23 November 06
Gibson calls for Street Football to tackle youth disorder
Highlands and Islands SNP MSP has called for Northern Constabulary to
implement a proven measure to tackle youth disorder. Mr Gibson has
written to Chief Constable Ian Latimer pointing out the success of a
trial scheme implemented in Dyce by Grampian Police of Street Football
has led to a 67% reduction in complaints against youth nuisance and
disorder. Mr Gibson says that the scheme should be introduced in the
Highlands. "The figures speak for themselves. The 67% reduction in
reports of youth disorder, as happened in Dyce, shows that there are
practical and viable alternatives to curbing disorder than simply
issuing an ASBOS. One of the main complaints from young people is that
there is nothing to do and as a result they act irresponsibly. However
if there is something that they want to do then the chances are that the
majority will stop acting that way." Mr Gibson said that the scheme
would have many benefits. "This is not only an opportunity for safer
communities it is could lead to a healthier society. Teen obesity and
general poor health is a real issue and such a scheme would help tackle
that throughout the region. Who knows the next Scottish footballing
sensation could be unearthed by this project which would raise the
spirits of the entire nation."
22 November 06
NORTH MSP BACKS BILL TO FINE DRIVERS ABUSING DISABLED PARKING BAYS
Local Labour MSP Maureen Macmillan is supporting a members' bill in the
Scottish Parliament, which aims to crackdown on the abuse of disabled
parking bays. The Highlands and Islands MSP has given her support to
Labour colleague Jackie Baillie's Private Members' Bill which would make
all disabled persons parking bays enforceable and mean those caught
abusing them would face fines. At present, most disabled parking bays
are courtesy only and therefore anyone can park in them without the risk
of being penalised. A consultation seeking views on the proposals has
been launched and Mrs Macmillan is urging Highland s and Islands
residents with comments or views to take part in the consultation.
Speaking about the launch of the consultation, she said, "Abusing
disabled parking bays can cause real difficulty to disabled drivers. I
know of cases where disabled drivers have been forced to wait hours to
get into an accessible parking space at a local supermarket because an
able-bodied driver has chosen to abuse a designated space. In an other
example a disabled woman in Inverness wrote to me having problems with
inconsiderate motorists who were parking in her bay on the roadway at
her home. This type of abuse is unacceptable and disrespectful to
disabled drivers. I would appeal to anyone who has or does abuse
disabled parking spaces to think about the implications before they do
so. Local residents or businesses with views on this issue should take
part in the consultation. Anyone interested in participating should
contact my office for a copy of the document or log onto the following
16 November 06
JAMIE STONE MSP WELCOMES NEW JOBS BOOST FOR ROSS-SHIRE
Far North MSP Jamie Stone has welcomed the news that around forty new
'green' jobs will be created in Invergordon thanks to the development of
a biomass project in the town.
Northern Irish based company
Balcas Ltd is behind
the £24million scheme, with investment from Highlands and Islands
The facility - which will be developed on the former Alcan smelter site
- will include a combined heat and power plant generating green energy
and be used to produce wooden pellets. It will be the largest biomass
energy plant in the UK and will reduce carbon emissions by 170,000
tonnes per year.
Commenting today, Jamie Stone the constituency MSP for the area said:
"This announcement is an early Christmas present for the people of
Ross-shire. This project is bringing major new investment to the local
economy and creating many jobs, while helping the environment at the
"There are many positive benefits with the development of this facility.
Aside from the clear economic benefits it will ensure a sustainable,
clean and efficient supply of heat and power to be shared with local
homes and businesses.
"It will use local supplies of lodgepole pine which is in plentiful
supply in the Highlands but is hard to sell, so it will make good use of
a natural local resource.
"The development will be the largest biomass renewable energy plant in
the UK, reducing carbon emissions by 170,000 tonnes each year.
Ross-shire will be leading the way in Scotland and the UK in terms of
sustainable sources of energy.
"The company behind the facility employs more than 600 people in the UK
directly and has a diverse range of forest product operations in the UK,
the Republic of Ireland and Estonia. It is at the forefront of the
biomass industry and it is a very encouraging sign that the company has
chosen Invergordon as the site for this exciting new project."
15 November 06
Gibson praises Network rail speedy opening of Far North Rail Line
Highlands and Islands
SNP MSP Rob Gibson has praised the work carried out to reopen the Far
North Rail Line and is confident that the Wick line will be opened as
soon as possible. Mr Gibson was speaking after it was announced that Far
North Line was to reopen after last months floods. Rob said the work
teams had done a magnificent job...."The engineers had to deal with 104
separate incidents along the line and have done so in lightening quick
time. They are a credit to themselves and Network rail."
Mr Gibson also played a part in the repairs by helping to negotiate a
speedy road closure of the A9 to allow a giant crane to lift the line
south of Helmsdale. "I was glad to play a small part in helping to speed
the repairs. The rail line between Port Gower and Helmsdale was badly
damaged and needed to be lifted the crane. I managed to persuade the
powers that be that the crane was very important and it was there within
two days of the flood."
Despite the reopening of the line Wick is still cut off due to the
destruction of Watten bridge Mr Gibson said...."The situation is not
ideal however I have every faith that Network rail engineers and work
teams will be able to rectify the problem with Watten Bridge sooner
rather than later. They have been hampered from doing so because the
area is waterlogged. However I believe that they are to start work
immediately and I confidently predict that the line will be open in full
He ended by saying that he hoped that Transerv Scotland could learn from
those who carried out the work for Network rail and get the A9 up to
scratch as soon as possible.
25 October 06
Gibson Speaks on Caithness Future
Highlands and Islands SNP MSP Rob Gibson has called for a Scottish
Executive Minister to oversee the socio-economic future of Caithness.
His call came during a debate on the post Dounreay economy of Caithness
in parliament. During the debate Mr Gibson said that he supported the
broad outlines of the recently published
strategy document for Caithness
however he questioned how effective it would be. Unless a Minister could
implement the changes necessary to allow the Far North to flourish..."
The SNP sees this Strategy as one that is of far greater impact on
Caithness than the closure of Ravenscraig had in Lanarkshire. I venture
to say that Scottish Ministers should take the supremo role in promoting
plans for the sustainable future of the Far North. But at present the
split between the powers of the Scottish Government and London
Government is a definite hindrance. "
He went onto to call for more credence to be given to the economic
benefits that a faster railway would deliver to the far North. He called
for UAEA And the NDA to come up with the money to fund a study into a
Dornoch rail link which cut the journey time to the far substantially.
Chastising the lack of investment in the far North by the transport
Agency HITRANS he said..."I'm calling on the NDA and UKAEA to offer a
mere £5,000 to back the £5,000 already raised by the Dornoch Link Action
Group to secure the speedy commissioning of a modern rail consultant to
end the negative jibes of the ' hopelessly uneconomic' variety. Hi-Trans
who have given rail a low priority have virtually ignored the Far North
Line. Like the Caithness strategy, the SNP say that it's time to think
He also stated that improvements to the rail could be carried out
alongside improvements to the road such as places like the braes of
Berridale. He said it isn't an either or situation.
Rob talked about the need for Caithness to think Global and to set up a
world center of excellence in nuclear decommissioning as well as an
center of excellence for renewable energy research and production....
"We need a commitment from HIE and the Enterprise Minister to back a
Centre of Excellence based in Caithness for both the development and
export of nuclear decommissioning skills and also to set up a major
collaboration with the EMEC centre in Orkney to promote wave and tidal
power in the Pentland Firth. I see that Aberdeen wants a centre of
excellence for energy development; it is time to stake the far better
claim in the Far North."
Speaking after the debate rob said, "When I think about post Dounreay
Caithness, I see a land aching with potential, decommissioning skills,
tidal power to name but two. However this can only happen if the
Political will is there. What is needed is someone to be given powers to
make it happen. The closure of Dounreay will cause major upheaval but it
is how is dealt with will determine the future of the County. There must
be a Minister with power who can be put in charge of the transition and
help deliver a sustainable future and economy to the Far North."
18 October 06
Jamie McGrigor's speech on Crofting Bill
Crofting Reform Bill: Stage 1
Wednesday 27 September 2006
Mr Jamie McGrigor (Highlands and Islands) (Con): "Crofting and crofters
are very dear to me. Crofters have struggled for centuries to maintain a
tough way of life, from which is derived much of our Highland
culture-the music, the poetry and the song. Crofters' huge practical
knowledge of livestock agriculture and of the biodiversity of their
neighbourhoods is invaluable. They were important to our past and are
important to the future. It would be a sad day if Scotland were to lose
However, having experienced the recent
debacle in Taynuilt-where the best land, in the middle of a crofting
township, was used for the development of new housing, despite the fact
that young crofters were queuing up for it-I have realised that crofting,
left undefended against open market forces, would quickly be swept away
and would become part of Scotland's history. It is extraordinary that,
whereas on the day in question the developers appeared at the public
hearing in Taynuilt with a notable Queen's counsel at their side, the
Crofters Commission did not have its lawyer-or any other-with it, since
apparently he was on loan to the Executive.
