4 August 2020

Touch not the cat but with a glove

Democracy’s survival, indeed, the survival of our society is built on the ability and willingness to protect it.

Recent reports point to the influence of external actors on the domestic politics of the West. It’s critical to our society that we recognise the danger that such activity poses.

In order to recognise its importance, we must first understand why any country – Russia, China, Iran or any other would seek to do so.

Consider first the internal political process we deal with on a regular basis. The process ultimately aims at gaining domestic power in order to fulfil the promises made during a political campaign. If a party is successful – they will seek to fulfil these promises. With that power comes the ability to influence and shape the deployment of resources and which set values and societal priorities are given precedence.

These are significant gains for those who wish to steer the ship of democracy. Of course, if a party fails to deliver on its promises, they will likely face a reckoning at the next election.

Those are the general benefits to those involved legitimately in a state’s internal democratic process. However, why would an external actor – i.e. a foreign state wish to influence this process?

In simple terms, internal politics shapes the international political order. Those in power domestically express themselves internationally. This is done through trade, humanitarian aid, military deployment among other things.

Therefore, external actors may believe that there is some benefit to ensuring one result over another in order to assist them with an over-arching international goal. Of course, simply being able to undermine the democratic process in another country – and to act with impunity may be a sought-after result in and of itself.

Obviously, it is thought that such action should not take place if there is to be respect for the laws and conventions of other countries.

However, it is clear both throughout history that such actions do take place. Indeed, the evidence is suggesting that such things are taking place at this very moment. External actors may be having a direct influence on the politics of the West and thus our democracies. If this is even a possibility, then our democracy is in peril. Unfortunately, recent reports suggest that no one is adequately prepared to face this issue with the rigour it requires.

If we are to protect democracy, it is essential that such actions are not allowed to continue. We must respond to these issues by strengthening the defences that we deploy to protect the integrity of our domestic political process. Furthermore, there must be consequences for those countries that choose to engage in such behaviour. Otherwise, they will continue to take greater strides towards trying to influence foreign elections and the democratic integrity of our own nations will crack from the ensuing chaos.

Failure to do so shall not only impact the domestic politics of the West but will badly damage the West’s role in the international political order – a situation that I would suggest we have already begun to witness and very likely the primary purpose of any such activities.

31 July 2020

Douglas Ross will never be leader of the Scottish Conservative and Unionist Party

Very occasionally, I am amazed by my prescience. I closed yesterday's diary at with an Alfred Tennyson quote; "Authority forgets a dying king".

And lo, the leaders of the Tory party, all that party's key decisions are made in London, decide to fire their lead spokesperson in our Parliament.

But if course Tennyson's saying did not really apply to Jackson Carlaw. Yesterday's events confirmed that he had no authority which could be forgotten.

Lest that be thought to be a "sour grapes" comment, let us examine the facts via the information published by the Electoral Commission. There is a party registered with the name "Conservative and Unionist Party" (vide There is no party registered under any variant such as "Scottish Conservative ..".

The document of registration, giving its address as being at 4 Matthew Parker Street, London and its leader as Alexander Boris De Pfeffel Johnson, says that it fields candidates in England, Scotland, Wales and Europe. It is the Conservative and Unionist Party, based in London that fights elections in Scotland. No other entity.

To aid it in fighting elections it has registered three symbols, labeled; "Conservatives", "Scottish Conservatives", "Conservatives Ceidwadwyr".

Then it has nine descriptions registered with the Electoral Commission as being used by it. Registered in 2001 it has "Scottish Conservative and Unionist" and in 2017 "Scottish Conservative Candidate". These have been registered by a political party based in London.

In the current circumstances, it is interesting to look at the accounts for local Conservative Associations.

The candidate favoured by London to take over from Jackson Carlaw as leader of their Scottish members, but not (yet?) in our Parliament, is Douglas Ross. So let's look at his local party group.

The 2009 accounts describe them as "The Moray Conservative and Unionist Association". They then use that same name, again sans any reference to a Scottish Conservative party, in their accounts for 2010 and 2017. To the best of my knowledge, they remain called "The Moray Conservative and Unionist Association" today.

