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28 April 2004

Competent?

With the announcement of a referendum on the proposed European constitution and the looming EU Parliament elections, focus is once again on fish.

Inevitably much of the debate is legalistic. And I now carry a copy of the draft with me because hardly anybody knows what is in it.

But it would be a ‘cheap shot’ if I were to hand it to every person I meet who makes a comment on the constitution.

The reality is that referenda are blunt instruments. They deliver political verdicts on governments rather than answers to the questions posed.

And for us, the key part of the Constitution is Article 12 which is headed up as ‘Exclusive Competence’. Let me make sure all readers can argue from an informed position. Here is the first, and relevant, of the two paragraphs:

“The Union shall have exclusive competence to establish the competition rules necessary for the functioning of the internal market, and in the following areas:
  • monetary policy, for the Member States which have adopted the euro,
  • common commercial policy,
  • customs union,
  • the conservation of marine biological resources under the common fisheries policy.”
And in case there is any doubt what ‘exclusive competence’ means; it means that the EU decides and we must legally do it – if we sign up.

The very real debate about whether Europe already has the power to force us to conform to their lunatic ideas about fishing – or not – does not matter. The point is that now, while we are discussing the introduction of a formal constitution for the first time, we can make a change of benefit to Scotland.

The Liberals and Labour in the Scottish government seem to be taking the very strange position that we signed a treaty on this in the early 70s and cannot get out of a commitment made by the Conservative government of the time. This despite the proposed new constitution being a new treaty which replaces all the previous ones.

Since when have Labour in particular been reluctant to change previous Tory dogma? Well actually less in practice than on paper. But you know what I mean.

In any event one can search previous treaties in vain for the word ‘exclusive’. The reality is that if exclusivity exists at all, it derives from a court case in 1976. And there is no doubt that a treaty over-rides case law.

The bottom line is – who wants to protect our fishing industry?

The Labour and Liberal Scottish government say that the EU’s CFP can be ‘fine tuned’ to deliver what we need.

Thirty years of EU fishing failure, and the lack of action by Tory and Labour governments at Westminster to respond to those failures, does not convince many that this time we shall get we need.

Unless we persuade them to force through changes to the constitution.

Back to School

My wife and I went back to school last week. I was one of 52 in my P7 class in the 1950s. Sandra attended a country school with a total of 24 pupils – rather similar to New Byth who had invited us in.

The key thing the pupils wanted, was to engage us in the campaign to ensure that all the world’s children had at least some access to free education.

Well they convinced us. An example to us all.

Feet

The Scottish Parliament is claiming a world first – or at least a first in these islands. We are the first to have a debate on chiropody, or as it is now called podiatry. The science of looking after feet.

And this is by no means a trivial matter. The dramatic increase in diabetes over recent years is one reason.

A side effect of diabetes is problem circulation. Not enough blood gets to the feet in particular. And regular foot care by a professionally qualified podiatrist increases the chances that problems will be spotted early and fixed.

So it is reasonable that diabetes sufferers can now get free chiropody. But that does not mean all is rosy in the world of feet.

Our older citizens, whose health and independence depends on their mobility, are routinely denied such free access.

A slightly ingrowing toenail can develop into a seriously debilitating condition. Someone previously active and asking little from the public purse can quickly become housebound and dependent. And cost very much more than the cost of the chiropody that would have prevented it.

So it was right that we challenged the deputy health minister on the subject of feet. Many warm words resulted.

But his closing words in the debate carry a stark warning for any watcher of this government; “we will continue to monitor the situation”.

And we will monitor the minister to see if any action actually results.

Stewart Stevenson
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