Let’s have no more delays
The ruling by the Supreme Court that ended the legal blockage to the Aberdeen Western Peripheral Route has been widely welcomed – especially across Gordon.
In the time that the project has been in suspension, at least, project planning should be well prepared so that tender documents and bids should be completed as soon as possible. As only 1% of the transport budget in Scotland has been committed to the North East the money should be available. The escalation in estimated cost seems phenomenal at a time of recession in the construction sector. I find the suggestion that the Tipperty section could cost over £90 million staggering, and a vindication of the case for having gone ahead with it separately rather than linking it to the AWPR. Let’s hope when the bids come in they are more competitive.
I hope also progress can be made simultaneously with the Third Don Crossing. The reaction to my petition in support of the Bridge has been overwhelming.
These developments should be accompanied by public transport improvements so that people can have a real choice rather than simply clogging up the new routes as soon as they are opened.
Flexibility needed to support Afghanistan’s future
The International Development Committee’s report on Afghanistan, published recently, attracted wide interest at home and abroad. We concluded that forecasting what will happen after 2014 when combat troops leave is unpredictable.
Pessimists assume that the country will immediately disintegrate into civil war or revert to the Taleban. Few believe the optimists’ view that the Afghan army and police, trained by NATO and up to full strength, will maintain a stable state. There are elections in 2014. President Kharzai will not be a candidate and the shape of the future Government is a significant unknown.
Our findings were that many Afghans, while disillusioned with insecurity, corruption and lack of progress on a number of fronts, did not want to lose the substantial gains that have been made. This is particularly true of women. Afghanistan is still one of the worst places in the world to be a woman – yet is far better now than it was.
Our committee urged the UK Government to focus programmes particularly on maintaining an improving the status of women – recognising this is a conservative Muslim society but that there are absolute values in terms of violence and rights to literacy and livelihoods.
Unfounded assertions no basis for independence
However hard it tries, the Scottish Government has been found wanting over the issue of legal advice regarding Scotland’s status in relation to the EU. The First Minister is particularly damaged.
There are two different issues. The first is that he and the Scottish Government led us to believe that they had advice that Scotland would continue as a member of the EU on the same basis as the UK – with all the UK opt outs. It now transpires that no such advice existed or had even been sought.
This leads to a much more serious challenge to the SNP’s entire campaign for independence. It is based on unfounded assertions and non-existent advice. Essentially this amounts to an independent Scotland being whatever the SNP say it is going to be, which is, simply, not the real world.
Top of my priorities when going into politics was to secure a Parliament for Scotland. I and my party thought through and debated in detail what kind of settlement we wanted. We were therefore prepared to bring in legislation to create a Parliament and to continue to develop it towards a federal UK.
By contrast, the SNP, who took no part in the Scottish Constitutional Convention, have not thought through at all what would be involved in creating an independent Scotland. We know what the United Kingdom is like and how it can change. We have no idea of an independent Scotland, which would have to negotiate its relationships with everybody from the rest of the UK through the EU and NATO to the rest of the world.
Nor does breaking the world up into more and more small independent states make achieving any kind of world order any easier. The SNP are not prepared for independence – so how can they expect the people to be?
Skills and women needed to retain global lead
The North East economy is currently in an enviable place with unemployment at record lows and new developments offshore.
Nevertheless, the ditching of another helicopter raises questions about the industry – although it is a tribute to everyone involved that all were safely rescued.
In addition, skills shortages, could prejudice the long term future of our economy. Non oil and gas companies need support to remain competitive and those in the oil and gas industry need to replace an ageing workforce.
It is really important that a wider audience recognises that the oil and gas industry is at the cutting edge of technology globally, takes on extreme challenges and offers a lifetime, well paid career opportunity – for women as well as men.
All sectors of the industry, colleges, universities and the Scottish and UK Governments need to work together if we are to avoid losing skills and investment to other parts of the world.
Aberdeen and the North East has a critical mass of companies with skills and a proven track record. We have to keep it that way.