Holyrood Highlights 11.10.19

As if my recent foray into the worlds of cookery and ballet weren’t enough, I found myself speed dating on Monday evening. Political speed dating that is, but a new experience nonetheless.

Following a day of interviews in parliament to appoint a new Chief Executive/Clerk, I took part in a ‘political speed dating’ event organised by the 2050 Climate Group.  It was designed to give young people the opportunity to learn more about each party’s environmental policies as well as how each party develops policy more generallyThe young people I met are clearly determined to drive change in their communities, and we had some very interesting discussions about how we can meet our climate change targets going forward.  You can find out more about the evening here and the 2050 Climate Group here.

I got home later to hear the welcome news that Heidi Allen MP has become the latest parliamentarian at Westminster to join the Liberal Democrats.  Heidi is the seventh MP to defect to the party this year and this continues to strengthen our message against Brexit.  You can read more about this story here.

On Tuesday morning, I used the time that I would normally have been on a flight back to Edinburgh to finish my fortnightly Orcadian column, which drew together the ingredients of Masterchef and National Islands Plan! You can read it here.  I then headed to the Justice Committee, where we heard evidence from the Justice Secretary and the Chief Executive of the Scottish Prison Service as part of our continued pre-budget scrutiny.  With two thirds of our prisons at or over capacity, and a continued rise in the prisoner population, it is clear we are rapidly approaching a crisis point, if we’re not already there. You can watch the full session here and read the committee report here.

After the regular Lib Dem MSP meeting, I dropped in to a briefing session by WWF Scotland and Vivid Economics on the their new report, ‘Scotland’s Response to the Climate Emergency: Next steps and immediate actions.’  The report detailed what immediate actions Scotland needs to take toward reaching our net zero targets.  You can read the report here and find out more about WWF Scotland and Vivid Economics here and here.

Following the briefing, I had some time at my desk to deal with casework and emails, as well as prepare for the statement on the proposed National Islands Plan, which you can find here.  The proposed plan has drawn criticism for being too vague and not detailing any real commitments in important areas needing urgent action, including our lifeline transport links.  This was a point I picked up with the Islands Minister, Paul Wheelhouse following his statement. You can watch the statement in full here and read it here.  You can watch my contribution here and read my further comments here.

Back to the office afterwards, I met with Graham Neville from Scottish Natural Heritage to discuss efforts to address the damage caused to crops and lands by the increasing numbers of resident greylag geese in Orkney.  Mr Neville was able to update me on the outcome of the most recent meeting of the local goose management group, which was helpful ahead of my meeting with the Environment Secretary after recess where I will reiterate the need for urgent and concerted action to tackle this problem.  You can read more about the local goose management group here my previous meeting with Ministers on this issue here.

After a phone call with the Nursery and Midwifery Council about a case raised with me by a constituent, I picked up on the very disappointing news about the planned closure of Peedie Breeks, an established and highly-valued local nursery.  I am due to meet again with the council to discuss the implications of this decision and the steps being taken to ensure provision for children, choice for parents and clarity for staff affected.  You can read more about the situation here.

In the evening, I was delighted to co-sponsor the parliament’s first ever Diwali event and welcome members of the Scottish Hindu community to Holyrood. Diwali is the festival of lights and is one of the biggest festivities in the Hindu calendar, bringing communities together to celebrate the triumph of light over dark and good over evil. It proved to be a colourful, musical and highly enjoyable celebration – and hopefully the first of many.  You can learn more about Diwali here and the British Hindu Forum here.

The downside, however, was that the Diwali event prevented me attending the launch of the Stop MS Appeal, but I was pleased to hear it too was a success. The campaign aims to raise £100million to fund further treatment into the condition, which is of particular relevance to Orkney, which has one of the highest rates of MS in the world.  You can learn more about the campaign here, MS Society Scotland here and how to donate here.

On Wednesday morning, I joined MSP colleagues to watch the Scotland v Russia rugby match at Murrayfield.  We were hosted by former Scotland player, and current Edinburgh coach, Duncan Hodge who spookily predicted that Scotland would run out winners by around 60 points (final score 61-0!)  The win gives Scotland momentum going into the final, must-win group match against hosts, Japan – assuming the super-typhoon, dubbed ‘Hurricane Haggis’ doesn’t spoil the party. Meantime, I lodged a motion to congratulate Scotland on their wins, and to wish them luck for their crucial decider with Japan on Sunday.  You can read my motion here

Buoyed by Scotland’s performance, I made my way to parliament for what promised to be a long and busy day.  First up, a meeting with Existing Homes Alliance Scotland to discuss their recent report which sets out a pathway to zero carbon homes by 2045, focusing on areas of energy efficiency and tackling fuel poverty targets.   You can read the report here and find out about Existing Homes Alliance Scotland here.

