Holyrood Highlights 07.06.19

Well, last weekend delivered mixed emotions on the sporting front. I was in Shetland for the Junior Inter County competition, where Orkney unfortunately lost out to their hosts who retained the Stuart Cup for a third year in a row. While Orkney’s impressive netball team offered hope of a late fight back, it was Shetland who came out on top in the other four sports. In each, however, the relatively young Orkney competitors did enough to give optimism for future JICs. Meantime, you can read more about what happened here.

For me, the Junior Inter County remains a very special competition, through which lifelong bonds are formed, bringing our two island communities closer together. This was the focus of my Orcadian column this week, which you can read here.

On a more positive sporting note, there was also the small matter of the Champions League final. I took time out on Saturday evening to travel over to Bressay to join my Shetland colleague and fellow Liverpool fanatic, Tavish Scott in cheering the Reds to victory. The match may have been poor, but who cares. Liverpool are top dogs in Europe once again!

After briefly returning to Orkney on Sunday, I was then off to Edinburgh on Monday to prepare for a busy few days in parliament. Much of the day was spent drafting speeches, writing my Orcadian article, considering amendments to bills and reviewing Committee papers. I also managed to catch up on casework and emails.

In the evening, I attended a ceremony in parliament that saw four embroidered panels from the Icelandic saga stories and Book of Settlements handed over to Scottish Diaspora Tapestry. The panels depicted the life of Aud the Deep Minded, who lived in Caithness before settling in Iceland in the 9th century. You can learn more about the history of the panels here.

It was an interesting start to Tuesday morning, as we found out five members of Extinction Rebellion had chained themselves to the railings outside parliament.  Each party leader had been sent a key to each one of the individuals, which eventually happened – though it took longer to track down some colleagues. It was the latest protests to highlight the Climate Emergency. A bill to update Scotland’s targets to address this is currently making its way through the Scottish Parliament, more details of which you can find here.  You can see more about this week’s protest here.

Away from the media excitement outside, it was business as usual for me at the Justice Committee, where we took evidence on proposals to extend the presumption against short prison sentences from three to 12 months. All the evidence shows that short sentences do little to address offending behaviour and are less effective than community based measures. With the highest prison population in western Europe, and most of our prisons at or beyond capacity, reform is needed. You can read the Committee proceedings here and more about the issue here.

After a brief time in my office, trying to deal with my email inbox, I was off to the Chamber for a Tory debate on proposals for a bill to introduce whole life sentences in Scotland, which you can read more about here. As judges already have discretion to hand down sentences effectively keeping a prisoner incarcerated for the rest of their life, these proposals are political posturing rather than a genuine attempt to improve sentencing for victims and their families. You can see what I said here, read it here and watch the full session here.

Following the debate, I had a short meeting back at my office with Jonathan Hines, a Sanday-based constituent who also happens to be on the board of the UK Passivhaus Trust.  We discussed the progress made on Passivhaus in Scotland and the potential in future to help reduce energy use/costs and meet climate change targets.  You can read more about what the Trust do here.    

It was then back to the chamber, where I was delighted to have the opportunity to speak at a members’ debate on delivering fair access to treatment and care for people with advanced dementia. I highlighted the great work of Dementia Friendly Orkney and Age Scotland Orkney, as well as efforts of local shops and business to turn Orkney ‘purple’ for Dementia Awareness Week. However, a recent report by the Fair Dementia Care Commission also points out that care for advanced dementia is too often not available or is costlier than that for other terminal conditions. You can read the report here, see what I had to say here and you can watch the full debate here.

In the evening, my colleague Tavish Scott MSP hosted an event on ‘The Future of Farming: Nature Means Business’, focusing on the work of the Nature Friendly Farming Network. Farmers from across Scotland were present to talk about how agriculture and the environment can work in harmony. You can learn more about the NFFN here.

Wednesday began with a meeting at my office with Atos about how the challenges facing Police Scotland require investment in ICT and digital capability. This is an issue that has come up frequently at meetings of the Justice Sub Committee on Policing.

In the afternoon, after the regular weekly meeting with Lib Dem MSP colleagues, I had a catch up with Jonathan Hinkles, MD of Loganair on a range of issues, including the disruption caused by industrial action by air traffic controllers at airports across the Highlands & Islands. As it happens, this coincided with confirmation that proposed strike action on 12 June had been called off, as staff considered a revised offer by HIAL’s management. Hopefully, this will see an end to this long-running and damaging dispute. You can read my comments here and you can read the full story here.  Unfortunately, flights on 12 June will still be affected but travel advice is available on Loganair’s website here.

