Thursday, 29 April 2010


Yesterday the Scottish Parliament unanimously passed the Census Order with a historic inclusion of a question for speakers of the Scots tongue.

The work of many members of the Cross Party Group for Scots over eight years has led to the trial and inclusion of this question on Scots in the Scottish Census, due in March 2011. Alongside English and Scottish Gaelic, Scots speakers will have a chance to answer tick boxes for Q 16 - which can you do? Understand, Speak, Read, Write, or none of these.

Scots, the tongue of Robert Burns, has dialects that span Shetland, Orkney, Caithness, Moray and all the way through Aberdeenshire and central Scotland to the Borders and far South West. Many Scots don't realise that's what they speak. Between now and the census next year a profile of the local versions of Scots tongue will have to be made very public. We look to the Registrar General to fund this information campaign.

The SNP welcomes this historic recognition for the Scots tongue by its place in the census. We hope all parties in the Parliament will help to get the question fully answered.

Saturday, 24 April 2010

Arctic convoy veterans honoured

Scots former seafarers presented with commemorative medals by Russian consul

Published in the P&J on the 24th. A friend of mine from John O'Groats and Arctic Convoy Veteran Sandy Manson is pictured here receiving his medal to commemorate the victory of the Allies in the 65th anniversary of the Great Patriotic War, WW2. Russian Consul General to Scotland, Sergey Krutikov, also pictured bowing after presenting the medal.

By Karl Mansfield
Published: 24/04/2010

RECOGNITION: William Bannerman, left, from Glasgow, and Jock Dempster, from Dunbar, proudly show their medals.

Scottish veterans who served in the Arctic convoys to Russia during World WarII have been presented with commemorative medals.

The Merchant Navy helped transport vital supplies from Orkney to Russia while under attack from German submarines and aircraft.

A total of 26 veterans were presented with the medal yesterday to mark the 65th anniversary of the end of the conflict in Europe.

Jock Dempster, from Dunbar, East Lothian, was in a convoy to Russia in 1944 aboard an oil tanker sailing to Murmansk.

Mr Dempster, who is 81 and chairman of the Russian Arctic Convoy Club Scotland, said: “This event marks a very special day for us. The longstanding bond of friendship which existed between the Russian people and the veterans during the war has become even stronger since.

“The medal is much appreciated for adding formal recognition of the critical role we played in shipping vital supplies to Murmansk and Archangel. The medals will be treasured by the veterans and passed on with pride to their children.
“The Russians have never forgotten the ultimate sacrifice made by the 2,800 seamen who never returned to our shores.”

Sergey Krutikov, Russia’s consul-general in Edinburgh, presented the medals at Merchants’ Hall in the city.

He said: “It is a great honour for me to carry out the wishes of the president of the Russian Federation and the supreme commander-in-chief of the Russian armed forces and present these medals to the British Russian convoy veterans.

“The Russians, like the British, have the same warm feelings for their veterans. Today we are honouring those who fought our common enemy and did everything possible to achieve our great victory.

“The presentation of the 65th anniversary medals is a sign of appreciation for the heroic deeds performed by Russian convoy veterans during the tough years of war.”
Rob Gibson represented the Scottish Government and Scottish Parliament.

The SNP MSP for Highlands and Islands said: “The presentation of medals was a poignant event.

“It recalls the few who survive today of the brave men of the Navy and merchant service who sailed into the teeth of war in all its fury on the most dangerous convoys of the war.

“These brave men delivered the war materials for Russia to defeat fascism along with the western allies.

“Today, we are building new friendships and economic relations with Russia on the basis of solidarity in past crises. Russia greatly values its veterans. So do we in Scotland.”

Friday, 23 April 2010

Time now for talk on Scotland's ferry services

THE foresight and tenacity of Andrew Banks, whose company, Pentland Ferries, has come good after years of struggle, is the subject of a very welcome book.

Roy N. Pedersen has given us a blow-by-blow account in Pentland Hero, published this month by Birlinn.

It tells how crossings to Orkney from Caithness were developed from the times of Jan de Groot to the spanking new catamaran Pentalina (pictured) that plies from Gills Bay to St Margaret's Hope.

The Gills Bay Harbour Committee has been justified in supporting the development of the short-sea route to South Ronaldsay and beyond via a home-made but functional pier, linkspan and breakwater which Mr Banks's team constructed.

