The crowds were out in force last weekend for the Kirkwall ‘Big BID Day Out’ and it was fantastic to see the town and local shops bustling with people. The event was brilliantly organised, with a great variety of attractions, although the carousel undoubtedly stole the show! Congratulations to everyone involved at Kirkwall BID on a highly successful weekend, despite the atrocious weather on Saturday, and you can read more here.
I worked from the constituency office on Monday morning, dealing with emails and casework, as well as having two meetings with constituents in the early afternoon. I then headed to the airport for the early evening flight to Edinburgh, to allow me to join my Justice Committee colleagues on a visit to Barlinnie Prison in Glasgow early on Tuesday morning.
We started with a briefing from the Prison Governor, Mick Stoney, and Scottish Prison Service CEO, Colin McConnell before taking had a tour of the prison. The recent Independent Prison Monitoring Report of Barlinnie Prison had highlighted a range of concerns about overcrowding and throughcare, which is unfortunately not an isolated occurrence across Scotland’s prisons. We saw first-hand the challenges these issues present, not least in terms of efforts to rehabilitate individual prisoners, many with a range of complex needs and mental health issues. Barlinnie currently holds over 1,400 prisoners, but is designed for just 1,000 and 90% of inmates are ‘double bunking’ in cells designed for single occupancy. That said, prison staff deserve credit for doing an excellent job in challenging circumstances. You can read more about our visit here, the Prison Monitoring Report here and about Barlinnie Prison here.
Back in Holyrood at lunchtime, I had my regular meeting with Lib Dem MSP colleagues, before making my way to the chamber for Topical Questions. This week, following a report by Westminster’s Scottish Affairs Committee about the need for a new approach to tackling drug deaths, I asked if the government would consider pursuing a diversion scheme to help support low level offenders, rather than simply prosecuting them. Similar schemes are currently being successfully used by police forces in Thames Valley and Durham, details of which you can see here. You can watch my question here, the full session here and read it here.
Following Topical Questions, I had some time back at my desk to look through and answer emails before a mid-afternoon meeting of the Cross-Party Group on Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency to discuss our future work programme You can learn more about the group here.
After votes, in the evening, I attended a Commonwealth Parliamentary Association (CPA) Scotland Branch Executive Committee meeting. The branch works to promote parliamentary democracy and co-operation with other networks and organisations around the world. You can read more about the CPA here.
Unfortunately, the CPA meeting meant I was unable to get to the Befriending Networks reception, organised as part of National Befriending Week to celebrate and recognise the success of befriending organisations across Scotland, including here in Orkney. These projects are crucial to tackling loneliness and social isolation and helping people to improve their mental and social well-being. You can read more about Befriending Networks here, the National Befriending Week here and the Orkney Befriending Group here.
On Wednesday morning, I was delighted to meet with a delegation of MPs from the Norwegian Parliament’s Standing Committee on Justice. The discussions mainly covered police reform and violence reduction, where our visitors were keen to learn more about the more holistic approach taken in Glasgow from the early 2000s which resulted in a dramatic fall in knife crime. You can learn more about the work of the Norwegian Standing Committee here and more about the partnership approach of the Violence Reduction Unit in Scotland here.
I then had some time to go through emails and casework, before heading to a briefing by Alupro on the proposed Deposit Return Scheme in Scotland. Alupro, the Aluminium Packaging Recycling Association, have conducted research and analysis on the proposed design of the scheme and are concerned about the potential impact of a flat (20p) deposit fee and the risk that this may dramatically increase the use of plastics. It was a useful discussion, underlining the need to get the details right so the scheme delivers the objectives we want to see. You can read more about Alupro here , their research here and the proposed Deposit Return Scheme here.
I had some brief time over lunch to answer emails and finalise my speech for a transport debate later in the day, before the start of Portfolio Questions, where I secured agreement from the Environment Secretary, Roseanna Cunningham, to visit Orkney to see first-hand the damage caused to crops and farmland by the growing resident greylag goose population. This has been a long running problem for Orkney’s farming community and one that I have been pressing the government to do more to address for some time. As it happens, I already had a meeting with the Cabinet Secretary scheduled for the following day on this issue, which we used as a chance to discuss in more detail the problem and the format her visit to Orkney might take. You can read my full comments here, watch my question here, the full session here and read it here.
Following Portfolio Questions, I remained in the chamber for a debate on the resilience of Scotland’s ferry network. I took the opportunity to focus my remarks on the need for Scottish Ministers to help meet the costs of procuring replacement vessels for Orkney’s internal ferry fleet. These are lifeline services for island communities in Orkney, yet we have an ageing fleet that is falling well short of the government’s own minimum standards in terms of reliability, accessibility and cost. You can watch my speech here, the full session here and read it here. You can also read my further comments here.
Thursday began early with a meeting of the Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body (SPCB). You can read more about the work of the SPCB here.
I then had some time in the office to answer emails and make calls before the start of First Minister’s Questions. With the General Election now under way, exchanges became predictably heated. Jackson Carlow criticised the First Minister over the narrowing of subject choice in secondary schools, while Richard Leonard asked when the children’s ward at St John’s Hospital will reopen. My colleague, Willie Rennie also focused on the government’s record on healthcare, particularly waiting times, raising the situation at Raigmore Hospital in Inverness, where patients have been turned away because of shortages of staff and beds. You can watch Willie’s question here, the full session here and read it here.
Afterwards, I rushed off to a meeting of the Justice sub-committee on policing. We heard evidence from Police Scotland, the Scottish Police Federation and Unison on custody provision. You can read more about the committee here, watch the session here and the minutes from the meeting here.
In the evening, I attended a dinner ahead of the 13th annual Business in Parliament Conference today. I was delighted to be joined by my guest for the conference, Stewart Morgan of local business, Kyloe Partners, as well as Craig Spence, Chief Executive of Orkney Housing Association. The event facilitates engagement between the business community and parliamentarians, covering a range of important topics from climate change to workplace well-being. You can read more about this year’s conference, including the key note speakers and the conference agenda, here. You can also see details of previous conference programmes here.
As part of the conference, I was on a cross-party panel of MSPs, where we took questions from delegates on a wide range of issues from housing and broadband to support for tourism and low carbon transport.
I am flying back to Orkney this evening, where I will be attending The Royal British Legion Remembrance Dinner in Kirkwall. It is an honour to be invited to this dinner and to support one of the largest and most successful veterans’ organisations anywhere in Scotland. The branches in Kirkwall and Stromness provide invaluable support to veterans and their families across Orkney, acting as a focal point for members and non-members in our island community. You can read more about The Royal British Legion here and the Kirkwall branch here.
On Saturday, I look forward to watching Orkney and Caithness under 18 rugby players take on Granite City, before the Orkney first team match up against Alloa in the home of continuing their winning start to the season. It will then be back into campaign mode, with the formal launch of my colleague, Alistair Carmichael’s election campaign.
On Sunday, I will be attending the Remembrance Sunday parade in Kirkwall. The parade is due to start at 10:30am by the Cathedral and will be led by the Kirkwall City Pipe Band. The Remembrance Sunday commemoration is always a moving service, paying a fitting tribute to those who have served in our armed forces. If you would like to attend, details can be found here.
I will be taking part in a parliamentary debate on protecting the rights of EU citizens in Scotland, I’ll be visiting the Scottish Youth Parliament to support their campaign to tackle childhood adversity, I will host the annual parliamentary reception for the British Ports Association and I have meetings with Scotland’s Charity Air Ambulance Service and FNF Scotland about the upcoming Family Law Bill.
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.