Linlithgow Natural Grid: Congratulating innovative new heating project

community energy project

We’ve recently heard some great news from Linlithgow. The Natural Grid, a community owned sustainable energy alternative, has won £25,000 from the Local Energy Challenge Fund for its project called ‘Heat from the Street’.

The project is an innovative initiative that aims to warm up buildings by capturing heat from the town’s waste water system. This will be done with the help of pumps that are powered by solar energy.

It’s a brilliant example of what communities can do by taking control over their energy production, and I hope to see similar projects set up by communities around Scotland. I have lodged a motion in the Scottish Parliament to congratulate the Linlithgow Natural Grid on their achievement, and to get MSPs talking about the huge potential of community energy.

Watch this space. With initiatives like Linlithgow’s, our cities, towns and villages can move away from a reliance on gas and electricity grids and lead the way to a low-carbon future for Scotland.

We’ve a long way to go before women feel as welcome in sport as they should.

Can you imagine taking your daughter to play a game of football on a Saturday afternoon only to be told that there’s no room for girls on the pitch?Football

Shockingly, this is what probably would have happened until as recently as 1972. Yes – would you believe it – women’s football was banned in the UK until that year. Back then, the game was seen as men’s remit, and the sports authorities forbid women from playing on football grounds.

Times have moved on. Women’s teams are blossoming around the country, and there are brilliant young women playing for Scotland on international fields. For this, we owe a huge thanks to football pioneers like the phenomenal Edna Neillis, who sadly passed away last July.

We’re also seeing some positive developments in management and coaching. Hibs Chief Leann Dempster, businesswoman Ann Budge and women’s national team coach Anna Signeul are all changing the face of Scottish football. Recently, Scotland got its first woman manager for men’s side when Shelley Kerr was appointed to lead Stirling University Football FC.

Despite all this, we’ve got a very long way to go before women feel as welcome in the sports world as they should. A BBC survey found that 80% of women athletes felt underpaid in comparison to men, and 85% thought that there wasn’t enough media coverage of their sport.

I feel frustrated for the brilliant sportswomen who still, in 2015, have to argue for their right to be treated as equal professionals. And I feel disappointed for the women who through hard work, commitment and passion achieve amazing victories, only to find that the media aren’t interested and the public don’t know about it.

But our main concern with sexism in sport should be the way in which it’s impacting on our children’s futures. It’s not rocket science – exercise is good for you, and we need our children to get excited by sport to grow into healthy, capable young people. If we’re not able to give our women athletes, coaches and managers the recognition they deserve, who will our girls and young women look up to for inspiration?

I cannot stress this enough – encouraging exercise should be a priority if we care about the welfare of our girls and young women. Research has shown that there is a worrying drop in participation in sport among 12 year old girls. This tells me that at a certain age, girls start to recognise that society still doesn’t think their place is on football pitches, in hockey halls and on tennis courts.

Too many teenage girls continue to think that what matters is staying slim, and that this can be achieved simply by going on a low-fat diet. It’s the 21st century now. We have to break this old-fashioned, destructive pattern.

We need to think of new ways to tackle the problem head-on. The Scottish Government’s ‘Fit for Life’ programme did consult girls on how we could better support them to get involved with sport, but I still don’t think we’re really listening to what our girls would like to do in P.E. class. We should mix things up by offering lots of different options for exercise; from cycling to hockey, and from dance to football.  We should also take a proper look at whether girls are more likely to take part in gender-based groups. Putting boys and girls in the same classes might not be such a bad idea.

And what about those role models? The time has come to recognise that sexism won’t disappear if we look away and hope for the best. In New Zealand, a policy decision means that women’s netball receives equal TV coverage with male-dominated sports. The netball players are now national sport superstars.

Scotland intends to bid to host the women’s rugby World Cup in 2021. If we get the chance to bring the event to our country, I’d like us to focus on two things. First, let’s make the games matter not just during the matches, but in the daily lives of our girls and boys by getting them excited and involved. Second, let’s make sure that we broadcast and celebrate the victories of our women rugby players as we would if the players were men. Let’s not leave our girls on the bench anymore.

Let local democracy flourish.

Depending on who you speak to, Edinburgh’s population either doubles or triples at this time of year. There’s no doubt our city bursts at the seams in summer. It’s part of what makes living here so special.

Edinburgh

Given our tourism magnet status, you’d think we’d be firmly in control of making the most of our circumstances.

Sadly, we have the most concentrated local democracy in the whole of the EU. In Scotland only 1 in 2,071 members of the electorate stands in local elections, and turnout is around 20 or 30 per cent. In other European countries it’s almost the norm to want to be a councillor, and turnouts are often around 60 or 70 per cent.

Iceland, with a population of just 300,000, has 79 local authorities which raise 92 per cent of their own revenue and turnouts at local elections are above 80 per cent. Isn’t that something to aspire to? An engaged electorate and an accountable council?

In Scotland only 10 per cent of local government revenue is from local taxation (the council tax). The EU average is over 40 per cent.

The loss of our local democracy has been compounded by the council tax freeze, pledged in 2011 by both the SNP and Labour, despite it being a local government responsibility. Had Angela Merkel attempted this kind of interference in Germany she would have been in violation of her country’s constitution!

Council tax is regressive, and the freeze makes it even more so, as in cash terms it is the better off who benefit the most.

The freeze is clearly having an impact on local services, with closures and cuts getting increasingly harsh. The cross-party commission on local tax reform, which my colleague Andy Wightman sits on, will report in the very near future. A new deal on local government finance is essential. It simply won’t be credible for any party to go into the 2016 election offering to kick this can further down the road.

Trusting local authorities to raise funds would open up all sorts of options for cities such as Edinburgh. A few years back the idea of a visitor levy was blocked by the Scottish Government. A fee of just one or two pounds a night, a proposal backed by the city council, would have generated up to £10 million a year and could have gone a long way to supporting our festivals and venues.

Such charges happen around the world. The idea that £1 would put anyone off is simply daft. In Rome, the rate of levy depends on the quality of accommodation.

Whether it would be a good idea or not is beside the point. In other European countries such decisions are for the local authority. In Scotland we have a central government denying us the kind of autonomy others take for granted.

As we continue to debate Scotland’s constitutional future and the UK’s future in Europe, we must not lose sight of the crisis on our doorstep. Let local democracy flourish.