27 May 2014

Scotland “welcomes the world”

2014 has been marked out as the year that Scotland “welcomes the world” – when the very best of Scottish culture, food and sport will be highlighted on the world stage for the festival that is ‘Homecoming’.

In a recent Government debate on this very subject I felt the discussion would not have satisfactorily represented the great draw of tourists to Scotland if it did not include the spectacular that is the Scottish Traditional Boat Festival in Portsoy.

Move over the Ryder Cup, the Commonwealth Games and the MTV Europe Music Awards – Portsoy has a special something that attracts visitors the world over – an abundance of community spirit.

It is this wealth of tenacity and determination that saw volunteers start this annual feature from nothing more than a few hundred visitors 21 years ago, to the roaring success that it is today – pulling in around 20,000 sightseers from every corner of the globe, including Australia, South Africa and the USA, and raising the profile of Scotland, and indeed the North East.

Lonely Planet’s Best in Travel 2014 guide has named Scotland as the third best country to visit in 2014 behind Brazil and Antarctica, and no wonder with features such as the Traditional Boat Festival. Taking place from 27-29 June, it includes a huge variety of cultural events, including music from Celtic Connections award winners RURA who are just one group from an ever eclectic mix of talent that also includes Danish duo Rasmus and Alexander Nielsen of ‘Almost Iris’ and lively Norwegian choir Slogmaakane, also known as the Greedy Seagulls. Uniquely the festival also holds a variety of sailing events and craft workshops.

For a rural community such as Portsoy, this festival is a fantastic event for the area, driving a huge economic boom for local business, and boosting the population which only just makes it into four figures for the rest of the year. For the remaining 11 months of the year, the festival is the subject of enraptured conversation highlighting the enthusiasm of the volunteers that bring their ideas together and make the magic happen.

This year, the town is like a Scotland in miniature – attracting visitors from all over the world to experience what it has to offer. The food and drink sector accounts for 18 per cent of Scotland’s overseas exports and is worth £4.8 billion to the Scottish economy, with an annual turnover of £11.9 billion. Whisky Month, as part of the Homecoming celebrations is just one example of how this industry has become an inherent part of Scottish culture.

One of the local success stories in the Portsoy area is Glenglassaugh distillery. Founded in 1875, the distillery to the east of Sandend Bay soon developed a reputation for a making quality whisky. After closing in 1907, it was brought back to life 100 years later in 2008, now producing malts that can be found in over 20 countries in Africa, Australasia, Asia, Europe and North America.

It is hoped that Homecoming 2014 will follow the success of Homecoming 2009, which delivered more than £53.7m to the economy, and with events like Portsoy’s Traditional Boat Festival and the success of the industries round about, it’s easy to see why.

13 May 2014

Scotland - A Forward Thinking Nation

Scotland is now recognised as a world leader on climate change and renewable energy – a very welcome assertion recently made by the World Wildlife Fund.

When the 2009 Climate Change (Scotland) Act was passed, I was the Minister for Transport, Infrastructure and Climate Change – and it is legislation that I am immensely proud of. We believed that Scotland could take a serious role in the world, as an ambassador in the green revolution, and this was a vision that is fast becoming reality.

The World Wildlife Fund’s European office has recently paid tribute to our nation, describing it as an example for others to follow, as a “forward thinking nation” which is “in the vanguard of the renewables revolution”.

The renewable energy sector in Scotland employs more than 11,000 people, producing record levels of electricity output, and playing a key role in reducing carbon emissions. In 2013, Scotland met almost 47 per cent of its electricity needs from renewables, and it can only get better.

On a local level, the Royal Tarlair Golf Club in Macduff received £165,000 from the Scottish Government’s Climate Challenge Fund at the end of last year. The money was given for a carbon reduction project that will see the installation of replacement windows, insulation, draught proofing, LED lighting and water reduction measures to reduce energy use and carbon emissions at the clubhouse.

Not only will the scheme cut costs, but will also be an example to other community groups, giving them the know-how on tackling their carbon footprint.

Another local project to hit the headlines is a potential success story that could have far reaching consequences for the renewables industry.

The Peterhead Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) Project is to investigate containing more than 85 per cent of CO2 emissions that would otherwise be lost when emitted into the air. It would then be transported by pipeline to the Goldeneye platform in the North Sea for storage in a depleted gas reservoir, about 2.5km below the sea bed. Waste not, want not has been updated for the 21st century with this innovative model.

Jason Anderson, who heads up EU Climate and Energy Policy at the WWF’s European office did also point out what we already know – Scotland has a long way to go in developing its wind, solar and hydro power capabilities, but the difference between us and other parts of the world is that we are committed to change. Scotland can lead as an innovator on renewable energy.

In 2012, the Scottish Government set itself the target of meeting 100 per cent of the country’s electricity demand from renewables, and this commitment has attracted the key players in the industry who can see the country is firm on investing in alternative schemes to mining fossil fuels.

Rather than the UK government’s approach of directing finances towards new nuclear power, I believe that renewables are the way to keep the lights on for future generations.

Scotland has high ambitions and high ideals but these are what we can aspire to. We can be better, and already Scotland is being recognised on a global scale for what it’s doing in the renewables field. If we can give these new kinds of energy production the environment they need to grow and develop, Scotland can again be at the forefront of a newer, greener industrial revolution.

Stewart Stevenson
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