What is the Good Food Nation Bill?

This week Bosco Santimano founder and executive director of social enterprise You Can Cook, shares his thoughts on the good food nation bill introduced in the Scottish Parliament last year in a two-part series.

Last Sunday I was invited to be part of the BBC Radio 4 “The Food Programme”. You Can Cook along with Locavore; Edinburgh’s new organic and ethical supermarket. Our organisations were the only two social enterprises that took part in this programme that assess the country’s health and food system, and looked at what opportunities and hurdles lie ahead as the Good Food Nation Bill was introduced to the Scottish Parliament last year by MSP Mairi Gougeon for Angus North and Mearns and Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs and Islands.

So, what is the Good Food Nation Bill? The Bill requires the Scottish Ministers and certain public bodies to create Good Food Nation Plans. The relevant bodies identified in the Bill are health boards and local authorities (or councils). Other public bodies may be required to produce plans in the future. The Scottish Ministers and relevant authorities need to have regard to these plans when carrying out certain functions. These functions will be set out by the Scottish Ministers in secondary legislation that will be considered by the Parliament. The Bill was created to support the ambition of the Scottish Government that Scotland becomes a ‘Good Food Nation’. In 2014, the Scottish Government published a discussion document titled ‘Recipe for Success: Scotland’s National Food and Drink Policy – Becoming a Good Food Nation’ which made a commitment that by 2025, Scotland will be “a Good Food Nation, where people from every walk of life take pride and pleasure in, and benefit from, the food they produce, buy, cook, serve, and eat each day”.

The Bill encompasses the following key concepts:

1. the people of Scotland taking a keen interest in their food;
2. the people who serve and sell food ensuring that it is good quality food;
3. everyone in Scotland having easy access to the healthy and nutritious food that they need;
4. dietary related diseases declining;
5. the environmental impact of food consumption decreasing; and
6. Scottish producers ensuring that what they produce is increasingly healthy and environmentally sound.

Children in Scotland have responded to the Scottish Government’s consultation on the Good Food Nation Bill, calling for the right to food to be incorporated into Scots law. Some readers may be aware that the ‘right to food’ Scotland bill covers very different aspects of food and was proposed by Labour MSP Rhona Grant and the intention is to incorporate the bill in Scots law. In the final part of my column, I will look at what the Good Food Nation Bill actually does in practice and the importance of linking it with the Right to Food Scotland Bill in order to have a positive and long-term impact on Scotland’s population and environment.

Published in The Peeblesshire News on Friday 4th March 2022

Universal Credit – A Conservative & Unionist Policy to Eradicate the Working Poor!

Having moved to Peebles in 2002, ‘Stooriefit’ Bosco Santimano gives us his own take on what he feels is the hot topic of the day. This week it’s the Tories toxic Universal Credit system which is disproportionately affecting the disabled, working poor and low-income families.

A very long time ago I had written about the shambles that would be Universal Credit, a policy introduced by Tory MP Ian Duncan Smith to make poverty disappear and work pay. All very good, since he had this epiphany while touring Easterhouse a council estate in Glasgow in 2002. This tour was carried out for his Think Tank Centre for Social Justice which was set up to find solutions to poverty in modern Britain.

Public memory is short-lived and our MPs know this, as even though they are responsible for the worst atrocities (benefit cuts) committed during peacetime on the British public, the Tories have managed to consolidate their power and even influence the working class to vote for them in the last general elections by blaming the ‘other’, in this case European citizens living and working in the UK. Brexit and Covid have decimated the livelihoods of millions of citizens and their families with many losing their jobs overnight and many having to resort to food banks to make ends meet and provide food for their children. The £20 top-up that was provided to every single claimant of universal credit last year has now been withdrawn, leaving many to fall back on food banks, loan sharks and if living in private rented accommodation at the mercy of unscrupulous landlords who are waiting to evict tenants who cannot pay their rent. I have said this before, in principle I do agree with the concept of Universal Credit as it was designed to incorporate six benefits into one. But in practice it was a disaster as the founders of this system; The Centre for Social Justice, were clueless about the complexities of the previous benefit system. There is still no evidence that Universal Credit is getting people into work compared to the previous system by the Labour government in 1999, while the costs of implementing it has risen to over £1.4 billion.

The National Audit Office said that the controversial five week wait for a first universal credit payment continued to exacerbate many claimants’ debt problems and push them into hardship. Vulnerable claimants – including those with physical, mental or learning disabilities, people with few digital skills, or with chaotic lives – were more likely to struggle with their claim, the NAO said, with the complicated process of moving onto the benefit causing payment delays and financial problems for these claimants.

