Smith Commission

Last Friday was the deadline for submission by the five political parties tot eh Smith Commission, charged with trying to make a silk purse out of the sow's ear that is the aftermath of the Independence Referendum. 

I have made an attempt to summarise the five submissions as a Google Doc so people can see the areas of concensus and dissent for themselves.  It's not perfect but I hope it helps and if it is useful  please do copy freely.  

I also have made my own submission and copy this below for your information.  If anything I say is useful, please do plagiarise freely.

The deadline for submissions is 31st October.   Email submissions to

Submission to Smith Commission

I have read the Command Paper and the submissions of the SNP Scottish Government and the Scottish Green Party with interest.  I sympathise with anyone attempting to deal with these conflicting submissions particularly where positions are entrenched by self-interest. 

I am also concerned that the timescales adversely impact opportunities for public engagement (as opposed to mere consultation).  I understand that the Electoral Reform Society and others in civic society are making representations to you on this subject and seeking ways forward.  Constitutional Convention concepts are useful and may be helpful to you if the political parties prove intransigent. 

The Party positions

The three Westminster parties have used their several Commissions as their submissions to the Smith Commission which I feel fails to reflect the realities of

  1. A relatively narrow 45%/55% vote in the Independence Referendum;
  2. Promises made by the Westminster parties promising substantial new powers/DevoMax/Home rule and even the dreaded word federalism.  The party leaders did not distance themselves from even the most extreme of these statements; and
  3. Poll information on range of powers people feel should be controlled at Holyrood including the long running Social Attitudes Survey data. 

There is real mood for change and those aspirations are long standing and deeply felt.  Significant new powers, up to DevoMax (to use an ill defined shorthand) is the ‘settled will of the Scottish people’.

In this context, it is disappointing the Labour and Conservatives have not proposed any changes to their Commission proposals of earlier in the year.   The LibDems have made more substantive proposals and considered how the wider implications across the UK could be managed via federalism.  This produces more of a process towards DevoMax that might release some logjams.
The SNP Scottish Government has asked for the ‘next best thing’ to independence, with foreign affairs and defence, monetary policy and citizenship and borders reserved to Westminster.  They do not seek any influence on monetary policy.

The Scottish Green Party has made an attempt at DevoMax, importantly highlighting the important of a written constitution and joint/partnership arrangements between the two layers of government for some issues.  They do seek influence over monetary policy and seek representation on management board level of the Treasury, Bank of England and HMRC.

Both SNP and Green proposals seems to be roughly in line with public opinion as ascertained by recent polls and the on a longer timescale by Professor Curtices’ Social Attitudes Survey.

While the Commission is under excessive time pressure to come up with concrete proposals with wide agreement, I would suggest that some of the pressures can be managed by phasing proposals over a period and setting out a road map as to how the UK constitutional pressure can be managed, while meeting the aspirations of Scotland to proceed as quickly as possible.  The danger in such process is any delays : the timetable would need clearly to beat at the pace of a Scottish not a Westminster drum. 

A declaration that any part of the UK could, in principle, take to itself similar powers and matching responsibilities may allay some tensions and would be attractive to many outside Scotland – although it is not for Scotland to dictate the form of government in other areas of the UK.  But if the UK is to follow that route, the inevitable consequence will be the surrender of powers to devolved bodies and the lessening of the current over-wheening power of Westminster.  That will be uncomfortable for Westminster politicians but their comfort is not part of your remit.


There appears to be a broad consensus towards entrenchment of the Scottish Parliament and the development and formalisation of mechanisms for joint working/joint policy making/ policy co-ordination.    I can only see this as a written constitution for Scotland.  But we will always have the conflict between the concepts of ‘sovereignty lying with the people’ and ‘the crown in parliament’.

It is hard to argue against the submissions by the Greens and the SNP seeking for powers over Scottish elections and governmental arrangements but the proposals from the Greens towards managing additional powers via public participation and internal devolution within Scotland are attractive and act as a counterweight to the criticism that Holyrood would be a ‘wee Westminster’.

The submissions by the Greens, SNP and Liberal Democrats provide a solid foundation for agreement here.


