Home Column LETTER FROM SCOTLAND St Andrew’s Day 2012

LETTER FROM SCOTLAND St Andrew’s Day 2012

In Garrison Keillor’s fine phrase, “It’s been a quiet week in Lake Wobegone.” The days have been cold and still. At night the sky has been clear, with a large Moon smiling gently down on us and Jupiter peeping over his right shoulder. Yes, Scotland in the week leading up to St Andrew’s Night is usually pretty quiet.

While the rest of the island has been beating its breast over the Leveson Inquiry into the bad behaviour of the British press, Scottish politicians have been holding back. They will debate the issue in the Scottish Parliament next week. The First Minister says he would prefer a “Scottish solution” and he has proposed setting up a non-political group, chaired by a high court judge, to examine how an independent press “ombudsman” might work, perhaps with the power to investigate complaints and the power to give victims proper redress.

As a former press man myself, I doubt if anything can tame the wild beasts of the media or the rumour mill, particularly now that they can roam at will in the jungle of the internet. The trouble is, the law is always too slow to catch up with them. The existing laws on contempt of court, obstructing the police, defamation, invasion of privacy etc all seem to take the courts years, and a lot of money, to enforce. Perhaps we should concentrate on enforcing the laws we already have more speedily rather than introducing new laws.

And while we are on the subject of law and order, it emerged this week that Scotland’s new single police force will have four deputy chief constables – each on a salary of £169,000. That’s more than the current chief constables are earning and is hardly a sign that merging our eight regional forces into one will actually save a great deal of money. There’s also been some confusion over who is in charge of the new force, the chief constable (salary £208,000) or the chairman of the new police authority.

As usual, the spectre of the 2014 referendum raised its head, like the Phantom of the Opera. It’s song this time was the song of the Clyde. The defence company BAE has warned that a shortage of orders will mean it will have to close one of its three warship-building yards in Britain – Portsmouth, Govan or Scotstoun. The last two, Govan with 2000 jobs and Scotstoun with 1500, are both on the Clyde and both potentially in an independent Scotland. Now there’s a pretty kettle of fish – as Gilbert and Sullivan would say – for the politicians to fry. We may know the outcome before the end of this year.

We learnt this week the true cost of Scotland’s aging population. The Scottish government already spends £4.5billion on health and social care for the over 65s and that is set to rise by over a billion every year, unless there are big changes to services. In evidence to the parliament’s finance committee, one health board said it would need to double the number of hospital beds over the next 20 years. All the more reason, I would have thought, to cut our spending on beds and provide more free care at home.

Just how vulnerable older people can be was dramatically illustrated when a farmer in Clackmannanshire accidentally cut through a gas main with his digger. Over 3000 homes in the hill-foot villages of Fishcross, Dollar and Tillicoultry were without heating for three days. The gas company was handing out small electric stoves to help old people survive.

At the other end of the age range, Scotland is fielding no fewer than three candidates, in the final shortlist of 12, for the BBC Sports Personality of the Year – Sir Chris Hoy, Andy Murray and Katherine Grainger. And this is in a bumper year for British athletes, the so-called “golden generation” spawned by the Olympic Games.

Our field sports however are not doing so well. Andy Robinson has quit as Scotland’s rugby coach after our team fell to a record low in the world rankings with that dreadful defeat by tiny Tonga. Our national football team is still looking for a permanent coach after coming bottom of its group in the World Cup qualifying rounds. And there’s yet another national stramash over how our football leagues should be organised.

Oh thank goodness it’s nearly Christmas. The festive lights in Edinburgh are being lit as I write. I can hear the fireworks in Princes Street. The Prime Minister’s Christmas tree has been sent down to Downing Street from a forest in Dumfriesshire. And, by the way, has anyone seen a batch of 420 Christmas trees which have been stolen from a farm near Jedburgh ? They were due to be delivered to an Ikea store. I do hope they haven’t been flat-packed and sent on to Lake Wobegon.

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