Big oil continues to spout its nonsense

COP28 is on right now. The 2023 United Nations Climate Change Conference, to give it its full name, is currently grinding through its agenda in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. I suppose it is better that this event happens than it doesn’t, but many are giving up hope of real change happening fast enough to avoid a worsening climate catastrophe.

You would be forgiven some cynicism in thinking the UAE is an odd place to hold a climate change conference. They are after all the world’s seventh largest oil producer and currently committed to a massive expansion of that industry. 

And yet the central discussion this weekend is whether to agree to phase out the production of fossil fuels in decades ahead. Not immediately. Just a target in years to come. 

Astonishingly, this isn’t already the case. Pretty much everyone accepts that burning fossil fuels is why we are in the mess we are, and yet there are plenty who say we don’t need an outright ban. Just cut down a bit, they say.

Big oil is sort of going through the phase big tobacco was in 20 years ago. They accept their product is bad for you but rather than simply stop, they are promoting ways to mitigate its effect. Pretty much the same thing happened when the cigarettemanufacturers said they weren’t advertising cigarettes but promoting smokers to switch to lower tar brands.

It was nonsense then. It’s nonsense now. There is of course a role for technologies like carbon capture, being pioneered in our own fair city. But the worst role for it would be create an excuse for the continued development of more oil and gas.

We need to get over it. The fossil fuel era needs to end.

You would hope that our government might take the lead in this switch. I was one of several MPs in the climate group who wrote to Rishi Sunak in the summer asking him to do just that. A week later, he announced that the Rosebank oil field – bigger than any we have had before – would get the green light. So, it’s not going well.

Too many people at this weekend’s conference will be bumping their gums. Going through he motions. Saying one thing. Doing another. Something gotta change.

Overcoming festival problems takes two to tango

The first week of the Fringe is over already. And its accolade as the world’s largest arts festival seems pretty safe. Organisers say ticket sales in the first weekend broke all records.

Over 50,000 performances of more than 3,500 different shows. It’s a remarkable achievement to recover from the pandemic which closed our city three years ago. I salute those who have worked so tirelessly to make it happen facing down challenges of labour shortages, rising costs, the cost-of-living squeeze on audience budgets and the turmoil in short-term rented accommodation.

But there are problems ahead and now that we’re over the existential threat we should start thinking about them. The first is getting this city to love its festival in a way other cities love theirs. Many local people revel in the weird and wonderful array of performances on their doorstep. But many see the festival as something that is done to them, not for them.

The Fringe started in the city centre, it’s where most of the venues were. But over the decades it has tried to expand to other parts of the city. This year it looks as if there’s been an artistic implosion into the Old Town. The western end of my constituency is a big rectangle bordered by Princes Street to the north and Melville Drive to the south. Lothian Road sets the western border and the Pleasance/St Leonards the eastern. It’s less than one square mile. And it hosts 90 per cent of the Fringe.

As I turned onto London Road from Leith Walk on Wednesday it was as if the Fringe – and the other festivals – stopped. Going out past Meadowbank and Jock’s Lodge and down to Porty you would have no clue there was anything on. In part this is because the journey back has been cautious. The Fringe is a commercial world. Venues have to sell tickets or drink or both with no public subsidy. So, people look to what they know. And what they know is the Old Town.

Back in 1998 the Fringe programme boasted 168 venues compared to today’s 248. Still the world’s largest arts festival then. 25 years ago, 12 of those Fringe venues were in Leith. Today, even with the new tram link, there are fewer. Not good.

An accommodation crisis has been postponed. We should use that to plan a series of exemptions for the artists that make the festivals. I strongly support regulation of short-term lets. But we mustn’t throw the baby out with the bath water.

Someone offering festival lodging in a spare room in their own home shouldn’t be entrapped in bureaucracy. And we could improve regulation by creating a not-for-profit lettings agency – backed by the city, festivals and government. Owners using that agency could do so without the need for licenses or permissions for the period of the festival.

There’s more. Much more, from creating training and employment for local people to using the festival to enhance our city’s schools. It does of course take two to tango. So, much as I exhort those running the festivals to embrace the city that hosts it, we in turn need to make it our own. Perhaps for starters the council could put up a sign saying welcome to festival city – they did 30 years ago.

Time for a new way to deal with our drugs policy

“Free bags of weed and crack cocaine if you vote SNP”. Thus declared one Unionist troll on twitter in response to the Scottish Government’s drug policy report which argued, amongst other things, for decriminalisation of possession of controlled drugs for personal use.

