Should Holyrood rule?

Fiona Hyslop has threatened to take education away from local councils - because they haven't delivered smaller primary class sizes.  And now the SNP government is apparently considering removing social care from local councils too.    That would centralise about three-quarters of local government spending. 

I happen to believe in local people making local decisions.  And if that means that government manifesto policies are not delivered so be it.   It's local councils that run schools so Holyrood may ask for smaller class sizes.  But they can not demand it.

And it worries me that people who want independence for Scotland, don't understand that democracy at council level matters too.

Fiona Hyslop has been removed from post. 

Is Aberdeenshire in favour of 10:10 after all?

Yesterday, the Provost refused to allow a motion on 10:10 from Martin Ford to be debated, saying it needed discussion at Policy and Resources. But today, a news release on Aberdeenshire's website asked residents to support 10:10. Now any support is welcome.

But as Martin says

"What happened overnight? Certainly there was no meeting of the Policy & Resources Committee. Yet the Council's public relations department has now issued a press release quoting leading members of the administration group backing 10:10.

"But this U-turn has made the Council look ridiculous and vulnerable to a charge of hypocrisy. The Council itself wouldn't sign up yesterday. Today it wants others to do what it wouldn't."

I spotted the news release at lunchtime today and felt disgusted that two councillors from the ruling group were now asking for support for 10:10 and that council officers had given their very thin release official sanction.

It would be a serious matter if Council staff are being used for party political purposes. Are officers acting impartially towards the different political groups on the Council?  Will the Council now be publishing my press releases?  I doubt it as they won't link their website to my blog!

Aberdeenshire supports Vote Earth

Aberdeenshire Council today unanimously agreed to support the Vote Earth campaign. Things are moving in the right direction with President Obama and China both making positive statements today. I hope that Copenhagen can produce a binding deal. The latest scientific advice is that unless emissions are stabilised by 2015-2020, then it may all be too late. So we have to start some serious cuts now.

That's why campaigns like 10:10 matter - and I am hopeful that when Aberdeenshire's Policy and Resources Committee discussed this, they will sign up. I've signed up personally - have you?

There is a problem however. Despite both the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats nationally being against the third Heathrow runway, they would not support a motion congratulating BAA for halting work on this. Why - it now won't be built and it costs nothing to acknowledge the fact. Is it because Martin Ford proposed the motion? Or is it simply that they believe all economic growth is good - and hang the consequences?

Brewdog expansion approved

Brewdog, Scotland most innovative brewery today had its proposal for a new eco-brewery and tourist facility at Potterton approved.

I suspect a bottle of Tactical Nuclear Penguin may be opened in celebration. Health warning: this is a very strong beer and must be treated with respect.

Tactical Nuclear Penguin from BrewDog on Vimeo.


Aberdeenshire took a small step towards giving the Menie residents some comfort that they will not be subject to CPOs. They approved a motion without a vote that affirmed a commitment to UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights including article 17 (2) "no one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his property"

Of course there is some scope for interpretation. Some of my colleagues may still think that a golf course and housing development is more important but at least we know know that 74% of the population disagree.

Please keep up the pressure - detailed on who voted which way on the explicit vote on the Menie CPOs is below.

More houses for rent - but who is paying

The SNP government has announced plans to buy up 2000 houses that private developers can't sell - using money that local councils will borrow.  But the £200m cost of the scheme has to come out of someone's pocket and it looks like local councils may be forced to pick up the bill - while the government gets all the credit.  The houses would be sold and the funds put back to councils when the house market picks up.  A new body would be responsible for managing these properties - but why set-up a new Quango, when Housing Associations could do this?

Co-incidentally Housing Associations have been told that their funding for new permanent homes for rent will be £200m less next year .....

See press article for more information.

Aberdeenshire challenged over Trump

My constituent Molly Forbes who is at risk of being forced out of her home by the Trump development at Menie has raised a legal challenge to Aberdeenshire Council's planning decisions.

Permission was recently granted to add land at Mill of Menie (where Molly lives), Menie Fishing Stations, Leyton Cottage, Hermit Point, Leyton Farm plus some council owed land to the outline permission granted by the SNP government.

