Friday, 30 May 2008

Gibson welcomes exemption extension

News release

Highlands and Islands SNP MSP Rob Gibson has welcomed an announcement from the Scottish Government that Small charities, churches and voluntary organisations will be exempt from paying water charges for six years.

The current exemption was due to run out on in 2010 but today that was extended to 2014.

Commenting on the move Mr. Gibson said…

"This is a sensible stance to remove the threat of punitive water charges to local organisations."

"I have received many letters from charities, voluntary and religious organsiations arguing against any charges. I agreed with them that incurring water charges for these organsiations was not fair."

"I am greatly heartened by the announcement. It shows that the SNP Government is on their side."


Tuesday, 27 May 2008

'Minister misinformed on Dornoch Rail Link' - Gibson

News release
Immediate release


Highlands and Islands SNP MSP Rob Gibson has claimed that the Transport Minister has been misinformed over the actual cost and benefit of a Dornoch rail link.

Mr. Gibson's claims came when the Association of Caithness Community Councils' petition for a rail link was discussed in the transport committee.

The revelation surfaced as result of a Freedom of Information request made by the convener of Dornoch Link Action Group, Mark Norton. The information comes in the form of an e-mail stream on the 9th of January 2006.

In an e-mail, by a member of the steering group of the Room for Growth study (which comprised representatives from Highland Rail Partnership, HITRANS and Highland and Islands Enterprise) said 'we don't have any vaguely authoritative information on the likely costs on which to comment or respond to this continued campaign' for the Dornoch link. It goes on to say they decided deliberately not to investigate the cost or benefit of a Dornoch rail link (in the Room for Growth study), saying that it was a 'pragmatic decision, based on common sense'.

It then remarked that a possible course of action (when 'Mr Gibson's office' realised that there was no mention of a potential rail link to Dornoch in the study) would be to contact Scott Wilson (the consultant who wrote the report) to come up with a 'very basic (non engineering) assessment of the cost of linking Tain to Golspie via the Dornoch firth and Loch Fleet'.

In an e-mail from the Rail and Policy project officer from the Scottish Executive to an unnamed recipient on the same day, it said that 'cost was only half of the issue' and 'whatever figure you come up with, as long as they don't have to quantify the
benefits' of a rail link.

Commenting on the information Mr Gibson said...

"This new information shines a light on the concerted actions to thwart campaigners for the Dornoch Link. These local bodies - HIE, HITRANS and HRP - involved in drawing up the Room For Growth study make it clear that that they are opposed to any
potential link and were willing to get a non-engineering estimate from consultants to back up their argument. That action is almost as crude as thinking of a number and doubling it."

"This casts serious doubts over the credibility of the Highland Rail Partnership and those involved in the steering committee of the Room For Growth study. It shows that the most concrete and unbiased study carried out on a Dornoch rail link is the one carried out by CORUS. Indeed the Scottish Executive Rail Policy and Projects Officer recommends that any study on the DRL would have to be as 'robust' as the one by CORUS."

"This e-mail traffic makes it clear that the Transport Minister has little reliable official analysis of the Dornoch link proposals. There seems to be a concerted attempt by the steering group of the transport policy-making bodies that there should be no Dornoch rail link."

"A Dornoch rail link and shorter journey times to the Far North are integral to the advancement of the Far North economy. What HRP and partners are doing in their opposition to a link is ignoring the huge potential of the Far North economy."

The Transport Committee decided that they would write to the Minister in the light of the new information to see how it affected his current advice that the benefit cost ratio of the Dornoch Link is very low.



A copy of the e-mails can be provided if required.

Tuesday, 20 May 2008

Gibson calls for review of war games

News release
Immediate release


Highlands and Islands SNP MSP Rob Gibson has called on the MoD to stop willfully damaging the wildlife and environment of the North West of Scotland following news that bird life has been destroyed in a heath fire caused by tracer bullets from soldiers on manouvers on Cape Wrath.

This latest incident follows on from serious concerns from environmental groups about the impact that recent NATO war games were having on cetaceans in the surrounding waters, as well as concerns from local farmers and residents about the disturbances caused to their way of life during the lambing season.

