Gillies Hill

•13. April 2011 • Leave a Comment

Our top candidate for Mid Scotland and Fife, Mark Ruskell, has pledged to pursue a legal change in the Scottish Parliament which could spell the end for plans to destroy Stirling’s precious Gillies Hill area for quarrying.

Mark’s proposed change to the Environmental Impact Assessment (Scotland) Regulations would force Environmental Impact Assessments (EIAs) to be required retrospectively for quarry developments where Local Authorities failed to request an EIA before issuing planning consent.

In 2002 Stirling Council failed to request an EIA when the mineral consent for Gillies Hill was being reviewed, leaving the devastating potential impact of the quarry extension ignored.

In England, the Court of Appeal has held that approvals for pre-1948 ‘old mineral permissions’ require a full EIA, establishing this in law. The Scottish Green Party believes that the next session of the Scottish Parliament should amend Scots law to bring it into line with this precedent.

Mark Ruskell said:

“Forcing Hanson to go back to the table to produce an Environmental Assessment showing the true and devastating impact of their quarry would be a major blow against this development. A simple amendment to a very minor piece of legislation at Holyrood is all that is required to bring about this change. The SNP Government made changes to these laws in 2009, but didn’t take the opportunity to amend them to support Gillies Hill. If I’m re-elected to Holyrood, I will look to make this change.

“For too long corporate interests have used and abused the law to push through developments at any cost to our communities. Gillies Hill is a precious asset in its own right which is also loved and enjoyed by many of us who live across the Stirling area. I love biking through the woods, but sometimes just to sit and enjoy the peace and the wildlife is very special, the quarry would destroy this forever. We have to use every tool in the box to stop the quarry extension, including by strengthening protections in law if need be.”

Just say no

•5. April 2011 • Leave a Comment

UKIP were in town at the weekend. It might have been interesting, in a Louis Theroux’s Weird Weekends sort of way, to see what they were on about, but spending Sunday afternoon in the company of arch-Eurosceptics would be few people’s idea of fun.

The general view is that UKIP have one policy, and that if you asked them why you can’t buy Spangles any more, they’d probably blame Brussels. However, it is worth rummaging around to look at what else they stand for. For example, on climate change, they propose – wait for it – a Royal Commission to “determine the truth behind man-made global warming“. Yes, because we just can’t trust all those scientists. We clearly need a Royal Commission, comprising the finest minds in the British Empire, to decide that climate change is just something The Independent made up.

So perhaps it’s time to pull an old post out of the archives (hey, if they can repeat old episodes of Have I Got News For You and Mock The Week, then we can surely get some mileage out of Stirling Greens Gold). This one’s from May 2009, when the party campaigning to get us out of Europe were campaigning to get themselves elected to the (ahem) European Parliament…

It is not so unusual for politicians to switch their allegiances, but rarely does it happen when they’ve been dead more than forty years. In the early 20th Century Winston Churchill crossed the floor from the Conservatives to the Liberals and back again; now it seems he has left the Tories once more to spearhead the UK Independence Party’s European election campaign. It is obvious UKIP have lacked a recognisable media-friendly figure ever since Kilroy jumped ship, but aren’t there rules governing this sort of thing? One would think that having “Scotland’s best-known horse whisperer” as a candidate and the glittering celebrity endorsements of Frank Carson and Rusty Lee (ask your parents) would remove the need to co-opt the deceased for electioneering purposes, but no.

Looking at their election flyer, “no” seems to the key word for UKIP. Their pink and yellow leaflet (with black and white photo of a v-signing Churchill) gives four things to say no to: the European Union, unlimited immigration, our £40m daily EU bill and “EU control of our lives”. As if to avoid all doubt as to whom we should direct our sulky defiance, each NO is shown as a little EU flag, with the circle of twelve stars forming the Os. It’s so negative you wonder if there’s anything they are actually in favour of (apart from UK independence, obviously).

From their list of policies we learn that they would like to freeze immigration, speed up deportation of illegal immigrants, tear up the Human Rights Act, increase defence spending and “stop persecuting motorists”. They would also replace the current income tax system with a flat tax, an idea the Tories flirted with, then quickly abandoned a few years ago. Everyone earning over £10,000 a year would pay tax at exactly the same rate, regardless of whether they made just a few pence more than the ten grand threshold or the large wheelbarrows of cash Premier League footballers take home every week. It would essentially be a massive tax cut for the rich. For all their blether about how “the future of our nation” should be decided by “those of us who live here”, it is odd that they overlook the fact that, for the last 100 years – since Lloyd George’s “People’s Budget” of 1909, championed by a certain Winston Churchill, incidentally – the British people have supported the idea of progressive income tax whereby the rich pay a higher proportion of their income than the poor.