Money is the root of all evil and is a crucial part of this debate.  Spending powers are inextricably linked to tax raising powers.  Subject to any arrangements to provide some sharing to resources to address the inequalities that do exist across the UK, the aim must be to allow the Scottish Parliament to fundamentally raise enough revenue to meet its spending requirements and tailor those taxes to meet Scottish policy aims and specific Scottish concerns. 

Too few powers and insufficient flexibility to apply those powers make limited taxation powers a poisoned chalice.  But as Scotland will be bound to the UK currency and monetary policy, agreements are needed.  The SNP seem to be happy to continue with no real say – and thereby scant responsibility.   Greens and, via federalism LibDems, are more willing to engage.   

But, with formal management arrangements and perhaps ultimately federalism, the Green/LibDem axis here have a vision to move forward in a way that is coherent and consistent.


The SNP argue that all the main spending areas except defence and foreign affairs should be devolved.  The Greens see similar vision but would add pensions to that list.

The main argument is around welfare.  The economic, social and housing state of Scotland is different from especially southern England and therefore the appropriate policies vary.  Just as there seems to be wide acceptance that the city-regions of England should gain more powers of their economic futures, there should be wide acceptance that Scotland should determine its own future.  Labour’s attempt to salami slice powers in this area seem muddled. 

In this instance, I commend the SNP and Green submissions.

Other Issues

Within this heading I include all the issues mentioned by the submissions that do, of themselves, entail major spending implications.   Where any of the submission have made the case for devolving powers, then you should accept this. 

In particular
·      It seems perverse for Labour to argue against the devolution of powers relating to Health.  The Scottish Parliament has shown itself attuned to these emerging realities.

  • As a peripheral area within the UK and with a much lower population density (outside the Central Belt), Scotland’s transport needs differ from the UKs.  The SNPs submission on powers relating to Transport should be supported. perfectly capable of considering sensitive and complex issues.   I would hope that the Scottish Parliament would seek to retain the excellent services of the UK Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority. 
  • As is illustrated by the current fuss over Leader’s debates for the UK General Election 2015, it is clear that current arrangements for broadcasting do not represent the legitimate concerns of the constituent parts of the UK.  I therefore commend the suggestions of the SNP and Greens: we need a more plural view of broadcasting to reflect the realities as the differences between Britain and England sharpen.   Consider: the Westminster remit for Health only applies to England and therefore (UK) Leader’s debates should avoid this issue.   Repeat for all devolved matters and we get a very complex situation that would be better served by plurality with much more emphasis on the nations and regions and less on a London/Westminster centric model.  The Greens suggestions are closely attuned to the emerging realities.

  • Employment and Employability issues bring a welcome consensus between LibDems, the SNP and the Greens.  These issues so closely relate to the local economic circumstances and elements of economic development and welfare, that they need to be seen as a coherent package with the Scottish Parliament. 

I reserve the right to make a further submission(s), particular if the Conservatives and Labour revisit their timid proposals in the light of the new political realities, and of course will seek to comment on any proposals you make.

Meanwhile I wish you success in hammering out a proposal that meets the legitimate aspirations of the majority of the Scottish people.

Debra Storr
(contact details removed) 


Serious about active travel?

The difference between stated aims and delivery by government's fascinates me.   We have great statements about promoting Active Travel (walking and cycling to normal people but you need a new buzz phrase).  Now the benefits of this are huge - health from the activity itself and the increase in social interactions - economic from increased use of the local shops - environmental from the reduced CO2 emissions and reduced congestion on roads. 

But then we have the latest Scottish Government budget.  I'm going to focus on Chapter 9

There are three budget lines that relate to Active Travel:

  • Sustainable and Active Travel (SAT)
  • Cycling, Walking and Safer Routes (CWSR)
  • Future Travel Fund (FTF)
But we can not be sure that these monies are all spent on cycling and walking. 

'The budget for Sustainable and Active Travel delivers support for the promotion of more sustainable travel choices, including support for the actions in the Cycling Action Plan for Scotland as well as work to promote sustainable transport to organisations and in communities, e.g. the development of a network of car clubs across Scotland. It includes funding for the core Fastlink scheme in Glasgow (£20 million in 2013-14 and £10 million in 2014-15).'

Cycling Walking and Safer Routes is money given to local authorities.  They choose how much to spend on such and how much goes directly into cycling and walking and how much is used, under the guise of safer routes for e.g. 20mph limit in urban areas.  Some local authorities all money to this fund - but for many this is the only walking and cycling budget. 

