Friday, 29 January 2010

Here's tae a confident tongue in our heids!

WE celebrate the life and works of Scotland's national bard in what has become known for many years as Burns season.

Adverts in the papers show suppers and ceilidhs are as popular as ever and haggis sales are reportedly on the increase across Scotland. Others too join Scots in passing a winter's night in set-piece speeches and songs with mirth, gravitas occasionally, and toasts at every turn.

It is now well founded. And there is news that 85 per cent of Scots claim to speak Scots, with 43 per cent speaking it a lot, not as a language as such but "it's more just a way of speaking". A fully scientific opinion survey conducted by TNS-BMRB established this and many other insights into our attitudes to one of our three native languages.

The Scottish Government was committed by manifesto to "promote awareness and usage of the Scots language in a variety of settings". Since there is little other relevant research of our mither tongue, this is very welcome. Also, it is one of a vast majority of SNP manifesto pledges we've kept so far.

I have been the convener of the cross-party group for Scots at Holyrood since 2003 and it has never been more successful. The national census in Scotland next year will have questions on usage of Scots, Gaelic and other tongues. The Curriculum for Excellence has provided guidelines for teachers and the ministerial advisory group is full of smeddum.

We have an education sub-group led by Matthew Fitt which attracts dozens of interested teachers across the country. It has met in Edinburgh, Aberdeen and Glasgow, and is about to reach Kilmarnock. So there is every reason to come much further north. Why not?

I was so pleased to support the Year of Orkney Dialect which is in full swing. Surely there is a need to assert the Caithness speak to add to the recitation prizes and similar events that encourage young folks in their native Caithness dialect? The TNS survey shows that two thirds of Scots dismiss the claims that dialects are slang. A similar proportion consider Scots should be widely used in Scotland today. They see its use in personal and cultural terms and particularly in broadcasting. Fewer see business, legal and other matters as users of the Scots Leid, or Doric or the many other dialects even across the North Channel as Ulster Scots. As we toast the national bard, we should note that 73 per cent agree that learning Scots can contribute to a sense of national cultural identity.

Around half of the 1020 sample say it should be taught in our schools. My hope this Burns season is that a wider lesson is learned by some who would say language tuition is an expensive irrelevance in tough budgetary times.

Did they ever need an excuse? Self-confidence is a vital ingredient of the outlook to make a success of our country's undoubted gifts. If you don't think Scots should weave their distinctive spell among the peoples of the planet in future, I wonder what languages they spoke when they built the British Empire or coined the American Declaration of Independence.

Our children's intelligence can only be strengthened by a certain grasp of their own history and languages. Here's tae a confident tongue in our heads - or heids!


THE SNP housing bill introduced into parliament earlier this month is a major piece of legislation that will increase the supply of affordable housing and improve the quality of Scottish housing in all sectors.

The Scottish Government is investing a record £1.5 billion in affordable housing over three years - including a new generation of council housing. These far-reaching reforms will safeguard that investment for future generations.

The modernisation of regulation will put the interests of tenants and homeless people at the heart of housing regulation and encourage landlords to improve the services that they provide for their customers.

We have listened and taken on board the views of the housing sector across Scotland as acknowledged by the Scottish Federation of Housing Associations and Shelter.

The records show that the previous Lib Dem/Labour Scottish Executive failed to address the chronic housing shortage in Scotland.

This is laid bare by how quickly the current Scottish Government has kick-started new council housing developments, although there is still a long way to go.

From 1999 to 2007 the Lib Dem/Lab Executive managed to build just six in their last four years while leaving the burden to housing associations.

This makes it deeply disappointing that the Chancellor of the Exchequer in London did not grant a further year of capital acceleration for the Scottish Government to make more of our tightly-drawn block grant when he announced his pre-budget report before Christmas. Social housing was set to be a high SNP priority.

Even Iain Gray agreed to this. And now that the UK is getting out of recession that extra cash boost could house many more of our people.


LEVELS of community benefit have been pitiful from individual commercial wind farm applications. Communities deserve a full return from their resources, if at all possible.

In our Scottish Parliament energy enquiry last year, I asked what approach the Scottish Government would take with new marine renewables.

An official of the Scottish Government's business, enterprise and energy directorate said there was a lot of experience in trying to maximise community benefits onshore. Offshore renewables benefits require a lot of work to be done.

I am assured that the Scottish Government is looking at community benefits.

The official continued: "It will be important to consider that right at the start, rather than leaving it to the end."

The Crown Estate must play a similar part in sustaining local communities which host renewables development.

Friday, 22 January 2010

Supporting Haiti

Work I certainly support -

S3M-05550 Sandra White (Glasgow) (Scottish National Party): Haiti Earthquake Disaster— That the Parliament expresses its profound sadness for the victims of the Haitian earthquake, which has seen over 200,000 feared dead while over a million people have been left homeless and in desperate need of basic humanitarian aid; commends the spirit of compassion and generosity that has been shown by the Scottish people in their response to the disaster, and hopes that, through the immense efforts being made by people worldwide, immediate relief can be delivered to the people of Haiti and that lasting reconstruction can begin.

