Let’s hear it for rural regions

One of the most important parts of my job as a Member of Parliament is to act as the SNP’s spokesperson at Westminster on environment, food and rural affairs.

It’s a wide portfolio, and a hugely enjoyable one.

This constituency is largely rural, so these policy areas are already close to my heart. I’m passionate about ensuring that all Scottish rural areas have a voice, and I’m told it was this passion which led to me being appointed to the role.

The brief covers very diverse areas.

Farming is a critical part of it, and I’ve spent a lot of time meeting stakeholders in this sector and getting up to speed on the main issues.

Other areas include mobile phone and broadband coverage – I’ve also just been appointed to chair an SNP group of MPs on this – as well as things like woodlands and food security.

And then there’s fishing. This is extremely important to our economy.

Scotland accounts for 80% by weight of all UK landings. As a sector, it’s worth £4.5billion to us, and employs nearly 46,000 people.

It’s not an easy way to earn a living.

At times boats still have to go out in dangerous conditions – there is still plenty of peril on the sea.

There is also the thorny and wasteful issue of quotas. Under the flawed Common Fisheries Policy, our boats are only allowed to catch so much and in some cases have to throw dead fish back into the water in a process known as discarding.

However, discards are reducing and careful management of stocks is increasing sustainability, with cod and haddock in particular doing well.

We now need to look at how to address the problem of fewer large boats using all the quota and instead spreading the allowance around more regions, which could eventually bring more fishing back to the Borders.

Most of the activity at present takes place in north-east Scotland, and I’m just back from a fact-finding trip to Peterhead. It involved an early morning visit to the fish market, meetings with leading representatives of the catching and processing sectors, and a look around a factory and aboard a pelagic fishing vessel.

It all really increased my understanding.

I’m a great believer in seeing things for myself – if you want to learn about a subject properly, then you need to talk to people face-to-face and hear about the issues, the challenges and the opportunities.

I’ve done the same in agriculture, visiting Borders farms and working closely with organisations such as NFU Scotland.

It’s helped me to make the case in parliament and with the United Kingdom Government for a better deal for our farming communities in areas such as the Common Agricultural Policy and Red Meat Levy.

This approach has worked well for me, and I’d like it to work for you too.

If you’d like me to learn more about your sector or work you do in the constituency, then please do get in touch. I’d be delighted to hear from you.