A Wee Tremor

God, but the air smelled fresh on Great Western Road this morning – yesterday it was one of the UK’s most polluted streets. Now today we’ve banned fracking we can relax in our green, carbon-free, energy-rich garden city. The sun is out, the flowers in bloom and there’s a sparkle about our new, bolder parliament. No more dirty fuel sources, no more fossil reserves plundered, no more playing up to corrupt billionaires ready to let our homes disappear into sink holes the size of Falkirk.

I think that’s what happened. Labour has always been against dirty and dangerous fuel sources, hasn’t it? They agreed the mines should be shut during the miners’ strike, I think. Or was it them who abstained in Westminster when a fracking moratorium came up…anyway they’ve always been steadfastly opposed to nuclear too, yeah?

The naked opportunism and hypocrisy of Labour who have now surrendered any notion of sensible economic planning or even adroit government tactics, shows where they now are – desperate to make an impression, any impression, whatever the cost to the nation.

I don’t like fracking and strongly suspect it is the wrong way for Scotland to go. But I don’t know if that’s correct because I haven’t seen anything yet except one-sided propaganda from groups who hijacked the issue when it was barely in the public domain and mounted a successful demonisation campaign. The hair-raising Project Fear effort started at a time when I doubt if 99.9 per cent of the British public had even heard of fracking let alone understood what it was.

Almost everything I’ve seen so far is based on the impact on other countries which is fair as far as it goes but tells us next to nothing about what effect it might have on the geology of Scotland under a strict regulatory regime learning from early mistakes elsewhere. That’s why there is a moratorium and a two-year period in which evidence can be gleaned, consultations held and educated decisions made.

MSPs are perfectly entitled to make up their minds in advance and base their views on their own research but there is a national interest at stake here which demands a responsible and transparent official approach – both to convince the Scots and the drilling companies. A formal process has been instigated in order to examine the case for and against which should be allowed to take its course and provide a definitive response. Instead, in a rush of political adrenaline, the opposition wants to prove its credentials by ‘piling pressure’ on the SNP. To do what? Iain Gray tweeted with the question: Will they plough on regardless? (of the vote). Does he mean plough on with a moratorium which prohibits fracking? Duh…

There is a hothead reaction of course demanding to know why the SNP didn’t vote for an outright ban. Some even said they should defy the courts! Sometimes you have to gather your marbles before you respond to some of these voices. Reasons why the SNP didn’t, include:

There is already a moratorium in place (that prevents fracking).

They are collecting evidence. Voting against at this stage would be a sure sign of bias in whatever decision they eventually make, shaking public faith.

The collection of evidence could be made harder if respondents believe the government already has a position on fracking.

If they eventually decide to say No to all fracking the companies denied licences will have a stronger legal case to take to court – it would be a clear demonstration of prejudice against their companies’ interests.

It would increase the chances of losing a legal case which would be costly, embarrassing for Scotland and wouldn’t stop the fracking going ahead.

But against that the collected opposition could feel really pleased with themselves.

MSPs should play the political game as best they can and make what headway they are able to but what they can’t do is demand the party of government plays the game with them. The difference between the two sides is that one has executive responsibility and the other has none.

I hope the research shows fracking would be unsafe for our environment and that the government goes ahead to ban it. But I will still be uncomfortable about it because fracked gas will still be imported from the USA and used in Scotland. Eventually, it is likely fracked gas will be imported from England for use in Scotland (so we don’t get out of the environmental hole). A ban gives two fingers to the workforce at Grangemouth, all 1400 of them and 2000 contractors, who will wonder if their government is sane in saying No to a new boom industry.

Today Scottish unemployment is at a record high. Our economy has been buffeted by the oil price crash (as Labour never stop telling us).

I guess we must be fortunate indeed if we can afford to turn down a new industry offering jobs and money for some pretty bleak communities in Central Scotland. I think before you tell people in Plean, Fallin or Airth that there will be no economic boom for them, you need to present a convincing case. That, I believe, is what the government is doing, not helped in this case by opposition grandstanding.

Here’s a question: if we were discovering oil today instead of gas, would the same MSPs vote against extracting it? After all, it’s fossil fuel, a dirty and dangerous business, it costs lives and wrecks the environment. Didn’t the Liberals who voted for a gas ban yesterday threaten to keep the Shetland oil industry for themselves if Scots voted for independence?

Would MSPs vote against coal mining today on the same basis?

And why, if you’re Labour or Lib Dem, do you want an outright ban on fracking if you support nuclear power? Are you suggesting fracking is more dangerous than nuclear? Seriously?

This has all the hallmarks of gesture politics – like putting up taxes even if it loses money. When a ban comes we have to hope the SNP remains sensible and does it properly without the parliamentary theatrics.

