Holyrood Highlights 13.09.19

A new week, a new Liberal Democrat MP. Last Saturday, we welcomed Angela Smith to our party following earlier defections by Luciana Berger and Phillip Lee.  This swelling of Lib Dem numbers in parliament is welcome, but driven by the alarming actions of the current Prime Minister, who seems intent on allowing the UK to crash out of the EU without a deal on 31st October.

The Prime Minister’s second attempt at triggering an early general election was again thwarted by opponents on Monday, after which Boris Johnson shut down or prorogued parliament, preventing further debate until just before a crucial EU summit in mid-October.  A move condemned by the Commons Speaker as a “constitutional outrage” has also been declared unlawful by Scotland’s highest civil court, though this is being appealed to the Supreme Court. Meantime, calls for a recall of parliament grow ever louder.  On the off-chance you want to read more about this, you will find my Orcadian column here.

Meanwhile, Monday was spent in Orkney, where I had various appointments with constituents and a chance to catch up on casework and emails. Late morning, however, I head through to Stromness Academy for an event highlighting the dangers of alcohol abuse.  The ‘Smashed’ tour performance and workshop was an interactive way of raising awareness amongst young people about the risks of underage drinking and I was impressed at how well the pupils got involved and took on board its key messages.  Orkney was the first leg of their tour, which will see them performing to 50 schools across Scotland between now and November.  You can find out more about Collingwood Learning here, the ‘smashed’ tour programme here and my further comments about the event at Stromness Academy here.

In the afternoon, I met representatives of two charities, Crimestoppers and Fearless, who have been in Orkney this week for meetings with a range of partner organisations and the wider public. They hope to be able to encourage more people, including young people, to have the confidence to report crime, which can be done anonymously. You can learn more about Crimestoppers here and Fearless, which works specifically to remove fears that young people may have when reporting crime, here.

I flew to Edinburgh on Tuesday morning for Justice Committee, where we heard evidence relating to secure care places for children and young people as part of our ongoing inquiry.  You can read the committee report here and watch the full session here

After lunch, I was delighted to be in Chamber to hear my colleague, Beatrice Wishart make her maiden parliamentary speech during a debate on post Brexit immigration plans on the Scottish economy and research sector.  As well as paying tribute to her predecessor, Tavish Scott, Beatrice highlighted the importance of immigration to the Northern Isles.  She also took the opportunity to outline other issues that are key to attracting and retaining population in the islands, including better digital and transport connections, where we desperately need to see the Scottish Government act.  You can read her speech here, watch it here and see the full session here.

In the evening, I managed to get along to the cross-party group on end of life choices, where we heard from distinguished neurosurgeon, Dr Henry Marsh, who outlined his support for assisted dying legislation.  We also heard an fascinating talk from Dr Mehrunisha Suleman on Muslim perspectives on end of life care.  You can find out more about the cross-party group here.

I also had time to go along to the cross-party group AGM on Multiple Sclerosis.  Morna Simpkins, Director of MS Society Scotland, provided a briefing to the group on the upcoming Stop MS Campaign.  With 11,000 people diagnosed in Scotland, and a diagnosis rate in Orkney that is three times higher than in other areas, the success of this campaign will be crucial in improving research and treatment for those affected by MS.  You can read more about the campaign here and the cross-party group here.

I was also pleased to hear that Scottish Ballet are piloting a new dance programme in Orkney next week to help those living with MS, including their friends, family and carers.  The Elevate Dance programme will aim to improve the physical, mental and social wellbeing of those living with MS.  You can read more about the programme here and about Scottish Ballet here.  I felt it appropriate to lodge a motion to parliament to welcome this news, which you can read here.

Wednesday morning began with a meeting with Professor Stephen Salter from the University of Edinburgh to discuss his paper on the potential of the tidal stream resource of the Pentland Firth.

I then had the chance to make some calls and go through emails at my desk, before the regular weekly meeting with my Lib Dem colleagues.  Afterwards, I made my way to the cross-party group on Malawi, where Professor Tefera Melaku from Lilongwe University of Agriculture and Natural Resources updated us on progress being made to train the first cohort of vets in Malawi.  We also heard first hand from some of the veterinary students on their experience and plans for the future.  You can read more about Malawi’s first trained vets here

Following the CPG, I headed to the Chamber for Justice Questions, where I challenged the Justice Secretary on the recent decision by the Scottish Prison Service to redeploy its entire ‘throughcare’ team to general duties. Throughcare services are key to helping rehabilitate prisoners, but have been under huge strain with the spiralling prison population. You can see my question and the Minister’s response here, the full session here and read it here.  You can also read about the Scottish Government’s recent decision to suspend throughcare here

I remained in the chamber for the Scottish Government’s debate on a Citizen’s Assembly, where Willie Rennie put forward our opposition to the government’s proposal.  There is clearly a role for deliberative democracy in Scotland, but the government is using the idea of a citizen’s assembly as a mechanism for pursuing independence.  The idea was put forward by the First Minister in an earlier statement to parliament about independence.  You can watch the full session here, read it here and see Willie’s speech here.  You can read about the government’s proposal here and our reasons for opposing the idea are set out here.

