Monthly Archives: October 2012

Me and Lord Snooty

There are certain things you don’t do in this job and one of them is to swear at a policeman and call him a “pleb”. This though, is exactly what the Chief Whip unbelievably did a few short weeks ago. As well as being unacceptable behaviour I think this incident demonstrated that the issue of class is well and truly alive in our Westminster politics.

Andrew Mitchell has now gone, only to be replaced by a baronet who once famously declared that the “homeless are the people you step over on the way out of the opera”.  This is the Conservative way of taking the heat out of the story. On top of that we had the story of the millionaire Chancellor of the Exchequer attempting to blag his way into a first class carriage with a second class ticket.

In fact, most of the Tory front bench are millionaires and 54% of their MPs went to private schools. Now, I’m sure that the public are more concerned about their ability to govern as opposed to their ability to speak with silver spoons stuck in their mouths. But isn’t it amazing that in the 2010s we are still governed by a social elite so remarkably different from the rest of us? Alex Salmond was actually spot on at the SNP conference when he said that sometimes it feels like we’re being governed by a “bunch of incompetent Lord Snootys”. If anything this shows disrespect to the famous Beano character who probably could have made a better fist of running the country than this privileged shower.

“We’re all in this together” they famously told us a couple of years ago, except of course it was their millionaire pals that got the tax breaks. The lowering of the top rate of income tax from 50p to 45p was a clear indication that some of us are more in it together than others, and it’s not the baronets and Eton old boys. Meanwhile for those on the lowest incomes it’s austerity, wage freezes and price increases.

This almost “other worldy” Tory Government run our Defence, Foreign Affairs and incredibly our welfare state and economy. They are different from you and I and their priorities reflect their curious world view.

One of the things that independence will achieve is that never again will our country be run by the likes of them.

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Winter Preparedness in Enchanted Perthshire

It was a great privilege for me to be asked to formally open the 10th Anniversary show of the Enchanted Forest, a Perthshire Big Tree Country event and Scotland’s premier sound and light show at Forestry Commission Scotland’s Faskally Wood near Pitlochry.

The event celebrates its 10th Anniversary this year and it is hoping to beat all previous box office records, attracting almost 30,000 visitors in 2012. This is undoubtedly one of Scotland’s finest events. Not only does it provide an essential boost for the local economy, it opens up the beauty of this area’s stunning scenery to literally thousands of people, and showcases it in a brand new light. I can’t think of a better way to cheer up these October evenings than a trip to The Enchanted Forest.

The number of visitors that The Enchanted Forest draws into Perthshire at a time that might otherwise be pretty quiet in terms of tourists is simply magical.  I hope that those who come initially just for the show might be tempted to return after seeing just how beautiful Perthshire in autumn can be.

The 2012 show “FLOW” has been designed by a creative team led by Derek Allan which includes Scottish designers Simon Wilkinson (lighting) and RJ McConnell (sound), as well as Dundee based visual artists Dalziel + Scullion, whose work is supported thanks to the generosity of a grant from Creative Scotland in celebration of Year of Creative Scotland 2012. Together they have created a dazzling and engaging show which not only celebrates 10 Years of The Enchanted Forest, but is in itself a celebration of the stunning woodland setting in which the event is set. For further information about the Enchanted Forest, visit the Enchanted Forest website at http://www.enchantedforest.org.uk 

Along with Councillor Mike Williamson, who represents Highland Ward on Perth & Kinross Council, I recently met with representatives of Scottish and Southern Energy (SSE).  The purpose of the meeting was to discuss the issue of the disruption to electricity supplies in Highland Perthshire, following adverse winter weather.

Readers will be aware that last year saw a disruption to supply and confusion over the compensation offered to residents.  Mike and I were keen to hear about SSE’s plans for the coming winter to ensure that similar difficulties do not arise.  We met with Roddy Grubb and Alan Broadbent.

Last winter saw five exceptional events within four weeks, with high winds and large rainfall.  I asked what caused the long term issues last year.  I was told that operatives need to make sites secure before they can resolve issues and this can involve removing trees to gain access to areas.  This can be difficult in severe weather.  Also when wet snow lies on powerlines, it can be the equivalent of trying to hang a mini car on the line!

We were informed that SSE has now put clear compensation arrangements in place and they are to be proactive about getting their message across.  They have Facebook and Twitter feeds that are manned by a dedicated team.  They will also be giving details to SSE stores to get information to as many outlets as possible.  It is clear that SSE has learned lessons from previous winters and has contingency plans in place.  I hope that the winter is not as harsh this year and that the contingency plans do not require to be enacted.

I can be contacted at my office in Blairgowrie at 35 Perth Street, Blairgowrie, PH10 6DL, you can call me on 01250 876 576 or email me at wishartp@ parliament.uk

Dualling the A9

One of the worst moments in this job is when you get that call from the police to say that there has been a road accident in the constituency. Instantly, you know what it’s going to be – another accident and probable fatality on the A9. Immediately, thoughts go out to the family involved and hopes are that it is not as bad as initially conveyed.

All of us who live in Perthshire are familiar with this danger that exists on our doorstep. Nearly 70 people were killed on the road between 2006 and 2010 and the road’s notoriety as a killer road is well deserved. My first experience of the dangers of this road was back in 2001 when I was a candidate standing for the first time. Just months before my election, three generations of an Israeli family were killed in one of the most serious accidents on the road at the old Ballinluig junction. It was following that incident that I vowed that I would do everything that I could to ensure that this killer road became safe. Since then, we have secured the new grade-separated junction at Ballinluig and the new junction at Bankfoot, all good, but not enough to make this road completely safe. What, of course, is required is the full dualling between Perth and Inverness.