I then took part in an opinion survey with PA Advocacy in return for which I will be able to donate £100 to the Banana Box charity, allowing them to ship out three boxes of football strips and balls, gifted by the Orkney Youth Development Group, to Malawi. It was a fantastically generous offer from OYDG and I’m looking forward to seeing the photos of the young Malawians in their Orkney football kit!  I regularly take part in these surveys, so if you know a local charity, group or project that might benefit from such a donation, please get in touch

The afternoon was then spent in the chamber dealing with loads of Stage 3 amendments to the Transport Bill, This bill covered a wide range of issues from the proposed workplace car park tax to the delivery of bus services and support for active travel. By 8:45pm we still hadn’t finished with all the amendments, but postponed further consideration until the following day.  You can read the Bill here, watch the session here and read it here.  I then rushed back to my flat to meet a member of the Cross Party Group on Malawi, who had kind offered to deliver the boxes of Orkney football strips to Dundee, from where they’ll be shipped out to Malawi shortly.

Thursday began with a meeting of the Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body, after which I had some time in the office to deal with emails, casework and make a few calls. It was then off to the Chamber again, this time for General Questions where I was able to ask the government about the timetable for delivery of the R100 broadband programme.  The 2021 target for reaching 100% of premises in Scotland has been dropped, but not yet replaced by a revised deadline. Meanwhile, despite improvements, Orkney continues to have one of the lowest coverage rates in the country. You can watch my question here, the full session here and read it here. You can also read my further comments here.

It was then time for First Minister’s Questions, with both Jackson Carlow and Richard Leonard raising concerns on behalf of women, who have been badly affected by mesh treatment.  The First Minister agreed to do all she can to ensure that a leading mesh removal surgeon from the US is able to come to Scotland to help some of the 600 women whose lives have been so damaged by mesh procedures over the years.  You can read more about this situation here.

On Mental Health Awareness Day, my colleague Alex Cole-Hamilton raised with the First Minister the continued poor waiting times for mental health treatment in Scotland, in part due to chronic staff shortages.  This is an area where further, urgent action is desperately required.  You can watch the full session here and read it here.

I then had a short cross-party meeting with the Finance Secretary, Derek Mackay to hear the draft missions for the proposed Scottish National Investment Bank.  You can read more about the SNIB Bill here and details about the Bank here.

Following the meeting, I dashed outside to meet those taking part in a rally organised by Speak Out Survivors, calling for changes to the justice system to improve the experiences of survivors of sexual offences.  This followed publication the previous day of detailed research on Scotland’s jury system, including the unique three verdicts of guilty, not guilty and not proven. Concerns have been raised by campaigners about the confusion created for victims, juries and the wider public by the ‘not proven’ verdict. You can read more about the Speak Out Survivors group here.  Details of the Jury Research can be found here

I grabbed a quick bit of lunch before going back to the Chamber for the continuation of the Stage 3 debate on the amendments to the Transport Bill.  You can watch the session here and read it here.

The last chamber business of the day, and in fact of this parliamentary session, was a Stage 1 debate on the Non-Domestic Rates Bill.  In my speech, I highlighted the very limited nature of the bill and the chequered history of the Scottish Government in making any meaningful changes to this area of taxation. In truth, it has been a case of tinkering while all the while doing nothing to make this area of taxation more locally accountable, relevant and effective. You can watch my contribution here, the full debate here and read it here.

In the evening, I was off the Royal Lyceum Theatre to watch Love Song to Lavender Menace.  You can read more about the play, which was both funny and thought-provoking, here.  It also gave me an excuse not to see Russian’s footballers avenge their rugby counterparts by thumping Scotland 4-0!

I flew back to Orkney this morning for a day of meetings and phone calls with constituents in the office. I also had a meeting with Brian Archibald from OIC Marine Services to discuss the Hyseas III project, more details of which you can find here. After a busy week, I also hope to get on with some casework

Parliament will be in recess from next week until Monday 28th October, which means that there will be no parliamentary business taking place.  However, my constituency office in Kirkwall will remain open as normal so please get in touch, if needs be. You can find contact details here.

Meantime, you can read all my contributions to debates during this parliamentary session here, my questions submitted to the government here and motions that I’ve lodged here.

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