As a member of the cross-party group
in the Scottish Parliament on crofting, I have spent much time with
members of the Scottish Crofting Foundation, individual crofters and
crofting associations. For years, many have called for an evaluation of
what crofting means and of what it should mean for the future. Surely
that evaluation should have preceded the introduction of the bill. We
must ask why it did not. If it had, we could have legislated sensibly to
help crofting. It did not, so now we cannot. There was no evaluation,
only a draft bill that few seemed to want and which no one would admit
to having written or asked for. Alasdair Morrison has just told us who
wrote the bill, but I cannot believe that he did it on his own. The
member could have helped him, if he had so wished.
I have described the background to the
Environment and Rural Development Committee's report on the bill, from
which I will quote. Paragraph 325 states: "There has been criticism of
what the Bill does not do, and a concern that it represents a 'hotch-potch'
that does not seem to point to a vision for crofting. It has certainly
not been able to command any sense of widespread support amongst those
affected by it."
Paragraph 326 states: "The Scottish
Crofting Foundation stated that the Bill's fundamental flaws outweigh
its positives, and that new opportunities offered by the Bill should not
be used to gloss over deficiencies."
It continues: "A significant portion
of witnesses argued that the Bill should, therefore, be withdrawn-as
proceeding with a Bill on the basis that it is better than nothing is
not an acceptable approach."
The conclusions of the good committee
report would have been useful if we had had them before the bill was
drafted. They would surely have been reached much earlier if the
Executive had taken any notice of what Sir Crispin Agnew and John
MacKintosh said in 1998. The Executive could have listened to Becky Shaw
and the Scottish Crofting Foundation when the first white paper was
published in 2002, but again, it did not. Nor does it appear that much
attention was paid to the deliberations in 2005, before the bill was
introduced. Rob Gibson was right to say that much time has been spent on
false trails and that the true evidence seems to have been ignored. The
bill in its current form is indeed a hotch-potch that is not worthy of
the Parliament. We need practical solutions to practical crofting
problems. We should not proceed with the bare remnants of a hotch-potch,
as that would be dishonest. Instead, we should go back and start again.
We need practical solutions. That is
why, two years ago, I instigated a members' business debate on the bull
hire scheme, which is important to the crofting community. On that day,
I was promised action by the honourable minister, Allan Wilson. Members
can read what he said at the time. Those were good words but, in
reality, the number of available bulls has dropped from 196 last year to
118 now. There are fewer bulls to choose from and they are far more
expensive. If the Executive is supportive of crofting, why has that been
allowed to happen? The extraordinary lack of vision with regard to the
scheme will soon result in inferior cattle and even less income for
crofters, who struggle to survive on the ludicrously low prices that
their cattle and sheep fetch at auction markets. If I may say so, that
is the main problem that crofters face.
We must keep the crofting counties
agricultural grants scheme separate from the new land management
contracts, or the money for crofters will disappear into bigger farmers'
pockets. CCAGS grants may be a tiny part of the national agriculture
budget, but they are hugely important to crofting townships.
Crofting land must be treated
specially, or it will disappear. Housing development should be
restricted heavily in the arable or inby areas, which are the best
agricultural land, but it could be encouraged in the rougher
common-grazing areas. That might mean a need to help crofters with
access roads and water and electricity infrastructure to encourage new
housing in areas that are away from main roads. Such measures would
produce new houses, new crofts and new communities-the opposite of a
Highland clearance-which would be real support for crofting. Glens that
are full of ruins would be repopulated, which would indeed be a journey
back from the other side of sorrow.
The committee's report brings a
refreshing honesty to the political process in the Parliament, because
it admits that great mistakes were made in the preparation of the bill.
I agree with Eleanor Scott that the committee did its job well. Let us
not proceed with the barely acceptable rump of a hotch-potch; let us go
back to the drawing board to carry out a real evaluation of the needs of
crofting in the 21st century, consider new suggestions and come back in
the next session of Parliament with a bill that is genuinely useful to
11 October 06
HOLYROOD TO DEBATE FUTURE OF NORTH ECONOMY
The issue of the North economy as decommissioning at Dounreay
proceeds and accelerates is to be discussed in the Scottish Parliament
thanks to Far North MSP Jamie Stone. He has secured a Members' Debate in
Holyrood about the matter for the beginning of November and hopes that
this will kickstart action in terms of tackling the problems that will
lie ahead for the area. Speaking ahead of the debate, Mr Stone said:
"Dounreay has been the lynchpin of the Caithness economy for so many
years, creating and supporting thousands of local jobs and generating
new income. "We all know that the continuing decommissioning of the site
presents the local area with huge economic and social challenges.
"Building on the information we have gathered, an action plan must be
agreed now - a plan that will ensure the future stability and prosperity
of the local economy.
"It is important that the Scottish Executive works closely with the UK
government, along with other key industry players, to consider the way
forward for the North.
"I would expect that this work should include a costed and funded
strategy to help ensure suitable replacement industries and jobs can be
established for the years to come.
"This debate will be an important opportunity to raise these matters
with the Scottish government which can in turn push the issue up the
agenda of the UK government."
Motion From Jamie Stone MSP For Debate
S2M-04888 Mr Jamie Stone (Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross) (LD):
That the Parliament notes the severe economic and social challenges for
the far north presented by the accelerated run-down and decommissioning
at Dounreay and considers that the Scottish Executive should work with
the UK Government and other key players to ensure that a costed and
funded strategy is put in place as soon as possible so that suitable
replacement industries and jobs can be established for the years to
11 October 06
JAMIE STONE MSP MAKES CASE FOR NATIONAL ENERGY CENTRE IN CAITHNESS
North MSP Jamie Stone believes that Caithness would be the ideal
location for the new UK National Energy Technologies Institute. Mr Stone
believes that a very strong case can be made for basing the centre of
excellence at Dounreay in the Far North and is calling on Scottish and
UK ministers to give his proposal serious consideration. He has now
lodged a motion on this issue in the Scottish Parliament. Commenting
today, Mr Stone said: "The Far North of Scotland is already well
established as a base of different energy technologies, skills and
expertise. "I believe the location of the energy institute will be key
to its success. I cannot imagine that there will be many other areas in
Scotland, never mind the UK, that can match the Far North for either
existing or potential energy expertise and generation.
"At Dounreay pioneering work in terms
of nuclear decommission is being developed and vital research and
development work in renewable energies is underway at the Environmental
Research Institute of the North Highland College. "Another key factor in
Caithness's favour is its geographic location. The Far North is on the
doorstep of the Pentland Firth - widely recognised as a prime and unique
site in the UK for tidal energy generation. Caithness is also adjacent
to present and future oil production. "The benefits of bringing such an
important facility to Scotland, and ultimately to the Far North, are
clear. I urge Scottish ministers to give the strongest consideration to
this suggestion and promote the benefits of the Far North to their
counterparts at Westminster."
10 October 06
NO HIDING PLACE FOR LIB DEMS ON CAR TAX HIKE
will be no hiding place for the Liberal Democrats on their disastrous
plans to hike car taxes in the Highlands and Islands – Labour MSP Peter
Peacock has pledged.
He said, “Lib Dem car tax is nothing less than a raid on the incomes of
hardworking families and small businesses across the Highlands and
Islands – dressed up as a green tax.
The North MSP has attacked the plans as having their most damaging
effect here within the Highlands and Islands, where the car is still
essential for most families.
He added, “ The recently approved Liberal Democrat plans to raise car
tax in the Highlands and Islands will have dire consequences for
hardworking families and comes on top of their plans to raise the levels
of income tax locally. They know their proposals will cause real
hardship across the length and breadth of our region, yet they are
determined to proceed.
Their car tax hike on a 2 litre Mondeo will lift it from £190 to £1,500
and on many a working farm vehicle from £215 to £2,000. Even on a small
Vauxhall Astra sized vehicle the hike would be from £150 to £850. In
percentage terms this means rises from a huge 250% to an astonishing
Mr Peacock also criticised the Lib Dems so called discount for the
Highlands and Islands. “The truth is that all family sized cars, like a
VW Golf or 2 litre Ford Mondeo will face a rise – for some it will be a
huge rise, for others a monumental rise – even after the discount is
applied. No one should be in any doubt about that.”
He also pointed out the equivalent effect of their policy on petrol
prices. He added, “The Lib Dems frequently criticize petrol prices, yet
their own car tax plans are the equivalent of doubling the cost of fuel
per mile in this area – nothing less than highway robbery. Their car tax
increase is a blunt and indiscriminate tax - which will hit hardworking
families and the business community.
And he promised the Lib Dems no hiding place as he and his colleagues
intend to expose all the details of their highly damaging policy and the
full costs to the population of the Highlands and Islands over the
coming weeks and months.
