Friday, 14 August 2009

Come to Scotland....the weather's fine

Published in the John O'Groat Journal
14 August 2009

AT motorway services en route to Scotland you can find postcards. Not just of the stunning scenery that awaits the intrepid travellers north of Gretna, Carter Bar and Berwick, but ones that show a great cloud bank into which disappears a car and caravan.

Welcome to Scotland is the motto.

But often the weather pattern is the opposite. We drove through torrential rain from Bristol to Preston on the way home from Brittany. Yet news pictures of Highland Games and agriculture shows, gala weeks and pop festivals like Belladrum in the past month show lucky breaks in the gloom. Meanwhile, friends tell me that on breakfast time TV there was a deafening chorus from people saying they will never spend another holiday in the UK. Did they ever consider coming to the Far North and west of Scotland?

Patterns are changing; coastal Brittany experiences much less reliable sun than I remember in the 1980s and '90s. Meanwhile typhoons wreak havoc in the Pacific Ocean, and Saharan Africa and Australia are in desperate drought. Climate is perceptibly altering and for the worst in many parts.

James Lovelock was interviewed in the Observer last Sunday. The 90-year-old scientist invented the Gaia theory that was ridiculed 30 years ago. Today it is close to scientific orthodoxy, i.e. the Earth is a self-regulating entity. Saving the ecosystem and the planet is mainstream and not now seen as immune to infinite amounts of human abuse. It can rebalance its atmosphere, etc, and humans had better watch out.

Lovelock controversially thinks nuclear power is safe and the infrastructure quick to build, and points to the CO2 impact of building windmills. But he does see tidal energy as a good thing that will take time. He considers flying far less of a problem than the CO2 given out all the time by us and our pets.

That's where government decisions and choices kick in. The Scottish Climate Change Bill, soon to become the most important act passed by the Scottish Parliament, will guide us in this country. Make no mistake... what we choose must set a good example or else our grandchildren will rue this day.


GREAT ideas for practical means to tackle greenhouse gases (GHG) come from many quarters.

At the Black Isle Show last week, the NFUS president Jim McLaren was waxing lyrical about the potential of hydrogen power. Every farm should install wind or solar power and by electrolysis make hydrogen to run all the farm equipment. Most can be self-sufficient and pay back investment in a very few years.

We need to decarbonise our transport by 2025 to meet GHG reduction targets. So lots more diverse ideas will need investment very soon. Incidentally, it is very heartening that the Scottish Government invested 73 per cent of its spend on renewable energy projects in the Highlands and Islands. We can maintain a high percentage spent here as the Scottish Government Renewables Plan develops in the next two years.

But there is no need to wait till others catch up. The Innes family wind farm at Stirkoke offers one family benefit; local charities too will win while control lies with the residents themselves. That means more local income from power sold to the grid. The jobs which can emerge from this green revolution were discussed in detail when I introduced my colleague Keith Brown MSP, the Minister for schools and skills, to the North Highland College in Thurso this week. Communities and community benefit are just beginning to get discussed seriously. Careers in environmental and energy jobs are key to our prospects hereabouts.
Photo: Schools and skills minister Keith Brown (centre) at the Environmental Research Institute in Thurso with some of the team members and MSP Rob Gibson (second from right).

Schools and skills minister Keith Brown (centre) at the Environmental Research Institute in Thurso with some of the team members and MSP Rob Gibson (second from right).

BETWEEN April and June next year the TV transmitters at Rumster Forest and Thrumster will switch off analogue signals and go completely digital. By December 2010 the Rosemarkie mast, which serves Inverness and the Great Glen, will be the last part of the North to go fully digital.

I am impressed with the pace of this huge engineering project which has not left us in the Far North last in the queue. Indeed London will be last of all.

Even a 1938 TV owned by the grandson of John Logie Baird worked with a Freeview digibox to pick up the new format. So few new TV sets are needed. I was briefed by Alan Cowie, erstwhile Grampian TV programme producer from Aberdeen. He is keen to give clear answers to all who are concerned. A postcode checker is found at or telephone at local rates to 08456 50 50 50 with your queries.

The switchover is free for those over 75, the disabled and blind or partially sighted. I want to help everyone get access to as full a range of TV as possible at the least cost. A far more powerful signal awaits and we deserve the best.

Since a Scot invented the medium, let's make good use of its digital future. Local digital TV services from Caithness could be produced and broadcast.


ALL the talk at UK level this week is of food security. Hilary Benn wants us to help the world by becoming less reliant on imports. More concerning is his call to use GM seeds to improve yields.

In contrast, the Scottish National Food and Drinks Policy views natural agricultural methods as the most sustainable and sees no evidence that GM crops for animal feed or cotton show any consistent increase in yields.

Perversely, the Food Standards Agency (FSA), which is supposed to be at arm's length from government, undermines confidence in organic foods as against industrial crops. Also the FSA is set to soften up opinion in favour of GM foods in a year-long public engagement exercise.

This stems from London Labour ministers from whom the FSA is another arm of the discredited Westminster regime. With FSA Scotland singled out to return powers to Westminster in the Calman proposals, it is time all our MPs and MSPs were asked which side they are on.

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