'The Future Transport Fund will reduce the impact of transport on our environment, reducing congestion and supporting better public transport, active travel and low carbon vehicles. This investment provides a platform for increasing support thereafter for a range of sustainable transport initiatives, including cycling infrastructure and freight modal shift.'

So it takes a bit of effort working outwhat is the real figure for walking and cycling.

 (figure in £ millions)                             2013-14  2014-15 Draft   2015-16 Plan
Sustrainable and Active Travel              35           29                      15
Cycling Walking and Safer Routes         5.6           8.2                    8
Future Travel Fund                                 7.7          18.7                 20.2
                                      Total                 48.3         55.9                43.2
but there are some things in this mix that have nothing do do with walking and cycling
Fastlink Bus route, Glasgow                  20           10                      0
Electric car charging points                      5             5                     5
Car clubs                                                  2              2                     2
                                     Total                 27             17                    7
so available might be:
Real figure for walking and cycling   21.3        38.9               36.2

For a country of 5.3m people and with a £2 billion (£2,000,000,000) transport budget, this is paltry - especially with an aspiration for 10% journeys to be by bike by 2020.

Blank Backed Ballot Papers.

So you turned up at a polling station and voted.  Or you sent in your ballot paper by post.
But somehow or other, you had been passed an invalid ballot paper without the printing on the back (and yes, they were all the same design - the barcode on the back was unique - see Personation above).
Somehow (as this seems to be about trying to overturn the vote), these blank-backed ballot papers were given only to Yes voters. 
Now you remember that your ballot paper was invalid.

So Polling Clerks were deliberately giving out blank ballot papers to some people - and very cleverly if it was a postal vote, THEY know in advance how you were going to vote.  We are getting into fantasy conspiracy land here. 

Now I watched ballot papers being handed out at polling ststaion and they came from a pad of papers in sequence.   So it'd be impssible to sneak in an invalid paper.  And as discussed in my sister post, the numbers printed on the back of the ballot paper is recorded against your electoral number.  So every Polling Clerk does actually look at the back of every ballot paper. 

Even if people votes were being made deliberately invalid, would these have changed the result?  No.  Look at the number of invalid votes at the official results website - 3,429.

That's right 3,623,344 votes were cast and just 3,429 managed to invalidate their votes - 0.9%.The No majority was a wee bit bigger than this.

I've been to lots of counts and votes are invalid for a number of reasons. At the last European Elections, 4% of votes were invalid.  

I think the blank back ballot paper isssue is total and utter tosh.

As I said in my post on the process at Polling Place and the Count, this was a meticulous ballot. 

No system is perfect and the Electoral Commission was in overall charge of this referendum and continuously considers what changes need to be made. 

Conspiracy Theorists 

Now no system is perfect - Voter Id is required in Northern Ireland but not in the rest of the UK - which says something of the low level of 'personation'.  I think this will change as it's an obvious hole in the process - but with just 10 case in such a high turnout election still tells me this is not an issue and I will lament yet another example of distrust becoming the default in our lives.   

I have seem claims that Polling and Couning Officers (note the incorrect term) were instructed to change Yes to No or to deliberately put Yes votes into No piles. 

I've seen claims that this was on the instructions of MI5, the CIA, Buckingham Palace.

I've discussed the process with people, who once they realised that the videos of the count were bunkum, switched to the blank bank ballot papers issue. 

I assume at this point that I am part of the conspiracy - perhaps a stooge of the Palace.  I have after all been to three Royal Garden Parties and have developed a taste for the rather nice lemon tarts and the strawberry sandwiches.   If only they would serve green tea .... 

But anyone demented enough to believe this rigging nonsense wouldn't believe an independent inquiry, a recount or anything else.   It would be another establishment fix. . 

But those banging on about the ballot being rigged make the whole Yes movement look absurd.  So I'll risk the conspiracy theorists believing I'm part of a plot with Mrs Windsor. 

If you are a conspiracy theorist, please don't join my party, The Scottish Greens.  Spend your energies inside Conservative or Labour : I am sure your energy and devious mind can find a way to make them implode.  

Scottish Referendum Fraud - unlikely.

