result for the Scots Parliament our votes across the nation reached a new high watermark. Here in the Highland Council area the SNP vote rose by 8.6 per cent on the 2004 Euro result. In comparison the Lib Dems were up 6.1 per cent, Labour down 6.3 per cent and the Tories down 2.5 per cent.

The SNP are the only party to make a significant advance at the expense of Labour, with a ten-point surge since the last European election — the biggest vote increase in the history of the European elections in Scotland and one of the largest increases in any Scottish election. With the swing from Labour — at nearly eight per cent to the SNP — it was the biggest anywhere in the UK and double the swing from Labour to the Tories UK-wide.

Sadly, last Thursday's turnout was far too low to compare results with the 2007 Scottish poll which returned the SNP minority government in Edinburgh. But in Highlands and Islands the SNP still has a clear lead over other parties which shows that our all-Scotland approach of matching policies to meet local needs in tight financial times is appreciated by a growing support for the party of Scottish Government.

This also reflects well on the power of work put in by our MEPs Ian Hudghton and Alyn Smith who were re-elected. In truth we were close to gaining the third Euro seat out of six which could only strengthen further the voice of the Highlands and Islands.

Alyn's work on the Agriculture Committee in Brussels has been widely praised.

Ian has held the line on repatriating parts of the Common Fisheries Policy to Scottish control and both have championed the new industries in marine renewables which will come good for jobs in our area.


ALONG with my colleagues on the Transport, Infrastructure and Climate Change Committee we have ploughed through hundreds of amendments at Stage Two on the historic progress of the Climate Change Bill. Over the past three weeks we have built on the Government's framework and strengthened the Bill.


HELP from the group Stop Climate Chaos Scotland has allowed me to put stricter scrutiny in the bill to monitor the effects on our unique wildlife and blanket peat bogs and native forests of the north. Also along with Scottish Renewables I have been seeking ways to achieve an ambitious renewable heat programme to take us from the present one per cent of demand to 11 per cent by 2020. That's a steep curve but it mirrors the opportunities presented to create new green jobs and to decarbonise home and commercial heating.


IN debating our Scottish waste strategy in Parliament this week we do not need to go down the road of incinerators in every area. Highland Council officers, please note.

Clarity needed on Highland Council Waste Strategy

I want to home in on the issues surrounding how each local authority area reduces the amount that we put out as waste and how they deal with each part of that.

In the case of Highland Council, I have to question whether there is any kind of strategy in place for the council to do that job. It is of long-standing concern to me that officers in councils like to find big solutions to solve problems. One incinerator can deal with an awful lot of problems, but it creates large problems, too. Unfortunately, we are completely unclear what the strategy of the Liberal-led Highland Council is.

To illuminate that further, I will provide an example. Since 2000, the Golspie Recycling and Environmental Action Network has ensured that it has had the highest level of collection and recycling of waste from kerbsides of anywhere in Scotland. That has been supported by several tranches of the council. The network offers recycling to 75 per cent of east and central Sutherland residents and has achieved an 82 per cent participation rate. It provides 17 full-time jobs and two part-time jobs, some of which have gone to people who would find it hard to get employment otherwise. It brings in £400,000 to the local economy every year, which, for 2,500 people, is very important. It extends its work so that the range of items that it recycles is greater than the range of items that the council collects at present. It can offer a similar collection service for businesses.

We must ask whether, if the proposed incinerator at Invergordon, some 20 miles from Golspie, is built, Highland Council will immediately cancel its arrangement with GREAN, because a stream of waste will be needed to fill the incinerator. We must ensure that councils, including the one in whose area I live, do not replace best practice with a far worse option. Councils need to consider what voluntary bodies and social enterprises can do that councils have not been able to achieve. Such thinking is fundamental to our ability to take forward a low or zero waste strategy.
If 25 per cent of waste in Scotland is to be dealt with in modern incinerators—the idea has the support in principle of the Sustainable Development Commission Scotland—where should those incinerators be? There are proposals to build incinerators in Peterhead, Invergordon, Dunbar, Irvine, Glenfarg, Elgin and Dumfries. What is the strategy behind the proposals? Have those towns gone for the idea because it seems to be a commercial possibility?

As the consultation on the national waste management plan is developed during the summer, we must ask questions that enable us to ensure that recycling and reuse groups such as GREAN, and not incinerators, are the top priority.

Friday, 5 June 2009

Nationalisation the 'curse of Scotland'

Published: 05 June, 2009
John O'Groat Journal

ARGUMENTS for and against nationalisation and privatisation are ever present in economic policy.

President Obama has taken a majority share, ie nationalisation, in General Motors as did the UK Government in Lloyds TSB, RBS and Northern Rock. Meanwhile Lord Mandelson is intent in part privatisation of Royal Mail, in the teeth of backbench Labour unrest and the SNP. Nothing is new under the sun as far as governments being forced to act in a depression. Looking back to the 1920s when many Scottish engineering firms, shipping lines and railway companies were merged, the disaster for Scotland was their control moving to London.

