Diary of MSP Alex Fergusson

Referendum

So now we know. After 18 months of posturing and rhetoric, there will be a referendum on Scotland’s constitutional future on 2014. Bring it on, I say! But, at last, agreement has been reached between our London and Edinburgh governments and we can now get down to the proper debate on the pros and cons of independence. Or can we?

The pro-independence case is based on four essential positions. They are: the ability to hold a referendum, a seamless transition to continued membership of the EU, the retention of the pound with the Bank of England as our financial authority and, finally, continued membership of NATO (with the removal of nuclear weapons from Scotland).

As has become clear over the past week, the only one of these four positions that is now universally accepted and agreed is the first. We now know that, despite Alex Salmond’s bold assertions that legal advice had been taken on continued EU membership, it hasn’t been. And, if it has taken the SNP until now to ask that question, there is no chance it will have sought advice on retaining either the pound or membership of NATO.

On these three vital issues, Scottish ministers have never been short on assertions that all will be well – that we will cruise into the EU as a full member state, that of course we will be able to keep the pound (despite the fact that any new member state has to adopt the euro) and that NATO is waiting to welcome us with open arms. Yet those assertions now look pretty hollow, and they do the credibility of those who have been making them no good.

The debate we need over the next two years cannot be based on assertions and promises. It must be based on facts, backed up by legal opinion and agreed by the other organisations, bodies and parties involved. Anything else will portray the case for independence as a simple con-trick. Then again, that is what I think it has been all along!

Abundance for a fiver!

One of the frequent concerns about wind farms is: “Well, we all have to pay for renewable energy through our bills, but the benefit just goes to landowners and the communities where the wind farms are located.” There is a degree of truth in that, so I was intrigued to come across a relatively new company seeking to ensure everyone can benefit from renewable energy. The idea is that you purchase a “debenture”, through the company – named Abundance – which is then repaid over an agreed number of years, with interest. The money that is invested in debentures is then used by Abundance to invest in renewable energy projects.

How can this benefit everybody? Because you can invest as little as a fiver, and I think it is great that you can. So I congratulate the directors who came up with this idea – one of whom has roots in Dumfries and Galloway – and I wish it every success. If you’re interested, just google Abundance.

Poppy and veterans

It is that time of year again – when the poppy collectors are out and we are asked to give freely to remember those who were killed or injured protecting our freedom. And quite right too. However, the poppy appeal is not just about remembering – increasingly the money is used for caring for those extraordinary people who have been injured, mentally and physically, in the course of their duty and to whom we owe so much.

Last year’s appeal, despite the economic recession that grips us still, in Scotland raised an incredible 17% more than the previous one, taking the total to £2.68 million. It would be wonderful to think we can hit the £3 million mark.

During the last Scottish Parliament, a cross-party group on armed forces veterans was formed. Through that group, Veterans Champions are now appointed by every council in Scotland, creating a base through which we can try to ensure veterans are treated the same across the country when it comes to services. Sadly, the MSP who first proposed, and then convened, the group lost his seat in 2011, and I have felt very privileged to take on his role.

As convener of the group, I wrote to every council leader after last year’s elections asking them to prioritise the appointment of Veterans Champions, and I attended a meeting last month in Edinburgh at which the new Champions were briefed.

I have been stunned at both the speed with which the appointments have been made by cand by the enthusiasm of the new Champions. It bodes well for the future so, when you see that red poppy tin in the next few days, give generously.

Cockling again

Much has been written and said over the past year or so about the potential of cockling for our local economy and the need to control poaching. I have always maintained the best way to control illegal cockling is to promote legal cockling and I was delighted to attend a meeting in Dumfries recently between Marine Scotland (effectively the Scottish Government) and about 50 enthusiastic cocklers – which just goes to prove there is a clear financial attraction!

However, the one thing that shone through was Marine Scotland’s determination to get a management structure agreed to allow the fishery to re-open. The two words most used in relation to that management structure were “local” and “sustainable”, and I now begin to believe a new local, sustainable industry could get underway next year. There is great potential, not just for a cockle fishery, but also for an aquaculture industry on the Solway. This could be the start of something good.

Make a Difference Day

Every year I am asked to participate in Barnardo’s “make a difference” day, so I was delighted to spend time in Barnardo’s Stranraer shop last week. It is the third time I have done this, and what has become notable is the commitment of not just the paid staff at the shop, but of the volunteers. Many of the items in the shop are brand new, having never been worn, read, listened to or played with by the original owner, but everything on sale is of excellent quality.

Go and have a look – it really can make a difference.

In search of Paddington

Mrs F and I took advantage of the parliament’s October recess to visit our son and his family in Lima, Peru – the home of Paddington Bear and two of our grand-daughters! It is much easier having children and grandchildren living abroad once you have been there and can more easily visualise the environment in which they live and work, and Lima is a fascinating city. Economically booming (largely on the back of Peru’s mineral wealth) the residents can be separated into those who have (not many) and those who have not (about 10 million). The haves have a great deal, while most of those who havenots have virtually nothing. The gap between rich and poor is massive, as can be seen by the shanty towns right next to the multi-storeyed glass-encased symbols of economic boomtime springing up.

It is great to see the “boom”, but scary to see the lot of those left behind.