The online troll went a bit further than the main right-wing tabloids, but the gist of their front pages was the same. The SNP Government stands accused of encouraging drug use, taking the side of ne’er-do-wells over the righteous.

The Tories piled on. So too did Labour’s Sir Keir. The SNP was either playing politics or helping drug dealers – either way it was all their fault.

We need to get beyond this knee jerk nonsense if we are to have a grown-up debate about how to tackle the drugs crisis.

The Scottish Government has indeed recommended that the possession of small amounts of drugs for personal use should be decriminalised. Why do we think it reached that conclusion? Could it be that the thoughtful and mild-mannered Drugs Minister, Elena Whitham, is really in the pay of organised crime?

Perhaps it’s because the independent drugs task force called for it. Or maybe because more than 30 countries have now taken this step and are seeing their drug problems reduce rapidly.

I know many people think that because drugs are illegal it stops them. It just doesn’t. Seriously, it works the other way round. It allows the market to be regulated by organised criminal gangs. It makes people who use drugs scared of seeking help, either through fear of retribution or of being charged themselves.

That’s why more than a hundred people in Scotland are dying every month. They die alone. Scared. Helpless. All because we have made them criminals.

It’s time to wake up. The Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 does not stop anyone who wants drugs getting hold of them. It just makes it very hard to do anything about it.

Decriminalisation instantly does three things. One, it means anyone with a problem can ask for help without being stigmatised or charged. Two, it means health professionals can intervene without fear of arrest, checking what’s in stuff, giving advice and stopping overdoses. And three, it means our police officers can stop arresting people for possession and concentrate on the organised criminal supply chain.

Drugs policy is reserved to Westminster. At the moment, the Scottish Government can do little but argue. That’s not playing politics, it’s just a fact. We need the Scottish Government to have the powers to act and we cannot wait for independence.

Westminster should devolve the power now. In truth, this could be done easily and without fuss. This is exactly what section 30 of the Scotland act is for.

I’m really not sure why they won’t. The Tories say they disagree with the policy of course; they see it as being “soft on drugs”. But if they devolved the power to Edinburgh and it didn’t work, they’d have another stick to beat the SNP with. And the Scottish Government would have nowhere to hide.

Maybe what they fear is that the policy might actually work. And if it did, they’d be under pressure to change throughout the UK. If that’s the case, then I wonder who is actually playing politics here.

Local MP Submits Formal Objection to “Unwanted” Student Accommodation at Jock’s Lodge

The proposed development at Jock’s Lodge

Tommy Sheppard, MP for Edinburgh East, joined forces with local campaign group “Save Jock’s Lodge” to oppose the controversial plan to build a major student development at the corner of Restalrig Road South and London Road.

Over 1600 comments were submitted to Edinburgh City Council, with 1066 opposed to the application from developer Alumno Group and 533 comments in support. The deadline for public comments was February 10, 2023.

Sheppard, who has consistently voiced strong opposition to the development, formally submitted his objection to plans on Friday arguing that it would lead to an “excessive concentration of purpose-built student accommodation” in the area.

Within the last decade, no fewer than eight purpose-built student developments have been approved within a mile radius of Jock’s Lodge. These eight sites amount to over 1800 student bedrooms either already built or consented to.

He also highlighted how the seven-storey proposed structure would “radically” alter the appearance of the historic junction.

Commenting, Tommy Sheppard MP said:

“We cannot allow purpose-build student accommodation developers to run rampant in this part of the city. If the application is approved, we’ll see an increased hollowing out of the local community. There comes a point where we need to be able to say enough is enough.

“Credit goes to the Save Jock’s Lodge Campaign and local Councillor Danny Aston who have mobilised local people to oppose this unnecessary and unwanted development. I urge planners to listen to residents and reject this application.”

The Edinburgh MP, while noting the “tremendous positive effect” that Edinburgh’s world-class universities and students make to the city, has previously spoken out against purpose built student accommodation. In an Edinburgh Evening News Article from August 2022, Sheppard said:

“The lack of affordable housing in Edinburgh is one of the biggest social issues facing the city, and opportunities to build new quality social homes must be prioritised and maximised where possible.

“Yet developers continue to throw up sardine tin accommodation from which they can make huge profits, rather than build homes for families to avoid the legal obligation to provide a proportion of affordable homes. Sustainable communities need residents to be settled, not transient.”

Edinburgh East MP urges pensioners not to miss out on £324 cost-of-living payment

Tommy Sheppard MP is urging all pensioners on low-incomes to make sure they’re signed up for Pension Credit to ensure they receive a special cost of living payment.

