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28 March 2017

10,000 New Laws .. and Counting

Whatever side of recent political decisions you may have taken, you are likely to agree that leaving the EU is a very large action which needs to be tackled with the utmost care.

For fishing communities, leaving the Common Fisheries Policy represents a substantial opportunity. Regaining control of own waters and choosing our own catching policy can provide a huge boost. That’s why the SNP Government’s compromise offer to the UK Government suggests a solution that achieves that.

For our fish processing sector, a much bigger employer, it can be a mixed blessing. Access to more fish landed - good. Restrictions on workers from elsewhere in the EU coming to work here - bad.

For our agricultural sector - the Common Agricultural Policy has been a vital part of every farmer’s livelihood. Under the able Convenorship of Edward Mountain MSP (a Tory but nonetheless an able chairman), Parliament’s Rural Committee is working hard to understand the options post-2019.

But these represent only a tiny fraction of the work that needs done. It is suggested, I don’t think anyone actually knows, that at least 10,000 separate pieces of legislation, changes to our laws, will be required. That needs knowledgeable civil servants, lawyers able to draft law, parliamentary time to authorise change.

All are in very short supply.

The strain of that is showing. Under such circumstances there are two types of response. One can hunker down – retreat to one’s bunker to take cover from enemy fire and hope for the best. Or one can reach out to engage all the help one can get.

Bit by bit Prime Minister May seems to have placed her money on closing down debate. The PM is consulting fewer and fewer people, turning away offers of help and shutting down communication ­– especially with the Scottish Government. The Scottish Government is still awaiting any response to their compromise paper which offers a way forward. The paper was published in December, it is now almost April.

But just think. What if the fishing issue was pursued by a Scottish Minister on behalf of the whole of the UK? What if the issue of steel-making were pursued by a Welsh Minister? That would be playing to our strengths; it would draw in more people and knowledge. Taking a collegiate approach to a massive issue is the only way for us to succeed.

I have called for this several times and have found myself looking out at nodding heads.

In times of crisis, please, please let’s look to engage all the help we can. It is always up to the people of our country to choose the way forward. The Scottish Government will make sure to have an offer available.

How much better if the next nodding head I see is Theresa May’s. It’s time to involve all the nations, skills and knowledge in the UK.

14 March 2017

Equality for all equates to fairness for all

Earlier this month at Holyrood, MSPs marked International Women’s Day.

An important celebration because it allows us to take a look back through history to see the trials and triumphs women have overcome.

But I also think it is right that it should be a marker of illustrating all that has been achieved.

Looking at my own family, events which took place more than 40 years ago, still impact today.

My wife rejoiced when the Equal Pay Act came into operation on 1 January 1975.

For the first time in her career she had been able to enter the company’s pension plan.

It meant she was in the firm’s plan right to the point of her retirement. However, entering it later due to the changes, meant it is around 20% lower than it might have been.

While it is not often given much thought, something which took place quite some time ago, still has implications.

Working in the finance industry, my wife was pretty much on her own, because there were not many women at her senior level.

I am incredibly proud of all she achieved in her working life – one of only two women among the 300 or 400 people who would attend the Association of Investment Companies annual dinners.

My wife was also a mentor to Audrey Baxter, the executive chairman of Baxter’s Food Group.

It is fantastic to see there are some women at senior levels in businesses across Scotland.

This of course can only increase.

In the same week to mark International Women’s Day, thousands of women descended on the Houses of Parliament, including those from my own constituency to protest against changes to pensions.

And only last month, Banff and Buchan MP Dr Eilidh Whiteford had a bill voted through at Westminster to help protect women against gender based violence.

Women have influenced politics for a long time.

The Great Reform Bill is currently before the Parliament at Westminster.

It is important to remind ourselves of the last Great Reform Bill, which removed the right of women to vote.

The electorate in those days was very small and there was a property qualification, but women who met that qualification and who were not married or were head of household could vote.

That danger exists with the Great Reform Bill today, as it potentially takes away rights and equalities for a wide range of people.

Fairness for women in no way diminishes men; rather, it rewards all of us in society, because equality for all is a necessary prerequisite of fairness for all.

Stewart Stevenson
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