There are a number of YouTube videos and petitions calling for a recount or a revote on Thursday's Scottish Independence Referendum alleging widespread fraud.

I have been responding to these on Facebook but find myself typing the same thing over and over again.  My view is that this the most meticulous conducted ballot I have witnessed. 

Let me explain a few things.  Parties to the election (those putting up candidates or in the case of this referendum campaign groups) appoint Polling Agents and Counting Agents.  I was each for Scottish Greens (Yes) in Aberdeenshire.   Across Scotland there were thousands for Yes and No groups plus there were international observers and observers from the Electoral Commission roaming about. 


Inside each Polling Place (the building) are one or more Polling Stations.  At each Polling Station there is one and only one ballot box.  For this election each Polling Station served something less than 1000 people - at least in Aberdeenshire so widespread queues were unlikely. 

Polling Agents can, if they wish, watch everything going on in the polling place from start to finish:  They can turn up at 7am and check that the ballot box starts out empty.  They can stand and watch every voter being issued with a ballot paper and putting it in the box.  They can watch the box being sealed at the end of the day.  And they can follow the van taking it to the count and watch it being unloaded.  The boxes are accompanied with a small sack of paper - stubs of ballot papers, the marked register, etc - all the paperwork you'd have seen at a polling station. 

It's unusual for anyone to actually do this. Usually Polling Agents dot in and out. 

Polling Agents also check that there isn't anything in the Polling Place which shouldn't be - e.g. literature from the other side and that voters are not hassled by the opposition (tho that is strictly the job of the Presidening Officer and the Police).

Outside the Polling Place, you may find representatives of campaigns.  They must stay out of the Polling Place while wearing/ displaying any propoganda and they shouldn't interfere with voters in any way.  But they can ask people to identify themselves (you don't need to give this information) and can answer questions.   If they are collecting details of who has voted, this is so that those people are not called upon later in the day to ask them to go and and vote (known as knocking up).

There is always more than one polling clerk/presiding officer at each polling place and they to some extent check up on each other.  For anything to go wrong, here would need collusion of presiding officer, polling clerk and polling agents.   

Postal Votes

For postal votes, these are collected over a longer period and kept securely.  Periodically, a batch is opened and the signatures checked against the application.  Bundles of papers from that batch are then put in sealed ballot boxes to await the count.   Counting Agents can turn up and watch all this. 

The pictures of neat bundles of ballot papers being taken out of ballot boxes are these postal votes - all ready verified: a known number of papers in each box.

At the Count

At the Count, the paperwork is first checked and then the ballot box is opened and the number of papers inside checked against the number of ballot papers issued.  Lots of the videos showing Yes being put under Noes are really this first verification count.   Counting agents watch this process and you often see them making a tally of the ballot papers,  If any box (and remember this is from a known location) has an unusual split of votes, the Counting Agents should notice at this point. 
Counting agents will know the total number of ballots in each box - and hence the total number of votes cast if these are all added up. 

Sometimes there aren't the same number in a box as was issued.  But I've never seen a difference of more than one.   Sometimes there is a polling card (the card telling people where to vote) in the box - perhaps someone took the ballot paper home by mistake. 

The ballot papers are then put in one big pile and each station is given a known number to count.  They then divide the papers into Yes, No and Dubious.  The Counting Agents watch this and check that piles contain only Yes, No and Dubious.  They may make a representation about where any individual paper should be put - but in case of doubt they go to Dubious.  This is why is much easier if people just put a X in the box. 

The total number of Yes, No and Dubious must match the number of papers the table was issued with.  They will check and check until this is true.   Counting Clerks sometimes flip throuugh bundles of votes just to do a quick visual check that they contain only Yes or only No - it's quite easy to spot a stray ballot of the other side as we are good at pattern recognition.   

The Counting Agents will know how many Yes, No and Dubious come out of each table.  They can add it all up to make sure it matches the total number of ballots.   

Dubious votes are taken to the Returning Officer and they, in consultation with the chief representatives of the Counting Agents, decide whether these are spoilt (and for what reason), or whether they should count for Yes or No. 

Fraud : Personation

At polling stations, the Presiding Officer and Polling Clerk, know who has been issued with a postal vote.  So if these people attempt to vote in person, they known there is a problem.  In case of a postal vote not reaching someone, the Returning Officer can issue a duplicate because the checks made on returning postal votes are through.   But this is something that needs to be sorted out with the overall Returning Officer not at a polling station. 

