Friday, 24 September 2010

The Royal Mail should remain a public service, not privatised

Published: 24 September, 2010

THE SNP Government has laid out a forward-looking programme for this session which will have delivered 80 per cent of our manifesto pledges by May 2011.

This includes a new item of making Scottish Water an income earner for Scots of future generations as a public corporation.

The news from the coalition in London, on the other hand, was bleak in this London party-conference 

Over the years I have campaigned on a range of Royal Mail and Post 
Office issues and opposed the possible loss of the universal service obligation (USO) which is so important to our communities in far-flung areas. Now the Lib Dem and Tory coalition has signalled full privatisation of Royal Mail. Who can trust the Scottish Lib Dem pledge to secure the USO?

This goes much further than Labour, which also wanted to get rid of Royal Mail, and it could be the beginning of the end with job losses, service cuts and deterioration in the working conditions of postal workers. The service provided by Royal Mail is a public service and it should remain so.

If presented with the choice in a free Scotland we would co-operate with our neighbours but maintain a universal service obligation in a Scottish postal service.

I get letters from government departments from other than Royal Mail carriers. No wonder Royal Mail is running at a loss.

We all know it costs more to deliver to rural areas than to cities but the whole point of Royal Mail is that everyone can use it at a reasonable price. It is not only individuals but, crucially, business in rural Scotland that will suffer.

It is ironic that this policy is being driven by the Liberal Democrats. Did those voters in the North of Scotland who supported them in the general election vote for further reductions in their postal services?

Do you remember the Lib Dems’ “save our post offices” campaign? Now that policy page has been removed from their website.

Are they now regretting such a pledge given the likelihood many more post offices may have to close under the new proposals?

THE Holyrood economy, energy and tourism committee has called for evidence on the future of the enterprise network.

Early headlines show quite a reaction. Some say break up Highland and Islands Enterprise, some say merge it with Scottish Enterprise and others ask does it ever take seriously the needs of the more remote areas furth of Inverness.

For example, the Western Isles Council, Comhairle nan Eilean Siar, called for control over HIE funds for its island needs. HIE replied that more was spent per head in the Hebrides than around Inverness. Well of course it is, but that may still not meet the islands’ needs. Similarly small population centres like Caithness need clear evidence that HIE is committed to giving our economy more priority.

As deputy convener of the EET committee, I want to see a genuine view of enterprise promotion focused on the needs of disparate urban and rural areas. The evidence sessions will include one in Skye, the rest will be held in Edinburgh.

AS requested by John O’Groat Journal, I submitted the names of the group of MPs elected by crofters and their supporters in 1885 as my Highland Heroes. They did not make it to the hundred in the supplement last week. Yet they did much to spur on Gladstone’s Government to produce the Crofters Scotland Act of 1886.

I recall from a year ago attending a commemoration of Thomas Telford, the engineer, in the town house in Wick. We were shown the portraits and pictures there, among them Sir John Pender MP.

Few recall he was knocked out by John MacDonald Cameron, the Land Leaguer in 1885, and changed his spots from Liberal to Tory and was retuned in the Khaki election of 1900.

Who were these crofters’ MPs and why are they heroes?

Dr Gavin B. Clark was elected in Caithness in 1885 and was only defeated in 1900. He was a friend of Karl Marx and a supporter of Boer independence.

John Macdonald Cameron, a Gaelic speaker born in Dornoch who had lived in Saltburn before gaining worldwide engineering experience, was elected for the Northern Burghs comprising Wick, Dornoch, Tain, Dingwall, Cromarty and Kirkwall till 1900.

Sutherland voted in the radical local laird in 1885 but elected Angus Sutherland as Land League MP in 1886. Donald Macfarlane, previously a Parnellite MP in Ireland, was elected in Argyll in 1885 but was knocked out in 1886 in a sectarian campaign. He regained the seat in 1892. Inverness-shire elected local laird Charles Fraser Mackintosh in 1885 as a key member of the Land League.

In Ross-shire Dr Roderick Macdonald, from Skye, was re-elected in 1886 and was replaced by Mr Galloway-Weir in the 1890s.

These Land League MPs with Irish and radical support opposed the Gladstone Crofting Bill of 1886 because it did not go far enough to return the land to the people.

