It was really only a matter of time until a General Election was called.
Granted, it may seem strange to be holding one in the middle of December, but it is indicative of the unpredictable and unprecedented political climate that we currently find ourselves in.
Despite the government failing on Monday evening to secure an election through the Fixed Term Parliament Act, it remained inevitable that their Bill to hold a December election would be supported once it was clear that a ‘no-deal’ Brexit was off the table.
As for what happens now, it is anyone’s guess how the parliament, and indeed the government, looks going into Christmas. Until then, business at Holyrood will continue, although expect a bit more political ‘knockabout’ than usual for the duration of the campaign.
You can read more about the build up to the General Election on 12 December here. It’s also important to make sure that you are registered to vote, details of which can be found here. Information to apply for a postal vote can be found here.
Monday morning was an opportunity for me to catch up on emails and deal with some casework. From late morning onwards, I had meetings with constituents at the office and with Catherine Tullock from Orkney Alcohol Counselling and Advice Service (OACAS) about future funding of this important local service.
I also had a conference call with Head of Education at OIC, Peter Diamond, to discuss concerns arising from the planned closure of Peedie Breeks nursery. The remainder of the day was then spent back at my desk at the office to get ready for the parliamentary week ahead.
Unfortunately, Tuesday didn’t start according to plan as my flight to Edinburgh was cancelled. This gave me a chance to nip back to the constituency office to finish my Orcadian column before catching a later flight at midday. However, finishing the column early is not without its risks in the current political climate. Last-minute edits were still being made even after I landed in Edinburgh in a bid to limit the hostages to fortune. You can read my column here.
My cancelled flight meant that I unfortunately missed Justice Committee this week. The committee heard from Police Scotland on the Scottish Biometrics Commissioner Bill. You can read the Bill here, the minutes from the committee here and watch the full session here.
Luckily, my mad dash from airport allowed me to arrive just in time to ask the Topical Question I had successfully lodged. A report on Scotland’s prisons by the Council of Europe’s Committee for the Prevention of Torture revealed some shocking findings, not least in relation to female prisoners with mental health issues. I asked the Justice Secretary how the government plans to address the serious issues highlighted in the report. You can watch my question here, the full session here and read it here. You can also read the committee’s report here.
I then stayed in the chamber for the Ministerial Statement on promoting the safe and appropriate use of fireworks in Scotland. I welcomed the announcement of the establishment of a Firework Review Group and asked if councils will be given powers to decide if controls on the sale and use of fireworks are applied locally. You can watch my question here, the full statement here and read it here.
Afterwards, I made my way back to the office to go through my inbox and make the tweaks to my Orcadian column. I also had a brief meeting with parliament officials to discuss the budgets for various officeholders in my capacity as a member of the parliament’s Corporate Body.
In the evening, I attended a reception by City of Glasgow College to celebrate 50 years of a Nautical College on the Clyde. You can read more about the history of the college here.
Wednesday morning began with a meeting with Chris McCully from the Criminal Justice Voluntary Forum regarding the Justice Committee’s call for evidence as part of its Pre-Budget Scrutiny of the Draft Budget 2020/21. Mr McCully highlighted the integral part the third sector plays in delivering a wide range of services across the criminal justice system, but funding of these services has not kept pace with the additional demand and need for increased capacity. You can read more about the work of the Criminal Justice Voluntary Forum here.
I then met Tony Higgins from the World Footballers Association Supervisory Board. It was useful to talk through some of his ideas for improving policy and debate within the parliament from a professional football player’s perspective. You can read about the World Footballers Association here.
Following these meetings, I left parliament briefly to attend a Climate Change Roundtable at Edinburgh University, co-hosted by 2050 Climate Group and UN House Scotland, regarding the disproportionate impact that climate change has on developing countries such as Malawi. You can read more about the 2050 Climate Group here and UN House Scotland here.
I returned to parliament in time for the Ministerial Statement on the impact of the proposed new Brexit deal on Scotland. This coincided with publication of a report from the independent National Institute of Economic and Social Research estimating the cost to the UK economy of Boris Johnson’s Brexit deal to be around £70 billion by 2029. You can find out more about the NIESR report here and read the full report here. My colleague, Willie Rennie also pointed out the contradiction in the SNP arguing that the UK’s break up from the EU is bad, but that Scotland’s breakup from the UK would be good. You can watch the statement here, Willie Rennie’s response here and read it here.
