Thursday, 31 December 2009

Carbon routes to Copenhagen – and beyond

Reflections as an observer of the missed chances at COP15.

Glenn Campbell on BBC Newsnight tried to belittle any part Scots participants might play in Copenhagen ahead of the UN Climate Change Summit. I retorted that if it brought the biggest polluters the USA, China, India and Brazil to the table that would be a first. I also pointed out that Scotland’s world leading targets gave us every incentive to develop our huge renewable energy potential without delay despite Scotland’s pitch at Copenhagen being sidelined by UK Labour for petty parochial reasons.

Scottish media coverage took the same disparaging tone of the Scottish government presence. Sour comments in the press followed the pledge by Green co-leader MSP Patrick Harvie to pay out of pocket extra costs to take the train the Danish capital. In the event he was accompanied by Graeme Cook, chief environment researcher for SPICe at Holyrood. I was a late sub for my colleague Shirley Anne Somerville. So Cathy Peattie and I along with our Transport, Infrastructure and Climate Change TICC committee clerk Alastair Macfie used more CO2 to fly on Sunday 13 December from Edinburgh to Amsterdam thence to Copenhagen as that was ‘cheaper’. Of course a direct flight would have saved some more GHG emissions. In the time it took to gain parliamentary approval sleepers on trains were booked up requiring an overnight stop in Cologne for Patrick and Graeme. Also Cathie and I did have the party whips awaiting our return unlike Patrick.

The transport system in Denmark is a joy. A 20 minute journey by comfortable electric trains runs every 25 minutes between Copenhagen airport and Malmö in Sweden where our hotel was booked. The UN had block-booked five night stays for all accommodation. We could only stay three, but the Parliament still had to pay for five!

Monday 14 December

Malmö centre is a haven of pedestrian and cycle friendly old streets with old Swedish gothic kirks next to swish shops. Bicycle parking is huge. The rail station packed with frequent trains hugely well used in this university town.

On retracing our rail trip to Ǿrestad and one Metro stop to the Bella Centre the scale of our problems emerged seen from high above the surrounding streets. Near stationary crowds queued all day in the hope of accreditation. It soon emerged that the queue for entry to the UN summit premises was even longer! We took our place and stuck it for 20 freezing minutes while engaging with would-be observers. Graeme Cook decided to queue on.

Richard Dixon of WWF Scotland approached us and described the near impossibility of access. We decided to walk back to Ǿrestad and cut our losses by Metro to Islands Brygge where the Scottish Low Carbon Mission events were held in a bright and cheery gallery complex or Koncersal named after a living Danish artist Mogens Dahl.

Friends asked me before we left Edinburgh what we might hope to achieve. In my view whatever international contacts I could make in Copenhagen would strengthen understanding of Scotland’s world-leading climate busting law. In tandem I would seek as much direct communication with activists from other lands to cement ways to cooperate whatever the outcome of the UN summit talks.

The Scottish Mission Day proved an inspiration. We rubbed shoulders and ideas with dozens of British Council climate champions from a slew of countries, with the Edinburgh University Climate Masters, students from a another dozen lands. Stand out moments included these student speakers’ abilities and enthusiasm. Each of them dispelled our ifs and buts. Above all Mary Robinson, former Irish President and UN human rights commissioner cut to the quick.

The painstaking document building of the past two years had just been trashed in the Bella Centre. Her theme of climate justice: engaging wider society was heart rending. Some 39 references to gender issues had been painfully negotiated into the first draft. After all 70% of small farmers in developing countries are women. How could they cope if Africa is allowed to fry? Prof Alan Miller chairing the session apologized that no other women appeared on the panel!

At the snack lunch and pre-dinner reception I talked with a young Uzbek climate champion Guzal Sultankhodjayeva. Her mission was education with a sustainable edge. A Swedish professional Kaj Wôgdahl works in climate-proofing buildings and he shared some thoughts on the complacency of the Swedish government. It could consult the Scots Government to refresh its targets. I made domestic contacts too and considered it profitable start. A key stunt [according to The Guardian later in the week] was the 20-20 Malt Whisky brought from Scotland. At 42° proof it neatly set out our reduction target. Also present wearing a kilt was Michael Marra of Stop Climate Change Chaos Scotland. We were both determined to highlight the Scottish ambitions as visually as possible.

