As we look forward to Christmas at home and abroad, with family and with friends, we must never forget to think of those in our communities who may be struggling at this time of year.
Last week I visited the Edinburgh South East food bank, where I spoke to a number of volunteers who help to provide emergency food to local people in crisis. The items are donated by customers at supermarket collections, through churches, schools and various individual donations. This year has seen the opening of the Aberdeenshire North Foodbank at the Harlaw Centre in Inverurie. At this time of year, in particular, there is strong demand for the invaluable service that these centres provide. They are a lifeline in the most serious sense.
However, the fact that constituents and people across Scotland are having to rely upon food banks to feed their families in a country as prosperous as modern day Scotland is completely unacceptable.
The SNP Government has provided an additional £9.2 million to the Scottish Welfare Fund, giving local authorities capacity to award an extra 5,600 community care grants and more than 100,000 crisis grants this year to those in need.
It is troubling, but perhaps not surprising, that research has found that all food bank providers have identified Westminster welfare reform, benefit delays, benefit sanctions and falling incomes as the main factors driving this increase in families resorting to foodbanks.
The UK is one of the most unequal societies in the developed world, and Westminster’s economic agenda unfairly impacts upon the vulnerable. Meanwhile the UK Government is sitting on the results of long-delayed research into the growth of food banks, which I’m sure will paint a very telling picture indeed of the impact of their welfare reforms.
A vote for Scottish independence next September comes with the certainty that we will gain full control over our own welfare system. Only then will Scotland get the powers needed to guarantee protection for our most vulnerable families and groups in our communities.
SCOTTISH RENEWABLES REACH RECORD LEVELS
New figures published this last week show that Scotland’s renewable energy output has reached record levels, with renewables meeting 40.3 per cent of gross electricity consumption in 2012. This puts Scotland firmly on track to meet its interim target of 50 per cent consumption from renewable sources by 2015 and represents fantastic progress towards the Scottish Government’s target of meeting 100 per cent equivalent of Scotland’s electricity needs from renewables by 2020.
Figures also reveal that Scotland’s contribution made up 36 per cent of the renewable energy generation across the entire United Kingdom in 2012, with Scotland continuing to be a net exporter of electricity. Also, the most recent quarterly data for 2013 has shown that renewable generation for 2013 is set to exceed records set in 2012.
What these figures demonstrate is the Scottish Government’s commitment to renewable generation as a cleaner, greener solution to our energy requirements. This approach, in conjunction with measures to improve energy efficiency, will protect people in Scotland to keep their home energy bills down in the longer term.
HAPPY CHRISTMAS & A GUID NEW YEAR
2013 has undoubtedly been an exciting and extremely productive year for Aberdeenshire East and for Scottish politics.
With the White Paper on Scotland’s Future published in recent weeks we have a focal point for the year ahead – a prospectus for a confident independent nation. We know that Scotland can be a more successful country. We now need the tools for the job, to create a more prosperous and fairer society for the people who live here.
Scotland will play host to the world next year with the Commonwealth Games, the Ryder Cup and even the MTV Music Awards on our doorstep. A packed programme of Homecoming 2014 events will showcase the best of our nation throughout and we look forward to welcoming everyone to share this fantastic year with us.
A Merry Christmas to you and yours and all the very best for 2014.