Also Scrabster Harbour Trust has developed a state-of-the-art terminal to meet the conditions of the NorthLink tender for "lifeline" ferry connection to Stromness under the state subsidy regime.

I'm sure a big debate will begin as a result of Roy Pedersen's book. Mounting fuel costs and efficiency savings cannot be avoided in these financially straitened times. In this very week the headlines about necessary economies on NorthLink has prompted the Scottish Government to postpone any decisions about slower services or other economies till after the high season and into the autumn.

I am a member of the transport, infrastructure and climate change committee enquiry to match transport and planning needs in this country. It follows a ferry services review we completed last year. This reported that a major debate is needed on how to deliver passengers, freight and vehicles on vessels that are economic and safe in such unruly seas and meet the best principles of regular and logical routes.

Fortunately the issue of monopoly that dogs much of the West Highlands has been avoided on the Caithness to Orkney routes. However, let us make sure that value for the public purse is debated with the short-sea crossing and the needs of Scrabster and Stromness kept in mind. The repatriation of folk stranded in Norway after the Icelandic ash plume has been possible via the NorthLink's vessel Hamnavoe. That's precisely because Pentalina can cope with traffic demand at this time.


MY concerns that the Lib Dems can't be trusted to find ways to curb rocketing fuel prices have been laid out in this column many times. That's because their party is split from top to bottom on the issue, as votes in the House of Commons show.

It took an SNP amendment to the Lib Dem motion last Thursday in the Scottish Parliament to include the widest range of UK Parliamentary options to act now. As I took part in the debate I thought it right to show the final motion that was passed.

For your readers' benefit the Scots Parliament passed the amended motion - For, 73 (SNP, Tories and Lib Dems), Against, 38 (Labour), abstentions, 1 (independent).

It reads: "That the Parliament notes the AA report of 8 April, 2010, that indicates that the average price of petrol in the United Kingdom has reached an all-time high and is likely to rise still further; recognises the high premium over the national average paid for fuel at filling stations in remote rural and, particularly, island communities; regrets the damaging financial and social impact that this has on individuals and businesses in these areas; further regrets the lack of progress that has been made on efforts to find a mechanism to reduce the price of fuel in specified remote rural and island areas of Scotland, and calls on the Scottish Government to hold urgent discussions with the UK Government and the European Commission to construct a mechanism, including consideration of a fair fuel regulator, under the EU energy products directive or otherwise, to reduce the fuel price differential between remote rural and island communities and urban areas of the UK."

Yes it is very clearly an election issue, for the London leaderships of the Tory, Labour and Lib Dem parties believe in market forces which won't help us one bit.

I have made suggestions about bulk buying by the Highland Council which was rejected by the Lib Dems' independent ally Councillor John Laing, chair of TEC services.

I repeated that suggestion again at the transport, infrastructure and climate change committee last week as the cabinet secretary for finance and sustainable growth is looking for islands and remote areas to come up with ideas. If any of your readers do, please let me know.


A COUPLE of thoughts on the UK General Election can be very good for democracy.

Every SNP candidate will sign a pledge of accessibility, accountability and openness - it will be their Community Commitment. It will be their guarantee - their contract with the voters - and it will set the standard for their work on behalf of the people they represent. It will include guarantees on publication of expenses, on regular constituency surgeries and consultation with voters and community groups. Will other parties subscribe?

Every survey of opinion tells us that people across Scotland want to see the Scottish Parliament take on more responsibilities - for our representatives here in Scotland to have the ability to do more to make our nation more successful. The SNP wants Scotland to enjoy the full responsibilities of independence. We believe the 300-year-old political union is no longer fit for purpose. It was never designed for the 21st century world. It's time for a new partnership on our isles, a social union that ensures Scotland and England are equal nations - friends and partners - both free to make our own choices.

Tuesday, 20 April 2010

Supporting Economic Recovery

Here's my contribution to the debate in Parliament last week on the Scottish Government's Economic Recovery Plan. Full text of all MSPs' points can be found in the Official Report on the Parliament's website. Thanks for reading.

Rob Gibson (Highlands and Islands) (SNP): I will look first at the background of the condition from which we are trying to recover, and then at two or three examples of how we are beginning to support recovery.

On Sunday, a commentator set the context clearly.

"It's obvious what went wrong. Britain boasts the most profoundly dysfunctional financial system of any G7 country. It's not just that it went nearer to collapse than any other in the autumn of 2008, it does not know how to finance enterprise."

