Jean Urquhart MSP has described the Westminster government’s latest act of ignorance towards the needs of the people of the Shetland Islands as “another failure of representation at the highest level”.

It was reported today in the Shetland Times that Shetland Islands Councillor Allison Duncan buttonholed  Danny Alexander, Chief Secretary to the Treasury,  for the coalition’s failure to deliver on a previous promise made regarding housing debt.

The Council, at the behest of the previous Tory government, had built dozens of new houses to host incoming oil workers, with then-Chancellor Ken Clarke promising to write off a £40m housing debt incurred by the Islands- a promise that was never fulfilled.  

Councillor Duncan noted that Mr Alexander seemed particularly “uncomfortable” and unfamiliar with the issue when, during the conversation, a “very discouraging” letter sent by Mr Alexander to the Council regarding the debt was raised.

Mr Alexander’s reticence is all the more striking given his previous calls for Highland Council housing debt to be wiped out by Westminster in 2010.

Ms Urquhart, SNP MSP for the Highlands and Islands, said:

“This latest chapter in the LibDems’ involvement in the Coalition saga only deepens the impression of a party out of touch with its principles and its constituents.

“LibDems, who waited a century to regain power at Westminster, have proven to be toothless in representing rural Scotland, including Shetland, which have gone for so long without a strong, local representative on the Westminster government benches.

“Although they were not part of the Westminster government that initially pressed for the building of houses, they are part of the Westminster government that can help deliver on an old promise.

“The most basic element of an MP’s job is representing the interests of their constituency and constituents. In these tough economic times for the Council, how long will it take for the Coalition’s Chief Whip to fulfil this duty for his constituency?

“Or, as with fuel duty, are the LibDems simply providing cover for Tory ineptitude while delivering little for those who trusted them with power?”

Motion: Steall Gorge Footpath Appeal

Steall Gorge Footpath Appeal
That the Parliament congratulates the John Muir Trust on the success of its Steal Gorge Footpath appeal, which has raised tens of thousands of pounds in order to repair the historic footpath across Glen Nevis; understands that the path is an important tourist attraction that is walked by tens of thousands of visitors every year to enable them to view the dramatic An Steall Ban, Britain’s second highest waterfall; recognises the importance of footpath maintenance, which aids public access to mountain landscapes and protects surrounding habitats from damage, and commends the work of all not-for-profit organisations involved in carrying out what it considers to be the vital repair and restoration of Scotland’s upland footpaths.


Jean Urquhart today welcomed news of a pioneering programme which provides support to first-time young parents being extended to the Highlands.

The Family Nurse Partnership programme, which aims to give children a healthier start in life, is already up and running in Lothian, Tayside, Fife, Glasgow and Ayrshire & Arran council regions.

Family nurses visit expectant mums every one or two weeks during pregnancy and throughout the first two years of their baby’s life, offering guidance and supporting mothers to make positive choices on areas such as child development, preventative health measures, parenting skills, breastfeeding, better diet information and on education and employment.

The evidence from programmes already up and running in the US shows that it is improving prenatal health, increasing young mothers’ uptake of employment, resulting in fewer unintended pregnancies and helping to reduce child neglect.

The programme will be up and running in Highland by early next year, and will see a team of four nurses supporting 100 families.

Jean Urquhart welcomed the Government’s announcement, saying:

“The Highlands is deservedly gaining a reputation for pioneering the integration of health and social care. This will help us to explore the benefits of delivering such an intensive programme in a formally integrated health and social care environment.

 “The programme has been running in the Lothian region for two and a half years now and evaluation of the impact of the project has so far shown positive results.

“Intervening at the earliest possible opportunity to support those in our society who are most in need is the key to improving Scotland’s health. I look forward to seeing this programme bring benefits to a region which is already at the forefront of Scotland’s innovation in health.”

The programme is the brainchild of Dr David Olds, Professor of Paediatrics and Director, Prevention Research Center for Family and Child Health, University of Colorado.


Highlands and Islands MSP Jean Urquhart has expressed her disbelief at Tavish Scott’s comments in the Shetland Times on fuel prices, describing him as “detached from reality” and questioning just what the Liberal Democrats have done on fuel prices as part of the Coalition Government

Jean’s comments came as the Lib Dem MSP for the Shetland Islands acknowledged that it was “obviously not fair” for Shetland motorists to spend, on average, £250 more a year on fuel than those in Aberdeen, and demanded answers as to why Shetland motorists pay so much more.

Jean said:

“If Tavish really wants to see fuel prices reduced, perhaps he should have a word with his Liberal colleague in the Northern Isles, Alistair Carmichael.

“After all, Alistair is a key part of a Conservative-led Coalition Government that has consistently ignored the SNP’s calls to introduce a Fuel Duty Regulator that would help to alleviate the appallingly high fuel prices in rural communities.

“Just this week, the French Government have struck a deal with fuel producers and distributors to cut the cost of fuel by 6 eurocents per litre for three months, showing that

“The Liberal Democrats are continuing to show that, despite taking the Conservatives’ thirty pieces of silver to form a Coalition 2 years ago, they are delivering little for the Islands and not giving their constituents the strong representation that they deserve.

“They are little more than a politically neutered human shield for an uncaring, Conservative-led Government that continues to treat its most remote communities like dirt.

“I look forward to Tavish joining the SNP in calling for decisive Coalition action on fuel prices.”