He said, “There will be no hiding place for the Liberal Democrats on
their car tax policy. Families will be asking themselves what other
taxes will be coming from the Lib Dems after these car tax hikes and
their plans to raise income tax locally.”
From The Papers
Liberal Democrats unveil plans for 'new home' and 'green' car tax -
Lib Dems Plan a £2000 Road Tax - BBC
Lib Dems plan £850 road tax - Telegraph
Car Tax should reflect environmental damage - Green Lib Dems
Lib Dems Plan £2000 Road Tax - Taxation Web
20 September 06
Gibson speaks out on local food
Highlands and Islands SNP MSP has warned of a serious mismatch between
the health message and food production support currently offered by the
Scottish Government placing in jeopardy the ability of people to enjoy
fresh locally produced food throughout Scotland.
During Thursday's debate on Local Food
is Miles Better, Mr Gibson said that a lack of joined up government as
only a fraction of farmers and crofters are receiving help in the
Organic Aid Scheme and the crofters Bull Hire scheme compared to those
interested in taking part.
He challenged the Rural Affairs Lib
Dem Minister Ross Finnie to place healthy eating at the heart of a
future agriculture policy. He also questioned what benefit the new
changes to crofting legislation would make to crofters and how it would
encourage local food production…."How do we help small producers? By
strangling the crofters' interim Bull Hire scheme in red tape and
greater expense and making elements of crofting grants that were easy to
access in the past now part of complicated business plans that underpin
the Land Management Contracts."
Mr Gibson said that government, if
focused, could be the biggest agent of change in the diet of the nation
and create a boom for local producers. However too many departments work
at cross purposes. This means that fresh local food is not reaching the
majority of people that it could... "Do the Rural Development Scheme,
and the Scottish Diet Action Plan join up? Does the ERD Committee report
on the food chain and our evidence to the Competition Commission here in
Edinburgh last week show that the Scottish Executive has all the powers
it needs? Are all the dots joined up to link healthy food to
agricultural production and the food and drink industry in the country?
I do not think it does."
"The Scottish Organic Action Plan was
supposed to meet at least 70% by value of overall Scottish consumer
demand for organic products which can be sourced in Scotland - how does
a claim to support healthy food eating and the underpinning of the
willing food producers? Immediate action is required to bring all these
essential aims together. Our celebration of Local Food is Miles Better
deserves some detailed explanation by the Minister."
Rob Gibson summed up the Problem by
quoting the renowned organic beef producer, recent Food Standards
Association member and now chair of the Scottish Salmon Producers
Association Mike Gibson... It is imperative that Government
strategy is not allowed to pull itself apart due to different
departmental priorities; so as not to unravel it must be truly
20 September 06
MSP HAILS IMPROVED SCHOOL INVOLVEMENT FOR PARENTS
Labour MSP Maureen Macmillan has welcomed legislation that will give
parents a stronger voice and encourage them to get more involved in
their child’s education and school life.
The Highlands and
Islands MSP was speaking as the Scottish Schools (Parental Involvement)
Act came into force. The new legislation compels local authorities and
schools to ensure parents are given information on how to help their
child's learning at home and provide them with opportunities to
contribute to the life of the school.
Under the new law,
parents are also automatically made a member of the parent forum at
their child's school, allowing them to get involved in setting up new
parent councils to replace the current system of school boards in August
Speaking about the new
legislation, Mrs Macmillan said, “"We
know that children whose parents are involved in their education achieve
better results and get more from their education that those whose
The Scottish Schools
(Parental Involvement) Act aims to encourage parents to get more
involved and forces schools to make parents feel more welcome.
part of the new law is the parent council system which will replace
school boards next August. The councils will be much more flexible and
accommodating to parents, allowing them to focus on the issues that
matter to their school and child.”
Education Minister Peter Peacock commented, “There are major new
opportunities for schools and parents in these new arrangements. Parents
have the chance to build on the good work of their school boards, but
with ever more freedom and flexibility to fashion the arrangements they
want. The more parents are actually involved in their child’s education
the better the outcomes – that is why we are creating more opportunities
for that involvement.”
The Scottish Executive
has published guidance on what the new law is about and a toolkit of
practical resources to help parents and local authorities work in
partnership, to make it easier for parents to be involved in their
18 September 06
NORTH MSP HAILS MINISTER’S ANNOUNCEMENT ON CIVIL LEGAL AID
Highlands and Islands Labour MSP Maureen Macmillan has welcomed an
announcement by Deputy Justice Minister Hugh Henry which will lead to
publicly employed solicitors being available to provide legal aid
representation in court for civil law cases, in parts of Scotland where
there may be unmet demand.
Mrs Macmillan commented,
“I have previously received representations, on several occasions, from
local Women’s Aid groups and Scottish Women’s Aid, who have raised their
concern at the lack of access to civil legal aid representation in
certain parts of the Highlands and Islands. At the moment women who for
example need the support of the law to obtain an interdict to protect
them from a violent ex-partner, are unable to access civil legal aid
representation in some areas. If no local solicitor is available to
represent clients in civil legal aid cases it is often impracticable for
solicitors from further afield to travel to remoter parts of the
Highlands, due the current regulations covering travel and
I had written to the
Deputy Justice Minister on this issue, pointing out the hardship and
difficulty this was causing women who had been the victims of domestic
abuse or are undergoing a marital break-up. Yesterday, during a debate
on the new Legal Aid Bill, presently going through parliament, I asked
the Minister to consider piloting a service in the Highlands to provide
a publicly funded civil legal aid practitioner. This would ensure that
people have representation in courts where no private firm of solicitors
is available. I was delighted when the Minister responded by announcing
that the Scottish Legal Aid Board is to develop a network of publicly
employed solicitors, similar to the existing public defender system, to
provide extra help to the public in matters of civil law in parts of
Scotland where there is a gap in civil legal aid provision.”
Mrs Macmillan added,”In
those areas where previously no civil legal aid representation was
available this new initiative will make a considerable difference. Many
people in the Highlands, who currently cannot obtain civil legal aid
representation will soon be able to access this new service. It is
particularly important to those women who have been the victims of
domestic violence and who are seeking protection from a former violent
partner or access to their children, through civil legislation.”
12 September 06
Gibson Calls for Crofting answer from EXEC
Rob Gibson has called for the First Stage debate on the Crofting Bill to
be postponed if the Scottish Government does not give a response this
week to concerns laid out by the Rural Development Committee. Mr Gibson
says that the committee gave recommendations pertaining to local
representation and accountability of the Crofters Commission to the
Minister and Deputy Minister two months ago. However as yet no response
has been forthcoming. Mr Gibson says that if nothing is heard from the
Executive by the end of the week then the debate, which is scheduled to
take place on the 27th of September should be postponed till after the
October recess. Mr Gibson says that in the light of recent events
the issue of representation is of major importance….
"Since a new Chairman of the Crofting Commission will soon be required,
this is an ideal chance to change the structure of the board and make it
more representative of the crofters that it serves."
He continued… "It is established SNP policy to have the Crofters
Commission board elected by the crofters, then they can elect their
Chairman. This is an ideal opportunity to appoint an interim chairman
until the chance to elect the board can be agreed by Government." "There
is already a strong lobby in crofting circles for this to happen. It is
encouraging to hear the support of John Farquhar Munro on the issue.
Therefore I think it is time that the Minister come out and say where he
stands on the issue of representation in the Crofters Commission."
Rob has also lodged a question with Ross Finnie asking him what skills
will be sought from possible candidates in recruiting a new Chairman of
the Crofters Commission.
12 September 06
Indiscipline in Highland schools "out of control", says McGrigor
Incidents of violence in local schools are spiralling out of control,
according to Highlands and Islands MSP Jamie McGrigor. With statistics
obtained by the Scottish Conservatives showing a 45% increase in
violence in Highland schools, the Conservative MSP accused the Scottish
Executive of failing to get a grip of the problem and of trying to hide
the figures. The Conservatives were forced to submit a Freedom of
Information request to obtain the figures because the Scottish Executive
no longer publishes annual statistics on violence in schools. Jamie
McGrigor said "The Executive has decided not to make these figures
available as standard and, with these shocking increases, it's not hard
to see why! "With the total number of attacks on Highland school staff
up 45% in a single year, and with incidents involving both physical
violence and verbal abuse increasing by a truly horrific 223%, it
appears that the Lib/Lab coalition is trying to cover up their failure
to deal with indiscipline in our schools. "This is a growing problem
and, if we really want to deal with it, then all the facts must be made
public. With indiscipline in some schools spiralling out of control, the
First Minister should give a commitment to publish this vital factual
information, on an annual basis, however bad the figures are. "Perhaps
then we will have the information we need to tackle the increasing
indiscipline in Highland schools head on".
