Cancer Prevention Week, Good Food Nation, fixed links - eNews 23rd January 2022

This week I returned to Holyrood to take part in proceedings in person. The building was very quiet as Omicron rules remain in place.

On Tuesday the First Minister outlined the framework for the lifting of the Omicron restrictions. This included lifting the limit of meeting three households indoors and indoor contact sport returning (both from Monday 24th January).  You can read her full speech here.

This week was also Cervical Cancer Prevention Week and I signed an MSP colleague’s motion seeking to remove barriers which prevent some from attending screenings. You can read more here. No barrier should prevent anyone being proactive about their health.

The Rural Affairs, Islands and Natural Environment (RAINE) Committee took evidence this week for the Good Food Nation Bill proposed by the Scottish Government. I was impressed by the discussions and ideas coming from panellists. This bill could become critical to the way Scotland thinks about food production, animal welfare and human wellbeing. I subsequently met with the Scottish Food Coalition, who were among panellists in the RAINE session. There was discussion about the present bill and possibilities to enhance it with a commitment to a ‘right to food’, and ensuring local produce makes it onto local dinner plates.

During First Minister’s questions I asked the First Minister what the Scottish Government’s response was regarding the impact on Scotland of reports that the licence fee will be cut after the current funding deals in 2027. The First Minister said that while there may be individual gripes with the BBC that we each might have it is a public service that we should protect. Shetland is fortunate to have its own local radio output by the BBC, something that few other Scottish communities have. You can watch my question here.

Later on Thursday I replied to a Ministerial statement on the publication of the draft Strategic Transport Project Review 2- (STPR2) Report. You can watch the exchange here. The report includes short-term priorities, with longer-term recommendations for transport investment for the next 20 years. I was pleased to see plans to renew and decarbonise lifeline ferries. Vessels do not last forever and new procurement will be required to enable a cleaner, reliable and more accessible ferry service. The report also recommended further investigation of potential fixed links for the Outer Hebrides and for Mull and the Scottish Mainland. It did not mention fixed links for the Northern Isles.

Citing the last First Minister’s Questions of 2021, where the First Minister recognised the national strategic importance of the Unst Spaceport, I pointed out to the Transport Secretary that Unst is dependent on ferry travel. Fixed link infrastructure could benefit communities in the North Isles and the Spaceport. I asked the Cabinet Secretary if fixed links between islands would be added to the Scottish Government’s recommendations and was told that this was not part of the plan.

Fixed links could be transformative for Shetland but the voices of the community need to be aired and that is the discussion Alistair Carmichael and I wish to facilitate. We will be jointly hosting a community event to open a public discussion on the future of fixed links in Shetland. There could be great advantages to isles communities, and benefits for the fishing and aquaculture industries and, of course, the nationally important Unst Spaceport. A public discussion about the challenges, aspirations and varying needs of each island community is important in this infrastructure debate.

STPR2 now has a 12-week open consultation that you can access here. The deadline for responses to the consultation is midnight on Friday 15 April 2022. Please do take this opportunity to air your local or national transport concerns to the Scottish Government.

I also responded on behalf of the Scottish Liberal Democrats for the Stage 1 Debate: Coronavirus (Discretionary Compensation for Self-isolation) (Scotland) Bill brought before the chamber on Thursday afternoon. This bill will extend discretionary compensation for Covid-19 self-isolation. Before the pandemic, being asked to self-isolate included compensation payment. This model simply does not work in a pandemic, Scottish Liberal Democrats support this extension and you can watch my speech where I outline the reasons behind the support here.

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