UKIP are also pro-nuclear. They see nuclear power stations and “clean coal” as our energy sources of the future, certainly not wind farms, which are “visually intrusive” and “noisy”. The party is also sceptical of global warming, stating that it is unproven and that “the security, happiness and prosperity of the nation are too important to be thrown away in the pursuit of illusory aims… It is therefore foolish at present to commit substantial resources and impose harsh restrictions purely in the cause of reducing CO2 emissions”. At least you can’t accuse them of greenwash, unless the bit about encouraging recycling was just spin. It seems the one environmental policy they are really proud of is their idea to “limit environmental pressure from an increasing population by controlling immigration”. In fact, their “vision” concludes with the reassurance that “our party has a full range of policies including a firm line on immigration”. That tells you pretty much all you need to know about the party David Cameron astutely described as “fruitcakes, loonies and closet racists“.

With yet more astonishing disclosures about MPs’ expenses continuing to creep out (a duck island, anyone?), UKIP hope to capitalise on increasing disenchantment with the major parties. “Put your country before any political party and lend UKIP your vote”, they beg, as if they themselves weren’t actually a political party with a full range of policies including a firm line on immigration, blah blah blah. (Having “Party” in your name is also a bit of a giveaway). Here’s a better idea. Vote Green.

Vote for a party with an ethical and responsible stance on immigration and human rights. Vote for a party that understands environmental issues and is determined to do something about them. Vote for a party that cares about equality, fairness and social justice. Working together with other members of the European Green Party, a Scottish Green MEP can make a positive difference to improve quality of life in Scotland and Europe.

As for grumpy, uncooperative, Eurosceptic UKIP, just say no.

Guess who’s back, back again

•4. April 2011 • Leave a Comment

You will be relieved to know that the dispute between the Stirling Greens and the chattering monkeys to whom the writing of this blog is subcontracted has now been resolved. Hurrah.

So, what’s been happening during those long cold months when we’ve been haggling over bananas and bonus payments for using big, clever-sounding words? Well, among other things, we’ve got a new badge. Nice, isn’t it? More importantly, we are now hurtling towards the final month of the 2011 Scottish Parliament election campaign.

We’re campaigning in Mid Scotland and Fife, and our candidates, led by Mark Ruskell and Hilary Charles, are working to increase Green representation in Holyrood. The Scottish Greens are putting forward a manifesto based on fairer taxes as an alternative to the coalition government’s programme of savage cuts, protection for essential public services and a more sustainable Scotland. You can download our spring newspaper, Better Nation, for more details of the campaign, and if you are able to help in any way – for example, delivering campaign materials in your area, displaying a poster, making a donation – please get in touch. Your support is vital!

In this extract from Better Nation, Mark Ruskell discusses his approach to politics and how the Greens can make a difference…

Why are you standing again for election to the Scottish Parliament? 

Mark Ruskell: I believe the Green approach offers a bold, progressive and honest type of politics, and this is needed more than ever. The opportunity to give voters that choice is very exciting. As an MSP I learnt a great deal about how Holyrood works and I’m passionate about using the Parliament creatively to change lives for the better.

I am not afraid to put myself and my political career on the line to make that happen. I think some of our supporters who switched to other parties last time round will look back on the last four years and ask, what has really changed for the better?

How did you make a difference the last time you represented Mid Scotland and Fife?

MR: I led the successful campaign in Parliament against ship-to-ship oil transfers in the Firth of Forth, brought forward legislation on climate change and regulation of GM crops, and supported campaigns on issues as diverse as community land ownership, fair prices for farmers, rail station re-openings, support for the voluntary sector, animal welfare and stopping Trident.

If the Greens are in a strong position of influence after 5. May I think I could achieve a lot more for communities across the region the second time round.

How can the Greens ‘win’ at this election? Won’t you be squeezed out by big parties like Labour and the SNP?