This was underlined by the first president of the SNP, Robert Bontine Cunninghame Graham, whose long political involvement led him to co-found with Keir Hardie the Scottish Labour Party in 1888 and 40 years later the National Party of Scotland that became the SNP in 1934, of which Cunninghame Graham was first president.

During the recession of 1930 he had warned that nationalisation from London would be the "curse of Scotland". Despite his socialist outlook he saw what lack of local control would do. This was proven by nationalisation 10 years after he died in 1936. Railways, road transport and air services along with coal and steel were taken over by the state. I have lodged a motion in parliament to seek parliamentary and government support to arrange celebrations of the 160th anniversary of his birth in 2012, on May 24. More of which anon. (see motion at end of this post)


ON May 29, 1934, Captain Ted Fresson flew the first regular airmail flight from Inverness to Kirkwall via Wick. Last Friday,

on the 75th anniversary and on a glorious summer morning, I witnessed a de Havilland Dragon take off at Dalcross with an anniversary bag of airmail to remember that pioneer.

Our inter-island lifeline flights were founded by this adventurer of the air. The mails and the newspapers arrived within 24 hours as never before and all the skills of these pilots who flew in all weathers achieved a 95 per cent success rate in their timetable.

Along came British European Airways with the Labour Government's nationalisation in 1947.

It took over Northern, Highland and Scottish Airways in which Capt Fresson had played a huge part. They dumped Fresson immediately and their record never equalled his own thereafter.

Local knowledge and friendly farmers and hoteliers had provided Fresson with weather data.

But it took decades to build a reliable service to our islands. Thanks to the Second World War airfields, many new services were consolidated. Islanders know how vital these air routes were and are today.

When I took a rare flight from Edinburgh to Wick last month I had a great view of the two huge offshore windmills beside the Beatrice Oil platforms. We take it as read that the experts and engineers of the companies set to develop the Pentland Firth tidal and wave power can access the area by air.

Photo: Viewing the de Havilland Dragon which flew from Inverness to Kirkwall last Friday to mark the 75th anniversary of the UK airmail service.

Yet Highlands and Islands Airports Ltd has yet to provide Wick with a modern landing system as good as that installed at Kirkwall.

I believe it is high time the authorities woke up to our transport needs. So I repeat my demand that modern, low-cost GPS landing systems, which are far cheaper than ILS, should be pioneered at Wick Airport.

Surely HIAL will catch up with the economic opportunities of Caithness and back the demand with the Civil Aviation Authority? Alas that's controlled in London, but who knows, we could demand such powers here in Scotland and reverse that nationalisation from London that continues to be a curse for Scotland.


A PRESSING example of proposed denationalisation is the plight of Royal Mail in New Labour hands. Salami cuts have whittled profitability, pension holidays have been allowed by both Tory and Labour Governments in the past.

But Labour plans by Lord Mandelson could spell the death throes of this national utility. Job losses, service cuts and deterioration in working conditions for postal workers would hit us badly.

People all over Scotland are facing redundancy and fearing for their jobs, the last thing the Royal Mail needs is a private partner concerned only for profits. Now this week lower-than-expected tenders have been lodged so New Labour must stop and agree a package to retain a publicly-owned Royal Mail.


A CONSISTENT theme this week is discernable. The needs of Scotland's far flung communities play no part in London decisions. They did not in 1947 over air services, nor did they in the merger of HBOS and Lloyds TSB shoehorned by Brown and Darling. Ludicrous as it seems, Lloyds are now talking of a sell-off of Bank of Scotland to balance their books.

The SNP in Holyrood is proud to take an all-Scottish approach, co-operating within these islands where appropriate and in the European Union to gain wider benefits for Scottish life. The European poll and the local elections down south will hasten big changes at Westminster but repatriation to Scotland of full powers would end for ever the privatisation and nationalisation scandals we suffer under Westminster rule.

S3M-04228 Rob Gibson (Highlands and Islands) (Scottish National Party): Remember Cunninghame Graham — That the Parliament recalls the birth of Robert Bontine Cunninghame Graham on 24 May 1852; celebrates his adventurous life, which led him to champion the miners, the gauchos, the native Americans, the crofters and many others whom he considered were exploited by the wealthy and privileged; remembers that he took pivotal roles in founding the Scottish Labour Party, with Keir Hardie, in 1888 and the National Party of Scotland in 1928; considers that, after his tenure as an MP from 1886 to 1892, his trenchant and humane writings inspired many others and, in particular, inspired Joseph Conrad to write The Heart of Darkness and Nostromo; commends his writing to all those who value humanity and social justice today, and calls on the Parliament and Scottish Government to prepare appropriate celebrations in 2012 for the 160th anniversary of his birth.