If someone is marked as having already voted and someone else turns up and tries to vote claiming they are that person, then a criminal offense may have been committed - called personation.  The second person turning up will be held at the polling place and their identity checked.  If they are who they say they are, they will be allowed to vote.   And, because there is a number on the back of each ballot paper which is logged against each voter, the fraudulent ballot paper will be found and removed (for evidence!).   Personation used to be common in Northern Ireland which is why ID is required to vote there.  In the rest of the UK is it so rare that this check is not deemed necessary.  I understand that 10 cases are under investiagation in Glasgow.  Out of millions: that is tiny.  With such a high turnout, personation will be detected.  It is less likely to be detected in a low turnout election. 

In the ideal would, the Polling Agent or Polling Clerks would be sufficiently embedded in the community to be able to say 'Hang on - you're not Debra Storr' and nab fraudsters before they vote.  My local Polling Clerks know me, of course.   This isn't easy with large populations.   Returning Officers will use local people - and the same local people - as Polling Clerks.  In small rural polling places, this informal verification works.  In larger places, it can't : one reason why I prefer many small polling places.  

Any questions?

A summer of generation and consumption

At the holiday house (, we now have about three months data (96 days).    The house has had guest in for most of this time but we ran the heating regardless as we wanted to bring the house which had sat with minimal heating through the winter up to proper warmth throughout.

From 5th May to 9th August:

Total house import                            1066 kWh
PV Generation                                  1073 kWh
Air source heat pump consumption  1082 kWh

So on average, 11kWh a day for each measure.  

We've experimented with the setting on the ASHP so that it runs more during the day so we maximise running the ASHP on sunshine. 

More PV generation and an air source heat pump

I've been a bit busy.  My partner and I decided to buy a holiday house in the latter part of 2013 and finally got the keys in February.  Since then, we have been working to get the house ready for the 2014 holiday letting season.   

We think it now looks rather good :

If you fancy staying there for your holiday, please go to

The house sleeps 6 in 3 bedrooms and is a spacious comfortable house, overlooking Loch Alsh just 5 miles from the Skye Bridge.

Since this picture was taken, we have installed an air source heat pump (ASHP) and PV panels.  Our hope is that in the period of peak use of the house, the PV panels will power the ASHP which will in turn heat the house and provide hot water.  Our initial calculations are that the PV panels are significantly powering the ASHP and we are working to optimise the controlling programme use more of our power.

Now fans of this blog will know that I like monitoring.  At Varis, we can see how much power the ASHP is taking and what the internal temperature is.  The internal temperature varies a lot : when there is no-one there, we turn the heating right down and some guests (for example a Malaysian family) want the house to be significantly warmer than we regard as normal in the UK.

The live feed is at

Two years of PV generation

A year ago, I reported on our PV panels.  You may have noticed a little more sunshine this year that last (I even spoke to an Aberdeenshire farmer yesterday who didn't complain about the weather). 

That gave us 3030 kWh of generation and we imported 2426 kWh - both changes in the right direction.  We consumed a little less 3851 kWh.   It's nice to be carbon negative on our electricity (we import from a 100% renewables company). 

Just the oil central heating and travel to focus on ....

A Challenge - EUR 44 per head for cycling?

With some amount of fanfare, the Scottish Government has published their Cycle Action Plan for Scotland 2013 which reviews and updates their 2010 plan.

They describe their target of 10% journeys by cycle as ambitious.  It is ambitious given the paucity of the plan.  But it's not ambitious by international standards. 

So what are the Scottish Government actually proposing?
One measure you can't escape from is cash.

Netherlands EUR 487m/ year - so EUR 30 per head of population each year

London is spending £104m/year - some EUR 21 per head of population each year.

The Peterhead Cycle Demostration project has a total budget of £185,000 - a one off-spend of EUR 13 per head over the three year life of the project.

So what is the Scottish Government proposing in their nice new shiny CyclingAction Plan?  Well it looks like there will be less than £47m over three years (part of the monies are for walking and safer streets) so that EUR 55m.  Sound greats - until you remember that between a population of 5.3m and over 3 years so that comes down to a miserly EUR 3.4 per head of population each year.