That is why I am so pleased that real progress is now being made. The SNP Scottish Government have now committed to a full dualling programme between Perth and Inverness for the first time. But it won’t be an easy task. Dualling the A9 is a complex and challenging programme, indeed it is possibly one of the biggest infrastructure projects ever undertaken in Scotland. Contractors have now been appointed to carry out preliminary engineering work and communities in Bankfoot and Dunkeld have already seen plans for the road round their communities. The scale of the project means that this won’t happen overnight. Communities need to be fully consulted and the challenging environment properly assessed.

When complete, a dualled A9 will bring many benefits to the communities of Perthshire and the Highlands. We will have a safe and free-flowing link to the Highlands bringing real economic benefits

What we need is for all of Perthshire’s politicians to work together to make this happen. The priority now must be the upgrading of the A9, not the unwanted Edinburgh trams. Yes, we want this done as soon as possible, but I think we should ensure that communities have their say and the work is properly assessed and planned.

A Real Choice is Emerging

Something very important and significant is happening in the referendum debate. What we are beginning to see are two opposing and diverse propositions emerge that will enable the Scottish people to make a clear and decisive choice. On one hand there is the “Yes” proposal of an independent Scotland in charge of its own resources, a normal nation, making its own decisions and way in the world. More intriguingly, is the glimpse of the emerging proposal that is beginning to take shape in the “No” campaign.

There have been two important things that have led to the “No” partners coalescing behind a distinct proposal and they have both emerged from within the Labour party. First, and most obviously, there was what can now only be described as the “Lamont declaration” This was a statement of intent that was as dramatic as it was surprising.

At the heart of the “Lamont declaration” was an attempt to get Labour into a place that suggested responsibility and fiscal discipline. They wanted to paint a picture of a spendthrift SNP (and independent Scotland) that is not facing up to financial responsibilities and denying fiscal reality. Where this falls down is at the first hurdle which is that the SNP Government has a fixed budget, and even in the face of declining budgets, John Swinney, has delivered on election promises by making some very tough choices. It also makes independence a more attractive option if our dependence on the UK state has led to our continuing diminishing returns.

The means of delivering the Lamont agenda was in tacking what she saw as the injustice of universal benefits. She railed at “the something for nothing” culture and turned decades of Scottish Labour thinking on its head.

Denying the reality of the proven success of universality and its preference over means testing as a means of delivering social justice and inclusivity, Labour seemed to go through the list of popular Government policies and set their stall out to challenge and abolish them. I cant wait to see Labour canvassers plough through the aspiring estates of middle Scotland with an agenda that threatens everything hard pressed families have come to rely on.

This comes to the second important development in Labour, and this is the Labour vision of the “one nation”. Now, like you, I imagine that this “one nation” is the unitary UK state and when I think of an image around “one nation” it isn’t Donald Dewar that emerges it is rather Ted Heath.

In Scotland we don’t as much have the “one nation” we have what can only be referred to as the “Common weel”. That specific Scottish sense of community that belongs to all Scots. This is something that we all buy into and ensures that we look after those in need. This is the foundation of our vision of Scottish community and I believe it is immeasurably more socially acceptable and inclusive than unionist (Tory or Labour) “one nation”.

The important thing about both of these developments is that the Tories are comfortable and relaxed about them. Tory politicians have welcomed the Lamont agenda and their historic association of the UK “one nation” is something that they are familiar with. Their scribes in the right wing press have also almost fallen over themselves to heap praise on Labour.

This coming together of minds and agenda will therefore now serve the as the social and political proposition of the“better together” concept.

At last we are beginning to see the two emerging visions of Scotland. An independent Scotland, in charge of its own resources, driven socially by our sense of the “common weel”. Or a dependent Scotland, one UK nation, means tested, and almost relaxed about its decline and lack of ambition.

At last there’s a real choice, and it is Labour we must thank for that.

Reaching Out to That “Inner Nat” in our Fellow Scots

As we approach the two year countdown to the referendum It’s time to reach out to that patriotic inner Scottish nationalist that resides in practically everybody who lives and works in Scotland. It’s time for that “inner nat” to shout out that this is our time, and we can, and we will, secure our independence.

Our job is to unleash that inner nationalist that resides in our fellow Scots. That essentially Scottish spirit that knows we can, and we will, and that no one will tell us that we can’t and we won’t. It is the “inner nat” that longs to be like all those other countries in the world, normal and self-governing, peacefully patriotic and above all free and independent.

The inner nationalist knows we are better than this. Knows we are a rich, inventive nation that will make a positive, peaceful contribution to world affairs. It is the inner nat who waves the saltire proudly and knows that we are as good as anybody else in the world.

It is the inner nationalist that is appalled by the likes of Iain Duncan Smith who tells us we’re “too wee or too poor” to run a welfare state. It is the part of us who shouts out indignantly at his likes and all the other naysayers who deride our ambition and talk us down.

The inner nationalist is also the part of us that believes in our sense of national dignity and self respect- the pride in taking responsibility for ourselves and blaming no one else for our failures. About the self respect that it is us, the Scottish people, who will make our own way in the world.

The “inner nat” is proud of our achievements, roars on anyone in a Scotland top, and is culturally relaxed and in tune with his or her innate Scottishness. He or she is proud to be Scottish, but is an avowed and committed internationalist.

Independence will be about the heart and the head. The head that knows that it is the people who live and work in Scotland who are best placed to decide our future, simply because it is us who care most about our nation. But it is the heart that’s most important, that patriotic, ambitious inner nationalist in us Scots that knows that independence will allow us to be all we can be and express ourselves fully.

The inner nationalist in us will drown out the negative voices that tell us we can’t and who try to denigrate our ambition. The inner nationalist is simply an emotional response that says Scotland deserves better, is better and deserves its national liberation, its independence and its freedom.