As the Tory-made cost of living crisis continues the Edinburgh East MP warned households could miss out on the vital payment if they don’t apply soon.

In May 2022, the UK Government announced a Cost-of-Living Payment to be paid to those in receipt of Pension Credit and other qualifying benefits. To be eligible for the payment, an older person must have been entitled to a Pension Credit payment (or later found to be entitled to a payment) between 26 August and 25 September. 

Applications for Pension Credit can be backdated by three months – those who begin the claiming process by Sunday 18 December and are successful can be eligible for the second Cost-of-Living Payment of £324.00. 

Applicants can begin their application 4 months before they reach pensionable age and apply anytime afterwards and can do so online, by post, or over the phone.

Commenting, Tommy Sheppard MP said: 

“As the Tory-made cost-of-living crisis continues to ravage household finances, more and more people are set to see a reduction in their living standards, particularly those on lower incomes.

“Increasing food bills, rents, mortgage payments and energy prices are all heaping on the pressure, and pensioners especially can be vulnerable this winter. 

“Pension Credit is money to which people are entitled, and I would urge all low-income pensioners in Edinburgh East to make an application today.  

“Organisations such as the Citizens Advice can assist with applications, and the extra cash can go a long way in alleviating some of the stress and worry over the colder months.” 

Apply here:

9,005 Families in Edinburgh to Receive Child Payment Increase


The Scottish Child Payment has been increased from £20 to £25 per week per child, meaning 9,005  families in Edinburgh are set to receive a boost to their household incomes from the Scottish Government.

Eligibility for the payment – which is only available in Scotland – has also been extended, meaning eligible families in Edinburgh with children under the age of 16 can now apply for the Scottish Child Payment.

Tommy Sheppard is encouraging families in Edinburgh East to apply for the support.

Commenting, Tommy Sheppard MP said:

“The extension of the Scottish Child Payment could be a turning point for families in Edinburgh East and across Scotland as the support is extending from £20 to £25.

“We have already heard from anti-poverty charities about how the payment has been ‘game-changing’ for families with children under-6, and now as the support is extended to families with children under-16 more will have extra cash in their pockets to get through this Tory-made cost of living crisis.

“The Scottish Child Payment is only available in Scotland and demonstrates how the SNP Scottish Government is building a social security system based on fairness, dignity and respect.

“However, the Scottish Government continues to work with one hand tied behind its back by a UK government which is preparing to inflict austerity 2.0 on families across Scotland.

“There is only one way we can escape the chaos of Westminster and build a fairer, more equal Scotland and that is by becoming an independent country.”

Apply here:

Local Campaign Opposes Controversial Student Housing Development

Proposed development

The Save Jock’s Lodge campaign, a grassroots campaign group opposing the controversial plan to build a major student accommodation development at Jock’s Lodge, is holding a public meeting so that local residents can learn more about the proposal and how to register their concerns.

The meeting will take place on Monday 17 October at 7:30pm, and will be held at Northfield-Willowbrae Community Centre. All local residents are encouraged to attend.

The proposal itself would involve demolishing a popular pub at the historic crossroads in the east of the city to make way for a seven storey block of student flats. The pub, currently called the Willow and previously known as Jock’s Lodge, is much-loved in the area for its beer garden, food and family friendly atmosphere. The group’s research has found that there has been a pub on the site for at least 150 years.

The Jock’s Lodge application would join eight other student accommodation blocks within a mile’s radius which have already been built or have planning permission. This would tip the number of student bedrooms in the area to over 2000, which the group says represents overconcentration. There are also fears this development would accelerate the already changing the character of the neighbourhood due to the increasing transient population.

The Save Jock’s Lodge campaign already has the backing of Edinburgh East MP Tommy Sheppard and local Craigentinny-Duddingston councillor Danny Aston.

Commenting, Tommy Sheppard MP said:

“I’ve repeatedly spoken out against the dramatic increase of student accommodation developments which have grown like a rash in Abbeyhill and Meadowbank over the last few years. This one at Jock’s Lodge would take the number of student bedrooms in the area to over 2000.

“Too many potential good housing sites have already been taken by student accommodation developers. This one would involve the loss of a popular local pub too.

“I held a surgery at the church opposite a few weeks ago where nearly 50 people turned up to express their concerns about this. That number is completely unprecedented. Local people are understandably really angry about this. Our message is clear: enough is enough.”

Cllr Danny Aston added:

“I’ve received so many emails about this and it’s not hard to see why. As well as the loss of an excellent and historic pub, and the sheer number of student developments in the area, people are also very concerned about a number of other issues.

