Fixed links, under-22s travel and World Cancer Day - eNews 6th February 2022

What a week! Yesterday we had a fantastic event opening a conversation on fixed links in Shetland. It was disappointing that we couldn’t hold this event in person due to Covid-19, but nonetheless there was a great deal of interest, excellent questions and comments on what the future of island communities could look like. I would like to thank the speakers for their informative presentations, all the contributors and attendees, with a special shout-out to the young contributors from the isles’ schools.  They are the people who will be impacted the most on any inter-island travel decisions. The event will be available to watch online again soon. You can email me with any further questions or comments or indeed to raise any matter you think I may be able to assist you with via:

Email: [email protected]
Phone: 01595 690 044

Among the biggest news this week was of the raising of the price cap and the increased costs of energy bills. Data analysed by the Scottish Liberal Democrats revealed that Shetland will be one of the areas worst hit in Scotland by energy price rises – that will come as no surprise to those of living here.  Figures from the Scottish Energy Hub revealed that every area of Scotland will see at least a £990 average rise in energy costs compared to December 2020. Shetland will see prices rise by £1,528 to an average of £3,245.

Shetland is facing the perfect storm of high levels of fuel poverty, soaring energy prices and a rise in the cost of living – and it gets higher the further north you go. We need a cost-of-living rescue package to save households on the brink and reassure all those worried about how they’re going to pay the bills. Scottish Liberal Democrats have set out a series of proposals for tackling the cost-of-living crisis from doubling the Warm Homes Discount, insulating homes, bringing down bills and boosting disability benefits. If you are having any issues with your energy supplier please contact my office and we will do what we can, as we have with many other constituents, to assist you with those energy difficulties.

While the Chancellor, Rishi Sunak MP, announced plans for a temporary council tax rebate in England to address growing energy costs, it is not yet clear what the Scottish Government approach will be. I will write to the Scottish Government for clarity on this

My week in Holyrood included attending the Cross Party Groups on Mental Health and Medical Cannabis. My attendance at the Medical Cannabis CPG was prompted by a recent incident in Shetland where a legal prescription was confiscated by the police. More needs to be done to ensure police officers are educated around this issue. Medical cannabis, when prescribed by a registered specialist doctor, has been legal since November 2018. Patients should not be deprived of their medication or fear the scars of offences on their record because of misunderstandings around their legal prescriptions. More widely, I want to see a common sense approach to drugs policy which puts the emphasis on addressing public health, harm reduction and getting treatment for those who need it.

On Tuesday afternoon I had the opportunity to question the UK Government Minister, Kit Malthouse, on Scotland’s drugs deaths which is the highest in Europe. Echoing the call of Scottish Liberal Democrat Leader, Alex Cole-Hamilton MSP, for the WHO (World Health Organisation) to assist in the assessment of the situation in Scotland, I asked if the minister agreed that international assistance would be of benefit. I am pleased to say he agreed.

The Rural Affairs committee - Rural Affairs, Islands and Natural Environment (RAINE) – once again took evidence on the Good Food Nation Bill. It is becoming apparent from what witnesses are saying that this bill needs more focus and I will be working with colleagues on improvements.

RAINE committee was swiftly followed by a drop-in meeting with Shetland Islands Council (SIC). I am pleased to have sponsored the event which brought SIC Chief Executive Maggie Sandison and Political Leader Steven Coutts to Holyrood to publicise their document paper, ‘It’s all happening in Shetland’ to other MSPs across Parliament. The paper was a good opportunity to highlight to MSPs across Parliament Shetland’s contribution to Scotland and the UK.

Later on Wednesday I pursued with the new Transport Minister, Jenny Gilruth, the idea of extending the under-22s free bus fare policy to ferries, and to ask what consideration the Scottish Government is giving to fixed links in the isles given the focus on bus travel for young people. You can watch my question here. The minister told me she would go away to think about the public transport challenges in areas like Shetland. I will continue to raise the matter of extending the under-22s free fares to ferries. I know it’s an issue that Shetland’s Members of the Scottish Young Parliament, past and present, have championed and I support them in that.

I was also able to ask a supplementary question on Thursday surrounding a barrier to new fishers joining the fleet due to arbitrary restrictions on boat purchases. The minister assured that as this is a new scheme there would be assessment and consideration for best practice as it continues. You can see me question the minister here.

On Thursday I responded on behalf of my party to a debate on rail. I pointed out that no-one should be surprised if you got the answer “Bergen” if you ask a Shetlander where their nearest train station is! I outlined to the chamber Scottish Liberal Democrat plans to give everyone the chance to have a 1/3 off rail concession and 50% for those already entitled. This is based on a model in London and could help cut emissions. I also pointed to the benefit of encouraging young people onto integrated public transport by also referencing again the inclusion of ferries in the under-22s bus fare policy.

Finally, Friday just passed (4th February) was the 20th anniversary of Cancer Research UK's formation following the merger of the Imperial Cancer Research Fund and the Cancer Research Campaign. I took part in a debate on World Cancer earlier in the week where I raised historical underfunding in brain tumour research, just 1 per cent of the national spend, and also pointed to Covid-19’s impact on fundraising and diagnosis. You can watch my speech here. I had hoped to host an event with Brain Tumour Research in the Scottish Parliament in March 2020 but Covid came along and it was cancelled.

The debate was also a chance to remind people that the NHS is still open, and that if you have any lumps or bumps or need something checked out, don’t delay speaking to your GP.

I also took the opportunity to praise the recent fundraiser for Cancer Research UK Relay for Life Shetland on what would have been Up-Helly-A’ night which raised more than £13,000, and later raised a parliamentary motion which you can read here.

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