19 December 2007

Moving Towards a Healthier Scotland in 2008

Health is one of the most fundamental issues under any Government’s remit. Indeed it is so basic and universal that it is often taken for granted. However far from being complacent, the SNP Government has fully recognised its responsibility to the health of Scotland’s people and positively stepped up to the challenge of making Scotland a healthier, fairer nation.

The SNP’s core health objective on taking over Government was to improve Scotland’s health record as a whole and reduce the significant inequalities that still exist. Our policy is informed by the belief that good health and wellbeing is a universal right and should not depend on a person’s financial status or where they live. The SNP has always maintained that it was utterly unacceptable in the 21st Century that a developed, oil rich country like Scotland should be lagging behind its international counterparts in terms of life expectancy and health inequalities.

However, work is now well under way to shake off the ‘sick man of Europe’ tag which Scotland has been tarred with for far too long. The SNP has taken positive action on Scotland’s long standing health problems, taking a long-term approach to tackle the underlying problems. Chief amongst these are health inequalities and unhealthy lifestyle practices such as poor diet, smoking and alcohol abuse.

This is why in its first six months in Government the SNP has begun a phased abolition of prescription charges to make healthcare more equal, supporting many people in Banff & Buchan particularly those with long term conditions. This will go a long way to narrowing the social gap that still exists in health. Further to this we have raised the age of cigarette sales from 16 to 18, staged Scotland’s first alcohol awareness week and started a free school meals pilot to mention but a few measures. Indeed the recent SNP Budget allocated £85 million over three years to reduce damage done by alcohol and £3 million a year to reduce smoking.

In fact only last week the SNP announced extra funding of £11 million a year to help smokers quit. This includes £597,000 for Grampian Health Board to assist smokers in the North East who are trying to kick the habit. This is good news for Banff & Buchan where I know many people will benefit from support as they face the difficult challenge of giving up smoking.

Indeed the nature of a Government’s health policy is a strong indication of how that Government values and prioritises the welfare of the people it serves. And on this basis it is clear that the health of Scotland’s people is at the top of the SNP’s agenda.

Christmas Tidings
I would like to take this opportunity to wish everyone in Banff & Buchan a safe and happy Christmas and New Year. I can certainly say that this year has been one of the most successful and exciting for myself and the SNP and indeed one of the most historic for the people of Scotland. The single most exhilarating event of 2007 for me personally however was being reelected to serve the people of Banff & Buchan for another four years. This has been a genuine honour for which I owe a huge gratitude to my constituents. I wish all of you the very best over this festive period and look forward to serving you to the best of my ability in 2008.

11 December 2007

A Day of National Celebration

St. Andrew’s Day is a day with one simple purpose - to celebrate Scotland. For one day in the year it gives each of us the opportunity to rejoice in being Scottish and to revel in sheer national pride, not to mention some good old Scottish fun!

And in no other year has our national day been so widely and passionately celebrated as this one. In all six cities and all across the country a variety of diverse cultural activities marked the Scottish Patron Saint’s day. Ceilidhs, festivals and markets were in full swing. Tourist activity was also high on the agenda as over sixty of Scotland’s top visitor attractions were open to the public free of charge. Many people also had the added bonus of a day off work. I myself was not so lucky but nonetheless thoroughly enjoyed the evening festivities here in Banff & Buchan at a St. Andrew’s Day celebration in Peterhead.

St. Andrew’s Day passed with in a noticeably different air in Scotland this year for two reasons. One was the fact that the SNP Government made a special effort this year to promote our national day which has gone somewhat under-recognised and taken for granted in the past. In previous years there has been a distinct sense of reserve surrounding our celebration of St. Andrew’s Day. However, this year the SNP fully embraced the celebrations and inspired thousands of people here in Scotland and indeed across the globe to join them in doing so. After all, almost every country boasts a national day from Independence Day in the US to St. Patrick’s Day in Ireland. Scotland has just as much to be proud of as any other nation so why shouldn’t we indulge in a bit of healthy patriotism once a year?

I would like to see St. Andrew’s Day take on the global significance that St. Patrick’s Day boasts for the Irish people both at home and abroad. And with the enormous Scottish Diaspora, estimated to be 40 million strong, there is no reason why it should not.

Another difference in the tone of the festivities this year was a subtle yet distinct sense of positivity and optimism for Scotland’s future. Scotland is a country currently undergoing change – and change for the better. With a new SNP Government that is promoting Scotland and acting in Scotland’s interests, our country is gaining a greater sense of itself. This is obvious from within, here at home and also for those looking at Scotland from the outside, on the international stage. With the SNP the horizon for Scotland is looking brighter than ever before.

A Triumph for Free Healthcare
Healthcare in Scotland received a massive boost this week as the SNP Government announced that prescription charges are to be substantially cut year on year for the next four years and abolished by 2011. Next April single prescription costs will be reduced by 25%, down from £6.85 to £5, then falling further to £4 in 2009 and £3 in 2010 before being eradicated in 2011. Furthermore, people suffering from long term conditions will benefit enormously from a cut of more than 50 per cent in the cost of pre-payment certificates.

This is the kind of practical step that will help thousands of ordinary people across Scotland, and a huge number here in Banff & Buchan. What prescription charges essentially amount to is a tax on poor health and, for those who cannot afford such costs, an impediment to good health. The SNP believes that everyone in Scotland is equally entitled to health and wellbeing. Why should Scotland, a developed country, have a poorer record on health than some of our counterparts in Europe? We in the SNP have a clear and long-standing goal of making Scotland healthier and fairer. And with common sense measures like this, step by step we are getting ever closer to achieving that goal.

Stewart Stevenson
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