Friday, 29 October 2010


All the news from Westminster on forthcoming public service cuts must not be allowed to hide the positive option for Scotland. This was spelt out clearly at the recent SNP Conference in Perth in plain language by the First Minister and party leader Alex Salmond. He said

“Either Scotland stays in the Westminster straightjacket of low growth, public sector cutbacks and blighted futures or we take responsibility and deliver the better society we all want.” And he followed on, “The Independence I seek is the independence to create jobs.”

In Ross-shire there is no doubt that the SNP is setting the policy agenda as elsewhere ahead of this year’s Scottish budget and the 2011 Holyrood elections. A series of opinion poll questions show the SNP is hearing the views of the people of Scotland and responding to their priorities.

A YouGov poll carried out immediately after SNP conference shows that Labour and the LibDems are on the wrong side of the argument, with strong public support for SNP plans to freeze the council tax for two more years and to abolish prescription charges. Labour has failed to back both policies with Iain Gray specifically calling for council tax to increase. 59% of people back the SNP’s decision to extend the council tax freeze. Here in Highland the LibDem council leaders agree with Gray.

In addition, the SNP plans to extend the living wage and call for more financial powers to help grow Scotland’s economy. It’s the only alternative to a dismal decade of cuts from Labour, Lib Dem and Tory London governments. Support for the full powers of independence are increasing since the UK Election.

Over the coming weeks the SNP will continue to listen to the priorities the public share with us through our website. We will set out further details of the policies we will pursue in government now and at the election.


All the talk is that the LibDem and Conservative coalition in London expect private firms to take up the work the public sector has to cut. Huge loans required to stabilise the pound sterling after the crash of 2008 can be coped with better if we grow the number of jobs people had.

During the recess, at my own expense, I visited the huge complex of cooperative industries in the Spanish Basque Country around Mondragon. After 50 years development the workers are still the bosses. There are now two hundred and fifty-six coops in the group. They employ over 90,000 workers who have their own coop social security system, health service, university and bank. their turn over is 16,700 million Euros in 2008.

I defy anyone to say that there is only one solution to strengthening our local and national economy. However Mondragon is also based in Basque culture and language, it breeds local self-esteem. and now they have factories in China and Brazil to name but two outposts of their work.

It should be noted that Basque parliament has more economic powers than Scotland raising all its own taxes….

Can we learn from them? Surely so! Last week I noted Lord Thurso calling for competing firms to join together to free up and use Nigg to create new jobs. Remember that Scottish Government wants offshore renewables developed, yet Highland Council under the LibDems has baulked for eighteen months against compulsory purchase of Nigg. Another approach is needed, you say? Some of Lord Thurso’s councillor colleagues are in the competing firms, so I don’t see competing firms actually cooperating. You have to build that ethos from the start. If Highland Council has the guts, change can come.

An independent country like Norway with the rich resources Scotland also has would not have such fearful local ‘leaders’.

Saturday, 23 October 2010

I recently signed the VoteforSport Pledge agreeing to act as a Sporting Champion upon your election to the next Parliament.

In the elections on May 5th 2011 Scotland will elect the Government that will take Scotland up to and beyond what is arguably the most exciting time ever in Scottish sport, including the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow and the Ryder Cup at Gleneagles. This is Scotland's greatest chance to get it right, to deliver a lasting legacy from this excitement and to recognise that sport is not just an income generator and medal winner - it is a vehicle by which to improve and enhance our nation. Sport is Scotland's missing link.

Rob Gibson signs the VoteforSport pladge

Friday, 22 October 2010

Rob Gibson MSP addressesthe Munduz Mundu festival's supporting a language declaration

Be part of better... a Basque example

We should be feeling a bit more pride for our country following the fine medal tally and performance at the Commonwealth Games. Did you see the rapturous passing on of the baton from India to Scotland for the friendly games in Glasgow in 2014?

In Caithness I enjoyed the opening of the Mod and the wonderful procession of talented musicians and performers who came north to enhance our culture. We should all welcome expressions of our healthy cultural life. As I’ve said before they are the experiences that make life richer.

In between the Mod and leading a Highland Games and music party to the Basque Country I breathed in the positive air of the SNP conference in Perth. Be part of better was the campaign spelled out there.


Winter's is on its’ way at the end of the golden road of autumn biting winds of the arctic will begin to blow, brining a new season. At the start of this week the biting winds of budget cuts were announced, bringing with it a era of austerity, which will be as keenly felt and last longer than the impending winter.

Whilst we look to the North for the coming winter we can look to the South for cuts. As individuals are powerless to stop the onslaught of this winter the Scottish Government is powerless to stop the spread of cuts from Westminster. As it stands just now the Scottish Parliament does not have the financial powers which would allow a Scottish solution for a Scottish problem.

