Press Release on the Independence White Paper

Here is a press release from me, in which I react to the Independence White Paper, which was launched by the Scottish Government on Tuesday.

“HIGHLANDS AND ISLANDS MSP:  INDY WHITE PAPER PUTS SCOTLAND’S KIDS FIRST

Independent Highlands and Islands MSP Jean Urquhart has congratulated the Scottish Government on the independence white paper Scotland’s Future [1], saying they are right to put Scotland’s children first with a plan to provide 1,140 hours of childcare for all three and four year-olds, and all vulnerable two-year-olds.

Ms Urquhart also pointed out that many, including herself, will have some disagreements with parts the Government’s plans – such as on NATO membership, monarchy and currency – but that independence means that decisions on these issues will be finally be in the hands of the people of Scotland to take for themselves.

Ms Urquhart said:

“Our children are, to quote the title of the white paper, Scotland’s Future. They are the reason we should want to build a better nation and they’ll also be the ones who will do much of the building. So the government are to be congratulated for making world-class childcare and early years education a top priority for an independent Scotland

“Quite unlike the direction of travel at Westminster, the white paper sets out an ambition for a more equal Scotland. Greater equality for women must be central to that, and the childcare pledge will make it much easier for mothers to continue their careers if they choose to, and to flexibly share parenting duties with fathers.

“Much progress has been made on childcare in Scotland in recent years, but we need independence to achieve this radical an expansion. That’s because it is a stimulus measure that will pay for itself in the extra tax received from women choosing to work who otherwise would not be able to – but that can only work if the revenues stay in Scotland. Control of our economy by the UK Treasury makes it impossible for Scotland to pursue forward-thinking, stimulus policies like this and ties us into the austerity death spiral.

“The white paper is only one party’s vision, but it is a vision that should inspire confidence that Scotland can and will be a successful, progressive, independent country with many options available to her. The paper itself acknowledges ‘some would prefer Scotland to become a republic, to leave the EU or NATO, or to have our own currency’ – and I would prefer all of those things. But after independence I will have a fair chance to make my case to fellow Scots, while under Westminster those decisions are not ours to take.”

ENDS

For more information or comment, please contact Gary Cocker on gary.cocker@scottish.parliament.uk or 0131 348 5053.

Notes to editors:

1. The white paper Scotland’s Future is available at http://www.scotreferendum.com/ as a PDF or eBook. Hard copies can be ordered free in the UK bye by phoning 0300 012 1809 or emailing referendumwhitepaper@scotland.gsi.gov.uk.

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Press release on the Marriage and Civil Partnership (Scotland) Bill

Below is an official press release on my views about the Equal Marriage Bill, which I voted in favour of last week.

“HIGHLANDS AND ISLANDS MSP WELCOMES EQUAL MARRIAGE VOTE

Independent Highland and Islands MSP Jean Urquhart has spoken of her delight at last week’s Holyrood vote for equal marriage, and congratulated the Government on creating strong protections for those with a religious objection. On Wednesday 20 November, MSPs voted 98 to 15 to approve the general principles of the Marriage and Civil Partnership (Scotland) Bill. There was also a clear majority of Highlands and Islands MSPs in favour, with 10 voting for the Bill, 3 against and 2 absent from the vote [1].

Ms Urquhart said:

“Discrimination against same-sex couples is unconscionable and shameful – I can’t imagine the pain and frustration of being told by the state that you cannot marry the person you love. I was incredibly proud to cast my vote for equal marriage last week, and delighted that such an overwhelming number of MSPs, including two-thirds of my Highlands and Islands colleagues, did so too.

“The Bill promotes the religious freedom of denominations – such as Reform Judaism, Unitarians and Quakers – who wish to conduct same-sex marriages, while preserving that of religious groups who oppose them. In the dozens of countries that have adopted equal marriage laws, many of which are under the jurisdiction of the European Convention on Human Rights, not one has ever forced religious organisations to conduct same-sex unions. The protections written into this Bill mean that Scotland will be no different, though I hope in time more faith organisations will freely choose to end discrimination against same-sex couples.”

ENDS

For more information or comment, please contact Gary Cocker on gary.cocker@scottish.parliament.uk or 0131 348 5053.

