21 August 2020

The week began with a virtual presentation, “Farm to Fork”, about why standards of food, animal health, welfare and the environment matter.

Hosted by one of the members of Parliament’s Rural Economy and Connectivity Committee, MSPs and other stakeholders heard first hand of the high environmental and food production standards in the UK from two farmers, one based in the Borders, the other in the East Midlands, who are both passionate about sustainable farming and the environment.

There’s nothing new in advocating sustainable farming. Crofters and farmers have for generations looked after the land around them. 

The emphasis of Monday’s session though was on the importance of maintaining the country’s high standards in light of the trade agreements the UK will be making as the EU exit transition period ends this year on 31st December.

Chlorinated chicken and the excessive use of antibiotics in meat production were two issues that were raised in relation to the risk to the consumer of imported food that would otherwise be illegal to produce in the UK. Our high animal welfare standards must be maintained.

The announcement by HIAL of the ‘island communities impact assessment’ on its centralising plans for air traffic management across the Highlands and Islands have been greeted with little enthusiasm. Having made it clear that it’s been designed so as to be specifically unable to recommend whether centralisation goes ahead or not, it is nothing more than a tick box exercise. The Islands Act was intended to empower island communities but this “consultation” is not in that spirit.

The use of face coverings in schools is an issue that some constituents have raised with me. On Tuesday I asked the Education Secretary if he would make face coverings mandatory on school transport. The Scottish Government has been clear that controlling the spread of Covid-19 is about balances and trade-offs. Face coverings on school transport would be a sensible precaution to help minimise transmission, and it wouldn’t pose an impediment to children’s education in the same way wearing a mask in a classroom could.

Meanwhile for those students who have managed to have their grade results re-adjusted, and recover from the anxiety of the debacle, and for the teachers who struggled through the SQA’s processes, the lack of clarity on next year’s exams adds more stress. Calls for more thought to be given to continuous year-round assessments are worth considering. There is a conversation to be had about the longer-term future of examinations.

As one of the distinctive blue and white buses of John Leask & Son made its last journey earlier this week, it truly was the end of an era. Escorting it was a convoy of buses from other operators and it was a gesture of their high regard for the transport company. Generations of the Leask family, and their loyal staff, have served this community well for over a hundred years. Retirement beckons for brothers Peter and Andrew Leask and I wish them and their families well.

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