Holyrood Highlights - 06.05.22

Over the weekend, it was a pleasure to be invited to take part in the ceremony to mark the formal reopening of St Peter’s Kirk, Eastside, South Ronaldsay.  It was an occasion for sharing many personal memories about a special place (and sharing a rather special cake afterwards too!).  I’m delighted that such a wonderful building with a fine history now has a bright future secured, thanks to a partnership forged between Historic Churches Scotland and the Friends of St Peter’s Kirk.  You can find out more about the kirk and future planned events here.

Saturday saw me ferrying between Kirkwall and South Ronaldsay, as I kept tabs on the Orkney Rugby 7s, which returned after a two-year absence.  From the brilliant minis competition in the morning to the men’s final which saw Orkney A beat Orkney B, shortly after Orkney Women had won their competition, it was a fitting end to a successful season fro Orkney RFC.  All in all a weekend that made it feel that life is getting back to normal, a theme I picked up in my Orcadian column, which you can read here.

With the May Bank Holiday, I spent Monday catching up on emails and preparing for the week ahead.  Tuesday morning then saw me travel down to Edinburgh and was back in parliament in good time ahead of my meetings with my Presiding Officer colleagues, Parliamentary Bureau and lastly with my Lib Dem colleagues.  Over lunch, I finished off my Orcadian column and made a few calls to constituents.

Topical Questions started the week's chamber business, with a focus on the ruling by the Scottish Information Commissioner that the Scottish Government should release legal advice received on preparations for a second independence referendum.  Measures in place to ensure that Ukrainian families understand the conditions of the Scottish Government’s Super Sponsor Scheme were also discussed.  You can watch the exchanges here.

Later in the afternoon, I was in the Chair for a Stage 1 debate on the Fireworks and Pyrotechnics Bill.  Following high profile incidents during bonfire night in 2017 and 2018, the Scottish Government undertook to look at the tightening the laws around the use of fireworks in Scotland.  The Bill proposes making it a criminal offence to buy, possess or use or supply fireworks without a licence, with firework sales being legally limited to certain times of the year.  While there is cross-party consensus to the proposals, there has been concern at the way in which the government is forcing through the Bill on an accelerated timetable, concerns heightened by the complexities identified by the cross-party Committee during its Stage 1 evidence gathering.  You can watch this debate here, read it here and more about the bill here.  I had an hour back in the office to catch up on emails and casework before returning to the Chair for a Members debate on World Press Freedom Day, which you can watch here and read here.

On Wednesday morning, I attended the Citizen Participation and Public Petitions Committee which returned to considering a petition calling for HIAL to halt their air traffic centralisation proposals.  The petition has been under active consideration since it was first lodged in 2020 on behalf of the Benbecula Community Council.  Following the welcome decision earlier in the year by HIAL to shelve their centralisation proposals of air traffic services, the Committee had agreed to take further written and oral evidence on the decisions taken part of the Air Traffic Management Scheme (ATMS), which included the deeply flawed remote tower project.  I was pleased that one of the petitioners, Peter Henderson from Orkney, was able to update the Committee on outstanding concerns, not least the lack of accountability by HIAL's mismanagement.  While the immediate threat of job losses has been lifted, I argued that there should be a proper audit of ATMS by Audit Scotland to determine whether due process was followed and what lessons can be learned.  You can watch the Committee here, read it here and more of my comments here.

Later in the morning, Alistair Carmichael and I met with Nick Quin, Head of Financial Inclusion at LINK, the UK's largest cash machine network, who have been working with the Bank of Scotland in regard to the recently announced closure of the bank’s branch in Stromness.  Both Alistair and I reiterated our concern over the town centre being left without a cashpoint when the branch closes in August.  This would not only have negative impact on the local community within Stromness but has implications for visitors, who may need to withdraw cash but be less aware of there being an ATM at the Co-op.  LINK has agreed to carry out a site visit in the coming weeks to establish whether they could support the provision of a cashpoint in the town centre and I will be seeking to work with stakeholders in Stromness to support this. 

With the Local Elections on Thursday, parliament was only sitting two days this week.  This meant that Wednesday's chamber business was a compressed agenda, including First Minister's Questions which provided opposition leaders the final opportunity to pitch their case ahead of polling day.  After a delay due to technical issues in the chamber, Conservative leader, Douglas Ross, sought to question Nicola Sturgeon again over the ferries fiasco with former Fergusons shipyard owner, Jim McColl, branding her a 'liar' this week.  Labour leader, Anas Sarwar, clashed with the First Minister over budget cuts to local authorities.  You can watch FMQs here and read it here.

There was then a series of portfolio question sessions, beginning with Health & Social Care, Social Justice, Housing & Local Government, and finally Constitution, External Affairs & Culture which you can watch here and read here.  To finish off the day there was a short debate on National Walking Month, which you can watch here and read here, and a Members debate on International Day of the Midwife, again which you can watch here and here.

Having caught the last flight up on Wednesday evening, I was back in Orkney on Thursday where I used the opportunity of parliament not sitting to spend the day dealing with casework and catching up on emails.  Meanwhile voters in Orkney and across the country were heading for the polls in this year's local elections.  The results of those elections were counted today (Friday).  As expected there is a mix of new and returning councillors across the county.  I warmly congratulate those who have been successful and look forward to working with them, and offer my thanks who put their names forward and offered voters across Orkney a choice.

Remember, while polling stations have closed for the local elections, the Holyrood Dog of the Year remains up for grabs!  Nose down, tail up, Gerry the Springer has got to be your first choice.  You can cast your vote here.

Friday was due to be spent holding various meetings, but due to being under the weather, I was forced to postpone, with the exception of a catch up session with Jonathan Hinkles, CEO of Loganair.  This was the latest in a series of weekly meetings to assess the steps being taken to address recent disruption to our lifeline air services. During the call, we discussed, amongst other things, measures to improve communications with NHS Orkney passengers, whose details are often not on the booking; staffing at mainland Scotland airports to help support passengers when flights are delayed or even cancelled; and the re-establishment of a regular consultative group (jointly with HIAL) to consider airline and airport issues.  These weekly meetings will continue for the foreseeable, although there have been signs of improvement over the past 1-2 weeks.

Over the weekend I'm looking forward to the return of the Parish Cup as Sanday head out west to take on Rendall once again.  Best of luck to all the teams in the competition this year, particularly fellow north of the galters, Stronsay who make a welcome return after a few years’ absence.

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