18 July 06
TAX LOOPHOLE TARGETING VULNERABLE HIGHLANDS RESIDENTS IS CLOSED
Highlands and Islands Labour MSP Maureen Macmillan says vulnerable
Highland residents will no longer have to pay council tax after the
Scottish Executive amended an unfair loophole in current legislation.
The move was the result of an
unintended consequence of new care legislation, which meant certain
people who are in receipt of a housing support service and residing in
certain defined shared dwellings were asked to pay council tax, when
previously they had no local tax liability.
Legislation has now been laid in the
Parliament which will close the loophole and exempt relevant properties
from local taxation altogether. It is planned to come into force on
October 1, 2006.
Mrs Macmillan also emphasised that
Highland Council has been asked to write off any council tax debt to
people affected - and to grant refunds to those who have already paid.
Speaking about the move, she said, "I am extremely pleased the Scottish
Executive managed to correct this unfair anomaly. Because of this
loophole a number of Highland residents were faced with council tax
bills they were unable to pay.
Now the legislation has been
corrected, I hope those affected are reassured that if any money was
paid out or bills are outstanding, the money is refunded or written off.
Ministers have now asked all Scottish
local authorities to write-off any council tax debt due from residents
with a tenancy agreement or license to only occupy part of a dwelling,
and in receipt of a housing support service, and where the kitchen
toilet or bathroom is shared. For those who have already paid their
council tax bills a refund will be granted. All Housing Support
providers have been informed of this decision and anyone who thinks they
meet the definition should discuss this with their provider."
6 July 06
McGrigor: "Thurso Mart closure might not be last"
Responding to news that
Mart is to close, Highlands and Islands Conservative MSP Jamie
McGrigor said: "While there is still a market at Quoybrae, and Caithness
Livestock Breeders run a collection service, this is a sad decision for
Thurso which has a long and proud tradition as a livestock market town."
"This decision is an example of the general malaise in farming since
devolution and is resultant of the mismanagement of agriculture, and the
rural community in general, by the Liberal Democrat/Labour partners.
"Prices have continued to fall while farmers' costs have risen, and the
Scottish Executive's only response has been to heap increased regulatory
burdens on an already over-burdened farming sector. "I am also deeply
nervous over the intentions of United Auctions' owners Elphinstone Land
who, as a Glasgow-based development company, may not have the best
interests of rural farming communities as a priority. "My fear is that
this may not be the last local market that will be lost".
SNP Backs Scathing Crofting Report Says MSP Rob Gibson
Highlands and Islands SNP MSPRob Gibson has praised the ERD Committee's
constructive critique of the Crofting Reform Bill that reveals the
Scottish Government proposals as lacking in vision, clarity and a
genuine commitment to the future of crofting.
He said, 'In contrast
the SNP's long standing commitment is to promote sustainable crofting
communities, but the current Crofting Bill has no vision for the future
of crofting. Evidence to Parliament confirms that the shambolic and
incomplete crofting register is a prime symptom of political failure by
successive UK governments and for the last seven years by the LibDem
Labour Executive. They have failed miserably to ensure the Crofters
Commission has done its job laid down in law.
The SNP will resist the
proposal to turn this part of SEERAD into another Quango. Crofters
should elect the Commission and then elect its convener. Furthermore the
positive elements of this complex Bill have to be carefully weighed up.
These include creating new crofts that could well be set up at suitable
locations across Scotland especially on Forestry Commission land.
Also Parliament must
take new powers to disentangle the interposed leases scandal that was
known about in the case of Pairc estate in Lewis long before the
original Land Reform Law was made.
'The SNP is listening to
crofters views and, I am glad to say, so is the whole Environment and
Rural Development Committee. Ministers have ignored many of the
submissions they have received. They have the summer to reflect on this
comprehensive report that believes in reinvigorated crofting communities
as key to the future of the remoter Highlands and Islands.'
15 June 06
McGrigor: "New livestock market vital for West Highlands' agriculture
Highlands and Islands MSP and Argyll livestock farmer Jamie McGrigor has
said a new livestock market in Stirling is vital to a successful future
for agriculture in the West Highlands.
In a letter to Stirling Council's Principal Planning
Officer Jay Dawson, the Conservative MSP gave his support to the project
and said many smaller markets depended on the central market in
Jamie McGrigor said "I give my full support for the
proposed new livestock auction mart at Hill o' Drip in Stirling.
"Stirling has always been a major hub of the agricultural
industry in Scotland and Kildean market has always been of vital
importance to the livestock agricultural sector of Scotland.
"Many smaller markets, such Dalmally, Tiree, Lochboisdale,
Islay, Huntly and even Perth, depend for their existence on the central
market in Stirling. In Oban, there is a very important layerage facility
belonging to United Actions without which many Highlands & Islands
farmers would be severely disadvantaged. It is therefore vital that a
replacement for Kildean goes ahead as soon as possible.
"I understand that the Hill o' Drip site was chosen out
of 15 other sites and was chosen in conjunction with planning officials
who considered it the best option. It is sensibly outside the city
boundary which will keep tractors and HGV lorries away from the city
"The new site is also next to the motorway and would
therefore have excellent transport links. This is not only important on
the business side but also extremely beneficial to animal welfare which
is obviously a high priority.
"It is hard to underestimate the importance of this new
and exciting project, which would not only benefit the City of Stirling,
but also be a vital component to the future of the agricultural sector
in the West of Scotland".
8 June 06
NORTH MSP BACKS CARERS WEEK EXHIBITION IN PARLIAMENT
Highlands and Islands Labour MSP Maureen Macmillan is supporting a
photographic exhibition, located in the garden lobby area of the
Scottish Parliament in connection with Carers Week (Monday 12th - Friday
16th June). Next weeks exhibition is being held by the Highlands Carers
Project, which is a member of the
Care Forum and the
Princess Royal Trust for Carers network.
Mrs Macmillan said, "The photographic exhibition has
successfully toured nine community venues throughout the Highlands and
depicts 16 images of carers showing them in various situations, not
directly associated with caring. I had the pleasure of opening the first
showing of the exhibition last December in Strathpeffer and was very
impressed by the quality of the images and the range of subjects. The
photographs were taken by the highly regarded photographer Fin Macrae
and will be displayed in the garden lobby of the parliament.
Carers Week will raise the profile of all those who care
for relatives and friends who have conditions and illnesses
necessitating a high level of support. There is no doubt that the work
of carers, across the Highlands, makes a considerable contribution to
our communities and the economy. The exhibition, however, is a way of
celebrating carers and avoids stereotypes. The carers featured are both
young and old and depicted in a variety of situations within a Highland
setting. Those pictured may be carers, but they also have lives outwith
that role - as captured so well by Fin's photographs."
Mrs Macmillan continued, "If anyone from the Highlands
has the opportunity to view the exhibition in the Scottish Parliament I
would urge them to do so. Carers Weeks is partly about recognising and
celebrating the contribution made by carers and Fin Macrae's photographs
provide an insight into Highland carer's lives."
8 June 06
MSP QUESTIONS HIGHLAND AUTISM SUPPORT FOR PUPILS
Highlands and Islands Labour MSP Maureen Macmillan has raised the
issue of the level of support available for Highland pupils who suffer
Mrs Macmillan said, "I have been contacted by
constituents who are concerned about the number of Advisory Autism
Outreach Officers available to support pupils with autism in the
Highland Council area. I understand that there are about 450 children in
the Highlands who have been diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder and
that the number of children identified with the syndrome has increased
over the past few years. At present Highland Council employs three
Advisory Autism Outreach Officers but my constituents have been informed
that this number is being reduced to two - as part of a reorganisation
The parents of pupils with autism in the Highland area
feel the service provided by the autism officers is invaluable, bridging
the gap between parents and schools. The parents believe the officers do
a tremendous job and feel the help and advice they provide second to
none. My constituents are deeply concerned to hear of the proposals to
cut one of the posts as they have to wait some weeks for an appointment
at present - clearly if the number of posts is reduced, this timescale
will increase accordingly."
Mrs Macmillan added,"I have written to the Chief
Executive of Highland Council and to Health Minister Andy Kerr over this
issue. There is no doubt that the service provided by the three Autism
Outreach Officers in the Highland area is both necessary and
appreciated. I see no valid reason for the cut in this support for
parents. I have asked Highland Council why they are taking this action
and expressed my disappointment over the situation to the Health
With the rise in the number of children displaying
symptoms of autism an appropriate level of support must be in place to
assist the parents of autistic children."
31 May 06
FAR NORTH MSP KEEPS UP PRESSURE FOR BERRIEDALE BRAE ACTION
Far North MSP Jamie Stone is keeping up the pressure for action to
improve road safety at the Berriedale Braes on the A9.
Mr Stone has received a positive reaction from the Nuclear
Decommissioning Authority (NDA) about possible support for a flyover at
Berriedale Braes and he has also secured a commitment from Scottish
Transport Minister Tavish Scott for a site visit in the summer.
