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24 January 2007

Scotland's farmers deserve our support

REPRESENTATIVES of the National Farmers Union were out in force last week as they carried their ongoing campaign for fair prices for farm produce to the very doorstep of MSPs at the Parliament.

Acting on behalf of Scotland's 70,000 farmers, the NFU were on a mission to highlight to MSPs the gravity of the pressing issue of fair prices from supermarkets, and to gain their support by way of a petition.

I personally was delighted to see the NFU demonstrating the seriousness of this situation, not only for farmers but for the industry as a whole and the Scottish public in general, and the urgent action required to tackle it. As the third largest employer in rural Scotland, agriculture plays a vital role in the country's economy and is of immense importance to all of us in Banff and Buchan.

Despite this, however, farmers are not receiving reasonable prices from supermarkets, and struggle to make ends meet while supermarkets cream off the profits. Scottish farmers currently lose 4p on every litre of milk they produce, yet British supermarkets make 10% profit – a shocking statistic. Considering this unjust trading relationship, it is hardly surprising that one in four Scottish dairy farmers have gone out of business in the past four years.

I met NFU Parliamentary Officer Sarah Anderson to discuss these obstacles facing farmers locally in the North-east and indeed nationwide. I, for one, registered my firm support for the farmers' cause by adding my name to the petition. I sincerely hope that it will force supermarkets to address the problem and ensure the preservation of our vital farming industry and the continued availability of Scottish food, the best food in the world, in our supermarkets.

In the coming months, I intend to maintain my focus on farmers' interests and endeavour to defend them to the best of my ability both locally and at parliamentary level. Indeed I recently launched the fourth edition of 'Farming First', my regular agricultural newsletter, which allows me to gain feedback from farmers and proactively raise significant issues with Ministers. It serves as a useful tool in linking the voices of those actively engaged in the agricultural sector to the policy process.

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IN MY continued campaign to save local maternity units from closure in Banff and Fraserburgh, I embarked last week on a fact-finding mission to a birthing unit in Broadford Hospital on the Isle of Skye. I found the experience extremely interesting – not least as the circumstances of this birthing unit are so clearly comparable to our own threatened units that it positively illustrates the efficacy of maintaining our local maternity facilities.

In fact, the Broadford unit delivers only about 24 births on average per year, while the figures for Banff and Fraserburgh are in excess of 50. My tour further impressed upon me the obvious benefits of local provision – enabling expectant mothers to give birth in their own community without the need for a long journey to Aberdeen.

These are amongst the key points which I underlined this week in my submission to NHS Grampian on the matter. Following the Health Minister's refusal to endorse their plan to axe our local units last month, I highlighted these clear advantages of retaining local birth services, citing valuable lessons learned from my Skye expedition as evidence.

10 January 2007

This year will be an exciting one for Scotland

AS THE Christmas and New Year festivities draw to a close, the time for New Year's resolutions is finally upon us.

It is a time to look forward to the many new beginnings that await us in 2007. With the May elections fast approaching, I for one welcome the challenge facing myself, my party and indeed the people of Scotland in the months ahead.

This year will be remembered as a vital one in Scottish history in which the people of Scotland are presented with a momentous opportunity for change. Scotland now lies at a juncture and its people face two choices – to grasp the opportunity and embrace a new and independent Scotland or to remain stagnant under the control of an ineffective Lib-Lab Executive answerable to the distant powers of Westminster.

After seven years of devolution, it is now time for Scotland to take control of her own destiny and seize the power to develop her economy, tackle social injustice and ensure a brighter future for her own people.

My own personal New Year wish is to see an SNP-led government carry Scotland into a new era of independence, prosperity and change.

Further blow to our rural communities


In THE run-up to Christmas, many of us used our local post office services to send festive greetings to friends and family all over the world.

However, post offices have recently been dealt a harsh blow by the government. The pending threat of closures was confirmed last month when Royal Mail announced that a staggering 2,500 post offices would be closed within just 18 months, starting as soon as this summer.

This drastic measure comes as a devastating shock to local communities, with the most vulnerable in society bearing the brunt of the blow.

Post offices play a vital social and economic role in rural life. They represent not only an outlet to access public services but also a meeting place and focal point of community life.

Banff and Buchan has 32 community council areas, each exhibiting a vibrant community spirit and there's little doubt that post offices make a strong contribution to that community energy. Once again, the Westminster Government has shown scant regard for the impact of their policies on the people of Scotland at the local level.

This callous move demonstrates yet another reason why an independent Scotland would far better serve our communities, giving them greater control over the provision and delivery of public services.

This action has not gone unchallenged by the SNP however. Indeed, we held a fervent debate on the issue in Parliament before Christmas in which our MSPs slammed the decision and demanded that the government step up to its responsibility and ensure that the remaining post office network is kept viable.

Fishing


As we all know, fishing represents Banff and Buchan's most vital industry, providing countless jobs to the area directly and indirectly. This is why the recent EU decision for further cuts to days at sea and a 14% cut in cod quota limits was strongly condemned by the SNP.

The ruling illustrates how ill-served Scotland is by the London Fisheries Minister, Ben Bradshaw. Although Scotland has over 70% of the UK fishing trade and 25% of EU waters, it has little say in the future of the industry. Indeed, only a few weeks ago I spoke in a Fisheries debate in the Parliament and stressed the value of local control of fishing policy.

Under an SNP government, fishing will be treated as a priority and a national interest and our fisheries policy will not be allowed to be determined largely by representatives of land-locked countries in Brussels. This year I intend to continue to advocate the interests of the fishing industry in Parliament.

Finally, I would like to take this opportunity to wish everyone a prosperous new year and to assure you that I will endeavour to once again represent all of my constituents to the best of my ability in 2007.

Stewart Stevenson
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