On a final note, the £20 top-up was actually what amount claimants would have been receiving today if taking inflation into account and had the Tories not cut the benefit amount and thresholds of Housing, Working Tax and Child Tax Credits. The rich have got richer and the poor are made to fight among themselves. Divide and rule, the classic British policy is now being used on its own citizens for keeping the status quo.

Published in The Peeblesshire News on Friday 8th October 2021

 

COP26 Glasgow 2021 – Scotland’s Time to Shine on the World Stage – Part II

 

This week Bosco Santimano founder and executive director of social enterprise You Can Cook, continues in this second and final part of his two-part column to share his thoughts on the real reasons behind the apathy from pursuing urgent climate policies, the current status-quo’s main benefactors along with possible ideas and solutions to empower citizens of the world to help save our planet.

Why this apathy from governments and corporations across the globe in rejecting fossil fuels and fully embracing renewables?  The answer is our insatiable thirst for cheap oil and the powerful lobby that controls all aspects of the economy. Since the 1960’s there has been a growing movement by environmentalist in the West to raise awareness and educate its citizens on the devastating impact of oil on the planet since the industrial revolution. The eco-system, indigenous cultures and people have faced the brunt of big corporations and countries like the US and UK bulldozing their way through developing and third world countries in search of oil and other resources to feed their ever-growing consumerism.

China was chosen by Western corporations to become the intensive factory producing country of all its goods to be then transported all across the globe. The narrative globally is that China is one of the main polluters of the world. Of course, it is, what were you expecting when your own country closes most of its manufacturing industries and transfers all production to China because of its lax labour laws, non-existing human rights and the fear of a communist state to force its people to work in sometimes hostile and unsafe conditions. The world has bankrolled the communist state of China and turned a blind eye to all atrocities committed by the Chinese state in exchange for cheap goods and low environmental standards. Scotland like the rest of the UK, Europe, Japan and the US are all poised to meet their carbon emissions target. But this is a lie and misleading. So long as China keeps producing over 70% of the world’s goods, it will also be responsible for high carbon emissions.

The main beneficiaries of this one-sided trade arrangements are the biggest oil corporations like BP, Shell, etc. the list goes on. Shareholders and CEOs are making a killing in profits and will continue to do so if we don’t take action now. I sometimes feel we have already crossed the line of no return and we all are heading towards the cliff.

On a positive note, we had some good news last weekend, were members of the Green Party and the SNP voted to sign a deal making it a coalition government in the Scottish parliament. This gave the Scottish Greens its first attempt at being in government anywhere in the whole of the UK. Members from both political parties voted overwhelmingly in support of the agreement. Since the COP26 climate conference is to be held soon in Glasgow, this will give the ruling coalition plenty of time to formulate a green message to be delivered by Scotland in Scotland to the rest of the world.

Citizens from across the globe should work together in not supporting heavy fossil fuel industries by delinking from any financial gains currently being received in the forms of investments, shares and pensions. By switching to alternate providers that are ethical and support the environment, this will starve these industries of much needed cash to keep drilling for more oil. Politicians and civil servants should have in their contracts a clause forbidding them to be in a position to gain financially from the oil industry. Fossil fuel lobbyists should be banned from meeting any government officials elected or otherwise and all policies relating to fossil fuels should be made available to the general public for scrutiny before passing into law. Heavy fines should be imposed depending on company or individuals’ income as sometimes a few millions worth of fines is a drop in the ocean for oil corporations.

Here is hoping the human race stands together to fight greed and corruption and put mother nature first.

Published in The Peeblesshire News on Friday 3rd September 2021.

Triple Blow to UK Citizens by Tory Government Policies

Having moved to Peebles in 2002, ‘Stooriefit’ Bosco Santimano gives us his own take on what he feels is the hot topic of the day. This week it’s higher energy bills, the end of furlough and removal of the £20 top-up to Universal Credit, a triple whammy, as millions of families will struggle financially this winter having to choose between feeding themselves or keeping warm!

From 1st October over 15 million people could be waking up to a massive increase in their energy bills with the announcement that the energy cap on some deals will be increasing by £139 per year. This is happening due to a combination of factors including Brexit and a rise in wholesale gas prices by more than 50% since the beginning of the year. Cheap energy deals are disappearing and becoming a rarity in the open market putting huge financial strains on low-income families and pensioners. The good news is that we can still reduce our bills as the price cap applies to certain energy deals like standard, default and out-of-contract tariff. Basically, they all mean the same thing i.e., if you have haven’t switched your energy supplier in a while or took no action when your last fixed deal ended, then you will be one of those that will be impacted by the price rise. Global prices of fossil fuels are rising, especially gas due to Covid-19 and a longer winter last year also meant that refiling of gas stores was delayed. Since some of our electricity is generated from gas, this means electricity prices are affected too. Energy companies are not obliged to increase their prices to match the new cap but big energy firms will do so in order to keep shareholders happy.

