Local projects coming to fruition

A whole host of key Scottish Government infrastructure projects are set for completion over the next year. Capital investment in the North East of Scotland features particularly highly amongst a £1.5 billion package from the Scottish Government.

In particular, measures to remove the notorious A96 bottleneck at Inveramsay will be welcome news for those living in this area.

The works, which got underway before Christmas, will reroute the existing trunk road over the railway bridge, reducing journey times and improving road safety.

I began the campaign to sort out the Inveramsay Bridge while MSP for Gordon, and this mantle was taken up by Dennis Robertson following constituency boundary changes.

The scheme is set for completion in early 2016.

This year will also see construction completed on two brand new Schools for the Future in the Aberdeenshire towns of Ellon and Alford.

These state-of-the-art facilities will provide accessible and modern learning hubs for community use.

The new £36million Ellon Academy Community Campus is due to be completed by Autumn 2015 and will include a 1,200 capacity school, five lane swimming pool, outreach centre and community facilities.

Construction of a new footbridge across the River Ythan forms part of the Ellon scheme and will improve links with the town centre and safe pedestrian access for school pupils.

The North East forms the core of the Scottish Government’s investment programme over coming years. In the next few months alone we’ll see completion of the works at Inveramsay, removing a notorious bottleneck on the A96 once and for all – great news for people living along the A96 corridor and a huge boost for local business.

The new education facilities for Ellon are a fantastic investment in our young people locally.

Last week, I supported the Scottish Government’s bill to end the collection of historic Poll Tax debt.

As part of the Bill, the liability to pay the arrears in Scotland ended on February 1, 2015.

This was subject to, and has now received, final approval from Parliament.

The Scottish Government brought forward the bill to bring an end to collection of debts under the discredited tax, which was abolished in 1993 after only four years in operation in Scotland.

As part of the Stage 3 Debate on the Community Charge Debt Bill in the Scottish Parliament, I spoke of his long-standing opposition to the hated Poll Tax.

Last year, I criticised Aberdeenshire Council Leader Jim Gifford for his support of the continuation of the historic debt collection.

What moved me to do that was the enthusiasm being displayed by the Conservative leader of Aberdeenshire Council for continuing to collect this hated tax.

One, he seemed oblivious entirely that the pittance being collected by Aberdeenshire Council meant they were in the position that it was costing more to collect than was actually being collected.

He seemed unaware that much of the outstanding debt was an illusion and was owed by people who had never existed or had long since demised in the last 23 years.

And thirdly, he seemed totally unaware that the people who had paid the tax had probably paid it many times over because of the cumulative charges.

Democracy is a precious thing.

We had a 98% voter registration for the Scottish independence referendum with an 85% turn-out and that is so much more precious than any of the normal political arguments that take place in the chamber of the Scottish Parliament.

We should defend it at every available opportunity.

And if I have one criticism, it is of myself as First Minster. I should have brought forward this legislation years ago and I wish that I had.

Now that we have, I am delighted that is has become law and this iniquitous tax will be buried for good.