As many of you will know, I have resigned from the Scottish National Party due to its change of policy in relation to NATO membership post-independence. I will continue to sit in the Scottish Parliament as an independent MSP for the Highlands and Islands.
I would like to make it clear that I remain fully committed to securing a Yes vote in the independence referendum in 2014, and that I will continue to support the Scottish Government on most issues.
For the time being, I will continue to be a member of both the Finance Committee and the Equal Opportunities Committee, and will maintain my involvement in a number of cross-party working groups within the Parliament, including the Crofting Cross-Party Group of which I am Deputy Convener.
I would like to thank those who have been in touch to offer their support and advice, particularly those from the Highlands and Islands who I have been so proud to represent since May 2011 and anticipate serving as one of their MSPs for the rest of this parliamentary term.
I look forward to hearing from many more people across the region in the months and years to come and to working with them to make Scotland a fairer, more prosperous and more peaceful nation.
Jean Urquhart MSP is to join a cross-party demonstration against nuclear weapons at the Welsh Senedd in Cardiff Bay on Tuesday 16th October.
Jean will be joined by four Labour Party Welsh Assembly Members (AMs), as well as the leaders of Plaid Cymru, the Welsh Liberal Democrats and the Welsh Green Party in condemning the continuing support for Trident amongst some policy makers. The Archbishop of Wales, Barry Morgan, has also sent a message of support.
Jean, an SNP MSP for the Highlands and Islands region, said:
“I have been a member of CND for many years, and have long opposed the abhorrence of nuclear weapons, both in Scotland’s waters and beyond.
“Spending obscene amounts of money on redundant weapons of mass destruction is an affront to society, and one that must cease immediately.
“I will be proud to share a platform with speakers of all parties and none who also oppose Trident and any proposed replacements that will take money from where it is most needed and fritter it away where it is least needed.”
That the Parliament congratulates Amy Garrick, who has just completed a four-year apprenticeship as an electrician with Shetland Islands Council, on being named Scottish Apprentice of the Year; understands that the award is co-sponsored by the Scottish Joint Industry Board and Edmundson Electrical; considers Amy’s victory to be of particular relevance, given the low number of female employees in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) sector, as highlighted in the Royal Society of Edinburgh’s report, Tapping all our Talents; acknowledges the potential for Amy’s victory to encourage more women to explore careers in the STEM sector, and wishes Amy and her fellow nominees success for their future careers.
That the Parliament congratulates the projects that have been awarded funding by the Big Lottery Fund in September 2012 in the Highlands and Islands; notes that 31 projects from across all eight constituencies in the region were awarded funds totalling £620,085; understands that, as well as smaller awards for discrete projects, this month’s awards included a £358,054 grant to Skye and Lochalsh Community Care Forum for a five-year Transforming Lives project; considers each award, regardless of its size, to be vital for third sector organisations to carry out community work; believes the continued support for organisations that encourage children to take up sport and the arts to be of particular value, and commends the Big Lottery Fund for the breadth of grants allocated.
NOTE: This motion is eligible for Member’s Business, meaning that, if selected, it shall be debated at some point in the Chamber.
That the Parliament understands that there are 18,027 crofts in the Highlands and Islands and across Scotland, housing over 33,000 people; considers that crofters play a key role through the production of store animals for the agricultural supply chain and in maintaining land in remote areas; believes that crofts are a valuable source of high-health status animals for larger agricultural food producers; considers the work of crofters to be vital to Scotland’s national food and drink policy and to the continuing success of the sector; understands that most crofters rely on common agricultural policy subsidies to earn a marginal income and that they have to take on second jobs; believes that, by bringing in new inhabitants and because of the economic links that crofters have with the rest of the agricultural sector, crofting has helped maintain population levels in remote communities, considers crofting to be of paramount importance to the environment, food and drink sector and economy, and would welcome the interests of crofters and their communities being championed.
Tapadh leibh, Presiding Officer. Unfortunately, I cannot replicate the language skills of my party colleagues the minister, Dave Thompson and John Finnie, all of whom are far more proficient in Gaelic than I am. However, as a fellow MSP for the Highlands and Islands, I know how important the continuing encouragement and development of Gaelic as a vital part of the nation’s identity are.
Last weekend, Gaelic singer Julie Fowlis followed her magnificent work for the film “Brave”, which has been referred to, with a stunning performance in front of a worldwide audience to herald the beginning of Scotland’s Ryder cup 2014 preparations. She was brought up in North Uist in a Gaelic-speaking community but, like others, she was not a fluent Gaelic speaker. She benefited first from the fèis movement and she went on to be a student of the language at Sabhal Mòr Ostaig, which is Scotland’s Gaelic college in Skye.
