You will be delighted to hear that I came through my first dance lesson with Scottish Ballet largely unscathed. The reputation of our national ballet company may have fared less well from the association with my dubious dancing skills.
Throughout last week, however, classes were held at the Picky Centre allowing those with Multiple Sclerosis, family members, carers and medical professionals to let down their hair, throw a few shapes and, most importantly of all, have fun. This innovative pilot project, being run in Tayside, Glasgow and Orkney, has the potential to unlock real physical and mental health benefits, not just for those with MS but other neurological conditions as well. I hope a way can be found for these classes to continue on a long term basis, using local partners.
But ballet is not my main topic this week. Nor is it news that Serco Northlink has been chosen, at long last, as the preferred bidder for the Northern Isles ferry contract over the next eight years. This decision offers welcome continuity in the delivery of a lifeline service as well as the opportunity for businesses in Orkney and Shetland to plan ahead with more certainty.
Many of those same businesses will be less impressed, however, by the failure of SNP Ministers to respond to a growing and increasingly urgent need for additional freight capacity on the Aberdeen route, something raised repeatedly with government over the past year. No sign either of the long-promised cheaper fares on the Pentland Firth route, or indeed a restoration of the sailings cut from the Stromness-Scrabster service last time the contract was let. All matters I plan to raise with the Transport Minister when we meet on Tuesday.
The following day, however, the focus will be firmly on the issue of climate change, as parliament has its final chance to ensure the government’s legislation matches the First Minister’s rhetoric in declaring a ‘climate emergency’ back in April. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has declared that “rapid, transformational and unprecedented change” is required across society in the next decade. Scotland’s Climate Change bill must now rise to this challenge.
Over recent months, as Scottish Liberal Democrat spokesman on the environment, I have worked closely with my counterparts in the other parties to identify ways of strengthening the bill, based on the evidence parliament has received. Already this has borne results, with various amendments passed earlier in the scrutiny process, including a number of my own.
It is clear though that more needs to be done before the bill is passed on Wednesday evening. For example, while the target of net zero emissions by 2045 is ambitious, our chances of achieving that are diminished unless we set a more challenging interim target for 2030. That is why I have co-signed an amendment that will ensure this happens.
We also need to use this bill to up our game on energy efficiency. As well as helping tackle climate emissions, this can make inroads into reducing fuel bills and the scandalous levels of fuel poverty we still see in Scotland.
The current bill has further to go in ensuring we cut damaging nitrogen emissions as well, and I will be supporting amendments that would see the introduction of nitrogen balance sheets.
In these and other areas, there has been a genuinely collaborative, cross-party approach to making sure parliament responds to the crisis we face by putting in place legislation with the necessary ambition, reach and urgency. For some, no doubt, it will not go far enough. For others, it will be criticised as an over-reaction. Ultimately, however, legislation must be evidence-based, proportionate and achievable. Assuming the amendments I have mentioned are passed this week, I believe those criteria will have been met.
Finally, a couple of bits of advice based on my experiences over recent days. If you are ever invited up to the barre, be sure to check the spelling. You could find yourself bending your knees rather than your elbow, and some of us are just not built for ballet.
And never, ever underestimate the ability of Boris Johnson to kibosh your fortnightly Orcadian column after it’s been written!