Not the BBC programme, but a panel discussion organised by Labour’s candidate for Portlethen in next May’s local elections, Alison Evison. Chaired by UNISON’s Sarah Duncan, it provided a good insight into people’s concerns as well as showing that Labour is on their side.
On the panel was Richard Baker, MSP and Lewis MacDonald MSP, both representing North East Scotland as well as Anne Begg, MP for Aberdeen South and a face new to me, Frank Doran, MP for Aberdeen North. The subjects thrown at them from the audience including questions on Housing, Transport, Youth employment and Renewable energy.
Local residents expressed concerns around the new housing development at Elswick. This project, which in its first stage will involve over 4,000 houses being built, has caused much concern locally, especially about the ability of the current medical and school facilities to cope. It appears that the developer does not have to provide such facilities until the project is complete. There was also concerns about transport links – including a flyover into Portlethen which seems to have been sprung onto people at the last minute.
That brought us onto the much discussed Aberdeen Western Peripheral Route. While I am generally against building new roads, it seems that this particular road is not only much needed, but long overdue. The current congestion on travelling into Aberdeen shows that traffic for the north and beyond Aberdeen has to be routed away from the current road which was never designed for the volumes it is taking. The plans were well advanced but the current Government in Edinburgh has been slow in pushing it forward. Despite the fact that the tender wont be let for another 18 months, already over £100m has been spent, and the final cost will be even higher than the estimated £300m.
Of course, the scheme should not be progressed without an improvement in public transport, and the audience were clearly eager for better bus links, and extra train services from Portlethen station. It currently receives only a handful of trains a day, and the times of them do not allow users to make good use of them. However, the panel supported the Aberdeen Crossrail proposals. This would provide a half-hourly service linking Stonehaven, Portlethen, a new station at Newtonhill with Aberdeen and stations to the north, including Dyce for the airport. Yet again, this has been put on ice by the SNP government, despite the fact that every rail scheme in Scotland, such as the new station at Laurencekirk, or the line to Alloa, have massively exceeded expectations in passenger numbers.
Youth employment, and the lack of opportunities for youngsters also featured prominently. One audience member seemed to think that some young people were unwilling to work. Anne Begg put them right, however, citing the effect of Labour’s New Deal for young people in 1998. When this was introduced, virtually every unemployed youth found employment, and went onto to achieve great things. Very few were unwilling to find work. As Anne said, they’ve got to be the jobs there in the first place, and anyone would lead a life involving sitting around all day if there was nothing better on offer.
After a question on renewable energy (I wonder who could have asked that!), we wound up with a question on making the economic case for Independence. The consensus was that it wasn’t really about the economics. Scots really get the best of both worlds, being able to be Scottish when it suits them (including when exporting to other countries) while being able to benefit from being British too. Richard Baker talked about the immense contributions that Scots have made, not only in engineering but also in economics and poetry and politics, which wouldn’t have been possible if Scotland had been on its own.
And so ended a very interesting evening, which showed to me, at least, that there are plenty of issues where Labour has lots to offer the residents of Portlethen, and indeed Aberdeenshire as a whole. And in Alison Evison, Labour has an excellent candidate to represent the people of Portlethen.