18 July 2017

Berries from the Roadside

Today I undertook a duty and combined it with a little pleasure. Although the final target for my tax return is, like everyone, the last day of January, the last piece of information I needed popped through my letter box last week. So I got it out of the way at the weekend.

The pleasure was the walk on a beautiful summer’s day to my nearest postbox – about 4 Km away – to send it to HMRC. And the wild raspberries ripe by the roadside enroute.

With nephews and nieces living in four other countries with different tax policies I can see some of their effects.

In Sweden and in Denmark my relatives pay much more in income tax but are living in some of the happiest nations in the world. And are experiencing a substantially higher standard of living than here.

In Queensland, Australia the tax/income balance is similar to here but in a country with so much space, it is much cheaper to buy a plot of land to build on. So owning a house is much easier.

While in England my nieces and my cousin should pay on average about £400 more each year in Council Tax than they would in Scotland. And, as average earners, a very little less in income tax than we do.

But were any of them to want to start a business, the picture is very favourable to Scotland. With our small businesses paying no Business Rates at all, it is so much easier to get going here than for our friends – and relatives – south of the border.

And with small businesses – north and south of the border – being in total a large source of employment, it may be no surprise that our employment numbers are so much better here in Scotland. In particular for young folk just starting their working lives – we’re in the top 3 areas of Europe.

Nineteen out of twenty leave education to a positive destination – a job, further study, etc.

Because government having tax income enables positive policies for individuals and communities.

Contrast ourselves – UK, not just Scotland – in our approach to providing health care for our citizens with the USA where I also have many relatives, albeit a bit more distant.

The costs associated with health care in the USA amount to about 15% of the country’s income. No other developed country spends more than 10%. And yet their outcomes are dramatically poorer, particularly around pregnancy outcomes for both mothers and children.

And given that health costs bear heavily on businesses there, it is a real drag on the US economy. And the biggest source of personal bankruptcy.

A wealthy elite in the USA led by an – this is as charitable as I be – eccentric and irrational billionaire President wants to take 20+ million of their citizens out of state supported health care so that their taxes can be cut.

So when I posted my tax return, I remembered that my money’s going to good cause, health care for all.

4 July 2017

Organ Donation - One of the Greatest Gifts a Person Can Give

In the final week of parliament before the Summer recess began legislation which is very close to my heart was passed in the Scottish Parliament.

It means a soft opt-out system will be introduced in the matter of organ and tissue donation.

The subject is a matter which I have spoken passionately about in the Chamber before and has been informed by my own experience.

Not of course, the experience of organ donation, but the experience of donating by a deceased relative.

When my father-in-law, who was a nurse, died suddenly at the early age of 54, his widow and their daughters felt there could be no better tribute to the life he led than by authorising for his organs to be donated to help the lives of others.

His body was donated to medical science so that students could benefit from intimate knowledge of the human body during their training.

A year after his passing, an invitation arrived from the students who had benefited from his donation to join them at the cremation of his remains.

Jim’s granddaughter – now a nurse- is state transplant coordinator in Queensland, Australia.

Like many others, prior to the death of my father-in-law, organ donation had not been something I gave much thought about.

And of course it is something that very often many people do not wish to think about.

But my intentions and instructions to my executors are now both clear and unambiguous.

They are to reuse everything in any way that could benefit others.

All my close relatives know that and my driving licence has the 115 code on the back that can tell others about my registration.

Figures revealed recently show that the move has been backed by 82% of those who contributed towards the consultation.

During the 14-week consultation period, various ways were assessed of how to increase the number of people being referred to the donation services in Scotland.

In Scotland, both organ and/or tissue donation after a person’s death only occurs if they have given advance authorisation or if their nearest relative authorises on their behalf.

But a soft opt-out – or deemed authorisation system – means that a donation can go ahead if the person has not opted out or told their family they do not wish to donate.

I believe the decision to legislate for a soft opt-out system is great news for our health service.

With the incredible help of donors and their families, NHS Scotland has already made great progress, including a 34% increase in donors in the past year alone.

Scotland has the highest donor rate in the UK.

It would of course be remiss of me to not acknowledge this powerful act of selflessness which comes from these often tragic circumstances.

We must forever appreciate the selfless acts of donors and their families that enable others to live because organ and tissue donation saves lives and is one of the greatest gifts a person can give.

Stewart Stevenson
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