Holyrood Highlights 25/1/19
After a fantastic weekend in Glasgow, where Orkney musicians ruled the roost at Celtic Connections, Monday saw me back in the constituency office dealing with the usual mix of casework and phone calls. My various meetings started with a catch-up session at the Council with education officials, where we discussed issues ranging from teacher recruitment to school meals. Later in the day, I met with Tim Hurst, head of Wave Energy Scotland for an update on progress in development the wave energy sector in Scotland, including the implications for activity and employment here in Orkney. After a couple of further meetings with constituents, I sat down with Catherine Johnson and Robbie Fraser to discuss preparations for the Orkney Sports Awards at the end of the week.
On Tuesday morning, I flew south to Edinburgh for the weekly Justice Committee meeting. This week we met in private session to consider draft stage 1 reports of both the Management of Offenders (Scotland) Bill and Vulnerable Witnesses (Criminal Evidence) (Scotland) Bill, which will be debate in early February. Further work is required on the first of these reports, but you can access the latter here.
The afternoon was then spent in my office catching up on emails, casework and making calls. I then went to the chamber to listen to part of the debate on City Deals and Regional Economic Partnerships, where I was pleased to hear further support from the Minister for a proposed Islands Deal. This will require support from both the UK and Scottish Governments, but I hope we can see progress over the coming months. Meantime, you can read a transcript of the debate here.
The evening saw me attend a parliamentary reception marking Holocaust Memorial Day. As ever, it was an incredibly moving occasion, where we heard the personal testimony of a Polish survivor of the Holocaust, who brought to life the horrors she and so many millions of others suffered at the hands of the Nazis. We heard too from two North Berwick pupils who had recently returned from Auschwitz, an experience that had clearly had a life-changing effect on them. You can read more about Holocaust Memorial Day here.
As a new year resolution, I have taken up cycling to and from Parliament. While cycling back to my flat on Tuesday, however, a pedal fell off my bike, which meant Wednesday started in a local repair shop! When I finally got to Parliament, however, I was straight into a meeting with the Chair and CEO of Quality Meat Scotland. Following their recent visit to Orkney, it was useful to get QMS’s perspective on the potential options following the closure last year of Orkney’s abattoir. While the Scottish Government launched a consultation last week on mobile abattoirs, there seem to be serious reservations about this as a solution.
After the weekly Liberal Democrat MSP group meeting, it was then off to the chamber for Transport Questions. I used the opportunity to highlight to the Cabinet Secretary, Michael Matheson MSP, how the replacement of MV Hamnavoe with a freight vessel during the refit period again this year was meeting the needs of neither tourists nor the local community. I have had a number of constituents contact me in recent days expressing frustration at being unable to access the Stromness/Scrabster service due to a lack of spaces on particular sailings. That is unacceptable on what is supposed to be a lifeline service. You can watch the exchange here, read it here and read my further comments here.
The rest of the afternoon was spent in my office dealing with casework and making calls, before making an early trip to the airport to return to Orkney.
On Thursday morning I attended a funeral of a family friend in Westray. This meant I was not in Edinburgh as news emerged that former First Minister, Alex Salmond had been arrested and formally charged with two counts of attempted rape and nine separate sexual assaults. Mr Salmond has continued to protest his innocence, and no date has yet been set for the court to hear details of the case. You can read further details of what has unfolded this far here.
Understandably, this bombshell dominated the media, achieving the rare feat of pushing Brexit out of the headlines for a day. Meantime, Mr Salmond’s successor, Nicola Sturgeon faced First Minister’s Questions where she was quizzed by both Jackson Carlaw and Richard Leonard on recent deaths at the Queen Elizabeth University Hospital and the review that has been set up. You can find out more about this issue here. My colleague Willie Rennie then criticised the First Minister for not committing to raising the age of criminal responsibility to 14, as line with UN and EU guidelines. As always, you can read proceedings here and watch them with sign language here.
Thursday evening, after returning from Westray, I had another quick meeting with Robbie Fraser to prepare for the Orkney Sports Awards before joining representatives from Orkney Rugby Club and other local sporting organisations for a Welcome Dinner for former Glasgow and Scotland rugby captain, Al Kellock. Al will be the guest of honour at the Orkney Sports Awards, but has also kindly spared time to be in Orkney for a few days to meet local athletes and school pupils, help with the mini rugby tournament and watch Orkney’s game against St Boswells.
Friday has involved meetings with constituents, emails and catching up on casework ahead of co-hosting the Orkney Sports Awards at KGS this evening. It looks set to be another memorable night, with a record-breaking 300 people due to attend. The shortlist in each of the categories is as strong as ever and is testimony to the success of sport in our islands over the last year. Best of luck to all those nominated!
On Saturday morning, I will attend an event to celebrate the life of Anita Montgomery, who tragically passed away last week. Anita was an absolute lynchpin of the Burray community and will be missed desperately by family and her many, many friends alike. After watching Orkney RFC (hopefully) beat St Boswells I will be heading out to Finstown for one of the social highlights of the year, the Orkney Lib Dem Burns Supper. Sunday looks like involving another early start, as I head to Caithness to help support Orkney’s under-14 & 16 rugby teams.
Coming up Next Week
Monday I will have meetings in the constituency office, before heading north to Shetland for my first ever taste of Up Helly Aa on Tuesday. The plan is to return to Edinburgh on Wednesday morning for meetings with Renewable Energy Scotland followed by an afternoon in the chamber for a debate on justice matters. Thursday I will have a meeting of the Justice Sub Committee on Policing. As ever, “This Week in the Scottish Parliament”, a weekly update from the Scottish Parliament, can be found here. My full diary is here.