Friday, 13 August 2010

SNP speaks up for rural Scotland

THE approach of harvest allows time to take stock, chew the fat and enjoy what short burst of sunshine there is.

Prospects are great for wheat and barley prices that have skyrocketed because Russian corn growing areas have suffered the worst forest, field and peat fires in anyone's memory plus choking smog in Moscow.

And people still deny that these extreme weather events are not part of global warming at an unacceptable level.

Promotion and support for our rural communities is very much a touchstone with the SNP Government. For the country as a whole to progress, we need every area to be empowered. This takes time, but a couple of announcements made in the last fortnight by cabinet secretary for rural affairs Richard Lochhead will take us forward.

He set up the Rural Development Council. Its report, Speak Up for Rural Scotland, is a consultation that poses ways for rural Scotland and its people to have a central role in strengthening Scotland's economy.

A county like Caithness is certainly a key player and can help meet the nation's challenges in relation to food, water and energy security - all critical to our efforts in tackling climate change.

Rural areas, such as the Far North, will help make the country self-reliant, secure and sustainable. These goals are going to be much more important in the future for countries around the globe, and Caithness is ideally placed to help Scotland forward.

The cabinet secretary also welcomed recommendations from the Brian Pack-led inquiry into farm support. This means new rules can be introduced which should ensure that only truly active farmers receive support payments.

Single Farm Payments should be made to those who are genuinely working the land and contributing to the economic wellbeing of the country and countryside. The president of NFU Scotland, Jim McLaren, said: "Mr Lochhead's approval of these recommendations will go a long way towards addressing the current situation which allows farmers who are doing very little to receive support in the form of the SFP."

Swift action from the SNP Government will make sure that those who deserve payments receive them.

These may seem small steps, but Scotland's parliament can build the foundations of success for the national economy, and in rural Scotland there are very good examples of the business skills we need already in practice. I met many people at the Black Isle Show who agreed.

With full borrowing and tax powers, Scotland can be at its best - but on the way we must ensure that the energy and enterprising spirit of rural communities can continue.


SENDING a letter at a flat rate anywhere in the UK is something that we have taken for granted, yet there is a potential danger to that.

As the Con/Lib Government looks to sell off more of the family silver (in what seems like Thatcherism mark two), it is rushing forward with the part privatisation of the Post Office, which Labour planned last year. This would be wrong for many reasons, not least because of the threat to the Universal Service Obligation.

Richard and Carolyn Spray with North MSP Rob Gibson (right) at the couple's Pentland Biomass stall at the Black Isle Show last week.

With Richard and Carolyn Spray at their Pentland Biomass stall at the Black Isle Show last week.

In the North we are already suffering from a form of geographical tax. I am sure I need not remind you of the extra charges that are often added for private carriers to deliver here if you happen to live north of Perth.

Another example hits the producers of green energy from the land and seas of northern Scotland who are charged more for access to the grid. This is bad enough, but the thought of the demise of the USO would surely hit us very hard.

The potential is that with the USO abolished, there would be nothing to stop Royal Mail from varying charges for delivering letters sent throughout the UK. I think it is a safe bet that those in Caithness and neighbouring counties and islands would have to stump up more for a stamp than many others in the UK.

There is no doubt that this is something that would hinder rather than help rural and remote living, and all who use the postal services for business purposes. Therefore, I hope that, before the Conservatives and Liberals start merrily privatising what little remains of the Post Office, they make sure that the USO is retained. Or is one United Kingdom for postage already lost?

Oh and, while they are at it, perhaps the Liberal Democrat energy secretary Chris Huhne could ensure a level-playing field for energy transmission in the UK.


NEW statistics give us particular comfort about our energy potential.

Firstly, in 2009 and 2010, in Europe and the USA more electricity was generated from renewable sources, such as wind and solar, than from conventional sources such as coal, gas and nuclear - despite the global financial recession which has affected some investment in large-scale solar and biofuel plants.

In that light, I was glad to meet Richard and Carolyn Spray, the owners of Pentland Biomass, at the Black Isle Show last week.

Not our Pentland Firth but the hills near Edinburgh give the company its name. It sells domestic wood-pellet boilers and has successfully cut the fuel bills in Carolyn's leading bedding plant business. Yes, she is the Carolyn Spray of BBC's Beechgrove Garden.

They can see a big demand for domestic boilers as families count the cost of spiralling gas and oil.

Now the SNP Government and Scottish Parliament are focusing on community benefits from renewable production. Landowners already reap a cash harvest for site rental for wind farms as we well know. Farmers and crofters as well as new wind co-operatives can also see the profits to be made as producers on their own land. Speak Up for Rural Scotland makes this very point, for the first time.

1 comment:

Rory said...

Hope the Government can support the potential for carbon neutral woodfuel projects across the Highlands to offset those expensive oil tanks. Are you sure about the first statistic though?