Holyrood Highlights 27.09.19

With woolly hat and wellies, I started my week on a misty Monday morning at Echna Loch Bay, where I joined other volunteers for the Great British Beach Clean, organised by Scottish Sea Farms. With public concern over marine pollution, particularly the plastics in our seas, on the increase, it was a timely reminder of the importance of keeping our beaches tidy and tackling ocean pollution. You can read more about the Great British Beach Clean here, and the event at Echna Loch Bay here.

I had to leave my fellow bag-the-bruckers early, to head over to the Orkney Research and Innovation Campus in Stromness for the start of the Arctic Conference and the launch by the Culture Secretary of the government’s Arctic Strategy. Given its location, history and aspirations for the future, Orkney was the perfect place for the launch of the strategy and the shared commitment to develop greater cooperation with Arctic partners.  You can read more about the conference here.

Back in Kirkwall later, I had a brief meeting with fellow Celebrity Master Chef contestants, judges and organisers ahead of the big day on the 2nd October.  Menus are in and nerves are jangling for what is now a sell-out event, about which you can read more here.

As usual, I had an early flight into Edinburgh on Tuesday morning for the start of Justice Committee.  This week, after taking evidence on the government’s bill to establish a Biometrics Commissioner in Scotland covering policing, we had a Q&A session with The Scottish Centre for Crime and Justice Research on their work on police and criminal justice matters.  You can read the draft committee report here and watch the full session here.

After lunch, and the regular weekly Lib Dem MSP meeting, I headed to the Chamber for Topical Questions.  This week, I was able to reiterate to the Islands Minister, Paul Wheelhouse the concerns of key business sectors in Orkney and Shetland about the lack of additional freight capacity in the new Northern Isles ferry contract, awarded to Serco Northlink. This was an issue I returned to in more detail later in the afternoon, when I met Mr Wheelhouse.  I was pleased that the Minister committed to convening a meeting with key stakeholders in Orkney and Shetland to discuss future freight demands in the islands. I look forward to taking part in these discussions. Meantime, you can watch my question here, read it here and my further comments here.

After Topical Questions, I remained in the chamber for a statement from the First Minister about the Supreme Court’s historic judgement that the UK government’s decision to ‘prorogue’ parliament was unlawful.  The unanimous ruling was perhaps unexpected, but confirms that the Prime Minister effectively lied to the Queen about the reasons for shutting down parliament, but also confirmed the right of parliament to hold the government to account at such a crucial moment. You can read more about the ruling here, watch the First Minister’s statement here and read it here.

Unfortunately, my Orcadian column had already been drafted, and with no time between Justice Committee and Topical Questions for a re-write, I’m afraid it rather failed to take account of this latest constitutional upheaval. Nevertheless, you can read it here.      

In the evening, I briefly attended the AGM for the cross party group on fishing, where we heard from Seafish Scotland on the importance of statistics. I had to rush off earlier to drop in at a meeting of the cross party group on Japan, where the theme was cultural links between Japan and Scotland. The fish connection continued, as we heard contributions from representatives of the Scottish seafood sector but also Scottish Rugby Union, outlining the SRU’s activities  in the context of the ongoing rugby World Cup.  I was also delighted that Ruta Noreika could attend on behalf of the Orkney Japan Association. You can read more about the group here.  You can read more about the Orkney Japan Association here

I spent most of Wednesday morning preparing for Stage 3 of the Climate Change Bill, which was due to take place later in the day.  This may prove to be one of the most significant and ambitious pieces of legislation that Holyrood has ever passed as we attempt to tackle the climate emergency.  You can read the Climate Change Bill here and a summary of its details here.

I also had a meeting with the Paper Cup Alliance to discuss some of the steps they are taking to develop innovative, sustainable packaging solutions to encourage recycling.  You can read more about the Paper Cup Alliance here.

I then had some time at my desk to deal with emails and casework, before joining activists outside parliament calling for a strengthening of the proposed climate change legislation. Over the course of two days, protestors were taking it in turn to read from the latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report.  Along with other MSP colleagues, I did a stint of reading too. The report makes clear the devastating impact of climate change, and the case for radical action to reduce carbon emissions to zero by 2050.  You can read more about the report here.  

The afternoon was then taken up with the final Stage 3 consideration of amendments to the Climate Change Bill.  I was delighted that parliament agreed to back an amendment I co-signed for Scotland to set a more stringent interim emissions target of 75% by 2030.  This reflects the necessity of taking early action if we are to meet our target of net zero emissions by 2045. You can watch my closing remarks in the debate here, the full session here and read it here.