Add the removal of the £20 per week top-up to Universal Credit and the end of furlough and we are heading into a perfect storm brought about by polices of the Westminster (Tory) government which the Scottish government (SNP & Greens) have no control over. The worst hit will be those on prepayment meters. These are like pay as you go i.e., top up as you go along and are mostly used by low-income groups. Prepayment customers are charged more for each unit of energy than people on standard credit meters. In fact, the cheapest prepaid tariffs (£1,052, according to Ofgem) was found to be over £200 more expensive than the cheapest direct debit tariff (£846) in August 2019. Prepayment meter tariffs are also covered by the price cap. These are set to rise by even more. If you’ve chosen a fixed deal (one that has a set contract length) then you won’t be affected by the price cap changes. Housing charity Shelter estimates that nearly half a million private tenants are in arrears and this figure has doubled since the pandemic. Private renters spend more of their income on housing than any other housing tenure. Social housing is scarce and not readily available to fill the gap. The outdated Local Housing Allowance Rates needs a major overhaul as is not fit for purpose e.g., Scottish Borders is allocated a maximum of £74.79 per week rent (£324.09 per month). This is fine if you live in some remote parts of the Borders and in social housing but not in Peebles or the surrounding areas including Innerleithen. A private one-bedroom flat for rent in Peebles is around £450+. Which planet do these politicians live on, definitely not the same as us mere mortals?

We are going to witness a winter of discontent across the country if the Westminster Tory government does not get its act together and remove policy’s that impact the majority of the citizens of this country. Here is hoping that the four nations can keep themselves warm and well fed this coming winter.

Published in The Peeblesshire News on Friday 20th August 2021.

COP26 Glasgow 2021 – Scotland’s Time to Shine on the World Stage

 

This week Bosco Santimano founder and executive director of social enterprise You Can Cook, shares his thoughts on global warming and the opportunity we have right here in Scotland as the host nation of the upcoming COP26 global climate event in Glasgow.

 It’s been over a year now since the pandemic struck all humanity no matter where you lived in the world, rich or poor. We are now facing a double whammy from mother nature vis-à-vis Covid and climate catastrophes all across the planet. Scotland is to hold the next United Nations Climate Change Conference later this year. For nearly three decades the UN has been bringing together almost every country on earth for global climate summits – called COPs – which stands for ‘Conference of the Parties’. During this time climate change has gone from being a fringe issue to a global priority. This year will be the 26th annual summit – giving it the name COP26. So, what can we look forward to with COP26? Leaders of more than 190 countries will be attending the Scottish event and we are hoping that our First Minister Nicola Sturgeon will seize the opportunity to highlight Scotland’s pioneering role and contribution in renewable energy across these four nations.

Before COP26, many countries from around the world were signatories to what came to be known as the Paris agreement. This was COP21 and took place in Paris in 2015. The Paris Agreement’s central aim was to strengthen the global response to the threat of climate change by keeping a global temperature rise this century well below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase even further to 1.5 degrees Celsius. Under the Paris Agreement, countries committed to bring forward national plans setting out how much they would reduce their emissions – known as Nationally Determined Contributions, or ‘NDCs’. They agreed that every five years they would come back with an updated plan that would reflect their highest possible ambition at that time.

What have we done collectively since this historic signing of the Paris Agreement? Rich and powerful countries like the US, had left the treaty in 2020 under the Trump administration but have formally re-joined this year under current President Biden. Iran, Iraq and Libya – all among the 14-member Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries (Opec) – as well as Yemen and Eritrea have not ratified the agreement. Some of the pros of the Paris agreement are that it has global support as 197 countries have signed the document and will have the ability to bring all parties together to address the real issue of keeping the earth’s temperature to a rise of 2 degrees Celsius maximum wile aiming for 1.5 Celsius by the end of this century. The temperature increase would decrease water supplies and crop levels. In addition, melting ice would raise sea levels, flooding coastal communities and destroying thousands, if not millions of homes. By committing to reduce greenhouse gases, the Paris agreement is aimed at preventing these ecosystem disruptions.