Mr Gibson said..

"To myself and others this incident is nothing short of wildlife crime. It may have escaped the attention of the MoD but there has been a prolonged dry spell in the Highlands, so to go around shooting tracer bullets is stupid. It was bound to happen - it's as bad as someone one dropping a match onto a bone dry moor."

"This week I will be taking part in a debate on wildlife crime in Parliament. I will be bringing up this reckless MoD behaviour. This time they have gone too far. Not only have they potentially destroyed the young of red grouse, merlins, sky larks and golden plover, they have potentially endangered neighbouring land and property. The MoD are riding rough shod over communities' sensibilities."

"Their attitude towards the people of the North is arrogance. They continue bombing (as part of NATO war games) in lambing season. They continue to use sonar that is linked to stranding of whales. Now they start fires on bone dry moorlands which destroys bird life. It is time to review the need for their dangerous war games in our country."


Gibson calls for action on plastic

News release
Immediate release


Highland and Islands SNP MSP Rob Gibson has written to supermarkets throughout the North to find out what they are doing to help reduce the amount of plastic bags.

His letter comes after a meeting between Cabinet Secretary on Rural Affairs Richard Lochead and major retailers in Edinburgh last week where a new group was launched to consider how to reduce the number of single use carrier bags and promote bags for life.

Mr Gibson said…

"Last year over 1 billion plastic bags were used in Scotland. Many of these end up in land fills or littering urban and rural areas alike, creating a sorry spectacle and endangering the environment."

"It is important that all retailers, but more importantly supermarkets, work with the Scottish Government to encourage responsible useage. The almost unlimited availability is a fairly common phenomenon and has helped cause a burgeoning litter problem. It is time that supermarkets and other retailers start to take responsibility and try and reduce the amount used."

"Scotland has set a target to become a zero waste economy. I hope that reducing the use of plastic bags can be achieved by a voluntary agreement as opposed to through legislation. I would encourage consumers as well to ask themselves the question, do I need this bag? and to try and reuse wherever possible. Together we can make Scotland a cleaner and greener!"


Monday, 19 May 2008

Gibson calls for help to mark Marine Heritage Day

Photo: Rob Gibson MSP and Dr Eileen Macleod, Policy advisor to Alyn Smith MEP, at Avoch Harbour

News release
Immediate release


Rob Gibson SNP MSP for Highlands and Islands has called on the Scottish Government to help mark European Maritime Heritage Day (which takes place on 20th of May).

Mr Gibson has lodged a motion in the Scottish Parliament which has drawn cross party support for an annual celebration of maritime heritage and marine-related issues which have played such a huge part in Scotland's story.

He said, "Scotland was settled after the ice age by settlers arriving in flimsy craft over the seas. The Celts in the curaghs and the Vikings in their sleek longships continued the admixture of our mongrel nation. Mediaeval traders across the North Sea and later round the world placed our ships and sailors on the map. Also our brave fishermen, merchant sailors and navy personnel and lifeboat crews sustained our nation in peace and war."

"I am proposing that serious plans are laid to mark this European Maritime Heritage Day annually. In particular the Year of Homecoming 2009 is a prime time to welcome from abroad all those who want to celebrate Scotland's new vibrancy. Record numbers of yachts are sailing across the North Sea and last year the Moray Firth Flotilla was a cracking success to celebrate sail through the years."

"Also, it reminds Government that our jetties, piers and harbours are a huge asset and deserve to be brought into a fit state for increased use in the 21st century. We also note the threats of massive increases in oil prices for fishing boats and ferries, cargo ships and liners. We in Scotland have a huge modern maritime heritage of the Scottish oil industry. Scots do not deserve the highest pump prices in a land that will produce a surplus to our needs for decades to come."

"I am delighted the Rural Minister is in Brussels to mark European Maritime Heritage Day. Here at home, communities along our coasts should be part of this annual celebration."


