We asked the four candidates in the Banff & Buchan constituency five questions ahead of the 2019 General Elections. Here are their answers grouped together.
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?
Climate change/green industrial revolution
Labour has a wide range of policies to deal with the climate emergency and create a new Green Industrial revolution. This will lead to a change in emphasis away from a focus in carbon intensive to carbon neutral in our industry and economy. It will lead to the creation of over 700,000 future proof jobs throughout the United Kingdom and, as the foremost energy region of Europe with so many jobs dependent on this sector, I would be arguing for Banff and Buchan and the North East of Scotland generally to be a centre of excellence for energy research and development. The large oil companies operating globally have been receiving large subsidies from government over decades and will receive £24 billion in tax relief when it comes to decommissioning rigs and pipelines in the North Sea and so it is only right that they help kickstart the greening of the UK economy with a windfall tax. Through working with the large oil companies to achieve a Just Transition, Labour will seek to overcome the kind of shock that occurred with the recent downturn in the oil price. This led to tens of thousands of workers losing their jobs with little or no support from government. Labour will not let that expertise be lost. By linking in a nationalised energy company that will invest in the necessary infrastructure as well as making our homes more energy efficient, we can help reduce our dependency on carbon based fuels as well as reducing household bills by an average of £417 per year.
Labour’s approach would also reward environmental good practice and acknowledge the position of farmers as being custodians of the environment with an important role to play not only in overcoming challenges such as soil erosion and flooding, which affects this area in particular, but through implementation of better drainage and water storage schemes and other measures. We would aim to work in partnership with farmers and other stakeholders.
We are faced with a crisis of living standards. Pay has stagnated and conditions of work have worsened over the last decade with more zero hours contracts, poorly paid work and workers being forced to sign new contracts under much poorer terms and conditions. Labour wants to restore a sense of hope and well being, a positive belief in the future where people have a stake in the economy and are able to plan for their future and the future of their children. By introducing a £10 minimum wage for all this would reduce people having to rely on in-work benefits and thereby subsidising low wage employers. This would mean an immediate pay increase for 700,000 workers in Scotland. Labour would assist small employers to manage the extra costs. The minimum wage would help also to reinvigorate our High Streets as it would lead to people having more disposable income to spend locally. More people in better paid work, working under better terms and conditions will also pay dividends by increasing the tax revenue of the country and reducing the level of financial stress in families. We cannot sustain a situation in this country where the economy seems to work against the interests of the many and only in favour of the few.
Labour is committed to the setting up of a Ministry of Employment Rights. Labour will tackle insecurity in the workplace by ensuring that people have full rights from day one on the job, that whistleblowers are protected and that rights of pregnant women, those going through the menopause and terminally ill workers are protected. Labour will also ban zero hours contracts and also bogus self employment so that employers cannot evade workers rights. Labour introduce a legal right to collective consultation on the implementation of new technology in the workplace.
Building local affordable housing
According to research by Shelter there will be 135,000 homeless children this Christmas. This is a direct result of decisions made by the Tories. The lack of investment in affordable homes has created a waiting list in Scotland of 130,000 for either social or council housing. Labour has a plan for the building of 12,000 safe, warm and affordable homes to be built annually for the next ten years. These homes will be built to the highest ecological standards and be highly insulated. In rural areas one of the main reasons for young people leaving is the lack of affordable homes. Through the Mary Barbour law Labour will ensure that rents in the private sector are capped and also that the condition of the housing of a satisfactory standard. Homelessness is a scourge on our society Labour will ensure that agencies work together to abolish rough sleeping and tackle some of its more complex causes.
Supporting public services especially the Health Service and local GP services.
Labour has promised £100 billion in additional resources for Scotland and part of this extra money this will work to transform public services. A decade of Tory cuts has pushed our public services to breaking point. Labour will restore public sector pay to levels last seen before the banking crisis starting with a 5% increase. Labour pledges to renew the NHS and help improve access to GP services as well as mental health services. A massive expansion of social care will support people in the community rather than leave them in hospital beds. These improvements to public services will be funded by a modest increase for the highest earners.
I have fought since my election in 2017 to ensure that no-one in Banff and Buchan is left behind when it comes to broadband and mobile phone connectivity. The Conservative manifesto includes a commitment to agree a £1billion deal with mobile phone operators to pool existing phone masts, and build new ones, to improve coverage in the countryside and limit black-spots. It also commits to providing full fibre and gigabit-capable broadband to every home by 2025 across the whole of the UK. Too many people in Banff and Buchan, particularly those in rural areas, are struggling with poor or non-existent broadband. The SNP Scottish Government has had responsibility for the roll-out of superfast broadband north of the border, but has fallen behind on its own targets for delivery.