Here's to the continued support of Haiti's recovery.


Friday, 15 January 2010

TICC Awarded first-ever Shackleton Medal

The Royal Scottish Geographical Society has awarded its first-ever Shackleton Medal for leadership and citizenship in a geographical field to the Transport, Infrastructure and Climate Change Committee of the Scottish Parliament, for its role in developing Scotland’s world-leading climate legislation.

Committee Members pictured receiving the medal from left is myself, Deputy Convener Cathy Peattie MSP, Convener Patrick Harvie MSP, Marlyn Glen MSP and Charlie Gordon MSP.

It is a big honour as a Member to take part in the work and to have accepted this award and as my colleague Patrick Harvie said, "The decision by the Royal Scottish Geographical Society to award the committee is a reflection of the work done but also of the importance of the work which remains."


2010 is turning point for Scotland

LAST week the two most important decisions of coming prosperity in Scotland signalled green for go. The Scottish Government gave the go-ahead to the Beauly to Denny power line reinforcement.

And both Scottish and UK governments revealed the preferred developers of the Moray Firth and Inchcape offshore wind farms that will place around 500 large clean-energy production towers in our seas.

This hugely positive news ends the uncertainty about major on and offshore clean power developments in the Highlands and Islands.

An immediate consequence for the Far North is the refurbishment of the Dounreay to Beauly power lines that will now be timetabled. The need to install piers, cranes and access roads and rail improvements to back up these projects is our next priority.

Scrabster, Lyness and Wick will have their part to play and the sooner the better.

We are expecting the Crown Estate Commission to announce in March the preferred developers of the wave and tidal sites in the Pentland Firth. The local work will have to be fought for with vigour.

Many areas would like to benefit from this work which First Minister Alex Salmond estimates at 20,000 across Scotland.

We want our share in Caithness and my own and other strong SNP voices will champion that cause. This year is a turning point as important as the discovery of North Sea oil. The prize now is sustainable and can help deliver clean electricity independence for Scotland and serve much wider markets. It's up to us to ensure that this is guided more and more by the Scottish Parliament to ensure its success.


THE extreme winter conditions that have affected Scotland and the rest of the UK have brought out the best and worst in some people.

Those of us old enough to remember far worse snows in the Far North take our time and help our neighbours. Nevertheless, council workers and emergency services have quietly risen to the challenge.

They have every backing from the Scottish Government that has been aiding the local efforts from well before Christmas.

When you hear that Kent Council called in the army to help them, you wonder whether the UK Government and south-east English authorities will ever learn about coping with winter. No, not a cold snap, as the BBC and newspapers like to call it, but freezing prolonged winter weather.

I and many others were extremely annoyed when Labour leaders in the Scottish Parliament attempted to politicise the issue of winter preparations. Hypocrisy is the only word for their present jibes since they had attempted to cut £10 million from the winter roads budget last year.

Their inaccurate claims that there was a shortage of funds to tackle the challenging conditions on Scotland's roads was barefaced. Their leaders even failed to praise the work of gritting squad members who have worked throughout the Christmas and New Year period.

As a transport committee report from January 2008 shows, Labour attempted to cut £10m from last year's budget, a further £10m this year and another £10m in the year ahead.

Labour attempts at politicising this serious issue are as dodgy as all their claims.

They have simply become the anti-SNP party and will go through the weirdest contortions to attack the Scottish Government.

At a time when local authorities and the Scottish Government are working together to keep roads clear, Labour's plans would have had a disastrous impact.

Shockingly, this move was also backed by MSPs for some of the worst affected areas. Labour must make clear that they will not seek to make such inappropriate proposals again when this year's budget comes to parliament.

The Scottish Government's increased investment in winter road maintenance has helped keep the network moving.

Our Highland main line and Far North train services have been hit in the big freeze. This is the time to plan an upgrade of the whole North rail system.

Money may be very tight for five years but modern signalling, a shorter route across the Dornoch Firth, gated level crossings and more frequent warmer trains must be our aim. To those calling for a reopening of Conon Bridge station, may I suggest that Halkirk should reopen and the whole line gain cross-party support for a change!


THE unionist parties have fired the first salvoes in the general election due in May. We'll get a barrage of misleading bids because many of the issues, such as education and health in Scotland, are our responsibility not London's.

My colleague, SNP work and pensions spokesperson John Mason MP, who visited our office in Wick last summer, has joined the National Pensioners Convention (NPC) in condemning the Liberal Democrats after they announced they were dropping a pledge for free personal care from their general election manifesto. Don't be worried, their cost-cutting agenda does not affect Scotland's existing and most welcome free personal care services.

In contrast, the SNP is governing for the people, and that is why we continue to win support across Scotland.

We promote policies vital for Scotland's health, such as free personal care, and push forward measures to improve it, such as minimum pricing for alcohol.

These policies are vital for Scotland's long-term wellbeing and must be above party politics.

