Full speed needed
At long last the Supreme Court has effectively given the go-ahead to the Aberdeen Western Peripheral Route. Almost everyone in our area has been frustrated by the ability of one person to deny something which has passed all other planning processes and is essential for future economic development.
It has been unfortunate that other developments which could have gone ahead by now have been delayed by being linked to the AWPR - particularly the Tipperty upgrade on the A90. I very much hope that this can go ahead with all speed and that the by-pass can start construction very soon.
This particular section of dual carriageway has been in and out of the programme several times. The children of Foveran School who presented me with a parliamentary petition which secured its first reinstatement will probably have children of their own by now. So let’s have no more delays.
I also hope the construction work for such a major project will be procured in a way that gives local contractors a share of the work.
SNP unprepared for historic decision
The Edinburgh agreement presented last week at a meeting between the Prime Minister and First Minister paves the way for what will be an historic decision about Scotland’s future.
It is frankly astonishing that the SNP will not publish what they describe as their ‘Prospectus’ for Independence until November – next year. Yes - November 2013!
Nationalists have been promoting Independence for decades. Now that they have a mandate to put the question to the people of Scotland, they seem remarkably ill- prepared.
Nor is this a two way process. I have long campaigned for a Scottish Parliament with substantial powers and am proud to have played a role in bringing this about – at a time when the SNP boycotted the process.
I will continue to support the case for a federal United Kingdom and seek to persuade the rest of the UK of the benefits for us all.
Nevertheless, by and large, people know the United Kingdom’s value to Scotland. Independence is an unknown and to a great extent unknowable destination.
Let’s not walk away from Afghanistan’s uncertain future
This week my committee publishes its report on Afghanistan, the second under my chairmanship and follows a six day visit to the country last June. The security situation meant that we were highly restricted in our movements compared with our previous visit and the extent to which we can usually get about and meet people and view projects.
The situation is complex, and forecasting the likely outcome of current initiatives over the next few years is fraught with difficulty.
We reject the view that NATO’s engagement has been in the conventional sense a war or that it has failed. There are plenty of negatives – in terms of casualties – not least among UK armed forces and those of our allies – in terms of corruption, poppy growing, crimes and weak political leadership. It is not true that all Afghans, or even a majority hate us and want us out. Many, especially women, dread the return of the Taliban.
Some projects have led to improved livelihoods and the pattern of violence and development achievements has varied across the country.
People talk of a political solution but it is unclear who has the capacity to negotiate for whom.
Once NATO combat troops leave in 2015 the country’s future will be in the hands of its army and police force, and the politicians to be elected next year. Some accommodation with sections of the Taliban is likely but it is unpredictable and variable what that may mean.
We need to be flexible in our relationship with Afghanistan post 2015. We will continue to train and support their army and police., and continue to give assistance designed to improve the quality of Afghan lives, especially women and girls.
I doubt if the stated objective of ‘building a viable state’ is achievable through UK development assistance alone but to walk away at the end of 2015 would be a betrayal of the achievements of our forces at a high cost and a denial of the hopes and expectations of millions of Afghans.
Electricity reform needs heat and light
The energy debate is in danger of being unproductively fractious. It seems clear to me that cheap energy is a thing of the past and we need to develop a diversity of options. We also need to maintain policies that will encourage development and innovation of British products.
At the same time, it is clear that even replacing a fraction of our nuclear power stations is unlikely – too costly, and the timescale too long. Gas will inevitably be a key part of the transition to a low and eventually zero carbon economy. Those who think that the advent of shale gas makes development of renewable energy unnecessary are optimistic about the cost of fracking in Europe, underestimate the environmental resistance it generates and completely disregard the compelling case for halting the rise in global temperatures.
Contrary to what the popular media might say, the main cause of recent rises in electricity prices has been the rise in gas prices and only a small part has been the cost of renewables.
The behaviour of the big six electricity companies may not be a cartel but to the consumer it looks like one. We need more competition, more transparency in showing the real cost of energy and a better deal for those off the gas main.
We really need a viable and competitive alternative to oil and at least cheaper options such as CHP. The Green Deal should also be devised to enable those with hard to heat homes or without gas to get a real benefit.
The debate over the Electricity Reform Bill will generate heat and light – let us hope the industry does so too and competitvely!