22 December 2015

Computing Commuters' Needs

The re-opening of rail stations throughout Scotland has proved the popularity of good rail transport to commuters. The usage of the Laurencekirk Station has gone up by 40% since I reopened it in 2009 as Transport Minister, the Dyce station has increased by 239% since 2002 and Inverurie by 450% since 2002.

At the moment the area north of Aberdeen faces various transport issues for both rail and road, making travel increasingly difficult for commuters. It currently takes almost an hour and 40 miles by road for 15,000 Fraserburgh residents to reach their nearest railhead in Dyce.

Rail services in Peterhead and Fraserburgh were suspended in the 60s and with the opening of the Borders Railway, Peterhead and Fraserburgh are now the towns of over 10,000 residents which are furthest from a rail station.

There is no doubt that improved transport links North of Aberdeen would encourage business, home buyers and vacationers.

Responding to the environmental implications that come with road use is a priority for Scotland. Better availability of public transport would be a great development for this. More people would be able to reach the city centre without increasing road traffic, congestion and car parking requirements.

The campaign to bring a rail link to Buchan has received a boost this week with the Scottish Association for Passenger Transport (SAPT) publicly backing a rail link to Ellon as a first step towards future expansion. A rail link to the city would be congestion free unlike the current use of dual carriageway at Bridge of Don and King Street.

The SAPT have been involved with this issue for over 50 years. And have said that the proposed transport links and reduced journey time between to Aberdeen and could ‘revolutionise’ public transport in the area. Speaking from my own experiences living very rurally I definitely welcome these moves forward.

As Honorary President of SAPT I have been co-operating with people of all political persuasions and of none to help this initiative go forward and have received cross party support.

Reintroducing a rail service would mean faster journey times with a much higher level of comfort. A line to a station at Ellon with a park and ride would be great and could hopefully be matched with better bus connections from Peterhead and Fraserburgh to Ellon. Hopefully these rail links could later be extended to these towns.

The report by SAPT will hopefully drive the initiative forward. The numbers show that where rail travel is faster than by road it is popular.

8 December 2015

Banking on Approval

In the world of public approval, politicians basically don't get a look in. Only bankers rank more lowly. And yet in both cases, the overwhelming majority of both are contaminated in public eyes by the actions of a very few.

When people despise bankers, it certainly ain't the teller helping you when you visit a bank. Witness the community outcry whenever a bank considers closing a local branch. It becomes “apocalypse now” time for the local area, businesses will close, the integrity of a town or village will be damaged.

Ironically, the proper contempt that the public feel for those who took down institutions that had contributed to our country and its economic success over centuries was not down to bankers. Because what had happened to our banks lay in no small measure to our banks no longer being run by bankers.

Both RBS and Bank of Scotland had ended up with virtually no trained bankers – actually a mere one in each – in their top management teams. Major institutions all but fell precisely because their leaders did not understand the businesses they “led”, did not possess the skills and experience necessary.

It will be a long road for our banks to restore themselves in the public mind as necessary, valued, respected parts of our country. And even longer before bankers move off the bottom of the “respect table”.

And politicians?

Some university archives have pamphlets from 350 years ago fulminating against politicians. Contempt for leaders in Rome existed 2,000 years ago. So clearly nothing new.

Winston Churchill said, “Democracy is the worst form of government” but continued “except for all the others.” And there's the rub.

253 people have served as MSPs since 1999. And all but a couple have come to our Parliament because they wanted to do good for their communities. So when I disagree with colleagues in other political parties, it ain't personal.

The most serious of decisions come when they affect the life expectancy of individuals. The Scottish Parliament's Welfare Reform Committee has commissioned research into the impact of the UK Government's welfare changes on people in Scotland. Frighteningly that has shown, in the words of the Committee's Convenor that, “the most deprived areas of the country are contributing the most savings to the welfare budget.” Bearing down hardest and reducing the life chances of those most in need.

That's our Parliament at its analytical best. Probing and testing public policy.

My Westminster colleagues in the SNP have been unambiguously opposed to another life-changing decision to bomb the evil forces of ISIS, more properly known as Daesh. This is not an opponent, because opponent it certainly is, based around the structures of a state as we have known it for generations. It is a more complex alliance of individuals for whom a significant motivation for their “joining up” has been the use of military force against ISIS.

The real danger is that while it might, just might, be possible to remove the ISIS presence in Syria and Iraq by military action – the evidence of thousands of bombing raids is not encouraging – experience tells us that will merely increase recruitment of new, even more numerous fighters, based within other states.

New types of enemy need new solutions. Money and arms keep ISIS going. We need to focus on cutting access to both. That's a subtle and difficult problem. And one we need to make a priority now.

Stewart Stevenson
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