The ‘Tunnel Vision’ online event Alistair Carmichael and I held last Saturday demonstrated the level of interest in the conversation on fixed links from people across Shetland. We heard about the practicalities and costs of tunnelling, as well as the experience in Faroe. The contributions from young people were thoughtful and well received. They, after all, will be the ones most affected by any decisions taken now on future transport links so we should be focusing on future-proofing travel to ensure it is fit for the next 40 or 50 years. Some people believe that too much time has already been spent talking about tunnels, and not enough action or progress has been made. The feasibility and business case has to be made for tunnels, but we need ferries to run a reliable service in the meantime and some have to be replaced. The event is still available to watch online here.
On Tuesday, a debate was brought forward by my colleague and party leader, Alex Cole-Hamilton, about the BBC and proposals for its future funding. The public service broadcaster is a trusted institution and something that belongs to us all – it informs, educates and entertains us. I spoke about the value and contribution of local radio stations. BBC Radio Shetland and Radio Orkney have been with us in the Northern Isles for nearly 45 years and are well respected for their impartial coverage of island events. You can watch my speech here. Sunday 13th February also marks World Radio Day and this years theme is “Radio and Trust”. We are lucky in Shetland to have two local radio stations, BBC Radio Shetland and the independent commercial station SIBC, providing us with coverage of local news and current affairs, and details of island events.
It was a well-attended debate and some members waxed lyrical about programmes of days gone by. But in what could have been an episode straight out of Dad’s Army (or the Thick of It!) was the government’s response to poor air quality in schools and the now infamous “here’s £300k to saw the bottom off classroom doors”. Not surprisingly, parents as well as Scottish Fire and Rescue Services raised concerns about what this meant for fire doors in schools. It would be laughable if poor air quality in class wasn’t so serious.
The Rural Affairs, Islands and Natural Environment Committee (RAINE) held three evidence sessions this week. Firstly, we had the opportunity to question the Cabinet Secretary and her team about the draft National Planning Framework 4 (NPF4), a long-term spatial plan for Scotland that sets out where the development and infrastructure is needed. I raised the need to give tackling fuel poverty in rural and island communities more prominence. I also highlighted to the Cabinet Secretary that 50% of SIC’s carbon emissions come from our inter-island ferry fleet alone, so there is need to consider transport in the planning framework. Regarding aquaculture, I asked what consideration the Government had given to the need for expertise in assessing planning decisions for aquaculture projects, and the Cabinet Secretary responded they would be considering the Griggs review outcome closely and that SEPA would have a consulting role for local authorities.
The committee then heard from the Cabinet Secretary about regulations that enable the Government to set up a scheme for giving grants and loans for Aquaculture and Fisheries, to replace the former EU funding scheme. I asked if any vessel operating in ‘the Scottish zone’ would be eligible for funding when the new scheme comes into force. I was told no, and that criteria would be set to rule out non-UK vessels, but further confirmation will come in a written response. I also took the opportunity to again raise the issue of non-UK vessels engaging in gillnet fishing off Shetland with the Minister which you can see here.
The RAINE committee also took more evidence on the Good Food Nation (GFN) bill this week, this time from local authority representatives who will be tasked with producing plans on how to change our culture around food. It is clear from the evidence sessions that the actions taken to transform our food system will need to strengthen the human rights approach, with collaboration across areas from transport to cost of living to ensure that food insecurity is tackled.
On Wednesday I responded to the Scottish Government's statement on the future of ScotRail. This comes 50 days before they take on the running of the railways, more than 2 years after the decision was taken, and only now are the government starting to think what they want to do with it. That doesn’t exactly say the government is prepared. The greatest challenge facing Scotland is how we tackle the climate emergency and at the heart of that is an ambitious and reliable rail network. It’s hard to take the Scottish Government’s commitment to decarbonisation seriously when the most environmentally friendly form of mass transportation ticks up in price year-after-year. You can see my question here. Scottish Liberal Democrats have set out ambitious plans to tempt people out of their cars and on to the rail network by cutting fares and exploring opening and reopening lines to communities who are crying out for them.
My meetings this week included a Cross Party Group meeting on WASPI (Women Against State Pension Inequality) and a briefing on Cerebral Palsy. I will be hosting an advice surgery on Monday 14th February, 16:30 - 17:30 at the Islesburgh Community Centre in Lerwick. You can book an appointment or contact me about any matter you think I may be able to assist you with via:
Phone: 01595 690 044
Email: [email protected]
PS you can read my Shetland Times Column here.