During the evening reception a frozen Graeme Cook arrived after seven frustrating food and drink-free hours in the queue to get in touching distance of accreditation. He determined to get up at 5 next morning and try again. Indeed he was to succeed. Patrick did the same later in the day and he too got his burgundy lanyard and yellow Non-Governmental pass.

Tuesday 15 December

Alastair, Cathie and I visited the Klima Forum in downtown København. Patrick and Graeme had been there two days before as they arrived ahead of us. I was peeved at missing José Bové the French anti GM activist. They complained there was no French translation that night. Hopefully I could have got the gist.

We hoped to enter auditorium for the Climate Leaders Summit 2009 as sub-national governments around the world made their pitch to aid a global climate deal through highlighting their own work. Scotland, Ontario, North Rhine-Westphalia, Victoria, São Paulo, Quebec and California were on the bill. All we heard from Scots media was that Gov Schwarzenegger had pulled out and snubbed Alex Salmond. The event was chaired by Helen Clark, former New Zealand premier and UN Development Administrator. Bulky brochures from ‘The Office of Tony Blair’ littered the press area.... However these governments are world leaders and the official UN agreements in future will follow their lead. Check their website:

Around twenty demonstrators were ejected by a big police presence just before we arrived. Otherwise security was relaxed. We watched a couple of speeches on monitors and chatted to BBC Scotland radio journalist David Miller who tried throughout the week to reflect what was actually being discussed at the UN Summit and in satellite meetings. We then wandered through the people’s summit stalls and events. The green, blue, orange and purple halls beckoned. Resisting the wiles of the orange hall I found gold dust among the NGO displays in the purple hall.

There I spied a huge poster with a picture of two dozen combine harvesters reaping, or raping the broad pampas lands; captioned ‘Chemical no-till agriculture can never be a carbon sink! – Change the System – not the Climate – Rural Reflection Group of Argentina. Rapidly I had found out that they were the contacts used by GM Freeze. I met Jorge Eduardo Rulli and Stella Maris Semino. Pictures were taken and a quick exchange of mutual understanding gained. What a chance to set up a meeting between the NFUS and these concerned farmers from Argentina whose land is trashed to grow GM soya that feeds our pigs at home. I blogged my intentions for such an encounter that same lunchtime in a Danish version of Costa Coffee.

News that Graeme had got accredited cheered us. We still awaited Patrick’s progress but ‘radio silence’ continued. He had apologised in advance for missing our planned meetings with Dansk Cyklist Forbund DCF and the City of Copenhagen traffic department. Our TICC committee enquiry on healthy travel was much enhanced by the NGO and Council officers we met. Lise Bjørg Pedersen the DCF political officer outlined the campaigns that had boosted cycling facilities and attitudes to reach the 37% of journeys to work and school in the city by bike.

Niels Tørsløv director of the traffic department of the city council’s technical and environmental administration revealed how over seventy years the cycling city had evolved. Wet snow was falling as we walked to these meetings but he assured us that an average 80% of normal cycle journeys were taken in winter conditions. The city cleared snow and ice from cycle lanes ahead of the roads!

The Scottish five were re-united at nearby Sam’s Bar with news that Patrick had also gained entry to the Bella Centre under our Global NGO grouping [Global Legislators for a Balanced Environment]. We had to skip the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association reception and he and I headed for an inaugural meeting of the Climate Parliament in an old seaman’s bar in Christianshavn.

Parliamentarians from Iceland to India, Italia to Escocia shared ideas about a huge network of energy grids across Europe and other world regions. Our host was LibDem MEP Graham Watson and his team. Among those I met were the Liberal deputy mayor of Ixelles in Brussels, a Norwegian Conservative MP and the illusive Rafael our GLOBE phone contact in the pyrrhic accreditation process at the UN summit. I had the longest discussion with Italian MEP Vittorio Prodi from Bologna. His great hope was to harness solar energy from the Sahara and pipe electricity to southern Europe. In return he wants biomass to green the former bread basket of the Roman Empire in Tunisia and Algeria.

Over a typical Danish dinner of fish courses and meat we debated in a small wood lined room whose walls were covered in photo mementos of Danish sail training cadets who hold regular reunions on the premises.

