Holyrood Highlights - 10.06.22

Over the weekend I enjoyed watching the long-awaited return of Junior Intercounty competition in the brilliant Orkney sunshine.  On Saturday, Orkney were out in front after a dominant display in the athletics followed by a gripping and highly entertaining 0-0 draw in the hockey (including two very big ‘proud uncle’ moments as Emily won the 800m and Ella showed great stick work on Orkney’s left wing).  Day two of JIC, however, saw Shetland make a triumphant comeback, first in the swimming and then the football, before Orkney's netballers served up a knife-edge win to round off the contest.  Sadly, it wasn't enough to overtake Shetland with the final score Orkney 142 - Shetland 158.  However, it was an excellent weekend of sporting competition with lifelong friendships no doubt formed.  Here’s to a more positive result in the Senior Intercounty later this month.

After a weekend of boos for the Prime Minister amid the cheers for Her Majesty's Jubilee, it was no surprise that the week began with news that Boris Johnson was to face a vote of no confidence from his Conservative MP colleagues.  While Mr Johnson survived with the backing of 211 Tory MPs, 148 of his colleagues voted against the PM, leaving his position increasingly precarious.  Indeed, I suspect voters in two up-coming by-elections later this month will pass even sterner judgment on Mr Johnson’s law-breaking and underscore the lack of confidence in the country at large.  Ultimately, the longer Boris Johnson remains in office the greater the damage he will do to the reputation of his office, his party and for politics as a whole.

Ahead of a busy week, I spent Monday catching-up on casework in the constituency office in Kirkwall.  I was also pleased to give my support to Age Scotland's new #KnowYourRights campaign which is seeking to raise awareness of rights and support available to unpaid carers.  Carers Week offers an important opportunity to thank the many unpaid carers in Orkney who make an invaluable contribution to supporting some of the most vulnerable in our local communities.  It is also a chance to recognise that caring can often create additional pressures and challenges on aspects of everyday life, including on finances, relationships and mental health.  We must do all we can to ensure they are supported and I'm proud of the tireless work local organisations such as Crossroads Orkney, VAO and Orkney Young Carers do all year round.  You can find out more about Age Scotland's campaign here and what support is available locally here.  Later in the evening, I attended a meeting of the Medical Advisory Group which I established to advise on the delivery of my proposed Members Bill on Assisted Dying for Terminally Ill Adults

On Tuesday morning I flew down to Edinburgh where I attended the usual series of meetings with my Presiding Officer colleagues and then of the Parliamentary Bureau.  Afterwards I was delighted to welcome to parliament my good friend, John Loughton, CEO of Dare2Lead and Founder of Scran Academy, to deliver Time for Reflection in the Chamber at the start of the week's business.  John's honesty and candour, alongside his outstanding charitable work for young people, are a real source of inspiration.  You can watch John's speech here and find out more about him here.

Chamber business then began with Topical Questions, which you can watch here and read here, focused on reports that less than a quarter of nursing shifts have enough staff and the ongoing rail dispute on pay and conditions.  There was then a Ministerial Statement on the latest statistics for Greenhouse Emissions in Scotland which revealed that, after three years of failing, Scotland finally met its targets in 2020, though largely due to the impact of lockdown.  It is widely expected that emissions will skyrocket when next year's statistics are published.  A significant drop in aviation and travel emissions account for much of the overall fall, but masked stubbornly high levels of emissions elsewhere, such as residential.  Given 50% of all energy used in Scotland goes into heating our homes, the journey to net-zero must go hand in hand with greater retrofitting efforts.  I asked the Cabinet Secretary to outline how the Scottish Government will urgently scale-up retrofitting activity and ensure there is the capacity to deliver this on the ground.  You can watch the Ministerial Statement here, read it here and more about the statistics here.  Later in the afternoon I was in the Chair for a debate on Scotland’s National Parks which focused on the government's intention to create a third National Park. You can watch this debate here and read it here

On Wednesday morning I spent time dealing with casework in between a number of meetings, beginning with a catch-up with the organisations supporting my Members Bill.  I then joined Scottish Lib Dem Leader, Alex Cole-Hamilton, and spokesperson for agriculture, Cllr Clare McLaren, in welcoming NFU Scotland President, Martin Kennedy and colleagues to Parliament.  We had a good discussion on the main issues facing farmers, including increased input costs, risks to food security and the urgent need for greater certainty on future funding arrangements.  Having attended the recent successful NFUS roadshow in Orkney, the meeting allowed me to follow up some of the issues and concerns raised at that event in Kirkwall.

After a bite of lunch, I was in the Chair for portfolio questions on Covid Recovery & Parliamentary Business and Net-Zero, Energy and Transport, which you can watch here and read here.  Later in the afternoon I met with officials to discuss how parliament’s Committees can work jointly on scrutiny of net zero issues and also spent time dealing with casework.  Meanwhile, there was an Urgent Question on rail provisions for Scotland's Nations League match at Hampden against Armenia, followed by a debate led by the Conservatives on the government's economic priorities in light of their Spending Review announced last week.  You can watch these here, here and read them here.  I was back in the Chair for a Members Business debate Commemorating 40 Years Since the Falklands War, which you can watch here and read here.

