18 December 2008

A Scottish voice in Europe

The fishing industry in Banff & Buchan and Scotland more widely, has had to make many sacrifices in its pursuit of a sustainable, profitable fishing industry. While nobody wants to see over-fishing take place to the point where a species is wiped out, some of the conservation measures that the industry has had to adopt have caused real difficulties to many people.

Because of the rigid nature of fishing quotas, fishermen across Europe have been forced into discarding perfectly good fish instead of landing and selling them. This practice has been a tragedy that no skipper has wanted to endure.

Rather than simply accept this as inevitable, the fishing industry in Scotland has led the way in adopting ever more innovative practices to avoid catching certain types of fish, which they would then be forced to throw away because of EU rules. These innovations, such as Real-Time Closures that temporarily shut areas of the sea where endangered fish stocks have been detected, have been a credit to the Scottish industry, demonstrating their willingness to adapt.

That is why I am delighted that this practice has been recognised and rewarded in recent EU-Norway fishing negotiations. The increase in cod quotas by 30% can only be considered to be recognition by the rest of Europe that Scottish practices are having a real effect on conservation.

Perhaps more significant, however, is the fact that the Scottish Real-Time Closures system of conservation will be rolled out across European fisheries, along with a ban on dumping marketable fish. What makes this so important is that it shows what can be achieved in Europe when Scotland’s voice is heard.

With 60% of the UK’s fishing industry based in Scotland, fishing represents a far more important industry to Scotland than it does to the UK as a whole. Yet despite this, it is a UK Government minister who represents the UK in European negotiations, despite not holding any responsibility for the bulk of the industry. EU rules fully allow ministers from devolved governments to take the lead and represent their member state in European negotiations such as this. It is only intransigence on the part of the UK government that stands in the way of Scotland taking the lead.

Given that Scotland’s example has been adopted by the rest of Europe, I can only wonder what could be achieved for our fishing industry if Scotland’s voice could be heard leading EU negotiations. Instead, we are supposed to be satisfied with a situation where Richard Lochhead, the Fisheries Secretary with responsibility for most of the UK’s industry, is forced to give way to his Westminster counterpart.

There could scarcely be a clearer example of the UK Government’s unwillingness to see Scotland standing up for our own interests than this situation. Their willingness to sacrifice the best interests of the fishing industry in order to do Scotland down is completely indefensible, and is something the industry in Banff & Buchan will not forgive.

Christmas wishes

With Christmas almost upon us, I would like to take this opportunity to wish everybody in Banff & Buchan a wonderful festive period and a happy new year.

Although the world economy has taken a turn for the worse, people know that in Scotland they have a government that will stand up for them at every opportunity. The SNP have worked tirelessly in 2008 for the people of Scotland, and I know that we will not slacken our efforts to help people through these difficult times in the New Year.

3 December 2008

Achieving our energy potential

Scotland and the North East in particular, have for decades benefited from the economic benefits of a thriving energy sector. The oil in Scotland’s waters has brought lucrative businesses to Aberdeen, creating highly-skilled jobs for many people across North East Scotland and beyond.

But although individuals have benefited through working in the oil sector, it has been the London treasury rather than Scotland that has benefited from the tax income on North Sea oil and gas. This year alone, the Treasury has been propped up to the tune of a record £13.2 billion, with another £55 billion expected over the next six years.

Today we stand on the brink of a new energy boom in Scotland’s waters. Scotland has the potential to generate 25% of Europe’s offshore wind power, 25% of Europe’s tidal power and 10% of Europe’s wave power. The massive economic potential of being able to generate so much clean, renewable energy should not be underestimated and can have a huge impact on the Scottish economy for generations to come.

That is why I was delighted by two separate events in recent weeks that bring us closer to achieving our energy potential.

Firstly, the European Commission published their Strategic Energy Review which has identified the construction of a North Sea supergrid as one of the six priority infrastructure projects that are needed to secure Europe’s future energy supplies. This project will allow Scotland to sell excess energy to the rest of Europe and is a critical incentive to commercial companies to develop renewable energy projects off Scotland’s shores. That is why the Scottish Government has been pushing hard in Europe for it to be adopted, and I sincerely hope that we will see further progress towards it.

The second major event was the announcement of the criteria for winning the Saltire Prize. This £10 million prize will spark a race to develop commercially viable wave or tidal power project that can generate a minimum of 100GWh over a continuous two year period. Most importantly, however, these innovations will take place in Scottish waters. It is Scotland that will be leading the world in the field of marine renewable energy thanks to the Scottish Government putting this incentive to innovate in place.

Scotland may have lost out for decades as Scottish oil revenues have been pumped south to keep the UK solvent, but we must not lose out again. There is huge potential for another energy boom in our waters, and this time it must be Scotland that reaps the benefits.

Engineers of the future

Key to harnessing the potential energy off our shores will be the considerable experience and skills held by Scottish engineers who have worked offshore in the oil and gas industry. Yet more important still may be the role to be played by young engineers who are only beginning their careers.

That is why I was delighted to hear that members of Banff Academy’s Young Engineers club have won the SCDI’s award for best young engineer’s club in Scotland. The members of the club can all be justifiably proud of their accomplishments, lifting their twelfth award in three years thanks to their innovative engineering projects.

I extend my heartfelt congratulations on their success and wish them the best of luck when they go on to compete in London for the UK title. Scotland has a long tradition of engineering excellence and it is extremely pleasing that young residents of Banff & Buchan will be at the forefront of our next generation of engineers.

Stewart Stevenson
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