All too soon we departed with two female Flemish and Swedish MPs for Malmö. I had a hair’s breadth chase to catch the 11.48pm train as Patrick chatted to the guard as I bought a ticket. Had we all been accredited, travel passes would have been received.

Wednesday 15 December

We all agreed that no early morning heroics were in order. We all checked out and headed to Copenhagen. Patrick and Graeme, who was leaving by sleeper that night aimed for the Bella Centre again. I returned to the Klima Forum. After lunch we headed to the airport to take the aerial sausage machine back to Edinburgh. Earlier Alastair met Patrick and Graeme photographing the Little Mermaid – unable to gain access to the Bella Centre.

Politically it became clear that the summit was in deep crisis. Those of us who did not gain access to the hallowed UN summit knew as much as those who were accredited. Watching TV in the Danish capital pictures of small demos corralled by increasingly tetchy riot police gave a depressing confirmation that global gatherings follow a pattern no matter how well-intentioned the negotiators.


As the ‘Copenhagen Accord’ was cobbled together all the hopes of 40,000 folk from across the planet who had converged on Copenhagen were severely dashed. The UN plenary session that crashed the gavel on a stitch up between the USA, China, India, South Africa and Brazil gained grudging, dog-tired assent from the EU and others.

The Bella Centre could only hold 10,000, a number that was reduced for observers to 90 on Friday 18 December. The frustrations of activists were palpable and totally justified. President Obama, as the FT pointed out on Wednesday 15 is US president, not world leader. The opaque refusal of China to accept targets never mind verification of emission reductions has been highlighted. However villages, towns, regions and countries across the globe are set to show the way.

From Scotland’s perspective the EU targets of 30% reductions by 2020 must be adhered to. Our green renewables revolution can transform our economy and can provide a platform for exporting technologies as well as power. Our contacts with like-minded legislators and activists must underpin a legally binding World Climate Change Treaty as soon in 2010 as practicable, most likely in Mexico next December.

There can be no back sliding to accommodate the benighted attitudes found among US legislators and employers who see only unnecessary cost in a shift from ‘business as usual’. Yet the BBC Scotland poll 61% of respondents agreed or tended to agree that they believe their behaviour and everyday lifestyle contributes to climate change.

That gives encouragement to stick to our SNP Government position. With unanimity the Scottish Parliament passed our world leading climate law. By signing a partnership with the President of the Maldives Alex Salmond indicated that Scotland intends to work at home and with those abroad for whom climate change is a life or death matter.

There’s much to do to make a start. But the haunting words of Louisiana ‘swamp rocker’ Tony Joe White linger in my mind after the Copenhagen climate trip. His 1991 album contained the title track that concludes:

Who’s going to tell the children?
How the rivers used to flow crystal blue
We keep leaving scars on mother earth
And move in closer to the truth.

Scottish solution to Scotland's needs

A DECADE ends and another begins. We look back and peer forward, so what can we divine from our recent past and what resolutions should we make in the New Year?

For all Scots the metaphor is rightly that of the glass half empty or the glass half full. Physically for many of us the issues of obesity and alcoholism have come to dominate this decade in our well-off land. This neatly contrasts with starvation and want in much of the poor world, particularly Africa and Asia where deserts grow and oceans rise - the galloping horsemen of climate change apocalypse which add a searing threat to self-inflicted ill-health here at home.

As ever I see positives for our future. It came as no surprise that the trade cycle would end in slump around now. Each eighteen years the same issues arise. What came as the greatest surprise was the extent that globalised banking was up past its neck in so much bad debt. To learn from experience we need different forms of tax in future at local, national and international levels to capture the unearned wealth we lost through under-regulated and socially useless banking practices.

Property speculation is usually at the root of such ill-advised investment; this time sub-prime entered the global vocabulary. Land value taxes could even out the financial peaks and troughs. Also a transaction tax, or Tobin Tax – named after a Nobel Prize winning American Economist in 1981 - on international bank deals could fund the £300 billion the poor world needs now to tackle their urgent climate issues. Will David Cameron back Gordon Brown and other EU leaders to press the issue at the G20?

