Feb 172017
 

With thanks to Kenneth Hutchison, Parliamentary Assistant to Dr. Eilidh Whiteford.

Banff and Buchan MP Eilidh Whiteford has hit out, after a leaked UK Government document indicated that fishing is not considered a ‘high’ priority in the upcoming Brexit negotiations.

The document, reportedly leaked by a UK Government source to The Times, was circulated late last year, and indicates that fishing does not make it into a list of ‘high-priority industries’ which would benefit from firm UK negotiating positions.

This list of high-priority sectors includes banking and finance, automotive industries and textiles.

Other sectors which are set to be relegated along with fishing include chemicals, steel, oil and gas, telecoms, and medical industries.

Speaking after the document’s release, Dr Whiteford said:

“If this leaked memo is genuine, it demonstrates quite definitively that the Conservatives’ attitude to fishing has not changed since Edward Heath’s day. The industry is still very much ‘expendable’. From this document, it is quite clear that all eyes in the negotiations will be on banking and finance, and the automotive and aerospace industries.

“Fishing is, once again, being lined up as a pawn to be traded away by the Tories. I have already written to the Secretary of State, Andrea Leadsom, seeking her own comment on this document and asking for assurances that fishing will not serve as a sacrificial lamb for concessions elsewhere.”

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Feb 102017
 

With thanks to Andrew Linklater, Director of Buckny Hydro

The new regime of business rates in Scotland has marked out hydropower for “special punishment”, threatening to end independent development of schemes north of the border, Scottish industry representatives at Alba Energy have warned.

Small hydro-businesses now face an increase in rates of up to 650%, with bills on some sites rising to as much as a quarter of their total turnover.
With some operators facing insolvency, others have been left to calculate the cost of a future in which renewable energy ceases to be financially sustainable.

An average hydro scheme such as the 500kW Buckny Hydro in Perthshire has seen its draft valuation rise from £32,000 to £93,000, a sum that represents 29% of its overall turnover.

The worst hit schemes have seen increases up to seven times their original value, with rateable valuations of up to 50% of turnover. The 1.9MW Ederline scheme on the banks of Loch Awe had a previous valuation of £98,000, now revised upwards to £405,000.

Many in the hydro industry fear that the Scottish Government has abandoned its green agenda. In 2015, while attacking the UK Government for removing subsidies for renewable energy, SNP ministers removed their own system of support. Alba Energy, representing hydro operators in Scotland, accepted the loss of rates relief and argued that the industry should pay its fair share, in line with other businesses.

What Alba says it cannot accept, however, is the “sudden, exponential increase” in valuations now being applied to hydro by assessors – out of all proportion to the economic realities of these sites. While many businesses in Scotland have suffered relative increases, hydro operators are preparing for bills to double, treble, or quadruple.

Martin Foster, Chairman of Alba Energy, said:

“We are not seeking special treatment. We want to know why we have been singled out for special punishment. Hydro is the original renewable energy source: the cleanest, most efficient, least obtrusive and longest-lasting. Yet the Scottish Government has facilitated a rates regime that will cripple the independent hydro industry it once claimed to support – while leaving the big energy companies unaffected.”

Alex Linklater, director of Buckny Hydro, said:

“The new rates regime contradicts the Scottish Government’s own energy strategy. Hydropower is not merely crucial to this strategy; it has brought significant growth to some of our remotest rural communities. As independent operators find themselves threatened with punitive levels of  taxation, we are seeking Government support, until a longer term solution is agreed.

“All Alba is asking for is an equitable model of valuation, one that will allow our industry to remain financially viable, while paying its fair share of rates.”

Scottish Assessors responsible for the revaluation have refused to publish a clear account of the method they are using to calculate the new valuations for hydro. Alba is calling on the SNP Government to rectify an indefensible lack of transparency in the light of “extreme perversities” resulting from the assessors’ system.

Alba will be assisting members to pursue formal appeals against valuations for hydros which have been hit by “off the scale” increases. But Government attempts to deflect criticism onto the appeals system, administered by the independent assessors and funded by local authorities, are being met with skepticism.

An appeal against the Tayside Valuation Board, brought in 2012 (which argued that the assessor had, even then, applied a flawed approach to small hydro) is still awaiting a second determination by the Tayside Appeals Committee – after nearly five years.

For further information contact Martin Foster at Alba Energy, pelton242@icloud.com, 07500 902531, or Alex Linklater, alexlinklater@mac.com, 07956 303 580

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Feb 072017
 

Photo courtesy of Aberdeenshire SNP.

