Apr 062012
 

Suzanne Kelly, Independent candidate for Torry/Ferryhill in Aberdeen City’s Council elections, speaks out against the Green Party for its apathy over the controversial Tullos Hill roe deer cull, in light of the Greens fielding a candidate in Torry/Ferryhill.

When I was with the Green Party, I explained clearly on several occasions what was wrong with this cull and Aberdeen City’s ‘tree for every citizen’ scheme.

However, the Greens decided that the party was not going to take a stand on this, one of the most controversial environmental and democratic issues in the city.

Some of the longer-serving Green party members sympathised with me, but there were newer members who didn’t see what the big deal was with the city shooting these deer.

I couldn’t believe it, as I’d previously explained and written in detail that the trees are unlikely to grow and the cull is flawed. People wrote to the Greens to ask for their stance on the matter, but still the party didn’t want to stand up against this cull.

I have been campaigning actively to stop this specific roe deer cull for over a year. The Scottish SPCA branded the Tullos cull ‘abhorrent and absurd’ for killing deer to protect trees which don’t even exist yet. Many other animal welfare groups oppose this cull, and thousands of people have signed petitions against it.

Three community councils condemned the consultation and cull last year, and more recently these councils sent an open letter to the city, asking for the scheme to be halted. I don’t believe the trees will grow, as the hill’s soil is very scant and the ground cleared for the planting is extremely rocky, and is covered in industrial and domestic waste (there is a soil report by government officials which confirms this).

Three community councils object to the cull and the city’s so-called ‘consultation’ on the tree scheme. The consultation did not mention deer at all (but it did cover rabbits and rabbit fencing). The consultation also failed to say that a massive 89,000 trees would be put on the hill. No one in the area wants it – and even though the city has started, the opposition will continue.

I’d been writing about this issue for some time, and The Green Party knew that the cull was specifically to plant trees and not for deer welfare issues. I am so very disappointed in the Green Party over this issue.

The Aberdeen Green Party is running a candidate against me in the May elections. I have a chain of emails between members of the Green Party and me from this time last year. Some of the Greens’ comments include:

“I don’t think the party as such should have a position. I certainly don’t want to get involved in this”

“I don’t understand why these 30 deer (or whatever number it actually is) are so different and attracting so much attention.”

“Also within a relatively few miles of Tullos are large numbers of cattle and sheep that will be killed so people can eat them. We do not have a policy of enforced vegetarianism.”

This last statement was particularly, amazingly patronising, and the remark is completely off the point of why these deer are to be killed.

There was no way I was going to stay in the Green Party after this. For a party calling itself ‘green’ to stand idly by while a meadow and its wildlife was destroyed was beyond the pale. How they can possibly stand for election in Torry and expect me to stay silent about their stance is something I can’t understand either.

I have previously explained to a local member and a national member that I would have to publicise how the Greens view Tullos Hill. I did give fair warning that I would go public about how they decided to look the other way concerning Tullos.

I’m happy to have competition in this election, but people need to know the Greens could have helped when it mattered – and didn’t. If I stay quiet, some people will simply think the Greens must care about the hill and the deer – I have to let them know the truth.

The elections are to be held on 3rd May. Torry and Ferryhill will be represented by four city councillors.

I served on the Torry Community Council for three years, and I have always been involved in helping people in my area and further afield whether it be fighting school closures, charity work, or helping some of our older people. One of the newer local Green Party ‘higher-ups’ apparently said ‘Suzanne doesn’t stand a chance of winning.’ Well, I am determined to prove them wrong.

Apr 062012
 

In response to Suzanne Kelly’s article in this week’s issue The Scottish Green Party, Aberdeen and Aberdeenshire Branch have issued the following statement.

Suzanne Kelly’s article is factually inaccurate and misleading.

For the record, while Ms Kelly has now decided she wants to be an independent candidate, in 2010 it was her wish to stand as the Green Party’s candidate for the Torry/Ferryhill ward.
The local Green Party branch agreed to support her candidature.

In June 2011, Ms Kelly advised the Green Party branch that she was resigning as candidate, with great regret, due to a change in personal circumstances. In her resignation e-mail, she expressed great admiration for the help and support she had received as a candidate and offered to help distribute another Green candidate’s leaflets.

She remained a party member. Early this year, it became known Ms Kelly now again wished to stand in the Torry/Ferryhill ward, but as an independent. She was advised that Green Party rules meant she would need the Party’s consent to stand as an independent and this would not be given to stand against a duly selected Green Party candidate. Ms Kelly then wrote to say ‘sadly’ she had decided to resign from the Scottish Green Party.

Ms Kelly is now campaigning for her own election. In her article for Aberdeen Voice, referring to events in the early part of 2011, Ms Kelly claims,

“There was no way I was going to stay in the Green Party after this.”

Not true. She did stay in the Green Party after that, for nearly a year. She offered to help with Green Party campaigning. She resigned from the Party, expressing regret at doing so, in January 2012. The claims Ms Kelly is making now about the Green Party cannot be reconciled with her statements at the time.

We do not know why Ms Kelly took her successive decisions about standing and not standing for the Council. We do know her claims in respect of her dealings with the Green Party are not consistent with the facts.

Apr 062012
 

If you are of the opinion that the City Garden Project controversy was all about what flavour of city centre park Aberdeen should have – think again. There seems to have been a much bigger picture involved here, and the politics are murky.  Mike Shepherd writes.

The power of the print media in shaping opinion

The public referendum has been held, and the City Garden Project won by the smallest of margins: 52-48%. Feelings are still poisonous in the city, as it is clear that a marginal result was swung by dubious means.

