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Tuesday 25 June : A Buzz round the Media with Honey McBee

Luss, twinned with Tesco?

Chief Executive Fiona Logan has set the cat amongst the pigeons in the park. The Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park, that is.  Ms Logan came to the Park with experience in the private sector, and says it’s now time to start thinking about charging for a range of services and facilities instead of relying solely on the £8m the Park gets from the Scottish Government every year.

Ms Logan’s thoughts were revealed to the Park Board last week, and were taken up by the Sunday Herald.  Yesterday’s Herald followed up with all the criticism that inevitably came her way from Ramblers Scotland, The Scottish Campaign for National Parks, The Loch Lomond Association.

Ms Logan insists it is “not about profit but sustainability – encouraging people to use as much of the Park as possible… low level charging in order to maintain and sustain our services and the infrastructure out there”

Nick Drainey in yesterday’s Times (£)  reported that “commercial opportunities, including hotel developments, sponsorship and introducing fees for services such as parking and toilets, could end Loch Lomond and The Trossachs National Park’s reliance on public sector finance.”

Andrew McKie in yesterday’s Herald’s comment column said fears about selling off the nation’s silver, as some  suggested Ms Logan’s thoughts amounted to, were unfounded. The National Parks are administrative areas, he says, not nationalised and owned by government; all kinds of private and council ownership exist within their boundaries.

Private landowners, says McKie, are as likely to look after and respect the environment as public authorities. “The importance of the national parks for the tourist industry is so blindingly obvious that even the most bone-headed middle-manager can see that any enterprise which despoiled it would be self-defeating.  Most activity, including tourism, in the national parks is commercial already; guesthouses, outdoor sports, pubs, restaurants, parking facilities are all essential components, as are more traditional rural industries such as farming, fisheries and forestry.

The suggestion that the parks should try to benefit from this revenue, rather than be beholden to the Government for 95% of their income, is not privatisation. If anything, it is the most reliable way for them to safeguard their unique character, by ensuring they keep control of what they hold in trust for everyone.”



Miles better?  Plus ca change…

What is it about Glasgow that brings out every social pejorative in the book?  Eddie Barnes in Scotland on Sunday looked at the ‘social deficit’ the Miles Better city allegedly suffers from compared with Manchester or Liverpool. Glaswegian apparently are less concerned with vandalism and antisocial behaviour and do speak more to their neighbours, but there the plus side ends.

Less than one-fifth think people in their neighbourhood can be trusted, and fewer are involved in charity and voluntary work. 

All this comes from the Glasgow Centre for Population Health’s latest report – Exploring reasons for Glasgow’s ‘excess’ mortality.  The GCPH “was established in 2004 as a resource to generate insights and evidence, to create new solutions and provide leadership for action to improve health and tackle inequality… it works across the boundaries of research, policy, implementation and community life to shape a healthier future for Scotland”   The report, says Barnes, is “the first major exercise which puts detailed figures on a series of theories about why the city has such appalling health”

Worst of all, the report finds that Glaswegians from certain areas of the city die younger.  This, of course, is nothing new. In 2006, Fraser Nelson then Associate, now Editor, of the Spectator was able to write ( in Scotland’s Ten Tomorrows , Continuum International, 2006) “ A boy born today in Glasgow can expect to die earlier than a child born in China … this statistic is for the city as a whole – including some of the most desirable suburbs in Britain. A boy born in Calton, central Glasgow, has a life expectancy of 53.9 years, closer to Cameroon. Occasionally the city boasts of being the youngest in Scotland. Early death of its elderly is partly why”. But, “Glasgow as a city has long been caricatured as a city of drunkenness and ill-health. This is unfair. Its problem is social inequality, not disease”

Former Provost Michael Kelly, also in Scotland on Sunday, says at least Glasgow faces up to its problems – reluctant though it might be to admit the report’s findings are accurate – “the fact is that Glasgow suffers “excess mortality” over and above that of other equality deprived cities. The search to establish the causes of this may prove as elusive as trying to track down the Higgs boson. This excellent research struggles to put its finger on it…”

There are different views on whether health problems are chicken or egg – this week’s  piece by Tim Worstall for the Adam Smith Institute blog  - it is always assumed that poor income leads to poor health, but it may be equally true, says Worstall, that poor health leads to poor income.  We're annually reminded (when the figures come out) about the geography of health inequality…men in Manchester or Glasgow die younger than those in Eastbourne …but again we're not being told a very important part of the story: people do move around you know. So it isn't true that someone born in Glasgow is destined for an early death: rather, it's those who don't climb the ladder up out of the slums who are. And the reason that lives are so long in Eastbourne or other retirement hotspots is that people only move to them when they are indeed retiring. And age expectations at 65 are very much higher than expected life span at birth. Simply because you've already survived, by definition, all of the things that were going to kill you before you got to 65.”



“And yet the punters are still voting for the Nats…”

The Aberdeen Donside by-election seems a lifetime away now. Has it changed anything? Labour appears to be cock-a-hoop at slicing the SNP’s majority, but it was never likely that in a mid-term vote the governing party would reach the dizzy heights it did in 2011. UKIP, the party everybody north of the Border loves to hate, came fifth with a fairly respectable showing not far behind the Tories.

Euan McColm in Scotland on Sunday maintained that despite the SNP throwing everything into the area, voters were far more interested in the congestion at the Haudagain roundabout than in ‘matters constitutional’. Turnout was 38% - and as commentator Gerry Hassan pointed out on Brian Taylor’s Friday radio programme, democracy was the loser.

Last word goes to Andrew Nicholl in yesterday’s Scottish Sun – “barely a third of the electorate could be bothered to exercise the democratic rights that others fought and died for to win. Even for a by-election that’s shameful…why is it that after six years of SNP government the Nats are still capable of holding a seat in a by-election? Aren’t we supposed to be sick of them by now? Aren’t the voters meant to be dishing out bloody noses? Shouldn’t Labour be resurgent? Despite Alex Salmond’s protestations that he hasn’t begun to fight, all the indications are that the independence referendum is already lost…certainly Labour claimed to find no support for independence on the doorstep — and since the winning SNP candidate agreed with them we can probably take that as gospel. And yet the punters are still voting for the Nats…”



Calman cometh…

Tomorrow, all being well, Scotland’s Parliament gets the first of its new powers under the Scotland Act when the Land and Buildings Transactions Tax is passed. It’s actually a sort of stamp duty to you and me, and it becomes effective from 2015. Anything could happen between now and then but finance Secretary John Swinney ploughs on earnestly - With Parliament’s approval the passing of this Bill will be a huge milestone for Scotland – it will enable us to set and collect taxes in a more cost effective and fairer way than the UK Government…this Bill will give us the opportunity to better support first time buyers trying to get onto the housing ladder or families buying bigger homes that better suit their needs…It is this Government’s belief that tax should be proportionate. That means taxpayers should have certainty about what they should pay - it should be convenient and it should be efficient.”

Next up is the power to vary income tax by 10p in the pound.  The Tartan Tax, of course, with its 3p variable, has been in place since the first Scotland Act, but no politician dared use it. 3p down and the economy’s in trouble, not to mention all the extra administration; 3p up and will the last person to leave turn out the lights.



Lord Fraser of Carmyllie

Best known to the public for the Lockerbie investigation and the Inquiry into the building of the Parliament building, the former Lord Advocate died suddenly at the weekend at the very early age of 68. After the Lockerbie trial he described the chief prosecution witness as ‘an apple short of a picnic’. Peter Fraser was also a former Solicitor-General for Scotland and MP for Angus as well as a Privy Councillor.  Tributes appeared in the Herald, the Scotsman,  the Telegraph, the Guardian and the Daily Record.



Oh, surely not…

Are we getting paranoid, or is there indeed some bias in the BBC against Scottish independence? Mark Macaskill in the Scottish Sunday Times (£) reported that Craig Murray, sometime ambassador to Uzbekistan and former Rector of Dundee University, has been trawling through the corporation’s website. Murray has found ‘repetitive coupling’ of the words ‘independence’ and ‘warning’. Reporting Scotland and Newsnight Scotland are singled out for particular criticism; they have “never, never been led by a positive story about independence” says Murray. He has asked for a meeting with Lord Patten because the “anti-Scots propaganda is moving beyond the risible towards the truly chilling”.   

The SNP of course has long since complained about anti-independence bias – sometimes with good reason , but some of them really should try and get out more…

Meanwhile, according to Gillian Bowditch in the Sunday Times (£) “the new Scotland starts here”. Here being a must- read piece on the independence within independence movement that began as what looked like a piece of mischief by Shetland’s  MSP Tavish Scott, but is now growing strong legs.

Last week the Lord of the Isles, aka Prince Charles, was in Stornoway praising the industriousness and civilised values of the crofting communities. The Our Island, Our Future campaign is growing, says Bowditch – “You can’t blame the canny islanders. Their pride and self-reliance are exactly the kind of qualities devolution was meant to engender in the Scottish people… how the islanders’ campaign develops and the response to it by both the nationalist and the unionists will be closely scrutinised. The new Scotland starts here…”



And finally…

Scotland holds her collective breathe.

Volleys, lobs and strawberries.  Rafa falls at the first hurdle

C’MON ANDY.      Nuff said…