Politics, at present, does not lack for issues on which politicians and the wider public find themselves implacably divided. It is important these constitutional disagreements are robustly debated, even if some of the personal antagonism could safely be dropped without diminishing the power or persuasiveness of either side’s argument.
At the same time, however, thankfully the parliamentary agenda also throws up the occasional opportunity for MSPs to set aside their differences and focus on matters that allow a collective celebration of the positive things happening around the country. This ‘safety valve’ in proceedings usually sees MSPs grab the chance to wax lyrical about their constituency and constituents, whose achievements offer a shining example for others to follow. I am happy to say that this is a temptation to which I succumb quite regularly, including on a couple of occasions last week.
Having visited the local Dementia Hub over the summer, I needed no second invitation to use a debate marking Age Scotland’s 75th anniversary to raise awareness about The Hub along with the other excellent work being done by Age Scotland Orkney, in collaboration with a range of partners, supporting older people in our islands. With official estimates predicting a 50% increase in those aged 75 and over in Orkney between 2012 and 2022, these services are only likely to become more critical going forward.
As for the Dementia Hub, launched in March thanks to funding from Dementia Friendly Orkney and the Life Changes Trust, it was clear to me from the drop-in session I attended how much this weekly facility is appreciated by those affected by dementia, their families and carers. The value of being able to have a chat over a cup of tea; get information and advice on services; or take part in therapeutic activities, all in a single location, cannot be overstated.
The debate also allowed me to sing the praises of Age Scotland Orkney in relation to its Good Day Calls service. This daily phone service has been operating in Orkney for a few years, providing reassurance to older people, and their families, that someone will call to speak with them 365 days a year, checking-in to ensure they are well, offering support and a friendly chat and, in so doing, helping tackle loneliness.
So successful has this been that Age Scotland has commissioned Gillian Skuse and the Orkney team to roll out the service nationwide. And let’s face it, whose day would not be improved by a cheery chat each morning with someone from Orkney?
Meanwhile, last week’s parliamentary schedule also presented a chance to shine a light on another area where Orkney is leading the way, albeit more work needs to be done.
Statistics show that while the numbers taking part in sport and physical exercise are too low across the population, a particular challenge exists when it comes to encouraging girls and women to get or stay involved. The reasons for this are complex, including the image certain sports have or the perception some girls can have of sport. Last Thursday, however, MSPs debated how this situation might be turned around.
In my contribution, I acknowledged that travel costs and access to facilities can present obstacles for those in the islands, but reflected that participation rates across a wide range of sports in Orkney are relatively good. In this respect, I think Active Schools deserves a mention as indeed do the many volunteers who put in so much time and effort to support sporting activities in Orkney all year round.
The focus on my remarks, however, was on the importance of role models, where again Orkney has been well served. In January, Anna Tait succeeded Rachael Sutherland as Orkney Sportsperson of the Year, drawn from a shortlist comprising UK powerlifting record holder, Hannah Beaven and Scotland under-21 netball captain, Sarah MacPhail. Meantime, Amy Golder lifted the young sportsperson title while Orkney Dragons women’s rugby team romped to victory in the BT North Division.
Each are providing inspiration; inviting others to ask the question “why not me?” We have a way to go but amidst everything else going on at the moment, it’s nice to be able to reflect on these good news stories.