Friday, 23 October 2009

The Stakes are high for Scotland

THE SNP annual conference returned to Eden Court Theatre in Inverness for the first time in several years.

Overspill space for those unable to get seats in the main auditorium had to be provided when Alex Salmond made a statesman's address on Saturday afternoon.

The fight to carve a sustainable future for Scotland is focused on two events next year – the looming UK election before June and the SNP's proposed referendum on the Scottish constitution planned for later in the year.

Like others, I was vox pop fodder on the BBC Politics Show. Asked who I preferred as next UK prime minister, I answered that I disliked both choices, so a strong wedge of SNP MPs will be needed to extract support for Scotland. In any case, a hung parliament would be most useful and in Scotland we should be the drivers towards the independence referendum while unionists of all colours will be passengers.

It is no idle jest. The stakes are high for Scotland; will we be a member in waiting in Europe or a backward region of an ailing middle-sized country with a near worthless currency?

Efforts in Inverness and across the land, from the Far North to the Borders, are set to educate and inform voters of the stark choices before them. The SNP does so from a steady and improving voter base, even compared to our score in 2007. Having won the Euro election this year cements the growing support for far more self-government for our nation.


THE conference kicked off with a ringing endorsement of our world-leading climate change law.

We deplore the London Government's refusal to allow a Scottish minister into the UK delegation to the vital Copenhagen conference this December. But many themes on tackling greenhouse gas emissions peppered the debates, speeches and fringe meetings. The vexing truth is that organs of London Government have been slow to back the renewable development which can transform the seas around Caithness and mitigate climate change though a green-energy revolution.

Firstly, the transmission charging regime of OFGEM is now subject to EU competition scrutiny. That's because it discriminates against producers the further from London that you go. My colleague Alyn Smith MEP has backed Scottish Government, HIE and local demands to slash the access tariffs to the grid. Does Gordon Brown care?

Secondly we are appalled that the Crown Estate Commission has announced it will delay till February the decisions as to who gains project licences in the Pentland Firth.

My colleague Mike Weir MP tells me even Westminster has no leverage. John Thurso has protested and I must make two points – one, what expertise does the CEC bring to decide who is best to let loose tidal and wave machines on the rip tides and eddies of the Firth? Two, it is dawning on many others what I have long believed, that the Crown Estate should be taken under democratic Scottish control and transformed to suit Scottish needs.

I detect a groundswell of support here as the CEC effectively delays vital decisions that could reduce our natural advantage for marine energy development – in whose interest? We need to campaign hard for a speedy solution.

Far North MSP Rob Gibson addressing the SNP annual conference, held at Eden Court in Inverness.


HERE'S an update on the greening of the Gibson home. Previously I won a prize from Friends of the Earth in an MSP competition for future planning to climate-proof our house.

This month the work started on a climate-friendly extension with a green sedum roof. Also a solar water system is being installed to cut our water-heating bills. The garden is like a battle zone, with a seven-tonne digger, piles of breeze blocks, sand, cement and huge heaps of top soil near engulfing the hazel and gean trees beside our rickety compost bin. I'm hoping my new study cum ceilidh lounge will emerge a fine wooden structure with top-grade insulated glass panels before Christmas.


OUR SNP conference breaks out in the evening to ceilidhs and Young Scot Nats Karaoke. But also those who like to sing found a friendly hotel lounge and 50 of us indulged in a range of songs from Scotland and far beyond.

We were joined by folk from a' the airts, from Barra to Buchan and Orkney to Ayrshire. Among them was Fiona J. MacKenzie from Dingwall, a Mod gold medallist four years ago. She also closed our conference in a packed auditorium in Highland Homecoming style with an emigration song from Assynt, in Gaelic, and "Scots Wha Hae", in Scots of course.

The combination goes so well wherever you hear it. So let me recommend Fiona's most recent project. Her daughter, clarsach playing singer Katie has teamed up with Shona Donaldson to record the songs of Robert Burns in Scots and English.

It's called The Lassies Reply and uses the Gaelic title for sisters, Púr.

Christmas stockings from Thurso to Tayvallich would be graced by receiving this modern take on our national bard in our national languages by two such talented lassies.

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