Conclusion? There is no Scottish Conservative and Unionist Party.

And therefore no such party for Douglas Ross, or anyone else, to lead.

21 July 2020

Keeping the Heid

Today I want to talk about mask-wearing.

I noticed that over the last few days, the President of the United States has begun to wear one, and indeed they will now be mandatory in shops in England from the 24th of July.

In Scotland, the use of face coverings has been legally-required in shops since the 10th of July and most people in our country have made a great effort to follow the rules. I commend them on it. However, we should realise that we’re not alone in this, many other countries have already adopted these policies.

It’s disappointing that there’s been a reluctance to act on this by our neighbour's political leaders. A country with a larger population and a higher R number should be leading the charge. But common sense isn’t necessarily common. My friends and relatives in England deserve clarity and leadership from their Government.

It seems apparent that there’s been continuing confusion down south – this being exemplified by the fact that 18,500 people had to be stopped from travelling since June 15 because they weren’t wearing a mask.

Hopefully, the Prime Minister’s changes will mean more people wear a face-covering, both on public transport and in the shops.

Here in Scotland, people seem aware of why we’re wearing our them.

That is – to protect our own health, the health of others and finally to help us move beyond the pandemic, so that we may begin the process of economic and social recovery.

I note there are some necessary exemptions for people with certain health conditions where they are unable to wear a mask. I would suggest that this makes it even more important for those of us that can, do wear a mask in order to protect those few who can’t.

If we are going to protect one another, we need to adhere to each tactic in the overall strategy. We keep this up, then the battle will be won eventually.

Our failure to do so would likely result in an increased R number which would throw us back into lockdown and cause us to sustain further damage and loss

Therefore, it’s imperative that we, “Keep the heid,” as the First Minister has said

If we go backwards, it will delay the recovery that we have all been working towards. With the opening of places of worship, hairdressers and restaurants the opportunity to stumble backwards will be greater.

So, it’s essential that you continue the good work that you have already done. Commit to using the tools and advice at our disposal to ensure that we continue to make progress.

There is work for businesses and consumers to do to get our economy back on its feet but we must first ensure that we’ve got a solid footing.

Scotland is making progress and that is thanks to you. I am hopeful that our compatriots down south will begin to make greater progress and we can all begin the necessary journey towards recovery. Until then, remember – wear a mask.

14 July 2020

Positively Optimistic

In times of crisis, it’s easy to get trapped in negative thinking – it goes hand in hand with it.

But it’s also the time that we need to be optimistic most. After all, it’s the good things in life that we live for.

I suppose one positive of not being able to spend time with my pals and enjoy our usual gossip is that I realise how important our little gatherings are to me.

The ability to sit down over a drink with old friends is something that most of us just take for granted. The realisation of how essential these simple things are makes me appreciate them more.

Hopefully, we can look forward to these things and when the day comes, we can savour them.

That’s what I’m looking forward to, but how do I stay positive now?

Well, one thing I’ve found constructive has been the time to exercise. Now that I haven’t had to commute to work, I’ve managed to allocate some of that time to my physical health.

I think it’s played a significant role in allaying the stress of not being able to see my pals but I also seem to have accumulated a somewhat significant increase in energy.

An added benefit of my exercise routine is that I also get to take in much of the surrounding countryside and all the interesting creatures in it.

Nature I find has a way of creating a sense of calm. I suppose I enjoy it because it’s a sensation that isn’t often present in modern politics. It’s in these quieter moments that one notices much of the beauty in the world that nature has set out before us.

While there are still challenges, I try to remember that those things that we live for are still there.

7 July 2020

Time for True Leadership

At the time of my writing this, there has been a steady decline in the number of daily deaths caused by COVID-19 in Scotland. For several days there have been no deaths recorded, sadly today that is not the case. While each death is tragic, at least fewer is a sign of hope.

In other places – less progress. In fact, some places seem to be putting the economic recovery above lives. Protecting the economy is essential but profits can be regenerated – the lives of parents, children, brothers and sisters cannot.

