This week began in the Kirkwall office with the usual series of meetings first with parliamentarian colleagues and then my office team to discuss the week ahead. The rest of the day was taken up dealing with casework, including a number of calls with constituents. Later on Monday evening I was 'pinged' by Test and Protect as a close contact which meant I had to cancel my flight for the following morning.
On Tuesday, I was able to virtually participate in meetings with my Presiding Officer colleagues and before heading off for my PCR test appointment. The afternoon was then spent dealing with casework and tuning into watch the Deputy First Minister deliver the Covid-19 Update to parliament. While no new restrictions were announced, John Swinney did open the door to a possible extension of the 'Covid passport' scheme to include hospitality venues. This, I know, is already causing concern amongst a number of those operating such businesses, including local cafes. Given that there appears to be little evidence of the vaccine passports having reduced the spread or the virus or pushed up vaccine rates to any extent, it is understandable that questions are being asked about the justification for extending their use.
Following the statement, I was able to raise with the DFM ongoing issues relating to vaccine passports for those in receipt of vaccinations in different parts of the UK. A number of constituents who have received one vaccine in Scotland but another in either England or Wales have been in touch to explain their inability to get a valid certificate. I can’t understand how a solution to this issue has not yet been found given Scotland now recognises vaccine certificates from 130 countries around the world. However, the DFM offered an assurance that steps were being taken to resolve the problems and meantime any individual cases raised with Minister would be dealt with. I would encourage any constituent who is experiencing similar difficulties to get in touch with me and I will be happy to raise it with Ministers. You can watch the statement here and read it here and my further comments here.
After more casework I tuned back into proceedings in Edinburgh for a Member's Debate on Long Covid. The debate was led by my colleague, Alex Cole-Hamilton and marked the first time the Scottish Parliament had debated Long Covid as new figures published this week show the number of people reporting experiencing the condition has soared to 92,000, up by 13,000 on the previous month. Over the past few months, I have been contacted by various constituents suffering from Long Covid and it is clear from those discussions that each experience is very specific to the individual, although the impact is invariably debilitating. A lack of early identification or the opportunity to get tested are common features of the accounts that have been relayed to me. While the truth is that more needs to be understood about the effects of Long Covid, we do need to see more specialist support available in each local health board area, including in the islands. You can watch the debate here, read the transcript here and my comments here.
On Wednesday morning, with a negative PCR test, I was able to fly down to Edinburgh. Once back in Holyrood I had an interview with the Daily Record on my proposed bill on Assisted Dying for Terminally Ill Adults. A reminder that the public consultation on these proposals runs until 22 December and you can contribute your views here. Afterwards I spent some time dealing with casework before meeting with my Presiding Officer colleagues to discuss the chamber business ahead, starting with Portfolio questions on Justice and Veterans followed by Finance and Economy, which you can watch here. I was in the Chair for a Ministerial Statement on the National Planning Strategy which you can watch here and read here. I remained in the Chair for the beginning of a debate on Scotland’s approach to 2021 Coastal States Negotiations during which my colleague, Beatrice Wishart highlighted the priorities of the fishing sector in the Northern Isles, including the need to increase the North Sea cod quota. You can watch the full debate here and read the transcript here.
I was back in the Chair again after votes, this time for a Members Debate on 100 Years of Poppy in the UK to celebrate the centenary of the Scottish Poppy Appeal ahead of Remembrance Day. The debate also included tributes to Sir Alistair Irwin, who is stepping down as President of Poppyscotland after 15 years. You can watch the full debate here and read the transcript here. After the debate, I had a board meeting of Hearts and Balls, a charity I have been involved in for many years and which was set up to support rugby players and their families affected by serious injury. You can find out more about Hearts and Balls here.
On Thursday morning I joined the Presiding Officers, Deputy First Minister and party leaders in the national two-minute silence at 11am to commemorate Remembrance Day. Due to ongoing Covid restrictions, this ceremony was broadcast around the parliamentary complex, rather than having the usual gathering in the Garden Lobby. Afterwards I made an important visit to the Scottish Parliament Shop to buy some items for BBC Radio Orkney's annual Children In Need auction. I then headed back to the office to catch-up on casework while tuning into First Minister's Questions. This week, with the First Minister at COP26, the Deputy First Minister took questions from opposition leaders where much of the focus was on the crisis faced by NHS services across the country. My colleague, Alex Cole-Hamilton revealed an FOI which has shown the number of ambulance staff hours lost to mental ill health is now up 300% since 2017. You can watch FMQs here and read the transcript here.
During the afternoon, I chaired a session of portfolio questions on Education and Skills, which you can watch here, and then the start of a government debate on support for Veterans and Remembrance Commemorations, which you can also watch here and read here.
In the evening, I joined party colleagues for the leaving do of my former researcher, Lily Humphreys, who is heading off to take up a policy role with Scotland’s Children’s Hearing System. She has been a tremendous asset to my office and to the party over the past three years. We were also joined by Jonny Adamson, who had been my research and press officer, but left immediately after the election in May to start a job with Tennis Scotland. Like Lily, Jonny was great to work with and played a key role in running my election campaign. It was nice to be able to finally mark his departure properly.
On Friday morning I caught the first flight back home to Orkney where I spent the morning catching up on casework before making a visit to Highland Park to meet Distillery Manager, Marie Stanton for a catch up on a range of issues and plans for the distillery going forward. You can find out more about what Marie and her colleagues are up to here.
Later this evening, I am very much looking forward to attending the annual Remembrance & Centenary Dinner at The Royal British Legion in Kirkwall. This is always an enjoyable event, with great camaraderie amidst the poignant reflection ahead of the commemorations in Kirkwall and across the county on Sunday morning.