Highlands and Islands MSP Jean Urquhart has today welcomed the Scottish Government’s cabinet reshuffle, congratulating her colleagues that have assumed Ministerial posts.

The reshuffle was conducted following the retiring of Bruce Crawford, Brian Adam and Stewart Stevenson from Ministerial office, with a new Ministerial post of External Affairs and International Development also established.

In particular, Jean congratulated Paul Wheelhouse MSP, who has replaced Stewart Stevenson as Minister for the Environment and Climate Change after Mr Stevenson stepped down. The minister’s brief contains many issues of relevance to the Highlands and Islands.

Commenting, Jean said:

“As Minister for the Environment and Climate Change, Paul will have a role in helping to direct policy on crofting, aquaculture and biodiversity, as well as liaising with Scottish Natural Heritage, SEPA and the Forestry Commission.

“Through my involvement with the Parliamentary Cross-Party Group on Crofting, I am aware of the challenges and opportunities facing crofters.

“I look forward to working with Paul, and my other colleagues who have assumed Ministerial posts, over the course of the coming months and years.”


Highlands and Islands MSP Jean Urquhart has welcomed the announcement of the Scottish Government’s legislative programme for the next year, describing it as a “statement of our ambition for Scotland”.

A package of 15 Bills was unveiled – led by the flagship Referendum Bill – including legislation to establish a national framework for sustainable public procurement.

Jean said:

“I am very happy to see the Government continuing to take steps to create fairer, more equal and more prosperous communities.

“In the autumn of 2014, the people of Scotland will take the most important constitutional choice in 300 years and the Referendum Bill will lay the important groundwork for this.

“We need full control and the normal responsibilities of any independent nation to fully realise Scotland’s potential.

“But with the powers we do have, we are continuing to improve Scotland, with the announced Procurement Reform Bill of particular interest to myself.

“As ever, I am honoured to have the privilege of representing the Highlands and Islands as the Scottish Parliament continues to legislate effectively and in the interests of Scotland.”

Speech: Oxfam’s Humankind Index

I congratulate Ken Macintosh on bringing this debate to the chamber. I am delighted to have the opportunity to speak in favour of the motion and in favour of Oxfam’s vital work in the area. As members know, it is common for us to receive briefings or points of view from interested parties on the debates that we have in the chamber, but it is uncommon for those contributions to be unanimous in their tone. The overwhelming and sincere support for the humankind index from groups across Scottish civic society is welcome and telling.

For too long, Scotland and the developed world as a whole have relied on GDP figures to paint a picture of a prosperous society. However, as Oxfam has succinctly remarked, GDP is a

“consumption-oriented and distribution-blind measure”.

Sadly, a high GDP and endemic and crippling poverty are not mutually exclusive but in fact often go hand in hand, as the growing inequality of the past 30 years in the United Kingdom has shown. A reliance on GDP figures and purely economic statistics by policy makers can harm the common weal, rather than helping to ameliorate society’s scars.

The Oxfam humankind index is specifically designed to avoid those statistical pitfalls in measuring the health of our society. To Oxfam’s credit, it has gone the extra mile in reaching out to as many parts of the community as possible. It has involved those on lower incomes who, unfortunately, feel disengaged with the political process and asked them what really matters in their life. We can learn a lot from that method of consultation and participation, particularly from the efforts that Oxfam has made to accommodate participants through provision of childcare and expenses.

It should come as no surprise that the index has shown that, for most people, good health, strong communities and a healthy local environment are the priorities. Perhaps the lasting contribution of the index will be that policy makers such as us will reach decisions on the basis of how policies will help to achieve those laudable aims, rather than purely on the basis of the effect on the nation’s finances. In our future policy deliberations, it is vital that we use the humankind index. We have been provided with a tool to help deliver social justice for Scotland, so I hope that we can use it. I support the motion.

Motion: Centenary of Robin Jenkins’ Birth

Centenary of Robin Jenkins’ Birth
That the Parliament acknowledges that 11 September 2012 marks the centenary of the birth of the author, Robin Jenkins; notes that his writing examined social hypocrisy and the ambiguities of morality, integrity and idealism; understands that, in addition to his published works, Mr Jenkins was known for his status as a conscientious objector and his membership of the Independent Labour Party; believes that, as with too many talented individuals, Mr Jenkins’ contribution to the arts and society in Scotland was not acknowledged until the end of his life; welcomes what it considers the belated recognition conferred on Mr Jenkins by his appointment as an OBE in 1999 and being presented with the Andrew Fletcher of Saltoun Award for Lifetime Achievement in 2002, and, to mark this centenary, recommends reading what it considers his landmark work, The Cone Gatherers.

Motion: Saltire Housing Awards 2012

Saltire Housing Awards 2012
That the Parliament congratulates the award winners from the Saltire Housing Awards 2012; welcomes the record number of submissions received for the awards; understands that 14 projects were given awards, with a further four receiving commendations; notes that the awards covered the length and breadth of Scotland, with seven of the awards and one of the commendations going to projects in the Highlands and Islands; further congratulates the Highlands and Islands-based architect firms that were successful, including Skye-based Dualchas Architects, winner of what is considered the prestigious 2012 Saltire Medal, Skye-based Rural Design Architects, winner of the 2012 Innovation in Housing Award and Shetland-based Richard Gibson Architects, winner of both an award and a commendation; considers the intelligent use of sustainable design in many of these projects to be a template for the future, and hopes to see this innovative approach to architecture continue.