It seems only right to start this week’s newsletter by expressing thanks to those in the Orkney Local Emergency Co-ordination Group, local police officers and others for their efforts in response to the recent flooding and adverse weather. As well as ensuring public safety, and minimising disruption, they also worked hard to community information as widely and promptly as possible. Updates on travel, flood warnings and any other services affected by the weather can be found on the Orkney Islands Council Updates page here, Radio Orkney Facebook page here and the Orcadian page here.
I spent most of Monday in the constituency office going through emails and dealing with casework. I also had meetings with constituents throughout the day, including a useful catch up with Catherine Johnson and Robbie Fraser ahead of the Orkney Sports Awards, which I will be co-hosting with Robbie, next Friday. You can read more about the awards, including those shortlisted here.
I also spent time responding to constituents who have been in touch to express understandable concerns about the closure of Orkney Alcohol Counselling and Advice Service (OACAS). As the former patron of OACAS, I know only too well how important this service has been to people struggling with addiction problems, as well as wider mental health issues. Steps have been taken to ensure that clients can access services through Relationship Scotland Orkney, YPeople and the Community Mental Health Team. I am determined to ensure this happens and that those who need help do not experience lengthy delays. I have also been in discussions to see what assistance can be provided to staff and volunteers at OACAS, who have provided such invaluable support to so many people over the years. The demand for these services is not reducing, if anything it is increasing, and it is essential that they continue to be provided in a way that is accessible and timely.
My flight on Tuesday morning was delayed due to the bad weather the night before and so was slightly late arriving at the Justice Committee. This week, we continued our evidence sessions on the Children (Scotland) Bill, hearing from various interest groups, including Grandparents Apart UK, Shared Parenting Scotland and Relationships Scotland. You can read more about the Bill here, watch the full committee session here and read it here.
After the regular weekly meeting with Lib Dem MSP colleagues I spent the remainder of the afternoon catching up on emails and casework. I was pleased to hear that the Scottish Medicines Consortium has approved the use of ocrelizumab for treatment of adults with early primary progressive Multiple Sclerosis. The use of ocrelizumab in such circumstances is represents a major breakthrough in the treatment, and hopefully the eventual cure, of this debilitating condition. You can read my full comments here and more about MS Society Scotland here and the Orkney MS Society here. More about how ocrelizumab can help those with MS is available here.
I had some time in the office on Wednesday morning to prepare for upcoming parliamentary business and to answer emails before attending a meeting of the Assisted Dying Steering Group to discuss developments in the campaign to bring forward proposals to amend the current legislation in this area. With the next Scottish Parliament elections due in May 2021, it now seems unlikely there will be a Bill during the course of this parliament.
I then met the Chief Executive of Scottish Environmental Protection Agency (SEPA). It was a general catch up discussion, though it provided an opportunity to find out more about what SEPA has been doing on issues such as fish farm regulation and plastic waste on farms. You can read more about the work of SEPA here.
Over lunchtime, I was in the Chamber to take part in a Members Business debate on the role of Independent Prison Monitors. It was an opportunity for members across the parliament to recognise the important work that IPMs carry out across our prison estate, work made more challenging due to the overcrowding in Scotland’s prisons. You can watch my contribution here, the full debate here and read it here.
The rest of the afternoon was taken up with a brief meeting with the legislation team regarding amendments I’m tabling to the Scottish Biometrics Commissioner Bill. You can read about the Bill here.
I then headed out for a dinner with colleagues from the Cross-Party Groups on Malawi and International Development and Graham Wrigley, Chair of the Commonwealth Development Corporation. The CDC supports economic growth and job creation in Africa and South Asia, helping lift people out of poverty. It has been in existence for over 70 years and falls under the responsibility of the UK Department for International Development. You can learn more about the work of the CDC here and the Cross-Party Group on Malawi here.