The First Minister has taken this perspective and indeed it’s why Scotland continues to make progress in suppressing the virus. It has not come free of cost, but it is up to leaders to bear such costs in a crisis, that is why we choose them as our leaders.

Tim Martin, the founder of Weatherspoons has a different view of leadership. At the onset of the pandemic, he suggested that his staff should consider alternative jobs in grocery stores and he did so despite the announcement of a furlough scheme.

He actions suggest he sought to absolve himself of responsibility for his staff as soon as a crisis hit. He never even considered the fact that his suggestion might put some of his more vulnerable staff in danger.

The following quote from author Simon Sinek captures my exasperation perfectly:

“If our leaders are to enjoy the trappings of their position in the hierarchy, then we expect them to offer us protection. The problem is, for many of the overpaid leaders, we know that they took the money and perks and didn’t offer protection to their people. In some cases, they even sacrificed their people to protect or boost their own interests. This is what so viscerally offends us. We only accuse them of greed and excess when we feel they have violated the very definition of what it means to be a leader.”

Which brings me to another leader with close ties to Mr Martin. I refer to Prime Minister Boris Johnson. Mr Johnson announced yesterday there would be a “new deal” for the UK.

What Mr Johnson is doing is creating the illusion of protecting our society from the economic fall out of this virus – because he thinks it’s a good PR move.

For perspective, the “new deal” proposed by Franklin Delano Roosevelt in 1933 represented about 40% of 1929 GDP in the US, 40% of 2019 GDP in the UK would, therefore, be around £800 billion.

Now, if he was to match the investment being done in other European nations, we would be looking at about 4% of GDP or about £80 billion.

£5 billion isn’t going get us much economic protection.

It is vital that the Prime Minister reacts to this crisis in the manner it deserves and fulfils his obligation as a leader. If he needs some advice, I’m sure the First Minister will be ready to offer someone can only hope he listens.

9 June 2020

Food, Our Glorious Food

UK government must urgently ditch their plan to water down food standards to secure a trade deal with Donald Trump– or risk doing untold damage to food producers and opening a new constitutional crisis. Reports this week have indicated that the Tories are set to renege on previous commitments to maintain European food standards – opening the door to low-quality imports including chlorine-washed chicken and hormone-treated beef.

In January the then Environment Secretary Theresa Villiers had insisted that such imports would not be allowed, but unsurprisingly the Prime Minister has now done a U-turn in favour of putting the interests of the US before ours.

Over and over again his UK government promised our animal welfare and food standards wouldn’t be used as bargaining chips to negotiate a trade deal with the US, yet this is exactly what he is now doing. This follows Scottish MPs (including Conservative Banff and Buchan MP and Moray MP) rejecting an amendment which aimed to rule out foreign food imports which don’t meet UK welfare and environmental standards.

As the UK is leaving the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), the Agricultural Bill provides the legislative framework for replacement agricultural support schemes. However, an amendment was tabled by the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee chairman Neil Parish for the bill to only allow the importation of agricultural goods if the standards are as high or higher than UK standards for animal welfare, environmental protection, food safety, hygiene and traceability. This amendment was defeated, with 277 votes for, versus 328 votes against.

The threat posed to Scottish farmers by this trade deal comes despite agriculture being wholly devolved. All parties, other than the Tories, have opposed this power grab on Holyrood – insisting that the Scottish Parliament have a formal role in approving trade deals affecting devolved issues.

Tory plans to flood the UK with hormone-injected beef, chlorinated chicken and other lower standard imports pose a huge threat to the Scottish food and drink industry. Yet again, Scotland's interests are being damaged by the Tories' Brexit obsession. If reports of this U-turn are accurate, it would completely betray the promises that were made and prove Boris Johnson is willing to sacrifice the interests of Scotland's farmers and producers to satisfy Donald Trump. Farmers and consumers deserve better than to have supermarket shelves flooded with low quality imports like chlorinated chicken.