In a letter to Mr Stone, Dr Ian Roxburgh, Chief Executive of the NDA,
has outlined that the authority may be prepared to consider supporting a
flyover. Dr Roxburgh wrote: "I do need to emphasise, however, that the
NDA does not have unlimited funds and the relative merits of this
project will be assessed against those of others."
Speaking today, Jamie Stone said: "This is a positive response from the
NDA which leaves the door open for further progress to be made on this
"The Berriedale Braes is a particularly dangerous section of the A9.
Accident statistics do not record the frequent 'near-misses' that occur
nor the number of vehicles that require assistance from the local garage
to be towed round.
"Given the difficulties in improving the existing road there is clearly
a powerful case for a flyover at Berriedale. However, the cost of such a
major construction project would be significant so it is important to
explore all possible avenues of funding and support.
"The visit from the Transport Minister will be a crucial step in
strengthening our case for action. It is vital that he sees, at first
hand, the particular problems at Berriedale Braes and the need for
"This is a key issue for many of my constituents and I am determined to
make further progress on this matter. It is important to keep up the
pressure for action."
31 May 06
LOCAL MSP URGES RETHINK OF RULES ON WATER RATES RELIEF FOR CHARITIES
Far North MSP Jamie Stone is pressing Scottish ministers to reconsider
the conditions of the water rates relief scheme for charities. Under
current rules, charities can only claim relief if the premises that they
occupy were eligible for rate relief as at 31 March 1999. Mr Stone is
aware of at least two charities in Caithness - the Neurological Group in
Thurso and the local branch of the Multiple Sclerosis Society - which
have to pay full water rates since the premises that they use do not
meet the criteria. He has now lodged a motion in the Scottish Parliament
to raise awareness of the issue and is on the Scottish Executive to
examine ways of assisting charities facing this difficulty.
Mr Stone said: "I am extremely concerned that there are charities in
Caithness, and across Scotland, facing this unfair burden of full water
"Many charities which have moved premises are now finding that they are
no longer eligible for water rates relief. Every extra pound spent on
water charges is one less to spend on good causes. "Many voluntary
organisations and charities already operate in challenging financial
circumstances. That is why it is important that we offer them as much
positive support as possible. Schemes such as the water rates relief
provide much needed assistance and we should ensure that they continue
to help those who need it most.
"Ministers should take this opportunity to reconsider the eligibility
criteria of the water rates relief scheme and examine ways of assisting
charities that face the prospect of hefty bills.
"I have raised the matter in the Scottish Parliament and will be
pressing ministers to revisit the current rules."
11 May 06
MSP demands a better deal for Northern Constabulary police
Commenting after today's reports that nearly two-thirds of Scotland's
police stations no longer provide a round-the-clock manned service and
that only 14 out of the 74 police stations in the Northern Constabulary
area are manned 24hours, Conservative Highlands and Island MSP Jamie
McGrigor said: "I appreciate that many of the remotest stations will not
have a permanent police presence, however I would be interested to know
what hours they are manned and what effect that has on local crime and
anti-social behaviour levels.
"Communities across the Highlands and Islands want the reassurance of a
local police presence in their area, especially when they've experienced
crime amongst Highlands and Islands' 14-16year olds rise 24% , and total
crime up in the Constabulary's area risen by 8%.
"The Northern Constabulary area already has the lowest number of police
officers employed per 1,000 of population, with only 2.52 officers for
every 1,000 people. With such a large and dispersed area, and with so
many remote communities to cover, it is imperative that the Scottish
provides the Northern Constabulary with the support its excellent
officers need to do their difficult job.
"Crime and anti-social behaviour blights so many communities across the
Highlands and Islands. It's time for the pretendy tough talk from the
Liberal Democrat/Labour Executive in Edinburgh to stop, and the proper
funding of our local police to start".
9 May 06
MSP SEEKS REASSURANCE ON VULNERABLE WITNESSES
As a result of concerns raised over a recent court case in Dingwall,
involving the appearance of a child witness, Highlands and Islands
Labour MSP Maureen Macmillan has sought reassurances that the Highland
courts were prepared for next years implementation of the Vulnerable
Witnesses Act in the Sheriff Courts.
Mrs Macmillan, who sits on the Justice 2 Committee of the
Scottish Parliament, said, "The present situation is that an application
has to be made to the Sheriff for special measures to be put in place
for child witnesses. In cases of Domestic Violence there is a
presumption that the child will not be called as a witness, unless
When the new act comes into force children automatically
will be offered special measures. The child will decide what is most
appropriate. I raised concerns with the Justice Minister when the bill
was going through committee that small Highland courts would not be able
to offer the full range of necessary facilities.
Last week, I had an informal meeting with the Solicitor
General, the Area Procurator Fiscal and the Area Business Manager of the
Scottish Courts Service to find out what was available for child
witnesses. All courts within the Highland have screens and Inverness
Sheriff Court has a room with a video link to the court, within the
Castle. In other courts there is a room available and if the witness
wishes it, mobile equipment will be used to set up a video link to the
If the witness does not wish even to be in the same
building, then another location can be used - either using the numerous
video link facilities we already have around the Highlands and Islands
or possibly a dedicated permanent venue set up by the Scottish Courts
Mrs Macmillan continued, "I hope that this reassures that
from next year there will no longer be any uncertainty over how child
witnesses and other vulnerable witnesses will be supported by the
courts. I trust that until then, sensitivity will continue to be used to
minimise any distress to child witnesses."
3 May 06
Gibson calls on BBC to drop tune that venerates 'Butcher'
Highlands and Islands SNP MSP Rob Gibson has lodged a motion in the
Scottish Parliament which calls on the BBC to drop music that venerates
a man who nearly destroyed Highland society being used to introduce
their World Cup football action.
Mr Gibson is objecting after it was revealed that the BBC
announced that it plans to use a tune called "Sports Prepare" as their
theme music for the football World Cup. "Sports Prepare" is adapted from
"See the Conquering Hero Comes", a hymn which praises the Duke of
Cumberland and which was used by composer George Fredrick Handel as part
of the oratorio, "Judas Maccabaeus", celebrating the Hanoverian victory
over the Jacobites in the rising of 1745-46.
However that defeat marked the beginning of the
destruction of Highland society, as the language, customs and way of
life were systematically degraded and marginalised. The process that
started after Culloden eventually lead to the Highland Clearances. The
Duke of Cumberland acquired the name the 'butcher Cumberland' in
recognition of his brutal suppression and persecution during and after
the '45 rebellion.
Mr Gibson says that if the BBC will not drop the song
then it should be up to the Scottish Executive to remind them that that
in a multicultural age appropriate music for world cup football coverage
should not engender memories of oppression and destruction.
"The Butcher Cumberland is not revered in many parts of
the Highlands and Islands as well as Scotland. It is galling to think
that a song that venerates him and his actions will receive so much air
time over the summer."
Mr Gibson says that he is bemused by the BBCs decision
choose the music which is in praise of the 4th worse Briton in History.
"In a current poll on the BBCs History magazine website
to find the worst Briton of the second millennia AD Cumberland is in 4th
place behind King John, Thomas Becket and Jack the Ripper. Indeed he is
obviously considered as the worst Briton of the 18th Centaury as he is
the only choice. So it would be farcical is the BBC were to play music
which was written for the 4th worst Britton in history and the worst in
the 18th century."
"I appeal to the BBC for some clemency for the majority
of Highlanders it is bad enough that Scotland are not in the World Cup
and that we will have to put up with constant reminders of 1966 and all
that without having to be reminded of 1746 and all that."
Mr Gibson says that there is a precedent for changing
songs and lyrics which are deemed offensive ...
"In God Save the Queen they eventually dropped the verse
which originally called for the crushing of Rebellious Scots (Jacobites)
I hope that the BBC follow this line and will commission a with a new
theme tune which is less offensive."
Mr Gibson will be writing to the head of the BBC Scotland
as well as BBC and the first minister on the matter.
