Holyrood Highlights 29.11.19

A dreary Monday was certainly brightened up this week with news that Kirkwall town centre had been voted Scotland’s Most Beautiful High Street 2019, fending off stiff competition from seven other towns across Scotland, including our Shetland neighbours in Lerwick.  While no great surprise, of course, this award is nevertheless testament to the outstanding work by the team at Kirkwall BID as well as local businesses and the wider community, all of whom have played a part in making the town centre such a thriving environment. To highlight this success, I lodged a motion in parliament, which you can see here.  You can also read my further comments here. You can read more about the competition here and the announcement of Kirkwall as the winners here.

On Monday morning, I visited Smiddybrae in Dounby to meet residents and staff.  Despite the ongoing election, there wasn’t a lot of politics discussed but important local issues were raised, including bus services.  I also couldn’t say no to the tea and traybakes on offer! 

Back in the office at lunchtime, the afternoon was spent dealing with casework and emails as well as meetings with constituents. I also had the opportunity to lodge a parliamentary motion, acknowledging the retirement of Alistair Buchan as Chief Executive of Orkney Islands Council. Alistair has made a tremendous contribution in this role over the years and can be very proud of what he has achieved. On a personal level, I have always valued his help, advice and friendship and was pleased to be able to put that on record with a motion, which you can read here.

On Tuesday morning, I flew to Edinburgh in time for the Justice Committee meeting where this week we took evidence from Scottish Government officials responsible for the Children (Scotland) Bill.  This bill aims, amongst other things, to ensure the voice of children is heard more consistently in cases of marital or relationship breakdown. You can watch the full committee session here and read it here.  You can read details of the Children (Scotland) Bill here.

After the regular Lib Dem MSP meeting, I returned to my office to finish my Orcadian column, which this week focused on difficulties crowding in on the Health Secretary.  You can read my column here.

During the afternoon, in between dealing with casework, emails and making calls, I had a meeting with Ian Funnell from ABB Limited to discuss the work they are doing to deliver a low carbon future for Scotland. You can read more about ABB Limited here.

Wednesday morning began with an opinion survey for IPSOS Mori in return for which I was able to make a small donation to a local charity.  These surveys take place quite regularly and I’m always keen to hear about local projects, charities or fundraising efforts which could be supported through these donations. So please get in touch!

I then had some time to prepare for a Liberal Democrat-led debate on mental health taking place in the afternoon. I am pleased that my party has consistently kept the issue of mental health at the top of the political agenda, with Willie Rennie repeatedly raising the issue at First Ministers Questions over recent years. Despite the efforts of those working in the sector, and additional investment by government, it is clear that mental health services in Scotland have been stretched to breaking point. I know from my own casework that people in Orkney, including those caring for family members with a mental illness, too often are not getting the support they need.  This is a picture repeated across the country, particularly in relation to Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services. You can watch my speech here, the full debate here and read it here

The debate also allowed Willie Rennie and I to highlight figures from a recent report into the health and well-being of Scotland’s police officers and staff which are truly shocking.  More than a third said they are going to work with a mental illness and one in ten are taking alcohol or prescription drugs as a coping mechanism. Only 3% felt the organisation cared about their well-being. We ask police officers and staff to do a difficult, often dangerous job on our behalf. They deserve better than to be put or left in this position with regards to their mental health. You can read about the report by Prof Linda Duxbury here and my further comments here.

In the evening, I was delighted to host a reception for the Scottish Charity Air Ambulance (SCAA).  The air ambulance service does an incredible, often life-saving job for people across Scotland. It perhaps has a particular significance for those in island communities, not least those living in the smaller isles in Orkney.  It was good, therefore, to be able to pay tribute to fantastic work done by crews and all those involved with the service. Since 2013, SCAA has funded an additional helicopter, based in Perth, which is integrated into the SAS fleet. The reception saw SCAA’s chairman, John Pritchard confirm that they are on track to deliver a second helicopter, this time based in Aberdeen, by March 2020. This is a real tribute to all those involved in fundraising efforts over the last few years. The new helicopter will increase the capacity of the service, hopefully improving response times to incidents across Scotland, including in Orkney. You can read more about the Scottish Charity Air Ambulance service here and their campaign for a second helicopter here.