Notes to editors:

1. Highlands and Islands MSPs voting for the Bill: Jean Urquhart (Ind, H&I), John Finnie (Ind, H&I), Mike MacKenzie (SNP, H&I), David Stewart (Lab, H&I), Rhoda Grant (Lab, H&I), Mary Scanlon (Con, H&I), Michael Russell (SNP, Argyll and Bute), Rob Gibson (SNP, Caithness, Sutherland and Ross), Richard Lochhead (SNP, Moray), Liam McArthur (LD, Orkney Islands).

Highlands and Islands MSPs voting against the Bill: Jamie McGrigor (Con, H&I), Alasdair Allan (Lab, Na h-Eileanan an Iar), Fergus Ewing (SNP, Inverness and Nairn).

Highlands and Islands MSPs absent: David Thompson (Lab, Ross, Skye and Inverness West), Tavish Scott (LD, Shetland Islands).

The full Official Report of the debate and vote is available at: http://www.scottish.parliament.uk/parliamentarybusiness/28862.aspx?r=8647&mode=html#iob_78286

 

RSA drop-in eye test event 27th November 2013

I attended an RSA Insurance Group event on Wednesday 27th November, and you can see my official press release below.

Jean Urquhart MSP calls on all drivers to have regular eye testsRSA and Specsavers 'Fit to Drive' road safety and eye health drop-inRSA and Specsavers 'Fit to Drive' road safety and eye health drop-in

On Wednesday 27 November Jean Urquhart MSP attended an RSA Insurance Group’s ‘Fit to Drive’ road safety and eye health drop-in eye test event in the Scottish Parliament. Supported by road safety charity Brake and Optometry Scotland and held just after National Road Safety Week, the event saw MSPs from all political parties tested to see whether they meet the UK’s minimum eye health standards.

Research shows that poor vision results in nearly 3,000[1] casualties in the UK each year. In addition to injury and loss of life, road crashes are costly for individuals, their families and the wider economy. The total cost of crashes due to poor driver vision is estimated to be £33m[2] a year.

During the event Jean Urquhart MSP found out more about how this issue affects the Highlands and Islands Region and had her eyes tested by a qualified Specsavers optometrist.

Jean Urquhart said:

“Drivers should take their responsibilities for their own and other people’s safety extremely seriously. An important part of this is making sure their eyesight meets the standards required and they wear their glasses or lenses every time they drive if they need them.

“Thousands of crashes happen every year because of poor vision, at great cost to those involved and to the economy as a whole.

“I’m glad to say that I’m fit to drive but it’s vital everyone gets their eyes tested regularly to make sure they are safe too.”

Adrian Brown, CEO of RSA UK & Western Europe, said:

“Regular testing helps maintain good eyesight and that means fewer crashes and safer roads. It’s good to see MSPs getting this message out to their constituents.

“We also want existing EU rules on driver eyesight to be properly implemented in the UK. We’re currently lagging behind many other countries and that means our roads aren’t as safe as they could be.”

Sam Watson, Chair of Optometry Scotland, said:

“Sight loss and road crashes are two major and interlinked public health challenges.  Both are also largely avoidable and an excellent first step to addressing them is to encourage regular sight tests for all drivers. We urge local authorities, the public health community and local eye health networks to work together to relay this message to drivers and the general public.”

Notes to editors

1.  With a 300 year heritage, RSA is one of the world’s leading multinational quoted insurance groups. RSA has major operations in the UK, Scandinavia, Canada, Ireland, Asia and the Middle East, Latin America and Central and Eastern Europe and has the capability to write business in around 140 countries. Focusing on general insurance, RSA has around 23,000 employees and, in 2012, its net written premiums were £8.4 billion.

2. The full report, Healthy Eyes, Safer Roads is available for download from news.rsagroup.com

3. The total cost of UK road accidents due to poor driver vision is estimated to be £32.9m in 2012, with the average total cost per driver involved estimated to be £16,047. This includes:

•           health care costs for casualties;

•           productivity losses for casualties;

•           costs of police time in dealing with accidents;

•           property damage due to accidents; and

•           welfare losses associated with the above.

These figures are taken from the Cost benefit analysis of more frequent eyesight testing for UK drivers, October 2012 report, commissioned by RSA Group and written by Deloitte.

