Sturgeon deserves some credit for a rare flash of honesty

THE COLIN CAMPBELL COLUMN

WITH an election looming, the SNP Government might be expected to steer well clear of any last-minute policy which is guaranteed to go down badly with many voters. But Nicola Sturgeon has driven a coach and horses through that convention with the determination to start charging for workplace parking.

 The payout burden will fall initially on employers, many of whom are liable to pass at least some of it on to employees.

 And the angry and forceful backlash has begun.

 Another gross nationalist foul-up?

 Actually, mildly painful though it is to admit it, I admire Sturgeon for having the horsepower to do it.

 She recently declared Scotland is in the grip of “a climate emergency”. That’s the kind of sweeping statement we hear from politicians, so often amounting to just empty words.

 But now she has decided to back it up with a very serious attempt to reduce the number of cars on our potholed, overburdened, jammed-up roads.

 Charging for workplace parking may be partly flawed and unpopular but at least it shows her intentions on this issue are aimed in the right direction.

 It won’t affect me. I haven’t had a car for 15 years and if I won one in a raffle I couldn’t get rid of it fast enough, half-price.

 It may sound “carbon neutral” holier than thou to some but I cycle anywhere and everywhere, throughout the year and whatever the weather.

Many people need their cars to travel respectable distances. But too many would rather drive than walk to the end of the street. The car addiction has become endemic, as has the related spread of obesity.

 Sturgeon deserves some credit for trying to tackle that addiction head-on.

 When schoolkids gathered in Inverness a couple of weeks ago for an Inverness “extinction rebellion” demonstration they were sincere and well-behaved. I mingled with the gathering as the high-pitched chants demanding “action now!” reverberated around Falcon Square.

 But I couldn’t help feeling a tinge of scepticism. They mean well in adolescence, but I’ll bet when they turn 18 the prime ambition of the vast majority will be to pass the driving test and get a car. Not to mention flying to party holidays in Ibiza as often as financially possible.

 Sturgeon’s direct new parking penalty which will impact on car users is an altogether more serious matter.

 She has been warned “not to take voters for granted”. Has she calculated that those who support independence will vote SNP regardless of what she does? Maybe, but it’s still a bold move.

 The hypocrisy of the First Minister and her nationalist cohorts over Brexit knows no bounds. But at least she has shown she hasn’t become totally detached from trying to give an honest response to a tough question, like what’s to be done in real terms about climate change. However grudgingly it may be given, she deserves some credit for that.

If only council could see sense more often

 PLANS to build houses encroaching on the Merkinch nature reserve have been dropped by Highland Council. It didn’t take them long to realise how bad a move that would be.

 A protest meeting at the Merkinch Centre attended by around 100 people made clear the level of opposition to the scheme. Del McClurg, the chairman of the local community council and a doughty campaigner, was gripped by a mixture of anger and despair at what was planned.

 When I spoke to her, so soon after the Gathering Place go-ahead, she couldn’t believe the council was hellbent on making yet another grotesquely bad decision.

 But this time they very quickly saw sense and backed down.

 The change of heart is welcome, and should be taken at face value.

 But if only they were able to adapt to sincere and genuine public opinion more often. Like a 3,000-strong petition filled with heartfelt opposition to building a wall and concrete pathways on a natural and unspoilt area of the Ness riverside.

Brexit ‘to blame’ for best tourist season ever

THE latest Brexit-related fear unleashed on the nation is that after October 31 we’ll run out of toilet paper, and people have already started hoarding it.

 Does this ring true? There’s plenty of the stuff still available in the city stores I use. Probably excreted somewhere from the churning bowels of social media sites, it sounds to me like a load of – well, I won’t use a word closely associated with toilet paper.

 In any case, as one pundit has already said, even if does turn out to be true, we’ll still cope, we’ll still manage. Many people used to use cut-up newspapers for the purpose intended. That, certainly is true. So our fine and valued local papers would serve a dual purpose, become more valued than ever, and would sell more copies. That’d be a result.

 More seriously, if that’s possible, there are worries and concerns about Brexit, inflamed to the maximum extent particularly by the “Brexit Armageddon” nationalists who are hoping and praying for the worst possible outcome to the saga.

 But we’ll cope, we’ll manage. The world won’t end as we supposedly “tumble off a cliff”.

 As long as stores are able to provide essentials like bread, beans, bacon and beer we’ll get by, whatever happens. I get no sense whatever of simmering panic over the rapid approach of October 31. The fear-mongering isn’t working.

 Meanwhile, Inverness has just had what must surely turn out to be a record-breaking year for tourism, with a mass influx of people from abroad. In all the past decades I’ve never been aware of so many foreign tourists milling around. The city and its hotels and guest houses – and Airbnb outlets – have been packed with them.

 They have brought in huge amounts of money and helped sustain many jobs. And why has this happened? Because the low value of the pound which stems from the Brexit vote means this is a bargain-basement destination for them. But don’t expect to hear the benefits of the Brexit-related tourist boom being widely extolled.

 Conversely, the prime reason so many voted for Brexit – including (as so many try to ignore) no less than 44 per cent of voters in the Highlands – will be fulfilled.

 The “open border” travesty whereby anyone and everyone can come and settle here will end. We will regain control of our borders and “free movement” will be terminated.

 Those who have already settled here from the EU are hugely welcome but we cannot have unrestricted immigration from Poland, Romania and elsewhere placing an ever heavier demand on public services, on our overcrowded schools and overworked NHS, and particularly on housing, where there aren’t nearly enough homes for local people and rents are going through the roof. That will, even it takes time, grind to a halt.

 And if we do have to cut up a few newspapers as a result, that’s an old-fashioned scissors and squares price that’s well worth paying.

Bite bullet and raise charges at Inverness Leisure

STAFF at Inverness Leisure are currently carrying out a survey among those who use the venue, with questions relating to the value for money it provides.

 When asked, my response virtually every time was “excellent” or “outstanding”. The only exception was on the equipment, which I “rated” good. I couldn’t in truth give it a top ranking because some of the gym machines I use, several years after the last overhaul and replacement, are now showing their age through technical glitches. Other users have said the same.

 But the fact remains that Inverness Leisure is the lowest-priced such municipal venue in the country. A single membership costs £20 a month and family membership is only a bit more, for a wide range of facilities and exercise classes for people of every age and fitness level.

 Next to Raigmore Hospital, it’s by far the most important health and wellbeing centre in the city.

 Price rises are never going to be welcome anywhere, anytime, but if charges were raised overall by a fiver I couldn’t see many people complaining, and only a fractionally small number pulling out altogether. Inverness Leisure would still offer superb value for money to the thousands who use it, and the extra cash would help offset the impact of funding cutbacks.

 I hope those responsible for running the centre decide, after this survey is completed, to bite the bullet and raise charges. Inverness Leisure would still be the cheapest and best value for money venue of its kind in Scotland, and hopefully some new equipment in due course would follow as a bonus.

 Far better to pay that extra fiver than for concerns to steadily grow over a decline in the quality of a venue which is prized and valued by so many.

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