CONSERVATIVE MEP FOR SCOTLAND

Bright Future for the North East - On the trail in Aberdeen

Standing in Union Street, as the snow fell gently upon me, I was reminded of the pleasures of electioneering in Aberdeen in late April! It’s where I began my political career back in 2003 as candidate for the Holyrood seat of Aberdeen South. Seems just like yesterday to me, but when I point this out to my team, two of whom hail from the Granite City, they are quick to remind me that they were sitting their exams at the time.

25.04.2016.

Standing in Union Street, as the snow fell gently upon me, I was reminded of the pleasures of electioneering in Aberdeen in late April! It’s where I began my political career back in 2003 as candidate for the Holyrood seat of Aberdeen South. Seems just like yesterday to me, but when I point this out to my team, two of whom hail from the Granite City, they are quick to remind me that they were sitting their exams at the time.

I came to Aberdeen to work for the Scottish Fishermen’s Federation. Then as now the body is the voice of Scotland’s fishermen. Of all the jobs I have ever had (including the one I have now), the most challenging and the most stimulating was working for the fishermen of Scotland. In some ways, as a Scottish MEP who sits on the European Parliament’s Fisheries Committee, I feel I still do. With less shouting.

Despite the snow, the Conservatives of Aberdeen had gathered on Union Street. Amongst the gaggle were the three city candidates: Tom Mason, former councillor and JP, standing in Aberdeen Central; Liam Kerr, a lawyer standing in Aberdeen Donside; and Ross Thomson, councillor and graduate of Aberdeen University, standing in my old haunt of Aberdeen South.

When I stood back in 2003 the party was at a low ebb. Many of those braving the elements on Saturday could remember those days; flinty glares, crumpled leaflets, recommendations to ‘go forth and multiply,’ but not quite in those exact words. This time it was different. Despite the chill in the air the reception was warm.

We were joined on Union Street by the SNP, and an hour or so later by Labour. We were all pitching to the same folks, and to be frank the Conservatives were pitching well. Leaflet after leaflet was carried away. Many passers by declared they had already voted. Already voted Tory.

Oddly enough, having the SNP stall opposite made leafleting easier. You knew fine well if an Aberdonian declined a nationalist leaflet they were ready for a unionist one. By a margin of 3 to 1 (by my rough calculation) we were ahead. And for all the time that I was dodging the snow on Union Street, the Labour Party seemed involved in an intense discussion amongst themselves to which others were not invited.

The city and shire are going through tough times. Around 60,000 workers have been laid off in the past 6 months; glass tower blocks erected only 2 years ago at the height of the oil boom lie empty; the city that could claim ‘no recession here’ between 2008-2011, is suffering. The three City candidates discussed the challenges and each recognised the efforts of the UK Treasury cutting tax rates from 80% to 75% immediately, and backdated to January, while on newer fields it will be cut from 60% to 50% worth over £1.3bn over five years.  

It will make a difference, but as a geologist, I know that the North Sea is a mature hydrocarbon basin. Oil and gas recovery will become harder and more expensive, all of which is challenged by an oil price of around $45 per barrel. It won’t remain there for ever but it is clear the price will be volatile for the foreseeable future.

The UK Government is delivering £250m to Aberdeen as part of its City deal- a deal that was bid for and agreed before the Oil price crash. The Scottish Government are also involved, topping up the deal to the tune of £254m making the entire deal worth £504m. The money will, among other things, be invested in exploration, innovation and skills development and includes funding for an energy innovation centre and the expansion of Aberdeen harbour to help the city compete for oil and gas industry decommissioning work. It will also help exploit the remaining north sea oil reserves and develop better rail links and improvements to the A90 junction at Laurencekirk.

Aberdeen is a global hub for offshore and subsea exploration, for technology development experts and for petroleum research. Decommissioning the vast offshore structures will provide Aberdeen with revenue in the short to medium term. And if fracking ever becomes a reality in the UK, then those who make it happen will almost all hail from Aberdeen. Worth remembering that the mature phase of North Sea oil recovery - termed EOR in the jargon, Enhanced  Oil Recovery - deploys the technique of fracking on a daily basis

Tom, Liam and Ross were in agreement on one point, Aberdeen has always changed with times. Of the three city candidates, Tom has lived through more of the changes, but even Ross and Liam remember the closure of the fish harbour in 2006, the end of an era. A city that once depended upon herring and whaling, and lived through an oil boom, still looks to the sea for its future. Last December the Harbour Trust announced a £410m expansion. 

During these changing times, Aberdeen needs strong voices in the Parliament to fight against the ever-greater attempts to centralise all Scotland’s service providers within a few yards from the First Minister’s desk in Edinburgh.  Tom, Liam and Ross are strong of voice and passionate about the Granite City. Get them into Holyrood.