In the evening, I attended a briefing on the case for medicinal cannabis reform, where we heard from various speakers about what the Scottish Government can do to enable GPs to prescribe medical cannabis for those who might need it.  Given the high rate of MS in Orkney, it was particularly interesting to hear the perspective of a former social care officer with MS patients about how she believes medicinal cannabis could help those living with MS.  There was cross-party support for making representations to the Health Secretary and Chief Medical Officer. You can read more about Medical Cannabis Reform Scotland here.

I also managed to stop by the Cross-Party Group on Scotch Whisky for its AGM and a presentation by Holyrood Distillery on the contribution distillery visitor centres make to Scotland’s tourism offering.  You can find out more details about the CPG here.

Unfortunately, I was unable to make it to the launch of the Dignity in Dying Scotland report. This study focuses on how palliative care can be limited in some circumstances and therefore why assisted dying may be a more sensible alternative. You can read about the report here and about Dignity in Dying Scotland here.

Thursday began with an early meeting of the Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body, where Ruth Davidson joined us for her first meeting since being appointed to the SPCB following her resignation as Scottish Tory Party leader. Jackson Carlaw has moved in the opposite direction, leaving the SPCB to stand in as interim leader. You can read about the work of the SPCB here.

After spending a little time back in the office dealing with casework and emails I headed to the Chamber for First Minister’s Questions.  There was consensus across the chamber before FMQs began as all party leaders paid tribute to the incredible contribution made by parliament’s Chief Executive, Sir Paul Grice, who sat alongside the Presiding Officer for the final time before he heads off to take up the role as Principal at Queen Margaret University.  Sir Paul has been an outstanding public servant and will be a hard act to follow. While Winnie Ewing is credited with uttering the first words in the newly established parliament in 1999, in truth it was Sir Paul was spoke first!

When questions got underway, Jackson Carlow kicked off by grilling the First Minister about the latest delays to completion of the new sick kids hospital in Edinburgh, a theme also picked up by Richard Leonard.  Willie Rennie raised the recent publication of the UK Government’s ‘yellowhammer’ documents, laying bare the government’s own assessment of the chaos likely with a no-deal Brexit. Willie focused specifically on the implications in relation to anticipated medicine shortages. You can read the alarming details from operation yellowhammer here and watch Willie Rennie’s question here.  You can watch the full session of FMQs here and read it here.

Following the exchanges, I briefly joined members of Stop Climate Chaos Scotland and cross party colleagues outside parliament to support a petition calling for an emergency response to the climate emergency.  This is in the context of the Climate Change Bill which will finish its passage through parliament later this month. You can read about the Bill here and about Stop Climate Chaos Scotland here.

I then had to dash to the Justice Sub-Committee on Policing, where we took evidence from the Scottish Police Authority and Police Scotland as part of the pre-budget scrutiny of the police capital budget.  You can watch the session in full here. You can find out about the committee here and the papers of the meeting here

On my way back to the office, I stopped by a photo call to support Breast Cancer Now’s ‘Wear It Pink’ campaign.  October is breast cancer awareness month, and the ‘Wear It Pink’ fundraiser on 18th October will aim to raise vital funds for breast cancer research and treatment.  I was delighted to have the opportunity to support this important campaign once again, and I now have a photo collection of pink outfits that I’m not sure are getting better or worse each year!  More details of how you can also get involved can be found here.  You can read more about breast cancer awareness month here, about the work of Breast Cancer Now here.

After lunch on the run, I was back in the chamber for a debate on the Justice Committee’s report on Police and Fire Service reform.  I focused my remarks on police reform, and reminded the chamber of the problems that had emerged since the SNP government’s botched centralisation in 2012. While some of the personalities who helped create many of the problems in the early stages have moved on, I highlighted the ongoing concern for accountability and transparency of so much power being concentrated in the hands of so few. The committee debate is available to read here and to watch here.

Following a busy day, I had the pleasure of joining many MSP colleagues and parliamentary staff, past and present, for Sir Paul Grice’s farewell celebrations in the Garden Lobby. It was a fine send off for a tremendous public servant, who is held in the highest regard and deepest affected by all who have had the pleasure to work alongside him over the past 20 years and more.

Today, I have been in Aberdeen, attending a briefing and roundtable discussion hosted by Shell UK on prospects for the oil and gas sector and key issues facing the North Sea.  I’ll also be finding out about Shells’ work to support the UK’s decarbonisation pathway, which is even more important given Scotland’s commitment to net zero emissions by 2045.  You can read more about Shell UK here and their work on decarbonisation here

This weekend, I’ll be taking part in the Amnesty International Five Barriers Fun Run from St Mary’s to Burray.  The event is raising awareness of the importance of human rights, as well as valuable funds for the work of Amnesty International.  The five barriers that we’ll cross during the 6.5-mile run represent the main barriers to universal Human Rights: torture, disappearances, the death penalty, child soldiers and injustice.  You can read more about Amnesty International here and, if you’re interested in taking part or coming to watch, event details are here


Next Week:

I will be attending the pilot of the Elevate Dance programme by Scottish Ballet at the Pickaquoy Centre on Monday. I’m hosting a reception for the Pier Arts Centre at parliament on Tuesday. On Wednesday, I’ll be chairing a conference on research and innovation in the morning, taking part in a justice debate in the afternoon and attending a dinner with Mercy Corps in the evening. I also have a meeting with Which? and will attend a conference back in Orkney on how we can support sport in the Highlands and Islands in the build up to the 2023 Island Games in Orkney.

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.  You can also view motions that I have submitted to parliament this week here and questions that I have tabled here

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