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An open letter from former MSP Mike MacKenzie to Patrick Harvie, Scottish Government Minister for Zero Carbon Buildings, Active Travel and Tenants’ Rights
Please accept my congratulations on your promotion.
I am writing to you in your capacity as the Minister for Zero Carbon Buildings because I am concerned that the Highlands and Islands, as ever, will bear the brunt of policies which may work well in urban Scotland but will be extremely onerous for those of us who live in the Highlands and Islands.
For example there were suggestions from some quarters during the election campaign in May that fossil fuels should be phased out in the Highlands and Islands by 2030. This is impractical and if attempted could lead to severe hardship.
As I’m sure you know the Highlands and Islands suffers from fuel poverty to a much greater extent than the rest of Scotland.
This is not just because of our harsher weather but because fuel prices are much higher here and incomes are significantly lower.
You will also know that, for example, electricity is around five times more expensive than mains gas and that the vast majority of people in rural Scotland are unable to access natural gas.
This is especially unfortunate since electricity in Scotland is now produced almost entirely from renewable sources and is therefore carbon-free.
The fact that fuel poverty is so high in Scotland with our abundant renewable energy resources is an outrage and a highly unfortunate aspect of UK energy policy.
I hope you agree with me that the best way we can meet climate change responsibilities is for Scotland to become independent as a matter of urgency and develop our own energy policies.
If we were to abandon fossil fuels in the Highlands and Islands we would be entirely reliant upon heat pumps.
Even if heat pumps are 200 per cent efficient, which is extremely doubtful in practise, we would still be faced with more than twice the cost of heating our homes compared to urban people using natural gas.
Considering the very significant costs of heat pumps, the costs of installation including underfloor heating or huge ‘over-sized’ radiators and the cost of installing sufficient levels of insulation, a massive investment would be required for each and every home.
We in the Highlands and Islands also have a much greater proportion of older and harder to heat houses than urban Scotland and these houses are also often harder to treat meaning that the installation of better insulation is difficult and sometimes impossible and where it can be done is often prohibitively expensive.
You will know, too, the dangers of rushing to insulate which we saw in the Grenfell Towers tragedy and that polyisocyanurate insulation is still in widespread use despite its flammability and the fact that when it burns it produces a cocktail of toxic gases including cyanide.
The recent experience of widespread power cuts during and following storm Arwen is a good indication of the very significant long-term under-investment in national grid infrastructure and this is particularly true in the Highlands and Islands where power cuts are a regular occurrence every winter.
It is not just the prospect of people freezing in their homes during lengthy power outages that is daunting but it is doubtful if the grid could meet further substantial demands placed upon it by using electricity as our sole means of heating without massive investment and upgrading.
I am very keen for Scotland to meet its climate change responsibilities and believe that Scotland could lead the world in this respect.
There are good and practically competent ways in which this could be achieved.
I am mindful, though, that Scotland has missed its climate change targets for three years in a row and that you may feel under pressure to embark on an experiment which may prove to be disastrous for the people of the Highlands and Islands.
You will know that the Highlands and Islands are responsible for a relatively small amount of Scotland’s CO2 emissions, most being produced in the central belt.
I am therefore keen to receive your reassurances that we in the Highlands are not going to be the victims of thoughtless policies which are implemented and conceived in haste.
Mike MacKenzie, Easdale
Act FAST to combat strokes
Chest Heart and Stroke Scotland is urging people to act FAST and call 999 as soon as you experience symptoms.
FAST is a simple acronym to remind people of the key signs of stroke:
FACE – Can the person smile, does one side of their face droop?
ARM – Can they lift both arms? Is one weak?
SPEECH – Is their speech slurred or muddled?
TIME – If any one of these symptoms are present, call 999.
Stroke doesn’t stop because of Christmas or the pandemic; it can happen at any time and anywhere.
By the end of today, 25 people across Scotland will have suffered a stroke. The same will happen tomorrow.
We know the NHS is under pressure right now, but it’s vital that people don’t forget that a stroke is a medical emergency. NHS stroke staff are on-hand to help you and save people’s lives.
It is important that people are aware of the signs and symptoms of stroke and phone 999 immediately if someone needs urgent medical attention. By getting help quickly, it not only increases people’s chance of survival but can help reduce disability.
These symptoms aren’t something for deliberation, if you see these signs, act FAST and save a life.
Jane-Claire Judson, chief executive at Chest Heart and Stroke Scotland