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19 January 2016

Wet, Wet, Wet

It’s not been the best start to the New Year weather wise. The past seven days have been dreadful and the resulting damage caused by flooding last week will take months to repair.

In the short term the North East has faced huge travel disruptions whether you are travelling by car, train or bus. This has affected me personally and for many thousands of people across my constituency.

In the past few days we have seen images and videos of severe weather showing people stranded in their homes, shots of roads under water and roads washed away and even a video of a static caravan being washed down the river Dee.
First Minister Nicola in Inverurie
(© 2016 Sunday Post)
However, it is in times like these I am proud to see the hard work of the people of Scotland helping others and getting on with the job that has been, albeit unwanted, presented to us. The dedication of the emergency responders who have continued to work tirelessly over past few days to protect our communities has been excellent.

Despite the constant stream of weather warnings from the MET office and SEPA we have also been overwhelmed by stories of community spirit across the North East, with people opening their doors for those who have faced damage to their homes.

There is no doubt that the effects of recent flooding will have been devastating for some. Families have been forced to leave their homes, schools have faced temporary closure and some businesses were forced to close their doors while weather warnings were in place.

The Scottish Government has announced £235 million to protect 10,000 properties affected by flooding and is providing a further £12million to support communities recovering from flooding, which residents in my Banffshire and Buchan Coast constituency can apply for if their properties have been damaged by floods, this will be available from local authorities.

Over the weekend I was able to visit areas in my constituency that have been affected by the weather. While other nearby communities have been affected very severely and been the focus of much effort, individual householders and businesses in Banffshire and Buchan Coast can also apply for financial assistance. Our thoughts should be with our friends elsewhere in the North East and in England. We are immensely grateful to all those who have and continue to give their time to help those in need.

I can't let the passing of Sir Albert McQuarrie go without acknowledging his public service right up to recent times. I used to meet him quite often and make common cause where we could agree. Respect should cross political boundaries and although there were fundamental issues of difference between us, I absolutely recognise his integrity and his efforts for our communities.

5 January 2016

Backwards and Forwards

This is a time of year for looking backwards at achievements. And for looking forward to challenges.

For an SNP politician, 2015 was dominated by our success in the May election for Westminster. While in 2016 we face the challenge of elections to our Parliament in Scotland.

Banffshire and Buchan Coast covers a large and varied area from Buckie to Boddam. It is intensely rural in parts but with major settlements. Employment is varied – farming, oil, fishing, engineering and education adding to the usual mix of professional and social services found in every area.

Today, as for more than a century, many “work away”. On oil production rigs off our own shore and on exploration rigs around the world. On fishing vessels from our own ports and from ports further afield.

We know we are a “get up and go” community with (probably) the highest proportion of self-employed of any constituency in Scotland.

We are a diverse community with all our secondary schools having around 20 or more languages in them. That's not new.

The Peterhead Post Office Directory for 1853 (you can read it via http://www.nls.uk) tells me that the population of Peterhead was then 8,242 of whom only 263 were on the electoral roll – simpler days for political canvassing in the 1852 election!

And we were international then with a Swedish and Norwegian consul, a Danish and Hanoverian consul and a Prussian consul in Peterhead appointed to look after those countries' local interests.

Although we will still have more employed in fish processing than five years ago after the planned and substantial loss of jobs at Youngs in Fraserburgh, the Government task force has a job to do.

We probably depend too much on our factories working for others and not enough on developing our own brands which customers can see on our supermarket shelves. It's a long term project to change that. Few buyers of smoked salmon in Sainsbury's will realise that by the end of 2016 it will have been processed in Fife and in Poland and no longer in Fraserburgh.

In our Parliament, as is common at the end of a session, we are intensely busy with legislation.

I have just taken a new Act through Holyrood that tweaks the way in which MSPs report their finances and tightens up the regime. This means The Scottish Parliament is leading the way in transparency and accountability. The Act will make the financial interests of members easier to find, hopefully to giving more confidence to the public in who they elect.

And we are abolishing “mournings” as a permitted expense in calculating wills after death. Essentially a Victorian creation, the formal dressing for mourning took its lead from the Queen who remained in black for the rest of her life after her husband died.

In 1853 Robert Anderson of Marischall Street in Peterhead were one of the shops advertising "Family Mournings" in the Post Office Directory. Nowadays many funeral invitations insist on bright coloured clothes to celebrate the life of the departed.

In 2016, it will be first time 16 and 17 years olds anywhere in the UK will vote for members of Parliament. They tell me they're looking forward to it.

Have a successful 2016.

Stewart Stevenson
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