Holyrood Highlights - 17.06.22

Ahead of another busy week ahead, I spent Monday catching-up on casework in the constituency office in Kirkwall.  During the afternoon I also held a further meeting with the Scottish Ambulance Service to discuss the support for first responders in the isles as well as land ambulance provision on the mainland and linked south isles.  I was pleased to hear that a second ambulance is now staffed through most, but not all of the week.  This is certainly an improvement, though I would like to see this extended still further.  I then held a meeting with Cllr Heather Woodbridge on the latest situation with healthcare cover in the north isles, which has been a concern, particularly in relation to Eday, North Ronaldsay and Papay.  While I was not in Parliament on Monday, I was delighted to see Orkney was well represented in the Chamber with a group from Dounby School competing in the EuroQuiz Final.  I'm looking forward to hearing about their trip to Edinburgh when I visit Dounby School next Monday.

On Tuesday morning I made the commute down to Edinburgh, during which I managed to finish my column for the Orcadian, about which more later.  Once in parliament, I attended the usual series of meetings with my Presiding Officer colleagues and then the Parliamentary Bureau.  There was much to discuss at these meetings with the Rural Affairs Secretary, Mairi Gougeon, unfortunately testing positive for Covid.  This threw a curveball into proceedings ahead of Stage 3 votes on the Good Food Nation Bill later that afternoon.  The Minister was able to participate remotely but wasn’t able to take or make interventions.  Voting took much longer than expected and the Stage 3 debate had to be moved to Wednesday.

The other main topic of discussion at Bureau was the First Minister's announcement of plans to hold a second independence referendum.  Speaking from Bute House, Nicola Sturgeon, alongside Patrick Harvie, outlined her intention to hold a referendum next year.  Irrespective of the controversy generated by this issue, there were very legitimate concerns that a statement of such significance should be made to parliament first, rather than at a press conference following ‘trails’ to the media overnight.  A ministerial statement had been inserted into the business agenda, but even then the First Minister wasn't prepared to take questions from MSPs, leaving it instead to the Constitution Secretary, Angus Robertson.  This is not the first time significant statements have been issued or leaked to the press before parliament has been informed, and the Presiding Officer, Alison Johnstone was unimpressed.  In the event, the PO prevented Mr Robertson delivering his statement and moved straight to questions from MSPs.  You can watch the fairly rancorous exchanges here, read them here and find out more about the First Minister’s announcement here.

Before all this, however, business started with Topical Questions which this week focused on nursery recruitment targets being dropped and reports that nearly £2 million in Pupil Equity Funding has been spent on police officers in schools since 2018.  These were both issues revealed by Scottish Liberal Democrat research last week, including figures showing over 100 nurseries missing the teachers they were promised.  You can watch Topical Questions here and read it here.  Coincidently, Parliament stuck to an education theme with a Ministerial Statement on education reform later in the afternoon, which you can also watch here and read here.

I was then in the Chair for the beginning of stage 3 proceedings for the Good Food Nation Bill, which has a number of cross-cutting themes aimed at consolidating and improving food policy.  I was happy to support the long overdue Bill, including voting in favour of an amendment to establish a Food Commission to support the delivery of the Bill's objectives.  I'm delighted that this amendment was passed and the wider Bill secured unanimous cross-party support on Wednesday evening.  To finish a busy day, I was in the Chair for a Members Business debate on supporting Great Bernera's community land buyout which took place much fairly late on in the evening, after votes finished around 8pm.  You can watch the stage 3 proceedings here, read more about the Bill here, watch the members debate here and read the day's transcript here.

I spent much of Wednesday morning catching up on casework and emails.  I also had a virtual meeting with Shona Croy at OIC to consider our ongoing efforts to maximise the broadband (R100) rollout in Orkney, a topic I hope to discuss with the Finance Secretary, Kate Forbes, before summer recess.  Later in the day I had meetings with my Presiding Officer colleagues and continued with casework while tuning into portfolio questions on Health & Social Care and Social Justice, Housing & Local Government, which you can watch here and read here.  I was then in the Chair for much of the Health and Social Care Committee debate on the wellbeing of children and young people, which you can watch here and read here.  I was back wielding the gavel again for the postponed stage 3 debate on the Good Food Nation Bill, again which you can watch here and read here.

