18 September 2007

A Programme for Success

After a summer recess spent in the constituency MSPs returned last week to the political flurry of the Parliament. And indeed there was no time wasted with the Scottish Government launching its legislative programme for the coming year at the foremost available opportunity.

The programme comprised a raft of proposed new legislation ranging from matters of justice, education and public health to the economy. It included bills which have been previously announced such as the abolition of bridge tolls on the Forth and Tay Bridges, which will come as a great relief to commuters and drivers travelling south from the North East. There were other legislative proposals to which we in the SNP had committed in our manifesto such as scrapping the graduate endowment and safeguarding rural schools. The First Minister also outlined plans to make the health system more democratic by giving patients a greater say through direct elections to health boards, thus fulfilling our undertaking to keep Scottish healthcare as local and patient-centred as possible.

In contrast to the inevitable negative and dysfunctional criticism from the opposing side of the chamber, the SNP’s legislative programme was warmly welcomed outside of the parliament. Organisations such as the British Medical Association, the Royal College of Nursing, the Federation of Small Businesses and the Scottish Chambers of Commerce hailed the SNP’s innovative and common-sense policy proposals. This is further illustration of the SNP’s ability to think outside the box and indeed outside the parliament –basing its policy on the real needs of the people of Scotland, not on politically motivated concerns within the parliament.

Since gaining power in May the SNP has shown itself to be a responsible and conscientious government committed to serving Scotland’s best interests. Indeed one of the stark differences between the SNP Government and the previous administration is simply that the SNP is unashamedly defending Scottish interests and governing Scotland without the continuous need to seek reassurance and approval from Westminster. Indeed, even Labour’s former First Minister Henry McLeish recently recognised the SNP’s achievements in power and the plainly obvious basis to their success in contrast to other parties – listening to the people of Scotland and delivering on what they hear.

A Healthier, Happier Nation
Scotland is a nation of enormous potential, economically, socially and culturally. However, that potential cannot be realised by each and every Scottish person unless their basic needs are met – primarily their health and wellbeing. Scotland’s public health is fundamental to a happier, longer living and more successful nation. This is why the recent research attesting to the success of the smoking ban thus far came as great news for the people of Scotland, young and old. The study found a 17% decrease in admissions for heart attacks in the first year of the ban plus a 39% reduction in second hand smoke exposure in 11 year olds and adult non-smokers and an 86% reduction in passive smoking in bars. The SNP will continue to build on this progress by raising the age of cigarette sales from 16 to 18 subject to parliamentary approval next month.

The smoking ban has clearly been one of the major achievements of the Scottish Parliament, and one which I and my party colleagues wholeheartedly supported in 2005. In fact the ban was originally put forward by SNP MSP Stewart Maxwell as a Member’s Bill. Indeed, this serves to clearly illustrate the merits of devolution – that Scotland had the ability to go its own way and implement bold new policies ahead of the rest of the UK. As a result Scotland is now one of the leaders in Europe on this issue – a case we can expect to see more of in the future with the SNP endeavouring to increase the powers and autonomy of the Scottish Parliament. By creating a more smoke-free Scotland the SNP are committed to improving Scotland’s public health to make Scotland the vibrant, successful nation it deserves to be.

4 September 2007

Return to Normality

LOOKING back, this summer has been a turbulent time for our agricultural sector, and particularly for our livestock industry. The confirmed cases of foot and mouth disease in Surrey last month came as a severe blow to the sector.

For many of us, the news stirred up unpleasant memories of the devastating 2001 outbreak which culminated in the slaughter of over 6.5 million animals and a cost of £8.5 billion to the economy.

The news naturally elicited much unease amongst farmers here in Banff and Buchan and throughout the country, who were justifiably concerned for their livelihoods.

Farming is of vital economic importance both locally and nationally, and provides major employment here in Banff and Buchan.

Scottish farmers produce output worth almost £2 million a year to the Scottish economy. Furthermore, 67,000 people – around 8% of the rural workforce in Scotland, are directly employed in agriculture, not to mention the thousands of jobs indirectly dependent on the industry.

For the people of Banff and Buchan the outbreak also put something of a dampener on our usual summer agricultural festivities, unfortunately coinciding with the Turriff Show which I gladly attended.
Though the presence of livestock was prohibited at the show, organisers dealt with the disruption in a highly professional manner and an enjoyable day was still to be had.

Thankfully however, after the cull of 570 animals and vigilant practice of bio-security at all levels, these cases appear to have been managed and the disease contained without travelling north to Scotland.

Indeed it has come as a great relief here in Banff and Buchan that restrictions are now being relaxed and normality is gradually being restored to the farming industry. A phased programme is under way to get Scotland's livestock industry back to normal.

With the export ban which was imposed on British meat and dairy products having been lifted by the EU, the industry is gradually returning to normal business.

I would like to take this opportunity to commend farmers and all of those employed in the agricultural sector in Banff and Buchan for their vigilance, and indeed their patience, throughout this uncertain time, which is now fortunately drawing to a close.

Valuable Time in the Constituency
AFTER a hectic initial period in government for us SNP parliamentarians, the summer recess finally afforded us the time to take a break from parliamentary business and concentrate on those people for whom we are there to serve – our constituents.

While throughout the year I divide my time between constituency and parliamentary duties, summer recess gives me the chance for a few weeks to focus solely on my constituency and get out and about to travel the length and breadth of Banff and Buchan.

Indeed, last month, I embarked on my seventh annual surgery tour around the constituency, clocking up over 450 surgeries since I was first elected in 2001. I visited a total of 44 towns and villages on my mobile surgery tour, spanning the constituency from Inverallochy to Forglen and Sandend to Cruden Bay. The tours are an excellent opportunity to visit the more rural parts of Banff and Buchan and see and hear at first hand the experiences and issues of concern to the locals there.

Everybody should be able to voice their interests and concerns to the MSP that represents them, regardless of where they reside, and this tour gives my constituents the opportunity to do just that.

Stewart Stevenson
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