If the Government are serious about cycling, perhaps a good place to start would be allocating the 10% modal share aim in terms of the transport budget to cycling.    Transport Scotland has £2,000m a year.  So £200m a year for cycling from that budget.  Ok that's then  EUR 44 per head - but have a lot of catching up to do to get the type of infrastucture that people enjoy in the Netherlands and Denmark.

Winter cycling in Copenhagen


I have just come to the end of my first 48 hours as a beekeeper.  I kindly acquired a hive full - 11 frames with bees and stores across the frames.

I have thought about keeping bees for many years but was prompted to get myself organised due to the reports of declining populations.  I think this is probably a combination of factors: varroa mites, loss of habitat, pesticides, ... and public policy doesn't work well in multi-faceted situations.

We need robust research through 2014 and 2014 when the neonicotinoid temporary ban is in place and in my view, serious preventative action to ensure that no more bee diseases are imported.

Bees are simply too important to risk.

For those interested, here is a short video of my bees bringing in pollen today.  I'm hoping they have found sources other than the oil seed rape (which will have been treated with neonicotinoids) to the north - and as the pollen seems to be cream/pale yellow, I reckon they may have.

(and yes, the entrance block is ill-fitting and the pollen is in 'pollen baskets', specially adapted hairs on the back legs of the bees)

Generation, consumption and import

We have just had the first full year where we've had PV panels and monitoring of our energy consumption.  We have also been sad enough to take daily readings of generation and import.

So for other energy anoraks out there (showing 7 day moving averages to get rid of the 'noise'):

The captions are a little difficult to read, but you see that Consumption (green) generally sticks in the 10-15kWh/day with dips when we are on away, import (red) seems to have a baseline of 5kWh/day in summer, rising to 10kWh (or more) in winter and that the PV panels (blue) are more or less performing as we expected (dark blue). 

The electricity bills have more-or-less halved as a result of the PV panels.

Annual figures come out at: 
PV Generation 2856 kWh
Import 2505 kWh
Consumption 3913 kWh 

... and therefore we estimate Export at 1447 kWh.  

We are pretty focused on running the washing machine and the dishwasher when the sun shines (or at least during the day) but it's diffcult to time-shift much of our other consumption.

You can see an overnight cycle which is fridge/freezer.  The peaks are the cooking and kettle and then we have computers and TVs.

The apparent base load is getting our attention but the honest calculation is that moving to more energy efficient appliances but it's not worth us making a special effort so we will think about this as we need to replace   The induction hob however does seem to be efficient (all our cooking is electric).  We do have a few gizmos to help ensure that we don't leave things on standby. 

So, what we really need is cost effective ways to store our electricty to use it later (see previous post below) - and focus on using less oil for water and space heating.  The woodburning stove is great for cold days and we have ready supplies of wood - but I think tackling the insulation of our solid walls is the next serious investment.   

Thanks to the Macauley (now James Hutton) Institute for the Consumption Monitoring kit.

Energy use and Generation

A recent report from UKERC The UK energy system in 2050:Comparing Low-Carbon, Resilient Scenarios highlights a few important challenges we all have to face.  These are a selection of the main 'pull out' quotes from the report (my bold)
  • ... the sets of technologies to meet the challenge exist, and deploying them is a much lower cost option than the damages from climate change, estimates elsewhere that will ensue if the UK and other countries fail to rise to it.
  • .. of the ways in which the Elastic Demand version of MARKEL (the model used) can meet policy objectives (e.g. carbon reduction constraints) is to reduce energy service demands through price elasticities of demand. 
  • Hydrogen and electric vehicles dominate the transport mix by 2050, this has resultant impacts on the power sector with vehicles being recharged during time of low demand
  • For the targets to be met an economy wide carbon price would need to be gradually imposed, on top of all existing carbpon.enery taxes, reaching about the current level of fuel duty by 2050.
  • All buildings, new and existing, will have to be much more energy efficient.
With the ppm of CO2 in our atmosphere tripping over the 400 mark for the first time and China now announcing serious carbon emission reduction targets, we have a two choices:
bury our heads in the sand or take action.

Hello again

I haven't posted on this blog for a while: I felt I wanted some distance between my new role as a planning consultant and private person and my previous role as councillor.  But I shall now start blogging again on things that interest, intrigue or engage me. 

