Last Tuesday was International Women’s Day and I took the opportunity to speak in a second debate in two weeks about issues facing women and girls. Last week I focused on the situations in Ukraine and Afghanistan and the impact on women. We stand in solidarity with Ukraine and against the illegal invasion by Russia.
In the second debate for International Women’s Day this year I focused on issues that affect women in modern Scotland - healthcare, pay and pension inequalities, and men’s violence against women. You can watch my contribution here.
Also on International Women’s Day, Shetland Women’s Aid launched their new identity branding. Their website can be found here. Women’s rights are human rights, and Scottish Liberal Democrats will continue to fight to protect and promote the rights of women and girls in Scotland.
During Wednesday’s Rural Affairs, Islands and Natural Environment Committee the Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs and Islands, Mairi Gougeon MSP, gave evidence on the Scottish Government’s ‘cod box’ measure in the Clyde. The measure closes an area of the Clyde to protect cod during spawning. It has been in place for 20 years but changes were made to remove exemptions for nephrops trawlers, creels and scallop dredgers, and concerns were raised about the Scottish Government’s decision-making process. The committee heard previously that fishing organisations considered the handling of the decision had eroded trust in Marine Scotland, how the change would impact livelihoods and concerns about a lack of up-to-date scientific evidence for the change.
I questioned the Cabinet Secretary about the resourcing of Marine Scotland to ensure they have up-to-date scientific evidence, and she told me that as resources are finite and Marine Scotland has a large area to cover, they have to make decisions to balance their resources as best they can. I pointed out that if we want science-led decisions, the resource has to be put in to make this happen. I also took the opportunity to ask the Cabinet Secretary about what consideration the Scottish Government gives to wider spawning grounds when deciding offshore wind areas and asked her to follow that up with me.
The Board of Crown Estate Scotland, the public corporation which manages land, seabed and coastline across and around Scotland is seeking new board members. The organisation is keen to attract applications from people representing island communities. The closing date for completed applications is 18 March 2022. This is a great opportunity to be involved in the direction that plans are taken for infrastructure growth in coastal and island communities. Where could a better voice for all this come from than Shetland? Full details of the role and how to apply can be found here.
Along with my isles colleagues, Alistair Carmichael MP and Liam McArthur MSP, I have joined the Liberal Democrat campaign for an introduction of a price cap on domestic heating oil, after prices more than doubled in a fortnight. Currently, consumers heating their homes using gas or electricity have some protection from price rises under Ofgem’s energy price cap. However, there is no financial protection in place for households that rely on heating oil.
Liam McArthur MSP and I have written to the Cabinet Secretary for Net Zero and Energy, calling for the Scottish Government to back the Liberal Democrat initiative. UK rural Liberal Democrat representatives are calling on the UK Government to urgently extend the energy price cap to off-grid households, highlighting that the price per litre of heating oil has surged from 66.74 pence on 24th February to 148.25 pence on 9th March - a 122% increase in a fortnight.
The Northern Isles had high levels of fuel poverty before the energy crisis and homes here are among those most likely to be in extreme fuel poverty. The UK and Scottish Governments need to do all they can to help households and families who are facing estimated costs, for example, of a 3-4-bedroom home of around £370 per month. We cannot allow the choice between heating and eating to become even more widespread. Off grid households need greater support and a cap on oil would be a great help to many island households.
MSPs were asked to become ‘teal heroes’ this week to highlight Ovarian cancer. Bloating and tummy pain are some common symptoms. More can be found at Target Ovarian Cancer’s website here. I also attended Sarcoma UK’s drop in session. I knew little about this type of cancer and was interested to learn more from the staff of the charity. This cancer can present anywhere on the body as a lump that grows over time. More information is available here.
Finally, last week was Apprenticeship Week so on Friday I met with a variety of apprentices in Lerwick and Scalloway. I was delighted to meet both Sarah Sandison of Bon Accord Accountancy, and Derek Ferguson of Scottish Sea Farms, to congratulate them on their achievements and on winning national modern apprenticeship awards. I also met young people at various stages of their apprenticeships in joinery and carpentry at Shetland UHI, while at Malakoff the apprentices there, predominantly in welding and engineering, are meeting the needs of the marine engineering and fabrication company.
This year’s theme is Apprenticeships Work, highlighting how apprenticeships are providing the skills employers need now and into the future. Developed in partnership with employers, apprenticeships continue to adapt to industry needs.
I am grateful to Training Co-ordinator Janice Leask and Vaila Angus of Skills Development Scotland for their time on Friday and for arranging the visits to the college and businesses. University isn’t for everyone and a Modern Apprenticeship provides the opportunity to get a job and get paid at the same time. It’s also a useful way to re-train for a career change, and Janice and Vaila explained that there are lots of opportunities in Shetland. At a time when young people, who have been particularly adversely affected during the last two years of the pandemic, and are considering what their futures might be I would recommend they, and their parents/carers, consider Modern Apprenticeships. For employers, it offers funding to build a skilled workforce. To find out more about how Scottish Apprenticeships work you can visit the website here or Business and Consultancy - Apprenticeships (uhi.ac.uk)