On the City Garden Project side, unregistered groups spent a disproportionately large sum of money on campaign material, whereas the officially registered groups were restricted to spending about £8,000 only.

Some of the claims made by supporters of the City Garden Project were outrageous and substantially misleading. One newspaper advert is now being investigated by the Advertising Standards Authority.

Even Aberdeen Council were responsible for punting a justification for the City Garden Project with the questionable claim that a new park could create 6,500 new jobs in the city.

The local papers showed a bias in favour of Sir Ian Wood’s project and framed their reports to show one side in a much better light than the other (“Yes, vote for change” or “No, don’t vote for change”). Ludicrous claims were accepted uncritically – such as oil companies leaving Aberdeen if the scheme did not go ahead.

I had been advised by an expert that:

 “Newspapers are very powerful at shaping public opinion”

and:

 “You will need the support of a PR company during the campaign.”

It was very good advice, but in practice not something that a campaign group of limited influence and funds could realistically put in place. Yet, it was clear from canvassing in the street that the combined effort of relentless advertising, the glossy brochures and the press bias was having an effect.
Whereas many would stop and give me a considered analysis of how they would vote, a large minority were reflecting City Garden propaganda back at me, phrases recognizable from glossy brochures or Evening Express headlines.

Our society today is witnessing a battle between democracy and political lobbyists / PR companies. Out of this, democracy is not doing that well. It’s a shock to see this writ large in Aberdeen, but at least the Gardens Referendum result has made this crystal clear to any thinking person in the city.

Local politics

After two years of campaigning to keep the Gardens, I have been able to observe how local politics works. It is clear that the current council administration is very business friendly and they will tend to make decisions that primarily favour business interests. At just about every council meeting you will hear the phrase “Aberdeen is open for business.”

Local democracy commonly involves a conflict between what business wants and what is in the interests of the general public. For example, if Aberdeen Airport is allowed to land flights at night, Dyce residents will get woken up by the noise. The conflict between business and public interests came to the fore after the consultation on Sir Ian Wood’s scheme two years ago. Over 50 local businessmen wrote to the council asking for the result to be ignored:

‘due to misunderstanding of the project among the public’

and an ‘inability’ to appreciate its impact. The council – to their shame – did this. The current Council administration (an SNP / Lib Dem coalition) appears to favour business almost every time.

There are a number of reasons why business gets its own way with the council. Many councillors are instinctively business friendly and will tend to support projects that are favoured by local commercial interests. This is certainly true of the Conservatives on the council and of many councillors from the other parties too.

There is also a powerful business lobby. Businessmen make up two thirds of the Aberdeen City and Shire Economic Forum (ACSEF), a “public-private partnership that drives economic development in the region”. Funded by both Aberdeen City and Aberdeenshire Councils, ACSEF is a non-elected body that have been given a significant degree of control over local economic policy. There is no doubt that ACSEF exerts power and influence over the activities of both councils.

  advanced societies work by a system of checks and balances between moneyed interests and the public regard

ACSEF were involved with the City Garden Project in the early days and described it as one of their flagship projects. Two of the board members, including the Chairman Tom Smith, are directors of the Aberdeen City Garden Trust, the group that organised the architectural competition and who hope to take the project forward to completion.

Extensive networking appears to go on amongst the “great and the good”. Politicians, local businessmen, council officials and senior figures in local organisations turn up and meet at parties, functions, charity events and business meetings. One Freedom of Information request gives an indication of how much hospitality is provided to council officials for instance:
http://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/76531/response/199821

To the worldly wise, this will not come as a surprise. However, advanced societies work by a system of checks and balances between moneyed interests and the public regard. This does not appear to be working too well in Aberdeen.

The SNP and the City Garden Project

The SNP have been intimately involved with the City Garden Project since its inception. Alex Salmond was present at the project launch  in 2008.
http://www.eveningexpress.co.uk/Article.aspx/933616

But only recently have both Alex Salmond and Callum McCaig, the SNP leader in the council, explicitly endorsed the City Garden Project.

Yet, the majority of SNP councillors have supported it throughout (the notable exception being Clr. Muriel Jaffray). This is clear from the voting records every time the project has come up for debate in the Council. The SNP support has been instrumental for the progress of the City Garden Project through successive council votes.

  Major businessmen such as David Murray, Brian Souter, Jim McColl and Martin Gilbert have now endorsed the SNP.

The SNP have a reputation for populist politics and it may seem surprising that they have embraced such a controversial project for the city. I believe that there is a much bigger picture here, and one that takes precedent over local politics. The SNP are essentially a single-issue party; they want independence for Scotland. The realpolitik of the SNP is that much of what they do is focussed towards this end.

A key aim for the SNP has been to secure the support of major business figures in Scotland. This is partly financial; the party has no natural source of funds apart from membership fees, but they are also trying to secure influence leading up to and beyond any independence date. Major businessmen such as David Murray, Brian Souter, Jim McColl and Martin Gilbert have now endorsed the SNP.

Sir Brian Souter, founder of the bus company Stagecoach, caused controversy when he donated £500,000 to the SNP in 2007. Shortly afterwards, the SNP dropped an election commitment to bus re-regulation, although they denied that there was any connection to Sir Brian Souter’s donation.

Sir Ian Wood has not given open support to the SNP, yet the SNP continue to court the billionaire’s favour. Not only has Alex Salmond given his own backing to the City Garden Project, the machinery of Government has also been used to bankroll the scheme.

Scottish Enterprise funded the public consultation two years ago and also allowed grant money to be used for the technical feasibility study. Although the public rejected Sir Ian Wood’s project in the consultation, it didn’t stop Scottish Enterprise from giving Aberdeen City Garden Trust £375,000 of public money from its available funds for major infrastructure projects.

