Day 43 – Speaking At Conference

This year was the first time I attended the SNP conference. I spoke on Motion 4 at the conference, which was on the grow your own movement:

Conference welcomes the efforts of the Scottish Government since 2007 to support individuals and communities who wish to grow some of their own food.
Conference notes the many beneficial effects that allotments, private gardens, Community Gardens and orchards can have on the environment, healthy diets, exercise and recreational activities.
Conference calls on the next Scottish Government to build on this work, by working with local authorities to ensure more land is made available for allotments, that schools and schoolchildren have access to garden space, and that support is given to development of Scotland’s orchards and historic varieties of fruit.

This is an issues I have a strong opinion on and which I feel I have a bit of a stake in. First of all, I’d quite like a garden, but as an unemployed 20-something, I don’t have the income to buy or rent a property with a garden. I’ve also spent much of the past 6 years living close to land which is largely abandoned – the site of a former school in Glasgow and the site of Shrubhill Bus Depot in Edinburgh. This land has great potential to be put to use by the community, but instead they sit there looking ugly (NB. I recently learnt that the site in Glasgow is being developed for social house by a housing association).

Good afternoon. I’d like, if I may, to tell you a short story. I was lucky enough grow up in a little village called Ballater, in north-east. Surrounded by Munros and Commission forests and full of Victorian houses, it is a green and leafy place. Nearly everyone has a garden and the horticulture society fête is a highlight of the year for many in the village.

When I was 17, I moved to Glasgow. The dear green place. It is a city I am very fond of. But in many ways, it doesn’t live up to it’s reputation. Adjacent to my flat was an acre of concrete wasteland, the site of a former school. It is only in the last few months, after at least five years sitting empty that building work began to construct social housing on the site.

Five years that land could have been cultivated for. Wooden planters full of veg for the local community, projects for the local kids and the nursery beside the plot of land could have been on the site.

Glasgow City Council, however, prefers to let land lie fallow than to allow it’s use. In the last few months they’ve even forcefully evicted a community group who’d set up a community allotment scheme on apparently abandoned land in the north of Glasgow.

Instead, Glasgow CC is content to let people who wish to grow-their-own to sit on waiting lists for years and in some cases decades so they can get an allotment. they are not the only one. There is useful wasteland and allotment waiting lists in Edinburgh, Ayrshire, Lanarkshire.

I want to see the children in inner city Scotland to have the same experiences I had when I was a child, growing up in leafy, garden-filled Ballater. In order to give them that right we need to give the people of Scotland greater rights to make use of wasteland and vacant plots.

The above wasn’t exactly what I said at Conference. Rather it’s my hasty notes outlining what I intended to say. It comes across as being more openly hostile against Glasgow City Council then I was on the day, as well as placing greater emphasis on my own background.

As for what I’d like to see, well, I recently told a Civil Engineer friend about it and he laughed. I still think it’s possible for councils to put unoccupied land to work temporarily. It’s certainly worth investigating more.

Day 42 – Being Part of Better

The SNP Conference opens in Perth today. I’m back in Scotland to attend as a delegate, so I’ll be commuting from Edinburgh to Perth over the next four days to represent the views of Edinburgh (Central) Branch (and it’s excellent candidate Marco), as well as catching up with various friends in the party.

I will be taking photos and doing some blogging from the conference and it’s fringes. Hopefully it’ll be of some interest.

For anyone not able to attend, the party has already launched the website for it’s 2011 campaign. I can’t say the 2011 slogan completely grabs me, not least because it doesn’t scan terribly well, but then if I had it my way we’d be using “It’s Scotland’s energy” and focusing on fiscal issues. There are good reasons why I’m just a lowly activist and intern of course, and this may well be one of them.

What Does Minimum Unit Pricing Mean For Me?

Minimum Unit Pricing is one of the current big SNP policies. In fact, it’s the only policy that’s really being pushed just now apart from the Referendum Bill (due out on the 31st) and the creation of a new Forth Bridge, Scotland’s only foreseeable mega-project.

I still find myself very unconvinced by the policy however. I’m continually faced with good evidence on both sides of the debate, so this post is pretty much an effort to help me come down on one side or the other.

Let’s start with an example:

Of a Friday night, I can often be found in a friend’s flat. The plan normally involves splitting a crate of whatever Tesco has going cheap, watching TV and arguing about politics. Generally, the beverage of choice is Mr Tennent’s Finest Lager, which goes for £10 for 18 cans or 24 cans depending on the offer that’s on during that period. We usually get through 6 or 7 cans each (on top of a few drinks in the pub beforehand). I am happy to admit that this is not particularly healthy behaviour and probably had a negative effect on my short-term memory, weight, liver health and so on.

A standard size can of beer in Europe contains 500ml and Tennents is 4% alcohol by volume. That equates to roughly 2.3 units of alcohol per can. That’s a total of 41.4 units in an 18 can crate or 55.9 units for a 24 can crate.

Half an 18 can crate represents nearly a the whole of a man’s recommend maximum weekly alcohol intake (which is 21 units)

That’s pretty good value for money.

Price-wise, it works out at 24 pence per unit for 18 cans or 18 pence per unit for 24 cans.

Now, there are two prices being floated for minimum unit pricing: the SNP’s proposal of 40 pence per unit and an expert panel’s recommendation of 60 pence per unit. How much would the crate of 24 cans cost under these price points?

24 cans = 55.9 units x £0.40 = £22.36

24 cans = 55.9 units x £0.60 = £33.54

I have to be honest and say I’ll definitely be drinking less at either of those price points. While I’m scraping my way though a Masters degree, I certainly can’t afford to drink more then a few cans at that kind of price.

On the other hand, we might just try splitting something better instead: Tesco normally does a few good malts for £20. These include Laphroaig, Glenlivet and Jura.

According to various websites, a 700ml bottle of 40% spirits contains 34.5 units of alcohol. Bottle-size and ABV vary from whisky to whisky, but I’m happy to accept this as an average.

34.5 units x £0.40 = £13.80

34.5 units x £0.60 = £20.70

So, at the 40 pence price limit, a bottle of good whisky can actually be sold for much cheaper then it goes for now. The 60 pence price point also seems much more reasonable here, especially because I generally pay at least that for a bottle of whisky.

A more useful comparison is the price of a bottle of cheap vodka or whisky. Famous Grouse, Bells and Smirnoff can all be found for sale for around about £10 for 700ml. The 40 pence price point barely changes these, while the 60 pence price bracket changes it a lot. Given that the aim of this legislation is to prevent alcohol abuse and a £3 price rise seems a bit low to have a real effect, I wonder if the Government might aim a bit higher?

Overall, these sums reinforce the claim that this is targeted at those from a poor social background, young drinkers (who are more prone to binge drinking I believe) and those who take advantage of rock bottom prices. If you are prepared to pay £20 for a bottle of whisky or up-market beer, then you probably won’t notice anything (unless the booze companies force up these prices to avoid price association with ‘low end’ brands).

I am becoming more convinced that this will have a positive effect, and probably that desired by the Government, which is to reduce the number of alcohol related crimes, illnesses and deaths.

On the other hand, there are a lot of factors that I haven’t explored. These include the pricing effects on Alcopops, Fortified Wine, White Lightning ‘Cider’, alcohol sold in bars and the effects on the Pub trade in general.

I am much more convinced in favour of Minimum Unit Pricing then I was when I started writing this. However, the SNP proposed minimum of 40 pence per unit seems too low. If they want to see Scotland have the same results as the Scandinavian countries, then I would follow the expert recommended 60 pence per unit limit.