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17 September 2013

People, Lots of People

Of all my responsibilities as an MSP, the role I most value and enjoy is meeting my constituents.

For me it is a fantastic opportunity to meet new people and rekindle past acquaintances. It gives me the opportunity to find out about the issues affecting people’s daily lives as well as hear what they think about those affecting everyone in Scotland.

In 2001, I undertook my first annual mobile surgery tour. This was intended to give people who live in the constituency that I represent the opportunity to meet and engage with their MSP without having to travel to a static surgery This summer, myself and my staff visited 37 towns, villages and rural communities in the Banffshire and Buchan Costal constituency. This year’s tour was very well-attended and I was delighted with the response from the local community. As well as meeting individuals and groups, I was also able to call into local business throughout the area to learn more about what is going on in the local economy.

Like so many parts of Scotland, the Banffshire and Buchan Coast constituency is a wonderful area with a strong sense of community. On the tour people raised a number of very important local issues and many stopped to tell me about interesting local initiatives and activities going on in their communities.

Of the many topics discussed – everything from wind turbines to housing problems – the recurring issue for many was the state of the local economy and the forthcoming independence referendum. In discussing the latter issue, it was great to hear that people in the Banffshire and Buchan Coast constituency, like many throughout Scotland, are beginning to engage more fully with the referendum debate and what independence could mean for the future of Scotland.

Indeed, these opinions are echoed/even more interesting in the light of a recent poll commissioned by the Scottish National Party and conducted by Panelbase. This poll found the Yes campaign to be one point ahead of No –at 44 per cent compared to 43 per cent. This advantage – while slight – becomes even more substantial when people were asked if they are likely or unlikely to vote for independence under the scenarios of a Conservative-led Conservative/Lib Dem coalition, or a Labour-led government in Westminster.

When speaking to my constituents about the independence referendum, it is pleasing to hear that those who are yet to make up their minds are indicating that they will vote Yes once they are given the full facts and had their concerns answered. While many No voters are now considering voting yes, I have yet to hear of a Yes voter who has turned to the No camp.

It is my belief that the No campaign - based almost entirely on a negative view of the debate and indeed Scotland itself – is turning people off. That said, I do fear that its negativity could dissuade people from voting in the referendum altogether. I cannot stress how important it is for people not to be so discouraged that they fail to exercise their democratic right. The importance of the independence referendum to the future of the people of Scotland should not be underestimated – indeed it is likely to be the most important vote people ever take part in.

In the coming weeks I will be holding more surgeries – those without wheels – in the main towns in the Banffshire and Buchan Coast constituency. If you were not able to come to one of the places on my surgery tour and you have an issue you would like to discuss or a question you would like to raise about the independence referendum, please contact my office or go to my website at stewart.stevenson.net to find out dates and venues for these forthcoming surgeries. Dates will also be advertised in the local press.

3 September 2013

Saving our Fish

I am hugely encouraged by the European Union’s recent decision to ban fishing exports from the Faroe Islands – this action is desperately needed if the unsustainable fishing of herring and mackerel in the North Atlantic is to be successfully tackled.

My friends in the Scottish Fishing Industry have long been concerned by the behaviour of the Faroe Islands and Iceland and their blatant disregard for mackerel and herring quotas.

The unilateral expansion of the Icelandic and Faroese catches have brought condemnation from the fishing industry in Scotland and across the EU. However the EU’s decision to ban imports of herring and mackerel from stocks caught under Faroese control – as well as other measures including the restriction of EU ports by vessels fishing for these two pelagic species – will I sincerely hope, serve as a deterrent against this plundering of fish stocks.

The EU’s decision to ban imports of herring and mackerel from Atlanto-Scandian stocks caught under Faroese control – as well as other measures including the restriction of EU ports by vessels fishing for these two pelagic species – will I sincerely hope, serve as a deterrent against this plundering of fish stocks.

While sanctions received the widespread support of EU member states in July, it is hoped that such measures may be avoided and instead act as a catalyst for negotiation. Indeed, the EU ban appears to have been behind Iceland’s decision to return to the negotiating table with the EU and Norway.

The package agreed by the EU will allow for the imposition of trade sanctions on countries that employ unsustainable fishing practices – where appropriate. These sanctions include restrictions on how many fish can be imported into the EU, restrictions on port access by ships under the flag of an offending country and embargoes on the sale of vessels and equipment.

I wholeheartedly welcome the fact that Europe is finally taking a tough stance on the unsustainable fishing of herring and mackerel by the Faroe Islands. I believe that this ban sends an important message to this country and indeed all connected within the fishing industry.

Such over-fishing cannot and will not be tolerated.

Indeed, it is reassuring to know that Scotland is not powerless to respond to such irresponsible fishing – practices that threaten the entire industry both here and abroad. However, with the full powers of a normal, independent country, Scotland could take the lead on such negotiations and participate fully in the development of fisheries policy and make sure the voice of our fishing industry is heard at every level.

That said, until the Faroe Islands are prepared to come to the negotiation table, the Scottish Government will continue to press the European Union for tough and sustained action so that we can protect our stocks of herring and mackerel - arguably Scotland’s most profitable fish.

Stewart Stevenson
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