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25 April 2017

Protecting Local Services

Earlier this month I wrote to the Chief Executive of Aberdeenshire Council to call for a rethink on plans to axe night watchmen from Macduff Harbour.

Thankfully, the decision has been given a reprieve and the possibility of what happens next will be discussed at the beginning of June by councillors.

The decision would have meant rather than have the two night watchmen there would be CCTV instead.

But I believe a move like that would be to undermine the progress which has been made for Macduff Port in recent years.

We cannot allow for investment which assists the future development of the port and then make a step which would be retrograde and detrimental both to the port and to the fishermen.

The issue has already raised concerns from the Scottish White Fish Association (SWFA) which represents more than 1,400 fishermen across Scotland.

It is important to outline why the watchmen are so important when noting some of the progress which has been made recently.

Due to legislation surrounding landings at Macduff, there has been a significant increase to the effect that January and February landings exceeded the landings of the entire previous year.

From all the information I have been given it is clear that removal of the watchmen would have a negative effect on the use of the harbour as boats no longer have the facility to speak out to the watch regarding the available draft or for assistance in tying up.

It would be particularly unhelpful if positive progress made in the last couple of years by the council in developing the harbour were to be undermined by the removal of the watch facility.

Another constituency issue which struck a chord with me in recent weeks was the decision by BT to remove 85 phone boxes from across Aberdeenshire.

It means across Scotland one in five phone boxes will be removed.

We have already seen services such as a number of banks being announced for closure and once again we find out further services are to be cut potentially in rural areas.

I will be working to find out which constituents will be hardest hit by this decision. Many people in rural areas, where phone signal can still be challenging use phone boxes when out and about.

To remove phone boxes in rural areas where they still provide a use, particularly to older people, will yet again make those living in rural areas feel more isolated.

It is imperative we work to make sure a range of services – whether it be the night watchmen at Macduff Port or services such as banking or access to public phone boxes – are protected across the North East.

11 April 2017

Scotland in the World

Earlier this month First Minister Nicola Sturgeon made her way to the United States to meet with politicians, business leaders and students across the Atlantic.

The trip, which coincided with Tartan Day in America, saw a meeting with Apple CEO Tim Cook, Californian Governor Jerry Brown and a speech to college students at Stanford University.

The address by the First Minister to one of the world’s leading research and teaching institutions focused on Scotland’s place in the world.

Ms Sturgeon made an important point in her address in which she said: “The best balance between independence and interdependence is the question that Scotland once again faces.”

Comparisons were made between Scandinavian countries like Norway - which is not a member of the European Union - is not in the Common Fisheries Policy but does have access to the single market.

Access to the single market is not an option which has been pursued in the continued Brexit negotiations controlled by the UK’s Prime Minister Theresa May.

We face, as Ms Sturgeon also says, being taken out of the single market - not what the UK voted for.

Of course this is important on both a political and economic level but also on an emotional one too.

I wonder, for those considering whether they would vote yes or no in a second independence referendum, where they would see both themselves as individuals and as citizens of our country.

How does where we come from play a role in our overall identity? And on a wider scale – do we still identify as Europeans even when we exit the EU?

I ask because regardless of the outcome of the next two years, the lives of people in Scotland will fundamentally change.

Take a place such as Denmark - where my nephew lives and works – it has a population of 5.65million in comparison to Scotland’s 5.3million.

It is smaller in area than Scotland but with a higher GDP (per head of population) with the average salary of £46,000 compared to £28,600 in Scotland.

Both Denmark and Scotland are closely linked in the energy sector and the two regularly co-operate in the oil and gas sector and renewables.

An expert from the University of Edinburgh was asked in the national press how Scandinavian Countries differ to others in their view of nationalism.

Ruairidh Tarvet said there is a distinct difference because for Scandinavians it is not about ethnic nationalism but about a civic nationalism.

He goes on to say it is about a nation which is inclusive and looking to what their country can do to contribute to the world at large.

This was a theme throughout the First Minister’s speech at Stanford – how we can help other countries and how important other countries are to the prosperity of Scotland.

It is important we learn from our small and successful neighbours to see what we can learn from them.

Scotland hasn’t been given a choice on what happens next as we exit the European Union but we have been given a choice on the future on whether we seize the opportunity offered by independence.

If, as I expect, the UK prime Minister delivers a deal that fails to meet our needs - or even worse no deal at all - our First Minister's option is our best and only alternative.

Stewart Stevenson
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