Supported by: Christina McKelvie, Joe FitzPatrick, Stewart Maxwell, Dr Alasdair Allan, Aileen Campbell, Bill Kidd, Kenneth Gibson, John Wilson, Dr Bill Wilson, Jamie Hepburn, Christine Grahame, Brian Adam, Bob Doris, Sandra White, Maureen Watt, Robin Harper, Andrew Welsh, Gil Paterson, Dave Thompson, Rt Hon Jack McConnell, Stuart McMillan

Wednesday, 3 June 2009

Historic Re-Establishment of WILPF in Scotland

Please support the Women's International league for Peace and Freedom

Engender welcomes the re-establishment of the Scottish branch of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF) and urges all MSPs to support Rob Gibson MSPs motion of support.

S3M-04214 Rob Gibson (Highlands and Islands) (Scottish National Party): Historic Re-establishment of WILPF in Scotland— That the Parliament welcomes the historic re-establishment of the Scottish branch of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF), which in 1916 had a branch in Edinburgh with 43 members; notes that WILPF is the oldest women’s peace organisation, founded in 1915 at the Hague, Netherlands, when 1,300 women met during a congress of women to protest against the war in Europe; further notes that WILPF has national sections in 37 countries, covering all continents, and has Economic and Social Council consultative status with the United Nations formally to lobby its agencies on issues related to WILPF’s work on peace, disarmament and economic justice; highlights the upcoming inaugural meeting of the Scottish WILPF branch at 7 pm on Tuesday 26 May 2009 at St John’s church hall in the west end of Edinburgh, and encourages all interested citizens to attend this historic first meeting and get involved with the admirable work that WILPF’s members are doing.

Supported by: Bob Doris, Robin Harper, Shirley-Anne Somerville, Michael Matheson, Dr Alasdair Allan, Jamie Hepburn, Sandra White, Brian Adam, John Wilson, Joe FitzPatrick, Gil Paterson, Bill Kidd, Dr Bill Wilson, Malcolm Chisholm, Dave Thompson, Stuart McMillan, Liam McArthur

Highland Revival

Published in Holyrood Magazine, 1 June 2009:

Dear Editor,

Highland revival out of luck - runs your headline in the Rural Economy supplement 18 May. William Peakin chose a jaundiced former UK Minister and former Chair of HIE for his informants. Why not discuss the views of politicians who serve the region today?

Too much of the HIE spin under Dr Hunter was pitched to keep Jack McConnell's administration interested as they had a very short attention span for other than good news. Today the thrust of SNP policy is focused on Highland strengths and helping the least favoured. Take renewables and the Pentland Firth in particular, the FM has repeated that it is the Saudi Arabia of tidal power and mobilised many means to support this. We all know that older industries are buying in as the engineering firms that serve Dounreay decommissioning are showing. The question is does HIE give it a high priority. Also why were they years behind the renewable development curve?

I have just lodged a parliamentary motion in favour of a Year of Islands culture for 2011 to follow Homecoming and linked this with the call to champion for a European Year of Islands through the European Parliament and European Small Islands Network. Had these been looked at, a new vibrant view of the Highlands and Islands would come into focus. Of course the SNP has set in place the Road Equivalent Tariff pilot for the Western Isles. Did the previous administrations care about the haemorrhage of people and skills from the islands?

The SNP All-Scotland policy has a clear intent, all areas of the country deserve equivalent service provision suitable to their needs. That after two years at the helm is taking effect.

Rob Gibson SNP MSP Highlands and Islands

S3M-04209 Rob Gibson (Highlands and Islands) (Scottish National Party): Festival of Island Cultures — That the Parliament welcomes growing support for a festival of island cultures for 2011; notes that Argyll and Bute, Orkney, Shetland, the Western Isles, North Ayrshire and Highland councils in partnership are promoting the importance of their islands to the nation’s economy, sustainable growth, environment and cultural diversity; believes that such a festival is a natural development of Homecoming Scotland 2009 and will attract more visitors and investment and improve transport links; praises the work of the Scottish Islands Federation as a champion of our islands and commends the extension of its influence through the European Small Islands Network, and urges all elected representatives in the 27 EU member states to agree to inaugurate a European year of islands at the earliest opportunity.

Supported by: Bob Doris, Kenneth Gibson, Stuart McMillan, Bill Kidd, Aileen Campbell, Shirley-Anne Somerville, Michael Matheson, Robin Harper, Dr Alasdair Allan, Jamie Hepburn, Sandra White, Gil Paterson, Dave Thompson

75th Anniversary of the First Air Mail Service - Inverness to Orkney

At launch of 75th anniversary of the first air mail service from Inverness to Orkney. Captain Fresson flew a De Havilland Dragon like the vintage plane above.