4. RSA’s Fit to Drive campaign is endorsed by Brake, the road safety charity, The Optical Confederation and Optometry Scotland.


[1] RSA Group, Cost benefit analysis of more frequent eyesight testing for UK drivers, October 2012 (Deloitte Access Economics)

 [2] Ibid.

Motion: S4M-08432: Expansion of Woodfuel on Mull

I lodged another motion on Wednesday 27th November, and this was following the announcement of a deal for North West Mull Community Woodland Company Limited to buy Crannich Woodfuel.

That the Parliament welcomes the purchase by North West Mull Community Woodland Company Limited (NWMCWC) of the island-based woodchip supplier, Crannich Woodfuel; understands that this will allow NWMCWC to continue the expansion of its woodfuel business and that Crannich Woodfuel will trade under the new name, Island Woodfuels; notes that Island Woodfuels will sell woodchip as well as logs and kindling and that the business will now be large enough to employ a new member of staff; understands that the primary benefit of the purchase will be the ability of NWMCWC, which owns and manages over 1,500 acres of woodland in north-west Mull, to ensure the long-term security of woodfuel supply for customers, and further understands that the founder of Crannich Woodfuel, Robin Sedgwick, has said that the move will help create local jobs and ensure a sustainable local fuel supply for existing customers and for those who may invest in a biomass boiler in the future on Mull, Iona and beyond.

Motion: S4M-08425: Scotland’s Place in Building a Just World

I lodged a motion on Wednesday 27th November, following the release of a report by the Network of International Development Organisations in Scotland.

That the Parliament welcomes the report published by the Network of International Development Organisations in Scotland (NIDOS), Scotland’s Place in Building a Just World; understands that, by acting as an umbrella organisation and offering support with networking, engaging, learning and fundraising, NIDOS strengthens the work of over 100 organisations in Scotland that aim to tackle worldwide poverty and inequality; believes that the work of NIDOS and other neutral organisations is important in stimulating debate on Scotland’s future and in influencing thinking on how best to deliver policies that will aid the progression of social justice in both Scotland and abroad through international development; considers that, regardless of the result of the 2014 independence referendum, the debate about Scotland’s future is important; agrees with NIDOS that Scotland can learn from international development programmes such as what it sees as the Swedish Government’s widely acclaimed policy for global development, and commends NIDOS on attempting to tackle issues related to international development, the economy, financial systems, trade and procurement, finance for development, climate justice, access to resources and global education.

The Week Ahead (18th-24th November)

This week began at Parliament on Monday with the Scottish Futures forum on Workforce Development work-streams, which took up a large part of my day.  I spent the remainder of the day at Parliament engaged in email correspondence with constituents, as well as various administrative tasks.

On Tuesday, I began with some of my fixed engagements, including my team meeting in the morning.  Due to the sad passing of my colleague Helen Eadie MSP, there is no parliamentary business in the afternoon, and my thoughts will be with Helen’s family and friends.

Wednesday morning will be occupied by the Finance Committee, followed by a seminar for teachers on teaching about the Scottish Parliament.  Afterwards, I have an interview with the Fostering Network, followed by a meeting with the Polish Ambassador.  My final engagement is in the evening, at the Scottish IMPACT Award winner’s celebration.

On Thursday morning, I have a meeting with Energy North.  At 12PM, I’ll attend First Minister’s Questions, and straight after I’ll go to an event organised by Scottish Families Affected by Alcohol and Drugs.  I have some more meetings during the rest of the afternoon and then I’ll attend an evening session of the Business in the Parliament Conference.

Friday will see me in Glasgow at a Scottish Refugee Council arts event entitled ‘A View from Here’, of which I will take a great interest in as Convener of the Parliamentary Cross Party Group on Culture.

Speech: Dundee City of Culture Bid (12th November 2013)

On behalf of the Independent and Green group, I would like to echo the support for Dundee’s city of culture bid that has been expressed by members across the chamber.

Dundee is, in many ways, a microcosm of Scotland. It is a city with a proud industrial heritage that is reinventing itself for the 21st century and leading the way in video games technology and biomedical research. Over the years, it has been infused with Irish, Italian, Polish, Asian and Chinese immigrants—to name but a few—and both of its top-class universities continue to attract students from all over the globe.