That was written by Will Hutton, one of the architects of new Labour, who recognises precisely how that crisis has underpinned the nature of our attempts to recover. In a world in which there has been a crisis, Britain has been one of the worst countries at coping with it or making proposals that would allow Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and parts of England to stimulate the economy out of recession.

There has been a lot of discussion about the balance of power and the finance needed to achieve recovery. There was also some discussion earlier in the debate about independence and interdependence. What about countries such as Norway that have similar resources to ourselves? What about the oil fund that has been created in the past 15 years? What about Norway's ability to bail out the whole of the UK debt and still have more than £89 billion left in its oil account, far less its own money? Norway is a small country with about the same population as Scotland. We are talking about banks failing and saying that a country of this size could not deal with that, but Norway had to deal with that in the early 1990s.

Andy Kerr: Will the member give way?

Rob Gibson: Just a minute. I want to finish this point.

As our economic recovery is based on investment, we must ask questions about the financial system that is supported by each of the British parties, that has not been altered, and which is aimed at supporting property and share prices. That is what the current financial system was set up to do, rather than invest in real jobs in manufacturing and so on. That is the charge that faces the UK parties, but I believe that Mr Kerr is going to tell us that we are all wrong.

Andy Kerr: No, no. I note that Ireland and Iceland have not been mentioned. Can the member clarify whether he is advocating the same levels of personal and business taxation that exist in Norway?

Rob Gibson: When people get greater pay and better services, they are happy to pay their taxes for those things. There is less division between the rich and the poor in a country such as Norway, and we should aspire to that. I do not think that smirking is the answer. Perhaps Mr Kerr should contemplate whether other countries have models that are worth following.

If we are going to stimulate the economy, we must use the resources that are at our disposal. That being the case, I welcome the renewables policy that the cabinet secretary has laid out in the economic recovery plan, which can create many thousands of jobs. In a European context—the following quote is from the European Wind Energy Association—Scottish and Southern Energy tells us that, every year,

"15.1 jobs are created in the EU for every MW installed."

Given the size of the planned Clyde wind farm, the size of Whitelee wind farm and the size of the others that are proposed for Shetland and so on, as well as the maintenance that creates another six jobs per megawatt installed, we are talking about huge potential. How can we achieve that in Scotland under the present conditions? We must have the capital to establish a green energy bank. We have been promised that, in the outgoing Labour Government's budget, there will be £2 billion for such matters. I have discussed with the cabinet secretary shares of that money for renewables, and not just for nuclear power, which might be the British choice, as Lord Foulkes said. We need money such as that to set up a green energy bank in Scotland and undertake activity that will secure the investment to speed the creation of all those jobs. Scottish and Southern Energy recently announced its investment in a 15 per cent stake in Burntisland Fabrications, in Fife. I wish that it were similarly involved with the Nigg yard, in the Highlands, which can build offshore platforms. Maybe it will be—who knows? I welcome the certainty of the development of offshore wind energy technology in Fife.

The answer must also lie in retrieving the moneys that the Treasury rules have tied up, preventing us from developing the kinds of energy that I am talking about. The moneys from the fossil fuel levy and the landfill levy are tied up by Treasury rules and our hands are tied behind our back because we cannot borrow or even access the taxes that we have paid as citizens in this country. I pointed out earlier—from a sedentary position; I am sorry that my intervention was not taken—that it is our taxes that are tied up in those things. I ask that we look at the conditions that Scotland is in. We have one hand tied behind our back as we attempt to recover, although we know the kind of enterprise and developments that could take place here to prevent our public sector jobs from being decimated to pay for the bankers' bonuses and a financial system that does not work.

How do we create a financial system of our own? That is perhaps right at the heart of the issue. We must create a financial system that is aimed at enterprise, and that cannot happen in the British system; it must happen in an independent Scotland.

Wednesday, 7 April 2010

We won't fall for LibDem fuel con

THE perennial LibDem "fight" for fair fuel prices continues to be peddled by Lord Thurso and Charles Kennedy. Yet they do not have backing from their UK leader Nick Clegg.

Speaking a fortnight ago on the BBC, his chief-of-staff, Danny Alexander MP, directly contradicted his party leader who supports higher fuel taxes. It exposed to the people in the north how the LibDems say one thing here and another down south.

Nick Clegg, the party leader, ruled out a cut by saying it should stay in the budget. Danny Alexander must know that was the position. Voters should beware any claims by the LibDems in the Highlands and Islands of being the party of lower fuel costs. Do they think the people of the Highlands and Islands are stupid and won't notice?