As I said in the Holyrood debate on the Crofting Bill last June: “The cherished view of the Land League was to ensure that every productive piece of land was put to good use and placed at the disposal of those who were able and willing to till the land.”

The Land League MPs voted against Gladstone because they wanted much more. On the other hand, Labour and Lib Dem MSPs voted in the 2010 Crofting Bill for fewer regulatory powers – unlike the active crofters who want rigorous regulation to ensure good land use.

We’ll see who the Highland Hero is, but the crofters’ members were up there with the best.

Wednesday, 22 September 2010


Rob at Holyrood Apple Day
Rob peeled an Egremont Russet apple at the Holyrood Apple Day which displayed a hundred varieties of apples grown in Scotland this year. The Campaign for Fruitful Scotland for Children saw many school children visit the Parliament as part of the Commonwealth Orchard a Scotland wide project to plant 2014 trees as a legacy of the commonwealth Games. This will allow children to plant, maintain, harvest and eat their own apples.
Rob peeling egremont russet

Thursday, 16 September 2010


The end of summer recess and return to Holyrood will be fractious as the opponents of the SNP minority Government try to trip us up. Be assured the SNP had ninety-four headline commitments in our manifesto at the last Scottish election. At this stage, some three and a half years into the parliament, we’ve delivered seventy-seven of them.

People can look at the record of this government and see that it has delivered a large slice of its promises. Given the circumstances we’ve faced such as the world recession on our manifesto commitments, we’ve not dropped our commitment to a referendum and to independence.

It is hardly news that our opponents want to vote down a referendum on independence. Meanwhile the LibDems and Tories in London pursue a referendum on the AV voting system to take place on our Scottish Election day. Also Labour is signed up in Wales for a referendum to extend the powers of the Welsh Assembly.

That’s what prompted Alex Salmond, by far the most popular candidate for First Minister as polls show, to announce that the SNP will now have to appeal over the heads of the unionist MSPs to the people of Scotland next May.

The hypocrisy of all the London parties will be well and truly exposed, as will their lack of any coherent policy to generate new wealth to offset public spending cuts.

The May 2011 election has to make the essential link between constitutional progress for Scotland, and the economic and financial powers we need for the Scottish Parliament to grow the economy and increase revenues to invest in vital public services.

In the circumstances we now face our plan is to make the right of the people to have their say on independence and the absolute requirement for economic and financial powers for Scotland's Parliament the transcending issue of the election campaign.

Tactically, it would be foolish to allow the referendum bill to fall foul of opposition game playing. Instead a newly re-elected SNP government will be in a powerful position to secure passage of the referendum bill, having successfully mobilised the people over the blocking tactics of the unionist parties.


Talking of opposition game playing, a mood of hysteria has been whipped up by LibDems on both sides of the Pentland Firth over vital ferry services. It’s a highly charged issue at the best of times, but the current ferries review has prompted submissions from many quarters.

I sent a message with my views to the Caithness Transport Forum a fortnight ago. I sought recognition that both the Scrabster and Gills Bay services carry lifeline goods and people. Some days later the Transport Minister Stewart Stevenson extending the Road Equivalent Tariff pilot for the Western Isles to 2012 whose fragile economy and population loss needs to be turned round.

The LibDem balloon went up followed by the usual distortion of my words when Orkney MSP Liam McArthur demanded assurances that the Scrabster to Stromness route would not be removed from contracts for future lifeline ferry services. Who suggested it would?

Given the massive infrastructure costs of the piers at Scrabster and Stromness it seems to me desirable to get full use from them. It would also be a lesson learned that more economical vessels could be tendered for in future, i.e. after 2015. When MV Pentalina is far more fuel efficient and has far fewer crew, surely a design fit for the ‘Atlantic’ conditions out of Scrabster can also be found?

Orkney islanders have never been better served by ferries across the Firth. Both Scrabster and Gills Bay services have proved their worth. Therefore LibDem councillors in Caithness and their colleague across the Firth should engage in the real debate about efficient, plentiful and reliable services. Scare stories based on distortions won’t fool the service providers, the harbour masters and they should not fool the travelling public.


