Motion: Lerwick’s Waterfront, One of Scotland’s Best Places

I was pleased to see Lerwick’s continued regeneration recognised in this national competition. You can vote for Lerwick waterfront- or the others on the shortlist!- at .

Motion Number: S4M-09550
Lodged By: Jean Urquhart
Date Lodged: 31/03/2014

Title: Lerwick’s Waterfront, One of Scotland’s Best Places

Motion Text:
That the Parliament welcomes the shortlisting of Lerwick’s waterfront as one of Scotland’s Best Places by the Royal Town Planning Institute; notes that the waterfront will compete against what it considers iconic vistas such as the Royal Mile in Edinburgh and Loch Lomond for the prize; understands that the shortlist of 10 places was chosen from 55 public nominations; believes that the establishment of the Mareel cinema, music and arts complex on the waterfront, which also houses the Shetland Islands Council headquarters, the Shetland Amenity Trust and the Shetland Museum and Archives, has contributed significantly to the waterfront’s vibrancy; understands that the public vote to choose the top three places is open until June and can be accessed online at , and hopes that the competition sparks interest, debate and enthusiasm about the country’s natural and built environments.

Motion: UHI Appointment of Gaelic Research Professor Dr Conchúr Ó Giollagáin

Motion Number: S4M-09537
Lodged By: Jean Urquhart
Date Lodged: 28/03/2014

Title: UHI Appointment of Gaelic Research Professor Dr Conchúr Ó Giollagáin

Motion Text:
That the Parliament welcomes the appointment of Dr Conchúr Ó Giollagáin as Gaelic Research Professor at the University of the Highlands and Islands (UHI) and director of Soillse, the national research network for the maintenance and revitalisation of Gaelic language and culture, which is effective from April 2014; understands that Dr Ó Giollagáin has an international reputation in language planning and minority language culture and sociology; further understands that, as director of Soillse, Dr Ó Giollagáin will lead a team of four research fellows, one lecturer and 10 PhD students in their research; notes that his research will cover the intergenerational transmission of Gaelic practice and policy in Gaelic medium education and the assessment of government policies on the revitalisation of the language; considers this appointment to demonstrate the commitment of UHI to Gaelic language and culture and the growing reputation of UHI as a centre of academic excellence; further considers the work of academics, the Scottish Government and other partners in supporting Gaelic language and culture to be of paramount importance to the Highlands and Islands and to Scotland, and looks forward to working with Dr Ó Giollagáin and others in support of the Gaelic language and culture.

“Purple Day” for epilepsy: Think Drink? Think Drugs? Think Seizure!

Jean wearing her purple ribbon (and sporting a purple folder!) for Purple Day.
Jean wearing her purple ribbon (and sporting a purple folder!) for Purple Day.
Jean is wearing a purple ribbon today to mark international ‘Purple Day’ for epilepsy awareness. Epilepsy Scotland supporters across the country are also wearing purple and organising fun purple-themed events in schools and workplaces, and landmarks like McCaig’s Tower in Oban, the SSE Hydro in Glasgow and even the sheep at the Pyramid Business Park on the M8 are turning purple for the day.

This Purple Day, Epilepsy Scotland are urging Scots to “Think Drink, Think Drugs, Think Seizure” – to be aware that people who look as if they are drunk or on drugs may in fact be having an epileptic seizure. The charity has produced a simple guide on providing first aid for a seizure.

Jean said:

Download Epilepsy Scotland's quick guide to first aid for seizures
Download Epilepsy Scotland’s quick guide to first aid for seizures
“I’m supporting Purple Day because epilepsy is such a common condition yet many of us still know little about it. Hundreds of Highlanders and Islander, including over 200 children in the NHS Highland area alone, have epilepsy.

“Purple Day is a great way to get people talking about epilepsy, which is essential because just a little knowledge about the condition could save a life. As with so many medical conditions, there’s also a social stigma – even a fear – that needs to be broken down through greater public understanding.

“Please take a moment go to the Epilepsy Scotland website and learn how to recognise and respond to a seizure. It will take just a couple of minutes but it could turn you into a lifesaver.”

Jean is a member of the Scottish Parliament’s Cross-Party Group on Epilepsy, and has signed motions by Bob Doris MSP and Gil Paterson MSP supporting Purple Day.

Jean marks UN World Down’s Syndrome Day

Jean Urquhart with Down's Syndrome Scotland spokesperson Kim Scott
Jean at the Scottish Parliament with Down’s Syndrome Scotland spokesperson Kim Scott
Jean Urquhart welcomed the charity Down’s Syndrome Scotland to the Scottish Parliament last Thursday to mark United Nations World Down’s Syndrome Day on 21 March and Down’s Syndrome Awareness Week which ran from 17 to 23 March.

Down’s Syndrome Scotland is the only Scottish charity focused solely on the needs of people with Down’s syndrome and their family carers. It provides information, support and services for people with Down’s syndrome, their families, carers and those with a professional interest. It also seeks to improve knowledge and understanding and champion the rights of people with Down’s syndrome.

Jean said:

“It was a delight to meet Kim and the others from Down’s Syndrome Scotland, and hear about the great and vital work they do to support so many families, and new projects like the Communication Skills Pilot that started this year.

“People with Down’s syndrome can work, do their job well and have a great quality of life, as Kim proves. But for that to happen there need to be opportunities, and far greater public understanding.

