How our Elected Representatives Behave.
MPs and MSPs are in positions of responsibility. Those they represent expect them to carry out their duties with honesty and integrity. They are well paid compared to most people and should respect the views of others, even if they may disagree.
Tavish Scott, Lib-Dem MSP for Shetland, made a huge mistake, in treating Lady Paton and Lord Matthews with disrespect, at the Election Court, in Edinburgh, on Monday 9 th November. We all know that the Government, in Scotland, at Westminster and in most other Countries are completely separate from the Judiciary. In fact the two senior law lords bent over backwards to get Tavish Scott to calm down, show respect for the Court and be less petulant. To call proceedings a “Political Show Trial” was way off the mark. Of course he feels frustrated by the way Alistair Carmichael’s reputation has suffered, following the Frenchgate affair. He is not the only person to show disappointment.
Likewise, Liam McArthur, MSP for Orkney made a big mistake, in last week’s “View from Holyrood” column, in the Orcadian. The Remembrance Day Parade, in Kirkwall, on 8 th November is a dignified occasion, where we remember all those who paid the ultimate price, in past conflicts. There is no link between Remembrance Ceremonies and the Alistair Carmichael trial. Liam needs to remember that he is MSP, representing everyone, in Orkney.
The SNP, in Orkney, Shetland and at Holyrood are not involved in the above trial. The four individuals, three of whom support different Parties are principled and respected Orkney constituents. They are well known, locally and have been involved in previous campaigns and do not take orders from the SNP or other Parties. The four individuals have handled themselves with dignity, throughout.
It is well known that Alistair Carmichael has sailed close to the wind, in the past, during the 2005 and 2010 General Election campaigns as well as in last year’s referendum Campaign. It is with regret that I can say that, as a past Candidate, at Elections. Jim Wallace, in contrast, treated fellow Candidates, the press and the electorate with respect, at all times.
The Law will take its course while we await the outcome of the Court. JRM
I write on behalf of the many SNP members and activists who feel very aggrieved at the way Alistair Carmichael has behaved.
We spent a considerable amount of time and effort on the campaign and now feel that not only was a dirty trick deployed but a lie was concocted to cover up responsibility for it . We feel cheated by methods that are totally non Shetland or typical of the people who live here.
The most important consideration must be that an apology is due by the MP to the people of Shetland many of whom voted for Mr Carmichael under a false impression of his integrity.
I await comment from the Lib Dem MSPs and the local party and their condemnation of Mr Carmichael’s behaviour. If nothing is forthcoming I will assume that they condone his actions.
Shetland Branch SNP
3 North Heights
During the current Election campaign, Lib-Dem Candidate, Alistair Carmichael, once again issues misleading or inaccurate information, mainly Scottish Government on issues, such as ferries, funding to Orkney & Shetland Councils and Health Boards. I wish to remind him that this is a Westminster Election to elect MPs, not a Scottish or Council Election. He did the same in 2010. His outbursts, in the local papers, on BBC Radio Orkney and in election leaflets, owe more to the fact that he and his Party are facing their biggest challenge, for many years, mainly from the SNP, locally and throughout Scotland. Over the past five years, he has helped to prop up an unpopular Tory-Libdem Coalition Government. The poorest and weakest members of society, the young, disabled, sick, elderly, unemployed and those on reduced benefits have paid the highest price. Meanwhile, the rich have enjoyed tax cuts while many bankers, who caused the original problems have gone, unpunished. As Scottish Secretary of State and earlier, as a Libdem Whip, he ensured that his Party’s MPs toed the Coalition line, “Gagging them like Stalin”, to borrow one of his more colourful phrases, to win House of Commons votes. John Swinney, Finance Minister, in the Scottish Government has had the difficult task of balancing the books, on an overall Scottish Budget that has reduced by one billion pounds, annually, over the past five years. His priority has been to keep as many in policemen, firemen, teachers, nurses, doctors and care workers, in jobs, at the expense of administration. The police and fire services are still delivering as good, if not a better service, in Orkney, and elsewhere, as was the case, a few years ago. Likewise, Mr Carmichael’s attack on the funding and quality of Orkney Health Board’s work, is totally unjustified. The employees do a great job. There are challenges which are being dealt with, while plans for a new hospital, in Orkney, are at an advanced stage. He also continues with inaccurate and misleading information on RET and funding of ferries. RET, Road Equivalent Tariff, favours island ports which are nearest to the Scottish Mainland. Fares from St Margaret’s Hope or Burwick to Gills would be lower than those from Stromness to Scrabster. Fares between Lerwick & Scrabster, would be much lower than Lerwick to Aberdeen. I am not sure, he has thought through all the consequences, when going for headlines. He is also aware that his Libdem MSP colleague, Tavish Scott, as Scottish Transport Minister, was closely involved in the design, specification, building and privately financed deal for the three Northlink ships. The high running costs and inflated interest charges use up much of the £10 million a year subsidy on the Stromness to Scrabster route and £30 million on the Shetland and Aberdeen routes, leaving less money to reduce fares. Streamline, Pentland Ferries, and John o’ Groats Ferries are excluded from any subsidies.
