Around 45 people gathered in Wigtown Primary School on Monday 9th September to hear Robin Harper MSP speak on his vision for a rural economy.
The meeting was organised by the rural support group, Heart of Galloway, formed last year during the height of the foot and mouth crisis in the Machars.
Mr Harper opened by speaking on the Organic Targets Bill which had recently been launched at the Scottish Parliament. This Bill seeks to provide a guaranteed minimum target for organic production in Scotland and he saw this as a very positive step forward.
He went on to speak about other "green" initiatives which could be used to provide rural employment and boost the area economically. He mentioned Campbeltown recycling initiative, which had provided employment as well as useful green spin-offs, such as shredded newspaper bedding for cattle.
He emphasised that green schemes such as these should be judged not only on economic terms but on health and wellbeing terms. During questions, it was mentioned that Wigtown was a good example of a local community which was "recycling books" although it was agreed that a lot more needed to be done to recycle basic household refuse.
He stressed the advantages of "green tourism", noting that a rail-link between Stranraer and Dumfries would revitalise the area, just as the Waverley line on the Eastern side between Edinburgh and Carlisle would revitalise the border area, as well as enable people to get to the South West more easily. The cost of the Waverley line, at around £120 million, was tiny compared to the government bail-out of British Energy of around £5billion.
Hotels especially, could adopt green practices. Simple things, such as asking customers if they really needed a clean towel every day. Re-using grey water, saving energy, using local food, and especially, stating where it comes from on the menu. All this is good for farms, hotels and tourism.
Renewable energy schemes could also be used to boost the economy and Mr Harper wanted to see a target set for renewable energy in Scotland. He noted that Jack McConnell, First Minister, had said he wanted to see Scotland reaching the ambitious target of 40% renewable energy by 2020, and Mr Harper intended to hold him to that.
He recounted his recent experiences at the Johannesburg Earth Summit, which was one of the few international summits which he thought worth attending, and said that he had been inspired at what he had seen and heard. He recounted a primary school in South Africa which had a small farm attached, and reflected how good it would be if all schools in Britain had something similar. The school land had enabled a variety of green initiatives to be run, in association with the local community.
During questions a member of the audience stated his opinion that many of the official government reports were too full of jargon, without enough specification. Mr Harper explained that reports need to specify targets, state where the money is coming from, and the date by when it's to be done.
Another audience member thought that glossy reports were all well and good but too often we saw no implementation and no results, and ultimately there was no accountability for the lack of action.
How could we change this? Mr Harper reckoned these things had to be made an election issue. Keep hassling your elected representatives, he said. "Communities need to be empowered. They know best what's needed in their own areas."
Click here to read about Heart of Galloway's Recycling and Renewable Energy Day held on 7 June 03