It was a slightly more relaxing Sunday than I had originally planned as the Five Barriers Run in aid of Amnesty International was unfortunately cancelled due to high winds. The event is likely to be rescheduled and you can keep track of updates here.
Monday morning started with emails and casework, before back-to-back meetings with constituents at the office and a visit to Kirkwall Grammar School in the afternoon for a catch-up session with the headteacher, Don Hawkins. The rest of the day was spent dealing with casework and preparing for the parliamentary week ahead.
In the evening, I was delighted to attend the launch of the Elevate dance programme at the Picky Centre. The classes have been designed and run by Scottish Ballet to help people with Multiple Sclerosis. They are being piloted in Orkney before a roll out across Scotland. You can see how the class went here and read more about the programme here.
On Tuesday, my flight down to Edinburgh was delayed so I arrived late for the Justice Committee, which heard evidence as part of our pre-budget scrutiny of the government’s 2020/21 budget. The focus was on prisons and throughcare support. You can read papers for the meeting here, watch the full session here and read it here.
With Liberal Democrat Autumn Conference taking place in Bournemouth, about which you can read more here, the weekly MSP group was rescheduled to Wednesday. I therefore had a bit more time than usual over lunch to respond to emails and make calls.
In the afternoon, I was in the chamber for Topical Questions, where I asked the Solicitor General about the reported backlog of unresolved criminal cases and the steps the Crown Office is taking to address this. You can see my question here, watch the full session here and read it here.
I then stayed in the chamber for a debate on investing in our credit unions. As well as highlighting the many benefits of credit unions during my own speech, I also intervened to urge the Cabinet Secretary to ensure the newly-launched Credit Union Investment Fund and government strategy do more to specifically encourage higher uptake of credit unions in rural and island communities. You can watch my question here. You can watch my speech here, the full session here and read it here. You can also read my further thoughts here.
After votes, I joined the Director, Neil Firth and Chair, Tamsin Bailey of the Pier Arts Centre for a meeting with the Culture Secretary, Fiona Hyslop to discuss PAC’s plans for the future and opportunities for collaboration. I was then delighted to host an evening reception celebrating the 40th anniversary of the Pier Arts Centre, where we were joined by MSPs, including the Culture Secretary artists and supporters of what is certainly the jewel in the crown of Orkney’s rich artistic and cultural heritage. You can read more about the Pier Arts Centre here and about a public exhibition to celebrate the anniversary here.
Wednesday began with an early breakfast seminar hosted by the parliament information centre (SPICe) on Scotland’s drug deaths crisis. We heard from representatives of the Dundee Drugs commission, an independent group of experts tasked with identifying causes and finding solutions to the serious issue of drug deaths in Dundee. You can learn more about the Commission here. Drug deaths in Scotland reached 1187 last year, making it the highest death rate in the developed world. You can read more about this here. I have joined other MSP colleagues in backing the Daily Record’s campaign to recognise this as a national emergency and calling for more funding to help tackle the problem. You can read more about my support here and the campaign here.
I then had some time in the office to make calls and answer emails before the weekly Lib Dem MSP meeting. After lunch, I finished preparing my speech for a justice debate later in the afternoon.
The debate, led by the Conservatives, focused on sentencing policy and their call for ‘whole life’ sentences. We certainly need to have transparency in sentencing policy, not least to ensure public confidence, but we also need to respect the independence of our courts and the professionalism of the parole services. Moreover, as Audit Scotland made clear at the weekend, Scotland’s prisons are now dangerously overcrowded, underfunded and worryingly close to breaking point. The Conservatives’ populist calls for so-called ‘tougher justice’ would compound the problem, making rehabilitation more difficult and reoffending more likely. We already lock up a higher percentage of our population than almost any other country in the western world. You can watch my contribution to the debate here, watch the full debate here and read it here.
In the evening, I attended a dinner at the National Museum of Scotland hosted by Mercy Corps, where we discussed the international aid and development work carried out by the Scotland-based charity and the challenges they face in conflict-affected parts of the world. You can learn more about the Mercy Corps here.
On Thursday morning, I had a meeting with the Head of Public Affairs at Which? to discuss the Roberton Review of Legal Services and Which?’s calls for greater independence in the oversight of consumer needs. You can find out more about Which? here, and the Roberton Review here.
Following the meeting, I had some time at my desk to deal with casework and emails before First Minister’s Questions, where education was the theme of the day. Jackson Carlow began by pressing the First Minister on whether the Named Person scheme is to be scrapped, before Richard Leonard asked about cuts to university funding. Willie Rennie then challenged the government to heed the will of parliament and scrap national tests for primary one pupils, which have been criticised by educationalist, teachers and parents. You can watch the full session here and read it here.
I also asked the First Minister to clarify when details of the Northern Isles Ferry contract will be announced, following recent reports of Transport Scotland officials suggesting there are ‘no guarantees’ that the 31st October deadline will be met, which you can read here. I highlighted the impact of ongoing uncertainty and urged the First Minister to commit to announcing the new contract as soon as possible. You can watch my question here and read my further thoughts here. Bizarrely, Nicola Sturgeon refused to confirm that the government was due to make an announcement the very next morning!
After FMQs, I did a brief interview with STV on reports about problems at the new Balfour hospital, which you can read about here. This followed reports in The Times about issues at both the Balfour and a new hospital in Dumfries. You can read the article here. I have now written to both NHS Orkney and the Health Secretary to establish the source of the problems and what steps are being taken to avoid any repeat in future.
I then rushed to the airport to catch a flight back to Orkney to attend a reception by the Highlands and Islands Leadership Group taking place at the Picky Centre. The reception followed a day of meetings to discuss the development and support needed for sport across the Highlands and Islands as we build up to the 2023 Island Games in Orkney. It was an excellent turn out and strong relationships are being built up across all of the key sports and with Sport Scotland, which will help deliver a high quality games and a lasting legacy for Orkney. You can read more about the event here and the 2023 Island Games here.
The Island Games meetings continued this morning, although I was rather occupied with the Scottish Government announcement that Serco has been chosen as the preferred bidder for the new Northern Isles ferry contract. While this will provide continuity, there are some glaring omissions from the contract, notably a lack of new freight capacity on the Aberdeen route and no word on the long-promised fare reductions on the Pentland Firth route. This is something I will be following up over the coming weeks, ahead of the contract coming into place on 31st October. Meantime, you can read the announcement here and my comments here.
At lunchtime, I met with Lisa Sinclair from Scottish Ballet to get feedback on the first week of the Elevate dance programme and to reinforce the hope that this sort of opportunity can be built on in future in Orkney.
I also held surgeries in Stromness and Kirkwall. Anyone is welcome to come along to a surgery to discuss any issues that they would like me to take up for them. You can find details about my upcoming surgeries on my website here. If you cannot make a surgery time, please feel free to get in touch with my office and we can arrange an appointment to meet at a more convenient time. My contact details can be found here.
I will be taking part in the Great British Beach Clean at Echna Loch Bay before attending the Arctic Conference in Stromness and meeting with Ofcom on Monday, I have meetings at parliament with Sport Scotland, the Paper Cup Alliance and the Criminal Justice Voluntary Sector Forum during the week, as well as Stage 3 of the Climate Change Bill and the Cross Party Group on Japan AGM, before ending the week at the Orkney College Annual Graduation and Awards Ceremony at St Magnus Cathedral.
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.