But this decision shouldn’t be for the Tories at Westminster to take at all. Agriculture is entirely devolved to the Scottish Parliament – and imposing these lower standards on Scotland is an undemocratic power grab. It’s time for the Tories to think twice about this bargain basement deal with Donald Trump.

The best way to uphold and safeguard our food standards is to continue to ban products such as chlorinated chicken. Once you allow the principle that it’s OK to sell these controversial products in the UK, you’re effectively sanctioning the poor farming practices that our standards are meant to protect against. Our farmers deserve better, we all do.

26 May 2020


There has undoubtedly been a greater demand for mental health services over the past several weeks. Research undertaken by the Mental Health Foundation has revealed that one-third of UK adults are concerned about their future finances and debt, as well as feeling stressed about future employment.

These issues, in particular, can take a serious toll on both the mental and physical health of an individual. With the majority of us working from home during the COVID outbreak, it is also important that we take steps to keep ourselves safe online whilst protecting our mental health.

This year’s Mental Health Awareness Week theme is kindness, and it has been fantastic to see so many selfless volunteers in the North-east helping individuals and the wider community during the Coronavirus outbreak. From ASDA employees in Peterhead doing shopping for elderly residents in their spare time to the many individuals calling vulnerable residents to make sure they’re not lonely, so many have dedicated their time to helping others.

It is inspiring to hear about the work going on across Banffshire and Buchan Coast. There are many incredible resources that can provide practical advice if you are struggling with your mental health. Exercising and keeping active is particularly important, and finding the time to have a daily walk or take an online exercise class can reduce stress.

The lockdown restrictions have been necessary to reduce and mitigate the massive harm caused by the COVID-19 virus, but the lockdown itself causes harm including loneliness and social isolation, deepening inequalities and damage to the economy. It is clear that we need a way forward and although it is going to be gradual and incremental phases by which lockdown will be eased for many of us it provides a much-needed sense of hope.

The Scottish Government have indicated that caution is still needed and so they will continue to carefully monitor the virus and its spread through contact tracing. However, Scotland’s route map through and out of the crisis’ gives practical examples of what people, organisations and businesses can expect to see change over time. Despite lockdown, human contact remains important – keeping in touch with family and friends over the phone or via video calling to check-in can go a long way in boosting mental health.

Further useful information and suggestions for helping others can be found on the NHS Every Mind Matters website: http://nhs/uk/oneyou/every-mind-matters and also at the Mental Health Foundation – If you need to speak to someone Mind has a phone line open from 9am-6pm, Monday to Friday on 0300 123 3393 and the Samaritans also have a free hotline – 116 123.

As we ease out of lockdown and look to getting back into a way of life that we recognise, it is important to look after our mental health and the good mental health of our friends and family. Small acts of kindness can go a long way in brightening up someone’s day! As ever, if you have an issue that I can help you with please email me on

12 May 2020

Democracy Evolving

Democracy and the ability of elected representatives to have their voice heard and make representation on behalf of their constituents is a core function of the Scottish Parliament.

There is a lot of political support and goodwill from across the Chamber to introduce a system of proxy speeches and voting in Scotland. I am immensely grateful to the parliamentary staff who I know are working hard behind the scenes to seek solutions and I hope we will soon introduce a proxy system during COVID-19.

However, scrutiny and a chance to get answers directly from the government is more vital than ever and we simply cannot wait for parliamentary processes to catch up. With the size of the challenges the agricultural sector faces I wanted to ensure that farmers in Banffshire and Buchan Coast were spoken for. It has never been more important that the farming industry has a voice as the worlds production and trade routes are stalled. Farmers are one of our most valuable producers of food and that is particularly true as some of the key markets become more difficult to trade with and food can’t be sourced from other countries.

The Agricultural Bill the Scottish Parliament is currently debating is more vital in content than ever and most critical in its timing. Only by giving our farmers, and all the businesses who work with them, certainty about the support they will receive, will their actions in planning for 2021 and beyond preserve this vital industry.