Integrity, principle and trust in politics

"You cannot hope to requisition,
Thank God, the British politician,
But seeing what the man will do,
Unasked, there's no occasion to."

Tomorrow, please don't vote for Davidson, Merson or Owen.


May 2012

I have announced that I will not be standing in the May 2012 elections.  After 13 years as a councillor (and with the last 4.5 years being "interesting", I have decided to focus on my new career as a planning consultant. 

A full statement can be found at

Living within our means

It's a problem for households and councils and today many councils wrestled more or less successfully with putting themselves onto a more sustainable footing. Sadly Aberdeenshire rejected the Democratic Independent proposals to raise £2m each year by exploiting renewable energy opportunities.

But even more than money (and we are reminded by Osbourne's latest round of quantitative easing that money is a social construct) we are overspent on resources - energy, water, food. I am indebted to Alan Owen of RGU for a thought provoking presentation to the RTPI this evening that highlighted the extent of the problem and to Bob Reid for pointing me to This recent Limits to Growth article.

On a global scale, there simply isn't enough to go round. There is no 'silver bullet' to fix this. To get down to sustainable levels, we need to consume at the level of Ghana and Palastine - and we are many time that. Here in the UK we need to reduce energy consumption by a whopping 87%.

So do we hide our heads on the sand and hope the problem goes away? Tempting.

But let's be positive.

Here in the north east of Scotland, we have great resources.
Could we grow enough food to feed everyone in the NE? Yes.
Could we produce enough energy to provide for our total energy needs? Yes.
Could we reduce our water consumption to sustainable levels. Of course, Yes.

The bigger question is will we?

So - over to you.

What do we need to do?
What changes have to be made?
How can we, together make it happen?

Strategic Development Plan : Main Issues Report Consultation

Please don't go to sleep.  This is important.

The Strategic Plan sets out in outline what the Local Development Plans have to say.  And they determine whether planning applications are granted.  It you do - or don't - want development in that field near you.   THIS IS YOUR BEST OPPORTUNITY TO INFLUENCE.

The new plan is not greatly different to the old except it takes development out to 2035 with, for example, in the Ellon-Blackdog corridor, in addition to sites for 825 houses already in the pipeline (I guess mainly Castle Meadows and Trump/Menie), another 800 are planned up to 2016 with a further 1,500 to 2026 and 1,500 to 2035.     That is roughly equivalent to a whole extra Ellon.   

The plan claims to be concerned about climate change and economic development and contains an interesting section on waste with the Ellon-Blackdog corridor identified as an area of search for new waste processing facilities.   

Please look at the documents at  

I'll comment more here once I have digested all the documents but I am happy to answer your queries here.

Housing Allocation Information

A short while ago, I worried about proposed changes to Council House Allocation Policy.

Part of the justification given for the charges is

"the reasons behind the proposed changes are primarily to ensure the Council makes best use of
its stock and to give applicants realistic housing options. If you look at the attached spreadsheet for Formartine it shows that out of the 24 settlement 5 have a stock of 3 or less houses; 9 had no turnover in 2010/2011 and a further 8 had turnover of only 1 or 2 houses. While allowing applicants to chose from 24 settlement may appear to offer choice, in reality it is misleading in that there is either no or very little turnover in many of these settlements."

But over 40% give the reason for refusal in Formartine as Not Area Desired.  Just how does forcing people to specify a larger area help this?

Garden unsuitable
No longer require housing
No reason given
No response within 5 working days
Not area desired
Not ready to move
Property type unsuitable
Property unsuitable

Wouldn't it be better to be honest with people about the (lack of) houses available across the area:

Formartine  1 bed 2 bed 3 bed 4 bed
CUMINESTOWN 11 21 14 1
DAVIOT 3 2 4
ELLON 134 92 51
FYVIE 32 20 11
METHLICK 20 17 4
NEWBURGH 12 10 13
OLDMELDRUM 50 56 10 4
PITMEDDEN 14 25 22
TARVES 29 14 6 5
TURRIFF 99 130 66 2

and ask them to pick enough areas where they would accept a house as possible, pointing out that the total turnover last year was only 82 houses against a waiting list of 951.