With thanks to Aberdeenshire SNP.

Fears of another sell-out of the fishing industry grew this week with the publication of the UK Government’s White Paper on leaving the EU. 

Chairman of Aberdeenshire Council’s Fisheries Working Group and Fraserburgh SNP councillor Charles Buchan said the brief mention of fishing in the White Paper, which has only 75 pages, gave him great concern that the UK Government was gearing-up to repeat the sell-out of the fishing industry first perpetrated in the 1970s.

Commenting on the development, Cllr Charles Buchan (pictured) said:

“I’m very uneasy about what has been announced in the Tory Government’s White Paper and I know that the Prime Minister’s comment last week about Spanish fishermen has made many people in the industry fearful about what may be coming down the line.

“The bottom line here is that the UK is leaving the EU and I fully support efforts to make the best possible deal from that situation as we can.  The SNP has long-argued to leave the CFP and that will be extremely beneficial to the industry – it represents a “sea of opportunity” as the Scottish Fishermen’s Federation have said.

“What we don’t want or need is for that opportunity to be traded away by the Conservative Government as it did in 1972 because it thinks it can safely use fishing as a bargaining chip in its negotiations.  The pronouncements of the last few days from Westminster make me very fearful we are about to see history repeat itself and we must stop that from happening for the sake of our coastal communities.”

A Scottish Office memo dated 9 November 1970 famously said in relation to the negotiations being conducted by the then Conservative UK Government:

in the wider UK context, they [the fishermen] must be regarded as expendable“.

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Jan 272017
 

With thanks to Kenneth Hutchison, Parliamentary Assistant to Dr. Eilidh Whiteford.

The SNP MP for Banff and Buchan, Eilidh Whiteford, has called for the UK Government to come clean to Parliament following the revelations that the Prime Minister knew of a failed Trident test just weeks before a vote on renewal of the UK’s WMDs last year.
PM Theresa May refused four times on Sunday’s Andrew Marr Show to answer the presenter’s question on whether she knew about the test failure before the vote was taken.

Parliament voted to renew the deterrent, which experts believe could cost more than £200bn.

SNP MPs opposed the renewal, while Labour were divided. Each missile is estimated to cost £17m, and only five tests have been carried out since the year 2000.

During an Urgent Question to the Defence Secretary yesterday, Michael Fallon MP refused to confirm the details of the failed test, whilst a US Official confirmed the information to CNN.

Dr Whiteford said:

“Whilst the Defence Secretary was refusing to confirm any information during today’s Urgent Question, a US official briefed news channel CNN on the details of the failed test mission.

“It is simply not acceptable that the UK Government has not come clean on the facts of this failure, but US press outlets have received an update from officials in the White House.

“The Prime Minister has real questions to answer about why parliament has not learned about this failure until now, despite knowing the about the failure when she came to Parliament to force a vote on the renewal of the deterrent.

“Notwithstanding the immorality and expense of weapons of mass destruction, capable of incinerating cities, the Government’s stonewalling of legitimate questions about whether the system is working properly only fuels concerns about Trident.”

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Nov 222016
 

Ransomware attacks are on the rise; corporations and individuals find their computers suddenly locked until a ransom is paid. The risks to data on such attacked computer systems are serious. Suzanne Kelly used a Freedom of Information request to uncover that the city council experienced a cyber attack.

computer-security-social-media-1679234_1280Despite the city holding data on all 225,000 Aberdeen citizens and area businesses, a malicious ransomware attacker managed to breach the city’s anti-virus and firewall protections.

Ransomware attacks happen when ‘phishing’ emails or spam links allow a programme into a computer system which then locks data away, until the owner of the system pays a ransom or manages to bypass the attack.

The City had been asked:

“Has your organisation ever been the victim of a ransomware attack which meant that an external hacker encrypted a PC or device or network within your organisation and demanded payment in order to decrypt the device?”

They answered that there was one such incident in the past 12 months.

The City had to remove all software from the relevant device; a spokesperson advised:

“We re-imaged the device. Re-imaging is the process of removing all software on a computer and reinstalling everything.”

A subsequent  FOI request will be made to determine if the responsible person or persons were identified, what the cost was to the city, and whether any data could have been accessed, if so what data, and what were the circumstances that allowed the ransomware in.

The City did not record how much money the attacker demanded as a ransom.