JOHN MOWAT Springfield Drive, Kirkwall
An open letter from SNP candidate Danus Skene to the Shetland News
Dear Dave Hammond, you asked in these columns a couple of days ago what is my position on the Viking windfarm?
Time indeed, Mr Hammond, to answer the question in public, while being under no illusion that my views will satisfy all who may care to read them. So please be a little patient with me, and let me break a long story down into its pieces...
1. Do I support the principle of generating electricity from “renewable” sources, including windfarms and marine technologies? Should government, as a general policy, be committed to supporting such developments? “Yes, and yes.”
My basic view on this is environmentalist. We simply cannot continue to meet increasing global demand for electricity by burning carbon fuels: the planet cannot take it.
It is the case at this point in time that electricity can be produced more cheaply by power stations than from renewable sources. That will not always be the case, as renewable technologies improve and as carbon fuels inevitably become scarcer and dearer.
With climate change considerations in mind, responsible government must push from here on to expand the renewable sector. The SNP Scottish government is committed to supporting research and development in the renewable field and to using public resources to promote green power generation. I am happy to be associated with that general policy.
2. Do I support the specific Viking windfarm proposal? “Yes, but...”
I suppose that there are those who would oppose any form of wind power developments.
Orkney’s developments have been small scale, privately or community owned. Even though some are very prominent, and the spread of the smallest units reminds me of nothing so much as the earliest days of forests of H-shaped TV aerials, the scale of Orkney developments has not raised divisive controversy on the Shetland pattern or scale.
The Viking problem is its scale, and the scale of the project is driven by the distance to mainland Scotland and the consequent cost of an interconnector.
I do not personally have a problem with the appearance of wind turbines, and I am not comfortable with language such as the “industrialisation of the landscape” – all our landscape is the product of human intervention. But I accept that for many Viking is too much in relation to the Shetland landscape. I would much have much preferred a smaller project myself.
3. But that is not where we are now.
Viking has development permission for a large project of 103 windmills. Will I now join or support any attempt to stop this development happening? “No, I won’t.”
The recent Supreme Court decision was the end of the legal process stemming from the Viking planning application. The court rulings have the effect of certifying that a legal decision has been made in a country governed by the rule of law. I do however have a lot of sympathy for everyone who feels with passion that the process was not exactly transparent and satisfactory.
I cannot see that anything is achieved by having referenda or inquiries now that the horse has bolted, but, looking ahead, the saga of the Viking application is an example of why I am appealing for a “new politics” in Shetland.
Councillors should be elected on programmes to which they can be held to account. Big decisions such as this should proactively seek to engage local communities, civic organisations and the general public in the process. Have a referendum if opinion suggests that it is needed.
If the council’s planning decision had been taken in a more open and participative manner, then whatever the Viking decision had been I think the community as a whole would have accepted it. Time, money, and above all temper would have been saved.
4. The next key decision is about the interconnector. If elected, would I support the process of getting it built? “Yes.”
