Holyrood Highlights 10.01.20


Let me start by wishing you all the best for 2020. I hope you all enjoyed a restful festive break after what has been a busy and eventful 2019 for everyone. The last couple of weeks has been a welcome opportunity for me to spend some time at home and, amidst the highlights of a couple of epic Men’s Ba contests which saw the Doonies and Uppies share the spoils, which you can read about here, there have been some other notable newsworthy moments.

Let me start by wishing you all the best for 2020. I hope you all enjoyed a restful festive break after what has been a busy and eventful 2019 for everyone. The last couple of weeks has been a welcome opportunity for me to spend some time at home and, amidst the highlights of a couple of epic Men’s Ba contests which saw the Doonies and Uppies share the spoils, which you can read about here, there have been some other notable newsworthy moments.

The Scottish Government launched their Islands Plan shortly after Christmas. Despite commitments by Ministers that the plan would deliver real detail on improvements to priority areas such as transport and digital connectivity, there was little new or substantial. The plan fell short of committing to any improvements for our lifeline ferry services, including investment for our ageing fleet or the long overdue introduction of RET. Pressing Ministers to address these issues will certainly remain a priority for me in the coming year. You can read the published plan here.

Elsewhere, I was delighted to see Orcadians, John Copland and Jean Leonard awarded MBEs in the New Year Honours List and gladly lodged a parliamentary motion congratulating them on this prestigious and well-deserved honour, which you can read here.

We also had welcome news from HIAL of an end to the long-running air traffic control dispute. This has disrupted our lifeline air services over the past year and the resolution will come as a relief to passengers. Work now needs to start in rebuilding relationships amongst some of the key players responsible for delivering the service, which have been damaged by the dispute. You can read more about this announcement here and my further comments here.

Looking ahead, we face another packed year at Holyrood which I’m sure will be full of the usual twists and turns. With the UK Chancellor announcing a delay in publishing his budget until 11 March, an obvious challenge will be getting agreement on a Scottish budget and giving Councils the clarity they need about future funding. You can read more about this story here and the statement from the Finance Secretary, Derek Mackay here.

On Monday morning, I had a meeting to discuss HIAL’s plans to centralise air traffic services. I have consistently raised concerns with HIAL and Ministers about the ‘remote tower’ project, which would see ATCs removed from Kirkwall and other Highlands & Islands airport, and centralised in Inverness. Staff have rightly highlighted safety and other concerns, including the loss of skilled jobs in the islands. Beatrice Wishart and I plan to lead a debate on the issue later this month. You can read my further comments here.

The rest of the day was spent dealing with emails and casework in the constituency office, while also writing my Orcadian column for this week. You can read my column here.

I flew to Edinburgh on Tuesday morning, ready for the first Justice Committee of 2020, where we took further evidence from the Children and Young People’s Commissioner Scotland, Children 1st, NSPCC Scotland and Scottish Women’s Aid on Stage 1 of the Children (Scotland) Bill. You can read about the Bill here, watch the committee session here and read it here.

After the weekly meeting with Lib Dem MSP colleagues, I made my way to the chamber for Topical Questions. I took the opportunity to call on the Health Minister to end the destructive and harmful practice of imprisoning people caught in possession of drugs for personal use as opposed to ensuring that they have access to treatment. You can watch my question here, the full session here and read it here.

I then had a couple of meetings, first with the parliament’s legislation team regarding my amendments to the Scottish Elections (Franchise and Representations) Bill, about which you can read more here. Thereafter, I headed off to meet with the Islands & Energy Minister, Paul Wheelhouse, to discuss the proposed Heat Networks Bill. I reinforced the need for local flexibility, as well as additional support for smaller communities to enable them to take advantage of the opportunities. You can read the Renewable Heat Target and Action update here.

On Wednesday morning, I had met the British Association for Shooting and Conservation to discuss a range of issues, from the impact that growing numbers of resident greylag geese are having in Orkney to proposals for licensing shooting estates following the so-called Werrity Report. You can read the report by Professor Werritty here and about the BASC here.

I also had a meeting with WWF Scotland on their new report, Delivering on Net Zero: Next Steps for Scotland. The report outlines actions that WWF Scotland would like to see the government take to help deliver its climate change targets. You can read the report here and learn more about the work of WWF Scotland here.

