Jean welcomes shoot-and-sale license for Uist geese

Jean has welcomed the decision of Scottish Natural Heritage to pilot licenses for crofters and other farmers on the Uists and Benbecula to sell the meat of greylag geese.

The measure will provide much-needed income for local communities, ultimately making goose management self-funding, as well as reducing the needless waste of discarded carcasses.

The licenses will run until March 2015, and build upon a similar pilot in Orkney which began last August and runs until July this year.

Jean said:

“This is great news for the Western Isles. Control of geese is vital to crofting and other farming in the islands, but until now most of the birds have simply had to be thrown away. This has also meant that goose control has cost crofters time or money.

“Under this pilot, we’ll see the end of the shameful waste of high-quality meat, and an income stream that will make goose control self-financing and add to the diversity of croft products.

“This is also a boost for Scotland’s largest community buy-out, as Stòras Uibhist, the community company that owns most of South Uist, Benbecula and Eriskay on behalf of the residents, will be the license-holder for those islands.”

Jean had previously pressed the Scottish Government on the issue, asking Environment Minister Paul Wheelhouse in a Parliamentary Question whether he had discussed the impact of the geese on farming, and the possibility of introducing a mechanism for their sale:

Question S4O-02193: Jean Urquhart, Highlands and Islands, Independent, Date Lodged: 22/05/2013
To ask the Scottish Government what recent discussions it has had with Scottish Natural Heritage regarding the impact of greylag geese on agricultural land and the possibility of introducing a mechanism for the sale of greylag geese.

Answered by Paul Wheelhouse (30/05/2013):
My officials have had extensive discussions with Scottish Natural Heritage and with stakeholders represented on the National Goose Management Review Group regarding the impact of greylag geese on agricultural land and possible solutions to limiting their impact on certain Scottish islands, including the trialling of adaptive management techniques.

At the request of farmers on Orkney, Scottish Natural Heritage is working on the development of a scheme to permit the limited sale of wild goose carcases under licence, provided an effective and proportionate system of identification and control can be established.

We are required to consult with the European Commission before putting any such scheme into practice and we intend to start those consultations very shortly.

Speech: The Scottish Budget 2014

Jean spoke in the final debate on the Scottish Budget, emphasising again the importanmce of preventative spending, and secure funding for the charities that provide so many preventative services.

She also addressed the Bedroom Tax, which the Scottish Government has successfully mitigated but which remains effectively a tax paid by Scotland to the UK Treasury.

You can watch her speech below (start at 1:45:48), and read the transcript of the whole debate at TheyWorkForYou.com.

Jean Urquhart (Highlands and Islands) (Ind): As always, I pay tribute not only to the hard work of the cabinet secretary in putting together the budget but to the efforts of the Finance Committee clerking team in helping those of us who are on the committee to scrutinise the budget and shed some light on the issues at hand. I am pleased to have the opportunity to go over some of those issues in this stage 3 debate.

The Scottish Government is to be congratulated on 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—free prescriptions, free personal care and public transport for the elderly, and free university education—have been protected. When household budgets are being squeezed by rising food prices and energy costs, those measures are not only welcome but necessary.

As a member of the Finance Committee, I am particularly pleased that the Scottish Government has strengthened its commitment to prevention, spending to stop social and health problems before they start instead of relying on expensive cures once it is too late. That philosophy is increasingly being followed in Government strategy, and the budget includes £30 million over two years to support the voluntary sector’s vital work in that area.

However, far too many charities are still being given funding settlements for just one year at a time, which makes it hard for them to plan and invest in future services. For example, the Badenoch & Strathspey Community Transport Company, which is extraordinarily good, faces an uncertain future despite providing an essential service that is well used by hundreds of people every week. We need to move to an expectation that funding for community projects will be for several years at a time, which will create the security that these brilliant voluntary sector services need and deserve.

On a more general note, I was pleased to see so many parties voting for the principles of the budget at stage 1. That is a testament to the cabinet secretary’s ability and his determination to get the best deal that he can for Scots from all walks of life. It also demonstrates that, despite differences of opinion on Scotland’s constitutional future, a solid majority in this Parliament believe that there is such a thing as society, that we cannot slash and burn our way to a better economy and that a healthy economy is based not on how those at the very top weather the storm but on how those at the bottom are protected from the harsh winds of an economic storm that continues to wreak havoc on communities up and down Scotland.