The process now is that SSE put a “needs case” to Ofgem in order to get permission to conclude a contract to get the interconnector built. Having reached this point, it surely makes sense for any representative of Shetland, of whatever party, to do what they can to facilitate that process.
The interconnector will have a capacity of 600 MW, including the 400 MW that Viking will generate. That leaves “headroom” for 200 MW more, and defines the scope of what further development there could possibly be.
There are only limited windfarm geographical possibilities in the context of the landscape and environmental criteria that were researched for the Viking project. I would personally be keen to see headroom kept for marine renewables whose effective deployment should be possible within the next ten years.
A point about the National Grid. The grid as we know it was constructed to deliver electricity from central power stations out to the edges of Britain. The decision to do this originally was an act of political will. We need another such act of will now to reconfigure the National Grid to transmit green energy from the peripheries to the centre.
As it is, the interconnector decision is being left to the commercial calculations of an electricity company (SSE). While the coalition UK government has been content to leave such a huge infrastructure issue to market forces, the SNP would like to see government initiative on this, investing in the future economy, investing in green energy.
As it is, attainment of the Scottish government’s green energy targets is being frustrated by national infrastructure limitations that are still under the UK government’s control.
I regard it as a failing of the coalition, and of Mr Carmichael in particular, not to have made moves towards a new vision of electricity generation and transmission.
And there is the particular nonsense of charging places like our islands an additional transmission charge, making our lives more expensive, fostering fuel poverty, and disadvantaging our green energy resources. (Maybe a privatised Royal Mail will charge more for our letters...)
5. If elected, will I protect the public interest so that benefit does indeed derive for the community from Viking? “I will/would do everything possible.”
The first thing is to be very vigilant about ensuring that all conditions attached to Viking’s position are scrupulously met. I would expect those who have opposed the project root and branch to be particularly helpful in this. (I would like to be right in my optimistic view that getting the project “done right” has an effect in pulling a bitterly divided community together again).
The Supreme Court having made its ruling, a Shetland representative’s role focuses now on two things. Getting the Viking project done right, and ensuring long term public benefit.
Having helped to make Shetland’s investment through the Shetland Charitable Trust as safe and effective as possible by getting the project under way and earning, I would like to do everything I could to open up participation in the decision-making of how the benefit of the investment passes to the community.
That takes us into the whole area of the role, accountability and management of the charitable trust, and its relations to the council and other bodies in Shetland. That is a discussion for another time and place, but it is very much part of my agenda to encourage more openness, participation and accountability in the way Shetland makes its decisions.
A recent YouGov poll of over 1000 people, showed that 79 % of the people of Scotland support renewable energy and want the next Westminster government, to alter and strengthen its present policies by showing greater support for renewables. In the same poll, 63 % of those asked want the next Westminster government to do more to tackle greenhouse gases and climate change.
In 2014, 50 % of electricity used in Scotland came from renewable sources, up from 44 %, in 2014. Clearly there is widespread support, throughout Scotland, to strongly support the renewables sector, along with the jobs and investment it creates. The Beauly to Denny transmission line has been upgraded. Work is proceeding on laying subsea transmission cables from South West Scotland to Lancashire, from East Caithness to Aberdeenshire and from Eastern England to Mainland Europe. The missing link, in this chain, is the prospect of a transmission cable, or interconnector from the West of Orkney to Northern Caithness. We have already seen future development of wave energy projects cancelled and greater use of wind energy curtailed.
The future development of tidal energy, in Orkney will be stranged, over the next few years, unless there is progress in the laying of a new Orkney to Caithness link. The tidal energy Meygen project, off Stroma and Gills is proceeding, while there is no similar action, in Orkney. Alex Salmond, when First Minister, visited Orkney several times to share his and the Scottish Government’s enthusiasm and belief in our renewables sector, along with the jobs and prosperity it has the potential to bring.
Lib-Dem Coalition Energy Minister, Ed Davy, has proved ineffective at grasping the renewable energy issue. Along with close colleague and friend, Alistair Carmichael, Coalition Whip and Scottish Secretary of State, they have not been able to influence their own Government’s and Offgem’s thinking.
