Following is the latest edition of Holyrood Highlights. Please email [email protected] to have this update sent to you weekly.
Please find following the latest edition of Holyrood Highlights, which I hope you find of interest. Please let me know if there are others you think might be interested in receiving the emails, or encourage them to get in touch directly. Meantime, if you have any comments or suggestions, please don’t hesitate to get in touch. The feedback continues to be extremely helpful and often gives rise to parliamentary questions or points being raised in debate, as it did again this week.
Kind regards, Liam
Liam McArthur MSP
Liberal Democrat, Orkney
Scottish Parliament, Edinburgh EH99 1SP
Tel: 0131 348 5815 or 01856 876541
Constituency Office: 14 Palace Road, Kirkwall, Orkney KW15 1PA
Monday was spent doing casework and having meetings with constituents as well as OIC officials. Tuesday morning then saw me head for Edinburgh and a meeting of the Education & Culture Committee, where we took evidence from witnesses, including the Education Secretary, on the government's Education Bill. Plans to introduce national standardised testing in primary schools (and S3) has raised serious concerns about an unwelcome return to high stakes testing, teaching to the test and ultimately school league tables. The Minister sought to reassure the Committee, but admitted that key votes on the bill would take place before details of the new testing regime are clear. Understandably, staff and teaching unions are expressing anxiety. You can read the Committee transcript here and my comments here.
With the Committee finishing much later than usual, I was able to grab a quite bite to eat before joining colleagues in the Chamber for a Motion of Condolence for those who died in the terrorist attacks on Paris last Friday. All party leaders delivered fitting tributes, underscoring the sense of shock and revulsion, but also an unshakeable solidarity with the people of Paris and France. You can read the tributes here.
The rest of the day became a bit of a rush before I headed back to the airport for my second flight of the day. Having been invited to make the presentations at the Orkney Youth Awards in King Street Halls, I was keeping my fingers crossed that Loganair would play ball, which they did. The ceremony itself was another wonderful celebration of the contribution that our young people make to community life in Orkney. The award winners and many others besides fundraise thousands of pounds and volunteer hundreds of hours for so many local groups and causes. In turn the self-confidence, team working and leadership skills they develop will surely stand them in great stead in the future. It was a pleasure to be part of such an uplifting evening, and well worth making the mad dash back home.
Wednesday morning was another early start to catch my third flight in 24 hours. I went straight off to join representative from the university, college and business communities for further discussions on how best we can make the case for a post study work visa. This would allow more international students to stay on in Scotland to help continue making a contribution to our economy and society. More on this issue can be found here. It was then a dash back to parliament for a meeting of the Cross Party Group on Children and Young People, where I took part in a panel discussion on how the rights of children can be better respected and safeguarded in Scotland. Along with members of all the other main parties, I signed up to be a Child Rights Champion.
It was then off to the Chamber for a debate on affordable housing. I took the opportunity to raise with the Housing Minister concerns about the way current national building regulations create perverse incentives in our islands to reduce insulation and install heating systems that can be more expensive to run. With Orkney experiencing the highest levels of fuel poverty, this makes no sense. I suggested that this is a perfect case of where we need 'island proofing' and invited the Minister to ensure that this is addressed in the forthcoming Islands Bill. You can read the exchanges in parliament here and my comments are here.
I had to leave the debate early top take part in a meeting of the Corporate Body to discuss the potential implications of last week's attacks in Paris for security arrangements in parliament. This is something that is kept constantly under review. It was then back to the office to catch up on casework, make calls and take part in a few internal meetings. It was then time to host the annual parliamentary reception on behalf of the British Ports Association and UK Chamber of Shipping. It was another well-attended event, reflecting the importance of the maritime sector to many constituencies and almost every region in the country. As ever, Orkney was well represented. There was even time to pop my head in at another reception to wish Action for Children Scotland a happy 60th birthday.
Fortunately Thursday was not another 5am start, but I got underway with a catch-up with Colleges Scotland. The sector has gone through the mill in recent years, with significant budget cuts at the same time as having to contend with widespread mergers under the government's 'regionalisation' agenda. The plea for Colleges Scotland was very much for a period of financial ad regulatory stability. More casework and calls followed, before I headed to the Chamber for First Minister's Questions. On the anniversary of Nicola Sturgeon taking up post, opposition party leaders opted for different issues. After questions on cancer rates and childcare provision, my colleague, Willie Rennie returned to what he called the 'shambles' of her plans for national standardised testing in schools. You can read the transcript of the exchanges here and watch it here.
In the afternoon, I had meetings with the Children and Young People's Commissioner's office about possible amendments to the Education Bill in relation to the provisions on the rights of children with additional support needs. Helpfully this fed in nicely to a meeting I then had with parliament officials about a various amendments I want to lodge to this Bill. For the rest of the afternoon, I caught up on casework and a number of internal meetings. In the evening, I regretted having decided to give Scottish Politician of the Year Awards a miss, when I learned that my colleagues, Willie Rennie and Alison McInnes had carried off the titles as Debater of the Year and Committee Member of the Year. Both are richly deserved, not least because of their combine work holding the government to account on what has proved to be a botched police centralisation. A full list of winners can be found here.
This morning, I'm heading up on the train to Aberdeen for a meeting with the Chief Executive of NHS Grampian and Friends of the Neuro Ward. Fundraising for much-needed improvements to the ward at ARI has been phenomenally successful, demonstrating the strength of public support, but unfortunately there have been a series of delays in getting the work undertaken. Hopefully the meeting will help reinforce the urgency of making this vital facility fit for purpose. For more on the Friends' campaign, please visit their facebook page.
It is then another flight back to Orkney and a trip through to Stromness for a sneak preview of the Pier Arts Centre Christmas Open Exhibition. For those not making it this evening, there is always a chance to pop along during Stromness Mulled Wine Sunday later in the weekend!
Saturday then sees the much anticipated Orkney Lib Dem 'Soup and Sandwich' event in the Supper Room of the Kirkwall Town Hall from 12-2pm. As if soup and sandwiches were not enough, there will also be tea and cake available. All are welcome to come along, even if it is only to shelter from the wind and rain for a short while. More details are available here.
I will be making a return visit to the Hope Primary school for another Read On Get On reading session with local pupils, before heading south for an Education Committee session on student funding, an event to mark 50 years since the establishment of the Highlands & Islands Development Board before returning on Thursday to take part in the Orkney Tourism Group annual conference at the Picky Centre. Next week is also the last week of Movember, an annual event to raise awareness of various cancers, such as prostate cancer, marked by growing a moustache! To donate visit here and remember to encourage me to get checked out by their GP. For everything else, please check my diary