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19 March 2013

Our Aging Population - Including Me

In light of the publication of the Scottish Parliament Finance Committee’s report on Scotland’s ageing population, a debate was held in the chamber in which I was proud to participate, and I was generally impressed with the positive tone in which the debate was carried out.

The committee had looked at the many challenges that are presented by the sharp upward trend in average age in our society, which is being driven by the people of Scotland living longer and having fewer children. And it is true that a demographic shift toward an older population requires certain measures, both economic and social, to ensure that people are provided for in their later years.

The Scottish Government and the SNP are committed to moving toward preventative spending in both early years and for the elderly, thereby ensuring that more people living in Scotland can achieve their full potential in life, as well as offering better value for money for the tax payer in the long term. The integration of health and social care is just one example of the preventative approach which is also improving the efficiency and effectiveness of public services.

According to Age UK, it is estimated that it costs £5,000 to provide personal care for someone, ie at home, while it costs £25,000 plus per year for a person to be looked after in a care home or hospital. Therefore, maintaining free personal care in the face of savage cuts from Westminster is both saving the taxpayer money, and mitigating demand on hospital beds.

Moreover, it is increasing the number of older people who can retain their independence and continue to live and receive treatment in their own homes, thus remaining more active and more engaged in their communities.

However, to focus on purely the economic aspects would be to overlook the broader achievement that this demographic shift represents. That is, people in Scotland are living longer, healthier, happier lives, which is hugely encouraging and should be seen, first and foremost, as a success.

In fact, over the last ten years, overall life expectancy across the whole of Scotland has increased. However, there is still a need for progress on health inequalities to help close the gap between the difference in life expectancy between Scotland’s most and least deprived areas.

The committee and many of those speaking in the debate also talked about the positive impact of demographic change and recognised the potential of the older part of our population to make a positive economic and social contribution.

We know that over-65s can bring enormous experience and knowledge to their age peers and to the young alike, especially in the work place. Moreover, it is often this age group which regularly take it upon themselves to volunteer in the community, helping friends and neighbours as well as supporting charity work.

So let us talk about the positives of age and the recycling of experience and knowledge. Let us talk up the contributions that older people can make and create opportunities for those contributions to be made.

The SNP has this week introduced a bill in Parliament to extend the voting franchise to include 16 and 17 year olds. This is a ground-breaking move which shows our commitment in Scotland to fairness and inclusion.

By the same token, we must also ensure that our older people do not become disenfranchised from politics or excluded from society. If old people are isolated from the rest of our community, they will be denied the best quality of life, and other generations denied the opportunity to learn from them.

5 March 2013

Fish Discards

I, like many across the North-east and Scotland as a whole, have been closely following the talks in Brussels between Fisheries Ministers on reducing the wasteful discards which plague the industry.

Happily, talks finally concluded in the early hours of Wednesday morning with an agreement having been reached which promises workable measures to tackle the discarding of fish. The newly agreed upon discard rules - which will now be put before Members of the European Parliament for final negotiation - will be introduced between 2014 and 2019 as part of the reform of the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) and will improve the sustainable management of our valuable fisheries

The UN says Europe has the world's worst record of throwing away fish. Almost a quarter of all catches go back overboard dead because they are not the fish the crews intended to catch.

Throughout Europe, it is estimated that up to one million tonnes of fish are discarded every year which means if the EU had failed to act then hundreds of millions of pounds of fish would continue to be wasted over the next decade.

The Scottish Government has long been pushing for a ban on discards throughout the Common Fisheries Policy negotiations and Ministers had been calling on Europe to agree a policy which was both free of loopholes, and also workable for fishermen, especially in the North Sea where the complexities of mixed fisheries are very apparent.

No one in Scotland was in any doubt that the existing top-down, one-size-fits-all Common Fisheries Policy has failed for the last 30 years and that what was required was the development of a flexible, workable, and enforceable discards package which supports the shared goal of sustainable fisheries across Europe.

The Scottish Government, and in particular, Fisheries Minister Richard Lochhead MSP, are determined to ensure that the final policies both allow for our fishermen to access their legitimate fishing opportunities as well as support the future viability of the industry.

While significant progress has been made on reducing discards there is still a lot of work to be done in eradicating the practice and the Scottish Fishing Industry is playing its role and is continuing the trend of leading the way in devising technology to reduce the discarding of fish. Indeed, since 2007 Scottish discards of cod have almost halved. I was, therefore, proud to table a parliamentary motion last week commending the Scottish fishing industry for their development of pioneering trawls that reduce discards of white fish, including cod, allowing for more fishing days for those vessels equipped with the new nets.

Working in partnership with the Scottish Government, the new designs of prawn trawl have achieved reductions of over 60% of unwanted cod caught when compared to a standard trawl, with one of the designs having the ability to reduce the cod by-catch by 87%. Trials conducted by the Scottish Fishermen’s Federation have also shown that the new trawls can achieve a 67% reduction in unwanted haddock and 64% fall in whiting, as well as achieving the required reductions in the cod catch.

These advances not only conserve cod and other whitefish, but also had the added advantage of the associated increase in the number of days the vessels using the new trawls can go to sea.

Industry-driven innovation of this sort is crucial to the future of our nation and this development promises to have a positive effect on both the green efforts of the Scottish people and the Scottish economy. I will continue to support the fishing industry in their efforts to innovate and develop better ways of plying their trade, and hope that other industries follow their lead in combining conservation and business.

Stewart Stevenson
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