“The seven storeys proposed by Alumno the developer will completed dominate the main approach to this crossroads from Willowbrae Road and from Portobello. The junction is currently composed of historic stone buildings, including the B-listed church and C-listed Piershill tenements. This huge, bland modern block will ruin the historic character of Jock’s Lodge. And a lot of folk are understandably worried that it will add to congestion at what is already a very busy junction.

“Alumno hasn’t submitted their detailed application so far so it isn’t yet possible to submit a formal comment. I’d urge local residents to come along on Monday, share their opinions and find out how to make their views known when the time comes.”

Tommy Sheppard MP Invites Public to Event to Help with Cost of Living

Tommy Sheppard, MP for Edinburgh East, is hosting a free advice event with key local and national organisations to help constituents through the current cost of living crisis.

Confirmed attendees include: Home Energy Scotland, Citizens Advice Edinburgh, Age Scotland and the Edinburgh Food Project. It will take place on Tuesday, October 4 at Richmond Craigmillar Church, 227 Niddrie Mains Road, EH16 4PA, and will run on a drop-in basis from 2pm to 4pm.

Commenting, Tommy Sheppard MP said:

“Every day people are waking up to reports that the cost of living crisis is spiralling out of control – with each headline more worrying than the last. I’m determined to do everything I can to help those in Edinburgh East who are struggling, and ensure they have the information they need to tackle the rising cost of living.

“From practical ways to save money on your energy bills to pointing you towards extra money you may be eligible for, the organisations invited have been chosen to cover a range of problems that local residents might be facing right now.

“The measures introduced by the UK government to tackle this emergency have fallen far short of what is needed to help ordinary families get through the winter. Therefore, the work done by these organisations will be even more important in the coming months as more people see their incomes slashed by rising energy bills and Brexit price rises.

“Everyone is welcome and encouraged to attend, help and support is available.”

More details:

Edinburgh Festival: Big Fringe companies’ attacks on organisers are sad to see

I was at Murrayfield last Friday. The opening event of the Edinburgh International Festival was quite possibly the best thing I have ever seen on stage.

A collaboration with Adelaide saw dozens of Australian circus athletes and dancers present a stunning physical display: elaborate choreography with jaw-dropping strength and skill. Bodies climbed over each other, sometimes stacked four up, to make living sculptures, amplified by precision lighting and video projection.

All throughout the National Youth Choir of Scotland vocalised a dramatic soundscape, sounding sometimes Gaelic, sometimes Arabic, always intensely human.

It was brilliant in concept and execution. But perhaps the most wonderful thing of all was that, despite what must have been a massive budget, it was free to go.

And thousands of local people went. This is the sort of thing that only happens when artistic ambition combines with public funding. We should be proud it happens here.

The international festival delivers the prestige stuff, but it’s the Fringe that fills the city. More than 3000 shows, tens of thousands of performers and crew, and hundreds of thousands of punters combine to bring Edinburgh alive. The world’s largest festival of the arts is back for its 75th year.

As ever, what makes it aren’t the names you have heard of, it’s the ones you haven’t. The city is host to a massive cultural experiment, a cauldron of creativity.

A lot works, a lot doesn’t. And from failure performers learn and improve. That’s the opportunity of the Fringe. There’s nowhere else in the world they can take an idea and perform it night after night to different audiences, refining it until it works.

It’s been three years since the city bustled like this. In the darkest days of the pandemic, it seemed like it might never again. Artists and venues were hit hard. Sheer determination brought things back to life.

This month’s festival isn’t the same as the last. 2019 broke all records. Coming back after Covid and in the middle of a cost-of-living crisis, those new records were always safe. Yet the size of this year’s Fringe is on course to be more than 80 per cent of the pre-pandemic peak. That’s an amazing comeback.

Sadly, in three years many people who made shows happen have left: retiring, changing industries, or exiled by Brexit. It’s been a nightmare for many venues to recruit technical and front-of-house staff with experience. The Fringe as an entity has lost a big slice of its collective memory.

So, it saddens me when some of the bigger commercial operators attack the organisers, looking for someone to blame lower ticket sales on. Bounce-back will take more than a year and there will be bumps in the road. Success requires the myriad venues and performers that make up this amazing festival working together, not taking chunks out of each other.

Importantly we need to rebuild anew. The economic potential of this great event needs to be harnessed for all the people who live here. The festival needs closer links with the city and its communities. That’s why the rethink of values which the Fringe Society is promoting is so welcome.

Edinburgh is the world’s biggest festival. It could be the most diverse and the fairest too.