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19 August 2014

Showing our best

I am always pleasantly surprised at the collective effort and sheer extent of community spirit across my constituency that results in spectacular events such as the recent Turriff Show.

Even royalty couldn’t keep away as HM the Queen visited the 150th anniversary two-day extravaganza to present a prize and take a look at the best of what the north-east has to offer. In case you’ve never been, the show is the largest two-day show in Scotland and the largest annual event in Aberdeenshire, showcasing the wide wealth of agriculture and food produce to be found in the north east.

Another exemplary feature of the show is its long established ability to attract visitors from overseas, and this year to mark the Homecoming Scotland 2014 celebrations; they were given special attention and hospitality.

If nothing else, the national media that the show courted demonstrates that the expertise of those in the north-eastwhen it comes to agriculture and food and drink production, and indeed across Scotland, is something that is worth being shared.

It was in part with this sentiment that I took part in a recent debate in the Scottish Parliament on the special relationship between Scotland and Malawi. It is a friendship that has existed for many years with many lessons to be learned on both sides of the intercontinental kinship.

At one time, tobacco was a commodity in great demand across Scotland and the UK, and although the demand is still there, it has been greatly reduced due to advancements in science that no longer see it as a health benefit or innocent pastime, and the recognition that the substance causes serious health risks.

However in Malawi, two thirds of the country’s exports are tobacco. With the demand for the weed lessening in the west, we have a duty to help countries such as Malawi evolve to develop a more beneficial type of agriculture. Recent reports stating that tobacco farmers are moving to grow cannabis in order to rake in more profits should also be discouraged, due to the effect it would have on the wider population, many of whom are in desperate need.

We need to take our responsibilities seriously. As a country that once created a demand for the tobacco already mentioned, that is now proving less profitable, we should be helping Malawians find alternative money making crops, and to look at other ways of cultivating the land for their benefit.

Friends are there for each other, and we should also take our part of the blame when it comes to climate change, and the effect that this has on our African neighbours. This makes agriculture a more formidable challenge for many countries in Africa and the developed world is largely responsible. This is why we must support Malawi, and this is already underway with a number of programmes designed to tackle these challenges.

As I said in my speech: “Malawi is an important friend of ours; let us be an ever-important friend of Malawi.”

Our nation has benefitted from great wealth and experience that has taught us many lessons – the least we can do is pass some of that on.

5 August 2014

Games ON!

The success of the Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games has ensured that Scotland has taken centre stage globally over the last few weeks.

I’m delighted that Scotland is doing so well - on writing, Team Scotland has made history with its 34th medal - giving the home nation its highest ever medal tally, and overtaking the record number of golds taken home from the Games.

But the Commonwealth Games are just a mere fraction of what Scotland can and will do. And that is what excites me more than anything. It shows that our country can not only stand on its own two feet, but currently at number three in the medals table, this demonstrates that it can thrive among some of the most successful and prominent countries in the world.

This summer, we are seeing first-hand the talent that Scotland is capable of, and the potential it holds. Scotland ranks among the best of the best in the sporting world, as has been seen in these Games.

However there has been a fear expressed that in 2018 Scotland may not have the chance to compete, as independence could spell a departure from the Commonwealth, and therefore from the Games. This of course is nonsense and the argument holds even less water following the superb success of Team Scotland in Glasgow.

Given that the vast majority of the 71 countries and territories represented at the Games have already gone through the process of becoming independent, I don’t think this should be a great worry for Scotland.

The confidence and pride that the people of Scotland are feeling right now, due to our substantial medal haul and the hundreds of thousands attracted to Glasgow, is a mere glimpse of what we could experience as an independent country, in control of what we can offer the world.

More and more people are paying attention to Scotland as our athletes step onto the podium to collect their medals, and come September it will be our turn. Each one of us will be given the chance to vote for our country’s independence.

I believe that the Commonwealth Games is merely bringing out what the people of Scotland already know to be true but have maybe been afraid to admit to in the past - Scotland can be proud in its achievements and will not always be the underdog.

Unlike the Olympics which is a huge, vast and world-wide competitive field, the Commonwealth Games offer a smaller, closer to home atmosphere that get people more involved directly with what’s happening, more invested in their hometowns and communities. I have felt it too - the Scottish pride as our athletes compete and win. And that feeling is something that I carry with me every day when I travel around the Banff and Buchan Coast, noting the achievements of locals.

I have enjoyed seeing how the Commonwealth Games have brought people together and joined us, regardless of opinion or background. And just round the corner, the Ryder Cup will receive the baton to display the sporting prowess of Scotland in another international event.

Right now people are gathering for the joy of the sport, but let us not forget the country our feet stand on, and the home we call our own, which has the potential to be among the most successful in the world.

Stewart Stevenson
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