Of course, I look forward to a time when I can be back delivering speeches in person, but I am immensely grateful to colleagues today for ensuring my voice is heard. I’m also immensely grateful to our carers and I welcomed the news that carers will be benefitting from more financial support from the Scottish Government to recognise the lifesaving work they do every day.

Over 3,100 carers across Aberdeenshire and Moray are due to benefit from a one-off payment during the coronavirus pandemic. This comes as the Scottish Government has revealed plans to invest £19.2million to provide further support to Scottish carers during the Covid-19 crisis. If approved by parliament, around 83,000 eligible carers across Scotland will get an extra £230.10 through a special one-off Coronavirus Carer’s Allowance Supplement in June - with around 2,130 in Aberdeenshire and 995 in Moray benefitting from this additional financial support.

All carers are valuable and worthy of support, it’s only appropriate that their hard work is recognised and they are not left to face financial hardship especially in the current climate. I am delighted that the SNP Government have stepped in to support carers even further and give them the recognition they deserve as they provide vital support to family, friends and neighbours across the North-east in these extremely difficult circumstances.

I am pleased that this one-off payment will benefit some of the true heroes in our communities. I know carers are some of those most in need and many have some of the most intense caring roles, providing at least 35 hours unpaid care weekly to a disabled child or adult in receipt of higher-level disability benefits.

28 April 2020

Challenges Ahead

COVID-19 virus has emerged as the biggest global challenge that humanity has faced for generations.

Internationally, we have seen people and governments across the globe face similar challenges and choices to us and we stand in solidarity with the global effort to address the threat of COVID-19.

I know that the steps we have taken in Scotland to contain the virus are unprecedented and have changed life as we knew it, but I’m sure you will agree that the way the majority of people have responded to them shows exactly the kind of nation we are.

I want to start by saying thank you to everyone in Banffshire and Buchan Coast who has diligently followed our public health advice to stay at home.

This gratitude extends to all sectors of our community: our health and social care workers, who have mobilised with a world-class response; the other public service workers who have continued to provide vital public services and taken on new tasks to protect those most in need; our shop workers and our business community, who have found new ways to work and flexed their businesses to respond to our new circumstances; our food producers and delivery drivers who have ensured that the food we need is there when we need it; and our third sector which has found new ways to support our people.

Given the uncertainty that surrounds our global understanding of the disease, we will need to continue to work together to ensure that we protect ourselves, our families, our communities and our nation from the threat presented by COVID-19.

The path before us is through uncharted territory and will need careful navigation.

However as with everything I hope that our guiding values should be kindness, compassion, openness and transparency.

While we hope that scientific advances, such as treatments and a vaccine, will provide solutions in the longer term, in the more immediate future we will need to learn to live with this virus, possibly for some time to come and so that is why it was warmly welcome to see the Scottish Government unveiling the blueprint for the future.

Their challenge is to work out if and how we can continue to suppress the virus and minimise its harms while restoring some semblance of normality to our everyday lives.

I am pleased that this is being done with a careful approach that seeks to protect life and reduce harm. These decisions will not be easy.

However, I hope that people will begin to see hope and a light at the end of the tunnel.

Despite the challenges and necessary changes that lie ahead of us requiring us to adapt how we live our lives, I am certain that we will respond exactly as we have been doing- with a united effort from all parts of Scottish society.

Everyone in Scotland has a part to play and I for one will be proud to play mine as we enter this next phase of beating coronavirus.

14 April 2020

Tomorrow's World

In just a matter of weeks, all of our lives have changed in unimaginable ways. We have had to adapt to the challenges facing us by moving much of how we socialize, how we work and even our businesses online.

We have seen nursing, midwifery and students to step up at this unprecedented time when they have already experienced significant disruption as they come to the end of their courses. Their skills and experience will be vital in the coming months as we work to save as many lives as possible.

We have seen thousands upon thousands of volunteers offering support across all areas of health and social care. We see parents homeschooling their children, while teachers continue to support the most vulnerable. The commitment and enthusiasm of these volunteers, as with all of our NHS workers, deserve recognition and the gratitude of every one of us in Scotland.

