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16 January 2008

From Farm to Fork

Food is a vital resource to Scotland, fundamental not only to our economy but also to our health, environment and rural communities. And with some of the finest food and drink in the world on offer here in Scotland it is important that we harness and maximise the enormous value of our food industry.

The SNP Government realises this massive potential and has taken steps this week towards a national food policy for Scotland. The policy would boost jobs and businesses, help make food healthier and keep the environmental impact of food production to a minimum. It aims to join up every aspect of the government’s food policy from farm to fork. It would enable people to trace where their food has come from and promote more affordable, healthy food.

We in Banff & Buchan are well aware of the value of the food industry to our region. With a host of quality food establishments, numerous food processing outlets and a thriving agricultural sector, food means more to people of Banff & Buchan than a basic necessity – it is an integral element of the local economy. In fact food generates jobs at every level in our area, from the primary production level of fishing and farming to the food processing sector right through to the catering and service industry.

Food production and processing is worth £7.3 billion to the Scottish economy, £1.75 billion of which comes from agriculture. One need only consider the world renowned prime quality of Scottish beef for example to appreciate the value of the food industry. Scotland’s beef, lamb and pork industries contribute over £1500 million to Scotland’s annual GDP and support over 30,000 jobs in farming, agricultural supply and processing. Indeed I recently attended a Quality Meat Scotland event in the Scottish Parliament where I met with the organisation’s representatives and raised various issues of importance to the meat industry in Banff & Buchan.

This week the work towards the policy got off the ground as the Scottish Government launched a national discussion on a food policy for Scotland. I know that food businesses in Banff & Buchan have ample experience and knowledge to contribute to this discussion and I would encourage anyone with an interest in the sector to get involved and make their voices heard in the debate.

This is great news for Banff & Buchan, host to a vast number of food enterprises. A food policy would not only increase local jobs and advance the many small and medium size food-based businesses; it would also improve the quality of the food we eat. Why should we be importing so much poor quality food from countries that do not match our high quality standards when we boast such superb food here in our own backyard? I have always supported local produce and urged people in Banff & Buchan wherever possible to ‘buy local’. We must support local farmers markets and shops to enable them to keep operating and continue to provide such top-notch quality produce.

This food policy is a fantastically innovative initiative by the SNP Government and promises to reap huge benefits for rural Scotland. It would be the first policy of its kind in the UK and yet again, a demonstration of the SNP’s fresh thinking and ability to go its own way for the best interests of Scotland. It is time for Scotland to celebrate and profit from its many assets, of which fine food is just one.

2 January 2008

A New Deal for Scotland’s Fishermen

As we set forth into 2008 the contrast between Scotland’s position entering this New Year and that where it stood at this point last year is striking indeed. One area where this contrast is particularly obvious is in Scotland’s fishing.

On coming into Government last May the SNP promised Scotland’s fishing industry a fresh start – one which was desperately needed. Despite having 60% of the UK fishing zone and landing 61% of the total value of the UK catch, Scotland has in the past been vastly underrepresented and indeed misrepresented in EU talks by the UK Government. This is why the SNP pledged to break from that pattern once and for all. We vowed to strengthen Scotland’s voice in international negotiations, to protect fishing communities and to properly represent the interests of our fishing industry in order to secure for it a viable and lucrative future.

Since entering Government the SNP has been consistently delivering on each and every one of these promises. From day one our Fisheries Minister, Richard Lochhead has been consulting and working in partnership with stakeholders to secure a better future for the industry. Relations between the Government and the industry have effectively been transformed under the SNP Government and the importance of fisheries has been elevated on the national agenda.

This sea change in approach was clear in the December fisheries talks in Brussels where we saw an outcome starkly different from what we had come to expect from previous years. Unlike former years where the Lib-Lab Executive were content to take a complacent back seat role in the negotiations, this year the SNP Fisheries Minister fought hard for a fairer deal for Scotland and indeed reaped the rewards with a landmark agreement. In the best deal we have received in many years, Scotland won back responsibility for managing days at sea, a decision which had previously been made in Brussels. In recognition of their conservation efforts and diligent commitment to sustainable fishing practices, Scotland’s fishermen will gain extra days at sea through a new system of Conservation Credits. Work is well under way to implement this deal with the new system due to be up and running by February.