Another niggly problem has been the concerns of Audit Scotland

The Scottish Government are keen to provide investment money for the project through TIF funding. Yet it has been established that the initial proposal did not rank very highly by comparison to other investment and infrastructure projects elsewhere in Scotland.

The Scottish Futures Trust, who carried out the ranking, has refused to make their calculations public in spite of Freedom of Information requests to do so. Another niggly problem has been the concerns of Audit Scotland, who have questioned the long term capability of the indebted Aberdeen Council to pay back a risky loan for the project.

The proposed use of valuable investment and infrastructure funds for something as trivial as building a new park is shocking. The business case is dubious and the council can’t afford the risk. Political considerations seem to have taken precedence to a strict business evaluation on the Aberdeen TIF case.

Sir Ian Wood discussed independence recently and gave an indication of what he wants from the Scottish Government:

“The Wood Group will not endorse a Yes or No vote on independence. But Sir Ian added: “What’s key is the extent to which our clients, and to some extent ourselves, anticipate that a Scottish Government would continue with a similar oil and gas policy to the UK.

“The suggestion right now, from the discussions I’ve heard, is that there’s a lot of overlap between the present Scottish Government’s thinking on the development of the oil and gas industry and the UK government’s thinking.”

He went on:

 “What’s important – and I think the First Minister realises this – is that they must provide as much clarity as possible over the next two years towards the vote in 2014, so that we minimise the uncertainty.”
http://www.scotsman.com/captains-of-industry-and-finance-join-clamour-for-clarity

I have no doubt that this will happen.

The SNP are hoping to secure a majority at the council elections on May 3rd. This is possible, but as a one-issue party they tend to do better in national elections than local elections. They are also heavily identified with the Union Terrace Gardens issue and this appeared to have cost them votes in the Scottish elections last year.
https://aberdeenvoice.com/2011/05/the-election-the-utg-effect/

If they do not get a majority, this raises the intriguing possibility of an administration run by a Labour-SNP coalition. The Lib-Dems are likely to see their vote collapse outside the West End of the city. The Labour group are vehemently opposed to the City Garden Project and it could be that a condition for agreeing to form a coalition is that the scheme is dropped.

The “Union” in Union Terrace Gardens refers to the union of the United Kingdom and Ireland in 1800. Perhaps it is ironic that the park has ostensibly become a pawn in the big game of Scottish independence. It would be immensely sad if this was the case. Aberdeen’s heritage could end up sacrificed for the sake of political wheeling and dealing.

This would not bode well for a future Scotland. As Paul Scofield, playing Thomas More, said in A Man For All Seasons:

“I think that when statesmen forsake their own private conscience for the sake of their public duties, they lead their country by a short route to chaos.”

Apr 062012
 

A report on the UTG referendum was discussed at a meeting of full council on Wednesday with a view to it being approved before being sent to the Scottish Government. Friends of Union Terrace Gardens chairman Mike Shepherd was permitted to give a deputation. Aberden voice presents Mike’s deputation in full.

“I was allowed to give a deputation here in January when I said that the FoUTG would agree to take part in a referendum if it was fair.

We agreed to the referendum in spite of the shameful behaviour of this council in ignoring the result of the public consultation two years ago. We agreed for two reasons.

First, we saw the CGP as a juggernaut pushed through relentlessly by business and a friendly council. There were only two options to stop this; either through the referendum or legal action. We chose the referendum.

Secondly, we chose this route through public spirit. We were only too aware of the poisonous attitudes building on both sides of the issue. Aberdeen was at war with itself. A fair referendum was the only way of killing this beast.

I also told the council that the referendum would have to be fair because implicit in taking part was that we accepted the final result, whatever it was. This was said in good faith.

THIS WAS NOT A FAIR REFERENDUM!

We do not accept the result. The process was flawed. Internet and phone voting should not have been allowed as without signatures, this was open to fraud. The Green party have also asked me to complain about their shortened message in the information pack that was sent out.

The City Garden Project supporters were allowed to spend tens of thousands of pounds on PR, newspapers, leaflets and radio ads. This money spent on advertising bought a marginal result for the referendum.

The ads were often misleading and in some instances blatantly so. We were told of a bogus £182M investment, consisting of a bogus £15M of private investment and a bogus £20M Art Gallery grant which didn’t exist. One misleading ad is under investigation by the Advertising Standards Authority.

This council also misled the public. The claim that a new park could create 6,500 jobs was utterly ludicrous. They did not explain the risks of borrowing through TIF properly, even when Audit Scotland expressed their concerns about the long term implications for the Council’s finances.

You are £618M in debt, you cannot afford the risk on further borrowing.

The council were partial to one side of the referendum. The ACGT were allowed to show a video in the Art Gallery, council property, yet we were excluded until after several days of complaint on the matter.

This was a dishonest referendum. The public were misled right up the City Garden path. The council should vote to ignore the result. Furthermore, this report should not be passed onto the Scottish Government as suggested. The proposal to spend valuable investment and infrastructure money on something as trivial as a new park is a disgrace.

We do not accept the result of the referendum and we intend to carry on campaigning to save Union Terrace Gardens. Thank you.”

Evening Express report here.  http://www.eveningexpress.co.uk/Article.aspx

Mar 152012
 

With thanks to Suzanne Kelly.

A new cloud covers the controversial Union Terrace Gardens Referendum today, as a care home worker came forward with concerns about postal votes sent to a residential home.

