Holyrood Highlights 17.12.2017

My weekly update on my work as Orkney's MSP. To receive these weekly emails straight into your inbox, email me at [email protected] 

On Monday I had a number of meetings with constituents while I also attended the Youth Chamber Debate hosted by Orkney’s Youth Forum and MSYPs in the council chambers. A range of important topics, including LGBT rights, alcohol and work experience opportunities in Orkney were all addressed. I was particularly pleased, however, that the need to take more seriously and tackle more effectively issues around mental health led off the morning’s debates. The honesty, passion and determination with which the young people spoke about something that for too long has been a taboo gave me confidence that we will see the change we need to see. It really was very impressive, as is the MSYPs’ Right Here, Right Now campaign, promoting the rights of children and young people, which I was happy to back. You can find out more here

On Tuesday morning, I travelled southto attend the Justice Committee where we dealt with various pieces of subordinate legislation, Stage 2 amendments to the Domestic Abuse (Scotland) Bill and evidence on the Offensive Behaviour at Football and Threatening Communications (Repeal) (Scotland) Bill from James Kelly MSP, the member in charge of the bill. You can read more here

Following the weekly meeting with Liberal Democrat colleagues and a briefing from the Scottish Parliament officials regarding the forthcoming lobbying charter, I headed to the Chamber to ask a topical question about reports from Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary in Scotland and Audit Scotland on police governance. The Auditor General, Caroline Gardner, reported that there had been “a number of instances of poor governance and poor use of public money in the Scottish Police Authority and Police Scotland” while Ms Gardner also warned that realising the policing 2026 vision “will be immensely challenging” and predicted that the force will face financial trouble for many years to come. I also challenged the Justice Secretary, Michael Matheson over pay-offs and expenses, which had also been criticised by the Auditor General.Mr Matheson told me that former SPA chief executive, John Foley, received a severance package under a retirement scheme open to all Scottish Police Authority staff. It was later revealed over half that amount, £56,666, was discretionary and paid as the result of an individual agreement. This led me to raise a point of order later at voting time, urging Mr Mathieson to clarify his remarks. You can read the transcript here, watch the debate here or read my detailed comments here.

However, before votes I spent the afternoon addressing casework while also helping the Parliament's web and social media team with their festive video content for social media, more on that to follow.

On Wednesday morning, I met with Lord Bracadale, Chair of the Independent review of hate crime legislation in Scotland. It was a helpful meeting to discuss the progress of the review, including whether new legislation was required to tackle hate crime and whether new categories of hate crime should be created for characteristics such as age and gender. More on the review here.  

After lunch, I headed to the chamber for economy questions. In my first of many attempts ahead of the budget this week, I urged the Scottish Government to confirm they would honour their commitment to fair funding for internal ferry services in the Northern Isles. The Cabinet Secretary for Economy, Jobs and Fair Work, Keith Brown MSP, refused. You can read the transcript here, or watch the exchanges here

I then spent time meeting those involved with the Littoral Art project, who were exhibiting the work they have been doing to highlight the growing problem of marine litter. It was interesting to hear about the creative projects in schools in Shetland, where young people were encouraged to be citizen scientists. Hopefully there might be an opportunity for this to be repeated in Orkney in the near future. Meantime, you can find out more about Littoral Art here

I spent the rest of the afternoon addressing casework and preparing notes for a speech that evening. Before votes, however, I had the privilege of meeting the Chief Rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth, Ephraim Mirvis, who was visiting the Scottish Parliament during the Jewish festival of Chanukah and to mark the end of the 200th Anniversary year of the establishment of the first Jewish Congregation in Scotland. 

After votes, I stayed in the chamber, initially to speak to Finance Secretary, Derek Mackay and urge him again to deliver on his commitment to fair funding of Orkney’s internal ferry services in his budget. Thereafter, I took part in a members’ business debate on the Heads Up for Hen Harriers project and the role of species champions. In my remarks, I highlighted the worrying drop in hen harrier numbers since 2010, although Orkney has been one of the few places to see a rise over that period. I also urged caution in drawing firm conclusions from the Heads Up project, which doesn’t appear to be targeting known raptor persecution hotspots. As the species champion of the Scottish primrose, I spent the rest of my speech waxing lyrical about a flower native to Orkney and the north of Scotland and the challenges in maintaining its habitats. You can read the transcript here, or watch the debate here.

On Thursday morning, I met with Hoolan Energy for an update on their planned developments at Hesta Head and Costa in Orkney. At lunchtime, I headed to the chamber for General Questions and then First Minister’s Questions.

At General Questions, I had the opportunity to put on record my support for the recent publication of guidance on restorative justice, following a commitment secured by Liberal Democrats back in 2013. I asked the Justice Secretary to provide details of the steps planned to support community safety groups such as Sacro and others to act as facilitators in the restorative justice process. Mr Matheson confirmed the Scottish Government was looking at best practice and considering their approach.You can read the transcript here, or watch the exchange here.

FMQs was then dominated, as expected, by the budget, due to be announced to parliament later that afternoon. Ruth Davidson pressed the First Minister on her tax plans while Richard Leonard raised concerns regarding the lack of affordable housing. I then highlighted the announcement by RMT that its members had voted for industrial action on Orkney Ferriesand I pressed the First Minister to ensure her Finance Secretary delivered a budget that honoured the government’s commitment – and the will of parliament - to fair funding for Orkney and Shetland’s internal ferry services. The First Minister refused. You can watch proceedings here, or read the transcript here.

After lunch, I spent time catching up on emails and making calls before returning to the chamber for the Scottish Government’s draft budget announcement. Sadly, as predicted, Finance Secretary Derek Mackay chose to renege on his commitment to fair funding for internal ferry services in Orkney and Shetland. This showed contempt for the will of parliament and a disregard for the communities reliant on these lifeline services. Shetland MSP Tavish Scott and I will now consider the detail of the budget over the coming weeks, before bringing forward an amendment ahead of the vote on the budget next month. This will allow parliament to restate its support for fair funding for our internal ferry services. You can watch proceedings here, read the transcript here or read my comments here.

Following the budget, I met with colleagues to discuss its implications before undertaking an interview with Radio Orkney on the issue of ferry funding. Later that evening, I joined colleagues for the annual Scottish Liberal Democrat Christmas party.

On Friday morning, I returned to Orkney where I had a meeting with HIAL. I then spent the afternoon making calls and addressing casework.  Over the weekend I have been fortunate enough to see back-to-back pantomimes, firstly Dick Whittington in the Hup on Friday and then last night, Palace Players’ performance of Beauty and the Beast. The cast of both performances were absolutely brilliant! You just can’t beat back to back pantos!

Next week:

On Monday I will have a number of meetings with constituents, including Orkney Islands Council to discuss the fuel poverty strategy. I will then be south on Tuesday for a meeting of the Justice Committee. During the week I will have meetings with HIAL, the Law Society of Scotland and the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service. I will also be speaking in Stage 3 of the Wild Animals in Travelling Circuses debate and responding to a ministerial statement on the publication of the Scottish Government’s Energy Strategy. I am also keen to hear the detail of a statement by the Transport Minister on the future tendering of ferry services. A reminder you can view “This Week in the Scottish Parliament”, a weekly update from the Scottish Parliament by clicking here. Also a reminder that next week will be the last week of Parliamentary Business before the Christmas holidays. the For everything else, please see my diary here.

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