As with many lesser-spoken languages, the spread of Gaelic has been inhibited as English and other languages have become the lingua franca. Fewer than 60,000 Gaelic speakers, who are concentrated in the Western Isles, Argyll and Bute and the Highlands, are estimated to remain in Scotland. They represent just over 1 per cent of the population. That must be a concern, given that, in comparison, more than 20 per cent of the population in Wales can speak Welsh.
If we are to witness a dramatic upturn in the number of Gaelic speakers across Scotland, we require a comprehensive and holistic approach to be taken by all the agencies whose remit is the furtherance of Gaelic. I particularly welcome the focus on early years and education in the national plan’s key outcomes. Evidence of success from that comes from my neighbour, nine-year-old Ruaraidh, who attends the local Gaelic school. He said:
“We don’t learn Gaelic, we live it—like the way you get to speak English”.
Promoters of Gaelic-medium education now focus on the benefits of bilingualism rather than the direct benefits of Gaelic, but we must never lose sight of the links to the past, people and places. We can think of all the effort that goes into curating artefacts that are of historical value. How much more precious is a living language? Common sense dictates that we must continue to focus on Gaelic-medium teaching in schools or at least on facilitating Gaelic lessons to maintain the language.
The role that artists and musicians such as Julie Fowlis play in promoting Gaelic is another reminder of how important the language is. Others acknowledge its importance. A local teacher who assumed that two Polish immigrants had arrived for an English as a foreign language course was amazed when they said that their English was fine and that they were interested in signing up to learn Gaelic.
We must never underestimate others. Scots sometimes have to be convinced by somebody else that something is a really good idea. I suspect that, across Europe, we would get massive support for our plan. In Europe, there is a determination to retain languages such as Gaelic, and we must endorse that.
I found out earlier today that the last speaker of the Cromarty dialect, Bobby Hogg, had died aged92, removing one of the more colourful threads of Scotland’s linguistic tapestry. I sincerely hope that the plan that we have will prevent similar headlines about the last Gaelic speaker in the years to come. As Ruaraidh said, we have to live it.
As the deputy convener of the Equal Opportunities Committee, I am pleased to have the opportunity to comment on the women’s employment summit, which I was fortunate enough to attend last month. I am glad that the role of women in the workplace and in wider society has returned to the chamber for debate, although I am saddened to acknowledge the continuing need for such debates.
We have come very far in a very short space of time, but a lot of work remains to be done and I know that the minister Angela Constance and the Government are determined to take that forward. It is important that we lower—and eventually eliminate—the barriers and ceilings faced by women in the workplace, particularly given the recession’s disproportionate impact on them. After all, according to statistics, women are more likely to work part time and to be more affected by Westminster’s welfare reforms.
As I have done in the past, I draw the chamber’s attention to the Royal Society of Edinburgh’s report “Tapping all our Talents”, which sets out a strategy for increasing the number of women working in STEM areas. Produced by a working group that included the inimitable Dame Jocelyn Bell Burnell, the report is a searing indictment of the barriers that are faced by women who wish to study and work in those areas and sets out in stark detail just how big a barrier gender can be to entering certain occupations.
On 2 August, “Women’s Hour” on BBC Radio 4 featured a discussion with Christine Ashton, who has been named as the 12th most influential woman in IT in the UK. She advertised service manager posts, hoping to attract applications from women, but did not receive any. The show-stopper was this: when she readvertised the posts, having dropped the salary by £20,000, many more women applied. We can leave a debate on the issue of reverse psychology for another day, but I think that that anecdote indicates the scale of the problem.
I believe that women will go into politics when women encourage other women to become involved. There is no doubt that they have the skills, experience, ability and talent but without the confidence to apply for posts or to get politically involved or involved in communities, women will remain reluctant. Some of those experiences must be factored into the correction strategy, and I hope that women will inform that process.
In response to Margo MacDonald’s point, I note that in the “Women’s Hour” discussion Christine Ashton said that women comprise 17 per cent of the IT workforce in the UK and 18 per cent of that workforce in Europe. It is clear that this is not just a Scottish problem. However, we should share things as widely as we can, and I was pleased to hear the minister say that that was one of her ambitions.
Members across the chamber will agree that actions speak louder than words. As someone who is always happy to speak on equality matters, I am especially heartened by the Scottish Government’s determination to pick up the baton and put in place a strategy that will complement its work in so many key areas. In the 21st century, gender, age, ethnicity and disability should not prevent individuals from fulfilling their potential.