Well, since the last parliamentary term ended, the country has changed Prime Minister, Beatrice Wishart has become Shetland’s first female parliamentarian and Sanday almost pulled off a fairytale finish in an exciting and memorable Parish Cup run. Whoever thought that summer recess would be quiet?
In amongst all that, there were the more familiar parts of the summer recess, including constituency surgeries and visits to most of the isles, and attending the various agricultural and industrial shows. While it offered a welcome opportunity to spend time at home and around Orkney, I was still writing to Ministers, tabling questions and lodging motions on a range of issues. You can read about my work on the news link on my website here.
I also spent time in Shetland, helping my good friend Beatrice Wishart get elected as Shetland’s MSP, following Tavish Scott’s decision to stand down after 20 years to take up a role with the Scottish Rugby Union. Beatrice will be an excellent MSP and I look forward to working with her over the coming months on a range of issues that are important to communities across the Northern Isles. You can read more about the election result here.
Needless to say, there were a few weary bodies returning to Holyrood for the start of the new parliamentary session. With Boris Johnson threatening to prorogue parliament, a ‘no deal’ Brexit looming ever larger and a potential General Election round the corner, there was much to ponder as business at Holyrood got back underway this week.
Monday began with a planning meeting of the Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body (SPCB), looking at various issues likely to arise over the session ahead. The SPCB makes decisions on various aspects of the daily running of parliament, helping it to run effectively. You can read more about the group here.
I then caught a train from Waverley station and enjoyed a scenic journey to the Scottish Borders to catch the end of the Justice Committee’s planning day. As well as visiting Relationship Scotland’s contact centre in Gala, we met two family law specialists over dinner to discuss the government’s forthcoming Family Law bill. You can read more about the visit here.
On Tuesday morning, Liberal Democrat colleagues were delighted to formally welcome Beatrice Wishart to Holyrood, after which she was officially sworn in as Shetland’s new MSP. You can read more about it here. I then spent much of the morning going through emails and casework in the office.
Despite eyes mainly being on what was happening at Westminster, business resumed as usual at Holyrood with the First Minister outlining her government’s legislative programme for the year ahead. While it was welcome to hear the First Minister highlight the importance of tackling the climate emergency, there was no getting away from the fact that independence, and the forthcoming indyref2 bill, was uppermost in her mind. Notably, after all the promises made in Shetland over recent weeks, there was no mention of improvements to our lifeline ferry services. You can read the First Minister’s statement in full here and watch it here.
There was then a statement from the Finance Secretary on Ferguson Marine Shipyard, following last month’s decision by the Scottish Government to ‘nationalise’ the yard, more details of which you can read about here. You can read the Minister’s statement here and watch it here. I have already written to the Minister to seek assurances from him that these developments will not impact on the HYSEAS II project aimed at delivering hydrogen ferries for Orkney. You can read more about this here.
Afterwards, Beatrice and I had a phone call with the Chief Constable about funding for the Orkney and Shetland Drugs Dogs. It was a very constructive discussion ahead of a meeting with the Justice Secretary, Humza Yousaf, next week to discuss long term funding for these vital services can be secured. You can learn more about Orkney Drugs Dog here.
I then attended the Apex Scotland Annual Lecture, delivered this year by Lord Justice Clerk, Lady Dorrian, Scotland’s most senior female judge ever. Her talk was about sentencing guidelines and how our prison system can move towards a more rehabilitative model at a time of increasing demands on our prisons was very thought-provoking. You can find out more about Apex Scotland here and the Annual Lecture here.
Wednesday began with an early meeting with Neil Doncaster and colleagues from the Scottish Professional Football League, to discuss my concerns about the failure by the SPFL and Scottish Government to publish data, collected over the past two years on sectarian incidents at football matches in Scotland, in defiance of the recommendation of the government’s independent adviser on sectarianism, Prof Morrow. You can read more about this here.
This was then followed by a meeting with Martin Smith, from the University of St Andrews, regarding the Hydrogen Hyseas Ferry Project. Given the concerns that have arisen from the recent nationalisation of Fergusons Shipyard, and the potential impact this could have on the project, this was a very timely meeting. You can read more about the project here.
I had some time over lunch to work on my speech for later in the afternoon, before attending the regular meeting with my Lib Dem MSP colleagues.
The afternoon debate focused on the First Minister’s programme for government. I was given the opportunity to speak in the debate, where I set out the areas that I believe the government should be prioritising. I began by reiterating my surprise at the lack of any mention of improvements for lifeline ferry and air services to the Northern Isles, given SNP promises during the recent byelection and you can read my full comments here. I then focused on the need for urgent action to address crises in both Scotland’s spiralling prison population and a rate of drugs deaths that is the highest in the developed world, You can read my contribution here and watch it here. The full debate is available to read here and to watch here.
Interestingly, while the First Minister made reference to the R100 programme, to provide high speed broadband to 100% of premises across Scotland, it was noticeable that the previous 2021 deadline has now been quietly dropped. We now have no further clarity about when this might be delivered. I therefore called for areas, like Orkney, where coverage and speeds remain well below the national average to be prioritised. You can read my further comments here and more information on the R100 programme here.
Thursday started with a meeting with Assistant Chief Executive of the parliament, David McGill to discuss the possibility of members bills being brought forward by more than one MSP. This was followed by a meeting with the FJSS group which Willie Rennie and I attended to discuss how to increase the involvement of those from black and ethnic minority communities in politics in Scotland. You can read more about the work of the group here.
It was then First Minister’s questions, but without Ruth Davidson, following her recent resignation as Scottish Tory party leader, which you can read more about here. Instead, Jackson Carlow opened proceedings, questioning the government’s position on Brexit. This was followed by Richard Leonard challenging the First Minister on the legal bid to block the Sunday Mail story on the death of Allan Marshall while in custody. Beatrice Wishart used her maiden opportunity in the chamber to ask what priority will be given to ferry investment and connectivity in Shetland following the First Minister’s pledges over the summer. You can read the full session here and watch it here.
The rest of the afternoon was spent catching up on emails, making calls and dealing with casework at my desk. I was also busy finalising my annual report, due to go out later this month, which was again the focus of my attention on Friday morning. I remained in Edinburgh for the evening in order to attend Scotland’s final match, against Georgia, before the squad flies out to Japan for the Rugby World Cup.
On returning to Orkney on Saturday, I hope to catch some of the annual Orkney Science Festival, which will be in full swing. This year, the festival is linking with ‘Foraging Fortnight’ to celebrate Scotland’s natural environment and wild food. There will also be a series of space themed events to mark the 50th anniversary of the moon landings. The full programme of events can be found here. I also took the opportunity to lodge a motion to parliament this week to welcome the festival and recognise the outstanding work of the committee who have organised it, which you can read here.
I will be in Stromness Academy on Monday to attend an event on the challenges of alcohol and I will be meeting with the charity Crimestoppers during their visit to Orkney. In parliament, I’ll have the Justice Committee on Tuesday and throughout the week I’ll be attending various Cross Party Groups on Malawi, End of Life Choices, Multiple Sclerosis and Scotch Whisky. I will also be meeting Humza Yousaf to discuss funding for Orkney and Shetland Drugs Dogs, and will be attending the launch of the Dignity in Dying Scotland Report and a special meeting of speakers on the use of medicinal cannabis. On Friday, I have a briefing session with Shell UK on key issues facing the North Sea.
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.