This week started in the Kirkwall office with the usual series of calls with parliamentary colleagues and my office to discuss the week ahead. I spent the rest of the morning catching-up on casework and making calls to constituents. Later in the afternoon I had a number of meetings beginning with parliament’s Non-Government Bills Unit who are supporting my proposed Members Bill on Assisted Dying for Terminally Ill Adults. After an overwhelming response to the consultation at the end of last year, I hope to be in a position to publish a report on the consultation when parliament returns after the Summer recess, paving the way for lodging the bill formally early in 2023. I then had a call with Mark Pauley from LINK, who has been investigating the case for retaining a cashpoint in Stromness town centre in light of the imminent closure of the Bank of Scotland branch. I am hopeful this will be LINK’s recommendation, based on Mr Pauley’s site visit and discussions with local businesses and members of the community in Stromness.
Later in the afternoon, I met colleagues from the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service for an update on how the service is working through the backlog of cases and using technology to facilitate access to justice. A busy day concluded with a meeting with the new OIC Deputy Leader, Heather Woodbridge, and fellow Councillors Mellissa Thomson, Steven Heddle and Stephen Clackson to discuss concerns over medical provision on some of the smaller isles, notably Eday, North Ronaldsay and Papay.
On Tuesday morning I was caught up in the disruption that again has been affecting flights to and from Orkney over recent days. As we head into the busiest period of the year for air travel, the reliability of the lifeline services has simply not been where it needs to be. In a call later in the day with Jonathan Hinkles, Loganair’s CEO, I reiterated the frustration of passengers and the loss of confidence, expressed in many emails and messages to my office from angry constituents. I was assured that additional capacity was being brought into the fleet during the course of the week, which should address the principal problem but have asked for regular updates over the coming days and will meet with Loganair senior management next week to assess the latest situation.
I arrived at parliament after midday meaning I missed Parliamentary Bureau but was able to attend the meeting with my Lib Dem colleagues and then with my Presiding Officer colleagues to discuss the afternoon's chamber business. This began with Topical Questions which unsurprisingly sought an update on the rail chaos following the new ScotRail train timetable being cut by a third from this week. With major events coming up such as the Royal Highland Show, The Open and the crucial World Cup play-off match between Scotland and Ukraine, concerns are growing about the impact this massive reduction in service will have and the ability of Ministers to get a grip of things. You can watch Topical Questions here and read it here.
There was then a Ministerial Statement on delays to incorporation of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child into Scots Law. Incorporation has been delayed due to a ruling by the Supreme Court that elements of the legislation fall outwith the devolved competence of the Scottish Parliament. The Scottish Government is now expected to consult with relevant organisations before bringing forward amended proposals to Parliament. You can read the statement here, watch it here and more about UNCRC here.
I was then in the Chair for the start of the afternoon's debate on keeping care close to home, which you can read watch here and read here. I remain concerned that the government’s plans to create a centralised National Care Service will struggle to reflect the needs and circumstances of island and rural communities. After the debate, I caught up with emails briefly before returning to chair the evening's members debate on R.B. Cunninghame Graham and Scotland, which you can watch here and read here. After the call with Loganair’s CEO I finished the day taking part in a virtual meeting of Scottish Lib Dems Spokespeople.
On Wednesday morning I had a largely clear diary which allowed me to spend time catching up with casework, making calls and dealing with emails. At midday I chaired a meeting of the Conveners Group which was followed by a meeting with my Presiding Officer colleagues. Over a bite of lunch, I continued to work on casework while tuning into portfolio questions on Health & Social Care and Social Justice, Housing & Local Government, which you can watch here and read here. I then took part in the BBC Politics Scotland cross-party line-up live from the Garden Lobby which unsurprisingly was dominated by the damning Sue Gray report into Downing Street parties during lockdown. As expected, the long-awaited report laid bare the Prime Minister’s failures of leadership, the culture he has overseen and his lack of fitness for office. Trust in Boris Johnson and his credibility have been shot to pieces and he should resign or be forced to do so by his party’s MPs. You can watch BBC Politics Scotland here.
