16 February 2016

5G first for those without any G please

Last week I took part in a Scottish Government debate on mobile and broadband coverage in the Islands and rural communities. There is no doubt that we are now a society dependent on connectivity. In my constituency it is of the utmost importance that people are able to connect through broadband or a mobile signal, without this it can become near impossible for local people and commerce to go about their business.

For example it took me 40 minutes to book my railway ticket to parliament online last week. This is the type of typical challenge facing many of my constituents.

In parliament the majority of our workload is now online, more so now with a ‘paperless parliament’ where we are trying to limit our paper usage. This is great for me, as when I come to the Scottish Parliament my broadband speed increases by a factor of 800 compared to at home. However, my work as an MSP is in both Holyrood and in my rural constituency and the work has to go on regardless of my broadband speed. If this is a challenge for me, I know it is for my constituents and for businesses in my area.

However, it is with great delight to hear from Digital Scotland that by the end of 2017 they aim to have 95% of homes and businesses across Scotland with access to fibre broadband.

Of course there will still be 5% that don’t have access and work on this remaining 5% is expected to start after 2018. At the moment solutions for those connected to exchange only lines are being found, but there are still those rurally where it doesn’t make economic sense for providers to give solutions. This is why Digital Scotland will support community led solutions to tackle this in more remote areas. For the moment exchange only lines will continue to deny people access to the same service as the majority of Scotland.

The issues are not only for Broadband but also extent to mobile usage in the islands and rural communities, where I live I get no mobile signal and also have slow broadband speeds. We are heading the 5th generation of our mobile signal and at the moment I can’t get 1G, 2G, 3G or 4G ! Perhaps the solution is that in the next roll out of mobile coverage we focus on those communities that currently have no coverage or at least no good coverage. There is no doubt to me that improved connectivity will keep business and people in rural areas.

2 February 2016

Nothing Vicious Please!

One of the key tasks we are sent to Parliament to undertake is to legislate.

Making, amending and reviewing our laws is not a matter simply for lawyers. It may affect the daily lives of each and every one of us.

Our Parliamentary committees are where much of the “heavy lifting” of forming and reforming our law takes place. Presently one of the bills I am involved in is the Succession (Scotland) Bill.

We are seeking to put into law technical amendments recommended by the Scottish Law Commission. They've been looking at this highly complex area of law for some considerable time. Their first report on the subject was in 1990 and the more recent only six years ago.

Succession is about what happens to your property, and your debts, when you die. It is ferociously difficult and we expect a full scale piece of new law to look widely at fundamental reform. But that won't come for a few years yet.

Meantime what we are doing is fine tuning and is limited to matters our political parties agree about.

So it was a bit surprising on hearing a lawyer's evidence to our committee to realise that I was a “vicious intromitter”.

An in-law died some time ago with a small bank balance and no property. They had left a simple will saying her two daughters should inherit. So I divvied up the money and passed it to them. Job done. No lawyers and no “confirmation” via a court. And that's how most very small estates are dealt with.

But in failing to gain a “confirmation” I had become a “vicious intromitter”. I remain liable – forever – if anyone thinks I have done the wrong thing.

The real issue in our work is that we are trying to make things simpler and more easily understandable. But we simply can't avoid complication when people don't make a will.

If your relatives make decisions after you pass on without using lawyers or court, they too will be “vicious intromitters”. But if you've left them a will to give them instructions they shouldn't lose sleep over it. The consequences for them are unlikely to be “vicious” in any sense.

I am also looking to make common cause for sensible debate in the Scottish elections in about 14 weeks time. Nothing “vicious” here please!

After my party's success of the Westminster elections last year, my focus is in encouraging people in our part of the North East and across Scotland to make sure they are registered to vote. And then going to actually vote. During the referendum we had an overall voter turnout of 84.5%. It is vital to the democratic process that everyone’s voice is heard.

This will also be the first Scottish election where 16/17 years olds will be able to vote. I know there is enthusiasm for that.

I am excited to meet as many people as possible over the coming weeks, to encourage voter participation and, of course, to encourage people to vote for taking Scotland forward and continue the work we started in 2007.

Stewart Stevenson
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