It may not be beginning to look a lot like Christmas just yet, but it’s certainly starting to feel like a General Election.
This week saw the first tv leaders debate taking place and the start of the party manifesto launches. The debate was preceded by controversy around who was invited – or not invited – with the Liberal Democrats and SNP raising court actions over the decision to exclude anyone other than Boris Johnson and Jeremy Corbyn. You can read about the debate here.
While this week certainly had an election feel about it, business at Holyrood continued largely as normal. I was still in Orkney on Monday, where I spent most of the day dealing with emails and going through casework. I also had a few meetings with constituents as well as correspondence with Orkney Ferries regarding restrictions on high-sided vehicles being carried on MV Eynhallow, efforts to find a solution and the need to keep residents in Rousay, Egilsay and Wyre updated.
I flew to Edinburgh on Tuesday morning for Justice Committee, where we considered evidence on a public petition calling on the Scottish Government to bring forward a bill to create a Register of Pecuniary Interests for Judges. You can read about the petition here, watch the full committee session here and read it here.
Afterwards, I had my regular meeting with Lib Dem MSP colleagues, before going back to the office to finish my Orcadian column. With Alastair Carmichael now on the campaign trail, parliamentary column-writing duties fall to me every week in the run up to the election! This week, I focused on our internal ferry services, reflecting on the fall-out from restrictions applied to MV Eynhallow. You can read my column here.
I was also pleased to hear from HIAL and Prospect about progress towards ending the industrial action at Highlands & Islands airports, including Kirkwall. Prospect is recommending its air traffic control members accept the latest deal from HIAL, and in the meantime work to rule action will be lifted. This is very welcome and hopefully signals the end of this long-running and damaging dispute. You can read about the announcement here my full comments here.
With the HIAL briefing for MSPs cancelled due to this latest development, I had the opportunity to be in the chamber for the closing speeches in the debate on the annual EU fisheries negotiations in Brussels next month. You can watch the full debate here and read it here. After decision time, I spent the evening preparing for a very busy day the following day.
Wednesday began with a meeting with Rob Dalziel from the Scottish Ambulance Service to discuss issues relating to air ambulance provision in Orkney. As well as getting agreement to continue the ‘roadshow’ of visits to the smaller isles, we discussed arrangements for cover on islands without a nurse of GP and ways of addressing patient transfer delays from Kirkwall Airport to the Balfour Hospital. This can arise as a result of a land ambulance being unavailable to meet the helicopter. You can read my full comments here and more about the Scottish Ambulance Service here.
Afterwards, I had some time to go through my email inbox and deal with casework. I then made my way to a pre-brief with officials to discuss handling for Corporate Body (SPCB) Question Time the following day. You can read more about the work of SPCB here.
Following the pre-brief, I returned to my desk to deal with more emails before I joining Commonwealth Parliamentary Association Scotland colleagues for a farewell ceremony to thank Branch Secretary, Margaret Neal for all her help and support over many years in the role. I have been particularly grateful to Margaret for assisting me during my various visits to Malawi. You can read more about the CPA Scotland Branch here.
It was then off to the chamber for Portfolio Questions for Culture, Tourism and External Affairs, where I raised with the Cabinet Secretary, Fiona Hyslop, Destination Orkney’s concerns about continued delays in implementing RET on Orkney’s ferry routes and the impact on our local tourism sector. You can watch my question here, the full session here and read it here. You can also read my further comments here.
I then remained in the chamber for a Labour Party debate on Universal Credit. While I believe the underlying principle of streamlining various benefits into one is correct, and indeed was supported across the party spectrum and by many anti-poverty groups, it is obvious that the current system is not working. It has become detached from the individuals that it should be helping, and reform is urgently needed, including the dropping of the two-child cap. You can watch my speech here, the full debate here and read it here.
I found time to briefly then drop in on a roundtable discussion organised by UNICEF as part of World Children’s Day and the 30th anniversary of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. It was a fascinating session, where I heard from groups representing Scottish Youth Parliament, Children’s Parliament and Gracemount High School about what incorporating the UNCRC into Scots law will mean for them. We also discussed how children’s rights can be protected and promoted, and the urgent need to tackle the climate emergency. You can learn more about World Children’s Day here, the work of UNICEF here and the UNCRC here. You can read more about the Scottish Youth Parliament here and the Children’s Parliament here.
