with Alex Salmond, First Minister and MSP for Aberdeenshire East

Independence will rebalance UK economy

Though here in the North East we fare relatively well in terms of a buoyant local economy, low levels of unemployment and good prospects for our young people, Scotland is part of an increasingly imbalanced United Kingdom – with high social inequalities and growing regional disparities.

Scotland has contributed more in taxes, per person, than the rest of the UK for every single one of the last 30 years. There’s now no doubt, even in the eyes of our political opponents, that Scotland could be an independent country.

The question we will answer on 18th September is about whether we should be: a choice between two futures.

On Day 1 of independence, Scotland would be among the wealthiest nations in the OECD.

As it currently stands though, the UK has the highest levels of regional inequality of any country in the European Union.

The UK Government’s own Business Secretary, Vince Cable, recently called London “a kind of giant suction machine, draining the life out of the rest of the country”. Professor Tony Travers, of the London School of Economics, developed this metaphor further in describing London as “the dark star of the economy, inexorably sucking in resources, people and energy”.

There’s a growing realisation in these islands that make up the United Kingdom that wealth and opportunities are too concentrated, geographically and socially.

Westminster’s policies are working for too few and denying opportunities to too many. Britain is imbalanced.

If we seize the opportunity by voting Yes in September, our country will become independent in more promising circumstances than virtually any other nation in history.

After Scottish independence, the growth of a strong economic power in the north of these islands would benefit everyone – our closest neighbours in the north of England more than anyone.

There would be a “Northern Light” to redress the influence of the “dark star” – rebalancing the economic centre of gravity of these islands.

What we want to do is to build a better future; to use our natural and human resources to create a fairer more prosperous country.

The fundamental truth at the heart of the case for independence is that the best people to do that – those in a better position than anyone else to make decisions about Scotland’s future – are the people who choose to live and work in Scotland.

Selling Scotland to the World

I have written before in this column (at some length!) about the fantastic produce of the North East of Scotland – in my mind, amongst the very best to be found anywhere in the world.

The Scottish Government is developing a transformational new plan for a massive push on international exports, seeking to capitalise on the intensifying global demand for quality Scottish products.

The total value of overseas food and drink exports from Scotland has already increased by a staggering 52 per cent between 2007 and 2012, with exports of Scotch Whisky rocketing by 87 per cent over the last decade to £4.3 billion.

The opportunities are vast if we keep pace with this building momentum.

The new Scotland Food & Drink Export Plan, developed by the SNP government in close cooperation with the industry, will focus on 15 key export markets.

New opportunities are opening up for quality Scottish food and drink businesses almost everywhere you look around the world, and this significant government investment – £4.5 million – in partnership with the industry, will see the Scots brand continue to flourish.

The rewards for Scotland’s producers will be sizeable.

Progress on Inverurie Transport Hub

I was delighted to receive the news this week that the Office of Rail Regulation has confirmed its consent for the disposal of the disused freight yard at Inverurie by Network Rail to Aberdeenshire Council.

Recent figures released by the Regulator show that usage of Inverurie Station has increased by 12 per cent in just the last year and – quite remarkably – by 400 per cent over the last decade.

This is, in part, due to Inverurie’s growth but also an important indication of economic vibrancy in the town and surrounding area.

These figures underline a strong case for improving facilities at the station site and now, with the approval of the Office of Rail Regulation confirmed, I look forward to Aberdeenshire Council and Network Rail getting round the table at the earliest opportunity to move forward plans for an integrated transport hub with increased parking capacity.