The worker, who wishes to remain anonymous, approached Aberdeen Voice to say that over a dozen postal vote envelopes arrived at one residential home – but when the worker went to retrieve them a short time later – they were not where they had been left. No one at the residence seemed to know precisely what became of them.   The concern is whether or not the residents’ votes were properly distributed and managed.  The matter is still being looked into, and no allegation of wrong-doing has been made at this stage.

Aberdeen Voice’s Suzanne Kelly is researching further, and contacted the elections officer, and the other recognised campaigning organisations on the issue.

Kelly asked the elections officer for the marked Register to be checked with a view to how many care home residents returned votes, and whether there are any unusual voting patterns.  However, the elections officer’s position is that “it would be illegal for me to provide this in terms of the Representation of the People(Scotland) Regulations 2001.”  In an election relevant parties would normally  be able to view the marked Register.

Crawford Langley, the Elections Officer for the Union Terrace Gardens referendum vote, previously contacted the police over potential postal vote fraud in May 2005 when he was elections officer and a small number (between 6 and 12) of anomalies arose, where people appeared not to have received their postal vote forms.

Langley was quoted at the time as saying:

“We are talking about a very small number but, given the publicity elsewhere and the tight ship we run in elections in Aberdeen, it was sufficiently unusual that I needed to do something about it.”

The controversial referendum, which was over the future of Aberdeen’s Victorian Union Terrace Gardens, gave residents a choice to either ‘retain’ the gardens, or to endorse a £140 million pound scheme called the Granite Web. This entails the city obtaining a £70 million pound TIF loan, which will be matched by Sir Ian Wood / The Wood Family Trust (£50 million), £5 million from an anonymous donor, and another £15 from as-yet unnamed private sources. The TIF scheme is still in trial stages in Scotland.

many feel the media bombardment influenced the vote

The referendum was dogged by controversy. Official campaigning groups were entitled to place a 300 word essay into the voting pack, and had to adhere to strict expenditure limits.

The Green Party’s statement was not printed in full. Also controversial were the actions of a ‘secretive’ group (as described by a BiG Partnership employee) known as ‘Vote for the City Gardens Project.’ This federation of businessmen and women, who prefer to remain anonymous, are thought to have spent tens of thousand of pounds to promote the City Garden Project Granite Web.

Their glossy, A3 full colour brochure went to households in Aberdeenshire which were not eligible to vote as well as to City residents. The group also issued a four-page newspaper format item, and had several full-page spreads in the local press. Local radio stations broadcast pro City Garden Project commercials. None of the officially recognised campaigning groups would have been able to afford such a campaign, and many feel the media bombardment influenced the vote.

The materials produced by the group used projections by PriceWaterhouse Coopers to claim the scheme would create over 6,500 permanent jobs and mean £122 million to the local economy every year until 2023. Those who tried to contest these projections being used as fact found that the Vote for the City Gardens Project group was not accountable either to the elections officer or the Advertising Standards Agency. Other points of contention have been brought to the election officer’s notice as well.

Willie Young of the Labour Party, who were an official campaigning organisation, had this to say:

“We really do need to see the mark register so we can prove to ourselves that the referendum was run correctly. In a democracy we need checks and balances and the Electoral Commission is clear that those involved in an election should be given access to the mark register. I am not suggesting anything is untoward, but it is our right to make sure that it isn’t. We are baffled by the stance taken by the counting officer”.

Suzanne Kelly commented:

“It is abundantly clear to me why my source wishes to stay anonymous. They are keen to continue in the job they love, and are all too aware of what can happen to a whistle-blower. This issue is still being investigated, but I thought bringing it to the election officer’s attention immediately was the right thing to do.  This is why we need to check the votes sent to all of our residential care homes – we must ensure no one has been exploited and no votes have gone astray. Were all the votes sent to the homes used, and if not, what percentage went unused? Did the vote split at the residential homes echo the nearly 50–50 split the total vote saw? If not, then further research will be needed.

There is at present no allegation of any wrong doing by any individual – but it is clear that we need to have the transparency we were always promised concerning Union Terrace Gardens, but which we so sadly lacked. We’ve seen redacted minutes – minutes where lines of text have been ‘blacked out’ to keep the public in the dark. Why should there be any secrecy over what is common good land?”

Kelly was chair of one of the recognised campaigning organisations (‘Democracy Watch’) and has been liaising with other campaigners; a number of issues remain over the referendum, and these will be reviewed soon.

Mar 092012
 

Referendums, deer culls, employers telling employees how to vote, services cuts, classroom assistants under threat.  Old Susannah cuts to the heart of the matter and ponders upcoming Lord Provost parties.

Tally Ho!  It’s been a boring week in Aberdeen; referendums, deer culls, habitation destruction and other criminal activity notwithstanding.  I will write a column over the weekend once a few conditions have hopefully been met.

First, I need to find something important and local to write about, and second – I must find an outfit to wear for the Lord Provost’s upcoming parties.  I’ll need everything from some evening gowns to designer jeans for the nearly £28,000 worth of partying just approved by the ‘Lord Provost Sub Committee’ – and that’s on top of the £4,000 party to launch his £9,000 portrait. I am sure my invitations will arrive shortly.

At the time of writing it is not clear whether residents of a home for people with paralysis issues are still being told not to drink too much fluid at night and buy rubber mattresses, as their overnight on-site assistants are no longer affordable.  Perhaps Lord Provost Stephen will invite some of them to one of his little get-togethers.

Hopefully my party invitatins from the Lord Provost  won’t arrive as late as the bundles of postal votes which showed up too late to be counted in the aforementioned referendum.  Hard luck, eh?  Kind of reminds me of when I personally handed in 63 individual postcards protesting the deer cull to the city’s Town House – only to get a letter from Valerie Watts saying she’d had a total of less than 40 from all sources.  But it would be wrong to mention that, or the deer cull.