A UK age of austerity is certain. What a pity the Church of Scotland minister’s son Gordon Brown forgot that the biblical seven years of plenty would be followed by seven years of famine. Thanks to my friend Prof. James Mitchell of Strathclyde University for spotting that useful analogy. Whoever governs the UK after the General Election next spring has to slash the huge borrowings incurred by the London Government to bail out the bankers. Why should we have to suffer?

Readers should have experienced how aspirations in various parts of a very different UK that has developed in the past ten years. That’s why TV debates between three Westminster political leaders do not fit the diverse nature of these islands today. Scotland, Wales, the north of Ireland and London have legitimate and growing confidence as distinct law making nations, provinces and world city. Failing to reflect that growing diversity in Westminster politicking and media coverage is deliberately blinkered, arrogant and tries to ignore these diverse realities.

Remember in 2007 how the Scottish Government instigated a Broadcasting Commission that exposed the glaring bias against coverage of Scotland from London and confirmed the vast under-funding of Scots TV production by Scots in Scotland. If the UK is to mean anything by 2020 it has to give each devolved area its head to be all they can be. There is scant evidence that the broadcasting bosses have changed their metropolitan mindset.

Looking out from our snowbound land I am so proud of Scotland’s participation in the Climate Leaders Summit in the Klima Forum at Copenhagen. What a stark contrast to the shambles I witnessed at the Bella Centre in Copenhagen in the United Nations attempts to create a worldwide climate treaty. Note the title Climate Leaders, that’s where Alex Salmond was welcomed. Among his commitments such as 50% of Scotland’s electricity from clean renewables by 2020 he also made a pact to work with the Maldives, that island nation which clings on to land no more than two metres above sea level. He joined leaders from Ontario, North Rhine-Westphalia, Victoria, Sao Paulo, Quebec and California to strike a global deal between sub-national governments. Each of their targets show what we are doing and where we lead the nations at the UN top table will need to follow.

Earlier I talked of appropriate taxes for this climate change age. May I say we need carrots as well as sticks. But first, when you have energy for sale, be it oil or electricity there must be benefits to the producers and those whose resource is utilised. Recent TV shows have highlighted the deliberate downplay of Scotland’s oil resources since the 1971 discoveries in the North Sea. Their revenues have fed London’s policies which have never put Scotland’s sustainability first.

Just this week the Secretary of State for Scotland with a propaganda office based in Whitehall tells us again we could not make a go as a country with full tax powers because oil revenues won’t bridge the gap in current spending. Creative arithmetic can tell you anything, just like the bankers and their collateralised debt obligations.

London’s proud record is such that Scotland has always lagged behind the UK average in growing our economy. They have proved to this day that Scotland having discovered oil is the first nation to get poorer as a result.

That need not be so in future. We can complete the powers of the Scottish Parliament. We can vote for a Scottish solution to Scotland’s needs. So getting out and voting in the British General election this spring is essential; voting in our proposed independence referendum in the autumn even better. It is not a wasted vote for SNP whose target isn’t No.10 Downing Street. All other parties refuse to allow Scotland to flourish for it is an inconvenience to their selfish interests.

There’s much to do in the New Year. Enjoy the festivities and turn the good feelings of 2009, the Year of Homecoming, into 2010 the year to bring home full powers to the Scottish Parliament and let all parts of Scotland flourish in a climate savvy world. Bliadhna Mhath Ur! A Guid New Year tae you and yours.

Thursday, 17 December 2009

Getting our ducks in a row

Pictured with fellow CC Committee Member Cathy Peattie, visiting with Politisk Chef (Chief Political Officer) Lise Bjorn Pedersen of the Danish Cyclists Forum viewing the modern attractive bikes on sale in Copenhagen

This week I was privileged to attend the Copenhagen Conference as a Climate Change Committee Member from the Scottish Parliament. Be it noted that my colleague Shirley Anne Somerville was slotted in but had to call off. The huge task for this planet is to measure how we in Scotland can contribute to the international debate and also make progress in this country to achieve the goals that we set ourselves in the world leading Climate Change Act passed in June.

As I said in Parliament last week, the phrase "getting our ducks in a row" comes to mind. In the 1980s, Dr Salter was developing wave power. Had he been given the go-ahead, wave and tidal power might have been developed at a much earlier stage. The science has been talked about for several decades but is only now being developed. London-based Government agencies scuppered Salter’s ducks so it is important that we get our ducks in a row now.