2. To ensure our fishermen and seafood producers benefit from the huge opportunities of leaving the EU and the CFP.
Frustration with the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) was one of the main reasons why many people in our coastal communities voted to leave the EU in 2016. I have been a champion for our fishing industry since I was elected in 2017. There is a huge opportunity for the sector from exiting the EU. Under Conservative policy, we will leave the CFP by December 2020 and become an independent coastal state. We will then negotiate annually on access and quotas – just like Norway, the Faroe Islands and Iceland. Business in the seafood sector across the north-east need the certainty of a negotiated deal with the EU. Thanks to the Prime Minister, we now have that deal in place – we just need to get it over the line.
3. To secure a new agricultural policy post-Brexit that is fairer and better suited to Scottish farmers.
Farming is vitally important in Banff and Buchan. At this election, the Conservative party has committed to continuing farm funding at its present level for the duration of the next parliament. That will provide some certainty to farmers as we leave the EU and set up a new system to replace the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP). The CAP is a one-size fits all scheme that does not take into account the different needs of farmers here in the north-east to those in the Mediterranean, for example. We now have a chance to devise a fairer system that better suits Scottish producers. This will help us to continue to grow our food and drink sector and expand into new markets around the world.
4. To fight against the centralisation of our local services and protect our GP surgeries, hospitals, police stations and ambulances.
Under the SNP government in Edinburgh, there has been a centralisation agenda that has led to an erosion of local services in areas like Banff and Buchan. During my time as MP, I have campaigned to help retain the opening hours at Minor Injury Units in Turriff and at Chalmers Hospital in Banff. I have also campaigned for improved ambulance services in Turriff. Response times are very slow here because the ambulances have to travel from Inverurie, Peterhead or Aberdeen. We also have a shortage of GPs – and an ageing workforce. More must be done to help train, attract and retain key workers like doctors and nurses in this area.
5. To stand firm against plans for a second independence referendum
The last thing Scotland needs right now is another referendum on independence. The Scottish people voted decisively to stay in the UK in 2014 in what was described as a ‘once in a generation’ vote and we should stick to that. A re-run of the poll would not only be costly (the last one cost £17m including £2m for the SNP’s white paper) but it would create more uncertainty for businesses and lead to unnecessary division. We need to look forward and focus on improving our public services like the NHS, growing our economy and creating more jobs.
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.
We need to act to protect land, infrastructure, property and even human life in light of recent floods and coastal erosion. A full assessment of potential damage under various climate change scenarios is necessary. This should include an assessment of the economic impact of climate change – for example, on fishing in the River Deveron, and the knock-on effect on tourism. This assessment must be followed by preventative action and a plan to adapt to the new reality. This will cost money: the Liberal Democrats have announced a £5 billion flood defence fund, which includes money for coastal defence.
Priority Two: Economic Stability and Access to Export Markets
Aberdeenshire’s farmers have suffered greatly from the bungled roll-out of CAP Futures. Uncertainty over our future relationship with the EU and other trading partners has caused further stress and frustration. The Canada-style trade deal now touted by Boris Johnson would introduce tariff and non-tariff barriers for agricultural exports, meaning more cost and more paperwork for farmers. More uncertainty and more bureaucracy is the last thing our farmers need. The Liberal Democrats would prefer to keep Britain within the European Union. If that outcome is not possible, we would fight for continued access to the single market, and to ensure that any imports meet the same high standards as those adhered to by our own farmers.
Priority Three: Infrastructure
The Scottish Liberal Democrats believe that the failure to invest in infrastructure has undermined economic productivity in rural areas. We have allocated an extra £130m for infrastructure improvements, including upgrades to rural roads. I would fight for some of this to be used to improve the A947. The installation of hyper-fast fiberoptic broadband has been promised, but is behind schedule. I would lobby for this to proceed at the earliest possible opportunity, since it is difficult to attract diverse businesses without modern infrastructure.
Priority Four: Local Services
The last few decades have seen a gradual loss of services such as banks and post offices in rural areas. In Turriff, the RBS has already closed. The TSB has reduced its hours – although it is not currently earmarked for closure, there are worries about the future. While it is understandable that banks want to conduct more of their business on-line, there are still occasions when residents need to talk to a ‘real person’ in a branch. Local services like banks and post offices also grease the wheels of the local economy. We must think of creative solutions to keep local services in our town centres, for example combining different services under one roof. We have also seen a loss of rural healthcare services, especially GPs – in recent years. This is largely a reflection of recruitment and retention issues within NHS Scotland – another issue on which I have been campaigning.