The City did not notify the authorities, although blackmail of any kind is a criminal offence, and citizens’ data could have been compromised. Computer World magazine warns that UK institutions are not taking ransomware threats seriously:

“Cyber criminals simply have to infect computer systems with malware designed to lock up critical data by encrypting it and demand ransom in return for the encryption keys.

“The occurrence of ransomware attacks nearly doubled, up by 172%, in the first half of 2016 compared with the whole of 2015, according to a recent report by security firm Trend Micro.

“Ransomware, the report said, is now a prevalent and pervasive threat, with variants designed to attack all levels of the network.

“Cyber criminals spearheading these attacks are creatively evolving on a continuous basis to keep enterprises guessing,” said Raimund Genes, chief technology officer at Trend Micro.

“Ransomware is typically distributed through phishing emails designed to trick recipients into downloading the malware, or through app downloads and compromised websites.”   

Police Scotland offers advice on this kind of crime:

“In order to prevent people becoming victims, Police Scotland is advising every computer user to ensure they are running the latest versions of security software; have their data backed up regularly to cloud services or devices not connected to their computer; be extremely vigilant about opening any unsolicited email; and visiting websites you are not familiar with, or do not have a business need to access.

“DCI Cravens added:

“There is a lot of help available online for both individuals and businesses and useful advice for everyone can be found at: https://www.getsafeonline.org/protecting-your-computer/ransomware/

“For businesses, Cyber Essentials is a new Government-backed and industry supported scheme to guide businesses in protecting themselves against cyber threats, and further information can be found by clicking on http://www.cyberstreetwise.com/cyberessentials/ “”

Picture courtesy of Pixabay: https://pixabay.com/en/social-media-internet-security-1679234/

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May 192016
 

With thanks to Kenneth Hutchison, Parliamentary Assistant to Dr. Eilidh Whiteford

Eilidh Whiteford, Parliament [2015]feat

Banff & Buchan MP Dr Eilidh Whiteford has welcomed the release of the SNP’s Alternative Queen’s Speech at Westminster, saying it offers “a real alternative to Tory austerity.”

The Queen’s Speech today will highlight the Conservative Government’s legislative agenda for the coming year, and will likely include increases to tuition fees at English universities, and a weakening of the prerogatives of the Lords – where the Government has suffered a string of recent setbacks.

Speaking in advance of the Speech, Dr. Whiteford said:

“We now have a situation where the UK Government has failed to meet its own targets on key economic indicators. Debt, deficit, borrowing, productivity, innovation, trade, exports – you name the target, the Tories have missed it. Austerity has choked off economic growth – and the UK’s trade deficit is now at its worst position since 2008.

“The upshot of austerity is that, inevitably, it’s the poorest in society who pay the most. We’re calling for a modest – 0.5% – increase in public spending, which would help mitigate the worst impacts of austerity, and boost economic growth.

“The only way to tackle the deficit is to grow the economy, and it’s a lesson this Government has singularly failed to take on board. Choking off investment when it’s needed most is economic madness.

“With Labour mired in in-fighting, the SNP represents the only real alternative to a Tory Government. We want a fairer country, and that’s what we’ll keep fighting for at Westminster.”

Other proposals in the SNP’s Alternative Queen’s Speech include:

  • measures to boost exports
  • a Fair Tax Bill to crack down on tax evasion
  • a real Home Rule Bill, including devolution of social security, corporation tax, broadcasting and resource management
  • reform of Westminster, with replacement of the House of Lords by a democratically elected second chamber
  • an end to arms exports to Saudi Arabia.

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May 162016
 

Eilidh Whiteford, Parliament [2015]featWith thanks to Kenneth Hutchison, Parliamentary Assistant to Dr. Eilidh Whiteford

Women campaigning for fair pensions ‘deserve a fair hearing’, according to the SNP’s Pensions Spokesperson, Dr Eilidh Whiteford. The comments come following a meeting between MPs and campaigners representing Women Against State Pension Inequality.

WASPI represent thousands of women born in the 1950s, who have now been hit twice by increases to the retirement age.

To date, the UK Government has announced no compensatory schemes for those who will lose out as a result of the changes.

While the SNP believes that the state pension age should indeed be equalised, the party has criticised the manner in which the UK Government has implemented its changes, in the face of significant opposition from opposition parliamentarians and civil society.

Speaking after the meeting with WASPI campaigners at Westminster, Dr Whiteford said:

“It is profoundly unfair that these ladies have worked their whole lives, only to be told that their retirement age is being raised not once, but twice. They deserve a fair hearing from the UK Government.