The continued investment by the Scottish Government in Dundee’s waterfront will transform the way in which its citizens interact with the city and will, I hope, add further architectural excellence to Dundee’s many cultural accomplishments. I am assured by my Dundonian researcher that the city’s football teams—of which I know absolutely nothing—particularly the one that plays in dark blue, are also worthy of mention for their European heritage and exciting style of play.

What really makes Dundee worthy of its bid, though, is its people and how they have shaped their sense of self through the bid. Artists and writers are now thriving in a city that is universally recognised to be bursting with opportunity and ambition. From Sheena Wellington’s show-stopping performance of “A Man’s a Man for a’ that” at the opening of the Parliament in 1999 to the wry observations and brilliant talent of the much-missed Michael Marra, Dundee’s contribution to Scotland’s traditional and contemporary folk scene is legendary. Its links to Deacon Blue, Snow Patrol and The View and its annual blues bonanza demonstrate that that musical legacy continues to the present day.

New publishing firms such as Teckle Books and the success of the Bob Servant novels perfectly encapsulate the irreverent Dundonian sense of humour. Those success stories beget popular events, with the DCA’s Dundead horror festival and the Dundee literary festival being other highlights of a packed cultural calendar.

The bid for city of culture status gives Dundee an opportunity to celebrate all her heroes. There are too many other cultural strings to Dundee’s bow to mention: the McManus Galleries, the impending V&A museum, DC Thomson, Brian Cox, AL Kennedy, William McGonagall—I could go on.

It is worth noting in particular the continuing success of Dundee Contemporary Arts and Dundee Rep, not least because both were established at a time when some would have suggested that arts funding should be a lower priority for the city. As two key drivers of Dundee’s continued regeneration, I believe that they have demonstrated the intrinsic worth of cultural investment, and they are two potent symbols of the dedication of the city of Dundee to its artistic community. They are successful because they are used—and used well—by the folk of Dundee.

Dundee fully deserves to be awarded city of culture status, and I hope that, when the judges take in the spectacular view as their train travels over the silvery Tay, they realise that they have just arrived in a city of great culture in any year.

Motion: Nairn CAB and Nairn County FC Tackling Pay Day Loans

That the Parliament congratulates Nairn Citizens Advice Bureau (CAB) and Nairn County FC on teaming up to raise awareness of the problems associated with payday loans and what the CAB can do to help those in difficulty with high-interest credit; welcomes the news that Nairn CAB’s ability to advise and help people in difficulty due to payday loans will be advertised in Nairn County’s matchday programmes; commends Nairn County’s approach, which it considers contrasts with that of a number of other clubs in the higher reaches of the game that are sponsored by payday lenders and notes that the club aims to reach out to football fans and the wider community; further commends the work of Nairn CAB, particularly on its use of innovative ideas to raise awareness of what it sees as its invaluable work in helping Scots to regain control of their finances, among other issues; understands that CABs across Scotland are currently dealing with around 100 payday loan issues a week, a figure that has increased by a third compared to this time in 2012; applauds Nairn CAB and Nairn County efforts in helping the local community, and recommends that other clubs follow their lead in this regard.

The Week Ahead (11th November-17th November)

This Parliamentary week began with work in the constituency office on Monday, followed by a Hogmanay launch on Tuesday morning, and the usual parliamentary team meeting.  In the afternoon, I’ll be attending a meeting ahead of the Members’ Business Debate on Moray Library closures as well as our weekly Independent/Green Group meeting.  The rest of my afternoon will be busy, with two further meetings and a speaking slot in the City of Culture debate at Parliament.  I’ll end Tuesday with a visit to the Edinburgh Napier University Merchiston Campus.

On Wednesday, I’ll begin with my usual attendance of the Finance Committee, of which I am a member.  In the afternoon, I’ll be attending an information session with Scottish Water, then going to the University of Strathclyde to chair a session of an event on the Constitution of an Independent Scotland.  I’ll be back in Edinburgh to attend a Visit Scotland event at the Parliament, then a Polish-Scottish multimedia showcase opening.

Thursday will begin with an STV breakfast reception, followed by meetings with various organisations.  In the afternoon, I’ll be attending an event at the Scottish Storytelling Centre, another on levels of debt in Scotland, and the Stage 3 debate on the Independence Referendum Bill.

