Tuesday, 25 January 2011

Tackling soaring fuel prices

As a Highland MSP I have pledged to bring together Albyn Housing,Scottish and Southern Energy and residents to seek solutions to mountains of debt from electricity bills in so-called affordable homes in Strathpeffer.

Following local press coverage lst weekend I visited residents in Ulladale Crescent, Strathpeffer while campaigning in the village.

I was shocked to read then hear first hand of the debt mountain the heating systems have led to.

I aim to help residents reduce huge bills they pay in houses that are only a few years old.

Rob visits residents in Ulladale Crescent

It is clear to me that a breakdown in communications exists between residents, Albyn housing and the power utility SSE that needs to be mended.

Despite few residents wishing to speak out, there are too many people suffering winter fuel bills that would heat up the sky. Meanwhile they are getting themselves into an electricity and rent debt spiral.

I am trying to set up a round table discussion with all parties. There are residents in many streets in the north and all over Scotland in fuel poverty who need this help. This is happening in the most energy-rich nation in Europe but scots are not yet in control of the revenues. I will focus on Ulladale Crescent, Strathpeffer to try to help but I am seeking information from others in a similar heating bill plight. I hope they will contact me with their stories.

Friday, 14 January 2011

Independence and delivering on promises

A week-long independence referendum promises days of hope in this New Year for the people of South Sudan. They are likely to vote strongly in favour of breaking from the Khartoum-based regime. It is mainly peaceful and joyful. Good luck to them and every support will be needed to end years of neglect and harassment. However they are far from resource poor. Major oil concessions have delayed the change but can fuel their recovery.

Hopefully other examples of newly independent states such as Montenegro can get positive recognition by Scots i.e. when you ignore the sour comments of Labour’s Scottish Parliament leader Iain Gray. In the Far North of Scotland we can see even with the bank crisis that Iceland, Faroes and of course Norway are contenders for sustainable nations with large lists of resources to sustain their future.

This news suggests Scots need to think hard about our future and heed the stark choices that the Scottish Parliament election offers on May 5th.

I glanced this week at reports in The Economist publication, The World in 2011, that per capita income at purchasing power parity (PPP) in each of Austria, Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland and even what it considers to be the much maligned Republic of Ireland is higher than each of France, Germany, Italy, Spain and the United Kingdom. In Norway’s case PPP is 64% higher than in the UK; recognises that the population of each of the more prosperous nations ranges from 4.1 to 9.5 million and that medium-sized nations such as Belgium and the Netherlands and tiny countries such as Iceland, Liechtenstein and Luxembourg all have PPP higher than the five larger nations, each of which has 46 to 83 million inhabitants.

Therefore there is no reason to believe that an independent, resource-rich Scotland could not be as prosperous as so many of our small European neighbours that enjoy less child and pensioner poverty, lower crime levels and better quality of life than in the UK. Unionist politicians must stop decrying other nations and questioning the ability of Scots to successfully run an independent Scotland better than it is run from London.


Like many of you I had to fill up with diesel for my car after New Year. What a rip off the VAT hike and petrol prices have become. Costs to us in the North are far higher due to VAT and delivery charges soaring far from the refineries.

When in opposition down south Tory and Lib Dem parties promised to cut soaring fuel prices. At that time the SNP vowed to make the need for a Fuel Duty Regulator and bring down the cost at the pumps. The Coalition in London have stalled, so petrol, diesel and heating fuel costs have to become key Holyrood election issues.

If fuel taxes were cut by 10p per litre in Scotland that would only cost about half of the estimated £1 billion in extra revenue the Treasury is set to rake in as a result of rising oil prices.

I am finding that this is a huge issue on the doorstep and the forecourts. It is a key illustration of why we need to build up Scotland’s Parliament, and equip it with the full powers of financial responsibility.

A Fuel Duty Regulator – which the Tories supported before the election – would bring duty down when oil prices go up. Cutting fuel by 10p per litre in Scotland would only cost about half of the estimated £1 billion in extra revenue the Treasury is set to rake in as a result of rising oil prices.

It’s a national scandal that in Europe’s oil-richest country, Scots are paying among the highest fuel prices.


Isn’t it good news that the Highlands and Islands could soon have its own university after the UHI Millennium Institute [UHI] cleared a major hurdle to achieving its aim of becoming the University of the Highlands and Islands?

Following a Board meeting shortly before Christmas, the Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education (QAA) formally advised the Scottish Government that it has assessed UHI as fully meeting the quality and standards that university title carries with it.

The Scottish Government held a public consultation earlier in 2010 after UHI’s initial application to the Privy Council last May. The results of that consultation are now being considered by Ministers who will make a recommendation before the final decision is made by the Privy Council early this year.

That would mean the streamlining of funding and administration and the concerns about adequate resources for North Highland College and all the other partners could be placed on a stronger footing.

The great news that the internationally-renowned Environmental Research Institute is set to move into its new high-tech hub on the Thurso college campus is part of a steady improvement in education provision and incidentally like other public investment keep construction industry jobs going in Caithness.

The backing of the Scottish Government for higher and further education is out to consultation. Realistic sums have to be raised to back quality. I hope many of you who want your children to get the best third stage education possible will take part.


The SNP has confirmed that a continued council tax freeze into 2012/13 will be one of the party’s central manifesto pledges at the Holyrood election as First Minister Alex Salmond is set to write to a million Scottish households outlining plans to protect household budgets in these tough times - and detailing the very real costs to families of Labour's plans to increase council tax.

Alex Salmond’s letter will underline the real difference between the SNP and Labour. The message is powerful and compelling, the only way to continue the council tax freeze is to vote SNP.