Priority Five: ‘Foodie Trail’
North East farmers and fishers grow and catch some of the most wonderful produce in Europe. At a time of increased interest in the environment and animal welfare, we have a good story to tell, since much of our produce is ethically and sustainably produced. I would like to see the best of North East Scotland food production showcased, helping tourists to find our produce by establishing a ‘Foodie Trail’ to run alongside the ‘Castle Trail’, the ‘Whisky Trail’ and the ‘Coastal Trail’.
What are your thoughts on people throughout the Banff & Buchan constituency having to use local food banks to allow them to eat?
wages, zero hours contracts and poor terms and conditions were also forcing people to use food banks is also shameful.
The imposition of austerity as a political choice, as has been admitted by both George Osborne and Philip Hammond, has done untold damage to the livelihoods of many and this election, if it is anything, is a chance to restore hope. Hope that through work we might improve our life chances and those of our children and that for our work we will receive a fair wage and work in fair conditions.
Labour will abolish Universal Credit and will work towards creating a fairer, more sensitive approach to social security. We cannot abolish this system overnight but will take immediate steps to ensure that people receive emergency payment prior to their allowance being settled. The Department of Work and Pensions with its ethos of harassment will be changed to the Department of Social Security charged with restoring the safety net that should make food banks a thing of the past. Let us also not forget that food banks are only available as a much needed support because very charitable people give generously to this cause. If food banks were not needed that community gifting could perhaps go to other local causes and not those those caused by the state choosing not to meet its responsibility.
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?
though some of the bridges swept away in the recent floods may not be repaired or it may not happen until 2030 in one case and 2021 in some of the other cases. It would seem as though the unfortunate recent events of local bridges being swept away has become linked with the wider issue of not keeping up with repairs with existing historic bridges. I could use this as a party political point scoring exercise against the Conservative led Aberdeenshire Council or the SNP Scottish government for their lack of funding. I feel, however, that this is about the voice of the community being heard and that organisations such as yours are important in ensuring that these issues are not forgotten about. The disruption caused by the continuing closures of these bridges must continually be brought to the attention of the leaders, both political and
administrative, of Aberdeenshire Council. The lack of resources is one that creates many difficulties for communities in that we are constantly told that “we can’t” due to lack of money or will. We need to change that to “we can”. On a wider note I experienced the flooding that day on my way home from my commute and unless we take flood prevention measures in future we will continue to experience incidents like this. Climate change will continue to make itself felt in many ways, some that may be quite difficult to foresee and some difficult to contend with. The local community can help by highlighting what it sees as problems and what the potential solutions might be. This requires the sometimes distant authorities to listen and learn.
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.
The Liberal Democrats also have robust plans to combat climate change by reducing carbon emissions, planting 60 million trees and promoting carbon capture and storage. However, we recognise that the effects of climate change are already upon us.
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?
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.
Many people who support the union can see that our system of government needs to be improved. A federal system of government would allow the views of all four Home Nations to be taken into account, which would improve policy-making overall. Moving away from our ‘winner takes all’ first-past-the-post electoral system would also ensure that more voices are taken into account in the policy-making process.
Most people on the doorsteps are telling me that, while arguments about independence and Brexit hog the limelight, other problems are not being talked about enough. Most of those problems I have already discussed above – rising poverty and inequality, issues around climate change preparedness, cuts to rural healthcare services, difficulties accessing further education, and poor public transport.
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?
“ …what a prospect that is. A single market without barriers—visible or invisible—giving you direct and unhindered access to the purchasing power of over 300 million of the world’s wealthiest and most prosperous people. Bigger than Japan. Bigger than the
United States. On your doorstep. And with the Channel Tunnel to give you direct access to it. It’s not a dream. It’s not a vision. It’s not some bureaucrat’s plan. It’s for real.”
And that politician?
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.
We have an important historical ‘special relationship’ with the USA; however, the challenges of negotiating a post-Brexit trade deal that fits with our values should not be underestimated. NHS services should not be part of any free trade deal with the USA, and we should also maintain current high animal welfare and food standards.
Our economic relationship with China is likely to become more turbulent in the future. Trade will continue, but closer alignment would be unwise.