I am still angry that the bedroom tax was imposed on Scotland in the first place. I am angry that other welfare cuts, which are driven by ideology and lack compassion, are causing tens of thousands of Scots to turn to food banks. I am angry that a party that has been consistently and overwhelmingly rejected by the Scottish people for years continues to hold the purse strings. No matter what sterling work the cabinet secretary is able to do within the confines of our financial settlement and no matter how much we may agree with the second-largest party in this Parliament, the fact remains that, until Scotland has the full economic powers of any other nation, there is only so much that can be done to counteract the me-first attitude of Westminster’s right-wing orthodoxy.

At the end of her speech, Jackie Baillie declared with great aplomb—I hope that I am quoting her correctly—

“Today we can vote in effect to end the bedroom tax”.

Well, we cannot. We cannot simply vote to end the bedroom tax—that is the point of wanting Scotland to have independence.

Jackie Baillie (Dumbarton) (Lab): Does the member accept that, because of the Scottish Government’s actions in putting the £50 million on the table, we have effectively ended the bedroom tax in Scotland?

Jean Urquhart: No, I do not accept that at all. We have mitigated some of the worst outcomes of the bedroom tax, but we have not ended it. In fact, Scotland is going to pay dearly, to the tune of possibly £50 million from other services, to mitigate the bedroom tax. Let nobody be under any illusion that we have ended the bedroom tax.

The Conservative members who have spoken so far have pointed out that the cabinet secretary has not mentioned business or the economy, and they have said that this is not a budget for business. However, it seems to me from all the reports—those in what I might choose to call the English papers as well as those in the Scottish papers—that the big issue today is not the business community. The biggest issue—the one that is hitting everyone’s mailbox—is the bedroom tax and its effects on housing associations and local authorities.

I highly recommend the budget. I can only repeat what many other members have said: the only way to mitigate the bedroom tax is to abolish it, and the only way to guarantee that it will be abolished is to vote yes on 18 September. The budget lays the groundwork for a fairer and more prosperous Scotland. I support the Budget (Scotland) (No 3) Bill and the Government in its efforts to ensure that all future budgets can freely set Scotland’s priorities.

Holyrood passes marriage equality

Scotland Backs Equal MarriageJean has welcomed MSPs’ overwhelming support for marriage equality, as the Marriage and Civil Partnership (Scotland) Bill was passed on a vote of 105-18 this evening.

Jean said:

“I was very proud to cast my vote for marriage equality this evening. This is an historic and joyful occasion for Scotland, and for our LGBT community in particular, who have for so long been denied the choice that so many of us take for granted – the choice to say ‘I do’.

“I particularly want to congratulate the Equality Network, Stonewall Scotland and the Scottish Youth Parliament, who have done so much to help us get to the finish line.

“Marriage equality is a freedom that is long overdue. I can well remember when homosexuality itself was a crime, and we achieved civil partnerships only ten years ago. But support for this move is well-established in Scotland: research back in 2010 found that less than one in five Scots wanted to deny same-sex couples the right to marry [1].

“I am delighted by this positive step, but I entirely understand that there are those religious organisations who oppose marriage equality. It’s important to reassure them that they have nothing to fear from this law – it permits them to celebrate same-sex marriages should they choose to, but comes with a cast-iron guarantee that they will not be forced to do so. We can look abroad for further evidence – the Catholic Church told MSPs that in the many countries that already have marriage equality laws, it has never been compelled to conduct a same-sex marriage.

“In fact, this law increases religious liberty, allowing denominations such as Quakers, Unitarians, Reform and Liberal Judaism, the Metropolitan Community Church and the Open Episcopal Church the freedom to celebrate same-sex marriages according with their faith. That is a freedom that remains denied to religious organisations in England and Wales.

“Of course there is much more to be done, both in eliminating homophobic discrimination at home and defending equality in other countries – for example, I hope Russia’s appalling treatment of LGBT people will be highlighted during the Sochi Winter Olympics that start on Friday.

“But this law is a huge step towards true equality. It eliminates the last big legal discrimination against LGBT people in Scotland, and contributes to our growing reputation as a progressive beacon in the world.”