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The Scottish Government has announced that it is not to pursue the forest leasing scheme. The plan was to lease 25% of Scotland’s forest estate for 75 years an to use the revenue generated to pay for climate control measures.
Highland MSP, Jamie McGrigor, says: ‘Having attended the packed forestry public meeting in the community centre in Lochgilphead in Argyll earlier this year where I listened to points made by many concerned constituents and having seen the published responses to the government’s consultation on this matter, the vast majority of which were against the leasing scheme, I believe this to be the right decision by the government’.
Fellow Highland MSP, David Stewart says: ‘“I lodged a series of parliamentary questions on the subject and also raised the issue a number of times, including in the recent parliamentary debate. From the answers that I have received, the bottom line is this: the idea came from City of London bankers Rothschild, which was Margaret Thatcher’s favourite privatisation bank. The proposal has been widely condemned across the political fold and the vast majority of consultation responses were extremely critical’.
It is fair to say that the proposal generated much heat rather than much genuine debate. The only debate worthy of the name was in Holyrood where facts actually did enter an exploration of the issues involved.
Apart from that, the parties opposed to the current Scottish Government seized the chance of political gain at the expense of reason and of properly informing their constituents.
The then Environment Minister Michael Russell repeatedly issued unequivocal assurances that jobs would not be lost, access to forest amenities would not be affected, the role of Forestry Commission Scotland would not be diluted and monitored wildlife protection would be part of any deal. These assurances were so absolute that the Minister’s credibility would have been irretrievably damaged were they not genuine.
However, opposition politicians ignored the assurances, did not trouble their constituents with facts but engaged energetically in low rent scaremongering devoid of information and evidence.
And it has worked.
No one emerges from this with any credit.
- Voters have allowed themselves yet again to be mindless pawns in other people’s political games
- Politicians have shown themselves to be more interested in their own party political gain than in Scotland’s future and in its ability to pay for what it needs to do
- The Scottish Government has failed to carry the debate to the people and, in accepting the political reality that scare tactics succeeded, it has retreated from a considered policy with no clear alternative in place.
The result is a mess to which we have all contributed.
It is a serious concern that one of the possible options new Environment Minister, Roseanna, Cunningham is touting, would see Scotland going back to the very bad old days of tax incentives for tree planting. This left great swathes of the countryside hidde from view, cloaked in commercial pine forests which, when harvested, leave the landscape looking like a post-Hiroshima disaster area. But hey, it lined the pockets of investors like Cliff Richard, Terry Wogan and the Queen.
This pre-devolution private enterprise afforestation ruined several of Scotland’s significant natural environments- like the flow country, now in long term rehabilitation. A post-devolution reintroduction of this scheme would see Scotland willfully inflict this sort of damage on itself.
The simple facts are that we have to capture carbon and we have to find the money from somewhere to pay for this and other vitally necessary measures to counter climate change. Scotland does not have the devolved powers for an adequate control of its economy. The money for environmental protection has to come from somewhere. This was an intelligent option which was irresponsibly undermined and has now been summarily abandoned.
Why was it not given another year of consultation, with the Government carrying the debate seriously and with commitment to the people?
It’s easy to understand a minority administration bowing to real politique, given the extent of the opposition raised. It’s also easy to understand a new Minister’s reluctance to face rabble rousing before she is in command of her brief.
Backing away from the proposal, however, is a political mistake.
- It allows it to be said that the proposal was ill thought.
- It leaves supporters of the proposal now wondering if in fact this accusation was right all along.
- It puts petrol in the tank of the old politics of fact-free scare mongering.
- It leaves Scotland prey to alternative measures with very real negative impacts – like tax incentives for tree planting.
And it leaves Roseanna Cunningham looking like a weak Minister, not a wise one and not a force to be reckoned with.
The photograph above, of sitka spruce forest, is reproduced here under the Creative Commons licence.