In Holyrood this week the Government’s commitment to grow our economy was the centre piece of the programme to counter the shrill talk of cuts. Instead let’s look at our natural resources as the means to build prosperity.

Contrast the alacrity of Danny Alexander as Chief Secretary to the Treasury to implement cuts in public services. His visits up north show a LibDem willingness to wreak havoc without the vision to ensure Scotland gets the borrowing powers for our Parliament that would allow real growth of oil and gas, renewables, fine food production and in expanding financial services.

The taint of London and New York financial bad practice doesn’t belabour Scotland. That’s why the announcement by Barclays Bank of 600 jobs for Glasgow shows the way. The new oil discoveries in the North Sea also show the way. The steady development of offshore wind, wave and tidal all show the way. Therefore we need to capture new jobs, community benefit and national renewal not just the gloom of cuts, cuts, cuts.

None other than Nobel prize winning economist Joseph Stiglitz warned that the UK has squandered it's oil wealth and that it is now imperative that an oil fund is established to secure the wealth that remains under the North Sea for future generations.

Speaking on BBC Newsnight Scotland, Prof. Stiglitz attacked the UK Government's policy of deep cuts and not investment describing it as "wrongheaded". We must not allow our remaining oil wealth to be wasted but fund such an oil fund for future generations. Stiglitz says it was squandered by previous UK Governments that failed to look to the future. Will the LibDems in the London coalition make any difference today?

The contrast with Norway, whose energy fund which supports pensions and investments for future generations, is stark. Why should Scotland today put up with opposition games to deprive us of our natural resources? Climate change will be an over-riding issue. Having real powers in Holyrood to address this is the prize for Scots and for the North of Scotland in particular.

Friday, 3 September 2010

Renewable Advances

It is good to read in the Groat that encouraging progress is being made with redevelopment plans for Scrabster Harbour. The employment of a Halcro team as funding go-getters will speed the plans that have the approval in principal of SNP Ministers and public agencies.

Rob Gibson MSP with MORL project director Dan Finch
The need for these facilities to be ready for marine renewables and offshore wind construction, operation and maintenance was driven home to me by the launch of the scoping study by Moray Offshore Renewables Ltd. MORL. Though launched in Inverness it will tour many communities around the shores of the Firth. The road show visits to Wick on Tuesday 31st August from 12 noon to 8pm in Mackays Hotel. Helmsdale, Brora and Tain all the way to Peterhead follow on.

What makes this so important for all around the Firth? The firm MORL combines a Portuguese wind energy company EDP that is the third biggest in the world with SeaEnergy which installed the two test turbines beside the Beatrice platform.

Their plan is to build two hundred 5 to 8 mW wind towers in the Eastern bloc before 2020. It will take support from many surrounding harbours and facilities and create hundreds of jobs in the process. Not to forget that building the jackets will employ many more as the prospects for Nigg and Ardersier look up.

Many say that they’ll believe it when they see it. Why develop the far north when there are easy pickings in shallower seas? The Moray Firth wind towers will be in much deeper water than others and promise worldwide application. This time the North can’t afford to miss the boat.

Each power source compliments the other and the careful progress of MORL helps our ports such as Wick, where a survey boats sails to the grounds east of Beatrice, and our commercial port at Scrabster to seek their share of this work. These plans are underpinned by NRIP, the National Renewables Action Plan now in its third phase as produced for the Scottish Government by Scottish Enterprise and HIE.

Thursday, 2 September 2010

Parcel Deliveries, Current Practice and Possible Solutions

I've just lodged this motion at the request of Consumer Focus Scotland. As many of you will have experienced this problem it's great to see a real effort made to find a solution. R

S3M-06900 Rob Gibson (Highlands and Islands) (SNP): That the Parliament welcomes the recently published Consumer Focus Scotland report Parcel Deliveries: Current Practice and Possible Solutions; notes the various problems that can be encountered by Scottish consumers when receiving parcel deliveries, especially those who live in the Highlands and Islands and other rural and remote areas, and supports the report’s recommendations for the development of more innovative solutions to address these problems, including more alternative local parcel delivery points and increased direct communication between parcel operators and consumers to improve the experience of those receiving parcel deliveries.