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23 August 2011

Driving the North East forward

Anyone who lives in Banffshire & Buchan Coast will be only too aware of the lengthy delays to people’s journeys that are often faced when travelling to other parts of Scotland. A journey to anywhere south of Aberdeen can often involve spending an inordinate amount of time negotiating your way through the city’s streets, especially during rush hour.

This is inconvenient for motorists, but it is a particular problem for businesses which need to get goods to and from Banffshire & Buchan Coast as swiftly as possible. The longer they are delayed in slow moving traffic, the more the financial costs stack up.

That is why the SNP, and indeed almost everyone in the North East, is so steadfastly in favour of the Aberdeen Western Peripheral Route. It is a long-needed piece of infrastructure that will ease congestion within Aberdeen and significantly improve journey times for those travelling to the north or south of the city. After many long years of dither and delay under the previous administration, significant progress was made towards building the road during the SNP’s first term in office only for a handful of objectors to hold the project up in the courts.

However, recent days have finally seen the Court of Session pass its judgement on the legal objections that were raised to the project and the protests against the road have been roundly rejected. Work can now proceed to dramatically improve the infrastructure of the region; something I know will be welcomed by people across the North East. Funding the construction of the AWPR was an important part of the SNP’s manifesto and nobody is happier than I am that we have taken a step forward towards delivering the road.

The North East of Scotland has huge potential to be at the heart of Scotland’s growing renewable energy industry and is of course already at the centre of Scotland’s fishing and oil & gas industries. Yet all of these businesses need good infrastructure links to the rest of the country to operate successfully and the AWPR has been a long missing development in the area.

In difficult economic times like those we are currently going through, good infrastructure can be more important than ever to the profitability and successful operation of businesses. The AWPR can be a prime example of that and I am looking forward to more progress being made on the road.

Scotland’s drugs strategy

The scourge of drug abuse is something that still affects far too many communities across Scotland, devastating the lives of both drug users and those around them. Yet in some regards at least, Scotland is making welcome progress with the announcement that the number of drug related deaths has again dropped.

In 2010 there were 485 drug related deaths in Scotland, an 11% fall from 2009 and 16% less than 2008.

Tackling drug problems is by no means an easy or straightforward issue, but the welcome reduction in fatalities does show that the Scottish Government’s drug strategy is delivering tangible improvements. Clearly any drug related death is one too many, but progress is at least consistently being made.

There can be no room for complacency as there are still serious problems to be addressed, but every life that is saved through successful treatment programmes is a small step towards reducing the monstrous toll that drug abuse has inflicted on Scottish society for far too long. With record investment going into front line services, I am confident that we will continue to see improvements in years to come.

9 August 2011

Learning the results

Recent days saw school pupils in Banffshire & Buchan Coast and across the whole of Scotland receive their exam results and find out how their hard work in preparing for them had paid off. This year saw record high pass rates in almost all exam categories, which is something that Scottish pupils and the teachers who have prepared them for the exams should rightly be immensely proud of.

Of course it is also the case that not everyone receives the results that they were hoping for and this can throw plans into disarray and be an extremely stressful time for pupils and parents. Skills Development Scotland run a hugely useful exam results advice line which can be contacted on 0808 100 8000 and is a source of advice and information I would thoroughly recommend. There are always options out there and good advice can be immensely helpful in weighing up what they are.

Whatever the results received by pupils, the coming days and weeks are a time when important decisions must be made which have the potential to shape the course of a young person’s life. Those still at school will use the results to choose which areas to specialise in, which will in turn determine their next steps further down the line. Those coming to the end of the school career, however, will be using their exam results to choose the best option for them, whether it is entering the working world, attending college or going to university.

Whether university is the option a young person chooses to take or not, it is essential that the ability to attend higher education institutions is maintained regardless of the personal means of a family. Access to education should be solely based on the ability to learn, not the ability to pay which is why the SNP is firmly committed to preventing the introduction of any kind of tuition fee.

In the last parliamentary term, one of our earliest actions was the abolition of the Graduate Endowment, the backdoor tuition fee that had been brought in by the previous administration. Our record of restoring Scotland’s proud tradition of free education stood in stark contrast to the tuition fees that were introduced south of the border and even more starkly when compared to the current moves which will see universities in England charge £9,000 a year to their students.

At the same time, the Coalition Government is also removing public funding for universities, effectively privatising them and shifting their costs onto the shoulders of students. A generation of young people will graduate with a crippling mountain of debt to pay off which will hinder their opportunities later in life. It is inevitably the case that these costs will deter young people south of the border from gaining a university education, particularly those from poorer backgrounds, and will make universities there the preserve of the select few. If student numbers go down as a result, surely the financial strength and quality of education will swiftly follow. It is scarcely any wonder that young people south of the border feel particularly betrayed by the actions of the Coalition Government.

It is an approach which is utterly wrong and misguided and is something that the SNP will never support for Scotland. School pupils in England will receive their exam results later this month. How many of them will then view the prospect of university with dread of the financial impact rather than as the incredible opportunity to learn that it should be?

Stewart Stevenson
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