24 November 2015

Communites work

Local communities can achieve what seems insurmountable when they work together and unite behind a common purpose.

In recent weeks I experienced the return of the mobile cinema – Film Mobile Scotland – to Buckie after many years.

This came about after three Modern Studies pupils at Buckie Community High School wrote to me requesting that Buckie have its cinema returned. I took up the matter with Film Mobile Scotland and their director Ian Brown was very positive, but he did make it clear that there would need to be obvious support from the local community before they could return to the town.

After some talks with the Buckie Regeneration Group, local councillors, and Buckie Community High School Rector Neil Johnston - we’ve now just had a Sunday with two films shown for kids and adults, with Hollywood’s latest offerings coming out on a regular basis in the town from now on.

This is an excellent example of real community effort in action and I would like to thank all of those who were involved in making it happen – especially the Buckie High pupils who sparked off the campaign. I hope that the whole town will continue to give their support to this new enterprise and the enjoyment it gives to others.

This consideration for others was further emphasised for me when I read about Fraserburgh man Gordon Cruden who has raised over £200,000 by sleeping rough in cities across the UK and Ireland for 30 nights from October 21.

The 48-year-old experienced the harsh reality of what it is like to sleep rough so that he could raise funds for the Teen Challenge project in Mintlaw, and for a female addiction recovery base in Aberdeenshire – the Benaiah Centre. He was humiliated by people taking pictures of him trying to sleep and even had one of his only meagre possessions – his sleeping bag – stolen from him.

It is the efforts of people like Mr Cruden that makes sure that things can be changed, and services can be given to those that need them most. At a time when tax credits are being cut and benefits slashed, this is the kind of spirit we need in our communities to fight back.

As I write, the situation in Paris following the horrendous attacks that killed 129 people in the French capital - is still ongoing, with operations to find the perpetrators still dominating the headlines.

Communities within Paris are joining together to mourn their tragic loss and share their shock together. What is clear is that in the face of such horror - people should not turn on each other, and groups should not be scapegoated while explanations are sought. From one community to another, we want to extend our love, friendship and solidarity to the people of France.

It is also this community spirit that has led us to the point where Scotland recently accepted its first group of refugees from Syria – giving homes to the homeless and caring for some of the most helpless in our world.

Our local community is essential when it comes to caring for others close to us, and looking out for their needs. But as we approach the festive season, the spirit of community also forces us to look further afield and challenge us to extend kindness to those beyond our everyday lives.

10 November 2015

Time to discard a 1950s defence strategy

Trident has been making the headlines over the past few weeks – dividing opinions and polarising views.

The SNP have been consistent in securing their colours to the mast on the subject of nuclear weapons and we recently discussed the subject in the Scottish Parliament – ending in overwhelming support across the chamber against the renewal of the Trident nuclear missile system.

The debate is relevant for moral and economic reasons, and although it is a reserved issue – ultimately decided by Westminster - we are the country hosting the nuclear weapons in our waters at Faslane.

The other good reason for the debate is that further scrutiny of the renewal of the Trident weapons system suggests that the estimated potential cost has significantly risen. This comes at the same time that the UK Government imposes scathing welfare cuts, affecting some of the most vulnerable in our society.

But the moral argument remains – whether Trident renewal costs £1 or £1 billion, we would not support it. Not only are nuclear weapons created for mass destruction – they would be responsible for indiscriminate destruction.

from wikipedia
According to Crispin Blunt MP, chair of the House of Commons Foreign Affairs Select committee, the total estimated cost of the Trident renewal programme will be £167 billion over its lifetime. Previous estimates stood at around £100 billion – this is quite a significant jump. The successor Trident programme will consume more than double the proportion of the defence budget of its predecessor – and even some Conservative MPs and retired senior military personnel have claimed the cost is now too high to be rational.

To give the total spend some context – Scotland’s 8.3 per cent population share of £167 billion comes to around £13.9 billion. This is the equivalent of 10 Forth replacement crossing projects. And that does not cover the annual running costs to the taxpayer – estimated at £125 million for Scots alone.

Strategic support for nuclear weapons in past decades by previous governments was fuelled by the cold war – but this is not the world that we live in today. This is not a blasé statement based on resting on one’s laurels. Germany and Japan do not have nuclear weapons, and in 2012, former Secretary of State for Defence Michael Portillo described Trident as “completely past its sell-by date” and no deterrent to the Taliban.

We simply cannot discount the fact that, when we choose to spend vast amounts of money on a particular item of defence, we choose to take money away from those in our society with the greatest need.

The UK Government has announced welfare cuts of £12 billion per annum by 2019-20, and about £1 billion of those cuts will impact directly on Scotland.

Winston Churchill spoke of the tragedy of poverty and the tyranny of war. In Liverpool in 1951, he said:

“Evils can be created much quicker than they can be cured.”

Have our missiles—or, more properly, the United States’ missiles, which are carried on our submarines, been directed away from the former Soviet Union and towards new targets? Have the missiles deterred the Taliban, in their Afghan mountain fortresses, from taking action? Were they a deterrent to Saddam Hussein in his bunker in Iraq? Are they a deterrent to Daesh in Syria and Iraq?

The missiles are no deterrent of any kind to the threats that exist in today’s world. They are merely a defence front, which in reality contributes nothing to defence.

Our nuclear weapons are not targeted at our enemies and never will be. They do not attack the military capabilities of those who would attack us. They are by design focused on civilian populations over the horizon. They are focused, often, on people in totalitarian regimes, who have made no contribution whatever to decisions about peace or war.

When we choose to spend our money on weapons of mass destruction we address neither the tyranny of war nor the tragedy of poverty.

Stewart Stevenson
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