Friday, 16 October 2009

Growing mood of optimism

Published in the Ross-shire Journal

THIS week's SNP Annual Conference returned to the Highlands now that Eden Court Theatre is all in fine working order. The mood of delegates from all over Scotland after two-and-a-half years in minority government at Holyrood is one of quiet optimism. The SNP could not have found itself in government at a more difficult time with the credit crunch bearing down on government spend. Britain tightens our belts without us deciding which notch on the buckle.

The opportunities presented to the Highlands to be at the centre of a major strand in our economic recovery are a great plus.

Renewable energy aplenty on and offshore can help drive the steep targets we all agreed to set when the Climate Change Act passed unanimously last June. But just to underscore how petty London Labour can get, a request for a Scottish minister to join the UK delegation to the UN Climate Summit this December in Copenhagen has been turned down.

The Conference backed the calls for Scotland to have the borrowing powers of a normal nation and the rights of all peoples to decide our constitutional future by a referendum held under internationally verified conditions. We are discussing recovery for our financial services industries. We need a seat at the top table in Europe as a full member state that affects many domestic issues. Since LibDem, Tory and Labour conferences have all attacked the right of Scots to make far more of ourselves, we in the North know that a new vibrant future for our nation has to be decided here. After all with huge natural resources, a strong record of educational excellence and growing self-confidence, our nation can at last come into its own.

TALKS are being held with the Transport Minister on the railway crossings issue. Members of the Transport Infrastructure and Climate Change Committee, of which I am the only Highland member, agreed to receive a report as the facts become clear on the Halkirk accident. Also I fully back the aims of the motion raised by my colleague Willie Coffey for debate. It points out the complexity of the regulatory regime.

The Parliament regrets the continuing loss of life at railway level crossings, most recently at Halkirk in Caithness and, in January 2009, at Gatehead in Kilmarnock and Loudoun; notes the large number of organisations involved in the investigation of rail accidents and incidents in Scotland, the Rail Accident Investigation Branch, the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service, the British Transport Police, Scotland's eight police forces and the Office of Rail Regulation, and considers that, following the Review of Fatal Accident Inquiry Legislation being conducted by Lord Cullen, a modernised system of fatal accident inquiries can contribute to greater coordination and scrutiny of any inquiries, including the implementation of any recommendations, by whichever agency, following such tragic incidents.

Solutions are not as simple as placing barriers on ungated crossings. Have the cameras at the three Dingwall crossings had any effect? Only when we get a reasoned response to tragic accidents such as those at Delny and Halkirk and Kilmarnock will we see the way ahead.

I welcomed the Invergordon incinerator protesters' visit to Holyrood along with other groups round the country. Their call is for thorough repair, reuse and recycling of waste. Similarly Dennis Scott of Northern Tyre Recycling UK Ltd., Evanton suggested to me the use of bales of old tyres to provide road foundations as another proven carbon reduction tool. Highland Council could lower the carbon intensity of road building over boggy ground.

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