Title: ♦ The Role of University Rectors and Gender Imbalance

Title: ♦ The Role of University Rectors and Gender Imbalance

Motion Text:
That the Parliament notes the existence of the office of rector in Scotland’s five ancient universities; understands that elections to this office take place every three years, allowing all undergraduate students the opportunity to vote for their rector at least once during their studies; considers the ability to nominate figures of national and international renown as the figurehead of the university to be an opportunity for students to demonstrate solidarity with social and political causes; believes that the nomination and successful campaigns of the anti-apartheid campaigner, Winnie Mandela, the trade unionist, Jimmy Reid, and the Israeli whistleblower, Mordechai Vanunu, by the University of Glasgow demonstrate a strong political tradition that continues to this day with the nomination of Edward Snowden for the same post; notes with disappointment the current and historic gender imbalance among university rectors; understands that all five university rectors in position are male and that each of the five ancient universities has only had one female rector in their respective histories; notes with concern that none of the four nominees for the position at the University of Glasgow is female; believes that there are innumerable inspirational female figures who would serve as role models to female students; would welcome an increase in the number of women who stand as candidates in future contests, and notes calls for universities to investigate what can be done to redress this gender imbalance.

Parliamentary Question: Health and Wellbeing Policy (Academic Research)

Health and Wellbeing Policy (Academic Research)
7. Jean Urquhart (Highlands and Islands) (Ind): To ask the Scottish Government what use it makes of academic research from Scottish universities and colleges in formulating health and wellbeing policy. (S4O-02843)
The Cabinet Secretary for Health and Wellbeing (Alex Neil): Many of the outputs of clinical research are universal and therefore research from academic sources from both within and outwith Scotland is of value in formulating the Scottish Government’s health and wellbeing policy. The chief scientist office, through its two research funding committees, funds high-quality, peer-reviewed research of relevance to the health and wellbeing of the people of Scotland. Lay summaries of the outputs of that research are made available to Scottish Government health policy colleagues. More generally, the Scottish intercollegiate guidelines network develops evidence-based clinical practice guidelines for the national health service in Scotland. SIGN guidelines are derived from a systematic review of all the scientific literature available.
Jean Urquhart: A few years ago, through the University of the Highlands and Islands, a couple of doctors conducted research over a three-year period into the health and wellbeing of older people in the Highlands and Islands, the net result of which has been positive in various communities. My understanding—I do not have evidence for this, but it is my belief—is that about 11 per cent of university research in that field is used by the Scottish Government. That leaves almost 90 per cent not being recognised, and I wonder whether the cabinet secretary feels that there is room to make more use of the experience of health boards of using research across the country.
Alex Neil: We make extensive use of medical professionals in our health boards and they are heavily involved in all the scientific work that we do. I can give one example relating to the science of informatics, which has been important in informing our policy on diabetes. As a result of the involvement of the health boards and their medics in informatics in looking at how we can better treat diabetes, Scotland has seen in recent years a 40 per cent reduction in amputation resulting from diabetes, and a substantial reduction in blindness resulting from diabetes. That is a direct result of the application of the science of informatics throughout the health service in Scotland, in co-operation with the CSO.

Remembering John Farquhar Munro

John Farquhar MunroI was sad to hear of the death over the weekend of John Farquhar Munro, who was a crofter, a Highland councillor, and Liberal Democrat MSP for Ross, Skye and Inverness West from the start of the Scottish Parliament in 1999 until the 2011 election.

I enjoyed a craic with John every now and again in the best Highland tradition. Political discussion, general updates on gossip and local news, and questions put with that famous twinkle in his eye – JFM was a wily politician with a great sense of humour. He knew fine what he was doing when he endorsed Alex Salmond for First Minister and cared not for how unpopular it made him with his party – and he was right. He was a kenspeckle figure across the Highlands and we will remember him.

— Jean

Budget: Jean calls for a better deal for Highland charities

Jean Urquhart has welcomed cross-party support for the principles of the Scottish Budget, after it passed the first stage of the parliamentary process this evening. MSPs from the SNP, Labour, Greens and Liberal Democrats, as well as Jean and her fellow Highlands and Islands independent MSP John Finnie, voted to pass the Budget (Scotland) (No.3) Bill at Stage 1.

Jean highlighted the Budget’s focus on preventative sending to reduce health and social problems in the future, but warned the voluntary organisations that are key to that effort need the security of longer funding agreements.

