Only 25 votes from disaster for Prime Minister Blair.
After a wide ranging debate SNP & Plaid MPs nearly pulled it off.
But the real test will be the Scottish Parliament elections in May 2007.
Commenting Mr Stevenson said:
"While Government Ministers bluster on about their pet projects, the fact remains that youth crime has continually gone up under Labour and the Lib Dems.
"We need real action to tackle the scourge of crime in our communities, not more of the same old failures proposed by Mr McConnell's tired and failing government.
"Only the SNP can beat Labour at next year's elections and offer a fresh alternative to the failed policies of Labour and the Liberal Democrats which will give real protection to our communities."
Research has revealed that fewer than 4% of heroin addicts who are given methadone are drug-free less than three years after beginning treatment. Yet almost 30% of addicts who underwent treatment at a residential rehabilitation centre became drug-free over a similar period.
The new research has re-ignited the row over the effectiveness of the multi-million-pound methadone programme in Scotland. While advocates say it helps to stabilise addicts, reduce crime and prevent deaths, critics warn that it is failing to help addicts come off drugs.
Currently only one in 50 heroin users who wants to beat the addiction is offered a residential rehabilitation place, which can cost more than £400 a week and offers intense detoxification programmes. More than 20,000 people in Scotland are prescribed methadone as a means to wean them off heroin.
Figures released earlier this month show that at the end of March this year more than 800 people were waiting for rehabilitation treatment on the NHS, with more than 250 having waited over a year for help.
Opposition politicians yesterday called for more investment in residential rehabilitation services in Scotland in the wake of the new findings.... ... ...
Scottish Nationalist drugs spokesman Stewart Stevenson MSP said: “We know addicts want to get clean, and methadone can be a useful temporary stopgap to get people stable before they enter programmes that will get them clean.
“But we are using methadone for far too many addicts as a long-term way of managing their condition. We simply need more residential places and we need to get people into them quicker.”
The study, entitled Abstinence And Drug Abuse Treatment: Results From The Drug Outcome Research In Scotland, found that of 695 Scottish drug users who entered treatment for heroin addiction in 2001, only 3.4% of those who had been given methadone were drug-free 33 months later.
However, those who had entered residential rehabilitation programmes were significantly more successful, with 29.4% drug-free after the same time.
The study, carried out by academics from the University of Glasgow and Oxford Brookes University, will be published in the journal Drugs: Education, Prevention And Policy next month.
Lead author Professor Neil McKeg aney told the Sunday Herald that when the results of his study were compared to success rates south of the Border for methadone programmes, “the Scottish services aren’t achieving anywhere near the English services.”
Similar research carried out in England shows that almost 25% of addicts who are given methadone are drug-free after two years.
McKeganey said: “It is absolutely essential that we understand why it is that Scottish methadone services are achieving such a low rate compared to the English ones.
“It may well be ... that services have not really been thinking in terms of getting addicts off drugs, they have been thinking first and foremost about getting them stabilised on drugs.”
He emphasised that the vast majority of addicts coming forward for treatment want to be drug-free rather than take a substitute such as methadone, and questioned why public health officials have doggedly stuck to methadone treatment programmes when residential rehabilitation offers addicts a higher chance of becoming drug-free.
“I think we have to make absolutely sure that where addicts are receiving methadone in Scotland it is a prescription that is of clear therapeutic benefit for them ... if it isn’t helping them to become drug-free, then there is not a lot of point in continuing it.”
He called for more provision of residential services for drug addicts in Scotland, and for an inquiry into why the methadone programme is failing so badly. “It happens that the service we provide least frequently in Scotland is residential rehabilitation, and I think it is absolutely right that we now critically assess whether we ought to be providing more services of that kind,” he said. “It is going to be necessary to ask some pretty searching questions about the methadone programme as to who actually is benefiting from it.”
However, the research sparked a fiery response from the Scottish Executive, which said it was time to end the “unhelpful obsession” of trying to prove which approach is best. A spokeswoman for the justice department said it had spent £66.7 million in the past financial year on tackling drugs problems, including investment in residential detoxification and rehabilitation.
“Methadone prescribing is just one option – an option that allows people to stabilise their lives long enough to think about the next stage of their journey away from drugs,” she said. “There is no clear evidence that residential services achieve better outcomes generally than community-based services.
“Studies that do show better outcomes are not comparing like with like. ”
McKeganey hit back at the Executive’s response. He claimed its position was a “staggering reaction to a solid piece of research”.
“Clearly you are much better planning your services on the basis of what is effective, and the results of this research clearly shows that residential rehabilitation is successful,” he said.
“I think addicts and their families would expect the Executive to try and find the best treatment and encourage researchers to find out what works and what is effective.”
... ... ...
