Thank you to Paul Robertson the Scottish National Party candidate who is the final one of our four candidates in Banff & Buchan constituency to respond to the five questions from My Turriff.
What are the top 5 priority’s which you feel would benefit this region directly and what are you going to do to make them happen and how would you promote this area within Westminster to attract diverse businesses here?
1. Protect Scotland’s place in the Single Market
Whatever your view on leaving the EU, nobody voted to be poorer and I have real concerns about the impact on jobs and livelihoods of leaving the European Single Market which supports some 100,000 jobs in Scotland.
Leaving the Single Market poses an existential threat to many of our local industries – it will mean, for example, punitive tariffs on our food exports from seafood to Scotch beef and lamb that would significantly reduce the competitiveness of our produce.
We need to remain in the Single Market so our local industries can continue to export tariff-free on current terms, and so we can protect local employment.
And the simple reality is that Brexit is a distraction – not a solution – from the things that really matter to people like the NHS, pensions, jobs, and local issues like broadband and our town centres. These are the issues I will put first for the people of Turriff, and Banff & Buchan.
2. End austerity and protect public services
We have now had almost a decade of austerity, low wage growth and a freeze on social security from the Conservative UK Government that has had a real impact on people on low incomes and on the money available for public services.
Since 2013, Scotland’s budget has been cut by almost £14 billion and that presents huge challenges for maintaining public services.
We need to end austerity, protect the incomes of working people and those on low incomes, and instead release investment that will enable our economy to grow and protect public services.
3. Tackling the climate emergency
Climate change is affecting us all and we need bold action to make our economy more ecologically sustainable.
Scotland has the world’s most ambitious emissions reduction targets set in law, but we need to go further.
Since 2010, we have seen funding cut by the UK Government for renewable energy technologies such as solar, onshore wind and carbon capture storage.
Scotland has enormous renewable energy potential and we need to release investment in renewable energy developments to realise that potential and gain the economic benefits. And we need to support people to make positive changes in their own lives too – such as tax incentives for people to make energy efficiency improvements to their homes that will cut their bills, and make their homes greener.
4. Improve broadband coverage
Almost 95% of Scotland now benefits from broadband coverage, but rural and hard-to-reach communities can often be the last to benefit.
The SNP is committed to providing access to superfast broadband to every home and business in Scotland, investing £600 million towards this, with the UK Government providing just £21 million of that.
We will press the UK Government to reclassify access to the internet as an essential service, call for a social tariff for internet services, and press for Scotland to get its fair share of the £5 billion UK Government funding to roll out gigabit broadband to the hardest to reach areas.
5. A fairer deal for pensioners
Older people in the UK have one of the lowest levels of income replacement in their retirement in the OECD. We have a sizeable retirement-age population in Banff & Buchan, and it is important that they are supported.
Our pensioners deserve a fairer deal – maintaining the free TV license for the over-75s who can scarcely afford an additional £150 to household bills, stopping any further increases to the State Pension Age which don’t take account of our demographics in Scotland and the higher percentage of manual workers locally who simply can’t work past 66, and full redress for the ‘WASPI’ women affected by the State Pension Age changes.
What are your thoughts on people throughout the Banff & Buchan constituency having to use local food banks to allow them to eat?
Having growing up in the North-east, I have always been acutely aware that amidst the wealth and affluence of our region, there exists great inequality.
The rise in food bank usage in recent years has been shocking – almost 3,000 emergency food parcels were handed out in Aberdeenshire last year, including almost 800 provided for children.
I have been speaking to food banks across the constituency who tell me that the majority of people presenting are in work and on low incomes.
The reliance on food banks is driven by the cuts made to social security since 2010, such as Universal Credit, that forces people into a spiral of debt and traps them on low incomes. This is a system that our current MP described as “succeeding” and “showing good progress”.
The reality is that we will all rely on social security at some point in our lives and that’s why with limited powers over social security, the Scottish Government is creating a social security system in Scotland that is based on fairness, dignity and respect. But with 75% of social security spending still reserved to Westminster, we need to correct the cuts that have removed support from the most vulnerable in society.
Recently we have had 6 bridges washed away due to heavy rain. We have been told that some bridges may not be repaired by the council. What is your policy on helping the community deal with this issue, and what are you prepared to do to sort it?
The issue of flooding and the disrepair of local bridges – which were simply not built for the volume of modern traffic – is not a new one but will get worse over time with the impact of climate change.
In the short-term, Aberdeenshire Council is able to apply for funding from the Scottish Government under the Bellwin Scheme to make repairs to damage caused by flooding. The First Minister recently encouraged the local Council to do so but as I understand it, no application has yet been made.
However, flooding and damage to bridges now seems like an annual event and it is not cost efficient to continue to make sticking-plaster repairs. Longer-term, we need to see our local authority investing to upgrade our infrastructure and I will press them to do so.
Given that generations of Scots have grown accustomed to devolution (live in the late 1970s and debated again from 1992), Holyrood (since 1999) and talk of independence (since 2011), is Scottish independence inevitable in due course?
I am one of the first generations where, in my adult life, there has always been a Scottish Parliament.
Devolution has been an unqualified success for Scotland – it has enabled us to set our own priorities, make our own decisions, and has brought decision-making closer to communities.
But there is nothing inevitable about further devolution – or independence. We will only have more powers for our Scottish Parliament, and we will only have independence for Scotland if the people of Scotland vote for it.
I believe passionately in an independent Scotland – not as an end in itself, but as a means to creating a wealthier, and fairer country.
It should be the right of the people of Scotland to choose that future. But at the moment, every Westminster party believes they can dictate if and when Scotland has can decide on our own future.
So whatever your view on independence, a key issue in this election is the principle that it is the people of Scotland who should be able to choose our future.
The three most influential economic powers in the world are China, the EU and the USA. After Brexit – if it happens – which should we most closely align with and why?
The reality is that as part of the EU – we already trade with the world! The EU has trade agreements with over 70 countries across the world, which are negotiated from a position of strength as 28 countries and which we directly benefit from.
Should Brexit happen – and I sincerely hope it does not – then we face the prospect of having to negotiate new trade deals with countries around the world as 1 country instead of 28, which weakens the negotiating position and leaves the door open to damaging compromises for our local industries.
I do not trust Boris Johnson to have the right priorities in trade negotiations. The UK is rushing to make trade deals with non-EU countries that could see our domestic market flooded with cheap, lower quality food produce that would undercut our local farmers, to name just one example. And when it comes to access to our NHS, in a trade deal with Trump, who could really trust Boris Johnson not to give Donald exactly what we wants?
I want Scotland to be an outward-looking, prosperous nation that trades with the world and welcomes the social benefits of having close relationships with different countries and cultures, and I fundamentally believe that is best realised as an independent nation.
You can see all candidates in the Banff & Buchan constituency here and read the My Turriff statement on our transparency here.