Jean said:

“The Scottish Government is to be congratulated for producing a positive and ambitious budget despite the tough economic environment and Westminster’s disastrous austerity agenda. Once again, vital components of Scotland’s social wage have been protected – free prescriptions, free personal care and public transport for the elderly, and free university tuition.

“Unusually, four out of the five parties at Holyrood voted for the principles of the Budget. That’s a testament to John Swinney’s ability and his determination to get the best deal he can for Scots of all walks of life. Only the Tories, insisting upon yet more cuts, opposed it.

“As a Finance Committee member I am particularly pleased that the Scottish Government has strengthened its commitment to prevention – spending to stop social and health problems before they start rather than relying on expensive cures once it’s too late. This philosophy is increasingly being included in government strategy, and the Budget includes £30m over two years to support the voluntary sector’s vital work in this area.

“However, far too many charities are still being given funding settlements for just one year at a time. This makes it hard for charities to plan, and to invest in future services. For example, the Badenoch and Strathspey Community Transport Scheme faces an uncertain future, despite being an essential and well-used service. We need to move to an expectation that funding for community projects will be for several years at a time, creating the security these brilliant voluntary-sector services need and deserve.”

You can read the full draft Budget document on the Scottish Government website.

Parliamentary Question: Areas of Natural Constraint

EU rules allow governments to grant additional financial support to farmers whose land is in areas that are naturally harder to cultivate, currently called Less Favoured Areas. The same function will be carried out by a new system, called Areas of Natural Constraint, under EU plans for reform of the Common Agricultural Policy.

At Rural Affairs and Environment Questions, Jean asked the Minister for clarity on when farmers can expect the change to come, and how the new Areas of Natural Constraint will be chosen.

From the Scottish Parliament Official Report:

Areas of Natural Constraint

5. Jean Urquhart (Highlands and Islands) (Ind):
To ask the Scottish Government what the timescale will be for the introduction of Areas of Natural Constraint to replace Less Favoured Areas. (S4O-02821)

The Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs and the Environment (Richard Lochhead):
The European Union rural development regulation states that the new areas facing natural constraint designation is to be implemented by 2018, and we will review the current Less Favoured Areas scheme in line with the regulation. In the meantime I am committed to continuing vital funding at current levels for the current scheme, to ensure that farming and crofting businesses remain sustainable.

Jean Urquhart:
What guidance has the Scottish Government received from Europe regarding the criteria that are to be used to define Areas of Natural Constraint?

Richard Lochhead:
The debate on this matter has been going on for some time, and a set of criteria has been initially debated. However, because there has been a postponement of the decision to move to a new system, there will, no doubt, be further debate over the next couple of years about the exact criteria that will be used to define areas of natural constraint. During the original debate over the past couple of years, we took some comfort from the fact that Scotland met most of the criteria, although there may have been some debate at the edges about whether some parts of Scotland qualified. Clearly, however, we have an opportunity to debate the issues and iron them out over the next couple of years.

‘Outside the Box’ – art by Inverness prisoners

I had the pleasure of seeing Out of the Box at the Inverness Museum and Art Gallery last Thursday. The show is an exhibition of art created by prisoners taking part in Fife College learning programmes at HMP Inverness over the past year.

One prisoner who took part in the exhibition said:

“Prison can be an emotional and daunting experience, with some prisoners feeling like worthless failures who have no hope of going anywhere in life. The education department offers prisoners both the support and tools they’ll need to change their lives, in an attempt at, hopefully, changing these thoughts and feelings.”

I think that captures something important – that the dehumanisation of prisoners that is apparently so popular among some politicians and tabloid columnists is not only revolting in its own right, but also stands in the way of prisoners rebuilding their lives and, in so doing, reducing reoffending.

My favourite painting was the G4S van plunging into a lake – a rejection of just the kind of industrialised, for-profit incarceration to which this project is diametrically opposed.

Outside the Box is at Inverness Museum and Art Gallery, Castle Wynd, IV2 3EB until Saturday 15th February 2014.
Please call 01463 237 114 to check availability, as part of the exhibition is in a room that is used for other events.

Speech: Oxfam’s Lift Lives for Good campaign

Photo of luxury yacht, captioned "The 85 richest people own the same wealth as the 3.5 billion poorest people. -- Oxfam"

Jean spoke in the debate on Oxfam‘s Lift Lives for Good campaign on Tuesday 21st January, brought by her fellow Highlands and Islands independent MSP, John Finnie. You can watch the debate on the BBC site (Jean’s speech starts at just over 16 minutes in), read the transcript in the Parliament’s Official Report. Read Oxfam’s full Lift Lives For Good report on tackling inequality and climate change, and please donate to the campaign if you can.

