Holyrood Highlights 15.11.19

It was a cool, crisp Sunday morning for the Remembrance commemorations last weekend, with the public turning out in force at events across the county. I had the privilege, once again, of being invited to attend proceedings on the Kirk Green and in the Cathedral in Kirkwall, following an excellent parade led by the Kirkwall City Pipe Band.  You can read more about the commemoration here.

Before that, on Friday evening, I joined the Royal British Legion President, members and guests at the Kirkwall branch for a Remembrance Dinner, where members and guests enjoyed a night of reflection, camaraderie and no little banter. It was also an opportunity for Legion stalwart, Malcolm Johnston to be presented with his Gold Badge award, to add to his recently received National Certificate for Meticulous Service.  These prestigious accolades are extremely rare, which further underscores Malcolm’s remarkable achievement in recognition of many years of outstanding service to his local and area branches. I felt it appropriate to lodge a motion in parliament to recognise Malcolm’s achievement, which you can read here. You can read about the awards here, the Royal British Legion here and the Kirkwall branch here.

Monday was spent in the constituency office dealing with casework and answering emails.  I had meetings with a couple of constituents in the afternoon.  The rest of the time was taking up preparing for the parliamentary week ahead, while also starting to work up my column for the Orcadian, which you can read here.

On Tuesday, I flew into Edinburgh for Justice Committee in the morning.  We took our final Stage 1 oral evidence on the Scottish Biometrics Commissioner Bill, this time from the Justice Secretary, Humza Yousaf. You can read about the Bill here, watch the full committee session here and read it here.  I had to leave the meeting slightly early, in order to deputise for Willie Rennie at the weekly meeting of the parliamentary bureau, which is responsible for agreeing the business in the Chamber and allocation of bills to relevant Committees.

I then had our regular meeting with Lib Dem MSP colleagues, before some time back at my desk to finish off my Orcadian column and prepare for a full afternoon in the debating Chamber. 

First up was a ministerial statement was on the outcome of the Victim’s Right to Review process in connection with the tragic death of Sheku Bayoh in 2015.  The Lord Advocate has announced that there will be no criminal proceedings against police officers in connection with the incident, but the Justice Secretary confirmed that a public enquiry will be established.  You can read more about this here.

While a public enquiry is welcome in efforts to find out what really happened, it is shameful that it has taken four and a half years just to get to this stage.  Over that period, Mr Bayoh’s family has been left without answers, police officers in limbo and lessons not learned, potentially putting the public at risk. The process must be quicker for future cases, so that other families do not go through the agony that Sheku Bayoh’s have experienced.  You can watch my question here, the Minister’s full statement here and read it here.

I remained in the chamber for the rest of the afternoon to take part in a government debate on protecting the rights of EU citizens.  I took the opportunity to highlight the contribution that non-UK EU nationals have made and continue to make to our country, and talked about the specific experience of two constituents engaging with the UK government’s EU Settlement Scheme.  It is appalling that our friends, colleagues, neighbours and family, have been subjected to often needless stress and uncertainty. You can watch my speech here, the full session here and read it here.  You can also read my further comments here.

After decision time, I had a call with Orkney Ferries regarding restrictions imposed by the MCA on high-sided vehicles carried on MV Eynhallow. This followed a call earlier in the day with NFUS Orkney. Given the lifeline nature of these services, this is a deeply worrying development that risks having seriously impacting everything from livestock shipments to building works and potentially even ambulance transfers. I’ve been contacted by numerous constituents over recent days, and have offered Orkney Ferries and the Council whatever support I can, including making representations to MCA and the Transport Secretary, to ensure a solution is identified and in place as soon as possible. This does though serve to underline the pressing need to begin the process of procuring replacement vessels for Orkney’s internal fleet.  You can see further comments on this here.

On Wednesday morning, I had a call with Chief Inspector Matthew Webb from Police Scotland to discuss problems with static fishing gear being towed by trawlers, which has been brought to my attention by local creel fishermen. While such incidents are perhaps inevitable from time to time, it is important that creel fishermen have access to the information they need to maximise their chances of retrieving gear that has been inadvertently towed.

Following this, I met Ian Maxwell from Families Need Fathers (FNF) Scotland to discuss the proposed Children (Scotland) Bill (formerly known as the Family Law Bill).  FNF Scotland would like to see the Bill deliver more radical changes than are currently proposed.  We also discussed the work being carried out by the Cross-Party Group on Shared Parenting.  You can read more about the group here, FNF Scotland here and the Family Law Bill here.

Afterwards, I left Holyrood briefly to visit the Scottish Youth Parliament offices to add my support to their jigsaw campaign on preventing childhood adversity and raising awareness of a rights-based approach to tackling trauma.  I was delighted to add my piece to the jigsaw with the final version set to be revealed on 20th November, World Children’s Day.  You can learn more about the campaign here, the work of the Scottish Youth Parliament here and World Children’s Day here.  You can also see my visit here.

Back in parliament, I spent some of the afternoon making calls and dealing with casework.  I also had a meeting with David Craig, Scottish Charity Air Ambulance Service to get an update on progress with their fundraising efforts that will see an additional air ambulance helicopter based in Aberdeen. We also discussed preparations for a parliamentary reception I am hosting on their behalf later this month.  You can read more about the charity here.

In the evening, I was delighted to host the British Ports Association & Chamber of Shipping Annual Scottish Parliamentary Maritime Reception.  The maritime industry makes a significant contribution to Scotland’s economy and employment, particularly across our island communities, and it was fantastic to be able to celebrate and recognise another successful year for the sector. In that context, it was also good to hear industry leaders talk about the plans for ensuring the sector meets its environmental responsibilities going forward. You can read more about the event here, the British Ports Association here and the UK Chamber of Shipping here.

At First Minister’s Questions this week, Jackson Carlow and Nicola Sturgeon brought some of the election campaign to the chamber, trading blows on their stances on Brexit and Scottish Independence.  Richard Leonard raised the pressures felt by staff in Scotland’s schools and social work services, noting that large numbers are leaving these professions due to poor mental health. Willie Rennie also focused on mental health, challenging the First Minister on the lack of support available to police officers who experience mental health problems.  You can watch Willie’s question here, the full session here and read it here.

Friday was spent on leave for personal reasons, though I will return home on Saturday evening via Aberdeen having watched Orkney’s under-18 rugby team take on Ellon, who are going well in their conference league. It’s set to be a tough test for Orkney’s players, but a good chance to develop their skills and experience.


Next Week

On Tuesday, I will attend a HIAL briefing on the air traffic control industrial action, while on Wednesday I have a meeting with Rob Dalziel from Scottish Ambulance Service and a question to the Tourism & Culture Secretary at Portfolio Question Time before attending a meeting of the Cross Party Group on Malawi and later a dinner for MSPs hosted by Serco. Friday I will be back in Orkney, where I will spend time at Glaitness Primary School reading stories as part of World Book Day before chairing the Orkney Japan Association AGM in the evening.

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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