Later that evening, I was delighted to Chair a virtual meeting of the Cross-Party Group on Malawi where we heard a number of very interesting presentations from a range of organisations involved in a collective community initiative in Malawi, coordinated by Tafika, The Banana Box Trust, Mary's Meals, formidablejoy and HarvestPlus talked about the contributions they each make to providing food, clean water, better education and health to the Ekwendeni community in northern Malawi.  You can find out more about Tafika, as well as the work of the Scotland-Malawi Partnership here and here.

On Thursday morning I caught up on emails and casework before welcoming to Holyrood, as Deputy Presiding Officer, a delegation headed by the President of the Upper Austria state parliament.  I was then back in my office dealing with casework, while tuning into General and then First Minister's Questions, which you can watch here, here and read here.  Unsurprisingly, FMQs was dominated this week by the SNP/Greens' latest push for another referendum albeit with no clarity yet on the legal basis for such a move.  After 45 minutes of heated exchanges, it was a relief to be able to Chair a Members Debate that distilled greater cross-party harmony in support of the wonderful Men's Sheds.  The Men's Shed movement has had an amazing impact around the world, since its inception in Australia in the 1980s.  By providing opportunities for men to come together to share friendship and skills, it has helped tackle isolation and poor mental health.  This has been perfectly illustrated in Orkney where I have been a proud supporter of the Orkney Men's Shed, which continues to go from strength to strength and will soon move into its new home in Stromness.  I'm also delighted to see the initiative move north of the Galt with the establishment of the Sanday Men's Shed in the old Co-op building at Kettletoft.  I enjoyed my visit there at the weekend and was impressed by the progress made through the hard work of the Sanday 'shedders', which should see the Shed formally open later this year.  As I was chairing the debate, I'm especially grateful to my MSP colleague, Christine Grahame for mentioning these fantastic initiatives during her opening speech, which you can watch here and read here.  As we emerge from the pandemic, Men's Sheds offer an excellent way to bring our communities together which is why I chose to use my column in this week's Orcadian, which you can read here, to highlight the positive contribution they make.

The great interest in the debate meant there was little time for lunch before I was back in the Chamber for Constitution, External Affairs and Culture questions.  I took the opportunity to remind colleagues of the benefits of the Erasmus programme, which helped forged relationships and open up the world to Scottish universities and students.  It was a needles casualty of Brexit but while the Welsh government wasted little time in setting up their own £65 million scheme which will see young people from Wales going abroad this September, SNP Ministers are yet to even start consulting on a Scottish promised scheme, preferring instead just to use it as another grievance.  As a result, thousands more young Scots are set to lose out again this year on opportunities of a lifetime.  You can watch this exchange here and read it here.

I remained in the Chamber for a Ministerial Statement on role of incineration in the waste hierarchy, which delivered the government's response to the independent review by Dr Colin Church.  I asked the Minister, Lorna Slater whether Scotland will look to meet its commitments by continuing to export waste to England for landfill or incineration as has been the case over recent years.  The Minister appeared wholly unable (or unwilling) to offer a substantive response so I have had to lodge a series of parliamentary questions on this issue.  You can watch the statement here and read it here.  I remained in the Chamber again to take part in more stage 3 votes, this time on the Miners’ Strike Pardons Bill.  In the end, despite disagreement over the non-inclusion of a compensation scheme, the bill received unanimous support and will see Scotland become the first part of UK to pardon those prosecuted during the 1980s' miners' strike.  You can watch the debate here, read it here and more about the Bill here

After a busy week, I was relieved to fly back to Orkney on Friday morning where I hosted advice surgeries for constituents in Stromness and Kirkwall.  In between these surgeries I made a number of calls to constituents and continued to spend time dealing with casework.  Later this evening I'm looking forward to watching East United take on Dounby in the A league, although it does mean I’ve sadly had to send apologies for the Orkney Dragon’s Hen Do at the Rugby Club! 

Over the weekend, I will take part in an Orkney Liberal Democrat Executive meeting on Saturday morning while Sunday will see me try to fit in appearances at an Orkney Athletics competition at Picky (spectating, obviously), an Orkney Kickboxing tournament at the Dojo in Hatston (again, spectating – I have been assured!) and finally the Orkney Friends of Palestine lunch for Refugee Week (definitely participating!)

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