The cons of the Paris agreement are that its difficult to enforce on a global level and has a massive impact on energy related jobs e.g. Fossil fuels. On top of this you have complex rules that varies from country to country and actually may not go far enough to slow global warming. Thirdly the rich countries are manipulating the process and figures to protect a backlash from their own citizens.

Finally, where does that leave us as citizens of Scotland and what can we do to influence politicians of all ideologies and the big corporations that are driving this profit-making madness to human extinction? Please check out my next column in September for the real reasons behind the apathy from pursuing urgent policies both locally and nationally, the current status-quo’s main benefactors along with possible ideas and solutions to empower citizens of the world to help save our only home!

Published in The Peeblesshire News on Friday 6th August 2021.

Democracy Must Win in the Republic of Scotland

Having moved to Peebles in 2002, ‘Stooriefit’ Bosco Santimano gives us his own take on what he feels is the hot topic of the day. This week it’s the undemocratic act of allegiance to her majesty the queen and her heirs and successors by elected MSP’s at the Scottish Parliament last week.

For anyone who understands the true meaning of democracy, many may have been confused to see the newly elected MSP’s swear an oath of allegiance to her majesty the queen and her successors! Why are we still doing this in 21st century Britain? Ultimately the royal family are above the law and not accountable like the rest of us peasants. They are protected by an ancient feudal system that not only looks after their financial needs but also cunningly incorporated their hold into the constitution over centuries. Not having a written constitution gives the monarchy, absolute authority over her subjects, even those that are elected democratically by its people. Unionists and traditionalists will argue that this is their culture, heritage and right, since it has been going on for centuries. That is exactly my point. Like most customs and traditions on these islands that have been done away with and some were adapted to suit modern sensibilities, this oath has to go, along with all the trappings of the monarchy’s interference in the democratic system. Not having a written constitution has benefitted only one family and that is the monarchy as you need so called experts to interpret the constitution who are in the payroll of the queen, as any support towards the monarchy guarantees you special privileges that we mere mortals can only dream of in this day and age.

An elected MSP cannot take his or her seat in the Scottish parliament until they take the oath or affirmation according to statute, which by the way are the same things. Any elected member who refuses is not allowed to take part in any parliamentary duties and lose their salaries and allowances until they do so. They are given two months to take the oath after being elected, after which they cease to be an MSP. If you still think we are living in a democracy then I have nothing else to add other than stop preaching to other countries as you are effectively supporting a glorified dictator in a different form, that still preys on the weak and poor of this country. Previously elected MSP’s have found innovative ways to get around this dilemma, for instance John Swinney in 2003 took the oath but said first: “On behalf of my colleagues can I confirm the prime loyalty of the Scottish National Party is to the people of Scotland, in the constitutional tradition of the sovereignty of the people.” Fellow socialist MSP Rosie Kane, had written “My oath is to the people” on the palm of her hand, which she held up as she took the affirmation. This year Greens co-leader Patrick Harvie said he would like to reassert his party’s “allegiance lies with the people of Scotland who elected this parliament and who are sovereign, and we look forward to the day when they can choose their own elected head of state”.

Finally, Nicola Sturgeon made the following statement before swearing her affirmation to the queen: “The SNP pledges loyalty to the people of Scotland in line with the Scottish constitutional tradition in line with sovereignty of the people.” Well done! It’s time to take back our country and give Scotland’s people the parliament it truly deserves.

Published in The Peeblesshire News on Friday 21st May 2021.

 

Reduce meat and dairy consumption to reverse the impact of climate change

This week Bosco Santimano founder and executive director of social enterprise You Can Cook, shares his thoughts on how we can live on a less meat diet that does not have a devastating impact on our planet.

When we talk about climate change, it mostly refers to reducing our air or food miles and moving from oil/coal to an environmentally friendly renewable option. One big factor is most often missed out in discussions and legislations at government or international levels; meat and dairy farming. Western meat and dairy diet are a big contributory factor to carbon emissions since the 80’s and has gotten worse with many poor and developing nations like China increasing meat in their diets from occasionally to every day! It’s not rocket science to understand the damage this will do to reduce our carbon footprint globally even if we make massive changes to other aspects of our lifestyle. Current data shows that meat and dairy farming is responsible for around 14% of greenhouse gasses.

Research shows that vegetarian and vegan diets are much more sustainable and climate friendly than meat consumption. So how do we go about achieving a reduction in meat and dairy in our diets? Simple solution is to reduce and ultimately stop importing these foods from other countries were its cheaper to produce them but as a consequence have a detrimental impact on the local ecosystems and people. For example, cattle raised on UK lands get access to greener pastures than those reared in South America where deforestation is creating a huge problem to local indigenous populations, their livelihoods and contributes to soil erosion due to pesticides and fertilisers used to generate single type of crops for Western consumption.

