Tag: political parties

June 7, 2017 Nick Kempe 1 comment

What has been going on, and going wrong, in Scotland’s two National Parks since they were created has been a microcosm of our society as a whole and I believe reflects the current crisis in capitalism.  Increasing inequality, public authorities whose main purpose is to facilitate business interests (whether through outsourcing services or paving the way for developers), a wilful disregard for people and other species.   I have avoided mentioning the General Election since it was announced (see here) but what happens tomorrow is very important to the future of our National Parks, despite what I regard as the sterile political “debate” that has been conducted in Scotland.

 

I am a Social Worker by trade and have sometimes question how I can justify time campaigning for better National Parks when there are so many homeless people on the street and we live in one of the richest countries in the world (whether you see Scotland or Britain as your country).   I don’t however think that social justice and access to the natural environment are separate issues.   Historically some of the greatest campaigners for the countryside ( Patrick Geddes in Scotland who was both a Professor of Botany and a Professor of Sociology) were also  campaigners for social justice and its no coincidence that the post-war Labour Government created both the NHS and National Parks:

 

“the enjoyment of our leisure in the open air and the ability to leave our towns and walk on the moors and in the dales without fear of interruption are……….just as much part of positive health and well being as are the building of hospitals or insurance against sickness…….This is not just a Bill.  It is a People’s Charter……..”  

(Lewis Silkin introducing the National Park and Access to Countryside Act 1949).

The Party manifestos

 

I have taken a  look at the Scottish political party manifestos to see whether they any are making the links between social and environmental justice and have any vision for the role National Parks could play in delivering this.

 

The SNP manifesto is interesting because while it articulates a vision for social justice, including at the UK level, there is almost nothing on the environment apart from climate change and no mention of National Parks.   In my view it reads a bit like one half of the labour programme from the 1940s, albeit not fundamentally challenging the philosophical basis of neoliberalism.

 

The Scottish Labour Manifesto repeats the UK manifesto and at least recognises what is going wrong:  “The balance needs resetting: our air is polluted, our farms face an uncertain future, our fish stocks are collapsing, our oceans are used as dumping grounds, our forests, green belt, National Parks, and Sites of Special Scientific Interest are all under threat.”   The proposals to redress the balance are mainly focussed on improving enforcement of environmental and other laws, which though welcome, is only half the challenge.   There is little articulation of what a fairer Britain means for our landscapes.

 

The Liberal Democrat Manifesto also makes no mention of National Parks and focusses mainly on the risks that the protections offered by European environmental laws could be undermined by Brexit.  The assumption is these laws are working and there is little vision for a different future (apart from a ban on the neonicotonids which are destroying bee populations).

 

The Scottish Green manifesto is brief and although the most radical makes no mention of National Parks.  Unfortunately the Party with perhaps the most potential to shift the terms of the current debate is hardly participating in the election – a missed opportunity.

 

Interestingly its the Tory manifesto which appears to offer the most holistic vision:

 

We can no longer think of economic development as a competing force against
environmental protection. Earlier this year, the Scottish Conservatives set out our
approach to environmental policy in a comprehensive policy document. The paper
included ambitious plans across seven key sections including the circular economy,
biodiversity, energy, homes and transport. In it, we have argued for the setting up of
new national parks, the introduction of a range of non-fiscal incentives for the use of
electric vehicles, new urban consolidation hubs to reduce traffic emissions or further
development of district heating networks. Our approach will provide a greener and more
sustainable Scotland for us all. We set ourselves this task because we believe it is one of
the greatest challenges of our times. It is for this generation to tackle the issue and ensure
that the next will live in a better, more productive and more sustainable world.

 

The debate on the establishment of New National Parks – Scottish Parliament: 24 May 2017

 

In the middle of the election campaign there was a debate in the Scottish Parliament on new National Parks, which you can see on Scottish Parliament TV (see here) .   The motion, put by the Tories,  was

 

“That the Parliament recognises the value of Scotland’s outstanding natural beauty, which creates jobs, contributes to the economy and attracts millions of tourists from Galloway and West Dumfries, the rest of Scotland and the world; notes what it sees as the success of the Cairngorms and Loch Lomond and The Trossachs national parks in conserving and enhancing the natural heritage of these areas, and notes the calls on the Scottish Government to conduct a review of national parks and consider the establishment of new ones.”

 

What the Tories have recognised is that people care about the landscape and this can be good for the economy.   The debate showed however that in Scotland the whole framework for discussion for conservation and enjoyment of the countryside is being held in a resolutely neo-liberal framework, which assumes neo-liberalism and  austerity is here to stay (despite the possibility of an earthquake south of the border tomorrow which no-one could have anticipated 6 weeks ago).