Note: Copy of Rob's motion

S3M-01657 Rob Gibson (Highlands and Islands) (Scottish National Party): European Maritime Day — That the Parliament welcomes the introduction of an annual European Maritime Day to be instituted on 20 May 2008 to celebrate Europe’s maritime heritage and marine-related issues; further recognises the vital role that the marine environment plays in the past, present and future of Scotland, and calls on the Scottish Government to help mark the day with events to highlight its importance.

Supported by: Michael Matheson, Jamie Hepburn, Sarah Boyack, Joe FitzPatrick, Bob Doris, Stuart McMillan, Helen Eadie, Christina McKelvie, Kenneth Gibson, Patrick Harvie, Dr Alasdair Allan, Shirley-Anne Somerville, Tavish Scott, Bill Kidd, Keith Brown, Gil Paterson, Brian Adam, Elaine Smith, Roseanna Cunningham, Robin Harper, Bashir Ahmad, Dr Bill Wilson, Andrew Welsh, Dave Thompson
Lodged on Thursday, March 27, 2008; Current

North Rising - Sun shines on Avoch marchers

News Release: Immediate Use

The importance of Avoch in Scotland's long fight to be a free country was celebrated last Saturday [17th May] by a hundred marchers from all a' the airts.

In brilliant Avoch sunshine the procession and flag raising ceremony at Ormond Hill was attended by marchers from Aberdeen, Airdrie, Perth, Moray, Cowal, Inverness, Brussels and all over Ross-shire. Organised by the Andrew de Moray Project, the annual celebration which was started by the people of Avoch in the 1930s continues to inspire patriots and those alerted to the often hidden history of Scotland's turbulent past.

Following the tradition of the past ten years members of the Society of Willam Wallace present a new saltire flag to replace the one that flew for the previous year from the flagpole at the cairn in the castle ruins on Ormond Hill. This year John Robertson, the Culblean organiser of the Andrew de Moray Project, did the honours. John and his wife Lorraine have just retired to Nairn.

The gathering of around a hundred celebrants heard from Duncan Fenton of the Wallace Society who urged Scots to tread the byways of our land and visit the many relics of our complex and exciting past.

Rob Gibson Highlands and Islands MSP and Project Convener reminded the gathering that Evan Macleod Barron had dug up the story of how important the North of Scotland's part was in the national rising of 1297. Mr Gibson pointed to the alliances that Scotland had with France and Norway which helped sustain our nation.

He said,

"Scotland was a European nation then and is today as we regain our pride of place in the family of people whose distinctive place is their bedrock. It is the cause for which Andrew de Moray and William Wallace fought and died."

Later that day the Andrew de Moray Project AGM reported a healthy upturn in members and balanced books with a small surplus. Saturday 29th November 2008 was picked for the Culblean event and Saturday 16th May 2009 for Ormond Hill. Thereafter the celebrations drew continued into the evening with ceilidh band Champin' At The Bit in the Station Hotel, Avoch.


Sunday, 18 May 2008


For immediate use

Sunday 18th May 2008

SNP Highlands and Islands MSP Rob Gibson, who is also a member of the Scottish Parliament’s inquiry into Ferry Services, has called on Labour to stop playing petty politics with Scotland’s vital lifeline ferry services.

Mr Gibson’s comments come after Labour attacked the SNP’s groundbreaking pilot of Road Equivalent Tariff based fares for islands in the Western Isles and some of the Argyll islands.

Mr Gibson said:

“The Labour party had eight years in Government to reduce ferry fares, to improve services and to deliver sustainable economic growth to Scotland islands.

“Instead we saw eight years of uncertainty as millions were spent on splitting up Caledonian MacBrayne and wasted on disastrous tendering of services to the Northern Isles.

“All Scotland has to show for Labour’s time in charge of our ferry services is a European Commission inquiry.

“With new boats, improvements to harbours and the pilot of RET the SNP is
delivering on our promise to support communities on all islands.”


