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7 November 2001

The Space

Events for an MSP have been dominated by events surrounding Labour’s First Minister. His resignation was not unexpected. As I made my way up to Parliament on Thursday morning, I was in company with a rather gloomy Labour backbencher. Like me his concern about events focussed on the damage to Parliament. And he said, “Watch this space.” Within two hours the space existed.

When a politician of any party breaks the rules, even accidentally as I accept the First Minister appears to have, all politicians are damaged. And yet it is not typical. Like any profession, there is a mix of talents, experience and standards of probity.

For every 100,000 dedicated local doctors, admired by their patients and the broader community there is one Harold Shipman. But it is the 99,999 who represent doctors not the one black sheep.

Henry McLeish has said that there has been a ‘muddle’. I thank him for being big enough to take it on the chin and make way for another. He is not even faintly a Harold Shipman. At worst he might be a ‘grey sheep’. But he just couldn’t carry the burden of high office that others in his party insisted he carry.

I met Henry on a number of occasions in my short time in Parliament. And I liked the man even if I disagreed with his policies.

His successor, whoever he or she may be, has a big job to rebuild confidence and little time in which to do it.

Petitions Committee

Meanwhile the Scots Parliament has been showing off what is does well.

The European Parliament’s Petitions Committee visited our equivalent at its most recent meeting. And by coincidence the first item on the agenda was the petition from the Banff Chalmers Hospital campaigners. Sandra Napier, leading light in that campaign was there to speak to the Committee.

With our Parliament Chamber filled with visitors of many tongues and the translators present to provide simultaneous translation, Sandra should have felt at home. For she was once a translator in the EU Parliament.

And the Committee heard the case for our local hospital. So that’s more pressure on Grampian Health to support our community and its needs. Well done the Banff campaigners!

New Pitsligo Women's Action Group

Despite television generally only showing the ‘argy-bargie’ or politics, much of the work of the Scottish Parliament is broadly consensual. And in that spirit Malcolm Chisholm, New Labour’s Deputy Health Minister stopped in the corridor recently. The reason?

He had met some of the members of the New Pitsligo Women’s Action Group and had been mightily impressed by their energy and commitment. They’re busy raising funds to improve their local play park.

The ‘Fun Day’ in the local hall was crowded and lively when I visited them. I’d timed it right as they had had an auction to shave someone’s head and raised £75 in the process. I’ve suspicion that had I been there earlier it might have been me.

Inflicting ‘pain’ on a politician might have raised even more! But I’ve made my own ‘hairy sacrifice’ when I shaved my beard of 25 years standing off before standing for Parliament.

The Group’s activities reflect well on New Pitsligo as a commmunity.

Capability Scotland

I attended an event designed to lobby Members of Parliament about access for the disabled to vote. Although things are improving, a substantial number of polling stations at the recent election were unsuitable for wheel-chair users.

But surely they can vote by post you might say? True but not a complete answer respond Capability Scotland.

Many people want to wait until they have heard all the arguments before casting their vote. And that means that they would miss the deadline for posting their vote.

But I was able to help a little. I let them know that it’s possible to hand in one’s postal vote envelope to your polling station on the normal day of voting. Now that’s not a complete answer. But it’s a start.

3 November 2001

Ocean Recovery

I took part in a debate recently on Ocean Recovery. With most of the earth's surface covered with water rather than land, it's a bit surprising that we haven't talked much about it before now.

But my preparation for the debate took an unexpected turn. On the very day of the debate, seven Norwegian teachers visited me for lunch in the Parliament. The longstanding friendships between Peterhead Academy and Norway saw Deputy Rector Michael Doig add the visit to their itinerary.

And their first question? On the day when Norway's new Prime Minister suggested suing the UK government for Sellafield nuclear station's pollution of their seas, it was to ask whether Scotland would do the same..

So my reference to this during debate had a very direct input from Norway. And I wasn't alone in expressing concern about developments in Cumbria. Because our oceans cannot be the property of any single nature.

We share the fish in our seas across nations. After all they know no boundaries. And if we foul the environment, we lose our fish and much more besides.

Free Personal Care

After much huffing and puffing, Scotland's New Labour & Lib Dem government finally agreed to introduce free personal care to give our old folks the dignity they deserve. But as we've seen in recent weeks that they're not going to get support from their London colleagues.

The new money will be very welcome in many households. But because it will increase people's incomes, London is saying that they will no longer provide people with some current benefits such as Attendance Allowance. So they want a new benefit, paid for with Scottish money, to save London about £20 million a year.

But it turns out that the debate so far has become deeply worrying for many of our old folk. I had to reassure one lady at my surgery this week that whatever happened, no one in Scotland will be worse off whatever the outcome of political discussion.

But it's another example of the worry New Labour's London branch is prepared to inflict in the name of dogma. We'll need to keep fighting for the resources we deserve.

Global Warming

There's been flooding in Cruden Bay. A number of fishermen tell me that cod stocks have moved north from traditional areas. And there's a dispute about a proposed park and ride in Mintlaw. It might not be obvious, but the link is global warming.

The Scottish Executive, our government in Edinburgh, is providing support for schemes to get drivers off the road and onto public transport. The park & ride is one such.

But the money provided to the Council can only be spent on this kind of scheme. It's another example of how little discretion they actually have. So it's not too surprising that council members and officials are anxious to ensure we can spend this money before it gets taken back.

The paradox is that many in the local community believe that the addition of over 70 buses a day passing to and fro by the school may bring new risks rather than gains.

Let's hope that other sites in Mintlaw can be considered before we finally plump for one that seems to be causing local concern.

Stewart Stevenson
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