MR: The biggest party in the Scottish Parliament will never be able to govern alone because of the way the proportional voting system works. Our two Green MSPs who currently sit in Parliament have been able to use their crucial votes to make demands on, for example, action for warm homes.

Even with small numbers we can be influential, but only if enough people split their votes and use their 2nd or regional vote for the Greens.

You talk about honest politics, but how can we be sure you wouldn’t compromise your policies like the Lib Dems have done?

MR: I know many people including personal friends who voted Liberal Democrat in the last Westminster election, but were shocked at how key polices such as student fees, maintaining public services and proportional voting were dropped by them in coalition. Politics often needs compromise, but parties need to be upfront as to what areas they may negotiate on in entering a coalition and what policies are off limits.

What are the big issues that you think the Greens – if elected – can make a difference on after 5. May?

MR: We have all the big parties in Scotland now arguing for cuts in public spending, which will be disastrous for the economy and for the most vulnerable in our society. Many people are now losing their jobs as a result, while investment in areas of business growth such as housing and renewable energy is lacking. Scotland needs to play its role in reducing the deficit, but we also need to find ways to raise more tax revenue using the parliament’s powers in a fair and progressive way.

Buy a fleet of subs with the money we’ve got?

•17. September 2010 • Leave a Comment

There has been some debate in the local press recently concerning the replacement of Trident. Following yesterday’s news that the final decision on spending billions on shiny new nuclear weapons could be delayed until after the next general election, it is worth restating a few of the principal objections to replacing Britain’s weapons of mass destruction.

First and foremost, Trident is actually illegal under international law, as the 1995 pronouncement of the International Court of Justice makes clear. The determination to replace it typifies the UK government’s pick-and-choose approach to humanitarian law. The boffins at Aldermaston – in cahoots with their Los Alamos colleagues – are currently working on the revised warhead design for the replacement system in clear breach of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

While Trident has always been a foul, indiscriminate and utterly unacceptable weapon system, it no longer makes strategic sense within the limited parameters of military thinking. It was designed to smash Soviet cities in a cold war turned red hot. It is plainly unsuitable for the current situation in which our biggest threats are not unfriendly superpowers but networks of small, radical terrorist cells.

Then there is cost. It is simply obscene to lay billions and billions and billions aside for Trident when we are in severe recession.

Arguments about an uncertain future and rogue states must also be countered. On a domestic scale, such reasoning would justify keeping a flame-thrower in the cupboard under the stairs to deal with burglars.We have to turn away from paranoid vigilantism and move towards a more mature understanding that our future depends on mutual trust and co-operation.

Our leaders must surely know that the arguments they present for Trident do not convince. The reason for defying logic by clinging on to Trident is simply a pathetic determination to retain some kind of big-boy status for the UK. Simply put, it is a fear of national castration.

Instead, let us aspire to a genuine and respected standing in the world, based on our willingness to take a lead on building the only kind of security that will have any long-term validity: security based on a recognition for the need to work together to address the genuine threats of poverty and environmental devastation.

Rather than squander billions on weapons of mass destruction – let’s not resort to insincere euphemisms such as “deterrent” – it is time the UK redirects its engineering expertise from military hardware to the industries of the future, starting with renewable energy.

You gotta make it happen

•6. August 2010 • Leave a Comment

In some strange parallel universe, we’re probably really busy right now, mulling over the finer points of a devastatingly innovative conference motion proposing a moratorium on daytime TV. Think of the carbon savings! In the spirit of the legendary kids’ show, Why Don’t You?, it would also make everyone Go Out And Do Something Less Boring Instead, which can only be a good thing. Would anyone really miss Jeremy Kyle and all those programmes about bric-a-brac auctions? Anyway, this radical idea isn’t likely to feature at our annual conference, which will take place from 5-7. November at Napier University’s Craiglockhart campus in Edinburgh.

“Green Scotland: Making It Happen” will feature discussion and debate with Green co-leader Patrick Harvie; Robin Harper MSP; the UK’s first Green MP, Caroline Lucas; Harriet Lamb, Chief Executive of the Fair Trade Foundation; Edinburgh councillor Alison Johnstone; land reform campaigner Andy Wightman; and – a bit of local interest here – founder of Going Carbon Neutral Stirling, Rachel Nunn.

Breakout sessions hosted by leading campaign organisations including Shelter Scotland, the Electoral Commission, Amnesty International and Children in Scotland will be held throughout the weekend. We’d like to say that live music will be provided by Arcade Fire, Kylie Minogue and Prince, but again, that would only be in a strange parallel universe.