Politics is no different from this, and we need to see the same innovation happening in politics as the way democracy is performed changes. Not invention, but the adoption of technologies new to our political institutions. The Welsh Assembly held a virtual meeting last week, and this week we were able to watch online First Minister's Questions, on this occasion only from Party Leaders. This definitely is not new technology being used here, although it is cheaper and of better resolution and lower latency than in years gone by.

It’s warmly welcome news that the parliament has moved online to ensure we are maintaining our democratic traditions in accordance with social distancing. I think we have shown that we can work remotely while holding the government to account for the decisions they make.

People up and down the country have made huge behavioral changes in a matter of days, and so it is of central importance that as politicians, we show that we are capable of it too. The parliament has had to achieve in just a few weeks what they thought they might have several years to do, and that’s not a bad thing. If tech is the future and we can work smarter, more intelligently and more productively using technology, it’s good to see the parliament adapting fast.

When our political system is as central to our lives and futures, more so today than at any point in our recent past, we must be utilizing the technology readily available. This will mean we are able to perform the parliamentary aspect of our roles more easily during the crisis and put constituency concerns directly to ministers without putting people at risk.

My hope is that when we come out of this, we don’t lose some of that good work. Having proven that people can work smarter using technology, we might opt not to revert to all the old ways of working when the emergency is over.

17 March 2020

The Mystery of the Tory / Lib Dem budget in Aberdeenshire

This week brought the Aberdeenshire budget for 2020/21 announcing their spending plans for the next financial year.

To say it was a concerning read is an understatement.

With cuts to children’s community education and the end of free parking in Banff, the proposals are sure to have a real impact on towns across my constituency.

In light of recent serious weather events, it was particularly disappointing to read that the Tories and Lib Dems are looking to cut £50,000 from our flooding budgets.

The importance of having good flood management measures in place locally should not be understated having watched entire communities being decimated by floods in the UK just last month.

I know the people of Kind Edward are still responding to the damage caused to bridges.

My concern is that these cuts will only serve to put our towns even more at risk and those constituents of mine who suffered greatly during Storm Frank in 2016 will be rightly angry at this cut.

Once again the Tories and Lib Dems are making decisions without fully thinking through the consequences of making such reckless cuts.

Meanwhile, their colleagues in Westminster are also being similarly frivolous with their spending plans.

While I’m pleased to see the UK Government’s economic response to coronavirus, we need confirmation on what this will mean for Scotland.

We require urgent clarification on what funding Scotland will receive from the announcements made by the UK Government, at a time when the prospects for the economy and public finances remain very uncertain as the short term impacts of COVID-19 unfold.

It is vital that our businesses, employees, health service and the most economically vulnerable in our society are all protected through this time, and this additional funding will help us in our response.

The Scottish Government are working to ensure that businesses in Scotland are supported and are working with the business community to identify the most effective measures available to us when we have more clarity on the funding available.

We expect full consequentials from this additional funding and need urgent clarification to provide clarity for Scottish businesses and NHS Scotland to ensure we can respond effectively.

The Barnett consequentials announced last week are in line with the assumptions that underpinned the Scottish Budget and Budget Bill passed by the Scottish Parliament this month.

While this funding is welcome, our resource budget is still lower in real terms than it was in 2010/11.

By every measure, this was a Budget riddled with honeyed words and new slogans, but hollow on substance when it comes to working for hardworking families and individuals across the UK.

The Tories’ highest ambition is of securing a basic trade deal which, compared to EU membership, and could remove £9bn from the Scottish economy.

And threats to walk away from the table with a No-Deal could hit the Scottish economy to the tune of £12.7 billion, equivalent to £2,300 per person.

All the signs from this Tory government are that instead of co-operation and close relationships, they are heading for deep divergence and de-regulation.

3 March 2020

Time for Fairness for MS Sufferers

This week I met with campaigners from the Multiple Sclerosis Society for Scotland to discuss the problems they currently face when applying for disability benefits.

The Tory Government introduced Personal Independence Plan (PIP) in 2013, which has resulted in tens of thousands of disabled people lost their benefits. Undoubtedly this shook Scotland to its core as 167,000 new claims made by Scottish applicants have been rejected since the introduction of PIP.

