LETTER FROM SCOTLAND 23rd November 2012

It rained and it rained and it rained. On Monday over a hundred houses in the village of Comrie in Perthshire were flooded. So too were homes in Aberfoyle, Callander and Dunblane. By Thursday the flooding had spread to Dumfries and to Galashiels in the Borders. A landslip closed the A82 road from Glasgow to Argyll at the “rest-and-be-thankful.” It is the fifth time that has happened in as many years.

The government issued 15 flood warnings for areas as far apart as Aberdeenshire and Ayrshire. Even in dry Edinburgh, it rained nearly every time I ventured out of the house this week. There were deep puddles next to the new flood defence system built around my local supermarket. And the rain has come after a wet autumn which has left much the land saturated and which has destroyed a fifth of our crops.

And still there are people who don’t believe in global warming. There are even more people who don’t believe in doing much about it. The Scottish environment minister Paul Wheelhouse is off to meet some of them at the latest UN conference on climate change in Doha next week. Not much is expected to come of it. Indeed not much has come of Scotland’s world-beating carbon reduction target. An interim target was missed earlier this year. Perhaps we should be asking Mr Wheelhouse to man the wheelhouse on Noah’s Ark !

This week brought more bad news for Scotland’s food industry. The Dutch company Vion, which last month announced the closure of the Hall’s meat processing plant in West Lothian, has now put the rest of its Scottish factories up for sale. Some 2,300 jobs are directly at stake, not to mention the effects on the farming community. Workers are now hoping that buyers can be found for the beef and lamb plant in Portlethen in Aberdeenshire and the poultry plants in Coupar Angus and Cambuslang.

This week also brought us more apologies. The education secretary Mike Russell followed his First Minister to the sinner’s stool at Holyrood to apologise over last week’s mix-up over college funding. Alex Salmond apologised over exaggerating the number of jobs in the renewables industry ( he should have said 11,000 not 18,000). And the Labour backbencher Michael McMahon apologised for saying the presiding officer was “out of order”. He was suspended – not from the rafters – but from parliament for the rest of the day.

Out in the real world, Scotland’s court lawyers have threatened to go on strike sometime before Christmas. It’s a dispute over legal aid. The justice secretary Kenny MacAskill wants to cut £4m from the legal aid budget of £160m and he intends to do this by making people accused of minor crimes pay up to £500 towards their defence costs and making their solicitors responsible for collecting the money. He has since hinted a some compromises but it does seem to me outrageous that even someone found not guilty should have to pay for his own defence.

Another strange legal ruling has given the Rangers football story yet another ironic twist. You may remember that Rangers was forced into liquidation because of a tax debt of £9m and a further tax liability on some £50m paid to players and staff in so-called employee benefit trusts. This week a tribunal of three judges decided that such trust arrangements were not liable to tax after all because they were technically “loans”.

Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs is to appeal against the judgement but it looks like the whole Rangers fiasco need never have happened. However, it is a bizarre world in which Sir David Murray and his players could think they didn’t need to pay tax like the rest of us. And if their wages really were “loans” can we expect them to be repaid to the Rangers creditors ?

You have just got to laugh. Indeed, it appears we are an unusually happy lot in Scotland. In a study by the New Economic Foundation, 77.4 per cent of Scots were fairly pleased with their state of wellbeing, compared with 75.7 per cent in England. And the remoter regions of Scotland were the happiest of all, with the Outer Hebrides, Orkney and Shetland coming top of the class. Grumpy old Edinburgh and Clackmannanshire came bottom. Clearly, we Edinburgh types need to do more singing in the rain.