Once out of the Chair I tuned into a virtual Lib Dem Business & Entrepreneurs Network event on the future of Scotland's Food and Drinks sector.  I then headed along to the Scottish Rugby Union parliamentary reception.  This is always an enjoyable occasion, but the presence once again of the Calcutta Cup, after Scotland’s victory over England at the 6 Nations earlier the year, was further cause for celebration.  I’m in discussions with the SRU about the possibility of bringing the Calcutta Cup back up to Orkney again in the near future – so watch this space!

On Thursday morning I had a virtual meeting with Orkney Ferries Manager, Helen Inkster, and Chair Cllr Mellissa Thomson to discuss concerns within the Shapinsay community about the decision to replace MV Shapinsay with MV Thorsvoe over the summer period.  While Orkney Ferries remain committed to this decision, there was an acceptance that more could and should be done to improve the ability of MV Thorsvoe to meet the need of passengers.  Helen Inkster has since written to the local Community Council setting out some of the steps that will be taken.

Later in the morning, I headed along to the Chamber where I had a General Question on the rollout of broadband in Orkney.  Already years behind schedule, there are now fears that the so-called R100 programme will fall far short of delivering the universal coverage promised in the isles.  While work underway to lay new subsea cables is welcome, current indications suggest the rollout of fibre in each island and community will be more limited than expected.  Indeed, the government's own maps reveal the extent to which many if not most households in some islands and communities are set to miss out even after the subsea cables make landfall.  I was pleased the Cabinet Secretary acknowledged the seriousness of these concerns and agreed to meet with myself, OIC and HIE again to discuss possible solutions in more detail which I hope will take place shortly.  You can watch my question here, read the exchange here and more of my comments here.

It was then time for First Minister's Questions where opposition leaders focused on the waiting times crisis in the NHS and for mental health services.  Douglas Ross, keen to move on from his various U-turns over Boris Johnson’s future, challenged the First Minister over reports of Scottish patients having to travel to England to get operations carried out in the private sector.  Labour's Anas Sarwar also tackled the First Minister over her record on waiting lists with more than 10,000 young people waiting for mental health treatment.  Later, my colleague, Willie Rennie sought clarity on the SNP's plans to eliminate the poverty-related attainment gap after apparently conflicting statements from Nicola Sturgeon and her Education Secretary. You can watch FMQs here and read it here.  After FMQs I was in the Chair for Members Business on NHS Staff Recruitment and Retention, which you can watch here and read here.

After a bit of lunch, I caught up on casework while tuning into portfolio questions on Rural Affairs & Islands, which you can watch here and read here.  I then had a virtual catch-up with the Association of Scottish Police Superintendents to discuss the implications for the Scottish Government's Spending Review on policing and justice.  Meanwhile, there was a Ministerial Statement on the outcome of the shambolic Scottish Census.  The Cabinet Secretary, Angus Robertson confirmed that despite a target uptake rate of 94% being set, only 87.5% of households had completed the questionnaire by the second extended deadline.  This had come at a cost to the taxpayer of a further £6 million and concerns remain about the ability of public policy decisions to be made on the basis of the data gathered. Late entries to the Census can be accepted until this Sunday (12 June).  Meantime, you can read the statement here and watch it here.  There was also a Ministerial Statement on the Scottish COVID-19 Inquiry, which you can also watch here and read here.

I was back in the Chair for a Stage 3 debate on the Scottish Local Government Elections (Candidacy Rights of Foreign Nationals) Bill, which you can watch here, read here and find out more about here.  After votes, and a little time catching up on casework, I returned to the Chamber to chair the Donald Dewar Memorial Debate Final 2022.  The quality of debating by the four finalists representing Hutcheson Grammar, High School of Glasgow, Dunfermline High and Fortrose Academy was exceptional, with many excellent contributions also being made by pupils from a range of different schools during the wider ‘floor debate’ on the motion that This House believes there is no place for ‘cancel culture’.  In the end, Orla and Jenna from Fortrose Academy scooped the award and no doubt the minibus journey back up the A9 last night was a lively affair.  You can find out more about the event here.

On Friday morning, I flew home to Orkney where I spent most of the day dealing with casework and making calls to constituents from the constituency office in Kirkwall.  I also had a catch-up with OIC Interim Chief Executive, John Mundell where we discussed a number of issues, including the roll out of broadband, internal ferry replacement and pressure on Council services.

Later this afternoon, I will be heading out to Sanday where I will be holding an advice surgery for constituents in the Heilsa Fjord.  Afterwards I'm looking forward to meeting Stephen Murray and Steve Ray to get an update on plans for the Sanday Men's Shed, which I’m very excited to see making good progress.  I will be staying in Sanday over the weekend for a wedding and spend some time with my parents.

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