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24 July 2012

Crown Estates

The appetite for independence for Scotland is fundamentally based on the principle that those who live in a particular community, in a particular territory are best placed to determine its destiny as they have the greatest stake in its future.

The continuing success of devolution has demonstrated this, and there has been no demand from the people of Scotland to surrender any powers from Holyrood to Westminster. Indeed the desire to see Scotland have control over all of her affairs, as is natural, continues to grow.

It is all the more surprising therefore, that the UK Government deems that there are still areas of the political process which the people of Scotland should not be responsible for themselves. The most recent example of this is the UK Government’s confirmation that they will not devolve control of the Crown Estate to the Scottish Parliament, ignoring both good sense and the wishes of the people of Scotland.

The Crown Estate comprises large amounts of land around Scotland’s coast, as well as several inland areas. This is public land in Scotland and should, therefore, be accountable to the Scottish Parliament – especially when the majority of environmental, agriculture, fisheries and economic development issues are devolved to the Scottish Parliament.

It is only logical that Scotland can and should have responsibility for the conservation, development and economic benefit of her own coastline, seabed and offshore territory, not to mention local development such as the pier at Crovie. In fact, I have no doubt that if responsibility for the Crown Estate had lain with the Scottish Parliament local people campaigning for repairs to the pier at Crovie would have found it much easier to convince the authorities of the need for action.

The irony of this is that in opposition the LibDems actively campaigned for devolution of the Crown Estate, but in coalition government with the Tories, they have reneged on that by rejecting cross-party calls for full devolution of these considerable assets to the Scottish Parliament.

For those of us in coastal communities seeking fair influence over the Crown Estate, and indeed any of our local and national affairs, it is increasingly clear that the only way forward is with a Yes vote for independence.

Spilt milk

As milk prices continue to plummet, while costs and overheads continue to rise, Scotland’s dairy farmers have had a tough time of it. Little wonder that farmers from across the UK attended a mass demonstration at Westminster to voice their concerns about the latest round of milk price cuts.

The National Farmers Union Scotland has highlighted that these price cuts could force farmers out of business, ultimately pushing up the price of milk for all of us in the long term.

The frustration our dairy farmers are feeling has served to underline the need for action to tackle the issue of dairy prices. In response, the Scottish Government has unveiled a five-point action plan to tackle these pricing issues.

The action plan comprises calling for a ministerial summit to discuss solutions and legislation; asking for the appointment of an independent facilitator to establish a voluntary code of practice between producers and processors; demanding that retailers make clear to consumers how much producers receive for their milk; commissioning a long-term strategic review of the dairy industry and ensuring the Scottish Agricultural Organisations Society can continue and develop their work on producers’ organisations and co-operatives.

It is incumbent upon us as politicians, as well as everyone in the supply chain to find a sustainable solution which meets the needs of our dairy farmers, ensuring they are paid a fair price for their product, while maximising this valuable economic asset for Scotland.

10 July 2012

EU Fisheries

Some crucial developments for the trade have seen the fishing industry hit the headlines recently.

There had been no let-up of the frustration that I, and a huge part of the fishing industry, held about the behaviour of Iceland and the Faroe Islands in relation to Mackerel quotas. Both countries have been unilaterally giving themselves massive quota hikes since 2008 with repeated attempts to negotiate an agreement having fallen flat, this dangerous approach looked set to continue.

The scale of the quota hikes was evident from the fact that the Faroes don’t even have the capacity to catch all the Mackerel they had awarded themselves and were instead inviting foreign vessels into their waters to catch the stock on their behalf.

Encouragingly, however I, and many in the fishing industry, welcomed the recent news that the EU has reached an agreement with the Danish Presidency on a comprehensive sanctions regime for fleets engaging in irresponsible fishing practices.

The package agreed upon by the EU provides for, where appropriate, the imposition of trade sanctions on those countries employing unsustainable fishing practices. These include quantitative restrictions on the importation of fish into the EU, restrictions on port access by vessels under the flag of the offending country or territory and embargoes on the sale of vessels and equipment.  

Ideally, of course, these sanctions will never need to be implemented, and the intention is that that they serve as a deterrent against the unsustainable plundering of fish stocks, and a catalyst for the return to the negotiating table.

However, it is reassuring to know that we are not powerless to respond where and when irresponsible fishing practices do occur, and that action can be taken to prevent the sort of activity which threatens the fishing industry in Scotland and beyond.

Local Land

When it comes to supporting and sustaining our rural communities, many of us have come to realise that there is little more important, or more effective, than empowerment. The Scottish Government is therefore determined to, wherever possible, help more of our rural areas to take control of their own destinies and build successful, flourishing communities.

In fact, as of 2 July 2012, rural communities can able to apply for financial support to buy out land in their area, thanks to the new £6m Scottish Land Fund.

The Scottish Government is fully behind local people, who have a clear idea of how best to develop land for the benefit of their community, being supported and empowered to acquire it.

Approximately half a million acres of Scottish land are now in the ownership of their local communities and many of these projects have been great successes.

The Crossgates Community Woodland, for example, is a great demonstration of what can be achieved. Crossgates was the first community in Scotland to successfully purchase land through the community right to buy provisions in 2005. Since the purchase, the Crossgates Community has developed their local woodland area so that it can be enjoyed by all. They’ve planted several thousand trees and installed a play park and miles of pathways to improve access.

Similarly, the Galson Estate on Lewis this year marked its fifth anniversary in community ownership and continues to develop its tourism trade by focussing on its natural heritage and wildlife.

Land ownership is the foundation of strong rural communities, with a sense of pride and togetherness. Built on the right plan, community buyouts can therefore have huge benefits for our rural areas and Scotland as a whole. I would encourage any community with an idea for the best use of their local area and considering purchasing land for it to contact the Scottish Land Fund and wee how they could benefit.

Stewart Stevenson
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