Link To BBC website poll 'Who was the worst Briton In
Text of Rob Gibson's motion
S2M-4324 Rob Gibson (Highlands and Islands) (SNP) : Replacement Theme
Tune for BBC World Cup Football Coverage- That the Parliament calls on
the BBC to commission new music to introduce their coverage of the 2006
World Cup football tournament in Germany; calls for the rejection of
their recently announced choice, "Sports Prepare", which is adapted from
"See the Conquering Hero Comes", a hymn in praise of the Duke of
Cumberland, the victor at Culloden; notes that its composer, George
Frederick Handel, included it in his oratorio, "Judas Maccabaeus",
celebrating the Hanoverian victory over the Jacobites in the rising of
1745-46 which was followed by Cumberland's repression of the
Highlanders, backed by his government, that nearly destroyed Gaelic
society, language and customs and included near genocide in some areas
along with the infliction of indiscriminate punishment against
Hanoverian as well as Jacobite clans people, and therefore calls on the
Scottish Executive to remind the BBC that in a multicultural age
appropriate music for world cup football coverage should not engender
memories of oppression and destruction of Gaelic Scotland which is only
recovering in our times. - Lodged on 02 May 2006
3 May 06
JOHN F MUNRO AND JAMIE STONE WELCOME
LIFTING OF BEEF EXPORT BAN
Highland MSPs John Farquhar Munro and Jamie Stone have welcomed the news
that European officials have today lifted the export ban on British
The beef export trade was worth £130 million to Scotland before exports
were banned in 1996 in response to the BSE crisis. Reacting to the
announcement, Far North MSP Jamie Stone said: "This is fantastic news. A
most welcome shot in the arm for our farmers who have had to put up with
impossibly hard circumstances." "As we Scots know our beef is the
best in the world and I'm confident Scotland's environment and farming
standards can deliver a premium product to an EU consumer." Ross,
Skye and Inverness West MSP, John Farquhar Munro, added: "The lifting of
the ban has taken a long time in coming - too long - but renewed access
to EU markets is clearly very good news for all British and Highlands
beef producers. "It is now important that meat producers
re-establish themselves in our lost markets. I am confident that the
Scottish Executive and meat producers organisations will do all they can
to ensure this goal is achieved."
Rob Gibson is an author and has written books about the
Highlands and recently updated and reissued his book
"The Highland Clearances Trail"
4 April 06
VULNERABLE HIGHLAND WITNESSES GET EXTRA SUPPORT TO GIVE EVIDENCE
Vulnerable Highland witnesses will now have the right to give evidence
in court proceedings from behind a screen or by video link, thanks to
new laws introduced this week. The measures, which cover witnesses with
mental illness or those in a state of fear, have been made available as
part of the phased introduction of the 2004 Vulnerable Witnesses Act.
The protection improvements are aimed at witnesses involved in High
Court and Sheriff Court jury cases, as well as Children's Hearings court
proceedings. Measures also include the use of a "supporter" who can sit
beside the witness to help reassure them, and the use of a prior
statement as the witness's main evidence.
Highlands and Islands Labour MSP Maureen Macmillan, who sits on the
Justice 2 Committee commented, "All witnesses will now be able to play a
full role in ensuring justice is done.
Giving evidence in court proceedings can be daunting for any witnesses
but for the most vulnerable, including those with learning disabilities,
mental illness or those who fear for their safety it can be an
intimidating and frightening experience which affects a their ability to
Allowing witnesses to give evidence through video link or behind screens
will support them to provide the best possible evidence in court. Not
only strengthening our justice system, but protecting our witnesses."
Mrs Macmillan added, "I appreciate that there may be logistical
difficulties in providing the necessary equipment across a scattered
rural area such as the Highlands but I am confident these can be
overcome and this new support delivered to vulnerable witnesses in our
27 March 06
Press and Journal Sale.
Commenting on today's announcement that The Aberdeen Journals business,
which includes The Press and Journal and Evening Express newspapers, is
to be bought by DC Thomson owners of the Sunday Post and The Courier.
MSP Mary Scanlon said, "I am delighted that the ownership issue of The
Press & Journal and the Aberdeen Evening Express has been settled,
because I know that change can sometimes be difficult for staff.
However, DC Thomson are well respected in the world of journalism. With
the full range of DC Thomson publications I am sure they will help both
papers go from strength to strength and make the most of the talents of
27 March 06
HIGHLAND MSP'S RAISES CONCERN OVER ACCESS TO CIVIL LEGAL AID
Highlands and Islands Labour MSP Maureen Macmillan has written to Deputy
Justice Minister Hugh Henry over the difficulty in accessing civil legal
aid being experienced by women in parts of the Highland, who have been
the victims of domestic abuse or are undergoing a marital break-up. Mrs
Macmillan said, "I have been approached by local Women's Aid groups and
Scottish Women's Aid who have raised their concerns at the lack of
access to civil legal aid in Skye & Lochalsh and to a certain extent in
Caithness and Sutherland. I understand that at present there are no
solicitors in the Skye and Lochalsh area offering civil legal aid work.
At the moment, women, who for example need the support of the law to
obtain an interdict to protect them from a violent ex-partner are unable
to access civil legal aid representation. I believe that other
organisations who support people in similar circumstances have also
expressed the same disquiet as Women's Aid. This is clearly intolerable
and makes a mockery of recent legislation, which has improved legal
protection for the victims of domestic abuse.
Solicitors in Fort William and Inverness have been
contacted by Women's Aid groups but find it impossible to take up cases
since they cannot be reimbursed for travelling to Portree Sheriff Court.
Inverness solicitors who specialise in Family Law are all too aware of
the problem and are concerned that a good number of women and children
are affected by the current legal aid regulations, which discourage
solicitors from appearing in distant rural courts - where representation
by local solicitors is not possible.
Mrs Macmillan added, "Legislation to reform legal aid is due to come
before parliament shortly. I have both spoken and written to the Deputy
Justice Minister urging him to ensure that the regulations on payments
for travelling to courts such as Portree be changed as a matter of
urgency. The whole question of remuneration for civil legal aid needs to
It is vitally important that those escaping domestic abuse have all the
support they need, including legal aid representation in civil courts.
We must make sure that solicitors are available to undertake such civil
legal aid work in all Highland courts and I will continue to press the
Minister on this issue."
In Caithness Highland Law Practice based at Wick offer a criminal and
civil legal aid service. A spokesman for Young Robertson in Thurso
said they only offer civil services but do not do matrimonial work.
Another firm of solicitors in Thurso, Macphersons and Co do take on
civil Legal Aid work. One problem highlighted was the position in
a matrimonial dispute where one partner managed to access legal aid and
the other could not and might have to try to get assistance from as far
away as Inverness.
23 March 06
Gibson Presses Finnie over HomeAid Short-term Funding Problem
Highlands & Islands SNP MSP Rob Gibson has written to the Environment
Minister Ross Finnie, asking that he provide interim funding to keep a
important Caithness and Sutherland scheme running.
Mr Gibson has written to Mr Finne requesting that money be found for
HomeAid based in
Thurso. HomeAid recycles essential goods such as electrical
appliances and furniture and supplies them to low income and
disadvantaged groups in the community.
However the service faces a cash short fall of around 8-6 weeks while it
waits the outcome of it's bid for funding from the Highland Council.
Mr Gibson says that any funding short fall could be unsettling. "HomeAid
needs the money to that it can continue to collect the recycled goods
from the centers so that it can supply the community. However without
money this will stop which could be disastrous for the long term
stability of the charity and detrimental to the vast numbers of people
who are served by the charity."
"HomeAid helps reduce the amount of rubbish that goes to landfill in
Caithness and Sutherland as well as providing a service for large
numbers of people. Therefore I am see no reason why the Scottish
Government cannot keep this vital service running for a short period of
time until the funding issue is resolved. Should the Liberal and Labour
Government refuse to do so then it casts severe question marks over
their commitment to remote and rural areas."
21 March 06
NORTH MSP HAILS FORTHCOMING SMOKING BAN
Highlands and Islands Labour MSP Maureen Macmillan is welcoming the ban
on smoking in enclosed public places in Scotland, which comes into force
on Sunday 26th March.
Mrs Macmillan said," This is a highly significant piece
of legislation which will make a tremendous difference to the health of
Scotland. The facts make for stark reading - over 13,000 Scots die every
year from smoking related diseases - the equivalent of 250 a week or 35
a day; non-smokers exposed to passive smoking in the home have a 25%
increased risk of heart disease and lung cancer; more than 17,000
children under five are admitted to hospital in the UK every year
because of the effects of passive smoking. The human toll of these
premature and avoidable deaths and illnesses is considerable.
The banning of smoking in enclosed public places from 6am
next Sunday will result in workplaces, pubs and restaurants all becoming
smoke free. Quite simply, it is totally unacceptable that workers are
exposed to passive smoking. The new law offers the opportunity for the
biggest improvement in public health in Scotland for over a generation.
I have recently given up smoking my occasional cigarette
and I realise only too well how addictive smoking is and empathise with
those trying to give it up. I would recommend that anyone attempting to
stop smoking considers seeking the assistance and support available
through their local doctor's surgery.
I know that there is concern about the economic impact of
the ban on licensed premises. However, in New York one year after a
smoking ban was introduced in bars and restaurants, tax receipts are up,
employment is up, openings are up, and the number of liquor licences are
up. The number of regular adult smokers has fallen from 21.6% to 19.3%
since the ban was introduced. In Ireland, where a ban was also
introduced cigarettes sales have fallen by around 16% and in a survey
undertaken three months after the ban visits to pubs were slightly up,
due to increased non-smoker visits."