The Highlands Islands have huge potential to generate large quantities of electricity from tidal, wave, wind, hydro and other sources. However this abundant green energy cannot be used under present the present Ofgem charging regime which penalizes distance from London. Unlike Orkney there are no strong winds, strong tides and big waves to generate abundant power, anywhere near London.
Governments in Scotland and Europe understand this issue. People, here, can cast their votes, at the coming General Election, to send a message to the Tories, Lib Dems and Ofgem on the future of renewable energy.
Orkney Green On Energy
Energy is such and intertwined topic some over arching planning is absolutely essential!
Laissez faire attitude simply won't keep the lights or) prevent an environmental disaster.
Emission charges (intelligently applied) are one aspect moving things in the "right" direction but most of these transmission charges are bonkers!
No other developed country, azpart from UK, Westminster, would tolerate this mess!
Fergus Ewing, Energy, Enterprise 7 Tourism Minister in the Scottish Parliament does understand and properly evaluate these.
Lib-Dem UK Energy Minister,Ed Davey has a poor understanding of the issues.
For long enough I thought he was a Tory, he might as well be & so for that matter might A Carmichael. At least, re Energy production & transmission & one would assume he would have the self interest to care and act for Orkney & Shetland.
If there ever was an argument for Independence, Energy is a core case.
Scotland could be a Power House in the area of Energy production and a huge financial success.
As it is we are at the mercy of the market and a lip service to environmental concerns, while paradoxically left at the mercy of Nuclear & Fracking.
Awash with Energy, we may not always keep the lights on & can't protect our environment!
We need to Plan & Invest. Independence would offer Scotland the best answer where Energy is concerned. Can we even trust trust Westminster to boil an egg, never mind keep the lights on.
Austerity of an Alternative
TINA used to be the war cry of Margaret Thatcher, when leading a hard right Westminster Government from 1979 to 1990. “There Is No Alternative”, to austerity, unemployment and misery for many. Germany, and a number of other Northern European Countries, went down a different road, in the 1980s & 1990s. Sure, they had some difficulties, but they managed to keep the bulk of their engineering and production industry expertise. They now have economies which are much more balanced than that of the UK.
On 7 th May 2015, the UK is due to have another General Election. The Tory/Lib-Dem Coalition and Labour are both preparing to fight the election on austerity, the more the better. The Lib-Dems and Labour have both moved well to the right over the last five to ten years, or more. In 2015 they have nailed their colours to the mast of greater austerity.
They have even accused the SNP of being “financially irresponsible”.
Last week, SNP Leader Nicola Sturgeon, went to London, to outline a plan that provided an alternative to Westminster’s unfair austerity agenda. The London media were not used to hearing the message from the social democratic middle ground, of politics.
The SNP are expected, if polls are accurate, to gain a number of seats from the Lib-Dems and Labour, in Scotland, while Labour and the Tories are neck and neck, in England. The SNP, rather than UKIP may well hold the balance of power, in the next Parliament.
“A strong team of SNP MPs can put heart back into Westminster policy and be a progressive force for change, in the UK,” said Nicola. “The disabled, sick, unemployed, minimum wage earners would no longer pay the highest price, of austerity.”
The real cause of the rush to higher Government borrowing, was the collapse of tax receipts, as more and more people became unemployed or under employed, or worked for minimum wages, over the past 10 years. The message, essentially is, that by borrowing an extra 0.5 to 1.00 %, and investing this in infrastructure projects, could kick start the economy, at a time of very low interest rates. Investing in the building of new schools, houses, transport projects, could kick start the recovery, by having more people in employment, thus increasing the tax receipts. Many economists and others, in UK and Europe are coming round to this view. Both locally and throughout Scotland, the Lib-Dems and Labour can expect the strongest challenge to their power and inertia, for many years, from the SNP.
Pros and Cons of RET
It is disappointing that, once again Orkney MSP Liam McArthur, strikes the wrong note regarding RET, ferries and the Northern Isles. While this makes for headlines in the media, it does not help, in the longer run. It is well known that RET favours the shortest possible routes between mainland ports and the offshore islands. This concept works well in the majority of the Calmac ferry routes, in the West of Scotland and in Norway.
