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24 October 2001

Whisky

The Scot's Parliament recess is just over. Not as you might think a holiday for Members of Parliament - if only! Rather an opportunity to catch up with things you don’t get time for when you’re stuck in Edinburgh three or four days a week.

So it was a very great pleasure to visit Macduff Distillery. I hadn’t realised that the Deveron brand is one of Scotland’s top export malts. And yet, apart from Duff House in Banff, we can’t buy it in local shops!

The power of the supermarkets has long been a concern of mine and of many local businesses. Our fine products struggle to get shelf space while bland food trains a new generation of palates to accept the mediocre and cheap. And it’s not just whisky I worry about.

But at least some Scottish residents taste Macduff Distillery’s products. The waste from the brewing process goes to make animal and farm fish food. The latter appeals to me greatly as it displaces fish meal in farmed salmon diets.

And much current fish meal is produced from industrial fishing in the North Sea. Many of our fishermen tell me that the, mainly Danish, industrial fishing industry is fast removing the food upon which white fish depend. So our distillery is doing its bit for cod stocks as well as generating vast sums of excise duty for the London Exchequer.

Flooding

The weather in recent weeks has been ‘weet’. And my various trips up onto the roof of my house in Whitehills seem to be paying off. No further ingress of water - so far!

A long-running issue of flooding in Cruden Bay also seems - fingers crossed - to be moving to a conclusion. A culvert there has failed to take sufficient water away and flooding of a new housing estate has been the result. When I was there over the summer I had to hold a street surgery with the two dozen or so folk who turned up to see me. Our caravan just wasn’t big enough. Thank goodness it was a warm sunny day.

A complicating factor in getting this problem solved has been a recent change in the regulations. Previously culverts had to carry away water and fail only once every 50 years. But global warming is catching up with us and the standard has been uprated.

Funny how we all know that we’ll pay in winter for a warm summer. But it’s taken more than a few phone calls from me to get this one moving so maybe the obvious isn't always to everyone.

3 October 2001

Farmer’s Markets

Each month a farmers’ market is held in Banff and I am an enthusiastic visitor. Saturday I was cook and it presented a chance to shop for high quality local produce. So my steak came from a local field. After some discussion a stallholder guided me towards a variety of potato waxy enough to make ‘rosti’. Organic purple basil caught my eye. And the single fresh carrot, onion and tomato I needed completed my basket. And the total bill for one – my wife’s away looking after her mother for a few weeks – less than £5 for a ‘luxury’ meal.

My question to a witness who was before Parliament’s Rural Development Committee revealed that I am now in a minority in being able to prepare a meal from raw ingredients. So thanks to the Boy Scouts all these years ago! But if I buy a ‘ready meal’ from a supermarket I don’t know where the ingredients have come from, can’t control their quality and probably pay more. So supporting the local farmers’ market is good for them and good for me.

So it’s very disappointing to learn that plans to extend farmers’ markets into Peterhead may be stalled. Re-development of central Peterhead has taken some time and even included the provision of power points installed precisely to enable street stalls. But farmers’ market representatives have been met with an official’s comment that their stalls might damage the new stonework. So the next farmers’ market is now likely to be in Inverurie and not Peterhead. Time to get a grip methinks.

Asbestosis

At their request I met with the Clydeside Action on Asbestos group. Not an obvious interest for a North-East MSP one might think. But in fact some six people from Banff & Buchan die each year from the effects of asbestosis, the horrible disease that kills many who have been exposed to its dust.

The group has been petitioning Parliament for fair and speedy compensation from previous employers of asbestos victims. And the Justice Committee of which I am a member has been given the responsibility by our Public Petitions Committee to respond to the Clydeside group’s petition.

This well illustrates a key difference between Westminster, where petitions are merely placed in a sack behind the Speaker’s chair, and the Scottish Parliament where we genuinely engage with the public who have submitted nearly 400 petitions so far.

So when Banff’s Chalmers Hospital petitioners visit Parliament shortly to lodge their petition they can be confident of a serious hearing.

Stewart Stevenson
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