Ahead of the formal return of the Scottish Parliament this week, I was in Edinburgh on Sunday for the annual cricket match between MSPs and journalists. Having been soundly and consistently beaten over recent years, optimism in the MSP dressing room was not high. To the surprise of most, however, we bowled out the journalists for 118 and chased down the runs with plenty of overs to spare. As well as taking the wicket of The Scotsman’s Tom Peterkin, I had the satisfaction of walloping 28 unbeaten runs in appropriately agricultural style!
The following morning, I travelled up to Dundee with Justice Committee colleagues for a planning session on Monday and Tuesday morning, which saw us take in visits to the Sheriff Court in Dundee, Police Scotland in Forfar and the Scottish Fire & Rescue Service in Montrose. These were helpful in the context of our consideration of forthcoming legislation and ongoing inquiry into the centralisation of police and fire services back in 2012.
Returning to parliament on Tuesday afternoon, I was straight into the chamber where we observed a one-minute silence in memory of former Presiding Officer, Sir Alex Fergusson who sadly passed away last month. Sir Alex was a genuinely decent man who conducted his politics with vigour and passion but never with malice or personal animosity. At his memorial service in Kirkudbright a fortnight ago, Sir Alex’s brother and former Radio Orkney presenter, John Fergusson gave a wonderful eulogy, capturing perfectly the essence of a man who commanded respect and affection across the political divide and who will be sorely missed.
It was then on to Topical questions where I had an opportunity to challenge the government again over the merger of the British Transport Police with Police Scotland. This latest centralisation has been beset by difficulties and delays, with newly-installed Chief Constable, Iain Livingstone raising concerns about ‘public safety’ and the independent inspector of police criticising the lack of a detailed business case. You can watch my contribution and the new Justice Secretary, Humza Yousaf’s response here.
A full chamber then settled down to listen to the First Minister’s statement on the programme for government, which you can watch here. There were some positives in a speech that lasted 40 minutes, notably additional funding for mental health, which coincided with the release of figures showing the longest waits yet for children and adolescent mental health services. You can read more about this here.
Following the statement, there was a debate due to continue over the next couple of days. I was due to speak on Wednesday, so after the opening speeches by each of the party leaders, I headed back to my office to catch up on casework and make calls. That evening a meeting of the Cross Party Group on End of Life Choices, where we heard from Mark Hazelwood from the Scottish Partnership for Palliative Care, more details of which you can find here.
I had to leave the CPG early, unfortunately, to attend a lecture by the Deputy First Minister, John Swinney on Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs). Mr Swinney outlined the government’s approach to an issue that is growing in prominence. He highlighted the importance of early intervention and a trauma-aware approach across the delivery of all services if we are to ensure every child has a chance of realising their potential. The lecture was organised by Apex Scotland and you can find out more about their work here and more about ACEs here.
Wednesday started with me preparing my speech for the second day of debate on the programme for government. I then took part in an opinion survey with PA Advocacy for which I will be able to make a donation to the Orkney Youth Cafe. After catching up on casework, and grabbing a bite to eat, I attended a meeting of the Liberal Democrat group before heading over to the Chamber again. I used my contribution to the debate on the government’s programme to highlight the urgent need for investment in replacement vessels for Orkney’s internal ferry services. The current fleet is no longer up to the demands of operating many of these routes. The boats cost more to run, more to fix and more to keep at sea. Delays in replacing these ferries is increasingly a false economy, one that comes at a cost to the communities that rely so heavily upon them. I also used the opportunity to demand an urgent resolution of the impasse over implementing RET on Northern Isles ferry routes, which has left those travelling between Orkney or Shetland and the Scottish Mainland paying over the odds. You can watch my full speech here and read it here. You can watch the comments about our lifeline ferries here and read my further comments here.
On Thursday I was in early for a meeting of the Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body followed by a morning spent catching up on casework and making calls. At midday, it was back to the chamber for First Minister’s Questions where Ruth Davidson pressed Nicola Sturgeon on the parole system while Richard Leonard asked why Yammer (a phone app) was able to be accessed by young primary school children. My colleague Tavish Scott MSP pressed the First Minister on the growing demands for the government to abandon the introduction of national standardised assessments for Primary 1 pupils, which are likely to be voted down by parliament later this month. You can watch proceedings here and read them here.
After FMQs, I dashed off to a special session of the Justice Committee to take evidence from Secretary of State for Scotland, The Rt Hon David Mundell MP on the impact of Brexit on civil and criminal justice systems and policing in Scotland. You can watch the session here.
The rest of the afternoon was spent in my office dealing with emails, making calls and catching up on casework before returning to the Chamber for the closing speeches in the debate on the government’s legislative programme.
In the evening I attended a dinner organised by the British American Project, where we heard from guest speaker and former Secretary of State for Scotland and for International Development, The Rt Honourable Douglas Alexander who provided a fascinating insight into politics on both sides of the Atlantic which feel particularly polarised and divisive at the present time.
Instead of heading north on Friday, I have remained in Edinburgh ahead of Scottish Liberal Democrat autumn conference in Dunfermline on Saturday. The day has been spent catching up with casework and taking part in various meetings.
Coming up Next Week
On Monday next week, I look forward to having tea with residents at St Rognvald's House before meetings with constituents in the office and a catch up with representatives of Calmac Ferries. Tuesday will see me attend events hosted by the British Red Cross on “Maintaining mobility” and Diabetes Scotland, marking their 25th anniversary. On Wednesday I have various meetings and will take part in a photo call for Macmillan World's Biggest Coffee Morning as well as an Edinburgh University Debate on Brexit. I will meet BT on Thursday to discuss concerns about broadband services in Orkney’s smaller isles and attend an event celebrating Scotland’s Species Champions (another chance to do my bit for the Primula Scotica). In the evening, I will host a meeting of the Cross Party Group on Malawi before heading back to Edinburgh University for a Lib Dem Fresher’s event. Friday is a Parliament holiday and the offices will be closed, but I will be in Inverness for a meeting with Scottish Ambulance Service and a summit on delivering education services across the Highlands & Islands and Grampian regions. As always, you can view “This Week in the Scottish Parliament”, a weekly update from the Scottish Parliament by clicking here. For everything else, you can read my diary here.