There are, however a few major differences between the situations in Orkney, Shetlands and Islands in Western Scotland. The ecomomies of the Western Isles, the Inverness and Argyll Islands are extremely fragile. RET offers them the benefit of ferries carrying more passengers and freight, thus helping their businesses and tourist industries. The Clyde ferries carry much larger numbers of passengers, meaning the subsidy, per passenger, is greatly reduced.
It is not a case of Northern Isles versus Islands to the West. I suggest that rather than criticise the Scottish Government, a better approach may have been to welcome the most recent Scottish Government’s RET roll out and then suggest that further focus should not shift to the situation in the Northern Isles. It would be useful to work through Scottish Government Committees such as the Energy, Enterprise & Tourism Committee, COSLA and Transport Scotland. It may be possible to get cross Party backing for further action on Northern Isles ferries.
RET, applied in its present form, would favour the routes Burwick or St Margaret’s Hope to Gills Bay, rather than the longer Stromness to Scrabster route. Likewise the longer higher cost Kirkwall to Aberdeen route would not be favoured, under RET and Shetland ferries would use the much nearer Scrabster, rather than Aberdeen as the Mainland port. Such changes could only be brought in with the support of businesses, communities and Councils. It is important that all aspects are considered. The situation on RET is complex, not simple and straightforward. Northlink Ferry services to Orkney and Shetland are heavily subsidised, while some other ferry companies are not. There are” Lifeline Ferries” and other ferries which provide” Lifeline Services”.
Good arguments can be made for encouraging Northlink to become more commercial, in outlook, and sail at times that better suit the travelling public. If this annual subsidy could be reduced, the money saved could be diverted to Orkney and Shetland’s internal services. Orkney’s North and South Isles also have fragile economies.
There may well be good arguments for RET on our internal ferries. Catamarans, of various sizes, offer higher capacity and lower running costs. They have also proven reliability in Norway, UK, Ireland, Asia, Australia and Tenariffe.
A Ferries Committee reports regularly to the Scottish Government and the Transport Minister. This is another forum to get one’s views across.
An Eventful Past Week
The past week has been eventful in many ways.
Nicola Sturgeon took over as First Minister, with the hopes and best wishes and aspirations of a nation. She then addressed 12,000 people at the Hydro, in Glasgow, a similar percentage of the population to the 380 people in Kirkwall,in late August.
She announced that the SNP now had 92,187 members. 50,000 Scots and 913,000 Brits now have to rely on food banks, to survive, double the number, a year ago. Charities fear for families over the festive season, throughout the UK. Many of those suffering are the working poor, those who work hard on minimum wage. Welfare cuts, reforms, a six year wage freeze, and severe delays in crisis payments appear to be the main reasons. The UK has, since 1979, steadily become more and more unequal. Our Northern European neighbours, enjoy better standards of government, than we, in the UK. Their national wealth shared out much more equally. Gordon Brown tells us that he is about to step down from the British political scene, hoping his Devo-Max proposals become reality, in the Smith Commission report.
The Lib-Dems got a minute 0.87 % of the total vote in the Rochester & Strood by-election, while South East England drifts further to the right and away from Europe.
Meanwhile, Alistair Carmichael, a representative, from Scotland of the Westminster Coalition Government lectures the SNP on inequality, knowing full well that his Con-Dem colleagues hold most of the purse strings. Since 2010, he has backed all austerity cuts, welfare cuts, privatization of the Royal Mail and the hated bedroom tax. Maybe he should be thinking of these. At the same time, our usually more moderate Lib-Dem MSP, Liam McArthur, launches a tirade against the highly intelligent MSP for Mid Scotland & Fife, Annabel Ewing, who was promoted, in the Scottish Government, last week, on ability grounds. Annabelle is the daughter of SNP and Scottish legend, Winnie Ewing. Madame Ecosse fought tirelessly for Scottish interests and those of Orkney farmers, fishermen, in Europe over a 25 year period. It is not unknown for the sons and daughters of able politicians to follow similar career paths to their parents.
At times some Lib-Dems seem to lose sight of reality.