Holyrood Highlights 21.02.20

As ever, parliamentary recess provided the ideal opportunity for me to spend a bit more time in Orkney than usual. Despite the challenging weather, I did manage to travel to North Ronaldsay for a surgery and to meet with Sian Tarrant, who is taking on the task of rebuilding North Ronaldsay’s Grade-A listed Sheep Dyke. It is a mammoth task but one that she is clearly relishing. If you’re up for lending a hand, you can see more here.

I also had a catch up with Bernie Holbrook, North Ronaldsay’s nurse practitioner, who will be retiring next month. Bernie and her husband Mark have made a huge contribution to the local community over the last nine years.

Unfortunately, I was not so lucky later in the week when Storm Dennis prevented me from getting out Sanday for surgeries and a meeting with local Wellbeing Officer, Magda Macdonald. I will reschedule for a later date.

In addition to various meetings with constituents at the office, I attended an event hosted by VisitScotland about how Orkney may benefit from their new marketing campaign, Only in Scotland, aimed at boosting visitor numbers and improving visitor experiences. You can learn more about the campaign here and the work of VisitScotland here.

I also gave an interview to BBC Radio Orkney about the lack of progress being made in installing new mobile phone infrastructure in Orkney as part of the government’s 4G infill programme. This followed responses I received to parliamentary questions on the issue and I have since written to all mobile phone operators to again urge them to engage constructively with the programme. You can read my full comments here and here. This week, however, the government announced that 26 ‘candidate’ sites will be dropped from the programme, including Hoy and Burray, prompting me to write to the Minister for Connectivity, Paul Wheelhouse, to find out the reason and ask how these and other communities in Orkney will benefit from improved mobile coverage. You can see the list of sites that have been dropped here.

On the back of the recent severe weather, I have also lodged parliamentary questions to establish what flood prevention measures are being supported in Orkney, which you can read here.  

So to Monday this week, and I had the pleasure of visiting the Advocacy Orkney offices to meet with the recently appointed manager, Lianne Sinclair and her team. We discussed the work they do and their efforts to extend this out to those living in the isles. I have worked collaboratively with Advocacy Orkney to support many constituents over the years and cannot speak highly enough about what they do on behalf of some of the most vulnerable people in our community. You can learn more about Advocacy Orkney here.

The afternoon was spent dealing with casework and responding to emails, while also preparing my column for the Orcadian, which you can read here. I also had a couple of meetings with constituents regarding casework.

I was back at Holyrood on Tuesday morning for the Justice Committee, where we met briefly to scrutinise a Legislative Consent Motion relating to a Bill going through Westminster, seeking to end automatic early release for those convicted of terrorism-related offences. While ending automatic early release in such cases commands widespread support, the rushed nature of the legislation, the lack of provisions to deal with ‘de-radicalising’ individuals and the retrospective nature of the Bill have all given rise to serious concerns. You can read more about the legislation here and more about LCMs here.

Following committee, I had my weekly meeting with Lib Dem MSP colleagues before Beatrice Wishart and I met with the new Finance Secretary, Kate Forbes to press the case for the government to honour its commitment to fair funding for lifeline internal ferry services in Orkney and Shetland. Two years ago, I supported the government’s budget, alongside my colleague Tavish Scott, on the basis that the government would commit to the principle of fair funding. However, subsequent budgets have seen both local authorities short-changed by Ministers. It is not credible for Ministers to claim they accept the principle but then hold our islands to ransom by insisting that the funds need to be negotiated each year. I did an interview on the subject with BBC Radio Orkney later in the afternoon. You can read about the situation here and our comments following the meeting here.

Afterwards, I returned to my office to catch up on emails before a meeting with Association of Police Superintendent (ASPS) President, Chief Superintendent Stewart Carle and General Secretary, Craig Suttie to discuss their deep concerns about the underfunding of Scotland’s police force. You can read more about ASPS here.

In the evening, I attended an MSP briefing by Energy Action Scotland on the causes and impact of fuel poverty to hear about some of the work being carried out by the private sector to tackle this scourge. You can read about Energy Action Scotland here.

On Wednesday morning, I had a phone call with the Scottish Police Federation, again about the funding allocation to Police Scotland in the Scottish Government’s Budget. As with the ASPS meeting the previous day, this discussion helped shine a light on the problems being caused by the significant shortfall in capital and revenue funding for the service. You can read about the Scottish Police Federation here.

