LAST week’s launch of the SNP independence referendum campaign marks the formal beginning of a two-and-a-half year debate on this most fundamental of issues. Mind you, for most Scots it’s a debate which has been going on for all our lifetimes already!
I’m looking forward to my own role in promoting the alternative viewpoint, making the case for a more autonomous Scotland, but one which remains within the UK. The real concern is that the sheer lengthy timescale being insisted upon by First Minister Alex Salmond proves a political distraction when we all face so many other pressing concerns — and end up turning voters off. Time indeed will tell.
The important point is that this should be a constructive and positive debate about the issues. What would happen to Scottish defence, Scottish pensions and all else besides if we were to choose to leave the United Kingdom? Just take two issues prominent in my in tray at present. I continue to lobby hard for the future of the underwater submarine testing ranges at the Sound of Raasay — a major employer in south west Ross-shire. The MOD have recently confirmed that they see an ongoing need for such a facility. Would it survive Scottish independence?
Unless we start building Scottish submarines it’s hard to see how a by then foreign country would maintain such a presence — rather than having one of their own elsewhere. Or take the £50m pledged by the Westminster government to maintain and upgrade the Scottish-London sleeper services. Where would that level of cash be found if Scotland goes it alone?
Much food for thought and dispute ahead. But let’s keep it positive throughout. We all want the best for our nation, it’s the means not the ends that divide us.
THE hurly-burly of the election is over for another year, and we have a new set of councillors returned. I must say I was glad to be a spectator rather than a candidate this time around. I’m looking forward to getting stuck in and working with all of them to keep the Highlands growing.
I’m also pleased to see my Liberal Democrat colleagues back in the Administration. Our capable group will work hard to do their best for everyone in the council, focusing on the issues that really matter — care for the elderly and young, our transport infrastructure, and the challenges ahead with further budget squeezes to come. I know they’ll see the Highlands proud.
ALL the pomp and pageantry of the Queen’s speech is now over, and the Government’s programme for the next year is set out. There is much good news contained within it.
The Banking Reform Bill will move us away from Tony Blair’s soft-touch regulation of the financial sector towards a new system which keeps banks from repeating the damaging mistakes of the credit crunch. It has never been more important that we have a properly regulated and constrained banking industry — one that helps Britain grow, not cuts off growth.
The Green Investment Bank will be created in law, and headquartered in Edinburgh — a clear indication of just how important Scotland is to renewable energy in the future. Our potential, particularly in the Highlands, is huge, and the Green Investment Bank will help kick-start projects across the region, in places like Kishorn and Nigg.
The Groceries Code Adjudicator will be a great step forward for farmers who too often take a raw deal from the big supermarkets. This new body will ensure that all suppliers to supermarkets are treated fairly and within the law.
It’s not just the Queen’s speech which has a great impact on Scotland. In the last months, the Scotland Bill became the Scotland Act, the greatest transfer of fiscal power to Scotland since the Act of Union. The Scottish Parliament will soon have responsibility for raising a great deal of the money it has to spend — a great step forward for devolution, but by no means the last one.
Please remember, if you ever have an issue which I can help you with, you can contact my office on 01349 862152, write to 5, MacGregor’s Court, Dingwall IV15 9HS or e-mail me at Charles@HighlandLibDems.org.uk. I’ll do everything I can to help.