Unfortunately national media are about to cover the cull, with one reporter telling me this tree planting/deer cull is ‘bizarre’.  Clearly only Aileen HoMalone (newly crowned queen of the Lib Dems – not counting Nick Clegg), Pete Leonard and Ian Tallboys can understand the importance of ripping up existing habitat to expose industrial waste and rocks on which to plant trees that can’t possibly thrive.  The rest of us are thick.

Being busy with the important business of buying new outfits for all the upcoming Lord Provost events means there’s no time for a column just yet, but don’t despair  – the link below will take you to a spread sheet you can download to keep as a little gift.  This shows how our favourite councillors have voted over Union Terrace Gardens and culling deer – with plenty of room for you to fill in the results of your favourite votes as well.

This may be a handly little reminder when it comes time to vote of who is dynamic, forward-thinking and so on.

Here is the link:  http://oldsusannahsjournal.yolasite.com/

You will also find an additional present with this spread sheet – Old Susannah has made her own portrait of the Lord Provost, complete with wife and glamorous security guard.  I would be happy to sell it for less than £9,000, and rather than holding a £4,000 drinks party to celebrate my artwork, I’d happily go down to BrewDog for a pint instead.

So that’s it for now – more in a few days, if I can find some subject matter.  Cheerio!

Feb 202012
 

Aberdeen and Aberdeenshire Green Party is to complain to Aberdeen City Council over mistakes in the mailing and online information for voters in the Union Terrace Gardens referendum. Aberdeen and Aberdeenshire Green Party is one of seven groups participating in the referendum process in support of retaining Union Terrace Gardens. With thanks to Martin Ford.

As a registered ‘campaigning organisation’, the Green Party was entitled to have a 300-word statement included in the information pack sent out to voters. However, in the information posted out to voters by the City Council, about half of the Green Party’s statement is missing. Only the first five paragraphs are there, while the last six paragraphs are omitted.

There is also a word missing from the half of the statement that is included. The contact information given for the Party is not the contact information provided to the City Council for use in the referendum mailing.

Voters in the referendum can vote online at:
www.votesecurely.com/aberdeen

The statements provided by the various registered campaigning organisations are also included in the online information. As with the printed information sent to voters by post, about half the Green Party’s statement is missing.

It is reported that some of the statement submitted by Aberdeen Against Austerity, another campaigning organisation in favour of retaining Union Terrace Gardens, is also missing from the online information for voters. Another two statements run into one another without a break, so could appear to be one statement.

Commenting, the vice-convenor of Aberdeen and Aberdeenshire Green Party, Rhonda Reekie, said:

“I find it quite incredible that multiple mistakes could have been made in the referendum mailing. Wasn’t the material proof read? Even the most cursory check would surely have revealed that six whole paragraphs were missing from our statement.

“This is not good enough. This referendum is important and must be fairly and competently conducted. What has happened is not fair.

“Errors on this scale amount to gross incompetence by the City Council. The Green Party will be complaining to the Council in the strongest terms.”

The Green Party’s full statement can be read by voters on the party’s own website:
http://aberdeen.scottishgreens.org.uk/    

Contacts:  

Rhonda Reekie 01224 714135;
Martin Ford 01224 790052.

Jan 122012
 

On January 2nd an Aberdeen-based member of Scottish Palestine Solidarity Campaign (SPSC) took part in a new project to re-plant trees in previously devastated areas of Palestine.  Dave Black, along with other members of the Stop the JNF international delegation, joined individuals from a nearby refugee camp, trade union representatives, youth activists, Stop the Wall campaigners and representatives of political parties. The group planted 111 trees, representing the number of years that the Jewish National Fund (JNF) has been in existence, playing a key role in Israel’s policy of displacing and dispossessing Palestinians.

The JNF controls land that the organisation openly decrees is solely for the benefit of Jewish people; non-Jewish people are not able to live or work on the land and it can only be sold or rented to Jewish people.
The organisation is a quasi-governmental one, with extremely close ties to the state; it is often referred to as a para-statal organisation.

Despite the JNF’s clearly discriminatory policies, the Israeli state maintains this strong relationship with the organisation.

The trees were planted in Tulkarem district, formerly one of the richest and most important districts of Palestine. In 1948, most of its lands were taken and dozens of villages destroyed. The JNF played a key role in the destruction of some of these villages and the ethnic cleansing of their population.

The land where the trees have been planted, in the city of Tulkarem, was historically part of the agricultural land of the city. However, in 2002 the Israeli military bulldozed the entire stretch of land, supposedly for “security reasons”.  Tulkarem has also been one of the districts most affected byIsrael’s illegal separation wall, which has destroyed some 8.4 square kilometres of olive and other fruit trees, 37.3 km of water networks, 15 km of agricultural roads, as well as irrigated agricultural land in Tulkarem, Qalqiliya and Jenin districts.

Despite poor weather on the day there was a large turnout and the event was welcomed by those involved.  A representative from the Palestinian Farmer’s Union explained the importance of such events that bring different groups together:

“the participation of farmers, youth groups, friends from various organisations and others increases belief in the justice of our cause and the belief that we are not working alone against the Occupation. The land that was so important land to us was uprooted by the Occupation”. 

He also added that the event was timely because of the ongoing attacks by settlers on Palestinian land.

Aberdeen’s ties to the project were already significant as the local branch of SPSC last year raised £650 for the Plant-a-Tree in Palestine project.

Over 5 days the group walked 84 miles along the path of Hadrian’s Wall, raising awareness of the Stop the JNF campaign and also of the separation wall.