Thursday morning was spent at my desk answering emails, dealing with casework and making calls, including to a constituent about a piece of ongoing casework.  I then briefly met a family from Orkney who were visiting the parliament and who were due to watch First Minister’s Questions from the public gallery.  It’s always nice to be able to welcome constituents to the parliament, so if you are ever in Edinburgh and would like a tour of parliament, please feel free to contact my office here.  

At First Minister’s Questions, health was once again the main issue raised by opposition leaders.  Jackson Carlaw asked about infection controls at the Queen Elizabeth University hospital in Glasgow, while Richard Leonard focused on delays to toxicology reports due to a contractual dispute with Glasgow University.  Meanwhile, Willie Rennie followed up on our debate on mental health the previous day, asking what additional support the government will make available for Scotland’s police officers in light of reports that many are suffering from poor mental health. You can watch Willie’s question here. You can watch the full session here and read it here.

I also had the opportunity to raise with the First Minister concerns within the farming community about a recent BBC documentary, Meat: A Threat to Our Planet?  The programme made no distinction between massive-scale, intensive meat production methods in North and South America and what happens in the UK, where environmental and animal welfare standards are undoubtedly higher.  As well as being unfair to our farming sector, this does nothing to help the public make informed decisions. I welcomed the strong support I received, not just from the First Minister but from MSPs across the Chamber.  You can watch my question here, read more about the story here and my further comments here.

Following FMQs, I joined the Presiding Officer and two other MSP colleagues for a lunch with the President of the Parliament of Catalonia, Roger Torrent Ramio.  The President was visiting Holyrood for discussions with the Presiding Officer, MSPs and officials about increasing diversity in parliament and wider reforms.  It was a fascinating discussion, which obviously touched on constitutional developments in Catalonia as well. You can read more about the Catalonian parliament here.

I also managed to drop in briefly to the Scottish Police Federation Bravery Rewards reception and meet some of the nominees who were being recognised for carrying out exceptional acts of bravery this year. Those I spoke to had attended an extremely violent domestic incident, where they managed to save the life of a woman who had been stabbed. It was a reminder of what officers go through on a daily basis, keeping our communities safe. We also discussed the support available for officers in the aftermath of such horrific incidents. You can read more about the Scottish Police Federation here and the awards reception here.

In the evening, I headed through to West Calder to take part in a Scottish Justice Forum event, organised by the FJSS Group, discussing how we can improve diversity within the justice system as well as within politics at all levels in Scotland. It was an interesting and wide-ranging discussion on a topic where all of the political parties, and the parliament as a whole, has a great deal of work to do. You can read more about the FJSS Group here and the forum here.

Today, after a morning spent dealing with casework and emails, I was off through to Glasgow for another public debate, this time on Scotland’s Climate Emergency, organised by ScottishPower and WWF Scotland. We took questions on a range of environmental issues from an audience. featuring representatives from the renewable energy sector, environmental NGOs and students from schools and universities.  You can read more about the debate here.

After flying back to Orkney on Saturday morning, it is shaping up to be a busy day with a bit of election campaigning to help get Alistair Carmichael re-elected as Orkney and Shetland’s MP, a chance to see if Orkney RFC can continue their impressive start to the rugby season, before attending tree lighting ceremonies, first at Eunson Kloss and then at St Magnus Cathedral, followed by the civic reception in the Town Hall


Next Week

I will be visiting St Rognvald’s House to meet residents and staff on Monday, I am attending a round table meeting of the Scotland-Malawi Partnership Renewable Energy Forum on Tuesday, I have a meeting with the Justice Secretary to discuss the Hate Crime Bill and a Law Society of Scotland Hustings on Wednesday, I will be attending the Scottish Green Energy Awards on Thursday evening and the Age Scotland Orkney AGM 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

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