Monday, February 27, 2006
The Scottish Labour Party yesterday agreed to support the building of nuclear power stations north of the Border.To call this good news would be a vast understatement. Reading between the lines this is a genuine popular move from the rank & file & thus a "surprise" move for a motion produced by Amicus. Looking at the Scottish Labour website there was no motion up on nuclear but there was one on Sunday morning on Growing Scotland's Economy (good to see them at least willing to discuss such things) & I suspect Amicus may have put an amendment to it. The Labour website doesn't have anything on this yet which also suggests it wasn't planned.
In a surprise move on the final day of the party conference in Aviemore, delegates overwhelmingly approved a call for ageing nuclear plants to be replaced or renewed. Allan Wilson, the deputy enterprise minister and a member of the party's Scottish policy forum, confirmed that the views of the conference would be taken into account when Labour draws up its manifesto for the 2007 elections.
The official Executive policy - agreed with the Lib Dems - is that there should be no decision until the Committee on Radioactive Waste Management reports to the UK government on disposal of radioactive waste. But there is growing speculation that the committee report, expected in the summer or early autumn, will say that waste can be safely stored and that Tony Blair, the Prime Minister, will then decide in favour of building new nuclear power stations.
In Scotland, the final say over whether new stations get the go-ahead lies with the Executive under energy and planning legislation and ministers will be forced to decide one way or the other.
Yesterday's vote to endorse nuclear power as part of a balanced energy policy, including "clean coal" and new, renewable technology such as wind and wave power, came after a motion proposed by the Amicus union, which represents nuclear workers.
Hugh Scullion, of Amicus, said: "It is just plain daft to rely on one energy-generating solution and future generations will not thank us for making that mistake. We support a balanced energy policy that promotes the use of all available energy in the most productive manner possible. This should include conventional fossil fuels, coal and oil, gas, renewables and nuclear."
Dr Elaine Murray, the MSP for Dumfries, said: "We cannot continue to hide forever behind a sentence from the coalition agreement that says Scottish Labour does not support the further development of nuclear power stations while waste issues remain unresolved." She said that the nuclear waste issue had to be resolved and she added that new-generation nuclear power stations produced much less waste than older plants.
The Labour decision is unlikely to split the coalition. Sources close to Nicol Stephen, the deputy first minister, believe that when the committee on waste reports, the two parties will agree that they will study its findings, taking them to the 2007 elections. However, it now seems certain that in the elections, Labour will be pro-nuclear and the Lib Dems, still their most likely coalition partners, implacably opposed to the idea.
This is not an immediate solution to everything. If this can only go ahead after the 2007 elections we are not out of the woods. It takes the Japanese 4 years to build a reactor but most westerners have assumed about 12, the difference being 8 years for the paperwork. With Hunterston due to close in 2011 we would in practice need a short extension even if they started building on day one after the election. We are very much in the later minutes of the eleventh hour if we want to avoid blackouts.
Beyond that there is the long term. Avoiding blackouts is only one thing - we should & could have a genuine world class inexpensive electricity system able to end fuel poverty (& hypothermia). This would involve actually increasing our reactors & stopping shelling out for nonsense like windmills. Since this was passed by an overwhelming majority a concensus on this may, despite platitudes, be achievable.
I suspect that Labour's scare from the Dunfermline by-election has concentrated minds wonderfully - they now have an important policy on which they are sensible & the SLD & SNP are clearly silly. Indeed the novel option of the next Scottish Executive being formed by Labour & Tories in an alliance designed to prevent blackouts is a real possibility. The SNP & SLD will need to put in a bit of thought.
Despite what sources close to Nicol Stephen say about studying the report all this would do would be to ensure that in the pre-election period, the SLD were to be seen to be delaying & obfuscating an urgently needed decision. He has made it clear that he opposes nuclear. I happen to know that the party has refused debate to 2 pro-nuclear motions (in which I was not involved) & one amendment (in which I was). I have also previously mentioned that the Glasgow Lib Dem Councillors broke ranks with the party leadership to publicly vote for more nuclear power. Thus the Scotsman's assurance that the Lib Dems will be "implacably" opposed to nuclear may be wrong(though going into the election with a placable commitment would look silly).
Sources close to Neil Craig say that the the forthcoming conference debate nominally on radioactive waste but actually on nuclear power as a whole will be interesting & regrets that he & Steuart Campbell (the 2 people who spoke in favour last time it was discussed) will probably be unable to attend.
Sunday, February 26, 2006
MOTION 1 MANAGING RADIOACTIVE WASTE*
No I'm not going to type these all out. All you want to know is "Conference reiterates its opposition to the construction of new nuclear power stations" followed by 10 paras of why radioactive waste will "remain dangerous for hundreds of thousands of years" (it won't). This is designed to keep the debate off the subject of the 2/3rds of electricity we are about to lose - a matter which makes a substantial number of Lib Dems support nuclear - Glasgow Lib Dem councillors produced a composite pro-nuclear motion with Labour, which, while purely token, is a substantial token.
