Friday, 26 February 2010

Alternative to the slanging match

OPPOSITION parties have indulged this month in personal attacks on the Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon due to a non-ministerial constituency matter - anything to avoid talking about real means to rescue the Scottish economy and boost our strengths, for example in developing renewable energy, food and drink products and tourism which are so obvious here.

In my opinion, the Westminster slanging match is leading up to what some are calling the dirtiest general election ever.

When there is little to choose between rivals, muck flies. If we can focus on what Scotland and Caithness really need from government there is a bold alternative.

Should there be a hung parliament in London, minority government may result. If not, a coalition could be formed. It is the SNP's wish to exert the greatest pressure to let Scotland's needs be heard and met.

That is why the completion of the financial services enquiry in which I have been immersed will show Scotland must get bank regulation that meets our needs for fair access by our businesses and mortgage seekers to cash and investment here in the real economy.

The UK Government owns 80 per cent of RBS; surely they must stop bank bonuses and redirect investment into Scotland's proven assets. Are any of the unionist parties ready to act?

International agreement may be needed but fine words on curbing bankers is not a policy for a stable future that can be ensured by UK laws now. Don't hold your breath for anything that might curb the City of London.


THE unionist parties who set up the Calman Commission suggest that they want to improve the working of the Scottish Parliament.

Professor Drew Scott, of Edinburgh University, and Prof Andrew Hughes Hallett, of St Andrews, have done a service to the truth this week.

Their critical appraisal of the proposals published by the UK Government in November 2009 to reform the arrangements for funding the devolved administration in Scotland following the Calman Commission report is an eye-opener.

Jim Murphy and David Cameron say that the Scottish Parliament should be more accountable. But what does this mean?

Mr Murphy would agree to a Scottish income tax rate of 10 per cent for the first time as part of our taxes. But rather than using actual income tax receipts generated in Scotland as the basis of the adjustment, the yield to be attributed from the Scottish tax will, in the first instance, be based entirely on a Treasury forecast.

This would be opaque, open to manipulation, a non-verifiable amount, and it is non-negotiable.

Estimates based on the Treasury economic model could well result in a significant shortfall of revenues available to the Scottish administration.

Had it been in place since 1999 the shortfall amount would be in excess of £1.2 billion. Making good this revenue deficit would have required an increase in the Scottish rate of income tax by approximately 1p every five years just to retain the same level of public services.

"Any government whose expenditures are (in part or in total) funded by current tax receipts must have suitable borrowing powers to ensure that unexpected revenue shortfalls can be covered by borrowing," they say.

Yet the UK Government explicitly rejects granting borrowing powers to the Scottish Government and parliament to "smooth" current spending.

The prospective financing regime therefore increases the likelihood of instabilities which may have adverse consequences for the performance of the Scottish economy.

Profs Scott and Hughes Hallett conclude that while Labour might increase the fiscal accountability of the Scottish Parliament, "we regard this to be an extremely modest gain compared to the losses that will result if the proposal is implemented".

Labour, Tories and Lib Dems all signed up for Calman. Surely the Scottish voters deserve the right to choose, not at a general election, which produces all sorts of competing interests in play, but in a referendum on the constitution as the SNP is proposing.


THE Scottish and European parliaments have been at the forefront of raising understanding of the importance and possibilities of the hydrogen economy recently.

I have played a part in this. Two weeks ago I hosted in parliament a debate which featured Fuelcell Europe with United Nations Institute of Training and Research (UNITAR) and CIFAL Findhorn.

This focused on the potential that hydrogen offers to revolutionise everyday life from travel to electricity usage.

High among discussions, which were expertly chaired by my SNP Colleague Joe FitzPatrick, MSP for Dundee West, was the plan for a hydrogen corridor between Aberdeen and Inverness.

A hydrogen corridor is effectively a chain where hydrogen vehicles can fill up. Modern-day petrol stations if you will. It would be a world leader and put Scotland firmly in the forefront of hydrogen power. Electric vehicles powered by hydrogen are fast becoming the recognised alternative to those that are powered by petrol and diesel.

If the infrastructure is in place we can be pioneers. That infrastructure will use green hydrogen from local renewable sources.

The Royal Mail is already beginning to buy in new hydrogen vehicles to its fleet and you can be sure that many other companies and organisations won't be far behind in doing the same.

Coupled with the new energy created from the waves and tides from the Pentland Firth, Caithness and the rest of the North and East have the potential to be leaders in the new hydrogen era, much as the Shetland Isle of Unst has been doing in the PURE project.

Pollution is deeply cut, the only by-product is water, hydrogen is infinite and it has the potential to be a far cheaper fuel.

Considering that in Caithness we pay some of the highest fuel prices in the world, then that cannot be a bad thing.

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