After decision time, I completed the hat-trick for chamber business that afternoon when I spoke in the members debate celebrating the international year of the periodic table. My former science teachers at Sanday school and KGS may be astonished by this news, but it was an interesting exchange, reflecting on one of the greatest achievements in science and one that continues to further our knowledge of the world around us today. You can watch my speech here, the full debate here and read it here. You can learn more about the UNESCO International Year of the Periodic Table here.
In the evening, I was pleased to attend a special reception celebrataing the 80th anniversary of Citizens Advice Scotland (CAS). The Citizens Advice network plays a hugely important role in communities across the country, including here in Orkney, providing free and confidential advice and support to those affected by a range of issues. Personally, I’ve lost count of how many times the Orkney CAB has helped me to help constituents and I was delighted to be able to pay tribute to the work of CAB staff and volunteers across the country. You can read more about CAS here and Orkney Citizens Advice here.
I then attended a dinner with the Chair and senior executives of Serco. This event is held annually and allows an opportunity to discuss various aspects of the company’s business, from operating the Northern Isles ferry contract to prisons, the Caledonian Sleeper and even the new bicycle hire scheme in Edinburgh. Serco acknowledged the problems that have arisen through their involvement with asylum centres as well as the Caledonian sleeper, but insisted those had been or were being addressed. Time will tell.
On Thursday morning, I attended an early meeting of the Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body before returning to my office to answer emails and casework. Later, I headed to the Chamber for General Questions, where I had the opportunity to highlight with the Islands Minister the problems caused by the restrictions placed on MV Eynhallow. As well as asking the Minister to ensure his officials were offering whatever advice and support they could to Orkney Ferries, I reiterated the urgent need for agreement on replacing Orkney Ferries’ ageing fleet. You can watch the exchange here, the full session here and read it here. You can read my further comments here.
At First Minister’s Questions this week, Jackson Carlow criticised the Health Secretary for apparently conflicting statements about her knowledge of the death of a young child at Queen Elizabeth University Hospital in Glasgow. Richard Leonard also asked about health, challenging the First Minister about private firms carrying out routine operations in Scotland’s hospitals. You can watch the full session here and read it here.
After FMQs, I made my way straight to the Justice Sub-Committee on Policing meeting, where we took evidence on how live facial recognition technology might be used by Police Scotland and the challenges this presented in terms of human rights, data protection etc. You can watch the meeting here and read it here.
Following the sub-committee meeting, I returned to the chamber for SPCB Question Time where I was required to respond to questions about MSP annual reports and flu vaccinations for staff. You can watch the session here and read it here. I then had some time back in the office to deal with some casework before heading to the airport to catch a flight back to Orkney.
Today, I was delighted to visit Glaitness Primary School as part of their World Book Day. I had great fun reading stories from Icarus to Mr Gum and Green Eggs and Ham. The less said about The Book With No Pictures the better! I also spoke to P6 and P7 pupils about life as an MSP and answered a huge variety of questions about my role. It was great to see the pupils so engaged and they posed some very challenging questions! You can learn more about World Book Day here and Book Week Scotland here.
This evening, I’m looking forward to attending the Orkney Japan Association AGM. As well as electing new office bearers, the meeting will also be an opportunity get an update on how current projects are progressing and to also outline new proposals for 2020. You can read more about the group here.
Tomorrow, on the 100th anniversary of the Kirkwall City Pipe Band’s first ever parade, current band members will be recreating the moment with their own parade through Broad Street and the launch of their new album, Rocks and Salty Water. It’s the latest event to mark the band’s centenary year and I hope that everyone involved enjoys what will be a historic day. Proceedings start at 11am and there’s bound to be a large crowd to support. Details about the band and the event can be found here and about their new album here.
Lastly, a reminder that you only have until Tuesday to register to vote in the upcoming election and to apply for a postal vote. Details about how you can register are here and to apply for a postal vote are here. You have until the 4th December to apply for a proxy vote and details for this can be found here.
I will be meeting Smiddybrae residents in Dounby on Monday, I have a meeting with the ABB Group on Tuesday to discuss low carbon technologies, I will be sponsoring a reception for the Scottish Charity Air Ambulance Service and taking part in a Justice Roundtable discussion on the Scottish Biometrics Bill on Wednesday. I will also be speaking in a panel debate on Scotland’s Climate Emergency on Friday.
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.