I then had a short meeting with Dr Nick Child, who is a retired Child Psychiatrist and Family Therapist based in Edinburgh, to hear his views about the Children (Scotland) Bill. I then had some time at my desk to answer emails and make calls before going to the chamber for Portfolio Questions. I raised with the Islands Minister, Paul Wheelhouse, the urgency of replacing the ageing ferry fleet operating on Orkney’s lifeline internal routes and urged the government to agree a timeframe with OIC for the procurement of new vessels. Disappointingly, the Minister failed to give any clear indication that the government understand the urgency of this matter. I will be following this up with the Minister. You can watch my question here and my further comments here.

At Justice Questions, I then took the opportunity to ask the Justice Secretary, Humza Yousaf, about when the government will implement police restitution orders, which were introduced in the Victims and Witnesses Act 2013, and aim to provide support for police officers following an assault in the line of duty. Mr Yousaf confirmed that both the Scottish and UK Governments are making progress and he would write to me with more detail. You can watch my question here, the full session here and read it here.

Later in the afternoon, I met with the Cabinet Secretary for Government Business and Constitutional Relations, Mike Russell to discuss my amendments to the Scottish Elections (Franchise and Representations) Bill on prisoner voting, due to be considered the following day. You can read the Bill here and the full list of amendments here.

In evening, I chaired a meeting of the Cross-Party Group on Malawi, which focused on education and community engagement partnerships in Malawi. The meeting included presentations from Link Community Development International and Classrooms for Malawi about how they are working to provide support to improve school management and increase community engagement in Malawi. You can read about Link here, Classrooms for Malawi here and about the Cross-Party Group here.

I also managed briefly to stop by the AGM for the Cross-Party Group on Inflammatory Bowel Disease. I understand that, after I left to chair the Malawi CPG, the group heard an update from Dr Ian Arnott on the new IBD standards and from the Scottish Government about the new models of IBD care in Scotland. You can read more about the work of the Cross-Party Group here.

On Thursday morning, I had another Justice Committee meeting, this time to take evidence on the Children (Scotland) Bill on the Children (Scotland) Bill from The Honourable Lady Wise and Sheriff Tait. You can watch the committee session here and read it here. I then had to dash off to join a meeting of the Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body.

After a brief spell in my office, I headed to the Chamber for First Minister’s Questions, where Jackson Carlow highlighted the £49million black hole in Police Scotland’s budget while Richard Leonard raised concerns around closures of local GP surgeries, including in the Health Secretary’s own constituency. My colleague, Willie Rennie then challenged the First Minister on the SNP-led Edinburgh Council’s proposal to drop all its nursery teachers, seemingly in defiance of the government’s own policy. You can watch Willie’s question here, the full session here and read it here.

Following FMQs, I remained in the chamber for the start of the Members Business Debate on the role of Scottish Agriculture in tackling climate change. Unfortunately, I couldn’t stay for the whole debate due to the Justice Sub Committee on Policing meeting at the same time. However, I was able to make a brief intervention to highlight the importance of maintaining high production standards for food imports during the negotiation of future trade deals. You can watch my intervention here, the full debate here and read it here.

I then rushed off to the Justice Sub Committee on Policing, where we cross-examined the Justice Secretary, Humza Yousaf, on the Policing 2020-21 draft budget. You can watch the meeting here and read it here.

Afterwards, I made my way back to the chamber for the remainder of the afternoon, where I took part in the Stage 3 debate on the Scottish Elections (Franchise and Representation) Bill. The bill will extend right to vote to prisoners serving one year or less and also enable foreign nationals with leave to remain to vote as well as stand in Council and Holyrood elections. Along with my Lib Dem colleagues, I supported amendments that would have extended the provisions further, recognising our human rights obligations, but while these were unsuccessful I still very much welcome the passing of this legislation. You can watch my contribution here, the full debate here and read it here.

Having been flat out all day, I had to spend a bit of time catching up in my office. Unfortunately, I got timings all wrong and turned up for a reception hosted by the Consulate General of Japan to celebrate the 60th birthday of His Majesty the Emperor just as the guests were leaving. I was pleased to hear, however, that the work of the Orkney Japan Association got a mention during the speeches. You can read about the Consulate General of Japan here.

This morning, I flew/blew back to Orkney, where I spent the day catching up on casework, emails and making calls. I also had a meeting with constituents about an issue they wished me to raise. Due to the high winds, however, my plans to head south on the boat to Aberdeen tonight with the Orkney u18 rugby team have (to my great relief) been shelved!

Next Week

I will be meeting OIC councillors to discuss the Scottish Government’s Budget and attend a reception to mark the deployment of the first military vehicles permanently based in Orkney since 2005. In parliament, I have been selected to ask a question at Culture, Tourism and External Affairs Questions, and will lead for my party on a debate on justice matters on Wednesday. I will attend a drop in event hosted by Vodafone on the future of connectivity in Scotland and take part in a question time event organised by the Federation of Small Businesses.

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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