“The rocks will melt with the sun before I allow tuition fees to be imposed on Scotland,” reads a rather grandiose monument at Heriot Watt University in Edinburgh. I put it rather more simply than the former First Minister when I told a student protest outside Holyrood in 2011: “If I ever vote for fees, sack me.”
Education is a right that should be available to all, not just those who can afford it. Creating more opportunities for everyone who wants to gain a place at college or university is vital for our collective prosperity and quality of life.
Mark called these extraordinary political times and I was going to begin by suggesting that 2016 might just be the weirdest year in modern politics - it has been bizarre. I think my greatest sympathies this year go out to Charlie Brooker, whose Screenwipe for the year is going to have to be about six hours long in order to fit everything in! We've watched throughout the UK as – for example – the Labour Party continues on its apparent course toward meltdown. MPs who seem to want a leadership election as often as UKIP have one!
The Scottish Government’s decision to ban Underground Coal Gasification (UCG) is first and foremost a victory for people power. But it also speaks to the wider energy choices Scotland must face in the near future.
From the outset, the whole idea of setting undersea coal seams alight seemed like an environmental disaster waiting to happen.
Readers of the National are unlikely to need a reminder that Sunday marks the second anniversary of Scotland’s independence referendum (perhaps to be known in future as Scotland’s first independence referendum).
Tax avoidance is nothing new. For as long as there have been taxes levied, there have always been people willing to jump through every loophole they can find to avoid paying their fair share. It’s unlikely that any tax system will ever be perfect, and the problem has grown as the financial and business environment has become ever more complex.
So that was summer. Just a few typical “silly season” stories this year… the UK vote to quit the EU, the renewed prospect of Scotland reconsidering independence, the Chilcot report, a sudden bout of Tory backstabbing before a new Prime Minister took office, economic turmoil, ever-more urgent climate warning signs, open civil war in the Labour Party with the prospect of splits to come, devastating acts of violence in Europe and the middle east, and of course continuation of the bewildering delusional nonsense from the Cult of Trump.
The phoney war that is the annual GERS debate has broken out again. It’s all too predictable, but with Scotland’s public finances under scrutiny I make no apology for once again challenging the dominant assumptions about oil and gas. In 2014 the Green Yes campaign published figures showing that the multinationals operating in the North Sea were receiving around £1 billion worth of tax breaks from the UK Government every year – despite making huge profits.
One of the most frequent arguments heard in 2014 in favour of Scotland becoming an independent country was that it would give us an opportunity to operate our own social security policy, setting a different political course from Westminster. In the face of the UK Government’s full scale assault on the welfare state, many people saw the need for a radical change and saw independence as the means.