I then dropped by the BBC studio in parliament to record a short piece for BBC Radio Orkney on my call for there to be an urgent review into the lack of land ambulance cover in Orkney. I raised this matter with the Health Minister before Christmas and he wrote to me this week, confirming there had been 168 occasions last year when emergency calls were left waiting due to the ambulance responding to another call. This is not acceptable and the public and our ambulance crews deserve better. I’m due to meet senior representatives from the Scottish Ambulance Service next month where I will be making clear the need for an urgent review of the additional land ambulance capacity needed. You can read my full comments here.  

I spent the remainder of the afternoon at my desk, catching up on emails and making calls. I was also disappointed to hear confirmation that once again the freight ship MV Helliar will cover for the MV Hamnavoe during the refit period. I have repeatedly reminded Ministers that Orkney requires appropriate cover on the lifeline Stromness-Scrabster route during refit. It is clear Ministers don’t care. You can read my full thoughts here and the announcement here.

In the evening, I attended a reception hosted by Versus Arthritis to learn about the devastating impact that arthritis and other musculoskeletal conditions have on thousands of people across Scotland, particularly in the workplace. The event also highlighted what support is available to help those with arthritis to get into and remain in work and outlined what else needs to be done to improve workplace support. Earlier in the day, I managed to stop by an exhibition hosted by Versus Arthritis, highlighting the programmes being run by the Young People and Families Service to support young people affected by this challenging condition, including here in Orkney. You can learn more about Versus Arthritis here and their Young People and Families service here.

On Thursday, I had an early meeting with David Farquhar and Polly Purvis from Intelligent Growth Solutions. Having recently returned from a visit to Orkney, where they gave a presentation to local stakeholders at Orkney College, it was interesting to hear about their plans for reducing the costs and environmental impacts of growing a range of different vegetable, fruit and other crops. You can read more about Intelligent Growth Solutions here.

I then used the rest of the morning to prepare for the debate on the Scottish Biometrics Commissioner Bill later in the day, before making my way to the chamber for FMQs. This week, Jackson Carlow attacked the government’s record on education, while Richard Leonard highlighted damning Care Inspectorate reports about the quality of home care services in South Lanarkshire. The First Minister even had to contend with a couple of interruptions from climate change protestors in the public gallery. Meanwhile, Willie Rennie quizzed the First Minister about the government’s support for a third runway at Heathrow Airport, in the context of the need to reduce aviation emissions to help meet our climate change targets. You can watch Willie’s question here, the full session here and read it here.

After a brief lunch, it was back to the chamber for a Ministerial Statement on Enhancing Scotland’s Digital Connectivity. To the surprise of no-one, the Islands Minister admitted the government will not fulfil its commitment to deliver superfast broadband to all premises by 2021. More disappointingly, the Northern Isles won’t even see this commitment delivered by the new date of 2023, due to a legal challenge. This means we are set to fall further behind the rest of the country in terms of coverage. You can watch the statement here and read it here. My full comments are available here.

I remained in the chamber for the Stage 1 debate on the Scottish Biometrics Commissioner Bill. This is an important bill, recognising the need to properly regulate how biometric information is taken, stored and deleted given its increasing use, for example, through live facial recognition technology. You can watch my contribution here, the full debate here and read it here. You can also read about the Bill here.

I flew back to Orkney this morning and have spent most of the day in the constituency office catching up on casework and responding to emails. I also had meetings and phone calls with various constituents.

Looking ahead, the Orkney Sports Awards are only a couple of weeks away, and the finalists have now been announced. They have all had an incredible year in their respective sporting fields, with some very impressive achievements, which will make choosing the eventual winners very difficult. At a time when there is much debate about the need to encourage more girls and women into sport, it is encouraging to see an all-female shortlist for the Sportsperson of the Year Award for the second year running! You can read more about the evening, including how to vote for your favourites, on the Orcadian website here.

And before you ask, I don’t know why the Sanday Parish Cup team weren’t nominated for Team of the Year either!

Next Week

I have meetings with the Speak Out Survivors campaign group and the Assisted Dying Steering group at the start of the week. I also have Justice and Justice Subcommittee on Policing meetings and will be attending an event with the Chair of the Commonwealth Development Corporation along with Cross Party Group on Malawi colleagues. At the end of the week, I will attend the Orkney Lib Dem AGM and then on Sunday an event in the Council Chamber to mark the retirement of Lord Lieutenant, Bill Spence.

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.


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