This milestone agreement would not have been possible without the leadership and resolute determination shown by the SNP Government nor the responsible management displayed by our fishing industry. I commend all of those involved in the industry for their patience and cooperation in implementing sustainable fishing practices to reduce discards and protect vulnerable stocks. I am delighted to see that this hard work is paying off and advantages have been secured in return.

We in Banff & Buchan hardly need reminding of the significance of fisheries to our local towns and communities. Representing 6.5% of the entire economy in the North East and almost 60% of all jobs in Fraserburgh and about 25% in several other Travel to Work areas, fishing in Banff & Buchan is an industry to be taken seriously. An SNP Government that stands up for Scotland’s fishing interests is vital for to our constituency on a social and economic level.

So as we embark on 2008 we have every reason to look forward with confidence and positivity. After seven months of successful governance by the SNP it is now clear that the days of depending on Westminster to deliver for Scotland are over. We have seen this in fisheries as we have seen it in every other policy area. Scotland now has a Government willing to stand up for Scotland’s best interests at home and on the international arena. Much progress has been made in our short time in Government and from the platform of success we have built much more will be achieved in 2008. For my part I look forward to serving the needs of all of my constituents in Banff & Buchan in what promises to be an exciting and flourishing year for Scotland.

1 January 2008

A time for also looking forward as well as back

As the festivities draw to a close and the New Year is finally upon us it is time for both reflection and anticipation. A time to look back over what has been a magnificent 2007 but also to look forward to what promises to be an even better 2008.

This time last year in my New Year’s message to the people of Banff & Buchan I envisaged 2007 being a historic year for Scotland in which the people would be presented with a momentous opportunity for change. We would be faced with two choices, I reflected - to move forward and progress with the SNP or remain stagnant under an ineffective Lib-Lab Executive. Now looking back over the year with the benefit of hindsight, I am truly delighted to be able to say that the people of Scotland chose progress.

The year began with momentum both locally and nationally. On the national level the SNP were firing ahead in full steam, scrupulously holding the Labour-Lib Dem Executive to account at every turn and fervently gearing up for the May elections. Locally we faced various feats and in February celebrated success on the maternity campaign when after much campaigning it was announced that birthing units would be retained at Fraserburgh, Banff and Aboyne – a major victory for Mums in the area and for all of those who fought hard to save local maternity services.

And then we come to that catalytic event in May which transformed the outlook for Scotland significantly. The Scottish election was a historic moment for our country in which the people gave their resounding support to the SNP and a clear vote of confidence for Scotland. The election was fought over many policy areas – economy, education and justice, to mention a few - and while policies varied from party to party the most significant difference between the SNP’s campaign and those of other parties was its positivity. Far from resorting to the scaremongering and negative attacks of Labour, the SNP ran a consistently positive campaign, expressing confidence in Scotland and its enormous potential as a nation. The people chose positivity and confidence in Scotland over negativity and stagnation.

For my part, I was carried to a soaring victory with over 58% of the votes cast, thanks to the people of Banff & Buchan, 16,031 of whom gave me their backing. I would like to take this opportunity to thank my constituents once again for their overwhelming support and for giving me the privilege of representing their interests for another four years.

Forming the first SNP Government and being appointed Minister was an incredible experience and a true honour. It was a crucial moment in Scottish history and one from which there is no turning back. And looking back, our first few months in Government read as a series of successes both nationally for Scotland and locally for Banff & Buchan. In its short time in power, the SNP Government has seen major progress in Banff & Buchan. Amongst other actions it has opened the way for a historic Council tax freeze, cut business rates for small businesses and indeed momentously secured the future of Peterhead Prison.

So all in all 2007 has certainly been a year to remember and has given the people of Banff & Buchan and indeed of Scotland every reason to look confidently forward to 2008. We can enter this year with the safe assurance that we now have a Government that will stand up for Scotland’s best interests and take Scotland forward into a successful and prosperous new year. I wish all of my constituents the very best for 2008.

Stewart Stevenson
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