29 March 2016

Next session beckons...

Last week marked the last week of business in the Scottish Parliament before the election in May. It was an important couple of days where we were debating the Burial and Cremations Bill, the Bankruptcy (Scotland) Bill and the Abusive behaviour and Sexual Harm (Scotland) Bill.

The Burial and Cremation (Scotland) Bill is something I have been involved with during this session and this piece of legislation has now been passed. It will modernise and update 100 year old legislation introducing a definition of ashes, standardising forms and record-keeping across Scotland, clarifying the process for instructing the disposal of human remains.

I am pleased to welcome plans set out by the First Minister to freeze Scottish income tax rates, with no increases to the basic, higher or additional rates, blocking the Westminster proposed tax cuts will provide more than £1billion for public services in Scotland.

After the UK Government’s fiasco in the last weeks when Chancellor George Osborne had to back track on his proposed cuts in benefits for some of the most vulnerable people in our communities I look forward to the SNP government if re-elected tackling inequality as going “hand in hand” with boosting economic growth. Protecting the vulnerable and increased economic growth is a win, win combination.

Last week also marked my last week as your MSP for this session, it has been an honour to serve my constituents in the Banffshire & Buchan Coast and I hope to return for another session after the election on May 5th. I am sure I will meet many of you on my campaign trail.

It is with great sadness I now turn to the appalling attack on Brussels last week and my thoughts are with all those who have lost or have injured friends and families. Although the Scottish threat level has not changed we do stand ready with increased police at Scottish rail stations and airports. It is in times like these that we need to stand united against terrorist attacks that try to divide our communities and we must not let this happen.

15 March 2016

Food, Glorious Food - local and healthy

Scotland is an enormously effective producer of good food. In my constituency of Banffshire and Buchan Coast there is a large fishing and agricultural industry and throughout the country we produce meat, dairy, eggs, fruits and vegetables - the list goes on.

So it is with great disappointment to learn that in Scotland today children still go hungry and at the same time we are tackling unprecedented rates of obesity and malnutrition.

The availability of processed and calorie laden foods continues to overload our supermarket shelves and our excessive purchasing of these products is not doing the health of our nation much good. While I urge people to start buying more local fresh seasonal produce I know this is not always affordable or indeed available. This is why the Scottish government will continue to source healthy and sustainable foods for school meals so that our youngest citizens can get the best quality nutrition to support their health and learning.

The Scottish Government will also continue to work to make sure that young people know where their food comes from, how to prepare it and what good food contributes to their minds and their bodies. And we need to educate young people on how their food habits affect their environment so that they can make informed sustainable food choices.

Free school meals work hard to tackle health inequalities for children providing healthy meals five days a week, but this is not good enough when it comes to school holiday times. I am fully behind current moves to make school meals or their equivalent available during school holidays to ensure Scotland’s children do not go hungry.

However, it is not just Scotland’s children that are affected by poor diet and hunger. With the shocking UK Government austerity cuts to benefits, increasingly low paid jobs and short hours many parents don’t have the basic resources such as pots, pans or fuel to cook a healthy meal or the skills to do so. This is why educating both young people and adults is of such great importance to tackle Scotland’s health inequalities.

At the moment poor diet in Scotland costs the NHS £5.8 billion annually, this is not sustainable and we need to do something about it.

1 March 2016

Our Beautiful Coasts and Glens

With only 10 weeks to go until the Scottish General Election election, on May 5th, it is easy – at least for politicians - to get swept up in the excitement of campaigning. However, with another four weeks for this session, parliamentary work still goes on and we are busy with committees and debates and will be up until the end of March.

I am also busy in the constituency with visits and casework and will hold surgeries until the Parliamentary session ends. It's business as usual. Even as our eyes may be elsewhere.

In parliament a couple of weeks ago I spoke on the Burial and Cremation Bill. In some places, children’s ashes after cremation had not been treated with proper respect. This had happened over many decades. And that's why we are changing the law.

This is the most sensitive of subjects as it touches how individuals want to remain connected to their loved ones after they have departed this life.

We are trying to ensure that councils observe national standards for burial grounds and crematoria. We are creating a framework for undertakers – the ones I have met are already consummate, caring professionals.

And we are placing a duty on providers of burial grounds and crematoria to publish their records.

Although not the main reason for this part of the new law, it will help families over the coming centuries find out what happened to their ancestors. Not much of our legislation looks that far forward!

Last week I was delighted to attend a meeting in Macduff with the members of Banffshire Coast Tourism Partnership. They have agreed to become a full member of the Aberdeen and Aberdeenshire Tourism Company (AATC).

Michael Barclay de Tolly - from near Fyvie
That's important because, despite our undoubted natural beauties, strong cultural heritage and excellent food and drink, we're not getting our fair share of visitors. And the economic benefits they bring.

The new company's off to flying start. There will be an additional £1.5 million boost to publicise our area. The businesses that were in the room in Macduff were definitely up for it.

So we need everyone in our area to be singing the praises of what we've got – wonderful golf, miles of beaches, busy harbours, accommodation from caravan sites, boutique hotels and bustling restaurants – and, of course, the internationally renowned Traditional Boat Festival at Portsoy.

We might take all this for granted. But we mustn't assume everyone else knows.

And in Duff House at Banff, we have a venue suitable for tourist visits or for business meetings. They are particularly important because they are often in the dark months when traditional tourists are scarcer.

I trust our new company finds ways to work with new entrepreneurs in our tourism businesses. Perhaps using the achievements of folk who've gone from our area, and their offspring to intrigue and attract.

Elvis Presley's folks from Lonmay. The founder of Mitsubishi, Thomas Blake Glover from the Broch. Michael Barclay de Tolly – the Czar's Field Marshal who defeated Napoleon. And whiskies galore.

Stewart Stevenson
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