Following is the latest edition of Holyrood Highlights. Please email [email protected] to have this update sent to you weekly.
The week started on a high, following a decisive 2-1 victory for Sanday Old v Young in the end of season football clash. Getting on the score sheet (at the correct end) was a bonus!
As well as meeting constituents, Monday morning was spent doing casework, including helping a number of constituents restore or obtain a broadband service. This remains one of the most common reasons for constituents to get in touch. Recently, though, it has been eclipsed by complaints about the lack of reliability of our air services. After the chaos of the last fortnight, I took the opportunity on Monday afternoon to speak with Stewart Adams, Chief Executive of Loganair. Mr Adams again acknowledged the extent of the problems and outlined the steps Loganair is taking to improve the situation. From cases that have been raised with me, I was able to highlight the impact these delays are having and the effect on public confidence. We agreed to meet in 2-3 weeks and assess what, if any progress, has been made. Meanwhile, perhaps unsurprisingly, support for my petition for improved reliability is growing.
Tuesday morning saw no delays with my flight down to Edinburgh, and I joined Education Committee colleagues in cross-examining Culture Secretary, Fiona Hyslop over her award of £150,000 in state aid to T in the Park, after an initial approach by a former SNP adviser acting on behalf of the event’s organisers. Our efforts to get clarity on why this decision was taken were not helped by the release the evening before of more than 600 pages of heavily redacted documents under Freedom of Information. No-one disputes that T in the Park delivers economic benefit locally and nationally. However, it is not clear why funds were given to a highly profitable company, after the event had taken place and for things (venue hire and consultants) not originally requested (broadband and infrastructure). At Culture Questions the following afternoon, in response to my question, the Minister again confirmed that neither she nor her officials appeared to have asked whether the event sponsor, Tenants, had been invited to cover any additional costs. This issue will not go away and I believe the Minister has more questions to answer. You can read my comments here and view the proceedings from this week by clicking here.
Tuesday afternoon saw the Scottish Parliament debate the progress on implementing recommendations of the expert review group in new psychoactive substances. I was also able to catch up on casework before meeting Colleges Scotland in the evening for a reception.
Wednesday morning was spent in the Scottish Parliament Corporate Body. This was followed by a meeting of the post-study work visa steering group, which is looking to put forward proposals for changes to the current visa arrangements that would allow more international students to stay on to work in Scotland for a period after they complete their studies. This has strong cross-party support as well as support from the universities, colleges and the business community in Scotland.
Back in parliament, I gave an interview to STV news on my campaign to improve facilities at Aberdeen Airport for passengers returning from hospital appointments in Aberdeen. I am disappointed that more progress has not been made on this, but Aberdeen Airport management has confirmed that the plan is still to press ahead with changes. Hopefully these will make the airport more accessible and comfortable for isles passengers who have mobility issues or may need extra privacy if they are feeling unwell. You can read more here.
After votes on Wednesday afternoon I participated in a debate calling for an end to nuisance calls and texts, similar to the one I led in 2012. These practices affect too many people, and pose particular risks for older and more vulnerable people, including here in Orkney. One constituent described them as a ‘personal assault.’ Since we last debated the issue, the Information Commissioner’s Office has enhanced powers to take action against firms making nuisance calls, but more needs to be done. Proposals for new legislation to hold board level executives to account and make Caller Line Identification mandatory, seem worth considering. You can read my contribution to the debate here.
I finishing Wednesday evening with a cross-party panel debate on the importance of childcare, hosted by Save the Children. This followed the recent publication of an independent report on the next steps for early learning, entitled Meeting Scotland’s Childcare Challenge.
Thursday morning was spent doing casework and internal meetings before heading to the Chamber for First Minister’s Questions. This week Nicola Sturgeon was pressed hard over allegations about highly dubious business dealings of Michelle Thomson MP, until this week, the SNP’s Shadow Business spokesperson. She is accused of buying properties at below market value from people in distress, including a cancer sufferer, and selling on at a significant profit. She has resigned the party whip while police investigations are on-going. Willie Rennie highlighted the crowing GP crisis in Scotland. You can watch events here.
I then met with constituents on a visit to the parliament. It is always a pleasure welcoming constituents to Holyrood and I encourage anyone who would like a tour to please get in touch with my office. The afternoon was spent in the chamber as the parliament debated Stage 3 of the Human Trafficking and Exploitation (Scotland) Bill. The parliament unanimously approved the bill, which makes provision about human trafficking and slavery, servitude and forced or compulsory labour, including provision about specific offences and sentencing and provision for victim support. I was pleased my colleague, Alison McInnes MSP secured amendments to the bill which will offer stronger safeguards for child victims of trafficking. The debate can be watched here.
I was also able to meet with Professor Naismith from the University of St Andrews to discuss his concerns about proposals in the government’s Higher Education Governance bill. There are real concerns about the impact this legislation could have on the independence and autonomy of universities in Scotland, something that risks undermining their international reputation. This is a subject that the Education Committee will be considering in a roundtable discussion next week.
This morning started with another lengthy delay at Edinburgh airport, which allows me to plug my petition on reliability. The delays put pay to various meetings I had planned with constituents, which is disappointing. These have now been rescheduled, and I used the time to catch up on casework and make a few calls.
Tonight, I will have a meeting of the local Liberal Democrat executive and tomorrow I will be campaigning in Kirkwall.
As well as a number of meeting with constituents, I will be taking part in a debate on Empowering Scotland’s Island Communities and an Education Committee Roundtable on University Governance. I will be asking a question during Education and Lifelong Learning questions on Tuesday regarding teacher numbers. I also have a meeting with the University of Aberdeen and then on Friday I will be at the Q&A in the Orkney Youth Cafe for Mental Health Awareness Week. Everything else can be found in my diary.