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14 March 2017

Equality for all equates to fairness for all

Earlier this month at Holyrood, MSPs marked International Women’s Day.

An important celebration because it allows us to take a look back through history to see the trials and triumphs women have overcome.

But I also think it is right that it should be a marker of illustrating all that has been achieved.

Looking at my own family, events which took place more than 40 years ago, still impact today.

My wife rejoiced when the Equal Pay Act came into operation on 1 January 1975.

For the first time in her career she had been able to enter the company’s pension plan.

It meant she was in the firm’s plan right to the point of her retirement. However, entering it later due to the changes, meant it is around 20% lower than it might have been.

While it is not often given much thought, something which took place quite some time ago, still has implications.

Working in the finance industry, my wife was pretty much on her own, because there were not many women at her senior level.

I am incredibly proud of all she achieved in her working life – one of only two women among the 300 or 400 people who would attend the Association of Investment Companies annual dinners.

My wife was also a mentor to Audrey Baxter, the executive chairman of Baxter’s Food Group.

It is fantastic to see there are some women at senior levels in businesses across Scotland.

This of course can only increase.

In the same week to mark International Women’s Day, thousands of women descended on the Houses of Parliament, including those from my own constituency to protest against changes to pensions.

And only last month, Banff and Buchan MP Dr Eilidh Whiteford had a bill voted through at Westminster to help protect women against gender based violence.

Women have influenced politics for a long time.

The Great Reform Bill is currently before the Parliament at Westminster.

It is important to remind ourselves of the last Great Reform Bill, which removed the right of women to vote.

The electorate in those days was very small and there was a property qualification, but women who met that qualification and who were not married or were head of household could vote.

That danger exists with the Great Reform Bill today, as it potentially takes away rights and equalities for a wide range of people.

Fairness for women in no way diminishes men; rather, it rewards all of us in society, because equality for all is a necessary prerequisite of fairness for all.

28 February 2017

Actions speak louder than words

Last week the Scottish Government proved once again that it will protect our local businesses. What’s more is that the efforts of SNP representatives across the North-east have had a positive influence on creating a business rates package that works.

The North-east has been facing unique challenges due to the downturn in the oil and gas sector. That influence has been particularly hard felt by my constituents. Now it’s important to realise that the downturn doesn’t just affect those working in the industry. The challenge is felt right across the North-east. It affects everyone – from those working in the sector to those working in hotels and offices. Businesses across the board have felt the decline many depend on a strong oil and gas sector. That put us in a unique position in the North-east that required serious consideration.

In the face of this serious situation the Tories decided they should focus on making a great noise in the press. But to what end? Political point scoring – certainly. But what have they accomplished for Scottish businesses? 0. That’s right, they have accomplished 0, zilch, nothing for businesses in the North-east.

Take for example the Tory led Council in Moray. They voted down proposals from the SNP to create a fund to help mitigate rises in business rates. They also attempted to do so in Aberdeenshire but failed. Luckily, the SNP led coalition managed to create a £3 million fund that will be used to mitigate some of the costs of business rates. The Tories of course have voted against these constructive measures at every change they got.

If the Tories did genuinely care, they might spend more time working at both council and parliamentary level to ensure local businesses get the best deal possible. But it’s alright; as usual the SNP and now the Scottish Government have already taken action.

Last week SNP Finance Secretary Derek Mackay announced a Scottish Government package that will see 60% of businesses in Aberdeenshire Council Area either getting no change or a decrease in their business rates bill ¬– another huge victory for business in the North-east.

But it doesn’t end there – the Scottish Government has also committed to capping the rates across Scotland for the hospitality sector at 12.5%, meaning that local pubs, hotels and restaurants will be protected from any kind of massive rise in rates. Of course the Scottish Government also made special consideration for the North-east. They announced that offices in Aberdeen and Aberdeenshire will also have the protection of the 12.5% cap. This shows once again the SNP is delivering for the North-east.

Meanwhile, the Tories in England are introducing a fee for appealing business rates – essentially an additional tax on businesses to discourage appeals. The truth is the Tories aren’t concerned with protecting business or the communities and people that rely on them for jobs and services. Their aim is to score political points and to give the appearance that they are doing something. They make plenty of pro-business noise but when it comes down to it – they don't care and they don't do.

Stewart Stevenson
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