We have a fantastic opportunity. As Jim Mather, the Minister for Enterprise, Energy and Tourism said in welcoming the Wood Mackenzie study backing renewable energy development: "We enjoy a vast array of potentially cheap renewable energy sources and harnessing that potential will create thousands of long-term jobs while reducing emissions." I wholeheartedly agree.

Where powers over the development of those energy sources lie is a crucial issue that can act as a drag on development. Remember that we are working at a competitive disadvantage in relation to energy distribution in rules made in the Thatcher period and which is unfit for purpose. The Office of Gas and Electricity Markets OfGEM proposals with which we have had to deal are costing us millions a year more to produce power here compared to south-east England. This makes it difficult to help Scotland, let alone Britain, to reduce its emissions as quickly as we might do. We need to change those conditions. Sustainability is at last being built into UK law. I hope that that will change the form of regulation in our favour.

The body that the London Parliament hardly ever seems to hold to account is the Crown Estate, the tax collectors of the seas who make a lot of money for the London Treasury. Meanwhile they are taking far too long to put in place the licences that will help us to develop tidal and wave power and offshore wind farms in areas such as the Pentland and Moray Firths. The processes are complex—the Crown Estate has to see that licensees can deliver. However, the fact is that the Crown Estate is not within the control of the Scottish Parliament, we need to get that control.

I am full of praise for the work of the North Scotland Industries group. Its chief executive, Ian Couper, told its annual general meeting this week:

"By 2013, I want the North of Scotland and the Islands to be recognised as the renewable energy centre for Scotland and the UK ... This is where the majority of activity will be happening for the UK and we need to blow our trumpet a bit more, to make more people aware of our strengths in this sector."

We should not only blow our trumpet but make the case that we must have the powers over the development of the sector that will aid the process. It is up to members of the Scottish Parliament to confront some of the issues that are holding back development. It is for that reason that I mentioned UK bodies that are guilty.

Additionally, an issue raised in the energy section of The Press and Journal last week criticises the failure of some of our well-known high street banks to put up money for the energy development. Some banks like HSBC are investing, but we must ensure that banks that are based in Scotland such as RBS and HBOS and which take deposits from Scotland are seen to be using that money for developments in offshore renewables. After all, renewables pose far less risk than the way in which the banks gambled our money in the past. It is important that that focus is kept on the banks.

Despite the mixture of powers currently shared between London and Edinburgh, the EU's policy for renewables development— a possible 30% reduction in GHG by 2020—provides us with a lot of opportunities. It is up to Scots to ensure that North Sea grids are eventually laid at a later stage after the overland grid is upgraded and carry the precious endless clean electricity to our markets.

Imagine a city of half a million people saving 90,000 tonnes of CO2 every year due to cycling instead of car and bus journeys. That's what Copenhagen achieves through a staggering 37% of journeys to school and work being done in the saddle.

I've learned so much of practical benefit to us back home at the Climate Change Summit, or more precisely on the fringes and through arranged meetings in the city. So why can't we do such ground breaking health promoting travel here? No reason why not. The Holyrood Committee enquiry into cycling and walking has to be practical for our climate. So its a sobering thought that 80% of normal cycle journeys continue in winters in Denmark. They just clear the snow from cycle lanes before they do the roads.

Much more from me and the Copenhagen experience next time. Merry Christmas when it comes.

Wednesday, 16 December 2009

Blogging from Copenhagen 5

(Photo: One stop from Bella Centre where the Queues stretched to all day.)

Tuesday afternoon meetings with cycling federation and city adminstration in Copenhagen were fruitful.

Imagine a city of half a million people saving 90,000 tonnes of CO2 every year due to cycling instead of car and bus journeys. That's what Copenhagen achieves through a staggering 37% of journeys to school and work being done in the saddle.

I've learned so much of practical benefit to us back home at the Climate Change Summit, or more precisely on the fringes and through arranged meetings in the city. So why can't we do such ground breaking health promoting travel here? No reason why not. The Holyrood Committee enquiry into cycling and walking has to be practical for our climate. So its a sobering thought that 80% of normal cycle journeys continue in winters in Denmark. They just clear the snow from cycle lanes before they do the roads.