I was then in the Chair for the last stages of the afternoon's debate on Community Wealth Building, which you can watch here and read here. After Decision Time I had a brief meeting with the Cabinet Secretary for Justice, Keith Brown, to discuss upcoming legislation on bail and release. I gave a brief interview with BBC Radio Orkney on the ongoing problems of flight disruption before dropping into a reception hosted by RSPB Scotland on Scotland's Biodiversity Strategy and how we can learn from international examples. You can find out more about the strategy here.
On Thursday morning I had a meeting with NHS Orkney, Scottish Ambulance Service and North Isles Councillors to discuss the provision of primary care in the isles. Recent gaps in on-island cover in Eday, North Ronaldsay and Papay have given rise to serious and understandable anxiety within the communities affected. The meeting provided an opportunity to discuss those concerns and what might be done to build greater resilience into the service provision in future. A further meeting will take place next month to assess progress, by which stage I would hope that discussions with the communities themselves will be underway or certainly scheduled.
I then had a couple of meetings with my Presiding Officer colleagues before heading along to the chamber to watch General Questions and First Ministers Questions, which you can watch here, here and read here. This week the Deputy First Minister, John Swinney, took questions from opposition leaders while the First Minister continues to recover from Covid-19. Her absence was untimely in a week that saw her surpass her one-time mentor, Alex Salmond in becoming the longest serving First Minister clocking up eight years in power. An impressive achievement, although her record on delivery has not matched much of the rhetoric and promises made. Two examples of this featured prominently at FMQs, with Mr Swinney facing questions about his personal involvement in the ferries fiasco that has seen £250m spent on two Calmac ferries that have still not yet been delivered and the growing chaos on the railway network only weeks after the fanfare of ScotRail's nationalisation. Anas Sarwar was able to point to the lack of even a replacement bus service — beyond ironic given it was National Bus Week!
After FMQs I was in the Chair for a members debate marking the 40th anniversary of the liberation of the Falkland Islands, which you can watch here and read here. I then had some lunch while tuning into Portfolio Questions on Constitution, External Affairs & Culture followed by a Ministerial Statement on delivering the national mission to reduce drug deaths, which you can watch here, here and read here. I spent the rest of the afternoon catching-up on casework and emails before chairing the closing stages of a debate on the delivery of Social Security benefits, which you can watch here and read here. In the evening, I attended a reception to celebrate the Sikh harvest festival of Vaisakhi. After the last two years, it was so good to see the Garden Lobby full again and alive with colour, noise and the wonderful smells of samosa, pakora and other tasty treats. The parliament elected last year is the most diverse since it was re-established in 1999, and it was fitting that Scotland’s first Sikh MSP, Pam Gosal was able to welcome representatives from across Scotland's Sikh community who were present in large numbers.
On Friday morning I flew home to Orkney where I had a couple of meetings with constituents followed by a catch-up with Cheryl Chapman, VisitScotland and Ailsa Heal and Leesa Guthrie, Destination Orkney to discuss plans for Orkney’s tourism sector going forward and some of the challenges and opportunities. Later in the afternoon I held an advice surgery in the St Magnus Centre. You can find out the dates of all my summer surgeries here where my isles visits will also be published soon.
The week’s meetings were rounded off with my regular monthly catch up with Michael Dickson, NHS Orkney’s Interim CEO after which I spent the rest of the time dealing with casework and getting my inbox in some sort of order ahead of a weekend that will see me attending concerts at the Orkney Folk Festival, which makes a welcome in-person return after two years of online performances, and the second leg of the Parish Cup clash with Rendall out in Sanday on Sunday. In between, I will be watching nervously to see if Liverpool can finish an astonishing season by winning the Champions League final for the seventh time in their history and turning the tables on Real Madrid, who defeated them in the final in 2018.