I, too, thank John Finnie for securing the debate. Oxfam’s record in fighting poverty is quite exceptional. As an organisation it has, more than any other, highlighted the work that has yet to be done.

We should celebrate Oxfam’s work in showing that deprivation is not just about money. It is also about mental and physical health, feeling safe and secure, and connectedness to family and community. Oxfam’s work on the Humankind Index, which released its second annual results for Scotland in June last year, gives us a vital way of understanding this complexity. Gross domestic product growth is no good if all the growth goes to the rich, or if wealth is being created only by breaking the backs and spirits of working people.

This week, Oxfam revealed that the 85 richest people in the world own as much as the poorest half of the human race, which is 3.5 billion people put together. The Scottish Government’s stated priority is sustainable economic growth; I hope that, one day, we will see that being extended to include sustainable human wellbeing.

One idea that was raised in a meeting in Parliament last week is worth serious consideration: a universal basic income, or citizen’s income. The amount would be enough to cover basic needs and it would be paid to every citizen without means testing. It would recognise unpaid work such as raising children and looking after relatives, and it would support lifelong learning, reduce inequality and give us a real chance to abolish poverty altogether — a mission that less radical ideas have repeatedly failed to achieve.

Oxfam’s Lift Lives for Good campaign recognises the importance of building skills and community links as well as providing aid. Here in Scotland, two of Oxfam’s partners recognise the importance of wellbeing beyond money. Tea in the Pot, in Govan, helps women who have mental health problems to share their experiences and ideas. Not only does that element of the project help people to fight loneliness and improve wellbeing, but the project also means that people who are normally excluded from decision-making and ignored by officials can work together to make their voices heard and challenge the policies and conditions that damage their wellbeing.

Let us celebrate Oxfam often, but let us work harder on our National Performance Framework and on introducing some of the key elements that people have declared are a priority for them, which are not about getting more money but involve other areas and issues around wellbeing that Oxfam has highlighted.

motion: Mallachy Tallack, New Writer Award Winner

Title: Mallachy Tallack, New Writer Award Winner

Motion Text:
That the Parliament congratulates Mallachy Tallack on winning a 2014 Scottish Book Trust new writer award; understands that Mallachy is one of 11 winners chosen from over 300 entries by a panel, which included Jen Hadfield, Doug Johnston, Jenni Fagan, Keith Gray and the Scots Makar, Liz Lochhead; recognises that he has put his writing skills to use as a journalist for the Shetland Times and writes music, fiction and non-fiction; notes that Mallachy’s recent project, the non-fiction book, Sixty Degrees North, focuses on communities that are 60 degrees north of the equator, such as Shetland; believes that the award, which includes mentoring from writers and industry professionals, a week-long retreat to Helensburgh and a cash sum, is invaluable to writers and will provide time, space and support to help them to develop their craft, and looks forward to continuing to read the work of Mallachy and the other winners.

The Week Ahead (20th January-26th January)

On Tuesday morning Jean will be working in her parliamentary office, holding her usual weekly meeting with staff. In the afternoon Jean will be meeting with representatives from Ofgem, before Jean attending a CPG Poland meeting and a reception for Abellio, one of the companies currently bidding for the Scotrail franchise, in the evening. Later on Jean will be attending a ‘Walk the Walk’ Dinner. This event will assist Walk the Walk identify areas of investment and to consider how Walk the Walk can make a difference in Scotland.

Jean will be taking part in the Finance Committee in the Parliament on Wednesday morning. In the afternoon she will be asking a question about what the timescale will be for the introduction of areas of natural restraint to replace less favoured ones during the debate about rural affairs. Following this debate Jean will be meeting with representatives from The Crown Estate. For the rest of the afternoon, Jean will be in the Chamber for the Budget Debate before attending the cross party group on Palestine, which will be discussing the film ‘Children in Chains’ by Jonathon Pullman about the abuse of Palestinian children in the Israeli Military Court System.

Jean will be attending a breakfast reception at Dynamic Earth. The Scottish Contractor’s Group (SCG) is launching its Creating Scotland’s Future Campaign. The campaign highlights the benefits to the Scottish economy of investing in construction, and the work and training opportunities local projects can create. At noon, Jean will be attending First Minister’s Questions in the Chamber. In the afternoon Jean will be working in her parliamentary office. Jean will then be travelling through to Glasgow to speak at the opening of the Gaelic and Scots showcase at the Lomond Foyer, Glasgow Royal Concert Hall. This event is part of the Celtic Connections Festival which takes place in Glasgow.