Also the Climate Parliament gathering in Christianhaven brought elected parliamentarians from Iceland to India and from Scotland to Sweden in a discussion on huge energy grids to serve all of Europe. There's so much to discuss on this it will require a longer note.

Meantime Patrick managed to hold the train for 1 minute to let me get a ticket and sprint down the ramp to catch the 11.48pm train to Malmo. Now I can say I've been to Sweden and Denmark three times each, on subsequent day. A frequent visitor on a superlative electric train service.

More on snowflakes and Klimaa Forum later. Can't see the big talks making substantial money available to make this accord on Friday a truly historic event. We'll see...


Tuesday, 15 December 2009

Blogging from Copenhagen 4

Patrick waited 3 hours in queue to get into Bella centre today. Cathy, Alastair and I went to Klimaa Forum instead, mixed with press, chatted to David Miller of BBC Scotland.

Climate Leaders Summit is in full swing. No entry for many, but saw speeches on screen in press area, then visited huge expo with worldwide groups. Very ecclectic.

Among stalls in the purple hall I met Argentinian Grupo de Reflexion Rural. Many pictures taken. They are the source of our GMO info from Argentina. Delighted to meet Scots MSP - they feed Anthony Jackson with info for GM Freeze and also into SNP.

We can arrange a meeting for Stella Semino who lives in Denmark but travels to UK. The big issue is GM soya fed to pigs in Scotland and across Europe. A meetng between Argentinia rural group and NFUS would be most interesting indeed.

Have been able to collect a bagful of materials on many subjects for Xmas reading.


Blogging from Copenhagen 3

Our day in the outskirts of Copenhagen at Morgens Dahl Konceral had big highlights. In particular, Mary Robinson 2030 Project Catalyst - if Cop15 isn't a success for developing countries then it's not a success for the developed countries! A multi-sectoral approach to climate change is essential.

Also the Climate Masters from Edinburgh Uni brought youthful rigour to the scene. Later a young South African woman from their group told me that it was great for young people to be heard and influence grey haired deciders.

News from Bella Centre bad as Graeme spent 6 hours queuing for accreditation and failed. Organisers have been unprepared for such numbers. Exhibitors, speakers, even ministers can't get in! A radical rethink on organisation needed and later in the week it's likely to be even tighter. So we will aim at events downtown including activist Klimaa Forum if time.

Already good contacts have been made and Climate Parliament tomorrow will focus on electric grid issues. Right up my street. Skip o snow outside. Speak again soon, promise of some 20 20 whisky that is 42 proof to toast our guests.


Monday, 14 December 2009

Blogging from Copenhagen 2

Queues for Bella Centre impossible. 25,000 registered for 15,000 places. Rationing delegates will happen. Looks very difficult from here. We left Graham Cook to get himself registered. We shall see.

The Scottish Government do is well attended, with 150 from countries across the globe. All are sporting 42% Saltire badges. Hopng the 20-20 whisky makes an appearance. Now expecting snow.

Blogging from Copenhagen

Got in last night as part of the Climate Change Committee delegation of the Scottish Parliament - here with Convener Patrick Harvie as well as Cathy Peattie.

There was a slight skiff of powder snow at the station on arrival. They added 6 extra cars to accommodate half the planet en route for climate central in Bella Centre, Copenhagen.

Last night was beatiful and central Malmo is quality - pedestrianised and swish.

Graham and Patrick were able to hear Jose Bove at Klimaa Forum a big activist hangout near main station in the Danish capital.

Expect queues for registration but already conversations overheard of delegates and observers earnestly attempting to address the biggest chance of global action ever.

Keep you posted from Scottish Mission today.


Wednesday, 9 December 2009

Much needed boost for broadband announced

Today the Scottish Government announced an upgrade of 71 telephone exchanges to improve online services. This is a timely announcement and one I will welcome in the chamber of the Scottish Parliament when 'Broadband for Rural Scotland' is debated this evening.

Due to high broadband take-up, a number of telephone exchanges in rural areas of Scotland have not been able to accommodate new users because of capacity constraints and today's announcement will go a long way in relieving that strain.

