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27 November 2007

SNP Budget Heralds Good News for Banff & Buchan

Last week the Scottish Government set out its spending plans for the next three years in the SNP’s first ever Budget. It was a historic day indeed and one which marks the symbolic starting point for the SNP’s successful governance of Scotland.

Sitting in the SNP benches the feeling of achievement and elation was palpable as SNP Cabinet Secretary for Finance, John Swinney announced the Government’s plans to deliver on the party’s commitments to the people of Scotland. Mr. Swinney’s statement met with a subdued response from the opposition side of the Chamber however who were left with little to say in criticism.

And indeed there was much to be proud of as the good news for Scotland was tallied up. Funding for free prescription charges, tax cuts for small businesses, NHS waiting time guarantees and resources to freeze the unfair council tax were but a few reasons to celebrate. These momentous measures will have extremely positive implications for Banff & Buchan where people have seen their Council Tax rise by 85% in the last ten years. There will also be a 50% reduction in business rates for small businesses next year followed by a further 50% the following year and all businesses rated under £8000 having no rates to pay from 2010. This will go a long way to supporting the small businesses which are so vital to our local economy in Banff & Buchan and keeping the high streets and main streets of our towns and villages thriving.

Another welcome development for Banff & Buchan was the Government’s decision to grant more control to local government. By removing ring-fencing on funding for councils which determines where and how those funds are spent, the Government is allowing councils to allocate resources according to local priorities. This essentially means that local government will have greater control over resources and can use them in a way that most benefits the local area. In Aberdeenshire our circumstances and needs are different from those of other regions in Scotland. So this decision will see our local needs being more effectively met and resources channelled into areas where they are required most.

What’s more, this budget was delivered amidst the tightest UK spending settlement Scotland has had since devolution and came in the context of significant inherited spending pressures from the previous administration. Within such difficult circumstances the SNP Government had to prioritise and make some tough choices. However despite these constraints the SNP chose wisely and responsibly with Scotland’s best interests at heart. This Budget demonstrated what the SNP can do in Government and how effectively we can manage the country’s finances. It also goes to illustrate how much further we could go with total control over our own finances in an independent Scotland.

Scotland’s Sporting Future Looking Bright
Disappointment could be felt across the country last week as the Scottish football team lost in the last minute to Italy, knocking them out of the running to qualify for the 2008 European Championships. However, amidst this disappointment was a feeling of immense pride for our national team who performed out of their skins for Scotland throughout the tough qualifying campaign. Having provided the country with moments of intense glory with outstanding triumphs over France and other teams and having finished on 24 points our players can surely hold their heads high.

With such an excellent and young football team there is no doubt that we can look forward to further Scottish sporting glories in the future. Indeed Scotland has now secured the prestigious Commonwealth Games in 2014 and is in with a chance of hosting the European Football Championships in 2016 and the Rugby World Cup in 2015. This will go a long way to inspiring our young people to take up sports at amateur and professional level and to enhancing the fantastic sporting culture we have here in Scotland. These Games will promote Scotland on the international stage as a confident, ambitious country both on and off the sports terrain.

13 November 2007

Dispelling the Myths

A few old familiar myths about Scotland’s financial status in the UK were well and truly scuppered last week as some home truths were revealed. It was uncovered in a report by The Herald newspaper that under devolution Scotland is not a financially dependent nation, as some would have us believe. On the contrary it was found that Scotland pays its own way within the UK and benefits from no such special treatment.

The independent investigation found that Scotland receives an average of £9631 per head in public funds – less than the London’s receipt of £9748 or Northern Ireland’s of £10,271 per head. What’s more, in terms of welfare, the overall public cost at £3086 per head in Scotland is lower than that in much of Northern England.

The report also recognised the massive contribution to the coffers of the UK exchequer made by North Sea oil and gas. 90 per cent of these oil revenues come from Scotland’s sector of the Continental Shelf. With independence Scotland would have full control over its energy policy and could maximize the benefits of its energy resources for the people of Scotland. It could invest a share of the wealth generated from these revenues in a fund for future generations. We only need look across the North Sea to Norway to see an independent oil rich country enjoying the advantages of the natural resources with which it is endowed. Indeed our independent neighbour is now truly reaping the rewards of its oil fund. Established in 1990 Norway’s fund has grown from an initial payment of the equivalent of £174 million to a staggering £174 billion.

These simple facts and figures just go to further prove what the SNP have long been saying about Scotland’s financial position and its potential to be economically independent. While the Labour Party would lead us to believe that Scotland is but a dependent ‘wee’ country, unable to stand on its own two feet financially, the SNP has consistently shown confidence in Scotland and advocated its economic capacity. Far from being reliant on the UK public finances, given greater independence Scotland could flourish and fulfill its enormous economic potential.

Environment High on our Fishermen’s Agenda
Scotland’s fishermen are the most environmentally friendly and conservation-minded in Europe conservationists announced this week. The Scottish fleet has voluntarily undertaken to trial several measures to conserve fish stocks. These include having independent observers onboard to monitor the number of fish being discarded due to quotas and temporary closures of parts of the sea where too many young fish are being caught. We can all be immensely proud of our fishermen who are demonstrating huge cooperation and patience to balance conservation needs with profitability. Indeed they are leading the way in Europe on these stakes.

The Scottish fishing industry has for years suffered major under representation and indeed misrepresentation by the London Government in EU negotiations. However, with an SNP Government Scotland’s fishermen are now being consulted, taken seriously and given a voice and as a result we are witnessing a major shift in attitudes within our fishing industry. More confident in the Scottish Government to stand up for their interests at national and international level, Scottish fishermen have good reason to be positive and constructive about the future of their industry. The SNP Government recognizes the fundamental importance of fishing to Scotland, economically and socially to our fishing communities. That is why it is treating Scottish fishing as a priority and giving it the support it needs to be sustainable at the present and into the future.

Stewart Stevenson
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