Wednesday, 14 May 2008

Gibson bemoans Westminster Government over lack of responsibility for foot and mouth

News release
Immediate release


Highlands and Islands SNP MSP Rob Gibson has rounded on the UK Government over its refusal to take any responsibility for last year's foot and mouth outbreak in the south of England which cost farmer and crofters throughout the North dearly.

Mr Gibson's attack came after the UK Government responded to the petition on the issue which was submitted on the 10 Downing Street website. This week they indicated that the government intends to take no action to compensate farmers whose livelihoods were put at risk and who were badly affected by the restrictions brought following the outbreak.

Mr Gibson said:

"This is unbelievable arrogance and a grave dereliction of duty from the London Labour Government and is yet another example of how they don't understand rural areas."

"I can well remember how sheep farmers and crofters were severely hit by the movement restrictions which saw empty auction rooms and crowded hillsides leading to decreased sheep numbers and increased debts for hill farmers and crofters. For the Labour Party to sit back and say that they are not responsible for the outbreak is unbelievable."

"Even though the outbreak started in a Government Laboratory in Surrey the Labour Westminster Government shy away from taking responsibility by saying that they merely regulated the site. Now they refuse to compensate the farmers who were worst
affected by it. This is the same laissez faire attitude which saw Gordon Brown et al refuse to compensate Scottish farmers in autumn following the outbreak."

"The support shown to Scottish farmers and crofters by Scottish Government Rural Secretary Richard Lochead, as opposed to the couldn't-care-less approach shown from Westminster, shows who acts in the Scotland's interests. Neither Scottish farmers nor crofters started this outbreak yet it is they who have suffered most and it is they who have been ignored by Westminster. It is a further example of why more powers need to be given to Scottish Parliament."


Tuesday, 13 May 2008

Gibson backs renewable jobs initiative

News release
Immediate release


Highlands and Islands SNP MSP Rob Gibson has welcomed a Careers Scotland scheme to attract young people to jobs in the renewable energy sector.

The initiative entitled 'The path is green' seeks to capitalise on the expected rapid growth in the industry.

Mr Gibson said...

"In Scotland today there are around 80,000 jobs in the renewable sector. That figure is expected to rise by around 50,000 in the next 10 to 15 years. Therefore, this scheme is of great importance if Scotland is to capitalise on the boom."

"Scotland has great potential in the production of green energy. It is estimated that the country has the capacity to produce 25% of the European Union's total wind and tidal power. Part of the measure of what benefit that will bring to Scotland will be the amount of highly skilled engineering jobs and other jobs that will be available within the country. It is important that the possibility of working in that sector is promoted as a viable option for tomorrow's work force."

"Scotland has the chance to be the world leader in green technologies. I welcome the path is green scheme as a step in that direction."


Note: Copy of motion from Bob Doris MSP on 'The path green' initiative:

S3M-01890 Bob Doris (Glasgow) (Scottish National Party): The Path is Green— That the Parliament strongly welcomes the launch of The Path is Green, a Careers Scotland initiative to attract young people into jobs in the renewables sector; notes that there are at present 80,000 such jobs and that a further 50,000 are projected within the next 10 years; observes that traditional occupations will require a new set of skills to realise Scotland's potential for producing 25% of the European Union’s total capacity for wind and tidal power; further notes that Green jobs extend beyond renewable energy and that there are an increasing number of opportunities in other areas, for example, in environmental careers such as town planning and landscape architecture, water waste management and sustainable constructions; applauds the cyber-friendly focus of the initiative, of which more information can be found at, and applauds the joined-up thinking that links important career opportunities with both the economic future of Scotland and the wellbeing of our planet.

Monday, 12 May 2008

Gibson urges positive response to 'Shucksmith' finding's

News release
Immediate release


Highlands and Islands SNP MSP Rob Gibson has said that the Scottish Government should respond positively to the Shucksmith inquiry on the future of crofting.

Mr Gibson said:

"Shucksmith has offered crofting the keys to sustainable 21st century small land holding across Scotland."

"Proposals to simplify and localise crofting law and township planning can make a real difference to the future prosperity of crofting. Scrapping the Crofter's Commission is a step in that direction and putting locally elected crofters in charge of regulation is a blow for local democracy."