I am extremely pleased to see a number of small settlements throughout the Highlands, in particular Durness, the Craigs, Gillock, Lyth, Tongue, Berriedale, Kinbrace, Rosehall, Scourie, Westerdale, Achiltibuie and North Erradale, as well as many throughout the Islands, have been identified for upgrade.

At the beginning of this year I issued an report on the findings of a broadband consultation I conducted throughout my constituency. The numbers of hard pressed families and businesses operating with inadequate speeds and provisions, or even no internet at all, is simply insufferable in today's modern age.

Upgrades in these acutely identified areas will go some way in improving the situation, though the job of increasing capacity, reach and speed in Scotland's rural areas is still far from finished and requires BT to offer equal access as enjoyed by city dwellers.
Full details of the 71 exchanges to be upgraded follows:

Argyll and the Islands - Coll, Colonsay, Gigha, Jura, Pirnmill, Kilchattan Bay, Kilfinan, Machrie, Pennyghael, Sliddery, Whitehouse

Ayrshire - Craigie, Straiton

Caithness and Sutherland - The Craigs, Durness, Gillock, Lyth, Tongue, Berriedale, Kinbrace, Rosehall, Scourie, Westerdale

Dumfries and Galloway - Bargrennan, Durisdeer, Marrburn

Forth Valley - Inversnaid, Trossachs

Inverness and East Highland - Advie, Glenferness, Laggan, Scatwell

Lanarkshire - Elvanfoot

Lochaber - Ardgour, Glenborrodale

Lothian - Garvald

Moray - Drummuir, Mulben

Orkney - Birsay, Hoy, Papa Westray

Renfrewshire - Loganswell

Scottish Borders - Grantshouse, Longformacus, Abbey St Bathans, Borthwickbrae, Lempitlaw, Stobo

Shetland - Burravoe, Fetlar, Gutcher, Fair Isle, Out Skerries

Skye and Wester Ross - Achiltibuie, Duntulm, Kinlochewe, Staffin, Uig, Killilan, Loch Scavaig, North Erradale, Tarskavaig

Tayside - Strathardle, Amulree, Bridge of Balgie, Bridge of Gaur, Butterstone, Trochry, Tummelbridge, Fern and Menmuir

Friday, 4 December 2009

It's time to put a positive slant on Scottish history

PROMOTING pride in Scots at home and abroad was one of four key aims of the Year of Homecoming, which was enthusiastically celebrated in Caithness and across the land.

Many have commented on its general success among a Scots tourist industry facing the depths of world recession. Alas this has not silenced politically motivated critics who see conspiracy and mismanagement in every SNP Government action.

The successful Homecoming campaign culminated in the final fling around St Andrew's Day. There were well-attended events all over, making this the best celebrated patron saint's day so far. Simultaneously, Your Scotland, Your Vote was published to offer analysis and a road map to increased powers for the Scottish Parliament allied to a referendum late next year on the choices.

It would be remiss of an SNP Government to ignore the route to independence. Also it is inevitable that unionist parties seek to kill the bill. However, 2010 will see the fallout from the British General Election by June. Then Scotland's unmet need to build a sustainable future will be centre stage.

My job in the Scottish Parliament is to seek the most practical ways to promote a lead role for the Far North in this new Scotland. To succeed we need tax-raising powers, borrowing powers and a tax office based in Scotland to collect these. Otherwise Scotland will remain a puppet on the London Treasury strings.

What's best in your mind - Treasury diktat or to cut the strings of remote Treasury manipulation to take normal national decisions like normal nations?


BEING comfortable with your history is about as important as teaching it.

As I discovered in a recent debate in the Scottish Parliament on Scottish history in schools, some are more comfortable and aware of it than others. Emotions ran high; some perceptive and eloquent things were said along with some reactionary statements and downright misinformation.

I won't re-run the whole debate but a couple of crackers stick in my mind. Labour's Des McNulty said that he didn't like referring to Scottish history as "our" history. One wonder's whose history it is then? He also said of the Enlightenment that it was the European Enlightenment and not the Scottish. If you follow Mr McNulty's rationale then the Italians should actively down play their role in the Renaissance.

The French philosopher Voltaire declared (in the 18th century), "we look to Scotland for all our ideas on civilization". Is that not something that should be known, investigated, understood (and yes celebrated)? Only a curmudgeon with a chip on their shoulder would want to down play that!

