Guest Editorial: David Stewart MSP

David Stewart is a Labour MSP for Highlands & Islands, which includes Moray – today he writes his first article exclusively for insideMoray in the second of a monthly series penned by Moray’s parliamentary representatives…..

David Stewart MSP

By way of introduction I will just mention that for the last eight years I have been an MSP for the Highlands & Islands, which includes Moray and Argyll and Bute.

Prior to this I was Assistant Director at the Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations (SCVO) based in Inverness and prior to that I was the MP for Inverness East, Nairn and Lochaber.

Up until recently I was Convener of the Petitions Committee and I was also a member of the Holyrood Corporate Body, the body that basically looks after the general running of the Parliament.

Since Jim Murphy has taken over the Leader role for Scottish Labour I have been working as the Shadow Minister for Transport and Islands.

Transport is an area that I am passionate about as it is a priority issue for the economic growth of our area. We depend on strong transport links for business and recreational activities. I am keen to ensure that we have the best connectivity we can have particularly in the Highlands, Islands and Moray.

We need to get to a position where someone on a train from Wick or Elgin to Inverness can be sure in the knowledge that they will get an onward connection to say Glasgow or Edinburgh. We have to make sure that our public transport system is all joined up and the people within our communities are provided with the best service possible.

In relation to these issues, I have regular meetings within the Parliament and also across Highlands, Islands and Moray with Local Authorities, those engaged in the travel business, industry leaders and organisations such as HITrans.

In relation to Air travel we introduced the Air Discount Scheme (ADS) which the EU approved on May 11 2006.  A review of the scheme found that most stakeholders agreed that the ADS has had a positive impact on businesses and commercial inclusion as it enables them to reduce their travel budgets and journey times.

Another area we have looked at was getting some freight transferred from Road to rail.  Some years ago I entered into discussion with the Police and Tesco to encourage Tesco to utilise rail instead of road for the transport of goods.

Tesco agreed and they ultimately reduced the number of HGV’s on the A9 at that time by 22. Work is on going to see if we can get more of the whisky industry to make better use of rail, to transport goods to and from distilleries. More recently I worked with a local HGV driver as we campaigned successfully for the increase in speed for HGV’s on the A9 from 40mph to 50mph. I firmly believe that if we can reduce frustration on our roads we can make them safer.

Key to good connectivity is a good transport infrastructure. We need roads fit for the 21st century, good rail links and also opportunities afforded by air travel. Allied to these elements we also need a fleet of good efficient ferries, so as you can see there are many challenges and difficult areas to negotiate ahead.

Road Safety Issues

In relation to this portfolio I have been active over the last five years primarily in relation to road safety related issues. I have been campaigning with my team for the UK Government to pilot a form of Graduated Driving Licence Scheme (GDLS) in Scotland.

I appreciate that not everyone would be happy with this proposal and I highlight young drivers in particular. Many young drivers feel that the graduated licence scheme would be a hindrance to them, would put a blocker on their social life and would curtail their employment prospects, but this would not be the case. For example I am proposing that a GDL is piloted in Scotland.

There is a 12 month learner stage at 17 years,100 hours daytime and 20 hours night time driving with details kept in a log book during this period. Once you complete the above you sit theory & practical and at 18 start a probationary period when you can drive unaccompanied. The probationary period is 12 month and you display a green ‘P’ plate on your car.

There is no night time driving between 10pm and 5am (although there can be exemptions eg. If you have a passenger over 30 years with you, or going to and from work and you have no passengers under 30 years with you) and there is a zero alcohol limit.

The benefit to the young driver is greatly reduced insurance and to us all as road users is the knowledge that up to 22 lives could be save per year and up to £890 million to the Scottish economy.

My colleague Rhoda Grant MSP and I are keen to visit Moray as often as we can. However, we acknowledge that this may not be as often as we would wish given the large geographic area we have to cover.

Action in Moray

Our recent activity which includes or relates to Moray, is the setting up of the anti bullying site Tobie, our Teen Driver Agreement form – a contract is agreed by parents and teen drivers as to what is expected of them.

We also have recently supported the efforts of the Board of Moray Hydrotherapy Pool secure continued funding, we have written to the DVLA, the Minister for Transport, the Mobility Assessment Centres and NHS Lothian about the farcical situation where drivers requiring a driving assessment after medical illness have to travel to Scotland’s only assessment centre in Edinburgh and we have also challenged the Government to do more to assist Moray Council fill the 70 teacher vacancies.

I have run out of space for this month, but if any constituent(s) would like to make contact with me they can do so via my Email or by phoning my Inverness office on 01463 716299.

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