24 September 2019

What's the future?

This may be the most hazardous time to be writing a column. By the time you read this almost anything I might say about politics may have been overtaken by events. So let's stick to some things that are certainties rather than predictions.

In the last few days I had the enormous pleasure to join two sets of ministers on visits to my constituency.

I joined Kevin Stewart at the formal opening of some affordable housing. It has been one of the SNP Government’s key objectives to crank up house building after the previous administration had completed the sum total of six council house in their entire time in office. Kevin’s visit alone saw many more than that.

But it needs more than Government. It’s a partnership with housing associations, with local authorities. So I was delighted to meet people there from Osprey Housing and Councillor Anne Stirling who is deputy leader of Aberdeenshire Council.

Long may such partnerships continue to deliver locally on national priorities.

The other visit saw First Minister Nicola Sturgeon and Deputy First Minister & Education Secretary John Swinney come north to launch new funding for schools across Scotland. And to tell us that we shall be getting our share.

But as ever, the perhaps most important part of their visit was the opportunity that it provided for our very articulate school students to make their needs known to Scotland’s Government leaders.

I know students and politicians both got a lot out of that meeting.

Climate Change

Across the political spectrum in Scotland, there is a recognition of the importance of responding to climate change. And in 2009 it was my privilege to take through our very ambitious Climate Change Act with the unanimous agreement of Parliament.

After 10 years it is time to update and recalibrate our ambition. And one early success has been to gain a commitment from the Government to publish a true account of the opportunities our farming communities have to contribute to dealing with this knotty problem.

The international inventories of greenhouse gas emissions are not kind to farmers in how they appear to count the impact of farming on the environment. And many ill-informed writers have made under-researched and potentially damaging comment about this vital industry.

The inventories don’t count wind turbines on farms as farming activity. Nor do they put the huge benefits of forestry or agroforestry into the farming account. And that’s only some of the short-comings of the “official” accounting system. So well done Government. We’ll now see the true benefits of farm activity.

But the big breaking news is that the major United Nations Climate Change conference will be coming to Scotland next year. The “Conference of the Parties” - the COP - is the major international forum to build agreement on how to avoid climate catastrophe.

It has been disappointing that USA is led by a President who rejects science as a means of understanding the world. But I know that much good work is being done by individual states. Let’s hope they come to Glasgow and counterbalance their Federal Government’s uninformed position.

You’ll aye be welcome!

17 September 2019

Is there a rational future?

Commentators around the world now see the UK political system as beyond parody. Virtually no day passes without the breaking of another norm of good behaviour in public life, with the failure to reach conclusions because of the inconvenience of rational thought, the loss of reputation and expectation in the political process.

For those who would wish to protect the privilege of wealth and breeding, this suits their purpose.

But for the general public the cost of dis-function in the making and implementing of public policy may be high.

The old saying, “Prediction is difficult, especially about the future”, used by Winston Churchill and others, is especially true today. But at the time I write, we know that in the 50 days since Johnson took over as Prime Minister of the UK, he has managed to lose Ministers, MPs of his own party and the even the support of his own MP brother – 25 losses in total – and has yet to win a single vote in the Westminster Parliament.

And next ...

Meantime in Scotland, we are progressing 14 new Bills in our Parliament and are getting on with the day job.

In the natural world, the USA, Canada and Bermuda have been lashed by a hurricane. The destruction is clear, the mortality uncertain. But this part of an increasing change in our climate.

For the North East we face the challenge of moving a major industry of ours – oil and gas – to a future model with a dramatically lower climate change footprint. I know from briefings that companies like Shell & BP are on the case.

For my part I expect to chair a meeting with BP at next month’s SNP National Conference. I will ensure that they get a fair hearing but also that they hear serious questions from our delegates.

On many fronts, the future is less certain than it has ever been.

I shall be doing what I can to return us to rational, reasoned decision-making.

Stewart Stevenson
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