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Last Updated: Friday, 2 December 2005, 22:44 GMT
Political argument turns nuclear
By John Knox
BBC Scotland political reporter

There was more fission than fusion in the Scottish Parliament this week. The prime minister's hint that another generation of nuclear power stations is on the way has put the First Minister Jack McConnell on the hot spot.

Up till now the Scottish Executive has avoided taking a pro or anti stand on nuclear power by insisting the issue of nuclear waste must be resolved first.

But with the Liberal Democrats firmly against any more nuclear power, Labour ministers know that if they go nuclear, it would split the coalition as surely as Ernest Rutherford split the atom.

Dounreay Nuclear Power Plant
Nuclear policy could cause political tensions within the Scottish cabinet.

At question time, the SNP's Nicola Sturgeon called on the first minister to "break the habit of a lifetime and show some leadership".

She wanted to know his view on the cost, safety and the necessity of nuclear power.

Answers came there none. Instead Mr McConnell accused the SNP of having 18 different energy policies, depending on which wind farm project they were talking about.

"Never were so many policies held by so few," he said.

The SNP know, however, that they are on to a Labour weak point.

Energy policy is a matter reserved to Westminster. But the planning permission for any particular nuclear power station would have to be granted by the Scottish Executive.

There is therefore plenty of room for fission between London and Edinburgh, between the coalition parties and among Labour backbenchers too.

Renewable targets

Scotland's two existing nuclear power stations, at Hunterston on the Clyde coast and Torness in East Lothian, provide 40% of Scotland's electricity.

By a strange co-incidence, the Scottish Executive has set itself the target of producing a similar 40% of electricity from renewable sources by 2020.

So it's not clear that nuclear energy would be needed to keep the lights on. And the cost, in financial and political terms, might just not be worth it.

The Conservatives meanwhile uncovered another fissure in executive policy. Annabel Goldie asked, innocently enough, how many drug rehabilitation centres there are in Scotland.

Annabel Goldie
Annabel Goldie questioned the first minster on drug treatments

The first minister began a long defence of his anti-drugs programme.

Miss Goldie interrupted: "That's McConnell speak for....... I haven't a clue. And that's not surprising, because no one has a clue."

It's also unknown how many addicts are on methadone. The best guess is 19,000.

How many people have come off methadone and are successfully rehabilitated? We don't know that either.

It wasn't much wonder then that the executive announced this week that the anti-drugs agency, Scotland Against Drugs, is to be wound up and its duties transferred to the new Scottish Centre for Healthy Working Lives.

The Greens then had a punch at poor Mr McConnell. "How can your decision to go ahead with the Aberdeen bypass be consistent with sustainable development?" asked Shiona Baird in her best school mistress manner.

Mr McConnell stammered a reply that the new road would ease congestion and therefore pollution.

Camphill campaigners
The Camphill community has led a high profile campaign

The bypass will cost up to 395m. But the Transport Minister Tavish Scott has not chosen the cheapest route, or indeed one of the much discussed five options.

Instead he's chosen "an innovative solution" which avoids the Rudolf Steiner Camphill community and a massive political row.

On Thursday afternoon, the Fishing Minister Ross Finnie gave parliament his annual briefing on the European fishing talks about to get under way in Brussels.

He hopes to negotiate bigger catches for haddock and prawns and says he won't accept any more cuts in the size of the Scottish fishing fleet until other countries show they have made real reductions in their's.

The bad news is that cod stocks are still under threat and fishermen will face further restrictions to prevent a cod by-catch.

On Thursday morning we learnt from Education Minister Peter Peacock that Scotland "is in the premier league of international education".

"By the time our youngsters reach the age of 15, they perform amongst the best in the world," he said.

I want to reassert Scotland's claim of right...to determine the form of government best suited to their needs
Alex Salmond
SNP

The SNP used the education debate to call for "a Scottish world view" in the curriculum.

Fiona Hyslop said science lessons should include the study of Scottish scientists, maths Scots mathematicians, literature Scottish writers, and, of course, Scottish history should remain a separate subject, not be subsumed into a social studies programme in the first years of secondary school.

The SNP made their own history this week by calling an "Independence Convention" in the Dynamic Earth centre across the road from the parliament on St Andrew's night. They were joined by the Greens and the Scottish Socialists.

The SNP leader Alex Salmond told the gathering: "I want to reassert Scotland's claim of right...to acknowledge and assert the sovereign right of the Scottish people to determine the form of government best suited to their needs."

Organ Donation
MSPs approved a new law on organ donation

It was a cheeky echo of the words used by the Constitutional Convention which led to the Scottish Parliament in the first place.

Mr Salmond declared that independence would follow devolution "as sure as night follows day."

It was heady stuff, and in some contrast to the afternoon's events in the Scottish Parliament itself. There, MSPs unanimously passed the human tissue bill, which rewrites the law on organ donation in Scotland.

We're sticking with an opt-in system, much to the disappointment of the BMA who say the lives of 50 Scots could be saved every year if more organs were available for transplant.

Finally, the row over the merging of the six Scottish regiments just won't go away.

A petition against the merger, containing 155,000 signatures, was handed in at Downing Street on St Andrew's Day.

And at question time on Thursday the first minister was asked again if he would protest to Westminster about the loss of the regimental hat feathers, or hackles, which he'd been particularly keen to retain.

Veterans at protest
Scottish veterans took a petition to Downing Street

The question came from the Conservative MSP Lord James Douglas-Hamilton who served in the Cameronians and who this week announced he is going to retire from the Scottish Parliament at the next election.

"While I am still a young man", he said.

At 63, he says he'll continue to watch over Scottish affairs in the House of Lords.

"You have been an outstanding member of this parliament, " the first minister told him.

And he tried to reassure the old soldier that Scots could continue to wear regimental hackles when in combat uniform if not in formal dress.

Like nuclear power, it's an issue on which the first minister has little say. Both are in Westminster territory.

But that's the danger of devolution, there's a lot of political fallout and it doesn't respect provincial boundaries.


SEE ALSO:
Nuclear plans could generate rift
29 Nov 05 |  Scotland
Drug policy faces fresh criticism
02 Dec 05 |  Scotland
Confusion in drug addict policy
01 Dec 05 |  Scotland
Deal reached on route for bypass
01 Dec 05 |  Scotland
Culture calls for St Andrew's Day
30 Nov 05 |  Scotland
New organ donation law approved
30 Nov 05 |  Scotland
Army's blast at merger petition
30 Nov 05 |  Scotland


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