You can see what I’ve been up to this week in the latest edition of Holyrood Highlights below. If you would like to have this update sent to you weekly, please email me on [email protected]
The week began with a slightly shorter flight than usual, this time to North Ronaldsay for an Island Conference, organised by the North Ronaldsay Trust. We heard a series of brief presentations from a wide range of contributors, both residents and invited guests. The focus was identifying ways of using the island’s many assets to help boost visitor numbers, business opportunities and increase the population of North Ronaldsay. The conference coincided with the formal opening of the refurbished schoolhouse, which I was very privileged to be asked to help out with, and efforts to recruit a warden for the island’s iconic and unique sheep dyke. You can find out more about the role here, the island here and the North Ronaldsay Trust here.
Monday also saw publication of a study by the Scottish Multiple Sclerosis Register confirming, yet again, that Orkney has the highest incidence of MS in Scotland and indeed the world. You can see the findings here. To highlight the findings of the report need for more research into the causes and a potential cure, I lodged a motion in Parliament. The motion also drew attention again to the work of the Orkney MS Society in providing support and care to those with MS to help them manage their condition, live as independently as possible and enjoy the companionship of others. You can read the motion here and learn more about Orkney MS Society here.
I flew into Edinburgh early on Tuesday for an interesting morning going between the Justice Committee, where we were in private session finalising reports on Brexit and legislation to extend the presumption against short prison sentences, and the Environment Committee, which was considering amendments at Stage 2 of the Climate Change Bill. I was pleased to secure changes that will ensure the more damaging impact of aviation emissions at high altitudes are taken fully into account. You can read my comments here, watch the full session here and read it here. You can read the two Justice Committee reports here and here.
At the same time, protestors from Extinction Rebellion Scotland were demonstrating outside parliament to pressure MSPs to strengthen the Climate Change Bill. You can read more about the protests here and the Bill here.
Afterwards, it was lunch at my desk as I caught up on emails and casework, before spending the afternoon in the chamber.
I was selected for a Topical Question this week, where I raised concerns about the Scottish Government being complicit in the withholding of information about sectarian incidents at football matches, compiled by the Scottish football authorities over the last two years. While the SPFL are primarily to blame, it is astonishing that Scottish Ministers and the police agreed to keep the information secret, despite the firm recommendations of an independent advisory group set up by the government. I wrote about this in a column in the Sunday Herald last weekend, which you can read here. You can see my question and the exchange here, the full session here and read it here.
There was enough time for me to go back to the office briefly to go through some casework, before we were summoned back to the chamber for the first of three days voting on Stage 3 amendments to the Planning Bill. The Bill has become a complete mess and, amongst other things, will concentrate more power in the hands of Ministers rather than local communities, which is why I voted against it at Stage 1 and don’t support it now. You can read about the Bill here and the amendments here. The debate went on until the early evening and you can watch it in full here and read it here.
Wednesday morning was mainly spent going through emails, casework and making calls. I did have the opportunity to meet with Dr John Kemp, interim CEO of the Scottish Funding Council, where we discussed changes to funding support for postgraduate courses, which could disproportionately impact on smaller island campuses, such as ICIT in Stromness. I voiced concerns that the changes could potentially undermine the highly successful work ICIT has been doing in developing postgrad students who then take up roles in the local economy, notably the renewables sector. I have already written to the Education Secretary, John Swinney, about this and spoke to him briefly this week as well. From those discussions, I am hopeful a compromise can be reached.
In the afternoon, I had my regular meeting with Lib Dem MSP colleagues, before heading to the chamber for the ministerial statement on the government’s response to the Expert Review of Mental Health Services for Young People entering and in Custody at HMP and YOI Polmont. The review by HM Inspector of Prisons followed the tragic suicides of Katie Allen and William Lindsay while in custody. You can read the statement here and watch it here. The Scottish Government have promised 800 new mental health workers, which is a welcome, but I asked the Justice Secretary how many of them would be based in prisons. He agreed to ask his colleague, the Mental Health Minister to write to me with more detail. You can see my question and the Cabinet Secretary’s response here.
Despite another late sitting, I then had the pleasure of attending an evening reception organised by the Northern Lighthouse Board and hosted by my colleague, Tavish Scott. It was also a pleasure to catch up again, for the second time in a week, with Billy Muir from North Ronaldsay, who was one of the guests of the NLB, about whose work you can read more here.
Thursday was a welcome opportunity to catch up on emails and casework in the morning as much of the week had been spent in the chamber. At midday, First Minister’s Questions took place as usual, with Ruth Davidson going on the ‘blue water’ issues at Coatbridge Schools and fears of campus contamination. Richard Leonard then asked about the Scottish Welfare Fund before Willie Rennie asked about free nursery provision. He grilled the First Minister about why only a third of eligible two-year olds who are in poverty in Scotland receive early education childcare compared to 70% in England. You can watch the session here and read it here.
I then managed to have a couple of hours away from Holyrood at the Royal Highland Show, where I had a chance to visit the highly impressive Orkney stand in the food hall, which once again was proving very popular with the public. I also caught up with NFUS for a briefing, including a discussion of the minister’s working group set up to look at farming policy post-Brexit. You can read more about this announcement here, though I plan to follow up with the Rural Affairs Secretary, Fergus Ewing to establish how the islands dimension will be factored into the work of this group.
I then headed for the evening flight back to Orkney where I attended an informal supper in Stromness ahead of events on Friday commemorating the centenary of the scuttling of the German High Seas Fleet in Scapa Flow. You can read more about it here. Events have been taking place all week and will carry on over the next few days, you can find out about them here.
While the St Magnus International Festival also begins today with a week of events taking place, see the full programme here, I am due to be heading south on Saturday to watch my son, Tom, play rugby for Caley North against both Caley Midland and Glasgow.
I will be in Edinburgh on Monday for an additional Justice Committee meeting with Dame Eilish Angiolini following publication of her report on how complaints relating to police are handled. The following day, we will then quiz the Justice Secretary about the findings of Dame Eilish’s report. Consideration of amendments to the Climate Change Bill will continue while the Management of Offenders Bill will reach its final stage. I have meetings with Which? and Have You Got the Bottle and will attend a drop in event for Smart Energy at Parliament before heading north on Friday and attending the opening of the refurbished the Orkney Youth Café. 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.