Subsequently, Aberdeenshire council, without waiting for the conditions of the original outline permission to be fulfilled, granted permission for the start of the destruction of the SSSI - stabilisation with marram grass and fencing.

Molly's challenge is to the process used by Aberdeenshire in these applications.

This is a brave step by Molly who is seeking to protect her home and the homes of her neighbours.

The planning permissions are

Cats against climate change


I spent part of this afternoon asking people to send their own message to the politicians who will be at Copenhagen.   Many were very willing - and a few took time to draw pictures and write throughtful contributions.  But I found it sad that some said they thought there was no point - that things had gone too far and there was no way back.

They may be right - the target of limited global warming to 2 degrees only gives us a 50:50 chance of stopping the situation escalating out of control.  But 50:50 is better in my book than certainty.  We have to try.

Thanks to Friends of the Earth for running the "message in a bottle" event.

And I took a few minutes out to join a few hundred people at the Union Square Mall for a flash mob.  We all fell asleep for 5 minutes - to the bemusement of many.

Planning consensus

A surprising amount of consensus broke out at the Formartine Area Committee meeting today on planning matters.

Brewdog - a Fraserburgh-based brewery wanting to expand on a site near Potterton gained support despite the site's Greenbelt status - see Paul Johnston's blog for details.  It'll be interesting to see what Full Council makes of this next week, especially as the details will be new to the vast majority as only 16 councillors (out of 68) were at the pre-determination hearing.

But we came dangerously close to approving significant internal modifications to the A-listed Barra Castle near Oldmeldrum despite very strong opposition from Historic Scotland.   Some councillors started from a position that changes didn't matter if they were not seen.   However, second thoughts prevailed and we stepped back from a careless grant.  

I do however worry about the scrutiny of some things.  We had in front of us proposals for some £2m a year worth of council house upgrades but with policy set by the central Social Work and Housing Committee but Area's approving the spends, there may be some lack of control.  Part of the problem as usual is that Council are required to jump through a standard set by central government even if they could perhaps do better for their tenants by other means.

The priorities are supposed to have Energy Efficiency Improvements as a priority but apart from good progress towards the Scottish Quality Standards, there was scant detail on the actual quality of what was being proposed.  The route to addressing fuel proverty is not necessarily new heating systems but to minimise the heating needed through better insulation.  Hopefully officers will come back to me with details of the standards for the work (e.g. the U-values aimed for in the door and window replacements) and what other energy efficiency measures are in the plan ....  But I fear that the focus is to deliver a set standard.

Aberdeen against Climate Change

I have been asked about local action relating to the Copenhagen talks. The only street event I know about is:
Friends of the Earth will be helping you to send a Message in a Bottle to Copenhagen 1-3pm Saturday 21st November, St. Nicholas Square (outside M&S). Collected messages will be conveyed to Copenhagen in December at the time of the all important summit. Please write your message - and if you can volunteer to help collect messages, just turn up and offer to help.
I would also urge you to make your views known direct to our parliamentarians. The simplest way is via if you wish, contact your councillors too - we need to do what we can as individuals, at work, and in public life at all levels.

I think there are a few key messages that we need to get across
  • We need action at all levels now.
  • The developed world must lead - we have emitted most carbon so far so it is only fair for us to reduce first and fastest.
  • Change will not be easy for any of us - but the alternative is worse.
  • We can and will do our bit - but we need our politicians to take a lead. 

Support for Trump crumbles .... and questions about Council impartiality.

You may be interested in this article by Ron Edwards in today's Sunday Herald (though I've linked to the blog version as I prefer a picture of the dunes, even if it is at Balmedie rather than Menie, to DT's face).

A YouGov poll sets opposition to the use of CPOs at 74%, rising to 86% amongst LibDem voters.   The four families involved should take heart from this poll finding - but they are not safe in their homes until the council rules out the use of CPOs.   I am not surprised by the overwhelming opposition to the use of CPOs - this is one of those "all right thinking people" questions.  The surprise has always been the extreme reluctance of the majority of my council colleagues to make their position clear.  