Or does the council think that prospective council house tenants are too stupid to figure out that where houses are in short supply, their odds of getting offered anything is close to snowball in hell - but that if they choose places with some stock, there is a better chance?

North East Scotalnd Credit Union - coming to Ellon?

While at the RGU Fresher's Fair with the Scottish Young Greens yesterday, I got into conversation with John McCrank of the North East Scotland Credit Union. They have early stage plans of expanding their operations into Ellon and we discussed a few possibilities for where they could set-up a couple of times each week.

So if there is anyone you would like to be a local volunteer in Ellon, please get in touch with John at

More cuts and more straightjackets for local government.

Today I was at a Scrutiny and Audit Committee meeting where it was clear that over £400,000 of this years budget cuts would not be achieved ... And because some of this was primary school closures with the saving in futures years being over £2 million next year and a further £1 million in subsequent years, the consequences for future years are significant. Apart from the lack of a robust educational case for the planned closures, the stopper was the Scottish Government deciding that no rural primaries would be allowed to close.

Now John Swinney is saying that councils will again not be allowed to raise council tax ...

With the Council Tax freeze, councillors were left to decide what to cut. When ministers decided that some areas for saving were off limits, they then directed the cuts to other areas. And now the cuts will continue deeper than ever.

When I first stood a friend said "remember, Debra, that councils really can only do what government tells them to do and then it is compulsory'. She was only a quarter joking - the freedom to do things for the benefit of the citizen has always been limited.

Now the room to manoeuvre is being limited for as much as the next 5 years.   It's not an attractive prospect for Councillors doing little more than decide where the axe shall fall.  Fred Macauley on Radio Scotland this morning joked that perhaps the current 32 councils should be merged into one.  If the Scottish Government does not increase the independence of councils both in terms of what they are allowed to do and how they raise the funds to do it, then maybe Fred is right.

Local Transport Strategy - consultation

Aberdeenshire Council is now consulting on the next version of the Local Transport Strategy.  The draft is better than the old strategy in that it at least thinks that walking and cycling is a transport option rather than a leisure activity but I am sure we can improve it further.

You can read the draft here.

If you wish to comment on the draft LTS, you can use the online survey at or you can email details comments to - or both!

The closing date for responding is 31 October 2011.

Empty Home

Housing standing empty for long periods are a problem and could make a contribution to the housing stock if they were brought back into use.  The first step is to know about them.
If you know of an empty home, please use Report Empty Homes.

Council housing allocation policy

I'm worried.

The Council is currently consulting on changing many aspects of its housing allocation policies but is trying to fast track some changes (see the full report here).

The proposals that worry me are

1. to reduce the number of reasonable offer from 2 to 1 and reduce the suspension period for refusal of a reasonable offer from 12 months to 6 months.

2. combine the existing letting areas (basically settlements) into larger units and ask people to select at least 2 of these bigger units rather than 5 settlements.

In Formartine, people would then be required to select 2 from:

Fyvie/Auchterless/Rothienorman/Meikle Wartle
Oldmeldrum/Barravale/Pitmedden/Tarves/Udny Green/Udny Station

Any 2 of those 5 would cover a big area.  If people have places of work, family and friends who provide essential social support (taking care of the kids after school, etc), maybe it is simply not possible to live in Methlick rather than Potterton (16.5 miles away) : and the definition of reasonable is based on the housing need not wider social needs.

Council officers told us that the average number of people who are offered a council house before accepting it is 2.4 - or to put it another way, there is a 60% chance of someone turning down a house that is offered to them.  Locally we were told that the reason is rarely the quality of the house - so it must be location.  We are under pressure to let houses faster and reduce the housing waiting list.  But forcing people to select a large area and then saying "take it or suspend you from the waiting list for 6 months" doesn't seen to me to be very helpful.

People understand that if they pick a very small high demand area, they will wait a long time.  But surely that is their look out.  Offering people houses that they are even less likely to take because it is in a location they don't want, doesn't seem helpful to me.

Wouldn't we be better to tell people how many houses there are in each area and, if possible, the turnover?  The people who can be flexible will get a better chance of a house.   But if the need is specific, then that is just the way it is.  Offering houses in the wrong place will help no-one - except perhaps a statistician, looking to reduce the length of the waiting list.

I'd like to hear your views on this.