Two dozen children were charged with rape, including two nine-year-olds and a 10-year-old. Eleven eight-year-olds were charged with sexual assault and lewd and libidinous behaviour.
Publication of the figures by Scotland’s eight police forces has led to calls for the DNA of children who are charged with a sexual offence to be collected for the first time. Some child psychologists warn that, because of underreporting, the figures may be only the tip of the iceberg. One blamed rap artists such as Eminem and 50 Cent for “dehumanising” women in their lyrics.
“If male role models are sexually thuggish, then boys are hardly learning to court a girl in the way it should be done,” said Professor Vince Egan, a forensic psychologist at Glasgow Caledonian University.
Of the 262 children aged 14 and under charged with serious sexual offences, lewd and libidinous behaviour — including exposure, inappropriate physical contact and the taking of indecent photos — accounted for the largest number, at 120. Almost 80 children were accused of indecent assault and about 20 with public indecency.
Last week, a boy aged 14 appeared at Kilmarnock sheriff court charged with the rape of a six-year-old girl. In January, a boy aged 12 was charged with raping an 11-year-old girl who was attacked near her home in Coatbridge, Lanarkshire.
... ... ...
Stewart Stevenson, deputy justice spokesman for the Scottish National party, said: “I am quite disturbed to hear that so many youngsters have been charged with sexual offences. This shows you don’t have to be an adult to be a sexual predator and I think we need to consider retaining DNA profiles of offenders regardless of whether the case goes to court.”
DNA samples are only taken from young offenders prosecuted in a criminal court, which account for less than 1% of serious sexual offences committed by juveniles.
The majority are handled by the Scottish Children’s Reporter Administration, and there are concerns that the system is so clogged up with persistent offenders that potentially dangerous sexual predators are slipping through the net.
“It is concerning to see this number of young people being charged with such offences,” said Peter Wilson, chief constable of Fife constabulary. “We are seeing an increasing number of young people involved in crime of all sorts, including those of a sexual nature. The challenge is how to tackle this, which is something we are addressing.”
Dr Jack Boyle, a leading Glasgow-based child psychologist, accused some parents of allowing impressionable youngsters to watch graphic images on television.
...click for original story... Sunday Times
Banff and Buchan MSP, Stewart Stevenson, who has campaigned with the Prison Officers Partners and other community groups to save Peterhead Prison revealed that a proposal is being developed to address the need for new prison facilities in the North-East.
Speaking from his constituency today Stevenson said:
"The Scottish Prison Service have confirmed to me that early work is underway to respond to the consultation on North-East prisons.
"When the input from the new Criminal Justice Authorities is available later this year, the final piece in the jigsaw will be in place.
"The delays have been considerable and unsettling for all concerned so today's news is very welcome.
"But the planning now being undertaken must be translated quickly into a funded committment to prison places in new premises. I have been assured that should no decision be made by this government, a proposal will be waiting for a new minister after the May 2007 election.
"People in the North-East know how hard the SNP have campaigned on this subject. They can be sure of a rapid response from an SNP Justice Minister next year.
"But a decision before the election by the present government can end this unnecessary delay. This is a key test of the Labour-Lib Dem government's committment to the criminal justice system and to the prison service staff employed in our area."
Banff & Buchan MSP Stewart Stevenson has welcomed the publication of a report by Postcomm, the independent regulator for postal services, which calls on the Government to decide what it wants the future Post Office network to look like, in the face of continued piecemeal branch closures.
Mr Stevenson said:
“This report is welcome not least because it confirms many of the points my colleagues and I have been raising about the future of the Post Office network.
“The fact is that the Post Office as a business simply is not making money. Last year it lost £111 million in spite of the Government’s subsidy to rural post offices of £150 million. These are massive figures and point to a very uncertain future for the network.
“The Government has to take its share of the blame. The Post Office lost £168 million in revenue from government transactions last year, as the DWP and DVLA withdraw services from Post Offices. This sum is more than the Post Office's entire loss.
“In particular the report draws attention to what the Government terms the “social network” of Post Offices in rural areas and deprived urban areas. These are Post Offices which it allegedly recognises as having significance over and above their potential for generating cashflow.
“Nobody who lives in a rural area would question the importance of their Post Office as a community resource. Unfortunately, I am not convinced that the Government feel the same way, given the death by a thousand cuts which has been inflicted on them.
“As the report states, the Government has to decide what it wants from the Post Office network and it has to do so quickly, while there is still a network worth the name. If it does indeed accept that rural Post Offices have a social function as important as their financial function, then it must be prepared to support them.”
Banffshire MSP Stewart Stevenson told the SNP’s Annual Conference in Perth last week of the Boyndie Windfarm Co-operative and held it up as an example of good practice in windfarm developments.
