I begin with the stark and sombre news from Ukraine and the actions of President Putin. I stand in solidarity with the people of Ukraine. Scottish Liberal Democrat Leader Alex Cole-Hamilton, spoke in a debate on behalf of my party on Thursday. The ‘Solidarity with Ukraine’ motion was unanimously supported by the Scottish Parliament. You can watch Alex’ speech here.
This was in direct contrast to the more hopeful message that came surrounding Covid-19 measures at the start of the week. On Tuesday the First Minister announced a new Covid Strategic Framework. The legal requirement to wear face masks will end on 21st March but the First Minister said people will still be advised to wear them on public transport and in shops. With details of a more targeted testing system to be published next month. It is hoped that Shetland’s current high number of cases will have slowed down by then. While a lot of people will welcome the reduced use of face coverings, I know that this news will be of great concern to those who have clinical conditions that make them more vulnerable to the impact of Covid.
This week in the Rural Affairs, Islands and Natural Environment Committee we had our final evidence session on Stage 1 of the Good Food Nation Bill with the Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs and Islands, Mairi Gougeon MSP. I questioned the Cabinet Secretary on how the Scottish Government will ensure all local authorities will have resources to achieve effective implementation of new food policies and pressed her on the issue of the right to food, as we have heard from many witnesses that the bill needs a stronger human rights basis. Our discussion has given me much to think about as the Committee prepares its report on all the evidence we heard over the past few weeks.
On Wednesday, following a high-profile case in Shetland of medical cannabis confiscation by Police Scotland, I questioned the Scottish Government about the need for clarity for medical cannabis users. Asking the Cabinet Secretary for Justice whether a scheme was being developed to assist medical cannabis patients to avoid warnings, fines or other criminal footprints, for possession of cannabis, I pointed to the Cancard scheme already established. The Cabinet Secretary told me that while the Scottish Government did not support the Cancard scheme he did believe further clarity for medical cannabis patients may be required. The Cabinet Secretary indicated that he will write to Police Scotland on this matter. Cannabis medicines became legal in 2018.
Patients should not fear criminal footprints and negative interactions simply because of the medicine they are prescribed. Clear guidance, expectations and schemes like Cancard, could help reduce fear and negative outcomes for patients while Dogs Against Drugs, working alongside Police Scotland, do a great job in preventing banned substances from being imported into Shetland. You can watch the exchange here.
From next month the SNP-Green government workplace parking levy will allow councils across Scotland to choose to implement a charge on qualifying workplaces with parking spaces. Scottish Liberal Democrats oppose this measure and I spoke against it in a debate on Wednesday afternoon. Without greater investment in public transport first, it will simply be another additional cost to squeezed incomes as the cost of living rises. You can watch my contribution here.
Last week, due to a Covid-19 outbreak among staff, the Lerwick RBS branch was forced to close. This is not the first time the bank has had to close or reduce hours due to a shortage of staff and constituents raised the matter with me so I corresponded with RBS HQ bosses asking why staff were not brought north to keep the bank open. I wish all those staff members who were affected by Covid a speedy recovery. Local staff are not to be blamed for being ill and bank staff have played an important role throughout the pandemic and continue to do so for the local community.
Bank bosses should not take staff or customers for granted. Many in the community rely on the local service, especially where poor broadband or mobile signal is no substitute for customer service. If RBS had wanted to, they could have flown staff up to ensure the bank remained open and customers were served at the end of last week. Instead we are asked not interpret a lack of impetus from RBS HQ and gradually reduced hours in recent years as closure by stealth.
It was parliamentary recess last week and a time to get out of the office and meet face to face with organisations and businesses in the community, something that has not been easy to do these last two years, but with Covid restrictions easing people seem glad to be able to resume some sense of business normality. If you would like to meet with me to discuss a matter that I may be able to assist you with please get in contact by email or phone.
Email: [email protected]
Phone: 01595 690 044
PS you can read my Shetland Times column for this week here.