22 August 2003

Follow Failure

After twenty years of failure to deliver a decent cod fishery for Scotland's fishermen one might think that governments would look at something different. But last year only the most intensive efforts budged Prime Minister Blair's people away from a total ban to follow the decades of restriction.

Now we hear that scientists are indicating a further decline in stocks. Proof that the present approach is not working.

Bullying and bribing boats into another redundancy scheme that will see even fewer Scottish white fish boats plying their trade is a policy of despair.

Already our processors have to source much raw material from our fishing competitors in the Faroes and Iceland. Because their catchers are doing well by comparison with ours. Why?

At the beginning of March this year I met a remarkable man from Reyjavik. Jón Kristjánsson is an Icelander who has been advising the Faroes government. His approach over recent years has been very different from the slash and burn policies coming from Brussels and London – yes; we must recognise Scotland's very limited influence.

In short-hand he says that we must keep fishing if we are to have healthy stocks. How so?

As I understand it, Jón argues that if we do not have a balanced group of all ages of cod, we shall instead see boom and bust cycles carrying us downwards towards extinction. Because stopping fishing means large year classes of fish swimming alongside very small ones. And that leads to starvation and cannibalism.

Now I do not have to fully understand Jón's argument to accept it. I just have to look at the results of his advice to the Faroes. They are flourishing and we are in decline.

We know that more of the same "conservation" policy means more pain for our communities.

I have only been to Iceland once. And that was during the 1970s "Cod War".

When I arrived at Keflavik airport I cleared Immigration and headed for the Customs post with my suitcase. The burly Icelander there lifted my case as if to open and search it. But no; he wanted to read my address label. Seeing I was Scottish he smiled and said, "Two hundred mile limit for Scotland too."

The difference then was that they had the power to do something about their problems. And choose to do so with the successful outcome we can see.

We choose to do other's bidding then as we do now instead of running our affairs. And we get the crises that go with that.

It is time we tried something new and stopped following failure.

Blind Alley

Recess brought an invitation from Grampian Society for the Blind to join their Board for lunch.

Across our area they are supporting people with a range of difficulties. For some with a less severe, but nevertheless disabling, sight loss, the provision of a prescription magnifying glass can make an immense difference to their quality of life.

Total loss of sight can, if the appropriate support is not available more or less at once, can bring significant loss of confidence with it. That is where the Society come in.

Not only are they advocates for the blind – that is why they had four Scottish Parliamentarians across the table from them in their Board room – but they provide a wide range of services for them.

But that is being made difficult. Training for people to work with the blind is limited and certainly not available locally. And it does not lead to a "recognised" qualification and thus does not attract grants for students.

We – and that included a Scottish government minister – quickly understood one reason why we were there.

Like most people with a disability, it is the exclusion from the world of work that excludes from the wider benefits of our society. Blind people are no exception in finding it difficult to locate and retain good jobs.

Obviously there are a range of jobs requiring good eyesight from which are excluded. Anything involving driving for example. So it is right that companies are given money to support the employment of blind people.

But this is provided for three years only. So jobs seem to last – only 3 years.

I do not think the Minister was well pleased when I observed that for MSPs our help to employ disabled people was permanent.

Perhaps we might just embarrass the government into doing the right thing. Or are they unembarrassable?

6 August 2003

Showing On

We take for granted much of what we have in the NorthEast. And wonder why more visitors don’t come our way.

Fully two years after ‘foot and mouth’, our show season is back up to strength. A few missing stalls but substantial gate takings as people are back.

The fly in the ointment has been the weather. Not the weather that last year saw me struggling to drive out of the mud in one rural show’s car park. This time the heat.

For my part I much prefer ‘cool’ to ‘hot’. When I visited the New Deer show I sweltered in the 20s and at Turriff it must have been well over 30 deg C in the narrow, crowded alleys of the stalls area where my surgery caravan was based.

But the person for whom it was very definitely too hot was, Rural Minister Ross Finnie. I met lots of people at the Turra Show who wanted a word in his ear. And many of the words are not ones I would wish to write here!

I had one brief glimpse of him scurrying between appointments with a retinue of civil servants sweating in his wake.

Farm incomes might have risen this year – a bit, the weather may have been kinder than often to our crops, but the long-term outlook remains uncertain – at best.

On farmer suggested that I should follow up on the 1959 Weeds Act. Hogweed is a dangerous plant for many of our farm animals and our roadsides are awash with this pest. And how many prosecutions have there been for failure to cut it back? I am told it is none.

Another is very concerned about changes in the scheme which currently prevents beasts over 30 months entering the food chain.

While a third spoke to me of the unfair competition he experiences from foreign meat producers who do not have to work to the very high animal welfare standards in force here.

I hope that the Minister heard these issues and plans to act on them. He will hear them from me in any event.

The ending of the Aikey Fair has been a disappointment. It was one of the last of the real ‘horse fairs’ in our area. But the agricultural shows continue from strength to strength.

The Royal Highland Show at Edinburgh is a major national and international attraction. For tourists are encouraged to visit it and add to the diversity of their Scottish holiday.

But despite our strong local shows, and with Turra’s national reputation, there is little evidence that bodies like visitScotland are promoting them as visitor attractions for foreign tourists.

With history, scenery, beautiful beaches and weather we should be awash with visitors. Yes, there are more than last year, but far fewer than our assets deserve.

Our Shows are on. It is now time for a little showing off.


Like much of Scotland the mis-use of drugs is a problem for us albeit that it is on a substantially smaller scale than towns in the central belt where much larger parts of their populations are affected.

But a new dimension, a new drugs problem, appears in my email ‘inbox’ almost every day. That is online retailers attempting to bypass the strict controls on prescription drugs.

Today I received a claim to be “your secure source for medications that help you achieve your goals”. And so on.

In the 19th century, anybody could make up and sell drugs to the general public with quite outrageous claims made. Such ‘snake oil’ salesmen were quite properly brought under control to protect the public.

With the Internet enabling emails to be imported into our country offering products which bypass our strict standards, we could be the brink of a significant health problem. Because there is almost no drug without a side effect.

If unsupervised by medically qualified people, or delivered at concentrations higher than can be safely self-administered, drugs can damage and kill.

I do not yet know of people who have bought drugs by this route. Are they being ripped off? Are they being hurt?

We must not find ourselves fixing the problem after it has happened if we can stop it.

Supply through our local chemist is safe and proven. Let’s stick with that.

Orchid Allies

It seems that the Scottish Prison Service may have been caught out again. Their site for a planned new prison in West Lothian is home to three varieties of wild orchid.

Although it might be possible to move the ‘common spotted’, ‘heath’ and ‘northern marsh’ orchids to another site an alternative move might make more sense.

Increase prison capacity with a new build on the prison land at Peterhead.

The Peterhead community knows it makes sense. When will SPS HQ wake up?

Stewart Stevenson
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