 

This was summed up by the Minister of the Environment, Roseanna Cunningham, at the end of the debate where she said she did not share the optimism that new National Parks could be set up with little cost and that the reality is there is less money and that the money has to come from elsewhere.   She described the silence on this from the other contributors to the debate as telling.  She went on to say that the  “costs associated with all 7 Natonal Parks (as proposed by the Scottish Campaign for National Parks of which I am a member) would run into tens of millions…………….in the current circumstances there is no likelihood of being able to assign the finance”           While she applauded the “desire to protect Scotland’s iconic landscapes”  she also stated “National Parks are just one designation that can boost economic development of an area” suggesting she sees National Parks as a means of economic development, albeit one we cannot afford.    The response from the Tories to this challenge was that new National Parks was all about getting the right Business Case but they did not challenge the austerity narrative, suggesting they agreed with Roseanna Cunningham, that the main issue is about how we spend limited resources.

 

They are not alone in this.  In Wales the Labour Government has been trying to change the law on National Parks in order to “free up” economic development (see here).  A reflection of the schism between the economic philosophy of the Corbynite UK labour party and the labour party in the devolved administrations.

 

I found the debate very disappointing.  It provided little indication at present that our politicians in Scotland are able to articulate a vision which is not entirely based on money and that National Parks matter for reasons other than our neoliberal economy (though Alison Johnstone from the Greens did make the case for National Parks protecting mountain hares).

 

I still haven’t decided how I will vote tomorrow.  The possibilities of alternative visions of society – in which National Parks could play an important role – which were around during the Independence Referendum appear to have shifted to south of the border.    I hope they remain after tomorrow as I think this could help rejuvenate visionary thinking and debate in Scotland.

May 26, 2016 Nick Kempe No comments exist

My thanks to Stella Bray who asked Patrick Harvie, Leader of the Greens, his view of the camping byelaws in an online question and answer session before the election  https://www.facebook.com/ScottishGreens/videos/10154164579926170/  His response appears 39 mins and 39 seconds into the video and is worth listening to.    He clearly states that there is no justification for stopping people from camping responsibly, that the proposed camping byelaws are contrary to the whole direction on land reform since the creation of the Scottish Parliament and that bad  behaviour, whether in Kelvin Park or Loch Lomond, can be dealt with in other ways (which is what all the campaigners against the byelaws, including former Chief Inspector Kevin Findlater, have been saying from day one).  He also indicates that the Greens will work to have the byelaws repealed.   He is, to the best of my knowledge, the first national politician to state this.

 

While the LLTNPA and the Scottish Government have tried to portray campers as having adverse impact on the natural environment (without having evidence for this) it is significant that the Greens, whose mission is to protect the environment, do not see people enjoying the outdoors as an environmental issue, even when they behave badly and appear to have a good  understanding of how access rights were intended to operate.     .

 

We need more politicians to speak out and now the Greens have taken a stance on the camping byelaws, I hope other political parties will follow.  We now have a new Cabinet Secretary for the Environment, Roseanna Cunningham, who was involved in the development of the first Land Reform Act and access rights and appears far more likely to listen than Aileen McLeod, who appears to have been completely out of her depth. I am optimistic there is an opportunity to repeal the byelaws before even more resources are wasted on designing systems to try and chase campers out of the best camping areas in the National Park.

May 6, 2016 Nick Kempe No comments exist

In London, what appears to be a  very successful campaign  is developing to turn it into the world’s first National Park city.  The proposal won the support of the Labour, Tory, Liberal Democrat and Green candidates for the London Mayor election.  Its proponents, from health experts to nature conservationists, architects to geographers, are now trying to win support from local councillors.   According to a poll in the London Evening Standard something like 90% of Londoner’s agree with the idea.

 

As the Greater London National Park City admits, the proposal is not for a National Park in the traditional sense.   It is not about the countryside, does not fit the criteria of the National Park legislation in England (see statement from National Parks England) and does not fit any of the international criteria for protected areas.   The City of London will still dominate.  It is though about further greening of the city.  The term “National Park” is being used because it has resonance, the power to convey a message.

 

Thereby, I believe,  lies a danger.  That the whole concept of what National Parks should be about is diluted, perhaps even polluted.   The risk is the term “National Park” no longer represents ideas about putting the natural environment first but rather becomes associated with attempts to fit nature better around human development.    To put it crudely, if the City of London merits the term National Park, what is to prevent us from building a city in the middle of the Cairngorms or over the top of Loch Lomond if the need arises?

 

The success of the campaign though does tell us something about the importance of nature to people.      People want to connect to nature but, because London is so large and difficult to escape from, the only option for many people is to green their our own backyard or treasurer the pockets of wildness among the skyscrapers.    People like David Lindo, who writes for the RSPB magazine about urban birdwatching, illustrate the point well and the London City National Park campaign pages have some fantastic photos of London wildlife.

