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21 August 2007

A Democratic Conversation

For the United Kingdom times are clearly changing. In the last nine years the face of the UK has been altered considerably with Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland each gaining varying degrees of self-determination through devolution. For Scotland the rebirth of our own national parliament has had a profound affect on our nation. The power to govern ourselves, though not yet complete, has breathed new life into Scottish democracy and indeed our society as a whole.

This week, after 100 days in office the Scottish Government has published a White Paper on Independence for Scotland and launched a ‘National Conversation’ on the future of our constitution. The White Paper, entitled ‘Choosing Scotland’s Future’ will serve as a launch pad for this pubic debate on independence. It outlines the options available to us in terms of Scotland’s constitutional future ranging from an extension of powers for the Scottish Parliament to greatly enhanced devolved powers to full independence. It also sketches out proposals for a referendum on independence.

As we all know, the primary aim of the Scottish National Party has always been to progress Scotland towards independence. We believe that Scotland would do fundamentally better - economically, socially and culturally - as an independent state in Europe. Scotland is a country in its own right with distinctive needs and interests to the other countries in the UK. Independence or extended powers would allow us to implement policies which are specifically in Scotland’s best interests. Economically for example, it would allow Scotland to cut corporate tax, now at 30%, and promote foreign investment in our country which would generate greater employment. Ireland, our independent neighbour, has one of the most beneficial corporate tax environments in the world, at a rate of only 12.5% and is reaping the benefits with its booming Celtic tiger economy and GNP growth of 7% last year. Here in Banff & Buchan we would all feel the benefits of independence or greater powers as policy would be designed to suit our specific local needs, with greater control over issues like fisheries, post offices and oil revenues.

Now that the SNP are in government we have the chance to present the people of Scotland with the opportunity to choose. A core tenet of democracy is the right to choose – the right of the people to have a choice and a say in how they are governed. This document and pubic forum equips the people with the knowledge and the outlet to do just that. This is an extremely innovative initiative by the new government to involve the Scottish people directly in the decision-making process. While opposition parties have consistently tried to stifle any talk of extended powers or independence, this time they are left with little to say as the SNP, in a wholly democratic move, has shifted the debate beyond the realm of the politicians and directly to the people.

Pulling Together
This summer has not been without incident for many in Banff & Buchan after the severe flooding and resultant mudslides at Pennan. It hardly needs underlining that this has been an extremely difficult and distressing time for residents of the village, with many having to evacuate their homes and sustaining significant damage to their properties. On my visit to Pennan last week for the community meeting I was moved by the sense of community spirit, patience and strength amongst villagers in the midst of such trying times. The professionalism with which local people, the police, emergency services, Aberdeenshire Council and Scottish Water among others, coordinated their efforts was also highly commendable. As local MSP I will do all in my power to support residents of Pennan and hope for a swift return to normality for all of those affected by the mudslides.

7 August 2007

Getting Into the Spirit of the Summer

With the summer now in full swing, though the sun has been scarce, the summer feeling has nevertheless been in the air with the many seasonal festivals which brighten up our towns and villages. Banff & Buchan is host to a number of such eclectic events each summer, including shows, galas and carnivals which celebrate the glorious season and highlight the array of assets our area possesses - its magnificent beauty, its traditions and its culture. The Portsoy Boat Festival, the Banffshire Show and the Turriff Agricultural Show, to mention but a few, are examples of such vibrant affairs which add colour to our lives and to our area.

Last week saw the celebration of Scottish Week in Peterhead. Despite the odd inevitable shower the festival was a great success for the Blue Toon. The celebratory week originated forty six years ago as a nationwide phenomenon and primarily a means of promoting Scottish produce. Nowadays Peterhead boasts the last remaining Scottish week which has evolved into an all round celebration of Scottish culture with a wide variety of amusements to cater for every disposition. Activities cover the entire spectrum of entertainment, ranging from food fayres to bingo to dance and theatrical performances.

The festivities create an immensely positive feeling in the town, lifting spirits and awakening in us all a sense of summer fun and pride in our town. Indeed Scottish Week does much to promote the town and businesses of Peterhead and attract visitors to the area. The valuable festival is only made possible by the vast number of volunteers and sponsors involved in its production. Its success and smooth running is a credit to their hard work. Indeed I sponsored one of the week’s events myself this year - The Antiques Road Show. As I say, there was something for everyone in the activities this year - even the antique enthusiasts among us.

Safety on our Roads this Summer
Amongst all the seasonal festivities this summer, we must remain aware of our safety, particularly in one of the places we are most vulnerable – on our roads. This is why I was delighted to recently launch the summer road safety campaign in Scotland in my capacity as Minister for Transport, Infrastructure and Climate Change. The campaign targets those who continue to drink and drive. Though these individuals are thankfully few, there remains a minority of people who take the risk, thereby endangering their and other road users’ safety and indeed their lives. It beggars belief that in this day of elaborate road safety campaigns and harrowing TV adverts that such foolish behaviour persists. However there remains a group of people who believe they are either infallible behind the wheel or invincible to getting caught. This is clearly far from the reality however with one in seven road deaths in Scotland a result of drink driving.

In an age of such heightened awareness of the dangers of drinking and driving there is simply no excuse for risking it. We are all far too familiar with the devastating effects of drink driving not only for the victims, but also for their families and friends and indeed even for the perpetrators. While police forces are always tough on drink driving, this campaign means that this summer there will be an even higher chance of those who get behind the wheel after a few drinks getting stopped, breathalysed and ultimately prosecuted. This signifies greater security and peace of mind for motorists and pedestrians alike on our roads here in Banff & Buchan and across Scotland.

Stewart Stevenson
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