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31 May 2011

The Scottish Government’s new team

Recent days have seen the shape of the new SNP Government become clear as the First Minister appointed his team of Cabinet Secretaries and Ministers. I am immensely proud to have been asked to be part of that team and return to the Scottish Government as Minister for the Environment and Climate Change.

Having campaigned on the strength of the SNP’s team in Government, it is probably not surprising that the changes in personnel have been kept to a minimum. There are welcome and well deserved promotions for Bruce Crawford, Alex Neil and Fiona Hyslop from Minister to Cabinet Secretary and along with my own return, Michael Matheson, Alasdair Allan, Aileen Campbell, and Brian Adam enter the Scottish Government for the first time and will all bring immense talent to the pool that already exists.

Jim Mather, who stood down at the election, and Adam Ingram, who is moving to the backbenches, will both leave the Government after four years of service and I know that the many individuals and organisations they have worked with over those years will undoubtedly miss the energy and enthusiasm with which they both filled their roles.

I am looking forward immensely to the challenges and opportunities of my new position. Having held responsibility for Scotland’ world leading climate change legislation in my previous Ministerial position, it is welcome to again be working on that portfolio and the on-going action that needs to take place.

Taking Scotland Forward

Following the initial procedural steps of the Scottish Parliament electing Presiding Officers, the First Minister and approving the new Ministerial team, the first full debate of the new session in Holyrood was entitled Taking Scotland Forward. On the back of a positive campaign that focused on our vision for Scotland and how we can make our country better, there could scarcely be a more appropriate title on which to start the work of the fourth session of the Scottish Parliament in earnest.

In his excellent opening speech to the debate, the First Minister set out the work that lies ahead of us. To build the better Scotland which we surely all want to see, we need the tools to achieve it. It is not acceptable for a lack of Scottish control over policy or finance to continue to be a barrier to improvement and the historic election result has clearly demonstrated that people in Scotland want to see things change in this respect.

If it is acceptable to devolve control over corporation tax to Northern Ireland then surely it is indefensible for Scotland not to gain similar power. We need to have the ability to attract more businesses to Scotland and to reap the economic benefits when Scotland’s economy is successfully grown.

With some control over broadcasting, we can finally see a Scottish digital tv network established encouraging creative talent in Scotland and redressing the pitifully low levels of Scottish broadcasting that currently appears on our screens.

By gaining control over excise duty, we can ensure that it is the Scottish taxpayer rather than the supermarket chains that benefit from the introduction of a minimum price per unit for alcohol.

The purpose of all this is not to gain these powers merely for their own sake, but to enable us to grow our economy, protect and create jobs and to improve many other aspects of Scottish life. If this debate set the direction of travel, the next five years of the parliamentary term will see us walk that path and make Scotland a better nation.

17 May 2011

An Incredible Result

In many ways, the past seven weeks from the dissolution of the last term of the Scottish Parliament to the swearing in of MSPs for the new term following the election feels like it has both lasted an eternity and passed in the blink of an eye. The last few weeks have seen huge amounts of activity across the country as SNP activists worked tirelessly to campaign for the team, the record and the vision of the SNP.

That hard work clearly paid off with the unprecedented SNP election victory. For the first time ever, the people of Scotland have entrusted a single party with a majority of seats in the Scottish Parliament.

For my own part I am extremely humbled to have been re-elected with the highest share of the vote of any seat in Scotland. I am immensely proud to have won that backing from people in Banffshire & Buchan Coast and can only express my sincerest thanks for the trust that has been placed in me.

I have now represented people in this part of Scotland for almost 10 years, however this election also saw changes to constituency boundaries which means that some of the areas I have previously worked for are no longer within the constituency, while new communities have been added to the redrawn seat in the west. While I am saddened to see those areas go, I am looking forward to working as hard for the new parts of Banffshire & Buchan Coast as I previously have for the rest of the constituency.

The new balance of the chamber in Holyrood, with 69 out of 129 MSPs coming from the Scottish National Party, will undoubtedly give this parliamentary term a very different feel to the one which preceded it. Where the Scottish Government operated as a minority before, it will this time hold a majority and be able to pass the legislation it wishes without opposition parties blocking their efforts.

Perhaps most significantly this means that we can now say with certainty that a referendum on Scotland becoming and independent country will take place during the course of this five year term. People in Scotland will be given a voice on their constitutional future where before the other parties were determined to deny them one.

Having spent my entire time in politics working towards achieving the powers of a normal independent country for Scotland, it is a contest I am looking forward to immensely. Nowhere more than Banffshire & Buchan Coast do people understand the need for Scotland to be able to make our own decisions and speak with our own voice on the world stage.

In Europe we need a Scottish voice articulating the needs of Scotland on issues such as fishing and farming, where we have suffered from our lack of representation in the past. With reform of both the Common Fisheries Policy and Common Agricultural Policy coming up, this is more essential than ever if we are to ensure Scotland’s interests are protected.

We need control over our own finances to ensure that economic policy is set in the interest of people in Scotland rather than as a cash cow for the UK Treasury, as we recently witnessed with the North Sea oil industry tax raid which threatens jobs and investment in the area.

Although there are undoubtedly many challenges ahead, the next five years promise to be an exciting time for Scotland and I am looking forward to getting down to business and continuing to work for people in Banffshire & Buchan Coast.

Stewart Stevenson
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