 

Cities in Scotland, and indeed the rest of England, also have some wonderful wildlife – the discovery of water voles in the East End of Glasgow comes to mind – but because they are so much smaller, the  countryside is much easier to access.    If you want to connect to nature, it is much easier – if you have the income – to escape the city.  There are of course plenty of green initiatives in Scottish cities, people care just as much as they do in London, but I think our geography reduces the political pressure to green our urban environment.   The middle classes can and do get out – and its often to our two National Parks – areas where the natural environment should come first.

 

While our geography should make it easier to keep the concept of National Parks separate from Greening the City, I believe we need  to consider the relationship between our cities, where most people live, and our National Parks.

 

To give one example, if you agree with our National Park’s current statutory objectives to promote recreational enjoyment and understanding, their connectedness and accessibility  to the urban population should be one benchmark of their success.   By this measure, at present our National Parks are not doing well, aside from the arterial routes along the A9 and A82 and their railway lines, with large swathes of the inhabited off limits for those who have no car.

Try getting to:

    • Ben Lomond from Glasgow – our aspiration should be that everyone from the Glasgow conurbation should experience the view from Ben Lomond once in their lifetime but the only way to get to Rowardennan by public transport is by expensive private waterbus in the summer months
    • Braemar from the south – Balmoral is, for better or worse, one of our most famous tourist attractions but  even as a tourist, after viewing Holyrood palace, you cannot jump on a bus to Deeside but have to go the long way round to Aberdeen.  Blairgowrie to Braemar is 45 minutes or so by car, 5 hours and 30 minutes by bus.
Lochnagar, an iconic mountain like Ben Lomond which is very hard to access without a car
Lochnagar, an iconic mountain which, like Ben Lomond, is very hard to access without a car

There are many other examples, particularly of dead-end roads that provide the main means of access to some of the core areas of our National Parks.   This is a challenge if you are a hillwalker or mountaineer with a green conscience but its also an issue, to use the current political terminology,  about social inclusion, equality of access and social justice.   Its another very good reason for the new Scottish Parliament to review our National Parks.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

May 4, 2016 Nick Kempe No comments exist

Like many people, I have not had a good thing to say about the banks for several years.  Following the financial crisis, I came to the conclusion that the banks should not be allowed to issue paper currency or create electronic money, as debt, out of thin air.   Such money is often used in socially and environmentally damaging ways, including financing operations which undermine the very purpose of our National Parks.

 

However, if the Scottish Government had decided to issue paper currency which  featured three of Scotland’s great landscape writers, Sorley MacLean, Norman MacCaig and Nan Shepherd and a nature quote from Mary Somerville, I would have been delighted.   RBS did just that ten days ago when they announced the theme of their new banknotes would be “the fabric of nature”.

 

Its ironic that the Scottish Committee of RBS, which decided on the new banknote designs, has given more prominence in this election campaign to the importance of our relationship with nature than our politicians.    The banks though understand something about the importance of beauty.  As I read somewhere last week, imagine a £20 note on plain paper, no-one would believe it represented anything.  Create a wonderful design and adorn it with someone who represents integrity and you have transformed a piece of paper, into fiat money, something which embodies a complex system of  values and beliefs.

 

The news coverage and the RBS website did not say us what quotations will be included on the banknotes.  I have struggled to decipher them but they include the following  lines from MacCaig:

“The cork that can’t be travels –

Nose of a dog otter.”

and “Its a grand thing to get leave to live” from the £5 note featuring  Nan Shepherd, the great writer about the Cairngorms.

 

I wonder what MacCaig, who wrote

Who possesses this landscape? –

The man who bought it or

I who am possessed by it?

False questions, for

this landscape is

masterless……….”;

would have made of it?

 

A few days ago, I was helpfully reminded by a reader that the SNP – whose manifesto like other parties I had criticised for their lack of meaningful commitments to landscape and the natural environment – had initiated a ban on windfarms in National Scenic Areas and areas of Wild Land.   A step to be welcomed and in the right direction.  It is though a step which I suspect the other political parties,  had they been in power, might also have made in the face of widespread discontent from people concerned about our landscapes.    I do not believe a few such steps forward can  disguise the lack of vision or the fact that they are re-positioning after the event.

 

We need our politicians to escape the clutches of their chaperones, experience the landscape for themselves and then maybe borrow from some of the writers who will be featured on the new RBS notes to articulate what’s important about the natural environment.    They might then start to think about how better to direct investment in the countryside and our National Parks – including where RBS puts our money.