“The UK Government has railroaded these changes through parliament without heeding the real impact this will have on women born in the 1950s. Stephen Crabb’s statement to parliament seems to indicate that there’s still no change whatsoever to the Government’s position.

“Constituents affected by these changes should be assured, however, that I and my fellow SNP MPs will continue to keep pressure on the Tories to look again at how these changes are implemented.”

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Feb 012016
 

With thanks to Kenneth Hutchison, Parliamentary Assistant to Dr. Eilidh Whiteford MP

EW with BrewDog reps

Eilidh Whiteford visits the BrewDog stall.

BANFF & BUCHAN MP Eilidh Whiteford has thanked local employers for a huge show of support at a jobs fair at North East Scotland College.

The  fair was organised for the benefit of workers at the Youngs’ fish processing factory in Fraserburgh, where hundreds have faced redundancy following a downturn in the company’s business.

Last month, the Taskforce established by the Scottish Government met with key local stakeholders at the town’s leisure centre, to discuss the jobs fair and other ideas to help rejuvenate the local economy.

Although a number of those affected have found alternative employment elsewhere within the fish processing industry, the fair was designed to bring other local employers in touch with skilled workers.

Around three hundred people attended, with over two hundred vacancies advertised. A number of local businesses were represented at the event, along with Armed Forces recruitment and public sector bodies. The Scottish Government’s Partnership Action for Continuing Employment team arranged translators, while supporting organisations providing advice to those affected by the redundancies.

Dr Whiteford said:

“These are uncertain times for people affected by redundancies at Young’s, but this event provided an opportunity for those seeking work to apply for current vacancies in a range of sectors, and to access advice about training and support. It’s important that those who have lost their jobs get all the support that’s available. It was great to see so many local employers here looking to recruit new staff.

The day has been a great success, and I would like to thank the local employers and agencies who have made it possible. I would also like to thank Skills Development Scotland and NESCOL for making the event possible.”

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Jan 202016
 

With thanks to Suzanne Kelly.

Suzanne Kelly fights her way through the hordes.

Trump Ban Petitioner, Suzanne Kelly.

Suzanne Kelly launched the petition requesting that Donald Trump be banned from the UK for his hate speech, as so many others have before. An unprecedented number of signatures – 570,000 – triggered the Westminster debate.

The debate took place on Monday 18 January, which also happened to be Martin Luther King Day.

Suzanne said afterwards:

“It was a pleasure to see so many of the speakers condemn Mr. Trump and his hate speech.  Some of those who spoke helpfully referred to the cases in the United States where people have committed violent acts or intended to, where Donald Trump’s speech had been the clear source of inspiration.”

“Teresa May still has it in her power to put the ban on Donald Trump; The Public Order Act 1986 has been used to ban over 80 people so far, and to me Mr. Trump’s words put him squarely in that category in my opinion, and in the opinions of some of the MPs.”

“It was surprising and disappointing to see that MP Paul Flynn, tasked with introducing the debate, decided to go to the media in advance of the debate and announce he was against the ban. I found that unethical, even though Flynn and the Petitions Committee apparently have no issue with it. I believe this sent a message to his party members and others to follow suit. 

“Moreover, if the member of the Petitions Committee charged with introducing my petition and my points did not support them, how robust a job could he be expected to do? Initially Flynn told me not to contact him when I wrote to him with the details of the arguments in favour of the ban. He did not believe he should communicate with me because of his role on the committee. The Petitions Committee disagreed with him. 

“What I found improper was his comments against any ban coming less than 24 hours before the debate. He hadn’t done me the basic courtesy of letting me know he was speaking out about the petition in advance. Therefore I lost an opportunity to counter him. Flynn’s amazingly idealistic concept of convincing Trump that multiculturalism works by taking Trump out to meet people is ridiculous. 

“If Flynn has that little handle on Trump’s  make-up, then he was not the person to lead the discussions. While he made some of my points, I hardly thought his presentation looked or sounded robust. Perhaps the Petitions Committee might reconsider how a petition is introduced in future.

“Flynn’s position was also that to ban Trump might potentially advantage him / make him seem a ‘martyr’ to some of his followers. I would have thought upholding British law would have come first to an MP. However it seems that second-guessing any potential outcomes of applying the law of the land overrides any duty to uphold the law for some.