The rest of the afternoon was mainly spent in my office catching up on casework, emails and making calls. I did, however, make time to take part in the annual Poppyscotland cycle challenge, which proved as competitive as ever with MSP colleagues. Despite my best efforts, I had to settle for second place to Willie Rennie, who proved that he is every bit as strong a cyclist as he is a runner.
Of course, the event aimed to highlight Poppyscotland’s work on behalf of our Armed Forces community and led on nicely to the annual reception at parliament that evening, which I was also delighted to attend. You can read more about Poppyscotland here and the cycle challenge here.
I also managed to stop by a drop-in event organised by SCVO to highlight the launch of their book to celebrate their 20 years of work at Holyrood and some of their achievements during this time. Changes to organ donation legislation and providing better support for those going through care are two successes that I have been particularly proud to have been involved in. You can read more about SCVO here, my further comments here and details about their book here.
Later that evening, I was pleased to attend the Scottish Fisherman’s Association Annual Dinner with representatives from the industry. It was also great to see Elspeth MacDonald address the dinner as the new Chief Executive of the Federation, following an outstanding 14 years of service by Bertie Armstrong. Elspeth becomes the first woman in the role and I wish her every success as she continues the great work done by Bertie and others before them. You can read more about the Scottish Fisherman’s Association here.
On Thursday, I took an early flight back to Orkney so that I could be present at a reception to mark formally the arrival of Pentland Ferries’ MV Alfred to Orkney. It was great to have a chance to look around the impressive new vessel, which makes its maiden voyage on the St Margaret’s Hope-Gill’s Bay route today (Friday) and will be fully operational from Sunday. The vessel has a significantly enhanced capacity but is also markedly more fuel-efficient than its predecessor and will be a real asset to the Orkney community. You can read about MV Alfred and my further comments here.
Unfortunately, being away from Holyrood meant that I was unable to attend First Minister’s questions this week, which was always bound to be fiery with an election around the corner. Jackson Carlow challenged the First Minister on SNP plans to push for a second independence referendum. Richard Leonard meanwhile focused on the NHS and criticism of the government for not doing enough to support staff or invest in healthcare. You can watch the full session of FMQs here and read it here.
I have mainly spent today in the constituency office, catching up on casework, making calls and replying to emails. This evening, I will be attending an Orkney Lib Dem Executive meeting.
This weekend, I hope to go along to the Crossroads Orkney Autumn Cream Tea Afternoon, which is celebrating the 25th anniversary of Crossroads Orkney. The charity has been a lifeline for so many unpaid carers across Orkney, providing valuable support and help, as well as short breaks and additional care. I felt it appropriate to lodge a motion in parliament this week to highlight the exceptional work of everyone involved at Crossroads Orkney over the years, which you can read here. You can learn more about Crossroads Orkney here and their celebratory event at the King Street Halls on Saturday here.
On Saturday evening, I will attending East United FC’s annual dinner at the Orkney Rugby Club. Having only played once this season, and conceded nine goals in the process, I’m rather surprised I have been invited at all!
I will also be attending the Kirkwall ‘Big BID Day Out’ on Sunday afternoon. Kirkwall BID works to promote, enhance and support local businesses, and their ‘Big BID Day Out’ is running all weekend with a variety of attractions on offer to everyone. The vintage carousel is set to be the main attraction this year and I’m looking forward to giving it a spin! You can read more about Kirkwall BID here and details of the event this weekend here.
The Film Focus Festival also began yesterday and is set to run over the next few weekends, with an impressive range of events taking place across 22 venues around Orkney. The festival has been very popular since its introduction only a couple of years ago and I’m sure that this year will prove to be another fantastic celebration of local film-making and culture. If you are keen to go along to an event, you can find the full programme here.
I will be visiting Barlinnie Prison along with colleagues from the Justice Committee on Tuesday, I have a briefing with Alupro on the proposed Deposit Return Scheme on Wednesday, I’ll be meeting the Environment Secretary on Thursday to discuss support for geese management in Orkney as well as attending the Justice sub committee on policing, and on Friday I will be at the Business in Parliament Conference but back in time for the Royal British Legion Remembrance Dinner in Kirkwall ahead of Remembrance Sunday.
As ever, my full diary is here while “This Week in the Scottish Parliament”, a weekly update from the Scottish Parliament, can be found here. You can also view motions that I have submitted to parliament this week here and questions that I have tabled here.