Unable to borrow or pull the financial levers which other countries in the world take for granted the Scottish Government is reliant of a block grant from the Westminster Government. So cuts to the block grant from the UK Government mean that the Scottish Government have to make the money go as far as it can. Given this week’s announcement it seems that cuts are greater than anticipated.

Not for the first time in history the Labour Party has left a legacy of debt and economic mismanagement on a grand scale. Not for the first time the Conservatives have come in wielding the axe with privatisation on their mind, however this time they are aided and abetted by the Liberal Democrats, who in the main seem to have forgotten their SDP roots in their embrace of power.

As we see this week these cuts are deep however they would have been under Labour too (witness Alasdair Darling declaring that if Labour won the election then he would implement cuts which were deeper and tougher than Thatcher).

The Conservatives are clearing up the debt left by Labour the only way they know, ruthless public sector slices and the vulnerable left to fend as best they can. The Lib Dems are contributing with zeal, Labour is trying to absolve itself of responsibility and the SNP Government has to make the best of it, without sufficient powers at its disposal to do things differently. Any Scottish Government would be in the same position regardless of colour.

The Scottish Parliament was set up to find Scottish solutions to Scottish problems. However at the moment neither the Parliament nor Government have those powers. It is like facing down a force 10 northerly on Dunnet Head in a t-shirt. That’s why the First Minister and SNP leader Alex Salmond told the SNP conference that ‘the independence I seek is the independence to create jobs’.


Readers, you should be in no doubt that Scotland faces stark choices next May. But so do many other peoples. Some have full powers over their futures. Others like the Basque provinces of Spain already have more powers to raise taxes than we do. I found out more about them when I supported the Scots Highland party whose games skills and music captured the hearts of thousands of Basque people of all ages. In Ordizia the Highland Games attracted four thousand spectators. In Burlada near Pamplona fifty thousand local people enjoyed the fund raising festival for their local Basque language school which is run on cooperative lines. The addition of Scots guests was highly popular.
Cllr Roy Peterson, School Head and
Rob Gibson MSP with Language Declaration

 I had the pleasure of contributing to a declaration that all those who wish to speak their own languages should be supported and encouraged. The Munduz Mundu festival goes from town to town each year. It helps some cultural or education purpose there. What a good idea.

What did the Scots contribute? At a civil society level, leaving politics to the side the Basque mood is to end memories of violent disagreement between Basque and Spanish ideas of government. It is civic and non-party call for change for the better.

Rob visited the Mondragon cooperatives seen around
their valley home in the heart of the Basque country
 After the festivals I fulfilled a dream of thirty years standing to visit Mondragon the home of the biggest Basque cooperative movement which started in 1956 as a way to educate some local young men and make work in the Spain of the Franco dictatorship that was down on all things Basque.

The local priest Jose Maria Arizmendiarrieta applied Catholic social doctrine to start cooperative working. Today it consists of two hundred and fifty six enterprises and foundations. They are committed to greater social wealth through customer satisfaction, job creation, technological and business development. This has embraced continuous improvement, promotion of education and respect for the environment. In 2009 92,000 work in its companies, and a total turnover of 16 million Euros. Factories in China and Brazil are but the latest ideas being developed.

I’ll tell you more of this in due course because it works. Would that we could find model of work that are resilient and release our potential? That’s what drives me to work for a consensus in the Far North to find the best ways for our skills to build not just jobs but a common belief we can do it.

Wednesday, 13 October 2010

Questions over Huhne snub

Rob Gibson SNP MSP for Highlands and Islands has questioned why Chris Huhne snubbed the Scottish Parliament's Economy, Energy and Tourism Committee, preferring instead making a repeat announcement on a £2 million grant for Scrabster harbour development by the NDA.

He said, "on Tuesday this week the Secretary of State for DECC Mr Huhne agreed to give evidence to Holyrood's EET committee. We agreed to shift our normal meeting time from Wednesday mornings to accommodate him. Ten days ago the committee was told his plans could no longer fit in an evidence session. The respect agenda towards MSPs by the London minister is shaken by Mr Huhne's action.

Mr Gibson went on,

"News that Mr Huhne visited Caithness instead and reannounced a welcome £2 million grant from the Nuclear Decommissioning Agency to help develop Scrabster Harbour. Newspapers carried this grant news two weeks ago. Why did Mr Huhne not announce the release of the Fossil Fuel Levy, raised in Scotland and locked up by Treasury rules? That would have helped bridge the funding package needed to get renewable related work at Scrabster going more quickly."

"All in all, Mr Huhne's visit to Caithness and then Shetland were LibDem party oriented. When he snubbed the Scottish Parliament he did not have the decency to bring new funds from the London coalition that can allow prime Scottish wind, wave and tidal resources to produce clean electricity that is vitally needed to meet UK carbon reduction targets."