Unfortunately, subsequent studies have also shown that even if all Western countries shift to home produced meat solely fed on grass, then that too is not the solution as the already high consumption by countries and individuals will not make a dent in the carbon emissions. The only way forward is producing meat and dairy sustainably, locally and using organic farming methods.

Supermarkets sell milk and some meat products at cost or even at a loss in order to keep their customers coming through the doors. This practice alone not only distorts prices and the perception that meat is affordable but also creates huge amounts of food wastes that goes to landfill and money down the drain from the point of view of the customer. In the UK 4.5 million tons of edible food is thrown away by households and this also contributes to our carbon footprint.

A few years ago, food policy experts concluded that Western countries like the UK should adopt a radical method of eating, whereby they ate meat once a week and reduce milk to a maximum of one glass a day. If you convert to being a vegan and vegetarian than the impact improves dramatically. Growing up in India my family could only afford to buy meat once a week or on special occasions like birthdays. We had a very varied diet with fish, vegetables and pulses and food was cooked from fresh produce and ingredients bought on the day from the market. Only a radical change will stop the planet from tipping over. Tinkering at the edges and shifting the blame on countries like China where the local population want the lifestyle of the West will not help solve the issue. It’s time to act globally but we as citizens of Scotland need to act locally too as any small changes we make will collectively have an impact on polices that will help reduce our carbon footprint.

 Published in The Peeblesshire News on Friday 5th March 2021.

Conservatives Vote to Starve English Children

Having moved to Peebles in 2002, ‘Stooriefit’ Bosco Santimano gives us his own take on what he feels is the hot topic of the day. This week it’s the UK governments voting down of providing free school meals for pupils across England.

The Tories have gone and done it again! These bunch of self-serving crooks voted against a Labour motion to extend the provision of free school meals for children in England until Easter 2021. The most nauseating and disgusting thing about this vote last week was that five out of six Scottish Conservative and Unionist party MP’s voted against allowing fresh hot meals for pupils in England, while the Leader of the Scottish Tories, Douglas Ross conveniently abstained from voting due to his so called commitments in Scotland! Just imagine for a moment the Scottish Conservatives and Unionist party winning a majority in the Scottish parliament in next year’s Scottish election! Yes! It did send shivers down my spine, as these bunch of hypocrites including our very own MP David Mundell, who the public voted for as their MP again last year will have to fully shoulder the blame of poverty and inequality in the UK as a whole. It really beggars belief and I am lost for words and angry at how the Conservatives are getting away with murder, time and time again. David Mundell missed voting for the Internal Market Bill a couple of weeks ago too as he was visiting his constituents, a very calculated decision as he is now beginning to feel the heat generated by his party’s decision to lower food import standards in his beloved Union after Brexit.

Earlier this year, Manchester United and England footballer Marcus Rashford led a successful campaign that allowed hungry children to have access to free meals during the summer holidays, drawing upon the own troubles that his mother went through when he was a child. A motion had been brought back to the Commons to have the same initiative extended for the upcoming October half-term break and the Christmas holidays in order to help families that have been hit hardest by the pandemic and were already struggling in the battle against poverty. However, the motion was defeated by the government’s majority with prime minister Boris Johnson, chancellor Rishi Sunak, health secretary Matt Hancock and former PM Theresa May amongst the 320 Tories who voted it down. Even Nigel Farage, who I have no respect for due to his role in breaking up the Union! Twitted that “If the government can subsidise Eat Out to Help Out, not being seen to give poor kids lunch in the school holidays looks mean and is wrong”. For once I agree with him no matter what his politics or ideology is, we cannot as a G7 nation, starve our children to death. It’s morally irreprehensible and cruel in this day and age.

Only five Conservatives rebelled against the Government to vote for feeding more than 1.4 million children during school breaks until Easter next year in England. Chancellor Rishi Sunak has been barred for life from a pub in his constituency over his decision to vote against providing free meals to eligible school children during the half-term holidays.

Can I appeal to compassionate Peebleans to ban MP David Mundell for life from all café’s, restaurants and pubs in the area? Or are we still okay to be part of this shameful act to starve English children because it does not affect our children up here in Scotland? Fingers crossed and really hoping that the Tories have a change of heart!

Published in The Peeblesshire News on Friday 30th October 2020.