The group’s efforts went towards funding the planting event in Tulkarem.  It is hoped that the Plant-a-Tree in Palestine project will build to support the ongoing struggle of Palestinians to rebuild by providing resources for villages to plant trees that are indigenous to Palestine’s natural environment and agricultural life.

The delegation included members of Palestine solidarity and campaign groups in Scotland, England, the United States, France, Austria, as well as a representative of Midlothian Trade Unions Council.  The main activity of the delegation was 5 days of fact-finding and educational visits around Israel and the West Bank, followed by the day of tree planting in Tulkarem.

The group visited Al-Araqib in the Naqab/Negev desert, a Bedouin village which has been destroyed 33 times since July 22nd 2010.  The trees of the village have been destroyed and thus the village’s livelihood and the JNF has been instrumental in displacing the Bedouin people of this area.

Within clear view of the village that remains is the Ambassadors Forest, one of the JNF’s many forests in Israel.  As the delegation spoke with villagers, including the sheikh of the village, a truck drove by on the sandy, desert road.  The truck was on its way to provide water for the new JNF trees; the wrong trees planted at the wrong time, thus requiring much additional water.  The village of Al Araqib has no water supplied to it, but instead villages have to watch trucks drive past on their way to irrigate trees that are steadily taking over their land.

The group also spoke to a staff member of the UK ambassador’s officer in Israel, who was visiting the village in preparation for the visit of the British ambassador and Parliament Under Secretary of State Alistair Burt.

The chance meeting allowed the British members of the delegation to raise the issue of the UK’s complicity with the JNF and Israeli crimes, and specifically Early Day Motion (1677) which was tabled last year and currently has over 50 signatories.

The Early Day Motion outlines the discriminatory nature of the JNF and calls for the revocation of the JNF’s charity status in the UK.  The motion also criticises the Prime Minister’s patronage of the JNF, a situation which was addressed for the first time since the foundation of the JNF when David Cameron stepped down as patron last year.

For the first time since its creation not one of the three main party leaders in the UK are patrons of the organisation.

Later in the week delegates visited refugees in Ramallah (in the West Bank) who had originally lived in the Palestinian village of Imwas.  The refugees told the group the fate of their village in 1967 when it was overrun by Israeli forces set on taking the Latrun Salient, a hillside seen as a key strategic target.

Photos were shown, taken from exactly the same position, that illustrated the dramatic changes to the village and land in the 1960s and 70s.  The first photo showed part of the thriving village, the final one showing what is now known as Canada Park.

Canada Park is one of the many parks and forests that JNF has been responsible for establishing in Israel, or in this case Israel and the West Bank.  Sections of the park, such as where the village of Imwas once stood, are within the Palestinian side of the “Green line”, or armistice line drawn up at the end of the 1967 war.  However, there is no sign of this and almost all visitors to the park remain oblivious, nor is it explained that the walls of the park entrance are built with the bricks of the houses of Imwas.

Delegates visited the park along with Said, a direct descendant of a family which was displaced from Imwas.  Said stood with his own children at the remains of his father’s house, now only the barest of remnants.  The group was also shown the other remaining evidence of the village: unmarked, unprotected memories scattered around the archaeological set-piece of Roman Baths for tourists to enjoy.  The gravestones of villagers stand just a few feet from one of the park’s picnic benches – a stark, chilling image.

Another JNF park, British park, was also visited.  This was of special interest to the UK participants on the delegation.

The park is built over 2 Palestinian villages: Ajjur and Zakariyya. The villages were 2 of the roughly 500 villages where massacres and forced population transfer of Palestinians from their lands in 1948.

This period is known by Palestinians as the Nakba – Arabic for “catastrophe”.

The JNF played a key part in planning the Nakba and then went on to expropriate the land of Palestinian refugees and proceeded to build parks, such as British Park, on the land using funds raised by the JNF around the world.

In 1948 the village of Ajjur was populated by 3000 people. Three of the original houses of Ajjur remain today, including what was previously a clinic and is now a winery serving the new Israeli towns that now intersperse British Park.  Where the market of Ajjur once stood is now inhabited by a play-park and some, presumably, “British” sheep; a favourite picnic spot for those visiting British Park.

On the fifth day of the delegation the group visited Al-Walaja, a town that was established in the West Bank after the original village of Walaja was destroyed; the JNF went on to build the Kennedy memorial on the land.  After years of living in caves near the original town, the new town was established and former residents could return to some form of normality.  Normality, that is, until the development of Israel’s illegal Separation Wall, which is set to once again devastate the village.

The wall is still under construction and already surrounds much of the town, but when complete will completely surround the town.  Residents will be forced to use an access road controlled by the Israeli military if they wish to leave. This wall will cut residents off from much of their agricultural land, and will inevitably lead to displacement away from the town as residents look to find viable employment.

The locations visited by the delegation left those involved in no doubt of the JNF’s deep complicity in crimes against Palestinians, past and present.

Witnessing the situation that faces so many Palestinians inevitably shocked, saddened and deeply moved those involved.

However, none of the delegates failed to be inspired and in awe of the resistance of the Palestinian people who fail to lie down and accept the injustice that has been forced upon them.

Many different forms of resistance were seen, some large and obvious and some more subtle but no less impressive.  The commitment to resistance of those that were encounters served to emphasise the important of the ongoing efforts around the world to show solidarity with Palestinians, such as the Boycott, Sanctions and Divestment campaign against Israel.

The Plant-a-Tree in Palestine project is one such way in which people can resist the injustices enforced by the JNF and the Israeli government.