 

 

April 29, 2016 Nick Kempe No comments exist
The Scottish Labour Party issued its election manifesto on Wednesday, for some strange reason long after the other political parties.    Judging by the 2.7k hits on its website there has not been that much interest but, unlike the SNP, it does make commitments in respect to National Parks:
Scottish Labour in government  established the Cairngorms and Loch Lomond & The Trossachs National Parks to conserve and enhance the natural heritage of these areas of beauty. We will review the future of National Parks to protect them and consider options for establishing a new National Park.”
While the language is a little vague, no other political party has made a commitment to a review which will include existing National Parks – politically this is a significant step forward.   We need our politicians to recognise the failures of our existing National Parks and that they could and should do better.  Unfortunately, the next statement about “establishing a new National Park” does not inspire confidence that Labour has much understanding of the issues.   Why just one National Park?  If Labour believes there should be just one more, why not tell the public where it will be? 
 
There are some other goods things in the manifesto, particularly the connection between our land and poverty:  “We have land and sea in plenty, but too many in Scotland rely on food banks in order to eat, while farmers and fishermen find it hard to make a living”.  Unfortunately though, the manifesto contains almost no ideas about alternative environmentally sustainable uses for the land which might address these issues.    Our existing National Parks, which include many inhabited areas, could and should be tasked with developing alternative models for the rural economy which put conservation and enjoyment of the countryside first.
 

Making the National Parks a political issue

Dave Morris, a contributor to Parkswatchscotland, is doing his best to raise political awareness of the failures of the current Scottish Government in relation to National Parks and the wider countryside as in his  Herald Letter, published 29th April (its the second letter down and not about the Labour Party!), and also available here Herald Letters 29 April 2016).
While not everyone will agree with Dave’s proposed political solution,  there is much to commend  his succinct analysis of the Scottish Government’s failures in respect of Land Reform and the natural environment, including National Parks.  Ultimately, if we are to achieve change in our National Parks, we need these issues to feature far more highly in the internal agendas of all the political parties.  Parkswatchscotland is not party political but wishes to raise public political awareness and debate about how our National Parks operate.
March 29, 2016 Nick Kempe No comments exist

Last week, the Tory Government at Westminster published an 8 – Point Plan for National Parks in England http://www.cnp.org.uk/sites/default/files/uploadsfiles/National%20Parks%20Plan.pdf

In the introduction it states the Government has an “ambition to put National Parks at the heart of the way we think about the environment”.

 

Contrast this level of interest with this week’s Political Hustings in the Sunday Herald  which gave the political parties a chance to consider “all things environmental”.  Aileen McLeod, the Environment Minister, wrote the SNP contribution which was limited to repeating what the Government has done so far on climate change (no new commitments) and a statement a future SNP Government would increase the Climate Justice fund to £3m a year.    Her poverty of imagination is illustrated by the issues mentioned by Mark Ruskell for the Greens:  sea and air pollution, including pesticides; warm homes; fracking; environmental jobs; greener farming through changing subsidies and land reform;  food poverty; green spaces and wildlife persecution.   Sarah Boyack said Labour would protect air, water and food but spent most of her piece attacking the SNP record on fracking rather than saying what Labour would do.   Only RISE mentioned re-wilding and only the Tories mentioned landscape, two issues which should be central to the future of our National Parks.

 

The Scottish Tories, in line with their party south of the border, are even calling for an extension of National Parks, something that the SNP Government included in their last election manifesto but have never progressed.    While some of the ideology behind the Tories 8-Point Action Plan makes me cringe –  “National Parks are the soul of Britain. They are the centre of our imagination. When people think of Britain, wherever they are, they imagine these landscapes” –   they have picked up on something, that landscapes are very important to people.   The other political parties in Scotland have missed this almost completely.    Our politicians have been treating the performance of our existing National Parks as a management, not an environmental or political issue.

 

While I am not advocating an English model for our National Parks, our politicians could still learn something from the 8-Point Action Plan, for example:
* that our National Parks have a role in preventing flooding – think of the Cairngorms, intensive moorland management and the floods on Deeside
* that our National Parks have a key role to play in outdoor education and the commitment to increase this – think of the closure of Outdoor Education centres for young people in our National Parks as a result of Local Authority cuts
* that the diversity of people visiting the National Parks should be increased – think of the proposed camping ban and its impact on  people from the Clyde conurbation being able to enjoy the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park.
While the action plan is full of positive aspirations, some of the proposed targets are far from meeting those aspirations and I find that some of the means of getting there are quite sinister.  For example, Westminster wants to connect every young person with nature and is aiming to ensure that 60,000 young people a year experience the Parks through the National Citizens Service.  NCS “brings together young people from different backgrounds to learn about responsibility and serving their communities” – not, you may note to enjoy the outdoors or learn about the natural environment.      The Action Plan therefore is far from a suitable blue-print for Scotland but should be a wake-up call to the next Scottish Government.
In order to try and promote some debate about National Parks in the lead up to the Scottish Elections – and what a Scottish Action Plan for our existing National Parks might look like – Parkswatch hopes to feature some articles from different authors over the next few weeks.