The MSP was speaking during a debate on ‘Community Benefit from Windfarms’. Mr Stevenson told assembled delagates:
“Many communities are quite understandably apprehensive when a windfarm is mooted in their vicinity. Generally speaking, offshore windpower is far preferable to vast acres of turbines covering our hills because it is so much more efficient.
“However, there is certainly a place for smaller developments such as that at Boyndie and I believe it is a model of how local communities should be engaged and involved in the process right from the very start. Often, the alternative developments which may take place on brownfield sites such as Boyndie ‘Drome are much less attractive.
“The empowerment of the local community both in terms of the co-operative and the level of consultation and co-operation during the planning phase was handled extremely sensitively and ensured that the community felt a part of the development from day one.”
Local SNP MSP Stewart Stevenson today welcomed the commitment from Aberdeenshire Council roads department that a survey of traffic speed will be carried out on the A947 at the Howe of Gellymill.
Mr Stevenson raised the matter of road safety on the stretch of road after being contacted by concerned constituents following a recent fatal accident there. Now, Aberdeenshire Council has written to the MSP advising that traffic speed is indeed a concern and a speed survey will be carried out in the next few weeks.
Welcoming the news, Mr Stevenson said:
“It became clear to me that many local residents were concerned at the speed of traffic on this stretch of road and these concerns are shared by local roads officials.
“I very much welcome the council’s stance on this issue and, indeed, had it not been for some mindless act of vandalism to the roadside monitoring equipment, the traffic survey which the council have promised would already be underway.
“I find it incomprehensible that anyone would damage a piece of equipment which is there to make the road safer for drivers and pedestrians alike and I would urge anyone with information on this to contact the police.
“I look forward to the survey being carried out soon which I trust will allow safety measures to be introduced thereafter.”
Banff & Buchan MSP Stewart Stevenson is urging constituents to ‘watch their backs’ during BackCare Awareness Week.
The week is organised by BackCare, the charity for healthier backs and aims to raise awareness about back pain. According to the charity, two out of five adults will experience back pain in the next 12 months costing the UK £6bn in benefits and treatments each year.
Commenting, Mr Stevenson said:
“I am urging constituents of all ages to ‘watch their backs’. This campaign raises awareness about back pain and how even children are affected by it. According to a BackCare survey, 80% of children carry too much weight in the wrong type of school bag.
“In addition, the charity is trying to make sure that people at work are aware about ways to ensure their backs are kept healthy.
“This is a really worthwhile cause and because so many people suffer from back pain and because there are many preventative techniques out there, I congratulate BackCare on their awareness raising campaign.”
Local MSP Stewart Stevenson urged primary schools across Banff & Buchan to take advantage of the Ordinance Survey’s free maps for 11-year-olds programme.
The scheme offers a map from the Explorer series to every primary seven pupil in Scotland. The map that is offered to each pupil is the particular edition which covers the area of their school. Local primary schools have until the end of October to apply, with the actual delivery of maps planned to take place before Christmas.
Mr Stevenson said:
“The OS maps for 11-year-olds programme is an excellent idea which can be very helpful in teaching children more about their local area, particularly about places and things of interest which they might otherwise pass by without noticing.
“The closing date for applications is Tuesday 31st October and schools can apply to the Ordinance Survey at Romsey Road, Southampton, SO16 4GU or by telephoning 08456 05 05 05.
“I believe that the scheme is an important aid in engendering a sense of pride in children about where they come from and I hope as many schools as are able will take up the offer of free maps.”
Local SNP MSP Stewart Stevenson has welcomed the publication of a report by the postal services watchdog Postwatch into the social and economic significance of Post Offices in rural Scotland.
The future of the rural post office network is under threat as the Government considers this autumn whether to continue to pay the £150 million a year subsidy needed in order to operate a rural post office network.
Mr Stevenson said:
“This report selected some of the most rural areas in Scotland to study, and reached some valuable conclusions. Most importantly the study concluded that the benefits of rural post offices to isolated communities far outweighed the cost of running them.
“Unfortunately this fact does not make rural branches profitable in commercial terms to the Post Office, which is still left with a serious problem of supporting a network that requires massive government subsidy, the future of which is by no means clear.
“The study also found that above and beyond the post office’s official roles such as sending parcels and administering benefits, post offices in rural locations have an important unofficial role as the centre of a community both as an institution and as place for social interaction.
“I believe this is the first time that these social functions have been officially recognised, and I am glad it has happened.
“The rural post office network faces a very uncertain future. Many rural post offices have already succumbed to the death by a thousand cuts that has been the slow erosion of the services the government will allow them to provide.
“I feel that it would be a false economy for the Government to drop its requirement for a rural post office network, and saves £150 million a year in subsidy money by doing so. In UK terms, this is a small price to pay to support what is effectively the foundation of many rural communities.”