This is the Scottish Green Party’s main event of the year and all members are encouraged to attend! Further information – a nice little information leaflet and booking form – can be obtained from the Edinburgh Greens.

As we prepare for the Holyrood elections, we have a crucial opportunity to present a positive and inspiring vision of how genuine Green policies would transform Scotland for the better. Book your place at this year’s conference and let’s get ready to make it happen!

The twits

•26. July 2010 • Leave a Comment

Hello. Hope you’re enjoying your summer. Yes, it has been a few weeks since our last post, but suffice to say we’ve been quite entertained by the World Cup, the Tour de France and the local chap from Dunblane who did rather well in the tennis. Oh, and the European Championship athletics start tomorrow…

Several news stories have caught our attention recently. Disturbingly, the gap between life expectancy of the rich and the poor is greater now than at any time since records began. David Cameron’s coalition government isn’t as green as was promised (not an encouraging start for the “greenest government ever“). Stirling Albion has been bought by the Supporter’s Trust, subject to formal approval by members (votes in by Wednesday, folks!). Missing former Prime Minister Gordon Brown has been found. The government is to “save” £3m a year by scrapping the Sustainable Development Commission, whose final report found that hundreds of millions of pounds could be saved if government departments wasted less fuel and energy. And then there’s Stirling Council’s Local Development Plan

With all this going on, we really ought to start using the internet to vent short bursts of opinion.

Our arrival on Twitter may be as timely as that of the Great Prophet Zarquon in “The Restaurant At The End Of The Universe”, but at least you can’t accuse us of rushing to join in with every passing fad. There is, after all, the nagging suspicion that Twitter is just another way to waste time: today’s equivalent of CB radio in the early Eighties but with the added thrill of Stephen Fry telling the world every time he has a cup of tea.

And then there are the politicians. As well as those who use the service to exercise sheer stupidity (making David Cameron’s careless “too many twits” quip seem particularly shrewd), there are others who not only put you off Twitter but make you want to cancel your broadband subscription too. The Miliband brothers, for example, seem remarkably adept at making 140-character messages read as though you’re trapped in a stuffy room while an especially tedious speech drones on beyond the two-hour mark. It really is difficult to adequately describe the feelings of soul-crushing ennui one suffers whenever The Independent reprints their “tweets”.

Having said that, we’ve been won over by the benefits of Twitter. It’s another way of networking and sharing information, and it gives the potential for short, sharp updates on what we’re up to. If you’ve already signed up, you can now follow us @stirlinggreens (once again, apologies to our Clackmannanshire readership for having to shorten the name). We’ll keep you informed of local campaigns, events and updates to our website, and you’ll get all the news in the run up to next year’s Scottish Parliament election. You can also use Twitter to tell us about any local issues in your area.

Follow us and we’ll promise not to tweet at the dinner table.

Regeneration

•16. June 2010 • Leave a Comment

Asking who’d love to see a rejuvenated and enhanced town centre in Dunblane is akin to asking who would like free money.

Last year’s Community Views survey revealed concerns over a High Street variously described as “run-down” or “dead”: respondents noted a lack of decent cafés or restaurants and a poor choice of shops. In answer to “Dunblane would be a better place if…”, there was clear desire for a revitalised town centre area. In fact, the number one priority indentified in the survey was regeneration of the High Street and Stirling road.

Of course, creating a vibrant, attractive town centre with a diverse selection of local shops and services is easier said than done. Any ideas to build a strong, self-reliant local economy ought to be given a fair hearing, and it is essential that the town’s residents are able to voice their opinions.

This brings us to a public exhibition to be held in the Victoria Hall on 29 and 30. June (11am-8pm). Is a new supermarket – to be built on part of the golf course – the key to rejuvenating the town centre? We are sceptical. Apart from the chance to stick a tenner on the 3.30 at Wolverhampton, a large supermarket will provide all the goods and services currently available on the High Street, and in all likelihood, undercut local retailers at the same time. Not exactly ideal conditions for the hip and groovy town centre that survey respondents wanted to see.

Whether or not you share our reservations, if you want a better High Street that meets the needs and aspirations of the local community, please go along to the exhibition, listen to the developers and tell them what you think.

 
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