Lib Dem Margaret Smith made the cardinal sin of calling the battle of Culloden a Scotland versus England affair (although to be fair she did correct herself later); but said that funded visits to Culloden would give the perception that the Government was funding visits to a battlefield where the English fought the Scots. All the more reason, I would say, to get children to Culloden so that they learn that it wasn't.

One concern constantly raised by members was that Scottish history shouldn't be an exercise in painting England in a bad light. I couldn't agree more! But it got me thinking about the how other countries are portrayed through history in their schools.

Here the only times in history that we learn of other countries, especially in Europe, is in terms of opposition - Norman invasion, Napoleon, World Wars, for example.

Yet we co-operated with bodies like the Hanseatic League, and France in the Auld Alliance, had treaties with Norway and took part in the Scots/European Enlightenment (and Renaissance for that matter). The Scots that built St Petersburg and the Scots diasporas which inhabited Warsaw in the 17th century get little airing.

Scottish history surely should show the good and bad of our past, our glories and disasters. We are not perfect, but which country is? The trick is to know the story, and to move on from it to learn and be relaxed with it.

I am glad that the Scottish Government has decided that our history is something worthy of retention in the curriculum. I doubt there are many countries where a debate on these lines would be needed.

A TV debate last Monday explored the adequacy and presentation of the BBC TV Scotland's History series that culminates this coming Sunday evening. Heavyweight academics have been involved in unseemly spats over Neil Oliver, the presenter, his style and the script.

I was so pleased to watch the balanced panel discussion led by Sally Magnusson on St Andrew's Night. The studio audience joined in a reasoned and hopeful debate, echoing the need for more history in our schools. Why not watch it on the BBC iPlayer if your broadband can support it.


I ATTENDED two of the bigger events in the Final Fling - last Friday Ceol nam Feis in Eden Court and last Saturday Hands Up for Trad in Dumfries. The supportive atmosphere in traditional music was showcased at its best. Scots, Gaelic and English languages blend and mix the versions of old music now played by cool young players and singers.

BBC Alba broadcast the event for the second year of a contract. Who will do it in Perth next time? Ceol nam Feis is not seen on the TV screen. If either were at peak time like the X Factor, a whole new audience would demand more.

Over half the prizes came to the Highlands and Islands, over half the performance slots were from North musicians. Yet these parts of Scotland only make up around 10 per cent of her population.

Over 900 people packed into the DG1 centre in Dumfries. Next year Perth has been chosen. Should Caithness now be considering a bid soon afterwards?

Let's make a legacy of the Mod another musical extravaganza based, naturally, on the talent playing our native traditions in a new century in this carrying stream.

Wednesday, 2 December 2009

Charter of Rights for People with Dementia

Earlier in October I and my other Parliamentary colleagues helped to launch Scotland’s first ever Charter of Rights for people with dementia and their carers in the Scottish Parliament.

There are currently more than 69,500 people living in Scotland who have been diagnosed with dementia. Alzheimer Scotland has projected this to increase to 127,000 by 2031.

The Charter was developed by the Scottish Parliament's Cross Party Group on Alzheimer’s, which brought together MSPs and external organisations, including Alzheimer Scotland, the Mental Welfare Commission, the Scottish Human Rights Commission, Crossreach and the Royal College of Psychiatrists.

The final document is the culmination of over half a year’s work, including a series of roadshows throughout Scotland which brought together service users, medical professionals and care home staff.

People with dementia and their carers, family members and friends, have the same human rights as every other citizen. However, it is widely recognised that, in addition to the impact of the illness, they face cultural, social and economic barriers to fulfilling these. This Charter aims to empower people with dementia, those who support them and the community as a whole to ensure their rights are recognised and respected.

During a debate on the Charter in the Scottish Parliament in October, the Scottish Government confirmed that they would accept the document in its entirety.

I want people in the local area to give their support to the Charter by signing up online at

The publication of a Charter of Rights for people with dementia and their carers is long overdue. In recent years numerous reports have demonstrated that levels of care for people with dementia are simply not at a high enough standard.

This Charter should be used both as an empowering tool for service users, and also serve as a framework for care homes, hospitals and other organisations when developing services for people with dementia.

I would ask that readers visit and pass the message along to their friends and family to help back this Charter.