To make matters worse, 39,000 people who were originally entitled to disability benefits were reassessed for PIP in Scotland and completely lost their benefits. Clearly, the UK Government’s version of welfare reform has been disastrous as the introduction of PIP has led 30,000 people to appeal the process and challenge their decisions which have not only led to financial insecurity but also adds stress and anxiety.

I am particularly concerned by some of the abhorrent restrictions placed on individuals applying for PIP- especially through the “20-metre rule” that prevents those who can walk 20 metres from receiving the higher rate of mobility assistance. This directly discriminates against those with conditions like Multiple Sclerosis (MS) where their symptoms fluctuate. It shows once again how disconnected the Tory Government are from the needs of individuals with disabilities.

Meanwhile, the SNP are offering an alternative to those with disabilities by championing a society which promotes dignity and respect at its very core. This comes as social security is devolved to Scotland. The Scottish Government will recognise the challenges faced by people with disabilities and prioritise providing equal access to workplaces, ensuring the best support is on offer.

The recent Scottish Government budget only but confirms this. The budget is a landmark in the creation of Scotland’s new social security system. We are committing £3.4 billion in 2020/21 to go directly to the people of Scotland who need it the most.

The new system will be built completely from scratch - the most significant new public service to be created in Scotland since devolution. However, it means that by the end of this parliamentary term we will have introduced eleven benefits that will help over 800,000 people in the next year.

And by 2024 we will deliver 16 benefits and reach 1.8 million children and adults and pay out an estimated £4 billion. This is part of our commitment to ensure that our services are designed with the help of those that use it, to meet the needs of the people of Scotland now and in future.

We will also continue fighting to break down barriers that inhibit those with disabilities, through the Promoting Equality and Cohesion Fund which provides funding to equality organisations. Additionally, the SNP has accredited the charity Motability Scheme, to provide wheelchair accessible vehicles at affordable rates.

These services will all be implemented through Scotland’s new social security system- which will prioritise respect- something that the Tory Government have failed to do.

18 February 2020

Farmers Jeer at Junior Minister Douglas Ross MP

Many Scottish farmers are beginning to raise concerns about post-Brexit policy changes and the impact it will have on our food standards in Scotland. Douglas Ross, the MP for Moray and new Junior Minister at the Scotland Office, learned this for himself as he was publicly jeered after he addressed the Scottish NFU AGM in Glasgow last Thursday.

According to Farmers Weekly, this happened when Ross suggested in answer to a question from a farmer that “clear labelling should be enough to deter consumers from buying cheap food imports”, brushing off any idea of keeping firmly and legally in step with the high food standards presently imposed by European law.

The same journal reported that immediately afterwards, Scottish NFU President Andrew McCornick responded by saying to the Minister:

“If we are going to allow products into this country that would be illegal for us to produce, that is not acceptable.”

McCornick has a strong point. As he added later, the UK Government would be selling farmers “down the river” if it allowed two sets of food standards to develop – one for imported food which would be substantially reduced and sell for lower prices, and one for locally produced food that would be more expensive.

The outcome of that in any free market is inevitable – the cheap and bad will chase out the more expensive and good, bankrupting many Scottish food businesses. Given how such businesses have grown in the past 13 years this simply cannot be allowed.

Ross’s declaration poses a severe, indeed existential, threat to many Scottish success stories and if that policy also extends to the entire food and drink industry then it will also decimate the whisky sector because some American producers are desperate to sell their product, not matured for a minimum of three years, into the UK market on the same shelves, and with the same name, as the real thing produced with generations of care and experience by craftsmen and women in Scotland and laid down in carefully stipulated conditions for that minimum period.

McCornick went on to say, publicly, to Ross that he and his fellow farmers were very anxious that “whoever is negotiating these trade deals” is made aware of these matters and added:

"We would like to see something with a bit of teeth in here to make sure that is not happening.”

