24 June 2014

Round and About

With around 90 days to go until the referendum on what the people of Scotland want their future to look like, I’m embarking on my annual tour of the Banffshire and Buchan Coast constituency, eager to hear how you feel things are going.

This week and next, I’ll be taking my mobile office around the constituency in what will be the 14th time – covering 37 communities from Rothiemay in the far west to Boddam in the south east, and inland to Aberchirder, New Byth and Memsie.

I believe that people appreciate seeing their MSP come to them, rather than waiting for locals to come to one of my more traditional surgeries in a nearby town or village. Communications may now largely be dominated by advancements in technology, but there is still nothing more influential than face to face contact, and it gives me a good excuse to re-visit some of the smaller communities in the area.

It is vital to me that I am in touch with what the issues are in the constituency, and it is why I started this tour 14 years ago. However this is a landmark year for Scotland, and even more crucial that everyone has all the information they feel they need to make one of the most important decisions of their lives.

When I do make my way round, I find the constituency truly a Scotland in miniature – a country of extraordinary resources and talent, and more than capable of standing on its own two feet.

Over the last few weeks, the Scottish Government published the Community Empowerment (Scotland) bill, designed to nurture enterprising development and participation. There are plans to have one million acres of land in community ownership by 2020, with provisions for communities to take over public sector land and buildings where they can deliver greater public benefit. Rules on Scotland’s local authority allotment sites would be simplified with a stronger emphasis on councils to provide sites triggered by demand, and protect allotment sites from closure. Funding to go alongside the bill would be increased by £1.5 million to £9.4 million per year in 2015/16.

These are the kinds of measures that can transform a community and galvanise an area to make the best with what they have. We need to be given the tools to cultivate what we have here in the north east of Scotland.

We want to protect the public services that we have, such as the NHS from the encroachment of privatisation down south, and we want to make the most of the vast economic opportunities offered in Scotland. Our small country generates more wealth per head than Japan, France or the UK. We have more top universities per head than any other country in the world, and we have huge strengths in creative industries, renewables, tourism, and the life sciences, some of which are exemplified locally.

Rather than London being a brain drain of the country, Scotland has the opportunity to take advantage of our economic strengths with independence. There would be challenges ahead but we could create an economic policy that was fit for purpose for the people that actually live here. By having control of our wealth, we would be in a better position to face these challenges head on. This would mean we would have the ability to create more and better jobs. Our tax system could be designed to give Scottish firms a more competitive edge, encouraging those training up that they could create their own success in Scotland rather than having to go anywhere else.

We can make lives easier for young families by investing in childcare, and give households more financial security through cost of living increases in pensions, tax credits and tax free allowances.

We are a country of extraordinary resources, and we should be able to use them to our advantage.

Within the last month, many prominent figures from across the world have been talklng about Scotland and all agree it's a decision for us whether our country should become independent – it’s time the voice of the people of Scotland, especially those in the Banffshire and Buchan Coast, was heard.

10 June 2014


What is regeneration? It came up as the subject of a debate that I took part in recently as an issue that is recognised as key to building up our local communities.

Regeneration has been defined as a vision of reduced poverty and disadvantages of all kinds, a way to improve the lives of people and heightening what they can achieve.

Currently, Banff, Macduff, Fraserburgh and Peterhead are all in the middle of regeneration studies and councillors are looking at the best way to improve their local communities.

In the past this has taken the form of town centre improvement including maps and signs, clearing gutters and upgrading street lights in Buchan last year, and the Peterhead Property Enhancement Scheme in Peterhead town centre to renovate commercial premises to improve the area and make it more attractive for businesses, as well as those who live there.

Typically regeneration of an area would mean reducing areas of poverty and helping to increase enterprising activity, boosting prosperity through education, skills and tackling inequalities. Local people should have a community where they can be healthy, safe and where they can have an interesting and active community life, which will not only attract residents, but tourists also.

But the essential component to all this positive change is people. Regeneration cannot happen without people taking an active role. If communities continue to depend on outside support, regeneration will never be what it could be, and won’t be able to self-sustain. There are inspiring people in every community and they should be encouraged.

In some cases we want a joined-up approach, but in others, we want the very opposite. If we take on the task ourselves, then we succeed or fail in small steps, and then these little movements can join together and build their successes from the community upwards. The joined-up approach is the enemy of effective community regeneration.

I want space to be left for happenstance—for accidental success. I want things to be done on a small scale, so that no failure cripples the person who failed but, instead, encourages them to go and find a new solution.

In his wonderful book on project management, “The Mythical Man-Month”, Fred P Brooks talks about the non-commutability of time and effort. What it boils down to is that, if there is a hole that it would take six hours for a man to dig and you put six men on the job, it will not get done in one hour, because they will have to collaborate and co-operate, which is an overhead. One person will often do a job far more effectively than a team.

Fred P Brooks poses a second question: how do you make a late project later? His answer is that you add staff. When staff are added, the staff on the project have to train the new staff and stop doing the job that they are supposed to be doing. The corollary is to take away the people who are causing the problem and slowing things down and let the remaining bare handful get on with it. That is the recipe for community action.

We politicians are often guilty of saying, “Think big”, but I would like to say, “Think small” – and in this case, very small. There is enormous capacity out there, and we have must allow it the space for it to grow. There is one word that the people in our communities must never hear—it is, of course, particularly relevant this year—and that word is no.

Stewart Stevenson
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