Orcadian Column, 29 June 2023

29 Jun 2023

The end of term tends to be a time for celebrating achievement and recognising hard work. Certainly the KGS Awards on Monday evening fitted that bill perfectly and it was a pleasure to be invited to be a part of it.

Recent years have not been easy, of course, with Covid restrictions taking a particular toll on the lives of our young people. In response, they have shown remarkable resilience and Monday’s event offered a chance to recognise their talent as well as the contribution they make to our community, supported by parents, carers and of course school staff. The same is true across our islands.

I had the enviable task of handing out the prizes, though only after completing the more daunting task of providing some words of inspiration. From experience, there are few things less likely to inspire a room full of teenagers than an old bloke in a suit clambering onto the stage to offer some nuggets of wisdom. Undeterred, however, I focussed on the fact that life rarely turns out as planned, assuming you have a plan, but that our young people should draw confidence from knowing that the skills they are developing will equip them to take opportunities and challenges in their stride.

Over in Holyrood, meanwhile, the end of term reviews have been less positive and I suspect the First Minister cannot wait for parliament to rise this week for the summer recess. Humza Yousaf has had a torrid time of late, with FMQs noteworthy only for the empty seats, subdued backbenchers and toe-curlingly awful ‘patsy’ questions and pre-scripted answers.

Divisions within the SNP were exposed during the recent leadership contest, but the ‘rebels’ now make no secret of their delight in Mr Yousaf’s misfortunes, which they seem to enjoy almost as much as they loathe the Greens. The latter were brought into government via the Bute House Agreement, which has spawned all manner of tensions.

One such example is the proposal to designate 10% of Scottish waters as Highly Protected Marine Areas by 2026. The arbitrary nature of these plans, that overturn years of partnership working with the fishing sector, has prompted real anger in island and coastal communities as well as near mutiny within SNP ranks. A parliamentary statement on HPMAs this week must surely see the Minister row back from the current position, with a focus instead on reviewing and revising the existing MPA network.

Meantime, the omnishambles of the Deposit Return Scheme rumbles on. With Scottish businesses counting the cost; Circularity Scotland in administration; and the Scottish Government’s reputation for competence in tatters, parliament last week considered a motion of no confidence in the Minister responsible, Lorna Slater. SNP and Green MSPs ‘circled the wagons’ to ensure Ms Slater survived but it came at a cost with former SNP Cabinet Secretary, Fergus Ewing defying the whip to vote for the motion. It’s difficult to see how he can remain in the party.

A decision on any expulsion must wait, however, as Fergus’ mother, Winnie Ewing sadly passed away the following day. An icon for her party, Winnie has been a hugely influential figure within Scottish politics. Her byelection victory in Hamilton in 1967 gave the SNP the breakthrough it craved and she served as an MP, MEP and MSP over four decades. During her time in the European Parliament, she was affectionately referred to as ‘Madame Écosse’, a title she wore with justifiable pride.

I suspect Winnie would have been aghast, though, at the performance of her party leader during the ‘Independence Conference’ taking place in Dundee at the weekend. Intended to rally the troops, Humza Yousaf’s speech only created more confusion, throwing up the prospect of the SNP losing votes and seats at the next General Election but still somehow claiming a ‘mandate’ for breaking up the UK. It seems even many diehard SNP supporters are not prepared to be marched up yet another hill to Mr Yousaf’s latest tune.

Contrast this with events in Kirkwall on Monday, where young members of Kirkwall City Pipe Band and Hadhirgaan had the audience at the KGS Awards happily clapping and tapping along. That’s the way to do it.