Mrs Macmillan added," I know the publicity surrounding
the ban has made me take the decision to finally stop smoking and I hope
others do the same. I have no doubt that in the future, as Scotland's
health improves, the importance of the introduction next Sunday's
smoking ban will be acknowledged."
19 March 06
Highland Labour MSP wins concessions in Animal Health & Welfare Bill
Highlands & Islands Labour MSP, Maureen Macmillan has persuaded
Ministers to bring forward an amendment at Stage 3 of the Animal Health
& Welfare Bill which will require the Executive, before exercising their
power to slaughter animals to prevent the spread of disease, to publish
a statement outlining the reasons for their decision.
Mrs Macmillan said, “It is important that Parliament, the
farming industry and the general public know before the slaughter takes
place why the Executive has made this decision. I would expect such a
statement to refer to appropriate scientific and veterinary advice
given, economic and other factors as appropriate to the circumstances.
“I also asked the Deputy Minister to consider whether
protocols should not be put in place which would include the principal
factors to be taken in to account in deciding whether to exercise the
powers of slaughter and how any such decision might be reviewed. I am
pleased to say the Deputy Minister has again agreed to look at how such
protocols might sit with the Executive’s contingency planning
Mrs Macmillan added, “I believe that it is important to
have transparency in the way decisions on slaughter will be made, since
such a decision will have a major impact on the communities affected by
Animal Health And Welfare Bill Progress At Scottish Parliament
7 March 06
MSP hopes new website will encourage people to "Get in Touch"
MSP Jamie McGrigor hopes his new website will mean more constituents
will get in touch. Launching
the Conservative MSP said the site would make it easier for him to
update people across the Highlands and Islands with his latest news, as
well as making it easier for them to raise issues with him.
Jamie McGrigor said "It's so important that people feel
they can contact their local representatives and I hope this new site
encourages my constituents to get in touch.
"The new site is designed to make access to information
as simple as possible. As well as holding all my latest news, it also
has an online diary in which meetings and events I am attending will be
published, making it easier for people to see the work I'm doing their
"Constituents can also register for Email Updates and
this allows me to keep them up to date with the very latest news of what
I'm doing and what's going on at Parliament in general. I'm also hoping
to include an online surgery facility soon.
"I hope people will visit the site and contact me with
any suggestions as to content and other services, and that this will
help me better serve my constituents across the Highlands and Islands".
28 February 06
MINISTER RESPONDS TO NORTH MSP
OVER CENTRAL HEATING PROGRAMME
Highlands and Islands Labour MSP Maureen Macmillan has received
confirmation from Communities Minister Malcolm Chisholm that the
successful Central Heating Programme for pensioners will continue beyond
Mrs Macmillan said,"The Minister has advised that the
scheme will continue after the current programme is due to end next
month. This is good news for those over 60 who qualify and have still
not taken advantage of the programme; which provides insulation and new
central heating systems free of charge.
Recently, I had written to Malcolm Chisholm and raised
the need to consider alternative systems such as mini-wind turbines,
LPG, wood pellet boilers or solar panels, in any new programme. I am
very aware of the impact of high fuel costs in rural areas, particularly
for the elderly and those on low incomes. Recent domestic fuel price
increases have been substantial, particularly for domestic heating oil
and gas. In his response to my correspondence the Minister had
previously given me an undertaking to examine alternative fuel sources
during a review then being carried out on the Central Heating Programme.
Micro-renewables have tremendous potential and ultimately
offer lower costs to the consumer, whilst at the same time cutting CO2
emissions. An example of good practice in this area is Ormlie Housing
Estate in Thurso, where amongst other innovations; solar panels were
installed on local houses to help provide the hot water needs of
householders. I have now been advised by the Communities Minister that a
pilot scheme is to be run to test the viability of micro renewables as a
part of the continuing Central Heating Programme."
Mrs Macmillan added, "Although further details on the
continuing operation of the Central Heating Programme for certain groups
over 60 have still to be announced, I am delighted that the future of
the programme is secure; and that it will include a pilot scheme on
renewables. There is a critical need to both address our CO2 emissions
and secure less costly and more sustainable fuel sources and I look
forward to hearing the Executive's proposals."
24 February 06
'More needs to be done to achieve a proper rail line to the far
north' - Gibson
Highlands and Islands SNP MSP has branded as
derisory news of a new train service from Wick to Inverness which will
be 15 minutes shorter. The new service will save 15 minutes on the
journey by missing out certain stops on the way south. This time saving
measure will mean that the journey from Wick to Inverness will be 4
hours. Mr Gibson says the move is far too timid....
"I can hardly see the people of the far North rejoicing in this
announcement, the hard fact is that this move still makes it 4 hours by
train from Wick to Inverness, so it will hardly bring in the crowds. The
news of the two jobs is encouraging, however the question would have to
be put how many extra jobs there would be if there was an even faster
rail connection to Inverness."
He continued..."A root and branch reappraisal of the Far North Line and
investment in and upgrading of the track will result in major time
saving journey's. Adding a train which by passes by a few station is
merely papering over the cracks of a line which is withering on the
"If people involved in railways in the Highlands consider a 4 hour
journey from Wick to Inverness a thing to crow about. While they will
not seriously consider an alternative approach which would significantly
reduce travel time then you have to question their judgment and
commitment to transport infrastructure in the area."
23 February 06
Beauly to Denny Line Health Risks
Highland MSP Mary Scanlon has again highlighted the case for the
under-grounding of the proposed Beauly to Denny Transmission Line
upgrade. Speaking in Parliamentary Members debate on the proposal,
Mary said; "This has been a controversial issue for many reasons, not
least the potential Health concerns. "The case has been made for
the under-grounding of the line on the basis of its harmful effects on
the landscape of the area, on tourism and on local business. "The
findings of the recent Report by Professor Draper, into the link between
high voltage power lines concluded that levels of childhood leukaemia
increased within 600 metres of a line. "Almost 900 homes could be
affected by these proposed Mega-Pylons, considerably more than the
number provided by Scottish and Southern energy in their environmental
evaluation. "The Draper report's findings have been disputed, but whilst
no evidence exists to prove conclusively that these lines cause no
harmful effects, we must heed the warnings. "It is my understanding that
a public enquiry into the line is almost inevitable, but the evidence of
harmful effects of overhead transmission lines must be investigated by
the Health Minister, and decisions made by him." Mary also raised the
issue of the huge cluster of pylons and extended inter-connector
required for Beauly, which should be examined for health effects.
21 February 06
Highland Students Lose out as Advanced Higher Scrapped
Commenting on the proposal of Highland Council to withdraw the
option of Advanced Highers from Secondary Schools in the region, Mary
Scanlon MSP said; "The loss of the opportunity to study for Advanced
Highers will leave school students in the Highlands at a distinct
disadvantage when they come to apply for University places.
"They will be unable to compete on a level playing field
with other students from around Scotland, as well as English pupils
applying to sit courses at Scottish Universities, and will be
particularly disadvantaged when they apply to sit courses at
Universities in England. Since the Advanced Higher is benchmarked on the
English A Level, the scrapping of this option means that pupils in
Highland would be unable to attain the same level of achievement as
those in English schools."
Mary, MSP for the Highlands and Islands, continued; "The
educational progression of all pupils will be badly affected, as the
opportunity to further develop their studies and gain greater depth of
knowledge in preferred subjects is lost, and they cannot learn the
skills of self-motivation and autonomous study which are essential in
preparation for University.
"The SQA states that the Advanced higher should be the
fifth level on its Higher Still range of National Qualifications. The
loss of this level may see many high-achieving students forced to leave
school following Fifth year, as they are left with no more scope for
attainment, and their chances of progressing into Higher Education badly
Mary, Scottish Conservative Communities Spokesman,
concluded; "I would hope that if all secondary schools in the Highland
feel unable to offer the Advanced higher due to Executive cutbacks and
low class numbers, then the Advanced higher could still be offered,
perhaps in fewer and selected schools.
"They should not be scrapping the Advanced Higher without
offering some kind of replacement."
17 February 06
'Listen fully to the crofters' - Gibson
Highlands and Islands SNP MSP Rob Gibson has pressed the Scottish
Executive to listen carefully to crofters before they publish the
Crofting Reform Bill at the end of this month. See
Crofting Reform Bill Consultation - now closed.
M r Gibson has lodged a question with Rural Affairs
Minister Ross Finnie after he became concerned that the Executive has so
far ignored crofters responses to the Scottish Executive during
consultation on the Bill because SEERAD has only published its views
last December on submissions that directly answer the specific questions
that were laid out in the consultation.
Mr Gibson says that to get a clear picture of where
crofting is and where it should go, the Executive needs to listen to all
of what the crofters have to say during the consultation and not just to
the answers to certain predetermined questions it wanted to ask .
"Since SEERAD Ministers plan to publish the new draft
Crofting Reform Bill around 28 February they must be pinned down to
answer the helpful suggestions from many submissions that have been
ignored in their response document published last December."