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Trouble at Tannochbrae

Must rush. The sun is streaming into the Gazebo of Hate and I have to sit in the underground command centre to write this. Also I have the kids on my own for a while and I’m busy helping construct a model of the Brandenburg Gate. (Don’t tell me your life is complicated).

Mention of Berlin reminds us of what has become a dread thought for me – the EU referendum. I can’t shake a sense of foreboding that this is all happening at the wrong time and the omens are not good. There is a global resistance to anything carrying the mantle of an establishment. The recent memory of the Eurozone crisis lives on – as does the stagnant European economy. The migrant issue is an on-going symbol of European institutional failure. It further exposes the blatant racism of some member states’ governments. It spotlights one of the key Brexit arguments – fear of immigration around which so much UK opinion revolves. The champions of staying in as portrayed in the media are distrusted neo con ministers whose differences with the Out brigade are cigarette paper thin.

Almost all the arguments I’ve heard, including last night’s BBC1 programme are based on what it all costs. The concept of a wider more altruistic impulse for sharing with our neighbours is forgotten. Which is why it was refreshing to speak to Billy Kay last week for the interview on Newsnet to hear about our historic relationship with European nations, our early engagement with academia, trade and, yes, military operations. It takes us back to a time when Scotland had a separate national identity and a plan which led us to connect directly with other Europeans – before we were forced to view the world through the prism of London. Most of what Europe sees of Scotland is represented by a British government and a British outlook which at times I find little short of embarrassing. Billy lays it out with a deep perspective showing how our culture was attuned to that of others, how were able to participate in their societies, learn their languages and contribute to them.

Listening to him I am struck by the quality of his intellectual contribution to the nation. How rare it is to hear someone with profound knowledge and clear love of his subject talk freely about Scotland. The contrast with so much of the shrivelled commentary in our media with its shallow and ignorant analysis and knee jerk denigration of any initiative which isn’t right wing and Unionist, is remarkable. Imagine a Scotland with more Billy Kays than Chris Deerins – more intelligent than vacuous, more insightful than offensive – people with our country’s interests at heart based on knowledge and experience rather than subservience and salary. The message I take from it is that we have a natural home in Europe, a continent now organised around and through the EU which remains the sole route from which we can all benefit. To be a nationalist is to be an internationalist. It is the linking of both together which makes sense of the concept. First you become a nation and then you join the family of nations. Through formal treaty arrangements we work together for mutual benefit. These arrangements raise standards of human rights, income, access and communality. I don’t know if any of this is filtering through. I doubt it. I’m now relaying on the ‘good sense of the British people’ to stick with what they know and grudgingly vote In. The deciding factor is likely to be differential turnout so I’ll drag myself round there and try not to think of Barroso as I vote.

These are not clever times for the SNP on the policy delivery front…reading rates down in primary, hospital waiting times being missed, more doubts over Named Person in the Fee case. No doubt you could add some of your own. Government is about delivery and while a glance at the sheer scale of government reminds us that it does indeed work, wobbling in high profile areas causes disproportionate disquiet.

Like Blair, the SNP set themselves targets and look foolish when they can’t meet them. That’s self inflicted pain. If you’re going to single out policy areas and headline them, or allow others to do so, you have to ensure you can live up to expectation. Realistically, any government should really say: We’ll do our best. No promises. But that’s never enough in an argument so they pretend they can meet any test set for them.

There will be any number of possible explanations of course. It can’t come as a surprise that after eight years of ruthless cuts in public spending in which poorer families have been targeted and child poverty accepted as a policy consequence, that attainment in deprived areas goes backwards. The educational argument I believe can never be won because it is fundamentally a poverty issue and without control of tax and spend no government can effect the kind of budgetary shift required to eradicate it. But the SNP have committed to just that.

Waiting times look like a result of an aging population increasing need while provision gets ever more expensive as Holyrood’s budget is reduced. But in a huge organisation, you have to wonder at the administration. Is there effective management? Or are there too many jobsworths? It only takes one person to be demotivated for any section of an organisation to fall off in efficiency so multiply by a factor of 1000…

You suspect too that for many people hospitals and doctors become a way of life creating a personal dependency which takes control of their lives and limits their individualism. Do you really need to go to a doctor? In my experience, they’ll only find something wrong with you if you do. (If you see what I mean). There used to be a great line in Doctor Finlay’s Casebook when old Dr Cameron would snarl at a malingerer – There’s nothing wrong with you, man. Away with yourself…But there it is. The Nationalists have decided they can give you the perfect NHS. I say Bring Back Dr Cameron.

 

 

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