For entertainment, you may also be interested in this David Letterman interview with the McDonald who reveals the source of his 93% support claim!

Dance for Climate Change

There are many ways to make your voice heard in the run up to Copenhagen.

Sign up to the 10:10 campaign - a commitment to cut your emissions by 10% in 2010 and gives some practical advice on how.

Sign up to the WWF's Earth Hour Campaign

Join the Wave in Glasgow on 5th December.

But let's also celebrate what people can do together, so let me share Dance for Climate Change with you.


Welcome to Mark

A very warm welcome to Councillor Mark Cullen who has joined Paul Johnston, Sam Coull and Martin Ford in the Democratic Independent Group (DIG) on Aberdeenshire Council.

Mark has shown independence of thinking and a firm determination to judge issues on their merits and I look forward to working more closely with him - and occasionally having my thinking challenged by him.

Mark brings the DIG to 5 members, which now entitles the Group to a place on all five Aberdeenshire policy committees and a place on various smaller sub-committees and working groups.

Congratulations to Martin Ford - nominated as Scottish councillor of the year

Congratulation to my colleague Martin Ford for being nominated for Councillor of the Year in the Herald's Scottish Politician of the Year Awards.  Martin is up against Steven Purcell, Leader of Glasgow and COSLA President Pat Waters.  To be nominated as a backbench councillor is a significant achievement.

The citations for all three are
  • Aberdeenshire councillor Martin Ford made the headlines by taking on Donald Trump over the multi-billionaire developer’s plans for a golf course and housing. His stance led to his resignation from the LibDem group on the council.
  • Steven Purcell, the Labour leader of Glasgow City Council, is Scotland’s highest profile councillor. In the last few years, he has helped bring the Commonwealth Games to Glasgow and changed the city’s image.
  • South Lanarkshire Labour councillor Pat Watters is better known as the president of Cosla and, as such, is the voice of Scottish local government – a difficult job with 32 councils to represent. He has taken risks politically through his consistent support for the concordat with the SNP administration.
The full article is available here. 

National disgrace, scoundrel and extremist

To celebrate my formal acceptance into the Scottish Green Party, despite their being warned that, according to the Trump Organisation, I am a national disgrace, scoundrel and extremist, I have decided to rename this blog - and share a view of those famously beautiful dunes.


The Wave

T   A few days ago the Scottish Government published Production of a Time Series of Scotland's Ecological and Greenhouse Gas Footprints, It makes depressing reading with emissions rising steeply in the travels sector and little sign of reduction elsewhere.  Something has to change and we can help make that happen by convincing the politicians about to meet in Copenhagen that we care and change can happen..    

On Saturday 5 December 2009, ahead of the crucial UN climate summit in Copenhagen, thousands of people from across Scotland, from all walks of life, will flow through the streets of Glasgow to demonstrate their support for a safe climate future for all. The Wave is organised by Stop Climate Chaos Scotland.

Join The Wave - Scotland’s biggest ever demonstration in support of action on climate change.
We want the UK Government to Share Scotland’s Ambition, Protect the Poorest and Act Fair & Fast.

Friends, old and new

I have had a delightful weekend at the Scottish Green Conference in Dumfries.  It was lovely to be greeted by old friends from my days of political activism in Edinburgh in the late 80s and early 90s.  And new friends came to the fore when flooding meant that the last leg of the return journey from Edinburgh to Aberdeen had to be abandoned.

I think I shall enjoy working in my new political home.  It is a smaller party than I have been used to but it is not that different to the Liberals in the 80s so there is a familiararity.  But also a positive engagement in trying to find real solutions and a new way forward that will benefit people and the environment.  The issues are huge, the answers are difficult and putting these into action harder still.  But I saw a real determination to align principles and practise and to engage with people - including the driver of the bus to Edinburgh who I suspect will never forget meeting Robin Harper.  I left the driver with a membership application form - from such seeds does a party grow.      

So thanks to everyone for a great weekend - and thanks for Maggie for her organisational skills and Moira for her hospitality.  Their actions turned a bad end to a wonderful weekend into a positve pleasure.

Now back to transport ....