2 October 2020


Students have had a raw deal. It was entirely predictable that a mass movement of people across the country and coming together in “new households” would lead to further cases of Covid-19.

Those going to university or college for the first time, including some 17-year olds, have been hit especially hard with their last year at school undermined by the SQA grades uncertainty and debacle, now their first experience of higher education began with a two-week lockdown.

And it didn’t take much working out that student accommodation, with up to a dozen people sharing a kitchen and bathroom, could be an incubation hothouse.

I heard from anxious students who felt abandoned, trapped in their student accommodation, unable to reach student support while trying to follow Scottish Government guidelines; and worried they would be shown a yellow or red card if they went out to buy some food or get some fresh air.

Parents also got in touch about Christmas as doubts emerged that students may not be able to head home for the festive season.

With conflicting advice through the preceding week, new guidance was published late on Sunday which said that self-isolating students with a “reasonable excuse” could return home to access support but shouldn’t use public transport. Clearly island students hadn’t been fully considered in the development of the new guidance.

I’ve raised this travel anomaly in the guidance with the Education Secretary, while also seeking clarity on the Christmas period so families know if they can be together.

My party leader, Willie Rennie, has for months been asking the First Minister what the plan was for students’ return to academic institutions and he called for mass testing in what was going to be the biggest movement of people since the start of lockdown.

The students of today are vital to the country’s recovery from Covid, and it looks like that recovery will be a prolonged one. To treat students with so little regard for their wellbeing and future prospects makes no sense.

Scrutiny of the Redress for Survivors (Historical Child Abuse in Care) (Scotland) Bill began on Wednesday at the Education and Skills committee. The bill aims to set up a scheme to provide financial and non-financial redress to survivors of historical child abuse in care settings throughout Scotland, and follows various inquiries, most recently the Scottish Child Abuse Inquiry, which lasted several years.

The committee heard from Dr Maeve O’Rourke, a barrister and lecturer in human rights at the Irish Centre for Human Rights who has campaigned on behalf of survivors of abuse in the Irish Magdalen Laundries. It was extremely useful to get her expert view of the redress scheme and what lessons can be taken from it to the Scottish scheme.

Although nothing can ever make up for the suffering that survivors have endured, it is right and proper that wrongs of the past are addressed. The redress scheme must be fair, open and transparent, and must be seen to be so.


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