with Alex Salmond, First Minister and MSP for Aberdeenshire East

Last Monday I visited Turriff Academy to launch an educational grant scheme for Scotland’s secondary schools. £2000 will be made available for every secondary in the country to help meet the costs of trips to the historic sites of the Western Front. This fund forms a key part of the Scottish Government’s commemorations of the centenary of the First World War.

The sacrifice made by thousands of Scots from every community, including many from the North East, must never be forgotten. It is vital that we take the opportunity that the centenary of the First World War presents to help another generation understand the causes, consequences and horrors of that War and others since.

Too many of the soldiers sent to War from 1914 to 1918 were of similar age to the school pupils I spoke to at Turriff Academy last Monday.

The opportunity for young people to see the WWI battlefields, cemeteries and strategic sites, rather than just learning about them in the classroom, is one which can be a deeply moving and unforgettable experience. I suspect the impact of one visit is worth the equivalent of 100 classes in terms of impact and deepening understanding.

I know that many schools across Aberdeenshire already run trips to the battlefields of Belgium and France – Turriff Academy already runs an excellent programme of visits, with assistance from the local branch of the Royal British Legion Scotland. The additional £1million in funding will help to ensure that every school in Scotland gets the financial assistance to make such trips possible. The knowledge to be gained is invaluable.

Turra Market Relaunched

I recently had the great privilege to relaunch the Turra Market – Turriff’s monthly street market.

I was invited to kick off proceedings with the help of an enthusiastic Markethill School Choir and their excellent rendition of the Barnyards of Delgaty.

There was an excellent turnout and a great buzz around the town centre. I was hugely impressed by the range of local produce on offer and also the variety of local retailers taking part – who knew you could get a bamboo massage in Turra! It is vital that we keep our historic market towns as vibrant and attractive places to shop, but there is no room for complacency – people need good reasons to visit our town centres at a weekend. In the form of the relaunched Turra Market we have a very good reason indeed.

Scotland can more than afford to be independent

A key economic paper published last week has outlined our nation’s key economic strengths and the very strong case for our future as a successful independent country.

The document, “Scotland’s Economy: the case for independence” details our robust financial foundations, the diversity of our economy and our great assets – our people and our natural resources. The alternative future, continuing under Westminster, offers more of the same: economic mismanagement by the UK Government, rising inequality and lacklustre growth through lack of capital investment. The report’s focus is upon our potential for growth in a future where Scotland has its own economic decision-making powers.

The report highlights Scotland’s core economic strengths as:

+ Our strong financial position – Scotland has generated more tax per head than the UK for each of the last 30 years

+ A world class food and drink industry which continues to boom with recent annual turnover of £12.4 billion

+ Globally-recognised creative industries, with an annual turnover of £4.8 billion

+ £2.9 billion turnover in our world-leading life sciences sector

+ An oil and gas industry, which is experiencing record levels of investment, contributed £26 billion to Scotland’s GDP in 2011 and boosted the UK balance of payments by £40 billion.

+ Vast green energy reserves, with around 25% of Europe’s offshore potential for wind and tidal generation

+ A tourism industry which employs 200,000 people

+ Our manufacturing sector, which exported £14.7billion in 2011.

The paper concludes that Scotland has ample resources to become a wealthier and fairer nation with the full powers that independence would bring.