Following this meeting, I had to dash to the chamber to vote on Stage 3 amendments to the South of Scotland Enterprise Bill.  You can read more about the Bill here. While in the Chamber, I noted confirmation that the Hamnavoe Hub Project had been given the go-ahead. Using renewables to provide cleaner, less costly ‘shore power’ to local ferries has long been discussed, so it’s great to see this project going forward in Stromness.  You can read my comments here and find out more about the project here.

In the evening, the environmental theme continued as I attended an event hosted by Environment LINK celebrating the work of ‘citizen scientists’ showcasing the work that members of the public do to protect the environment, from helping with flood protection through to mapping archaeological sites under threat from coastal erosion. 

On Thursday, the morning was spent dealing with casework, emails and calls.  At General Questions, I had the chance to raise with Ministers concerns about a lack of capacity within Orkney’s child and adolescent mental health services team. I will meet the Mental Health Minister, Clare Haughey shortly to discuss this in more detail, but you can watch my question here, and read my comments here.

It was then straight into First Minister’s Questions, where John Swinney was standing in for the First Minister who was attending D-Day commemorations.  Ruth Davidson focused on education and Richard Leonard went on findings from the Poverty and Inequality Commission Report.  Willie Rennie challenged the Scottish Government once again on national testing for P1 pupils, which parliament voted to scrap last year.  You can read about FMQs here and you can watch it here.

After the debate, I stayed in the chamber for the start of my colleague, Alex Cole-Hamilton’s members’ debate on trauma recovery and support for first responders.  You can read about the debate here; and watch it here.

I then had to make my way quickly to Committee Room 2 for the Cross Party Group meeting on Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency.  The topic was Scotland’s Hydrogen Future which, as you might expect, featured Orkney quite prominently.  If you would like copies of the slides from any of the three presentations, please let me know.

It was then back to the chamber for the remainder of the afternoon. Firstly, I got in at Rural Affairs Questions to ask about support for the efforts of the local goose management group in Orkney, given concerns over the impact of high and rising numbers of resident greylag geese on crops and land. I was glad the Minister acknowledged those concerns and agreed to meet with me and fellow MSPs to discuss the options for addressing this problem.  You can see the exchange here and the full exchange here.

It was then onto Stage 3 of the Fuel Poverty Bill where I was pleased to see changes approved that strengthen requirements on every local authority to meet targets for reducing fuel poverty. This follows earlier amendments I had accepted that recognise the higher costs faced in island communities and the specific island and rural dimension to fuel poverty. You can read my comments on it here and you can watch the debate here.

Today, I flew back north for a day in the constituency office dealing with casework in and meeting various constituents. I am always happy to help with or discuss issues and there is no need to wait for formal surgeries. Please get in touch with my office here.

I also popped by Glaitness Primary to pick up some old football strips, which will be making their way out to Malawi soon, hopefully. Burray Boomerangs strips are already out in Likhibula so it may be that the Boomerangs and Glaitness United will be locking horns again in the Warm Heart of Africa!

This weekend, I will be taking part in a game of walking rugby at the Picky before attending the Golden Ball dinner dance at the rugby club, which is being organised by Age Scotland Orkney as part of Dementia Awareness Week.  If you fancy putting on your rugby boots, or maybe even your dancing shoes, and joining me at either event this Saturday, you can find out more details on the Age Scotland Orkney site here. You can also read more about dementia awareness week here.  To recognise the efforts of Stromness Museum in providing dementia awareness training for their staff, I lodged a motion in parliament, which you can find here.

Next Week:

Next Monday I’ll be visiting Dounby Primary School before attending VAO’s AGM in the evening.  On Tuesday, I’ll be speaking in the chamber on the conclusion of the Fuel Poverty Bill and I have another oral question on Thursday, this time on the fees charged by colleges to students who have to leave their course early.  I will also have meetings about the 5G pilot in Orkney, the Hyseas Hydrogen Ferry Project and with Ofcom, on broadband and mobile coverage in the islands.  As ever, my full diary is here, while “This Week in the Scottish Parliament”, a weekly update from the Scottish Parliament, can be found here.

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