The UK Government must finally honour the promises they have made for the past three and a half years about respecting the devolved settlement, and as a result ensure that the UK negotiating stance on the key issues in food and drink standards is reached only after detailed discussion with the Scottish Government, within whose devolved competence those matters actually lie.

As with genetically modified crops, we know that the highest standards are not a barrier to markets, but a vital attraction for our core and continuing customers. In other words, we know – unlike Ross and his Tory colleagues – the value of things, not just their price.

4 February 2020

Time for all Parties to support our businesses

For all their bluster on business rates for the past two years, the Tories have failed to back the interests of local businesses by voting through an amendment in favour of scrapping business rates reliefs.

These reliefs have been of great benefit to businesses in my area who have been struggling throughout the oil and gas downturn.

My SNP colleagues and I campaigned hard to get them put in place.

However, the amendments to the Non-Domestic Rates bill that will be voted on this week in parliament would see over £308 million of relief scrapped – which is strongly opposed by the SNP.

This could impact more than 100,000 businesses across Scotland, and cost smaller businesses £7,000.

This includes the small business bonus scheme which has benefited more than 7,000 recipients in Aberdeenshire, saving local businesses £12.6millon in 2018-19 and £83.4million since the scheme was introduced.

The result of this amendment would be deplorable for local businesses across the North-east.

The SNP was the only party which opposed the amendment to the Bill – which would mean that rates would no longer be set nationally and business rates reliefs, including the Small Business Bonus and rates relief for nurseries – would automatically end.

It would also remove the ability of Scottish ministers to set the business rates poundage.

Abolishing the Universal Business Rate is bad for all businesses.

However, I’m not the only one who has these concerns with worries being voiced through a network of 27 Scottish business organisations all of whom oppose the amendment.

These plans would deliver a blow to businesses in the North-east and could risk the delivery of vital local services, the work of charities and third-sector organisations.

If the plans backed by the Tories and Labour had been in place, Aberdeenshire council would have faced a shortfall of £6.8million over the past two years.

Experts and business organisations have also warned that it could create added costs and deter investment in the North-east and across Scotland.

The Federation of Small Businesses, CBI Scotland and the Scottish Retail Consortium have all expressed concerns over the proposed changes, warning it will create added costs and deter investment.

I also know from speaking to local businesses across my constituency just how much this relief scheme means to businesses each day.

It is clear that we cannot take the risk of letting the Tories in, and watching them trade away our precious economy.

Businesses in the North-east have benefited massively in rates support, providing stability for local jobs and communities and giving firms that valuable headroom to grow and thrive.

This amendment shows contempt from the Tories and Greens and threatens to scrap reliefs for businesses in the North-east.

My colleagues across the North-east must backtrack and reverse their decision to end nationwide rates relief and introduce local rates multipliers.

14 January 2020

Food Matters

A Happy New Year to everyone!

Unfortunately, the decade has begun with more of the same disappointment from the Conservatives in power. News broke this week that food parcel usage has soared across Scotland.

I’m not sure when the Tories will wake up, but urgent action from the UK Government is critical as foodbank use reaches crisis point across the North East. Almost 600,000 food parcels were handed out in Scotland over 18 months seeing a 22% rise.

It’s a sign of the times that people are dependent on food donations in a rich country – and an indictment on welfare reform which has left people with no other choices.

The need to remove the unfair two-child limit and benefit cap has never been more urgent.

The UK Government must take tangible steps to reversing austerity from an increase in the National Living Wage, an uprate of all benefits in line with inflation, and a ban on zero-hours contracts.

In stark contrast to Westminster austerity, the Scottish Government has been working to develop a social security system with dignity and fairness at its heart – introducing a raft of benefits to provide much needed financial support to low-income families, including a brand new benefit which will provide eligible families with £10 a week for every child under 16 by 2022.

While food banks such as the ones in Peterhead and Macduff do an excellent job of providing support for those who need it, the fact that they even exist is a damning result of UK Government policies which are actively driving people into desperate situations.

The UK government needs to wake up to the cost of this crisis and stop shunning responsibility before more families and children are pushed into poverty.

Stewart Stevenson
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