On Friday I’ll be in Forres for the A96 duelling exhibition, and then travelling back to Ullapool for the launch of Lesley Riddoch’s new book, Blossom.

Speech: Strict Liability

Unfortunately, due to unforeseen circumstances, I wasn’t able to give my speech in support of the introduction of Strict Liability during my colleague Alison Johnstone’s Members’ Business debate on October 29th. In the interests of transparency, I’ve reproduced my planned comments below:

I welcome the opportunity to speak during this member’s debate about the proposal to introduce stricter liability in Civil Law in order to protect those considered as vulnerable road users in Scotland.  I thank Alison Johnston for bringing the proposal to the chamber through her strict liability motion.  I, like members who’ve spoken before me today, believe that stricter liability would have a positive effect on the health, wellbeing and safety of Scotland’s cyclists and pedestrians.

Too many cyclists have already been killed or injured on Scotland’s roads.  In 2012, there were 901 cyclist casualties, up by 9% from 2011.  Of these casualties, 167 were seriously injured, and there were 9 deaths.  Both of these figures were up from 2011.  That indicates the scale of the problem, and the situation is clearly not improving with another 13 cyclist deaths this year.  The problem is one that affects the whole of Scotland, from Alison Johnston’s Lothian constituency to my own constituency in the Highlands and Islands.

We must look to support stricter liability and its underpinning philosophy to have the interests of vulnerable road users, such as pedestrians and cyclists, given priority over drivers of motor vehicles.  In Scotland, and the in UK in general, we’ve fallen behind most of our European neighbours where drivers are already required to prove they were not at fault in civil cases.  In many European countries, the responsibility is on the driver, it is easier for cyclists and pedestrians hurt in collisions to receive compensation more quickly, and the roads are made safer for everyone involved.  This includes cyclists and pedestrians, who always come off worse from a collision with a motor vehicle.  Stricter liability would help cyclists and pedestrians to receive just recompense and therefore have access to rehabilitation schemes far quicker than at present, and it would foster a culture where the onus is on driver to keep a proper look out for vulnerable road users.  By improving cycle safety, Scotland could show itself to care about the safety of its citizens on the roads, and to have a mature and socially conscious response to the tragedy of death and injury in cycling incidents.

I believe that Scotland could, and should, work towards becoming a cycle-friendly nation.  The UK is one of only 5 countries in Europe that does not have stricter liability in Civil Law.  In Denmark for example, measures have been introduced to create a positive cycling culture.  There, all victims of motor vehicle accidents are entitled to compensation under the law, and anyone buying a car must also buy third party liability insurance which provides cover for strict liability in accordance with the law.  By following the examples of Denmark, France and the Netherlands, it would indicate to the rest of Europe that Scotland welcomes cyclists.  It would encourage more Scots to get out there and cycle for leisure, for health or for competition.  I acknowledge that the Scottish Government has already funded a number of national cycle safety initiatives, but believe that the government can do more and look to introduce stricter liability to protect Scotland’s vulnerable road users and to foster a ‘cyclist friendly’ culture.

There is support from a range of walking and cycling organisations for the introduction of stricter liability in Civil Law.  Notable supporters of stricter liability include Pedal on Parliament, SPOKES, CTC Scotland, celebrity chef Nick Nairn and Paralympic cyclist Karen Darke.  Before the summer recess of Parliament, I spoke with Brenda Mitchell of Cycle Law Scotland, who is doing excellent work in raising awareness amongst MSPs of the issues relating to strict liability.  Cycle Law Scotland have launched a Campaign called ‘Road Share’, which promotes stricter liability for the protection of cyclists and other vulnerable road users who are involved in road-traffic collisions.  Cycle Law Scotland has really driven forward the issue of stricter liability and I think that members should look to support to the work of that organisation if they’ve not done so already.

I, for one, will continue to support calls for stricter liability, and will work with MSPs, walking and cycling organisations, and individual citizens in doing so.  I support Alison Johnston’s motion and look forward to the day that cyclists and pedestrians have the protection that they need and deserve.  The Scottish Government can play a key role in working towards such a goal, and I look forward to proposals that further promote the protection of cyclists and pedestrians on Scotland’s roads and streets.