The reality is that the general election in Scotland will be a two-horse race between the SNP and Labour - and the most recent Scottish poll for Westminster put the SNP ahead. And an analysis of all elections held throughout 2009 - totalling nearly one million votes from the European Parliament and Westminster and local by-elections - showed that the SNP secured the most votes of any party in Scotland, achieving a 10 per cent swing from Labour on a four-way party split.

The real fight in 2010 is not the phoney war between the London parties. The real fight is for Scotland, and to make the coming decade Scotland's decade.

Friday, 8 January 2010

Helping out in winter battle

LOOKING out on a snowiest of Highlands since 1981, I wish everyone a Guid New Year, Bliadhna Mhath Ur 2010!

Hopefully the taste of prolonged winter weather will not be too much of a burden on families struggling back to work or the Council workers such as carers delivering services through treacherous conditions.

I pay tribute to all the emergency staff who made the call-outs and mended broken bones in this flurry of deep winter. We haven't seen its like for twenty years but we can still help by doing our bit to clear our paths and driveways, to aid the posties and older less sure-footed amongst us. Then the Council workers jobs will be that little bit easier.


BACK in December I missed the worst of the snow that started to fall four days before we were hit in Scotland. I witnessed part of the inconclusive UN Climate Change summit in Copenhagen. My personal view of that fiasco in the Bella Centre is on my blog, whose address is given below.

However the good news is that Scotland joined the Climate Leaders Group of sub-national governments that include California, North Rhine-Westphalia, Sao Paulo, Victoria, Quebec and others who are making the biggest strides in tackling the threat of climate chaos.

We should be 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 on the endless queues of accredited people from six continents trying to enter the Bella Centre. Note the title Climate Leaders.

That's where Alex Salmond was welcomed. Among his commitments was for our nation to power 50 per cent 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. Each of our targets show what we are doing and where we lead the big nations like the USA, China, and Brazil etc at the UN top table will need to follow.


WE in Ross-shire can benefit hugely from the demand for clean energy.

I hope young people are choosing engineering courses, or house insulation courses or considering the skills that will be needed right here. I understand that the interested firms are increasing their staff to cope with the big push. As a Guidance teacher thirty years ago we had hoped that petro-chemical work would develop at Nigg. Today a far surer bet is on Nigg to build and maintain offshore and onshore renewables equipment. Also, as I've often said, Nigg must be fully available, if need be by compulsory purchase orders as soon as possible. We need a faster shorter Far North Rail Line. Callers to reopen Conon Bridge rail station could resolve to back the whole line.

The Scottish Government has laid out its strategy in a European context in a paper called 'Towards a Low Carbon Economy in Scotland'. You can find it on the website That can build prosperity hereabouts. Opportunities certainly knock for us in the Highlands in 2010.


OVER the Christmas/New Year recess many of you are obviously picking up this positive message.

In December BBC Scotland identified two-thirds of you in its poll agreed we each have responsibilities to tackle climate change. We can make a difference.

As one lady put it in the Evanton Coop shop last week, "No, I don't need a lift, I'm going to walk.

"We have to remember our carbon (copy) footprint", she said, "We've all got to do our bit!"

Offshore Wind Farms Will Secure Scotland's Energy Independence

Crown Estate has announced details of its offshore wind development partners and this New Year 2010 has received the biggest sustainable economic development signals for Scotland in fifty years.

The Moray Firth and Inchcape offshore wind farms will secure Scottish electricity independence. The Beauly to Denny power line will help carry clean energy to markets in Scotland and beyond. New jobs and new prospects for the north and east of Scotland will help transform our fortunes and energise the nation. All efforts to build infrastructure support including the liberation of the Nigg fabrication yard for renewable production is even more urgent.

One of the projects included in today's announcement - a 1.3GW windfarm in the Moray Firth - will be taken forward by partners Edp Renováveis and SeaEnergy Renewables (pictured) group who I had the pleasure of meeting last March following Parliament's debate on the National Planning Framework 2.

A cross-party meeting with them following the debate allowed me a chance to hear more about their ambitions and they had this to say following today's announcement:

António Mexia, Chairman of Edp Renováveis said: “Offshore wind energy is one of the biggest sources of renewable energy on the planet and still largely unexplored. The UK Round 3 is the biggest tender for renewables ever and marks the definitive commitment of the UK to an energy source that is not only clean but also economically viable. It is, therefore, with great pleasure that EDP Renováveis, as one on the most important wind energy companies in the world, will lead the development of the Moray Firth wind farm with our partners SeaEnergy. This new project fits perfectly into EDPR's portfolio adding geographical and technological diversification in one of the lowest risk and most business friendly nations in the world.”

Steve Remp, Chairman of SeaEnergy PLC said: “We are absolutely delighted that SeaEnergy have been awarded this zone in UK Round 3. This is a true testament to the reputation and expertise of our team who are very excited about working with our partners EDPR to develop this zone. The UK Round 3 awards mark a new dawn for Britain’s offshore wind potential, and coupled with our existing projects in Scotland and Taiwan we are very excited to be at the heart of it.”

Congratulations to the 9 successful projects and especially to SeaEnergy Renewables and their partners - it is exciting to see these developments moving forward.