Friday, 15 January 2010

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.

No comments: