WHY WE WILL ALL HAVE TO PAY FOR THIS ACT OF ENVIRONMENTAL VANDALISM
Scottish Government’s approval of the Beauly to Denny power line hardly comes
as a shock, yet that does nothing to soften the blow of a profoundly retrograde
again our political masters, hidebound by their own populist but ill-founded
green agenda, dismiss the legitimate concerns both of those directly affected
and of experts suggesting viable and eminently more sensible alternatives.
The power line is largely intended to carry
electricity from the huge northern wind farms to the metropolitan areas, to hook into the
national grid and become part of the European connectivity plan. Having waited
almost a year for Energy Secretary Jim Mather to deliver his verdict
following the most expensive public inquiry ever held in Scotland, the paradox is that his
decision is premature.
before the Beauly-Denny line was even an idea in the minds of Scottish &
Southern Energy engineers, the debate about the true cost,
efficiency and impact of wind turbine energy should have been concluded.
Instead, a whirlwind of political spin and environmental correctness has
thwarted that proper public examination. But more on that later.
SNP have decided from their perch on the climate change bandwagon to commit Scotland to a
50% use of renewables by 2020. The trouble, therefore, with the public inquiry
- at which I gave evidence and to whom more
than 17,000 objections were lodged - is that the result was virtually a
foregone conclusion. In short, it was geared to achieving what the politicians
wanted rather than to finding the right solution for Scotland.
What is at stake is not just the viability or
otherwise of an overhead power line or the costs of providing an underground or
sub-sea alternative, but whether we have a fully developed and coherent energy
strategy and what as Scots we value most about our country.
people, myself included, are willing to accept that the electricity the new
power line will carry is vital to our economic prosperity. But it defies belief
that a line of 600 gigantic pylons scarring huge swathes of our most beautiful Scottish
landscape is the right solution.
lifeblood, employing more than 200,000 people and worth in excess of £4 billion
a year to the economy. Pylons and poorly-sited wind turbines undoubtedly
despoil the beauty of the landscape and discourage tourism. Surely even
politicians can understand the economic threat these pylons will pose.
we must have the power line then we should take a longer-term view, and, despite
the extra cost (though not as high as politicians would have you believe),
either route the line offshore or underground.
we really content to believe that some 600 mega-pylons, some of them more than 200
feet high and straddling 137-miles of prime Scottish countryside - including
part of the Cairngorm
National Park - are the
only practical means available to a nation noted globally for its invention and
what about the experience of other countries? It is clear that in Europe there is a move away from overhead transmission of
electricity. In France,
the government has declared its intention to switch to underground power lines
and the EU is considering legislation to ensure that this becomes Euro policy.
is, of course, one notable difference between the French government’s approach
to energy provision and that of our own government at Holyrood: nuclear power. The
SNP has turned its face resolutely against the nuclear option, for political rather
than practical reasons.
us not pretend that nuclear power is cheap. The 10 new plants proposed for England and Wales will cost at least £5bn each
to build and, depending on whose sums you believe, add anything from £44 to
£227 to the average domestic fuel bill. They will create a problem with waste
disposal which technology has yet to solve satisfactorily. They will be built
by a French company, because France
alone has acquired the skill through experience. But they will provide more
than 25% of the electricity demand by 2025.
this hard data with the SNP’s fanciful, and certainly unproven, policy of
romance and myth. For them, wind farms comprise a essential element of their thrust
to reduce our carbon footprint. Yet the science shows that the electricity they
produce is more expensive and more heavily subsidized than any other renewable
you take into account the cost of manufacturing and transporting these
turbines, together with the displacement of many feet of peat during their
erection - not to mention the cost of dismantling them after 25 years - the
carbon footprint they leave drubs out any benefit they produce.
you seriously believe in the long-term benefits of wind turbines (which I do
not) or tidal power (which I do because it offers a more constant source of
energy) then off-shore transmission must be the way forward.
certainly has much to answer for with regard to excessive energy use and
pollution of our planet. Yet so powerful has the green, carbon-neutral,
Earth-saving lobby become that it has now even been accorded religious status by
a judge south of the Border and has blunted rational political thought. We are
made to feel ashamed if we dissent. If ever an example of this were needed,
look no further than the recent pronouncement by Westminster’s Secretary for Energy and
Climate Change Ed Miliband that opposing wind turbines should be as socially
unacceptable as failing to wear a seatbelt.
we require urgently is an unlikely outbreak of political courage and maturity
that will call a halt to the hysteria that prompted, for example, Gordon
Brown’s ’50 days to save the plant’ outburst. Approval of the Beauly-Denny
power line is simply an example of what happens when we are bombarded with such
drivel and half-truths. What is truly terrifying is that we risk destroying
more than we save.
have no doubt that in the long-term the answer to our future energy
transmission lies under the sea and beneath the earth. Science and technology
continue to advance with great speed. It would be both inept and tragic if we
proceed with a plan that could be redundant before it is completed.
that context, the Scottish Government’s decision is as shameful as it is
we and the generations that follow will have to pay the price of its political
[A version of this article appeared in the Scottish Daily Mail, 7th January 2010]
EDUCATION WILL ONLY FLOURISH AGAIN WHEN POLITICIANS LEARN TO STOP INTERFERING
By Archie Stirling
Whether out of
courage or cowardice, Alex Salmond finally put the interests of Scotland before
his loyalty to his floundering Education Secretary Fiona Hyslop when he sacked
her. Not before time.