Sunday, 10 October 2010

On music, culture and food

This week we can celebrate local evidence that Tory PM David Cameron should have regard to his ‘passion’ for the Big Society. The Mod begins in Caithness, the Feisean movement goes from strength to strength and this area’s food and drink offer huge nutritional and spiritual [pardon the pun] sustenance for healthy people and healthy communities.

First of all, the National Mod hits Caithness, or Mod Ghallaibh 2010. Yes it celebrates Gaelic culture and has never ventured o’er e Ord before. Despite early concerns about imposed Gaelic road signs that furore has died down and so many folk in the County and neighbouring Sutherland communities have pitched in to take part, to offer their musical talents and accommodation, food and produce for the event.

Quite rightly the lessons learned from past Mods show a big boost to the local economy and a friendly invasion. Indeed the recent Oban Mod produced over 8,000 visitors to that area and £2.5 millions into the economy at the ‘shoulder’ tourist season. All cultures and musical traditions will surely be boosted by taking part.

Secondly, and still on the Gaelic and musical theme, a report on the Feisean movement, the non-competitive learning festivals of traditional music and Gaelic traditions, through teaching festivals scattered across the land contributes another £2 million a year to small places and large.

The newest member of the Feisean, Fèis Ghallaibh was established in March 2009. In February 2009 the Gaelic Roadshow, Cuairt Chiùil Gàidhlig, reached children in P4- P7 in every Caithness Primary School while “Drop in Lunchtime Ceilidhs” were held in the secondary schools in Wick and Thurso.

This was followed by the first Fèis Ghallaibh on 21st March 2009 that attracted seventy children to workshops offered in fiddle, accordion, chanter/pipes, whistles, keyboard, guitar, bodhran and Gaelic song. Gaelic language was present throughout the day in workshop and games sessions.

Since then there have been further Fèis Ghallaibh Days in May and September 09 and a Fèis Fun Day in August during the school holidays. Meanwhile step dance and clarsach have been added to the choices available and most tutors have been recruited from Caithness and Sutherland although some have come from much further afield.

Lots more young competitors can seek medals this week in the Mod competitions. Good luck to them and to our athletes representing Scotland in Delhi.

The third part of the Big Society I’d like to highlight is the Highland Young Chef 2010 competition of which I was compere in the Burghfield House Hotel in Dornoch two weekends ago. Fiona Murray from Helmsdale won the top prize judged by Albert Roux’s family of distinguished former students. However, Tongue Hotel, Melvich Hotel and MacKays Hotel in Wick provided just some of the other prize winners as reported in the Groat.

Rob compered the Awards, Albert Roux, chief judge, Fiona Murray, the winner, John Thurso MP and Richard Lochhead MSP Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs and Environment.

Now I know fine dining is a rare treat for many, but just think, so many of our local restaurants and hotels have young, ambitious chefs and managers who see the sense and worth of good food, locally sourced and beautifully crafted.

My point is that music, culture and food are the distinctively human qualities that make us a distinctive and proud community, county and nation. They must not become victims of the cuts in public support that is under siege from Tory LibDem Coalition government intent on reducing the public sector and putting private services in its place.

It is our passion and right to be ourselves, to boost Caithness dialect, to make our own music, to celebrate great food produced and presented right here. That’s at the heart of Scottish wellbeing and self-esteem. Maybe the Tories should heed the message, if they attack the councils, the arts bodies, the sports supporters they may destroy the key elements of the Big Society that thrives here right now.


The Big Society is also under attack from the Labour Party. Just three days after the UK Labour Conference in Manchester Iain Gray, Scottish Parliament Labour leader has confirmed they will end the SNP’s council tax freeze and allow it to be increased again.

After wrecking the economy Labour now want ordinary Scots to pay for the mess they created. This is the council tax they put up 77% in Highland Council area when they were last in office with the LibDems. Why should the SNP Scottish Government be a message boy for London cuts?

Labour seems to want to hammer Scots families and pensioners by pushing up their council tax. By way of contrast the SNP Government has helped hard-pressed households by freezing council tax year on year – saving average households nearly £300 when people’s finances are under real pressure. Labour now wants to punish people at a time when money remains tight for many.

This confirms what we have long suspected – Scots can't afford a Labour government at Holyrood or a would-be Labour MSP here and the Far North should reject them next May.

In Highland Council area during Labour’s reign from 1997 and with the LibDems from 1999 the council tax increased by £504 on average, while their new call to end the freeze could amount over four years at a 4.5% cap to another £223.90. These are amongst the highest increases in the country.

Iain Gray wants to put this tax up - making an already unfair tax even harsher. The SNP wants to abolish the unfair council tax in favour of a fair local income tax. But we need extra MSPs to achieve that goal and allies in Parliament to demand that Scottish taxes be set and collected in Scotland. At the same time we must expand our economy to make new jobs that will increase income tax take and win new revenues from oil and gas as well as the burgeoning renewable energy sector.