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26 June 2012

What’s Your Beef?

It is well-established that Scotland produces some of the best red meat in the world. We also have a strong tradition of exporting fine produce and cattle to everywhere from Beijing to Buenos Aires to satisfy connoisseur demand.

This global demand has, as for many of Scotland’s exports, never been higher and producers across the country are being encouraged to look to the long term to prepare for rapidly expanding market opportunities. With the world’s hunger for Scotch beef continuing to grow and its market price continuing to rise, new markets and export opportunities arise for every day.

We know how hard our producers have been, and will be working to satisfy this demand, and we also know that they require support to do this efficiently. It is therefore as important as ever that Scotland receives a fair share of the investment and support available to our competitors. A crucial factor in the success of Scotland’s farming industry, be it livestock or arable, is the European Common Agricultural Policy. We are working hard in Scotland and Brussels to ensure the best possible deal in terms of CAP – and that means a fair share of the budget.

Scotland’s producers need a Common Agricultural Policy budget which allows our meat industry to flourish now and also to prepare for the future.

While the powers to affect this remain with Westminster, the UK Government will have a role to play in ensuring a policy framework is in place which supports and provides for Scotland’s red meat industry, rather than one which holds it back.

Unfortunately, the situation at present is that Scotland gets a pretty raw deal in terms of CAP budget. Previous UK Governments and key decision-makers have failed us in this respect and I, and my Scottish Government colleagues, are calling on the UK Government, on behalf of Scotland’s farmers, to do what they can to support our producers.

Forecasts show that in an independent Scotland we will see vastly improved CAP investment of between £100 a £200 million extra each year, with the decisions which affect us all, particularly our producers, being taken by those who know our farming system best. That’s my idea of a fair deal.

Dental Strategy Launched

I am very proud to be part of a Scottish Government which is delivering on our election commitments and tackling the problems of the accessibility of dental treatment in the North East after many years of neglect. I am also delighted that in the period since the SNP Scottish Government came to power we have seen a marked increase in the level of access to an NHS dentist that people across Scotland enjoy. That we are listening to the issues people face and living up to our promises is something I am will be welcomed across the region.

Good dental hygiene is something that is vital to everyone’s health and wellbeing. This is especially true of vulnerable groups and dental neglect can often be connected to other health problems.

This highlights the importance of the new Scottish Government Dental Strategy, launched this week, with a focus on priority groups such as the elderly, the mentally ill and homeless people. Maintaining oral health can be very challenging for vulnerable groups and this new strategy will make sure that these people have the same opportunities as others to enjoy good oral health.

The new strategy, backed up with £1.4m funding a year, will ensure that people in these priority groups get the treatment they need to prevent oral disease, and are included in a consistent and effective strategy for good oral health across Scotland.

12 June 2012

A chance for common sense

Over the years that I have been writing these columns, the need for fundamental reform of the utterly failed Common Fisheries Policy has been a recurring theme. I have written in the past about the moves that are underway to secure just that reform, with the fundamental nature of the CFP currently up for negotiation in Europe.

Those negotiations have now reached a critical juncture with a fisheries council about to take place to hammer out a new framework for the fishing industry. The Scottish Government has been consistently clear that the over-centralised status quo that has failed to achieve its aims must be replaced with a regionally based system of management that sees decisions made closer to the people whose livelihoods rely upon the fish in our seas.

It is the current rules in place and the fact they are so inappropriate for a mixed fishery like the North Sea that has led to the appalling waste of fishing vessels discarding fish. There could scarcely be a clearer example of the harm being caused by blanket decisions being made centrally.

It would be far more preferable for fish management policies to be made on a regional basis where solutions appropriate to local conditions can be put in place. It is only common sense that those with the most knowledge and experience of a particular fishery are given the responsibility to draw up a tailored management plan for that fishery.

Scotland’s fishing industry has led the way in Europe when it comes to addressing the problem of discards within the current framework, and indeed the Scottish fleet has achieved the largest reduction in Cod discards of any EU country. That is a significant achievement, but reform of the CFP will allow us to go further and truly tackle the heart-breaking waste of fish discards. Scotland is leading the way when it comes to discards and on this issue the reforms that are agreed must untie our hands to do more rather than impose any inappropriate blanket measure that would unfairly punish our fishing industry.

These discussions are a critical opportunity to achieve a better future for our fishing industry, but it is also important to recognise that there are also dangers to the industry in some of the proposals that others have made. Protecting Scotland’s historic fishing rights is a critical priority for the Scottish Government.

There have been proposals to impose Transferable Fishing Concessions which would have enabled the transfer of quota from our fishermen and in all likelihood lead to the decline of our fishing communities. At this time it seems that the European Commission is heeding the Scottish Government’s warnings on this issue, but we can take nothing for granted and continue to stand firm on this issue.

Of course the Scottish Government’s ability to do just that would be greatly enhanced if we had the powers of an independent country and the direct representation in these councils that comes with it. Yet even without that direct representation, the Fisheries Secretary Richard Lochhead will be doing his utmost to secure a positive outcome for Scotland and working to ensure that the UK position reflects the needs of the industry in Scotland. A situation where the industry is regarded as expendable by the UK, as once happened under a previous Tory Government, can never be repeated.

These negotiations must achieve genuine and substantial reform to allow our fishing industry to achieve a profitable, sustainable future. Our fishing communities cannot afford another missed opportunity for reform and the outcome of the coming discussions is critical to the livelihoods of people across Banffshire & Buchan Coast.

Stewart Stevenson
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