The final nail in her
Cabinet coffin was hammered home when, in the most bitter of ironies, she angrily
threatened to wrest Scotland’s
state schools from local authority control.
reaction – shared by many educationalists, teachers and parents – was relief that
she had finally got something right in a ministerial career littered with faux
pas and folly.
But the sudden and
unexpected rush of goodwill evaporated when she made clear that in seizing
responsibility for schooling from local authorities she intended to hand it
over instead to central government.
When it comes to
education, the lesson should by now be clear to all politicians: the less you
interfere, the greater chances it has of recovering its former reputation as a
The sooner this
process starts the better, for the ground lost by Scottish education –
particularly since the advent of devolution a decade ago - has been catastrophic
not least because of the SNP Government’s failure to keep promises and Ms
A wealth of
evidence proves the unpalatable truth about education in Scotland today.
Friday’s report from the Literacy Commission, which found that around 13,000
children a year are leaving primary school without being functionally literate,
is only the latest piece of damning data. For example, in a major study two
years ago, The Trends in International
Maths and Science Survey [TIMMS], Scottish pupils were ranked only average
in science and below average in maths. Outperforming them were children from
countries such as Latvia, Slovenia, Armenia and, significantly, England. In the
same year, the Holyrood Government’s own Scottish
Survey of Achievement found that more than half [54%] of S2 pupils had
failed to reach the expected level in numeracy, 47% could not write as well as
they should and 57% could not read properly.
One of the most
telling pieces of research was produced earlier this year by the respected
policy think tank Reform Scotland which found that in the 10 year period up to
2006, local authority spending on school education rose by 58% while central
government increased its funding of education by a staggering seven times. Yet
during the same period attainment levels plummeted.
Whatever views you
may have about state education, the message of that one statistic alone is
incontrovertible – the system is failing.
undoubtedly many excellent state schools in Scotland which are well run and
producing acceptable results. The children being let down are those who depend
on state education most – the thousands upon thousands of children condemned to
bad schools, no choice but to accept what they are given. However well it might
perform at the top end of the scale, a system that does not allow that many
youngsters – most of them from disadvantaged backgrounds – to fulfil their
potential must be judged a failure as must the politicians who oversee it.
Only last summer
Graham Donaldson, senior chief inspector of Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of
Education, reported that one in three secondary schools in Scotland was failing
its pupils. Little further need be said.
So how does Mike
Russell, the new Education Secretary, stop the rot that has eroded the very
foundations of our once proud and internationally renowned education system? He
would do us all a service if he started by acknowledging that he and his fellow
politicians face a massive challenge that will require not only radical and
creative thinking but radical and creative action. It will not be met by
endless tinkering and politically-correct initiatives such as the unworkable,
unpopular and now delayed Curriculum for Excellence. Above all, there needs be
a frank admission that teachers are employed to teach and they should be
allowed to get on and do it without endlessly assessing and being assessed.
The clock cannot be
turned back, although I firmly believe that in some contexts learning by rote has
certain distinct advantages, but parental choice and diversity should be the
watchwords of the new Minister. Mr Russell should look hard at other education models
including Trust schools, state funded independents on Swedish lines, the New
Model Schools, the woodland nurseries, and the Parents Network schools in London. We should
advocate looking at anything that would improve standards because
one-size-fits-all doesn’t work. We must take good ideas from wherever they come; it was Lindsay Paterson,
Professor of Education Policy at Edinburgh
University, who stated emphatically
that schools in England
were doing better because of their diversity. He further observed that the influence
of parents was far greater than the influence of schools on a child’s success
which further reinforces the need for greater parental involvement
Why have so many of
the SNP Government’s education pledges failed to materialise? Why has there
been a failure to cut class sizes and maintain teacher numbers? The answer, at
least in part, is that when you tell councils that they can spend and cut as
they wish in return for a politically-motivated freeze on council tax, should
anyone really be surprised when, in the teeth of a recession, teaching jobs are
cut and class sizes therefore are not?
