28 April 2009

An opportunity for a new beginning

Banff & Buchan’s fishing communities have endured many difficult years since the introduction of the EU’s common fisheries policy. It is certainly true to say that fish stocks off our coasts have been in decline for a significant period and that there is clearly a need for them to be managed to ensure a sustainable future for the industry. Yet far too often the CFP has delivered a centrally set policy that has destroyed livelihoods and failed to create the sustainable, profitable fishing industry that we need.

With a host of landlocked countries able to have more of a say on what happens to the Scottish fleet than Scotland does, it is scarcely surprising that what has resulted over the years has not been what the fishing communities know to be the best way forward.

However, there is a now a chance that all this could change. The European Commission has accepted that there is a fundamental need to replace the common fisheries policy with a completely new system to manage fish stocks. The Scottish Government has already launched an inquiry into future fisheries management and is determined to push hard to bring about a distinctly Scottish approach. It is only common sense that those nations with a stake in the future of the fishing industry should be the ones taking the decisions on how best to achieve sustainability.

Responsibility for managing the Scottish fishing industry and the fish stocks it relies upon should lie as close to the communities involved as possible. The fishing industry in Banff & Buchan, and in Scotland generally, has been at the forefront of developing new methods of increasing the sustainability of the fish stocks it relies upon. This move to find a new system for managing these stocks represents a key opportunity to replace a failed policy of centralised decision-making with one that can deliver. A new future for our fishing industry is possible, but it is incumbent on the European Union to accept that the necessary decisions must be taken by those most affected by their consequences. Greater power over our fishing industry simply must be returned to Scotland.

Learning new skills to overcome the downturn

In these difficult economic times it is important that ordinary people in Scotland are given as much support as possible to increase their skills and employability. Although nobody wants to see people out of work, it would be negligence if we failed to anticipate it and provide support for training to make finding alternative employment easier.

That is why I was delighted by the announcement that access to the Individual Learning Account is to be widened to cover up to 250,000 people. This scheme provides financial support for people with an income under £22,000 to learn new skills or improve existing ones, and is a vital measure for economic recovery. By having a highly skilled population we are more readily able to attract new business opportunities to Scotland and consequently help increase people’s opportunities for employment.

The SNP Government recognises the importance of this and is working hard to help people learn new skills. That is why £24.7 million of European Social Fund money is being directed towards supporting 75,000 people gain or sustain employment opportunities by increasing their skills and training. The importance of this support cannot be underestimated and is a key part of the work being taken by the Scottish Government to help ordinary people in Scotland through the current economic difficulties.

9 April 2009

75 years fighting for Scotland

North Sea Tragedy

It was with great sadness that we learned of the appalling tragedy which unfolded off the Buchan coast last week, with a helicopter going down and taking the lives of the sixteen people on board. The nation has been united in expressing its condolences to those families and communities which are suffering as a result. The personal impact of the accident will fall heaviest on families in the north-east of Scotland, but it will fall also on other parts of Scotland and the United Kingdom, as well as further afield. The north-east, and indeed the whole nation has been united in expressing its deepest sympathy and condolences to the families, friends, colleagues and loved ones of those who have been killed in this tragic accident.

75 years fighting for Scotland

On April 7 the Scottish National Party celebrated its 75th anniversary. The last 75 years have seen Scotland and the SNP journey together. Throughout, we have always stood with and for the people of Scotland in achieving our nation’s ambitions.

The SNP has seen the election of our first MP, Robert McIntyre, in 1945 and Winnie Ewing’s historic by-election victory in 1967 that led to a steady increase in SNP MPs in following years. It has endured the low times following the 1979 devolution referendum and celebrated the highs of Scotland’s parliament reconvening ten years ago. The last two years have seen fresh landmarks in the SNP story, with the triumph at the last Holyrood election, including the election of the late and much missed Bashir Ahmad as the first Scots Asian MSP, and then last year’s epic by-election victory in Glasgow East.

When the party was founded few could have imagined the distance we have travelled in the years since, with an SNP Government now in place and an independence referendum planned for next year.

The sad loss of Neil MacCormick reminds those of us who have the privilege of serving in the first SNP Government, that without the support of the people, and the efforts of so many members over the decades, we would not be in the position we are today. It is that support and the strength and determination of the people of Scotland that will take us forward together.
Now it is time for the SNP and the people of Scotland to move into a new era, to look to the future, and to build the smarter, wealthier, and healthier Scotland that will take us forward to our rightful place as an equal and independent nation on the European and world stage.

An anniversary that won’t be celebrated

Recent days have also seen a very different anniversary, but one that was certainly not celebrated in Scotland. The twentieth anniversary of the hated Poll Tax’s introduction north of the border served as a timely reminder of the problems of Westminster governing Scottish affairs.

Scotland was used as a guinea pig for the Conservative Party’s failed experiment, with devastating effect. The democratic outrage of a party that had been rejected by Scottish voters imposing such an unpopular policy on Scotland, before the rest of the UK, is something which 20 years on has neither been forgotten nor forgiven by the Scottish electorate.

Whether it is unacceptable taxes or illegal wars the need for Scotland to be able to make our own decisions has not changed. The whims of a remote Government in Westminster have damaged Scotland time after time and only the full powers of independence will change that.

Stewart Stevenson
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