“Thankfully some speakers were aware of the difference between hate speech and free speech. There were excellent points made by those who supported the petition. Others chose, somewhat disingenuously I thought, to decide that the requested ban on Trump was somehow an assault on Freedom of Speech. I wonder where those impassioned speakers were when it came to the 80+ people the UK has previously banned, and if they will now seek to overturn the historic bans against hate preachers.

“Some MPs seemed to fear that banning Trump was an attack on the US / that we should not meddle in US politics. How they came to the conclusion that this matter of UK law was less important than taking a stand against hate speech would be interesting to hear.

“However, virtually everyone who spoke had the harshest of words for Trump. ‘Buffoon’ seemed the word of the hour. It was good to see that there is a widespread condemnation of Trump’s policies.

“Sarah Malone-Bates, Trump’s spokesperson issued a statement which was to me feeble as well as hypocritical. She bemoaned the cost of this exercise to taxpayers, saying we were wasting valuable Parliamentary time. Perhaps it’s a case of amnesia or ignorance, but with her employer dragging the Scottish taxpayer through every court in the land in his selfish desire to scupper an important offshore wind farm project, I think Malone-Bates would find that Trump has cost far more money and time than the debate did.

I think the desire of 570,000 people to have the debate is just a bit more important than Trump costing Aberdeenshire money, time, clean energy and work in the clean energy sector.  She’s claimed that ‘hundreds of millions of pounds’ are being ‘pumped’ by Trump into the Scottish economy. 

“I’ve asked for sight of the proof of this wild claim; it’s not forthcoming, nor is a response to my request to have a live debate with her on the issues, which still stands.”

“I would like to thank the Petitions Committee administrators, who were very helpful throughout. Thanks too to the media for their interest and support. Thanks to Aberdeen Voice especially Fred Wilkinson, editor, and Julie Thompson who has worked on a number of stories with me. Gratitude goes to the MPs who understood the law and the purpose of the petition and who spoke eloquently; gratitude to those MPs opposed who nevertheless in some cases made useful comments.

“Finally, thanks very much to the people who took the time to sign this petition.

“Sometimes the system works. I see this petition and the debate as huge victories. Trump has lost his Global Scot status, his business is apparently no longer wanted in much of the Middle East; his honorary degree from Robert Gordon University was withdrawn, and Trump branded goods are being axed from shops.  If this is a defeat for me, I’ll live with it.”

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Jan 142016
 

Alex-Salmond-MP-MSPthm-Credit-SNP-AberdeenshireWith thanks to Tom Collins, Press Officer, Rt. Hon. Alex Salmond MP MSP

Alex Salmond has responded to the latest comments from Donald Trump. Referring to Mr Salmond as ‘an embarrassment to Scotland’ and a ‘stupid man’, Trump defended his purchase of Turnberry golf course and issued scathing criticism of Salmond pertaining to his support of windfarms, and the early release of convicted Lockerbie bomber Abdelbaset al-Megrahi.

Mr Salmond said:

“The problem for Mr Trump lies not with his golf courses, but with him. The golf courses are excellent. ‘The Donald’ isn’t.
 
“Unfortunately, his claims of the level of future investment in Scotland bear no resemblance to the reality of the last eight years. His ownership of Turnburry places it effectively out of The Open Championship circuit at a cost of £100 million to the Scottish economy. His legal objections to wind demonstrators in Aberdeen have thus far deprived the North East of Scotland of a vital £200 million diversification into offshore wind technology at a time of great difficulty in oil and gas.
 
“However, the real difficulty is his recent statements on Mexicans and Muslims, which go beyond the pale of acceptable comment and an association with him is increasingly damaging to Scotland. That is why over half a million people have signed the parliamentary petition seeking to ban him from the country!
 
“As far as his remarks to me are concerned, I have fought and won nine elections. Mr Trump has yet to win one.
 
“On his remarks about Abdelbaset al-Megrahi, he is out of date. Megrahi’s release was in 2009. Since then, the SNP has won an overall majority in the Scottish Parliament and 56 seats out of 59 in a UK General Election. On Megrahi, Trump is like a cracked gramophone record playing in a digital age.
 
“Although, I have to admit it is very easy to issue statement after statement, tit for tat. I suggest instead Mr Trump calls into LBC next Wednesday at 16:00 (GMT), where he can ask me anything he likes. The number is +44 (0)345 60 60 973. If he has a beef I’ll be happy to take his call. We’ll see if debating here is as easy as debating over there!”

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