He continued... "I have waited patiently for such
responses , so far in vain. Several area crofting organisations and
individuals have suggested that the Crofters Commission should be
elected by crofters and that the Commission should then elect its own
chair. Needless to say this hasn't surfaced. Nor has any detailed
discussion about area policies, their supervision and development."
"These are crucial to the removal of suspicion that the
Crofters Commission does not have the interests of crofters and the
crofting way of life at the heart of its reforms. Detailed regulation to
encompass both tenanted and owner occupied crofts will be best delivered
by a Commission that has the confidence of the crofting majority."
10 February 06
McGrigor anger as Labour play council tax blame game
Responding to today's news that average band D council tax bills are
likely to rise significantly across the Highlands and Islands, MSP Jamie
"The Labour/Liberal Scottish Executive blames the councils and the
councils blame the Executive.
"While Labour and the Liberal Democrats play the blame game, local
people are seeing more and more of their income go on paying the ever
increasing council tax bill. Yet are we seeing improvements to levels of
"So far, all the increases announced are well above the 2.5% level the
First Minister claims would be a reasonable increase. If Jack McConnell
really wants to see increases kept low then he needs to cut back on his
Executive's ring fencing of local government funding and allow local
councils to determine the funding priorities in their areas.
"Until he does this, council tax levels will increase while services are
lost and quality standards decrease. This is the legacy of the Labour
and Liberal Democrat Scottish Executive - higher council tax bills and
10 February 06
Scottish Executive Debate on Volunteering
Speaking in yesterday's Executive debate, Mary Scanlon MSP welcomed the
chance to discuss the benefits of volunteering for communities across
Scotland, and took the opportunity to highlight the work done by
Mountain Rescue Teams in the Highlands.
Mary commented; "Last week, I met with the Cairngorm Mountain Rescue
Team, a highly trained professional team who are taken to the Cairngorm
Mountains in all weathers, at all times of the day and night, and in all
months of the year to rescue walkers and climbers in distress. All the
Mountain Rescue teams in Scotland are highly trained, dedicated and
undoubtedly fit for the purpose in every sense of the word. We must ask
then why it is that even they must worry over where their funding is
"Their previous 3 year settlement is almost at an end, and uncertainty
over future funding is already creeping in, therefore I would welcome
Ministerial assurance over this situation."
Mary highlighted the voluntary sector's capability and suitability as a
gatepost and advice centre for people who face drug or alcohol problems.
"I find it increasingly hard to advise people where to go when someone
in their family has a drug or alcohol problem, and yet Highland Council
is giving no uplift in funding to the voluntary sector in Highland. This
is equivalent to another cutback and will severely affect smaller
"The voluntary sector could direct people to the best source of help. At
the present time, there seems to be little co-ordination and partnership
working across the agencies and across the Executives departments to
address the ever growing problem in Scotland.
"There is no doubt that the two main problems faced by the voluntary
sector are the lack of financial stability and the growing lack of
"I am pleased that David Cameron has put volunteering high up on his
political agenda, and that his initiative has been endorsed by the Chief
Executive of Project Scotland, who has said that she is pleased to hear
that the impact of the voluntary sector is being recognised across the
9 February 06
Rob Gibson Supports John Thurso's Call For An Energy Study Centre
SNP MSP for the Highlands and Islands Rob Gibson has welcomed Far North
MP John Thurso's call for a energy study centre to be based in Caithness
and has called on John Thurso's Lib Dem colleagues in Edinburgh to
follow his lead.
Mr Gibson's comments follow Mr Thurso's
submission to the Trade and Industry Committee in which he called for a
national research facility into renewable energies to be sited on the
former nuclear site at Dounreay...
Mr Gibson says that it is good to see a
ground swell of support of such a development but says the prime movers
have to be the Scottish Executive.....
"It has been a long standing policy of the
SNP to site a renewable energy centre at Dounreay combined with selling
decommissioning skills around the globe. So I welcome the support from
Mr Thurso. However for this to happen there must be support from the
Scottish Executive, in particular the Lib Dem Minister for renewable
energy and Deputy First Minister Nicol Stephen."
"Anyone who has an interest in the future
prosperity of the Far North must see the potential that such a research
hub would bring to the area. It would be exciting to think that cutting
edge research on how best to harness our natural, free energy could be
carried out on our door step. This would create long term highly skilled
"Therefore it is of the utmost importance
that the backers of such a scheme press home the message to Government
in Edinburgh and London that a renewable energy research facility is
needed and wanted in the Far North."
See This Is north Scotland web site and add your comments to the article
printed in the Press and Journal
HIGHLAND MSP PRESSES MINISTER IN
PARLIAMENT ON BROADBAND COVERAGE
and Islands Labour MSP Maureen Macmillan has questioned Nicol Stephen,
the Minister with responsibility for Communications, on what steps the
Scottish Executive is taking to provide solutions to the clusters of
households that are still out of reach of broadband.
Mrs Macmillan said, "I have had regular
contact from constituents who are still unable to access broadband
technology and questioned the Minister, in parliament, on what solutions
were being considered. In his response he pointed out that Scotland now
has 99.7% access to broadband with broadband delivered to 378 remote and
rural telephone exchanges. This is no consolation, however, for those
still trying to receive the technology and I pressed the Minister on a
timescale for delivering broadband to the remaining areas.
The problem with the areas still without
broadband relates to the distance from the enabled exchanges and the
limitations on the copper wires running to households, in terms of
reach. The Minister said that the Executive are working with independent
advisers to try and overcome the problems for individual households or
groups of households and will try to get a strategy agreed by the
spring. Some households still have significant problems, although
improvements are being made weekly. The Executive has now allocated a
budget for the remaining work, so that they can invest appropriate
resources to resolve the problem."
Mrs Macmillan added, "I appreciate how
frustrating the present situation is for those still trying to access
broadband, particularly if they are involved in any type of business.
The Minister's response was encouraging and hopefully matters will
improve after the new broadband strategy for the remaining areas is
implemented in the summer.
In the meantime, I would again encourage
subscribers to keep applying for broadband provision, so that the
clusters of subscribers still requiring the technology are apparent to
Sam Knows - A
web site to check coverage and more
19 January 06
Gibson questions Lord Advocate over Skye Bridge Tolls
'An unsatisfactory response which will require more questions' was how
Highlands and Islands SNP MSP Rob Gibson greeted the response to his
question from the Scottish Executive on the Skye Bridge Tolls.
Mr Gibson (himself fined for non payment during the anti tolls campaign)
asked Lord Advocate Colin Boyd QC whether the legality of the Skye
Bridge contract documents and subsequent prosecutions can be established
beyond doubt, in light of recent comments by the former Procurator
Fiscal at Dingwall.
In response the Lord Advocate swotted aside the comments from former
Procurator Fiscal David Hingston, that despite prosecuting people for
non payment of tolls he never actually saw the document which allowed
for tolls to be collected.
Speaking after Mr Gibson said...."This is not the end of the issue there
are many unanswered questions that still remain and evidence which can
be found to prove conclusively that the Skye Bridge Tolls were always
illegal. Mr Hingston's comment casts more dubious light on the legality
of the tolls and the dismissive attitude from the Lord Advocate to his
remarks is even more puzzling. "
He continued..."I want to know where the toll license is and whether it
had the signature of either Ian Lang (the then secretary of State for
Scotland) or his Minister Lord James Douglas Hamilton and what was
actually written on it? The question for the Scottish Executive and Lord
Advocate is; do they consider it justified that an unsigned draft
tolling license is adequate for the prosecution of non-payment, without
a reasonable excuse and beyond reasonable doubt, and the lawful
collection of some £60 million in tolls? And why was the Procurator
Fiscal at Dingwall not shown the proper documents which allowed the
collecting of tolls?
"These are answers which are sorely needed to clear the unjust charges
that many people throughout Scotland have and a way of ending the saga
of the Skye bridge tolls."
19 January 06
First Minister Questioned on NHS Dentistry
Mary Scanlon MSP today questioned the First Minister on the future of
NHS dentistry funding.
With almost a third of dental practices failing to qualify for a new
allowances scheme, the First Minister failed to provide assurance that
he would intervene in order to ensure a new contract negotiated in the
best interests of patients, declaring; 'no group has a veto over the
decisions of the Parliament or this Executive.'
Mary commented; "It is unfortunate that the new measures were not
negotiated with the British Dental Association, but, as I understand it,
were determined unilaterally by the Scottish Executive.
"The result is that many dentists will not get the new allowances,
despite the fact that they treat hundreds of children and adults who are
exempt from charges, indeed our most vulnerable NHS patients.
"The First Minister did not answer the question asked, which could be
very unfortunate and concerning for dentists who currently provide NHS
treatment. Under the new proposals there is little incentive for
existing NHS dentists to continue providing treatment, and this may have
grave consequences for future access to dental care.