23 July 2013

The Smoking Gun

Health outcomes have improved across much of Scotland in recent years, however, illness due to smoking remains prevalent, despite its invariably effective remedy; giving up.

Every 30 minutes, someone in Scotland dies as a consequence of tobacco smoking; indeed, in the time it has taken me to write down these thoughts, it is likely that several in our country will die because of the profiteering of tobacco companies.

I will admit, I am no moderate on the subject, and when others suggest that tobacco companies are murderers, I can summon no counter-argument. Indeed, I would like to reiterate my admiration for the political courage of former First Minister Jack McConnell who built on the work of Stewart Maxwell and brought into force the initial anti-smoking legislation in Scotland. Those were brave political acts that should be congratulated.

Similarly commendable is the work of ASH (Action on Smoking and Health) Scotland who have, since the 1970s, campaigned to inform and educate people across the country of the hazards of smoking, and how they affect not just smokers, but those nearby, especially children. ASH has done a great deal in the 40 years since it was founded to raise the issue in the public consciousness and among politicians.

However, the impact of smoking on health is far from localised. Indeed, in the 20th century, more people in the UK were lost to the consequences of smoking than have been lost in all the wars in which we have been involved—I include civilian and military casualties.

The best way to avoid the dangers of smoking is not to start in the first place, and thus our focus must be on delivering advice and education to young people about the dangers of smoking. Therefore, when we talk about smoking prevention and ASH’s role in it, we talk about a life-saving endeavour for smokers and non-smokers.

To this end, I am proud to support the Scottish Government and various anti-smoking bodies in their plans to implement plain-packaging requirements for the sale of tobacco products, regardless of the UK Government’s abandonment of the policy.

Energy Efficiency Funding

While few of us will be too worried about heating our homes over the summer months, we should not forget the cold winter which we have left behind, and the need to make preparation for future cold spells.

In recognition of this inevitability, the Scottish Government has allocated a budget of at least £79 million for fuel poverty and energy efficiency in 2013-14. The majority of that, £60 million, is being spent on council-led area-based schemes to tackle fuel poverty.

The remaining £19 million will be used to deliver our national affordable warmth and energy assistance schemes and provide funding to the Energy Saving Trust and others to help support the home energy Scotland hotline and advice centres to provide advice and guidance to people about the energy efficiency of their homes and the support for which they might be eligible.

This funding and the support it delivers is particularly vital in rural areas, like much of my constituency of Banffshire and Buchan Coast, where people are more likely to be in fuel poverty than in towns and cities.

The Scottish Government has recognised this by allocating Aberdeenshire £4.4 million of the Home Energy Efficiency Programmes for Scotland (HEEPS) money. It will now be up to Aberdeenshire Council to determine what energy efficiency measures are most required in the area and to use the pleasant summer months to ensure these preparations are in place.

9 July 2013


Official crime statistics released by the Scottish Government show that Scotland has recently undergone the period with the lowest recorded crime since 1974.

The figures show that recorded crime fell by 13% in the last year, which follows consistent year-on-year drops under the SNP, since 2006/7. Particularly notable among these numbers is the 60% drop in crimes involving the handling of an offensive weapon. The clear-up rate for crimes also increased last year and is now at its highest level since 1976.

The Scottish Government's focus on preventing crime has proven its worth a recorded crime in the Grampian area alone fell by a further 12% - including a drop in non-sexual crimes of violence by 20%. Since the SNP took office in 2007, recorded crime across the Grampian area alone has plummeted by 35%.

The reasons for this success are no surprise, as the number of police officers in the Grampian area has increased by 10% since the SNP took office. This is above the Scottish average and takes the total number of serving officers in our region to 1,512.

This also underlines why recruiting more than 1,000 additional police officers across Scotland has been such an important, and successful, SNP policy. It is thanks to the continuing efforts of these officers and Police staff in the area that this huge fall in crime has been achieved.

Naturally, this drop in crime is great news for everyone in communities across the North-east and Scotland as a whole, and is further evidence that the SNP Scottish Government is moving Scotland forward as a safer country in which to live, work and raise a family.

Not only is crime is at a 39-year low, but fear of crime is down, as the risk of being a victim of crime in Scotland continues to fall, and is considerably lower than in England and Wales.

Community Drugs Summit

Of course, it is not just the police who have a role to play in keeping our communities safe and preventing crime. I recently attended the Buckie Thistle Football Development Community Alert Day. This summit, which took place at Buckie Community High School was aimed at primary 7 pupils who will soon be attending the High School. The event itself comprised information and education sessions from, among others, NHS Grampian, St Andrew’s Ambulance Service, Police Scotland, the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service as well as Quarrier’s Carers Support Service and several local organisations from sports clubs to theatre groups.

The truly impressive event gave pupils the opportunity to participate in a range of activities showing them the dangers of drugs, and the alternatives to associating themselves with them.

The comprehensive and engaging advice that the pupils received will be vital in ensuring that our young people know the potential consequences of drug and alcohol misuse, and that they are informed as to how to choose and maintain healthy lifestyles.

I, myself, thoroughly enjoyed attending the Community Alert Day, as did, I am sure, the pupils and the various groups involved.

I sat in on a number of the presentations and it was clear that we have another year-intake of active and engaged pupils who were not only enjoying making friends from other schools but also asking serious questions of the various agencies involved.

Buckie Thistle Football Development and their partner organisations in particular are due immense credit for this initiative and all the vital work they continue to do to inspire and educate in the community.

Stewart Stevenson
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