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.

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