In the evening, I attended a dinner, hosted by the Presiding Officer, to discuss the case for further reform of the way parliament works, as well as ways in which the diversity of MSPs can be improved across all parties. You can find out more about the PO’s Parliamentary Reform Group here.

Thursday began with a very early interview on BBC Good Morning Scotland following the vote on the Climate Change Bill.  You can listen to the interview here.  I then made my way to parliament for a meeting of the Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body.  You can read more about the work of the group here and minutes and papers of previous meetings here.

I then had some time at my desk to answer emails and deal with casework, before First Minister’s Questions at midday.   This week, Jackson Carlow returned to the issue of whole-life sentences for serious offenders.  Richard Leonard challenged the First Minister about recent statements by Mike Russell that the question in a second independence referendum would not need to be re-tested by the Electoral Commission and could remain the same. You can watch the full session here and read it here.

I was pleased to be called again this week to ask another constituency question at FMQs.  After further disruption on our lifeline flights this week as a result of the ongoing dispute between HIAL and air traffic controllers, I urged the First Minister to get the Transport Secretary to step in and help find a resolution.  In particular, I highlighted the impact on isles patients left stranded in Aberdeen, following hospital appointments. You can watch my question here and read my further comments here.

I stayed in the Chamber after FMQs to listen to the opening speeches in a members debate on the campaign for those with Motor Neurone Disease to be given automatic entitlement to blue badges. It was great to see former Scotland and Lions rugby legend, Doddie Weir OBE in the public gallery, given his inspirational work to raise awareness of and funds for MND through his My Name’5 Doddie foundation. It was even more of a privilege to then meet the great man in person. You can read more about the My Name’5 Doddie foundation here and about MND Scotland here and see photos of my encounter here.

Over lunch, I caught up on casework and made calls, before I had a briefing on the Miss M campaign to end the ‘not proven’ verdict, notably in cases involving rape or sexual assault.  The rest of the afternoon was then spent in my office dealing with emails and casework after an incredibly busy parliamentary week.

This morning, I flew back to Orkney and managed to go along to the MacMillan Coffee morning at Kirkwall Grammar School.  The coffee mornings are always very well attended, and the staff and pupils always do an excellent job organising, running and contributing towards the event.  Not surprisingly, there is always an impressive amount raised for Macmillan Cancer Support.  If you would like to find out how to run a Macmillan Coffee Morning, more details are available here.

Following my cake tasting duties, I was delighted to attend the Annual Graduation and Awards Ceremony for Orkney College UHI at the St Magnus Cathedral.  As ever, the breadth of courses and range of people whose achievements were being recognised was remarkable, underscoring the importance of Orkney College UHI to our community. It is always a wonderful celebration of success in breathtaking surroundings. You can read more about Orkney College here.

On Saturday morning, I’m looking forward to attending the monthly Orkney Armed Forces and Veterans breakfast, where we will be joined by ex-serviceman, Christian Lewis, who has spent the last two years walking seven thousand miles around the UK coastline with his dog, Jet, to raise money for the Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Families Association (SSAFA).  It is a quite extraordinary effort and many people in Orkney have been generously supporting Chris during his challenge. You can read more about the ‘Chris Walks the UK’ challenge here and the SSAFA charity here

Chris will be at [email protected]é.com in Victoria Street, Kirkwall for the Orkney Armed Forces and Veteran’s Breakfast Club between 9:30am and 11am and for a coffee and cake fundraiser between 2pm and 4pm.  Everyone is welcome to come along to meet Chris and Jet to hear more about their challenge while enjoying a cake and a cuppa.  If you would like to make a donation to Chris, you can access his JustGiving page here.

The rest of the day will be spent valiantly trying to watch Orkney’s various rugby and football teams playing at three different venues. That and running through my menu options for Orkney Celebrity Masterchef!


Next Week

I have a rescheduled meeting with the Justice Minister to discuss funding for Orkney Drugs Dogs and a Cross Party Group on Digital Participation on Tuesday, I’ll be back in Orkney on Wednesday to take part in the Orkney Celebrity Masterchef competition and on Thursday I have a meeting with Crown Estate Scotland, followed by Justice Sub-Committee on Policing, and a Stage 3 debate on the Children (Equal Protection from Assault) Bill.

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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