25 January 2011

Making Scotland a global player

People in Scotland have always taken an immense amount of pride in the influence that Scotland has had in shaping the modern world and the innovations that Scottish pioneers have made. Advances such as logarithms and the television, penicillin and Radar to name but a few have transformed the world and can trace their roots to these shores.

These historic achievements are rightly given great importance by people in Scotland, but just as important for Scotland’s future must be the innovations that are still to come. The Scottish economy, like that of any developed country, relies on people creating technological and scientific advances which can then form the basis of commercial success. And it is in the renewable energy sector, perhaps more than any other, which Scotland has the potential to be a world leader with all the jobs and economic benefits that brings with it.

With 25% of Europe’s offshore wind and tidal energy potential and 10% of Europe’s wave energy potential, the quantity of clean, green energy that Scotland could produce is immense. Yet just as important economically, is the potential to export technology and expertise that being a world leader in the field allows.

That is why it was so heartening to see that Chinese Vice-Premier Li Keqiang chose to start his recent visit to the UK in Scotland, where he attended a presentation on Scotland’s developing offshore renewables technology and visited Pelamis Wave Power in Edinburgh. A number of highly lucrative trade agreements were signed during the visit, but more than anything else it was a clear demonstration of Scotland’s role as a world leader in offshore renewables technology.

Much of the credit for the visit must go to the First Minister thanks to the delegations he has led to China, seeking to encourage greater business and cultural ties between China and Scotland. The potential that the Chinese and other international markets offer to Scottish businesses that are at the forefront of new developments is immense, and in the current economic climate it is more important than ever that this potential is realised.

These opportunities are important not just for Scotland as a whole, but specifically for Banff & Buchan. With Peterhead having been designated as a key hub for the developing offshore renewables industry, there is real potential for the local economy to benefit from future trade deals. Just as the oil & gas industry has seen expertise built up in Scotland exported around the world, there is the real possibility for Scotland’s offshore renewables industry to follow suit in time.

That, perhaps even more than the welcome gift of a breeding pair of pandas to Edinburgh Zoo, could be the real legacy of Vice-Premier Li Keqiang’s visit.

New opportunities

With the Parliament now back from its Christmas break, I am adjusting to the new challenges and opportunities that life on the backbenches offers. In particular, I am now a member of the Scottish Parliament’s Standards, Procedures and Public Appointments Committee and the Rural Affairs and Environment Committee.

With Banff & Buchan’s strong fishing and farming interests, the Rural Affairs committee in particular will give me a welcome chance to be involved in matters of key importance to many of the communities I represent. While it may only be a matter of weeks until Holyrood dissolves for the coming election, I fully intend to make the most of this new opportunity and continue to speak up strongly for the fishing industry, farmers and the rural economy in Banff & Buchan in the time that remains.

4 January 2011

The year’s end

As is becoming customary when the year draws to an end, it seems a good time to cast an eye back over the highs and lows of 2010 and to look ahead to what lies in store next year.

Without any doubt the biggest issue that has faced Scotland is the need to cope with the cuts that have been caused as a result of spending decisions in Westminster. These have been on a scale never before seen in Scotland and have been far more severe than was previously anticipated. With next to no control over the financial levers, the Scottish Government has no option but to find a way to make the cuts handed down to us. More than anything else, this situation has underlined the stark need for Scotland to gain the financial powers it needs to determine which services are essential and to find the most appropriate way to pay for them, rather than picking up the pieces after Westminster wields the axe. It is an issue that is more pressing than ever and will no doubt be one of the key issues in the coming Scottish Parliament elections.

One of the most significant pieces of legislation that was debated in Holyrood this year was without doubt the Alcohol bill. However, in many ways its significance lies with the measures that were removed from it rather than the legislation as it was eventually passed. The much publicised minimum price per unit for alcohol sales was called for by doctors, police officers, the licensed trade, and even Tesco and Tennants. It would have made a significant impact on Scotland’s damaging relationship with alcohol, which costs the Scottish economy £2.25 billion every year. Yet as a result of political manoeuvring, it was stripped out of the bill by opposition parties. I continue to believe that this was a grave mistake and it was a bitterly disappointing outcome for the many campaigners who had sought to improve Scotland’s health.

This year also saw the passage of the Housing Bill which brought an end to the right to buy for new council tenants. Without doubt the most common issues MSPs deal with is constituents having problems with council housing thanks to the chronic shortage that exists in Scotland. With new council houses being quickly sold at a discount, councils simply stopped building. The legislation that was passed will not affect the rights of existing tenants, but already we are seeing a new generation of council homes under construction in stark contrast to the mere 4 that the previous administration managed to build.

With the Holyrood election taking place in May, people across Scotland can expect that to dominate much of early 2011. The first ever term of SNP Government will come to an end and we will go to the people of Scotland to stand on our record and seek a mandate for a second term. I believe our record has been a strong one and I am looking forward to the contest ahead.

The end to the year and the fallout from the unprecedented amount of snow we have experienced would certainly not rank amongst the highlights of my year. Yet I have been deeply touched by the many messages of sympathy and support I have received and will be kept busy over the festive break responding to them.

Finally, let me take this chance to wish everyone a merry Christmas and a very happy New Year. I hope that 2011 proves to be a good year for everyone in Banff & Buchan.

Stewart Stevenson
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