"The creation of township planning committees will engage all residents to plan for development - not stop the innovation as so often has been the case."

"The idea of switching development functions from the Crofter Commission to HIE is a radical move which follows the ethos of the Scottish Government's enterprise reforms. Along with the local authority they can make a big difference to small rural businesses based on crofts. This radical move could deliver real benefits."

He backed the case for EU agreement to back mountainous status to ensure preferential support. However, Rob said that remote island status was also be a classification worthy of remote and rural food producers. He contrasted this with calls from the Chancellor Alasdair Darling to scrap the Common Agricultural Policy.

"What we have in the report is a call to protect remote and rural areas to ensure that food production there contributes towards food security. On the other hand we have today's call from an out-of-touch Chancellor putting farmers in rural Scotland in jeopardy along with other parts of Europe."

"Europe needs sustainable food production and crofting areas of Scotland should be included. Alistair Darling and his Labour Government want a heavier reliance upon imported food stuffs. Far from scrapping the CAP, it should be refocused."

He ended...

"The Scottish Government should respond positively. Much of Shucksmith's report is practical and fits the needs of our climate change era with its stress on public goods in return for more. Local food production fits with the national food policy. This report could spell a bright future for crofting."


Link to the crofting inquiry final report

Tuesday, 6 May 2008



For Immediate Release
6th May 2008

SNP MSPs Alasdair Allan and Rob Gibson have today welcomed the results of the Scottish Parliament Audit Committee’s investigation into NHS Western Isles as they look toward a more positive future for the health board and regretted the Labour Executive had not acted earlier.

Western Isles MSP Alasdair Allan, who spoke at the inquiry in Stornoway, said:

“The Committee has clearly recognised the depth of anger and frustration in the local community about the performance of the health board during the period when it was run by Mr Manson and Mr Currie.

“However, it has not exempted Edinburgh from criticism. It is clear from the report that Andy Kerr and the Labour Executive failed to grasp the problems in the islands and should have intervened far earlier to sort out the mess.

“The Committee have also been scathing of Mr Manson and Mr Currie's personal evidence to the enquiry, during which they claimed not to recall the existence of the crucial "Cook Report" into the board's finances. The committee are also unhappy that, although his salary is not being funded by the board, Mr Manson is still nominally on the payroll of NHS Western Isles.

“It is not all bad news and I welcome the commendation in the report for those bringing the board’s finances backing into balance and building a more positive future for Western Isles health board.

“I am pleased that at long last an inquiry has been held into what everyone knew had been a bad situation in the health board. When I and others called for a parliamentary committee to produce such a report before the election, our calls were met with disdain from Labour. By contrast, I hope that today's openness will go a long way towards allowing the NHS in the Western Isles to look to the future."

Highlands and Islands MSP Rob Gibson, who repeatedly raised the problems on the Western Isles with then Health Minister Andy Kerr, said:

“This report vindicates my pursuit of the then health minister Andy Kerr. He failed time and again over a nine month period to intervene. Andy Kerr must take political responsibility for failing to intervene despite widespread and credible evidence of bullying and mismanagement.

"The audit committee has done the Western Isles a big service and the new management are doing a vastly improved job, but early intervention by the Labour minister could have avoided the delays and stemmed the loss of staff morale which resulted from the abdication of political responsibility.


Note to Editors:

· The Committee say that Mr Manson and Mr Currie's explanations were "unsatisfactory and extremely unhelpful to the inquiry" and caused the committee to find their evidence "unconvincing".

· The report finds that the health department of the previous Scottish Executive under Andy Kerr "failed to grasp the significance of the problems"

Other findings of the inquiry include serious concerns about:

· The way in which senior staff were appointed and then moved on to other posts elsewhere in the NHS.

· The board had a deficit for all but one of seven succeeding years and a 3.364 million cumulative deficit by 2006-2007.

· The initial recovery plan of 2006, which was found to have been inadequate.

· The fact that several of the board's committees did not function for a period, and that- four years worth of accounts had at one point not been approved by the board.