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26 November 2003

Airwaves

As a child, broadcasting meant the BBC.

Although commercial television started in 1956, I had left home some time before my parents had felt it necessary to upgrade their original, 9 inch screen, black and white, “BBC only”, TV.

In fact the first time I recall seeing commercial TV was when I was much fitter and appeared on Scotsport in the late 60s.

Radio became more exciting around 1960 when I discovered Radio Luxembourg. It was then that our family acquired their first portable radio. I could retreat to my bedroom to listen to it alone and savour the eccentric delights of Horace Batchelor extoling the delights of his betting system.

Offshore pirate radio started for the UK in 1964 with Radio Caroline broadcasting from two ships off the Isle of Man and the Essex coast. Many is the dispute that we had in the hospital ward where I worked as a nurse that year. Young bucks like myself wanted Caroline. The staff nurse retuned to the BBC Light Programme every time he passed by.

So an invitation to the opening of Grampian TV’s new studios in Aberdeen was a timely update on 21st century broadcasting.

In the North-East we have plenty of radio broadcasting to us. The major independents are Northsound in Aberdeen and Moray Firth in Inverness.

While with Waves in Peterhead, Kinnaird in Fraserburgh, NECR in Inverurie and Deveron looking to go full-time in Banff, local programming is never far away.

But we perhaps overlook how lucky we are with Grampian. For a UK commercial TV station it covers a small population but by far the largest area of any.

So we get local news on TV too. And with their new facility now open, modern digital technology should help broaden their ambition.

They already cover international stories and we see their reporters far afield when necessary.

By contrast we regularly see BBC sports commentators abroad but seldom does the rest of Scotland get a international view moderated by a Scottish perspective.

The only exception must be the excellent BBC program, Eorpa. Its success can be measured by the fact that although a Gaelic language program, its number of viewers regularly exceeded the number Gaels recorded in the census. Yes – it is subtitled and I would struggle without. But it is a rare beast. A regular Scottish look outwards at the world.

The frustration of Scottish Parliament politicians is that without power to help raise broadcasting’s game in Scotland, we continue to have to watch large parts of London news bulletins which are of no relevance to us. Or worse, downright mislead because they talk about plans and policies which do not and will not apply to Scotland.

We regularly have people talking about “injunctions”, about “mortgages”, about “deed poll” when in reality these are all terms not applicable to us. For us the rough equivalents should be “interdicts”, “standard securities” and well actually I am told that there is no need for deed polls since we can change our names by habit and repute.

Broadcasting is subtly, and not now so slowly, changing our view of ourselves.

That is why it remains vital to have strong local broadcasters, like Grampian, that reflect our lives and aspirations.

Crown Planning

Part of the policy responsibilities of the Parliament’s Communities Committee is for planning in Scotland. Early in the life of our Committee we have been assailed by Executive officials briefing us. They hope that we shall be more understanding and compliant when they come later with their Minister’s Bills for our consideration.

Understanding – hopefully. Compliant – nae chance!

A little quirk of planning law that came to light during this process was that its writ stops at the high water mark. You do not need planning permission for an offshore structure.

The Crown Estates exist to manage the sea-bed – and to charge us for the priviledge.

But it does put a slightly different gloss on plans for offshore wind farms. They will be easier for developers to implement as they will not have to have the adjacent community’s permission. One to keep an eye on methinks!

The Crown Estates themselves were the subject of Parliamentary debate recently.

Until now when they have wished – on behalf of the Ministry of Defence, Historic Scotland or any of the numerous government bodies that there are – to erect a new building, the law has not required them to apply for planning permission.

They had “Crown Immunity”. In practice, but only as a courtesy, they did consult planning authorities.

We are have agreed to change that – and about time too.

But because of a historical convention we cannot have the “Crown” prosecute the “Crown”. So they remain immune from criminal prosecution.

An area ripe for reform in a modern 21st century state surely.

12 November 2003

Working Away

In the last week we have seen the formation of the United Fishing Industry Alliance. Pushed through against all the odds by those remarkable women – the Cod Crusaders – it has brought a wide spectrum of our industry together for the first time in many years.

And the Scottish Parliament played a significant role. It provided the neutral territory upon which the founding meeting could take place.

In our temporary accommodation in Edinburgh, we use a range of meeting rooms scattered around the Parliament. On this occasion it was the Quaker Meeting House. Entirely appropriate as they are people of peace.

And the meeting marked the breaking out of peace in fishing. Not just in Scotland. With Northern Irish and South-West English interests present too, it represents a formidable campaigning body.

The Scottish Government – the Scottish Executive – seems to recognise that too.

Three phone calls from Ross Finnie’s office to me apologising for his non-attendance at the meeting speak volumes about their sitting up and taking notice of the Alliance.

And with my colleague Alex Salmond’s Bill to abolish the EU’s Common Fishing Policy’s hold over our industry gaining support across Westminster, a genuine chink of light for fishing’s future is glinting hopefully.

But as I write, the junior coalition government partners – the Liberals – remain firmly split – internally and from their voters.

A weekend with his constituents seems not to have persuaded Tavish Scott that Shetland’s dependence on fish matters more than his Ministerial career. After his tergiversation – a wonderful word that means swinging from one opinion to another – Scott seems after perhaps as many as 3 different positions to have settled on the one that will cause him most long term trouble – support for the CFP.

This puts him at odds with his party membership who support the abolition of the EU’s control of our fishings. And against his 10,000 constituents who have signed a petition.

Just as our fishermen sail dangerous waters each working day so the Liberals have chosen a politically fraught path.

The representations at the door of Ross Finnie – Fisheries Minister in the Scots Government – grow larger.

He has had many meetings in the run up to the EU Fisheries Council in mid-December.

The Adjournment Debate in Westminster on 11th November, did not suggest that he will have the whole-hearted support of Ben Bradshaw – the Labour man now carrying the poisoned chalice of Fisheries Minister in that place.

Despite a very limited familiarity with our industry – he even referred the Scottish Fishermen’s Association when he meant the Federation – he stuck doggedly to the line that has failed us in the past. Despite the success of the Faroes and Iceland – who manage their own waters – he blames our fishermen and not the EU CFP for any current crisis.

Our hope is that the improving scientific reports will sway the day.

But the fishing industry does not all exist offshore.

Many more are employed in our factories turning out what our shops and supermarkets need.

And a recent analysis of 2001 Scottish census figures could suggest that we are doing fairly well. Or are we?

As a Parliamentary Constituency we have 63% of our people working. That is above the Scottish average of 60.6%. But the crunch comes when we look at what they doing.

We are in the bottom 10% when it comes to the type of jobs. We are a quarter higher than the Scottish number who work in ‘elementary jobs’ – jobs not requiring a high degree of skill. And we are in the bottom 10% for people employed as managers or senior officials.

And with 13.3% of our population holding degree – across Scotland it is 19.5% - we are less well educated by a long margin.

So it is very welcome to see Banff and Buchan College rising to the challenge.

I was with them for the launch of their Modern Apprenticeship course in fishing. A small but enthusiastic group of young men told me that they are enjoying the course enormously. And looking forward to getting to sea in our much depleted fishing fleet.

But the 10 on the course does not compare with the 60 or so there would have been a few years ago.

If there are not the mates and skippers in years to come, then it will not be the EU that does us down, it will be our inability to crew our boats.

I hope that when Fisheries Minister Ross Finnie came up here to launch the course he recognised the vital need for a vibrant industry in years to come.

Otherwise these young people’s efforts will be for naught. And like many before them their working life will be spent elsewhere.

We cannot afford to all be working away instead of working here in our communities.

Stewart Stevenson
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