On Thursday morning, we had our first Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body (SPCB) meeting of the year. On the agenda was a decision to take down the EU flag from in front of the parliament on 31 January, when the UK formally leaves the EU. This was a decision taken unanimously, despite later attempts by some SNP MSPs to misrepresent it as a ‘political’ act. As MSPs, we all have our views on Brexit, and I remain distraught at the prospect of us leaving the EU, but the parliament as an institution must remain neutral. Continue to fly the EU flag, even under the pretence of claiming we were doing so as it is the flag of the Council of Europe, would risk undermining that neutrality and would rightly be seen as a political statement. You can read more about this issue here.
I had to leave the meeting early to attend the Standards, Procedures and Public Appointments Committee, which was considering Stage 2 amendments to the Scottish Elections (Franchise and Representation) Bill. I moved an amendment on prisoner voting, though did not press it to a vote, in light of the response I received from the Minister. You can read the Bill here, watch the committee here and read the report here.
It was then on to First Minister’s Questions, where Nicola Sturgeon came under pressure this week from Jackson Carlow to agree to parliament’s decision for a review into Scotland’s education system. This followed the government’s defeat on a motion the previous evening. You can read about the vote here. Meanwhile, Richard Leonard focused on the system of fatal accident inquiries. You can watch the full session here and read it here.
After FMQs, I attended a Justice Sub-Committee on Policing meeting, where we heard evidence from Police Scotland on the issue of live facial recognition technology. Concerns have been raised about the reliability of such technology and the legislative framework governing the use of images taken in the course of policing. Police Scotland claimed they share many of these concerns and have no intention, at this stage, of using the technology. You can watch the committee session here and read it here.
Immediately after committee, I was back in the chamber for Justice Questions, where I urged the Justice Secretary to work with the Scottish Prison Service and relevant third sector organisations to facilitate ways of supporting ‘video visits’ in prisons. Maintaining family contact for prisoners can be difficult, particularly for those from the islands or rural areas, but is key to rehabilitation and increasing the chances of individuals settling back into their communities successfully after release. You can watch my question here, the full session here and read it here.
Later, I met with the Speak Out Survivors campaign group who are seeking reform of the legal requirement of corroboration in the prosecution of sexual offences. They have come forward with a range of potential options, which I am keen to help explore on a cross-party basis. You can read more about the group here.
Unfortunately, the day ended with extremely disappointing news that HIAL are pressing forward with their plans to centralise air traffic control services in Inverness. This move has serious risks attached to it over safety and reliability of services and will also lead to the loss of many local jobs. HIAL has failed to listen properly to the concerns ATC staff, who remain profoundly unhappy about and opposed to these controversial proposals. There will be a debate in parliament next week on the issue, which will give me an opportunity to press Ministers again to review this decision. Ahead of the debate, I will also be meeting HIAL management to reiterate my opposition to this move. You can read more about this news here and my further comments here.
On Thursday evening, I joined Lib Dem MSP, MP and MEP colleagues for a meeting to discuss issues over the year ahead and leading up to the Holyrood elections next year.
I flew back to Orkney this afternoon and held a surgery with Alistair Carmichael at the constituency office. Of course, if you ever need to contact me for help with an issue, there is no need to wait for a surgery and I would encourage you to contact my office directly at any time. My contact details can be found here. This evening, I’ll be at the Orkney Lib Dem AGM.
This weekend, I look forward to joining other guests in the Council Chambers for an event to mark the retirement of the Lord-Lieutenant, Bill Spence. Bill has performed this role with distinction and it will be good to have a chance to say thank you for his many years of outstanding service to the Orkney community and on behalf of many local causes and charities. I also lodged a motion in parliament this week to recognise Bill’s service as Lord-Lieutenant , which you can read here.
I will be speaking in Stage 3 of the Scottish National Investment Bill and attending an MSP briefing with HIAL on Tuesday, I am meeting the Renewable Infrastructure Development Group and attending the Cross Party Group on Japan on Wednesday, I will be speaking in the Lib Dem Members Business Motion on Air Traffic Control Centralisation and attending the Cross Party Group on Renewable Energy on Thursday and will be hosting the Orkney Sports Awards on Friday.
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.