Local MSP Stewart Stevenson will be ‘in the hot seat’ on Monday 10 October between 9.15am and 11.45pm when he answers questions from pupils at Pitfour School, Mintlaw.
The MSP will be visiting Primaries 5, 6 and 7 as part of a number of school visits he will be undertaking. Said Mr Stevenson:
“I always enjoy visiting schools in my constituency and the pupils always manage to think up some fairly searching questions so I will need to be on good form.
“In addition, I have hosted a number of school visits to the Scottish Parliament and I am always delighted to welcome constituents to Holyrood. If any school is interested in paying a visit then I would be pleased to help arrange this.#
A new Scottish film highlighting the personal cost of this upheaval will be screened for the first time in Scotland this week after winning plaudits at the Toronto Film Festival.
In True North, Gary Lewis plays a trawler skipper facing financial ruin and the loss of his boat. His son, played by Martin Compston, who was in Ken Loach's film Sweet Sixteen, and his first mate, played by Peter Mullan, try to put things right by agreeing to smuggle 20 Chinese workers across the North Sea to Britain from Belgium.
The scheme leads to tragedy, but it is the plight faced by the main characters that strikes a chord. Written and directed by Steve Hudson, the film is in the running for a Scottish Bafta.
'It is bang up to date. You could write the script tomorrow,' said Lewis. 'You feel the fishermen are under siege because they are losing money, whatever they do or however hard they work.
'What struck me most was how emotionally connected these men are to their boats. That isn't some poetic abstract for them. I spoke to one skipper and he talked about launching his trawler in the way a father might talk about the birth of his son. It's that strong a feeling.'
Glasgow-born Lewis, who has played tough, uncompromising working-class men in films such as Billy Elliot and Martin Scorsese's Gangs of New York, was amazed by the physical demands fishermen are under.
'I only spent a day on a fishing boat, but having done that I can appreciate just what hard graft it is,' he said. 'It struck me they are the one industry where the workers are never alienated from their product. They are involved at every stage, from kitting the boat out, paying for the boat, catching and gutting the fish, landing it and selling it in the market. No wonder there's such a strong attachment to the job.
'Obviously there are issues about over-fishing, and I accept there has to be some monitoring and control, but the cost to some of these people is high. What my character and his son in True North do is down to a need for raw survival.'
Many fishing communities are fighting for that sort of survival in real-life in north-east Scotland. To meet EU white fish quotas, around 1,000 boats have been decommissioned and as many as 5,000 fishermen forced out of the industry. Coastal communities such as Peterhead and Fraserburgh have changed for ever.
'It's not just the fishermen who are affected. We've lost many businesses too, including butchers who specialised in supplying the boats,' said the area's MSP, Stewart Stevenson, of the SNP.
He gives limited support to a Scottish Executive-led action plan announced last week to develop the industry north of the border. The measures will include new marketing, processing and catching initiatives involving everyone from the fishermen themselves to retailers such as Marks & Spencer.
'It is doing something worthwhile but it could go further,' Stevenson said. 'It's meant to show the fish are coming from sustainable stocks - but they could also look to identify actual trawlers where the fish are sourced.'
The real issue, he and his party claim, is that Scotland's interests are not properly represented by a UK government which does not consider fishing a priority. As a result, the Scottish share of European fishing rights is smaller than it should be.
Morag Ritchie, one of the so-called Fraserburgh fishwives who spearheaded the Cod Crusaders, a high-profile campaign against decommissioning and for Britain to free itself from the Common Fisheries Policy, says they have been defeated. Despite raising a petition with more than 250,000 signatures, including that of Sean Connery, the Westminster government confirmed last month that it will not consider ending Britain's part in the policy.
'The fleet is far smaller now and the boats that have survived have seen an increase in prices this year, and that's helped them,' Ritchie said. 'But they are still fighting all the time - against increased fuel costs and the quota system. The fishermen don't agree with the scientists who say fish stocks are low. They know it's better than it has been in decades.'
The emotional bond fishing people have with the sea is strong. 'Your crew is like part of your family. These men work together, eat together and sleep together. Once they are on shore they socialise together. These are very close knit communities.
'Most Scottish boats are family-owned and are named after personal things and people, your children for example. The transition for some of the fishermen has been extremely difficult - it's led to many families breaking up. The fishermen are used to being at sea. If they are stuck at home they don't know what to do. They haven't got hobbies.'
Some take to drink and drugs. The use of heroin in some of these communities is said to be high, though Ritchie insists that Fraserburgh's problem is no worse than that in other small towns.
The real tragedy is that traditions are being lost, she said. 'Boys who thought they would skipper their father's boat are now looking elsewhere for jobs, many of them on the oil [rigs]. Families are moving out, and in Fraserburgh we are getting a lot of immigrants, people from eastern Europe. Things are changing.'
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