26 September 2017

Twenty Years of Real Progress under Threat

Last week marked the 20th year mark of Scotland’s devolution referendum.

This week saw the UK Government release a list of the 111 powers being returned from Brussels and denied to Holyrood by them as a result of the EU Withdrawal Bill.

The powers denied range from agriculture to regulation of fracking.

The denial of these powers isn’t a positive sign for devolution or for Scotland’s economy. We continue to see how the UK Government sees Scottish interests – namely that they are unimportant.

These powers affect all aspects of Scotland but critically they heavily influence our economy. Scottish interests should be dictated by people living and working here, by the people elected in this country – who better to represent Scottish interests than the people themselves?

It appears that the UK Government is asking for Scotland to trust them to protect Scotland’s interests despite having a track record of ignoring them.

Simply consider the fact that the UK Government has kept the Scottish Government in the dark since the beginning of the process of exiting the European Union. The Fraser Allander Institute warns that leaving the EU is the “greatest cloud on the immediate horizon”. It continues to be a problem because the UK Government failed to work with the Scottish Government and refuses to keep Scotland in the loop.

But I can be more specific than that. Take agriculture, recently the UK was awarded the sum of £190 million for what is called a convergence uplift for farming.

The UK qualified for the increased funding because the UK-wide average was low.

The reason the UK was below that threshold was because of Scotland’s average particularly was well below the threshold.

However, the UK Government has decided that instead of investing the money in Scotland – they spread the funding to areas that already had a sufficiently high level of funding across the UK. The result is that by 2019 Scotland will have the lowest average rate of per hectare funding compared to any country within the EU. The Scottish Government’s response through Fergus Ewing, was this, “that money is due to Scottish hill farmers. That money was taken by the UK Government. It is Scotland’s money and we want it back.”

One would expect that a situation like this is fairly clear cut. The money was meant for Scottish farmers and it should go to Scottish farmers. The UK Government has yet to receive the message. In fact, Michael Gove has said that, “The money has been baked into the current system”. £160 million pounds taken from Scottish farmers and he thinks he can brush it under the rug with a cooking metaphor – Not good enough.

If this is the kind of behaviour we can expect from Westminster then it is critical that powers returning from Brussels come back to Scotland. If we fail to ensure that outcome, I fear we will be seeing much more of this for Scotland. That’s an outcome that doesn’t favour anyone living here.

12 September 2017

Working on the Day Job

The Scottish Parliament is now back in full swing after summer recess with the announcement of this year’s Programme for Government.

There is much to be proud of what’s contained in the pages of this ambitious document, including pledges to make improvements on the environment, education and health.

I was delighted that an area I am passionate about, that of organ and tissue donation, was also included.

The Organ and Tissue Donation Bill will establish a “soft” opt-out system for the authorisation of organ and tissue donation and is designed to allow more lives to be saved by organ donation.

It is an issue I have written passionately about before in these pages.

Ambitious targets were also set out for the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions while low emissions zones will be placed in Scotland’s four biggest cities by 2020.

There was also an announcement by the First Minister regarding my own constituency of Banffshire and Buchan Coast.

St Fergus will benefit from a new Scottish CCS (Carbon Capture Initiative), the Acorn Project, which has secured €1.9million under a European Union science funding stream for ACT (Accelerate CCS Technologies) to take forward the feasibility phase of a CCS demonstrator project at the site.

Since more than £1billion of funding was suddenly pulled for CCS funding at Peterhead Power Station by the UK Government in 2015, there has not been any indication of when, if ever, the plans might be resumed.

The Minister for Business, Innovation and Energy Paul Wheelhouse told me that the UK Government are now developing a new policy on CCS and are in regular contact with UK counterparts to press for a robust policy framework on the technology.

It is hoped the fresh look will create a deliverable programme for this technology.

As we move towards a low carbon economy, we must look at alternative energy technologies to meet these targets.

The muted plans for Peterhead Power Station would have brought huge investment to the local economy and potentially hundreds of jobs.

At a time when the oil price was continuing to drop, the project would also have gone some of the way to mitigating losses from the industry.

So we must look with excitement at the plans by the Scottish Government at St Fergus for it is a positive step in the right direction towards capitalising on this technology in the North-East.

We must be working with Westminster to deliver a sustainable energy supply for both Scotland and the UK.

And finally, I was delighted to note the Aberdeen City Region has been selected by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) as one of only six pilot areas within the UK – and the only one in Scotland – to share £10million of funding towards gigabit fibre broadband to business premises.

It is imperative we improve broadband for all, including in Aberdeenshire too, which will go a long way for residents in rural towns in particular.

Stewart Stevenson
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