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21 June 2001

The New Boy

By 10 p.m. on the Friday when the by-election result was declared, a car had arrived at my door with my first papers from the Scottish Parliament. Impressive, but what might have been even better would have been an email. The car probably cost £100 to send from Edinburgh to Whitehills but an email would have cost nearly nothing.

On Tuesday, I walked over the threshold of Parliament HQ to be greeted by two large security gentlemen who already recognised me. The Chief Whip, an old friend is waiting too, and she wants to make sure that I know what’s happening in my first week. By the end of the day, my case is bulging with paper.

But on Wednesday I take the oath and become a fully fledged member of parliament. And within minutes the chamber is resounding to vigorous debate on Stage 3 of the Housing Bill. 202 amendments tabled and a ten hour day in prospect. My first day is the parliament’s longest so far.

But Thursday has to be the highlight of my first week. There’s a debate on the European Committee’s review of the Common Fishing Policy and my name’s on the speakers’ list. With the Committee deciding to support ‘Zonal Management’ we’ve seen an encouraging change of view. For some time, we’ve been in favour of the countries near the fishing grounds looking after them rather than ‘the one size fits all’ approach of the CFP. Our local fishing industry appears greatly encouraged that both European Parliament and Scottish Parliament now support our view that we should manage our own fish stocks.

But we still need a tie-up scheme to protect the haddocks in particular and my question on the subject draws a predictably negative response from Fisheries Minister Rhona Brankin and I quote, “Following hard on the heels of Mr Salmond ..”. I think she meant that I’m representing the fishing community’s views just as effectively as Alex has always done. High praise indeed.

Bravery

There are occasions when the sea reminds us who’s in charge. The discovery of the Trident, lost in 1974, by some amateur divers is a sombre event. But my very first constituency appointment is to celebrate and recognise a much happier outcome.

At the Fishermens’ Mission in Peterhead, John Duncan is to receive a certificate from the Royal Humane Society for the saving the life of his fellow crewman. It’s a big occasion with the Lord Lieutenant there to read the citation and make the presentation. Few of us who make our living on dry land can imagine conditions in northern waters on 4th January this year. And yet I suspect that John Duncan found giving his speech of thanks a more intimidating experience that diving overboard to rescue his colleague. From the dedication and courage of such men is the North-East hewn. Men of granite.

Networking

One of the essentials in the Scottish Parliament is working with members of other parties for a common cause. The SNP leader, John Swinney, received an award last year, jointly with Labour’s Henry McLeish for working together on the Enterprise and Lifelong Learning Committee.

My networking with colleagues from other parties got off to a good start. On my first day I was able to attend a briefing for the Rural Affairs Committee on fish conservation developments, courtesy of the Liberal Convenor. And both Labour and Conservative members have spoken to me in support of retaining Peterhead Prison in its present form. While Denis Canavan, the independent member for Falkirk East and Robin Harper, the Green congratulated me on my maiden speech.

The surprise has been how many of the members I’ve never heard of. It’s clear the majority of members work hard and try to co-operate with others. But there’s a worrying few, who seem to be along for the ride.

Rosehearty

If you want to know what’s going on in a community, ask a Councillor. That’s a maxim that stood me well during the election and it’s clear that it applies equally as a member of Parliament.

The Rosehearty AFC are working hard to raise the money for a new pavilion. Wherever one goes, a pretty constant refrain form youngsters is that there’s ‘nothing to do’. Well I’m prepared to do my bit and open a coffee morning to help the Rosehearty community do something about that. And the contact for this? Councillor Mitchell Burnett.

But it turns out that the real visitor Rosehearty would like to see is Cathy Staff, the actress who plays Nora Battie in ‘Last of the Summer Wine’. Apparently she used to come with a touring rep company who played in the local Community Hall. And some of the people I meet actually played on stage with her. Can get her back they ask? I don’t know but we’ll certainly try!

School Buses

One of the good things about the Scottish Parliament is the Public Petitions Committee. Unlike Westminster it provides a home for petitions where they actually consider how to respond. It must be a success as they’ve dealt with over 300 so far.

On Tuesday, the indefatigable John Calder of Banff is presenting a petition on school buses. The Liberal Democrat Council have changed the rules and making many of children walk on dangerous roads or alternatively their parents have to pay about £4 per week for what was a previously free bus.

I know all about this as my home village of Whitehills is one of those affected. And as an adult I wouldn’t walk on the A98 to Banff. 30 to 40 ton lorries whistle by at speeds much more than the 5 ton 30 mph vehicles of 1947 when the rules were set.

The committee agreed that the rules for School Buses have to be looked at and refer the matter for consideration at the Parliament’s Education Committee. But the less happy news is that even more pupils will have to walk on dangerous roads or pay after the summer. Let’s hope the Education Committee can move rapidly.

Stewart Stevenson
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