Quality of life in N-East
It was good to see Aberdeen rated as one of the UK’S best cities to live in, at the same time as Aberdeenshire emerged yet again as the top Scottish region. Of course, this is no surprise to those of us who call the North East home.
We enjoy full employment, good schools, a clean environment and overall a fine quality of life. The challenge is to keep it that way. For that we look to our local councils to show vision and imagination and the support of the Scottish and UK Governments in their respective responsibilities to make sure we get investment and support.
We have the advantage of two good universities which complement each other. We produce high quality food and drink for the tables of the UK and well beyond. Innovation in oil and gas technology and especially in the subsea sector give us a global reach.
We know the world does not owe us a living. When I moved here more than 40 years ago the population was falling as people sought employment elsewhere. Since then we have become world leaders in a range of technologies and the population has increased faster than anywhere in Scotland.
Shades of war and terrorism in 30 year papers
The release of Government papers under the 30 year rule has revealed some interesting insights into the Falklands war. It appears that the Argentine invasion was totally unexpected.
Initially, the Government faced humiliation and no obvious response until the Chiefs of staff said they could put together a task force within days. That was a huge undertaking, which we probably could not repeat today, It was also high risk but people must have thought once the Argentines saw it was real they would have negotiated a settlement.
Of course, we know now that didn’t happen. It became a real war with ships sunk on both sides and serious casualties. Its success made Margaret Thatcher’s reputation.
Here at home, concern was being expressed at the potential threat to our vital North Sea installations, then pumping oil and gas at peak rates. Although sadly, there have been disasters and explosions – especially Piper Alpha – but no terrorist incursion, which might be due to a combination of difficulty of access and good intelligence.
2012 draws to a close
As we approach the end of 2012 we can look back on a vintage year. The big events were of course organised years in advance but their success was the triumph of the year.
The Queen’s Diamond Jubilee was an historic celebration that brought union flags out everywhere. The Queen, after all, personifies the United Kingdom and she was greeted everywhere with genuine affection. For the monarchy the year ended with the announcement of Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge’s pregnancy – in the knowledge that the baby, whatever the gender, will be third in line to the throne.
Then came the Olympics which were a success in a truly British way. The opening ceremony was spectacular if a little confusing. It was the first time such an event was made for television – with the brilliant cameo of the Queen and James Bond taking a helicopter from Buckingham Palace to ‘drop into the stadium by parachute’.
The host country bonus was in evidence with a record number of medals – proving that targeted funding can bring rewards. Team GB was a success – precisely, in my view, because it was Team GB.
Stronger economy in a fairer society
Nick Clegg put down his own marker in a New Year message stressing the Liberal Democrat role within the coalition as building a stronger economy in a fairer society.
He points out the scale of the problem Labour left but stressed that the Liberal Democrats were determined to fix this. The debt has been reduced by a quarter, interest rates have been kept low and a million private sector jobs created.
In addition 24 million people will not pay any income tax on the first £9,940 of earnings, giving them £600 more in their pockets next April.
The £1 billion Youth Contract has got young people off the dole by providing real opportunities through apprenticeships, training and work placements.
The Green Investment Bank – headquartered in Scotland - will unlock billions of pounds of private investment in renewable energy and create thousands more jobs
The state pension has also been boosted by its biggest ever cash rise.
We have also delivered the biggest transfer of power to Scotland since the Treaty of Union and prepared the ground for a democratic referendum on Scotland’s future relationship with the UK.
I remain firmly of the view that these points highlight the benefits of coalition government. Labour created the mess and a majority Conservative Government would not have delivered this although there are some less palatable things they would have pursued,
In simple terms Labour cannot be trusted to run the economy and the Conservative cannot be trusted to build a fairer society.
It is easy for people to toxify the Liberal Democrats because of the coalition. Since the days of Thatcher, Conservatives have been reduced to a token representation north of the Border. However, nobody won the last election. Had the Lib Dems refused to consider a coalition we would have been responsible for a period of devastating instability. We would not have been able to deliver a range of sensible polices which mark out our contribution to Government policy. It is my firm contention that, in these difficult times, Scotland is the better for having Lib Dems in the coalition than any of the alternatives. Soft options are beguiling but they are currently undeliverable. The lure of independence, withdrawal from the EU, or borrowing to reduce the benefit will not turn the economy round. We cannot hide from reality. But we can use our influence so painful decisions are taken with the maximum regard to fairness. 2012 will be a hard act to follow but I’d like to wish you a happy New Year.