22 June 2008

Homecoming glory

We are all aware of Scotland's unique culture and significant contribution to the world. Whilst people the world over marvel at Scotland's rich heritage however, here at home it is all too easy to take it for granted and overlook the value of our cultural legacy. This is why the SNP Government is taking the initiative and bringing our national celebrations home in a year to appreciate Scotland all things Scottish.

To mark the 250th anniversary of our national bard Robert Burns, Homecoming 2009, a sensational series of festivities, will run from Burns Night up until St Andrews Day. With over 100 events taking place throughout the country, Homecoming will showcase Scotland's and indeed the North East's best assets from poetry to world class whisky to golf, traditional music, Scottish innovation and far beyond.

Here in the North East Homecoming offers an immense opportunity to celebrate our distinctive identity and traditions and to show this off to the world. Amongst the events happening here in Banff & Buchan will be our annual Portsoy Boat Festival - but with a difference. Following the Homecoming theme it will be opened up to the world with contributors from Scandinavia, Canada and the USA joining an international symposium on traditional boat building. The Museum of Scottish Lighthouses in Fraserburgh will put on an exhibition to highlight Scotland's world renowned innovations in lighthouse design - another show demonstration of our influence across the world. To honour our lineage a North East Clan Fortnight is also planned, running from the end of July with an enhanced Aberdeen Tartan Day.

This not about celebrating Scotland amongst ourselves however, but inviting the thousands of Scottish Diaspora around the world and indeed all of those with an affinity to Scotland to come and join in these celebrations. This represents not only an opportunity to promote our country and boost its standing in the international arena, but also a huge economic opportunity to be seized. With an estimated £40m in tourism to be generated from the events, Homecoming will reap rewards for the North East culturally and economically. And with the vast potential for tourism we harbour here in Banff & Buchan, locally this is excellent news for all of us. With our area's beautiful beaches, stunning seascapes, our fantastic golf course in Cruden Bay and much more we can only benefit from promoting our area and displaying its attributes to the world.

Harnessing the value of Scotland's oil

Oil has scarcely been far from the headlines in recent weeks. As prices hit almost $140 a barrel, from businesses to public services to families and individuals, every one is feeling the squeeze of rising fuel costs. At the same time, as a result the UK Treasury is experiencing a windfall, set to make an extra £4-5b in oil revenues on top of the £10b forecast in the last Budget.

In these times of booming oil prices, it has never been clearer that Scotland's oil must be harnessed and used constructively - we must seize the opportunity and plough this burgeoning wealth into a fund for future generations. We only need look across the waters to Norway to witness the benefits of their £186b oil fund wisely established by their government wisely 12 years ago. Without full power over its oil resources currently however Scotland must wait on the UK Government to act. The SNP has for years been pressing Scotland's case for greater control of its oil. And now, in government in Holyrood we are doing all in our power to urge Gordon Brown to give Scotland access to the expanding North Sea oil revenues to invest for our future generations. The SNP will continue to fight for everyone in Scotland to feel the benefits of our nation's oil.

4 June 2008

Standing up for Scotland's fishing industry

The fishing industry is vital to the North East of Scotland and an integral part of life here in Banff & Buchan. It underlies not only our local economy but also many of our customs and traditions, both past and present. It is also an industry which has undergone immense reform in recent years, some of which has been painful and difficult for those engaged in the sector.

The fishing trade and the many communities it supports must therefore be protected if we want to see it continue to thrive and remain at the centre of Scottish life and heritage. This is why the SNP Government is implementing proactive measures to support fishermen through the good times and the bad.

With world oil prices escalating, fuel costs have hit the fishing industry hard and threatened the profitability of many fishing-dependent businesses. Indeed the rising price of fuel is an issue affecting everyone in Scotland today, and the impact is sharply felt by the already vulnerable fishing trade. The SNP Government has recognised this strain and responded with a positive action plan to tackle the challenges facing the industry.

This five point plan is a pragmatic, common sense initiative by the Scottish Government. For a start, it has seen £700,000 given to the industry to help offset the impact of fuel costs. This money will go a long way to alleviating pressures on the industry in the short term. Looking further down the road, the plan also sets out the Scottish Government's intention to continue to press the EU on subsidies and to meet with the UK Government to discuss the serious issue of rising fuel prices- the Government that currently retains responsibility for fuel taxes and with it the ability to reduce fuel costs. As part of the plan the Scottish Government will work also with the industry to come up with a fuel efficiency scheme.

The Scottish Government has already established a Task Force to immediately start the ball rolling in implementing these positive measures. The group is made up of key figures across fishing and related sectors in Scotland. But I was particularly pleased to see the Banff & Buchan fishing industry so well represented on the Task Force with Euan Beaton of MacDuff Shellfish and John Wallace of Peterhead Port Authority on the panel. We can rest assured that the voices of the North East sector will be heard loud and clear at the table.

The importance of fishing to our local economy needs little emphasis. The industry is worth almost £2 billion to the Scottish economy and accounts for 1.4 per cent of the country's employment, with the fish catching sector employing over 1,300 people in the North East. Fishing represents 60 per cent of all jobs in Fraserburgh and 28 per cent in Peterhead plus the surrounding travel to work areas. This value is not lost on the SNP Government which is why it is fighting hard to protect the industry and see it flourish into the future.

What's more, the SNP Fisheries Secretary, Richard Lochhead has also established a major review of the management of Scotland's fishing quota to ensure that Scotland's fishing rights are protected and that fresh blood continues to flow into the industry into the future.
But at the heart of these initiatives is not the Government but the industry itself. In seeking the way forward for fishing in Scotland, the SNP is working in partnership with the fishing industry every step of the way and listening to what they have to say. After all, there are few who will know the situation better than those directly involved.

For far too long Scotland's fishing industry was treated as peripheral to the Scottish economy by Westminster governments in EU negotiations and indeed by the former Scottish Executive, following in their lead. The SNP now has the opportunity to put this to right; to put the industry at the centre of decision making and stand up for Scotland's fishing interests at home and abroad. And now that we are in government we are making sure we do just that.

Stewart Stevenson
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