The only party with a clear and consistent record against sky high fuel prices in the Highlands and Islands is the SNP, who stand up against London's fuel tax whammy. The Liberal Democrats failed to support a fuel duty regulator to stop volatile fuel prices when SNP MPs brought forward an amendment in budget debates last year.

Rising fuel taxes hiked by last week's Darling budget once again are having a huge effect in this constituency and across the country. Driving down prices is essential to the Highlands, to the Highland economy and to families in the Highlands in the country from under whose waters comes the black gold.


I SERVE as deputy convener of the economy, energy and tourism committee and was proud to support the unanimous report on the future of banking and financial enterprises which we published ahead of the UK budget.

This has huge importance hereabouts. Farmers, small businesses, mortgage seekers and families seeking loans for home improvements are some of the victims of extortionate lending policies by the big two high street banks, RBS and the Lloyds Banking Group. They have a 75 per cent duopoly across Scotland, far more than in England and Wales.

We are looking for evidence from those who have been victims of what are nationalised banks in all but name, over which the UK Labour Government has control. But it seems that there is a silent pact. Government wants its huge investment paid back as quickly as possible. They do not insist on fair lending policies by Lloyds and RBS who in their turn want to be free to make themselves obscene profits once again.

The Scottish Government will act on the EET report. Also, the UK Treasury Committee has called for the socially useful banks to be separated from the casino activities of investment banking.

The good news is that Scottish insurance companies and asset managers are in good health and recruiting staff. They invest for the long term, as they have over the decades. But before people forget the near fatal financial collapse of September/October 2008 we need concerted international action. Britain, the EU and G20 all need to act soon. Would that Scotland could have the powers herself.


ALBYN Housing Association officials and I paid a visit to the eco-friendly home development opposite Milton. Systems built in homes in the Alness and Invergordon areas during the oil boom were no patch on these new structures.

At last modern insulation allied to air source heat pumps and high-tech panels are making it much easier to build homes to stand the test of time.

What is even better for tenants or owners is the microscopic heating bills compared to those for older stock. The Scottish Government is rolling out affordable housing schemes like Milton to meet the demand, even in this recession.

1 billion take part in Earth Hour 2010

Congratulations to all who help make this year's Earth Hour such a success!

Dear Rob,

I am writing to personally thank you for your support for WWF’s Earth Hour 2010 – helping to increase awareness about people and wildlife threatened by climate change.

Sign-ups are still being calculated but early indications suggest that a staggering one billion people were touched by WWF’s Earth Hour around the world. Over 4,000 cities and towns in a record-breaking 126 countries signed up. Global landmarks which switched off included Edinburgh Castle, Big Ben, the Eiffel Tower, the Great Pyramids, Sydney Opera House, and the Forbidden City in China.

Here in Scotland, this year’s Earth Hour really captured the imagination of the public leading to record numbers pledging to switch off - including 29 of Scotland’s 32 local authorities, over 300 schools and nearly two hundred businesses, public bodies and other organisations. At least 10,000 individuals took part on the night.

Many of the nation’s most iconic structures and buildings were also plunged into darkness, including: Edinburgh Castle, Inverness Castle, Holyrood House, RRS Discovery, Wallace Monument in Stirling, George Square Monuments in Glasgow, the Scottish Parliament and the Falkirk Wheel. The Scottish Government, CoSLA, STUC, CBI Scotland, SCVO and each one of Scotland’s main political parties also gave their support.

Meteorologist Heather Reid joined WWF for an amazing light-show and countdown event at the Falkirk Wheel. Other events that took place in Scotland included a night golf charity event at Fairmont St Andrews, candle-lit meals, topical film screenings and torch-lit walks.

The huge support for WWF’s Earth Hour this year is reflected in the fact that of the ten areas across the entire UK that signed up the largest percentage of their residents, six were Scottish local authority areas. The overall UK number one spot for sign-ups went to East Lothian.

Once again, thank you for helping us to make WWF’s Earth Hour 2010 the best yet.

To see some photos and find out more about how Earth Hour went here in Scotland and elsewhere around the world, please visit:

We are delighted by your support and hope that we may continue to count on it in the future as we work together to achieve WWF’s vision of a future where people and nature can thrive.

Yours sincerely,

Dr Richard Dixon
Director, WWF Scotland