Should we really be
surprised that teachers are becoming increasingly de-motivated when they have
to bear the brunt of ill-conceived, politically-driven schemes that result in
ever more paperwork and less teaching? Even ignoring the hyperbole, when School
Leaders Scotland, the body that represents secondary and deputy heads,
describes Curriculum for Excellence as a ‘nightmare’ and an ‘administrative
quagmire’, surely even Ms Hyslop should have realised that something was wrong.
While the aims of the
Curriculum for Excellence – that is to provide a more coherent, more flexible
and more relevant education system – may be admirable, the programme is so
bound up in bureaucratic mumbo-jumbo that no one, including most teachers, has
the foggiest idea of how it is supposed to work in practice.
Radical change that
is both practical and meaningful is urgently required in our education system. That
is why reformers like welcomed the news that East Lothian Council was thinking
about setting up of community-based trusts to run some of its schools.
Sadly, but perhaps
predictably, the debate that council leader David Berry hoped his idea would
create has stalled behind a wall of negativity and dissent, led principally by
Scottish Labour leader Iain Gray and the Educational Institute of Scotland.
Although Ms Hyslop somewhat
moderated her initial opposition to the proposal (having woken up to the fact
that it was being mooted by a Nationalist-led council), she was, nevertheless,
unwilling to offer the political momentum required to get the debate going. Hopefully,
her successor will not make the same mistake.
What a pity – not
least for Ms Hyslop herself - that her outburst about divesting local
authorities of their control of Scotland’s
schools appeared to be no more than an angry threat, aimed primarily at Glasgow
Council leader Steven Purcell whom she accused of deliberately sabotaging her
How much more
encouraging it would have been had she, for example, acknowledged that many
schools would fare much better were they allowed to conduct their own affairs,
free from the shackles of party political dogma and the dead hand of local
government. How much more respect she might have commanded had she acknowledged
that parents deserved much more choice in where their children were taught. And
how much more people might have listened if she had acknowledged that healthy
competition in schools, as well as between schools, is a virtue and not a
When I set up
Scottish Voice just before the 2007 Scottish Parliament elections, I made it
clear that education should be at the heart of everything we try to do in
More than two years
later nothing has happened to change my mind. The question now is, do our
political masters and Mike Russell especially, have the courage to change, or
are they content to repeat the failures of the past?
deserve so much better.
Herald letter - 25th January 2010
Teachers’ morale will plummet if this is how they are treated for trying to
do their best
At a time when indiscipline in schools is
reaching epidemic proportions and no-one in authority appears to have any
solution, the experience of a teacher in Glasgow who suffered serious injury
while trying to break up a playground fight simply beggars belief (“Teachers
warned over breaking up pupil fights”, The Herald, January 22).
For acting as any caring and responsible
teacher would, she was punched in the mouth and now requires £2500 of dental
work to repair several broken teeth. Serious though that is, it hardly compares
with the metaphorical but excruciating ‘kick in the teeth’ meted out by her
employer, Glasgow City Council.
In a response that underlines just how far the
poison of officialdom and health and safety has penetrated the body politic,
the council has not only declined to meet the cost of her dental treatment but
is refusing her time off to have her teeth fixed. Why? Because according to
Josephine Giblin, the council’s senior claims officer (what magnificent salary,
I wonder, does she command?) the teacher’s claim is invalid since there was no
negligence on the part of the council.
The upshot, apart from the considerable
physical, emotional and financial pain caused, is that all teachers are being
warned to think twice before intervening in fights.
How can any of this be regarded as anything
other than insane? When councils hold their teaching staff in such contempt,
how can we expect schoolchildren to respect their teachers?
Until the dead hand of local government is
lifted from our schools and teachers are allowed to get on and do their jobs
unfettered by interfering and obstructive council busy-bodies, this kind of
madness will continue to infect Scottish education.
Teacher morale will continue to plummet.
School indiscipline will continue to rise as will, no doubt, the salaries of
officials such as Ms Giblin.
Herald letter - 12 January 2010
Danger: Beware the jobsworths kiling your fun
Am I alone in my depression? Is there no-one
out there with a desire to rattle the cages of those third-rate killjoys and
their pedantic adherence to rules and regulations drawn up by yet further ranks
of humourless jobsworths?
Did you read about the scenes at Lochmaben
when police arrived to warn curlers and skaters off the ice but couldn’t do so
because health and safety officials called for the Nith rescue boat, who
couldn’t go on the ice because of health and safety concerns? Do we imagine
that without risk we will live forever? Or will it simply seem like forever
because it is without risk?
It really is time we started mocking all these
busybodies and took our lives back under our own control.
Those at the coalface know more about their
pursuits or professions than anyone else. The nurses know more about nursing,
the teachers know more about teaching, and I am pretty sure the Scottish
curlers know more about curling and ice conditions than any number of health
and safety officials.
If we feel like spending our time on thin ice, then let’s
do so. And before anyone tells us it is unfair on the emergency services, that
is what they are there for, and very grateful to them we should all be.