The project will never be able to compete with the financial clout of the JNF and the 240 million trees that this has allowed the organisation to plant in Israel and the West Bank.  However, the project does allow a positive way to act against such crimes, enabling Palestinians to resist ongoing attempts at dispossession.

As Stop the Wall Co-ordinator Jamal Juma pointed out, it is also serves as an ideal way to educate those affected, Palestinians young and old, about the role of the JNF in the dispossession of their homes.  The project also offers great potential for future collaboration between Palestinians and the international community to take part in non-violent resistance against the Israeli government’s attempts to entrench the illegal occupation of the West Bank, dispossess Palestinians within Israel of even more of their lands, and take away the rights, enshrined in international law, of 7 million refugees to return to their homes in Israel.

For more on the Stop the JNF campaign:   www.stopthejnf.org
Join the Palestine campaign in Aberdeen:  Aberdeen@scottishpsc.org.uk
Visit:
 www.Facebook.com/Spscaberdeen

Dec 152011
 

With thanks to Aberdeen Forward and Zero Waste Scotland.

Volunteers working with environmental charity Aberdeen Forward and Zero Waste Scotland are calling on locals to make sure they are not throwing good food in the bin this Christmas.  The average household could save as much as £430 a year by stamping out food waste, and at least £18 million of edible food is thrown in the bin in Scotland every year.

Zero Waste Volunteers in the North East are now encouraging local residents to find out more about how to reduce food waste.  For more tips to reduce food waste and save money, visit www.wasteawarelovefood.org.uk.

Gillian Marr, Zero Waste Scotland’s Volunteer Coordinator for Grampian, said:

“There are a number of simple steps which everyone can take to stop food going to waste. 

“Begin by thinking about the meals you’d like to eat over Christmas, planning the ingredients you will need and writing a shopping list.  By planning meals, you can build in ideas for making tasty meals from any leftovers you might have. 

“Remember to make the most of your freezer and pay attention to the use by dates on the things you buy.  Many items, such as hard cheese and mashed potatoes, can be frozen and reused at a later date which saves on time and stops you throwing food you’ve spent good money on in the bin.  Storing your food to keep it at its best can prevent things from spoiling. 

“Thinking about how many guests you will have could also prevent you buying or cooking too much.  A perfect portion planner is available from www.wasteawarelovefood.org.uk  which advises on how much you need to make healthy-sized meals and snacks for both adults and children.

“Finally, for all the vegetable peelings and fruit trimmings you can’t avoid put these to good use, remember to use your compost bin to make a rich fertiliser you can use in the garden.”

Zero Waste Scotland’s Christmas Food Saver Tips

To help local families make the most of the food they buy over Christmas, Zero Waste Scotland’s Love Food Hate Waste Team shares some tips about how to turn your Christmas Dinner into a waste-less treat:

  • Write a list before you do that big Christmas shop to prevent over-buying in the supermarkets
  • Use the perfect portion planner at www.wasteawarelovefood.org.uk to plan how much you need to feed your guests
  • Freeze the carcass of your turkey to make a tasty stock for soup later
  • Don’t bin the leftovers of your turkey, they will be tasty on a sandwich on Boxing Day or make them into another delicious meal, like turkey curry.  You could even freeze leftover meat for later too.
  • Store those Christmas vegetables in the fridge to make sure they stay fresh long after Christmas day.  If you don’t get round to eating them in time, boil them up and freeze them in individual portions to enjoy your own home-made ready meals in January
  • If you’ve got leftovers from dessert, whipped cream can be frozen too or turn your Christmas pudding into a strudel or use leftover fruit and dessert sauces to make brownies
  • Even leftover party food can be frozen and enjoyed in packed lunches when the festive season ends.

For further information about Zero Waste Scotland contact:

Nicola McGovern, Press & PR Manager
Tel: 01786 468890
Mob: 07540 516156
E-mail:  nicola.mcgovern@zerowastescotland.org.uk

Image credit © Marilyn Barbone | Dreamstime.com ….. 78

Dec 012011
 

Old Susannah looks back at the week that was, who said what to whom about what, and wonders what Saint Andrew would have made of it all.

Happy St Andrew’s Day! Old Suz is having haggis and whisky, or ‘swishky’ as the man at the next table is calling it. St Andrew’s Day reminds us of our national identity, more on that later. I read that Aberdeen is climbing up the list of ‘best places to live in the world’ and has reached the dazzling height of No. 52.

Well done everyone! And that’s before we get our glowing stadium at Loirston or our giant glass worm. We’ll be number 51 in the world before you know it.  Apparently factors like our low crime level feed into how the ratings are calculated. Congratulations to us all for living in this desirable paradise.

These statistics may or may not include the small minority of people who aren’t rolling in dosh like most of us are. The statistics on crime may or may not be being ‘massaged’ – after all, the top brass get nice bonuses if the crime levels are low. How could I think such a thing? Well, the newspapers this week may have something to do with it.

We’ve had a charming man just sent to prison; he kicked a four-year-old child in the head. Fair enough, they had been having an argument apparently.  You know what these toddlers can be like.

Another similar humanitarian’s gone down for 3 years for robbing children of their pocket money and jewellery, threatening to ‘slash’ some of them. The fact the victims were boys, girls and an autistic person just show that this particular thief was running his business in a non-discriminatory way.  He should be congratulated really. To be even more inclusive, this particular robber tried putting on a ‘Scouse’ accent.

Perhaps his career is inspiring to young people – a nine year old’s been caught stealing a car as well.  You’re never too young to learn.  I wonder if he at least brought a child safety seat on the job with him?

