28 October 2014

We need to be part of the 155

In a world where there are increasing threats of terrorism that pervade all borders, the defence of our country is a subject that has never been more relevant.

But in determining what is best for Scotland, I believe that our country need not lose its focus on leading the vision for a world that one day could be without nuclear weapons.

This week the SNP welcomed the agreement of 155 UN countries in their opposition to nuclear weapons.

A statement read by Dell Higgie, Counter-Terrorism Ambassador for New Zealand's Foreign Affairs and Trade Ministry, and a Permanent Representative to the UN, revealed that 155 countries from around the world, including many in Europe such as Norway, Switzerland and Ireland, had agreed to unreservedly condemn the use of nuclear weapons under any circumstances, and called for their abolition.

This stance however is not consistent with the Trident nuclear missile system residing in our waters – an unwelcome weapon of mass destruction that should be removed as quickly and as safely as possible.

As the MSP for the Banffshire and Buchan Coast, I am very conscious of my duty to promote the safety and well-being of the people that I represent, and the existence of thousands of nuclear weapons across the world does not convince me that they are any safer because of this.

The catastrophic effects on the planet as a result of any of these nuclear weapons being deployed should be enough for a global agreement that they should never be used again, that they should be outlawed and eliminated from our conversation about defence. This is an opinion I have long held as someone who became a member of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament in the 1960s.

But the argument is not yet won in the UK. All our political parties, not just the SNP and Greens who oppose Trident, need to join with trade unions, churches and the majority of people in Scotland to make it clear that a new generation of nuclear weapons is not welcome here. Westminster must also realise that this is not just the opinion of the Scots, but one that is shared by countries internationally.

Over the past few years, Westminster has slashed the budget for conventional defence forces across Scotland, while instead choosing to channel the money into unwanted and unusable nuclear weapons.

The nuclear deterrent is not what it says on the tin. The modern day threats to Scotland are not from other nuclear nations but rather from organisations that need to be tackled by a good intelligence system and well equipped troops.

When money is spent on nuclear weapons, it is taken away from these vital frontline services that see soldiers targeting perceived threats head on, leaving them less well equipped and supported. The price of Trident therefore equates to bodies as soldiers need all the help that they can get in order to survive conflict situations, and defend our interests.

It is a sad reality that over the last decade, the UK government has a massive defence underspend of over £7 billion in Scotland, and has cut the defence footprint in Scotland relentlessly over the years. An example of this is where our troops have lacked kit in Iraq. Past reports have stated that due to the extreme heat, the rubber in the soles of the soldier’s boots was melting on the hot ground. Many soldiers had to order leather-soled boots online so that they would be able to march across the deserts of the Gulf, as the MOD would not provide them.

In the 21st century we need a defence system that is truly effective for our country. It needs to be one that supports the people that live in Scotland, and one that will go on defending our rights to live as we do, in a world that is safer for everyone.

14 October 2014

Scotland on Track for Climate Change

As a former Minister for Environment and Climate Change, I have been pleased to see the increase of global awareness for climate action stem from the UN Climate Summit meeting. World leaders recently met in New York to debate specific needs and raise awareness on the need for political action. While no specific laws are in place, the first draft for a universal agreement is set to be written at a conference in Lima this December.

While Scotland’s current devolved powers have somewhat limited our international influence on climate change, we have set a strong example of progress and international engagement.

From 1990 to 2012 we achieved a 29.9% reduction in unadjusted emissions, higher than the UK as a whole and the averages for both the EU-15 and EU-28. At this percentage we are on track to reach our target of a 42% reduction of greenhouse gas emissions by 2020.

As the UN continues to meet in December and in Paris the following year we will likely see new invitations and legislations to change the world environment. It is important when considering these changes to rely on a definition of the environment that is not limited to the natural world but which includes the surroundings and conditions in which a person lives.

While we stay focused on our global output, the ethics of climate effects on individuals must be considered.

Former Irish president Mary Robinson has been actively instructing on the issue, for what she calls, climate justice. She has said that there is substantial agreement among Governments that climate change is undermining human rights.

I look in particular at what happens in Africa in that regard, particularly the gender effect of climate change. In Africa, 70 to 80 per cent of the farmers are females. Mary Robinson has said:

“Women on the whole don’t get agriculture training. And they’re having to learn now to diversify their crops, to have seeds that can survive in drought or survive in waterlogged [conditions], and so there’s a disconnect between even the donor community for this agricultural training, mainly focusing on men, and who’s [actually doing the farming].”

That is the price that is being paid by people in poverty in many countries in Africa. I hope that in our international engagement, whatever its character and whatever opportunities exist for it, we will be able to pursue that gender inequality in particular, because the effects of that gap between men and women are very substantial.

Scotland has exerted extensive efforts to help improve the environments of these individuals. In support of closing the gap of gender and resource inequality the Scottish Government is working directly with Mary Robinson’s organization in Malawi, Zambia, Tanzania and Rwanda. The group is improving access to clean water and empowering women to overcome the current challenges they face.

As new climate initiatives are released in the coming months I hope that we can keep in mind the individual rights of those most affected in developing countries—as their lives are directly impacted by our climate choices.

Stewart Stevenson
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