2 - TRANSPORT PLANNING*
1(b) bullet train between Glasgow & Edinburgh - maybe £1 billion, maybe £3B
(d) "improving the regulatory ability of local authorities over bus services" (from the context "improving" automaticaly means giving the council more powers - I have a philosophical difference with this)
2(d) "encouraging public transport use, walking & cycling to tackle obesity" (this is a transport policy?)
3(c) "improving the attractiveness of walking & cycling by reducing vehicle speeds in residential areas" (anybody want to define a residential area?)
3 - TEACHING OF FOREIGN LANGUAGES*
"supporting", "encouraging", "baseline audit", "expansion", ""building of capacity" & generally spending.
4 - HOLDING MOTION - MOVING TO FEDERALISM*
5 - EARLY YEARS EDUCATION CHILDCARE & FAMILY SUPPORT*
Breakfast clubs before school, more after school activities, parenting support training & nurturing classes (this has some points though again it is not costed)
6 - ALCOHOL & DRIVING (Inverness East constituency)
"conference notes with dismay that in the UK drunk driving caused the loss of an estimated 590 lives....1 in 6" so cut the limit from 80mg to 50mg. (I would point out that in 1879 total road deaths were 1590, half todays, & the car hadn't been invented so on balance I don't think that is to dismaying. In any case we are talking about deaths caused by people already over the limit - what effect will cutting the limit do?
7 - ENCOURAGING CYCLING (Inverness East)
"increase funding", "increase investment", "shift the balance of the law.....treat the vehicle driver more seriously than the vulnerable road user"(I sympathise with the intention but I don't like the idea of assuming one party guilty until proven innocent), "20mph zones in residential areas"(almost everywhere is residential to somebody)
8 - ROAD USER PRICING (Referred from Federal Conference)
(Personally I don't see that road pricing systems will be much better at allocating proper costs than petrol tax since cars in congestion use faar more petrol per mile than those on open roads. It will also give government an enormous system for watching & contolling us)
9 - HOSPITAL NUTRITION (Women's Group)
"awareness", "national standards", "attention given to the wishes of patients", "recruitment of dieticians", "attention ...in line with that now given to school meals"(actually while this would take a little money & runs the risk of getting staff into additional meetings hospital food is notoriously dreadful so I would support this)
10 - ENERGY EFFICIENCY & URBAN RENEWABLES (Scottish Green Lib Dems)
"we need a revolution in renewable energy in urban areas", ""require all new homes & buildings to (have) wind turbines (etc)", "reform planning law to make micro-generation permitted development" (well I support getting rid of planning regulations too but more to allow pputting up houses rather than noisy windmills - I guess this is amatter of priorities), "business rate reductions for companies fitting micro-generation devices" (it is good to see everybody agrees cutting business rates will encourage industry - it is just a pity that the only form of encouragement allowed to be discussed is not encouraging economic success but just encouraging windmills), "guarantee MG electricity can be sold back to the grid at market rate" ("market rate" means what somebody will buy it for - what they really mean is at 2 in the morning when nobody is using we would still have to pay for it, & for all the metering etc this nonsense would cost), "tax reforms that will reward energy saving businesses"(One of the reasons for not allowing my motion is that it was "not costed" which it was - this motion shows no sign of costings & would clearly, if implemented at non-token level cost many billions annually & drive up housing costs substantially)
11 - HEALTH SERVICES IN SCOTLAND - East Renfrewshire
"extend GP hours", "fine those who fail to attend appointments"(I am amazed this got put up - since it is exactly what the health service needs it is extremely politically incorrect), "mandatory ambulance ...within a guaranteed time"(mandatory waiting list times have led to people playing around with list - you don't have time on a 999 call to play with lists), "review...competitive tendering..end cleaning staff serving food"(more union power, more demarcation dispute ....it makes me feel young), "establish gender balance ...of medical students"(so nursing courses go abegging because they can't fill 50% of places with men), "requirement of all dental practitioners to allocate time for NHS"(or what - you won't allow them to emigrate), "increase the number of UK citizens who wish to be medical, dental & nursing students...to faciltate 3rd worlders ...to serve in ...countries of need"(how to increase that number - tell them they will be forced to work longer hours & more time in the NHS?)
12 - FIRE SERVICES - HOLDING MOTION - Aberdeen South
Once again, as in every conference since devolution, nothing on improving the economy & creating wealth. Nothing on reducing bureaucracy or nannyism. Just lots & lots of niggling silly ways of telling other people what to do, & a very few good points.
* motions marked this way are from the Policy Committee so only 3 full motions from constituencies got accepted, 2 from the same contituency but the Wimmen's & Green special interest groups got on which shows how much the special interests have hollowed out what was a live party.