We’ve had older people robbed, conned and abused. Yes, in our 21st Century world, Aberdeen is the 52nd best place to live.  I’d say ‘safe as houses’, but we’ve had burglaries and fire-raising in the news as well.  Still, statistics don’t lie, and if there are experts who say we’re no. 52 in the planet, who are we to question it.

I heard something about some disruptive elements holding something called a ‘strike’. I just hope this won’t affect our place in the world quality standing. I can’t for the life of me see why anyone in such a highly-ranked city would have any reasons for unhappiness, although frozen salaries, cut pensions, closed schools, closed recreational facilities, cut school lessons, cut services and cuts to care homes might play a small role.

Someone should look into this.  Maybe if we just all looked at the brand new festive lights on Union Street, the rest of it wouldn’t matter so much.

That nice Mr Jeremy Clarkson had a solution for these ‘striking’ workers – he apparently said on air that he’d have them all shot in front of their families.  He thinks they get great pensions.  Please be a bit patient and don’t judge Mr Clarkson too harshly.  He’s got to work for a living, and probably only has a modest pension to look forward to.

It is not like him to be intolerant of other people, and as it’s the season of good will (or is it the season of ‘buy one get one free’ – I can never remember), let’s let Jeremy off the hook. We should be more tolerant, like he is.

Perhaps it’s time for some definitions.

Nationalism: (noun), The belief that a person or thing’s national origin is its most important and most defining characteristic.

Incidents of racism and nationalism are on the rise – not just in the UK at large, but here in 52nd best city, Aberdeen. Still, it’s important to remember just how important a person’s nationality is. If Donald Trump hadn’t reminded us that he has a granny from Skye, we might not have given his development the wink and the nod.

Pretty soon we’ll have the number one golf course in the world near the 52nd greatest city: it will be like paradise on earth. Believe it or not, on my mother’s side I can trace my direct ancestry all the way back to King Duncan, King Alexander and St Margaret of Scotland.

Armed with this information, I intend to ask Alex Salmond to give me privileges as well.  Maybe someone will even sell me some land in Westhills for a fraction of its value. National origin is where it’s at.

Of course if someone’s not Scottish, it’s OK to discriminate against them and you can always tell someone’s national origin by looking at them.

We know what a pure Scottish person looks like because of their Scottish characteristics. These Scottish traits come from the Egyptian princess Scota (for whom the country may be named). They also come from the Phoenicians who sailed here, the Celts who came here and the Vikings, Danes, and Norsemen who raided now and then. These pure Scottish traits also come from the Picts, and the Romans (whatever they may have done for us).

Later on continental settlers from travellers and sailors to kings and queens came from the continent. St Colomba came from Ireland, and the movement of people between Ireland and Scotland was massive. So yes – be proud you’re Scottish. After all, it’s not like a Scot is some kind of foreigner or something.

We could learn a lot from that nice lady on Youtube who had a wee bit of a go at foreigners coming over here to live.  It’s only been going on for three and a half thousand years or more as far as I can tell.  The lady in question is now helping the police with their enquiries.

St Andrew, for those who didn’t know, came from Galilee, and was Jewish-born convert to Christianity.  He had this crazy idea of preaching his religion (something to do with ‘turning the other cheek’, loving one another, and so on) to people in every country he could manage to travel to.

He travelled extensively in Europe and is also revered in half a dozen countries and the Greek Orthodox Church.  No doubt he’d be proud of the nationalism that seems to be taking hold of a few people here.  What he’d say to the giant worm or the monolith plans for Union Terrace Gardens is another matter.

Aberdeen Citizens Party: (noun) A facebook site with some 35 friends.

A wide range of rather strong opinions can be found on this site.  The Citizens Party is against Halal slaughter of animals (so am I).  It is all for capital punishment, and says that since 80 percent of people (really?) want the death penalty brought back it should be done.  I guess if a few innocent people get killed like happens in the USA, then the families can be given some kind of compensation payment. Fair enough.

This page is apparently run by one Patrick Wight; I’m told he has some form of hilarious act wherein he pretends to be a camp homosexual hairdresser named ‘Patrice’.  I really must catch that some time (perhaps around the time I want to define ‘tolerance’ more fully).

Old Susannah was surprised to read this on the Citizens page:

“Lets hope that a campaign of direct action can save Union Terrace Gardens and prevent the environmental damage which is to be inflicted upon it by Ian Wood and his yes men. The right to protest peacefully is a fundamental part of our society. We tend to forget that many of the human rights we cherish today are a direct result of protests by ordinary people who were prepared to go onto the streets ..”

I of course don’t want anything to stand in the way of Stewart getting his much-needed parking spaces, and Ian getting his eventual statue.  However, I found the above just a little bit of a contradiction to what a Patrick Wight wrote to Aberdeen Voice:-

“Message:
Not affiliated to any political party?
Your having a fcuken (sic) laugh!
Your promoting the day of action rally by the political left and the unions who want to wreck economic recovery and cause public misery across Britain.”

So – a protest is fine, but not a day of action rally by the unions.  I can’t quite work out why we have unions anyway, since we’re number 52 in the world.  It might have had something to do with workers in the past not having great rights (or any rights).  It might have something to do with the infamous New York City sweatshop fire in the Triangle building–  all the workers had been locked in and none escaped the fire.

But that was then and this is now.  Public sector workers have ‘gilt edged’ pensions; Jeremy Clarkson said so.  Let’s all get behind the Aberdeen Citizens Party and protest against the gardens, but complain about unions having a day of protest.  Makes sense to me.

Next week:  more definitions, including ‘slacktivist’ – someone who likes the idea of supporting a cause, as long as it doesn’t mean doing anything much.