“Everyone has a right to be listened to, but people with Down’s syndrome are often ignored or discriminated against. As a society we have to do more to include people with learning disabilities and their carers. For my own part I’d like to start by urging anyone in the Highlands and Islands who feels politics isn’t delivering for them to get in touch – it’s my job to help all local people navigate the system and make their voice heard.

“I want to thank Down’s Syndrome for giving MSPs their time and expertise, and for the incredible work they do all year round.”

Pandora Summerfield, Chief Executive of Down’s Syndrome Scotland, said:

“This information session at the Scottish Parliament is a great opportunity to raise awareness of Down’s syndrome. By informing MSPs about the condition and about our services, we want to ensure that the interests of our members are not forgotten in political debates.

“As a charity, we are committed to helping our members reach their full potential. Through our work, we know that issues like speech therapy, welfare, employment and dementia are major causes of concern to people with Down’s syndrome and their families. These are important topics that need to be discussed. Improving knowledge of Down’s syndrome is key to our mission. We look forward to organising similar events in the future, including hosting the World Down Syndrome Congress 2018 in Glasgow.”

Down’s syndrome is caused by an extra copy of chromosome 21 inside some or all of the body’s cells. Approximately 1 in 1,000 babies are born with Down’s syndrome in the UK. It is one of the most common congenital conditions, which occurs in all ethnic groups. It is the most prevalent chromosomal disorder and also the most frequently recognised cause of intellectual disability.

Victory on Post Office ‘no island mortgages’ rule

The Post Office on Iona, one of the islands still left out after the rule change. Photo:
The Post Office on Iona, one of the islands still left out after the rule change.
There’s good news for many island housebuyers today as the Post Office announce that they will offer mortgages on many of Scotland’s larger islands, just two weeks after Jean first raised the issue.

The Post Office had previously refused mortgages for properties on all islands except Skye. But after Jean wrote to Chief Executive Paula Vennells, they have agreed to accept housebuyers on Bute, Lewis and Harris, Mainland Orkney, Mainland Shetland, Arran, Mull and Islay.

Jean Urquhart was alerted to the problem by a constituent on the Shetland Mainland, who will be one of those now eligible for a Post Office mortgage for the first time.

But many smaller islands remain excluded, and Jean has vowed to fight on.

Jean said:

“We desperately need alternatives to the big banks, and Post Office financial services could play a big role in that. It’s great news that many islanders will now have that greater choice.

“But many islanders are still excluded by the new rules, from Uist to Unst, from Great Cumbrae to Papa Westray. I’ll keep pushing to persuade the Post Office to stick to its roots as a truly universal service.

“I first raised this issue only two weeks ago, and the Post Office have listened and responded quickly. They’ve shown they are willing to engage, and I understand they are keeping their island mortgage rules under review. So I would urge those islanders who are still excluded to contact the Post Office and tell them the demand is there.

“The islands continue to be discriminated against in everything from delivery charges to LPG prices. This good news just makes me more determined to keep fighting for a fair deal for island consumers.”

The shift in policy was confirmed in a letter from the Post Office yesterday. The spokesman wrote:

“Dear Ms Urquhart

“Thank you for your letter of 27 February to our Chief Executive, Paula Vennells, regarding the availability of our mortgage products. Further to our response of 5 March where we said that we were looking into this matter we are now in a position to provide you with an update on this.

“I can confirm that following our review, and in response to customer demand, the wide range of Post Office mortgage products will now be available to customers in Skye, Bute, Lewis & Harris, Mainland Orkney, Mainland Shetlands, Arran, Mull and Islay.

Today, Jean wrote again to Ms Vennells, asking for an explanation for continuing to exclude so many Scottish islands from the Post Office’s mortgage services.

If you would like the option of a Post Office mortgage on one of the islands still left out, please contact Jean for help making your case.

Photo: One Big Drum in the Scottish Parliament

I was delighted to meet with the members of One Big Drum in the Scottish Parliament as part of Trade Union Week. One Big Drum are a community music group based in East Sutherland that bring together children with and without learning disabilities to learn how to work and play with other people. It was a pleasure to hear the group play their African drums in the Garden Lobby, and thanks go to the STUC for the terrific programme they organised for the whole week.


Free event: Jean urges Highlanders to build a movement against mental health stigma

Jean Urquhart MSP supporting See Me. Jean is holding a round board with the words "see me, I'm committed to inclusion".

Jean is urging people with personal experience of mental health problems to take advantage of a free two-day event at the Dunblane Hydro to build a social movement against stigma.

‘see me’ – Scotland’s national programme for ending stigma and discrimination against people with mental health problems – is hosting the landmark two-day event on 3 and 4 April 2014.

The event, which is expected to attract over 180 participants from all over Scotland, is designed to give participants the chance to get involved, have their say, share ideas and help set the key themes for the next three years to further tackle stigma and discrimination in Scotland.

To get more information about the event or register your interest, you can:

The closing date for applications is 5pm, Monday, 17 March 2014.

The event aims to attract people with personal experience of mental health problems, those who are close to or care for someone with mental health issues, those who work professionally in the field, and people who work with young people and employers.

Free accommodation at the Dunblane Hydro is being provided, and support is available for travel costs, so that no-one should be excluded from taking part.

Keynote speakers will include Minister for Public Health Michael Matheson MSP and ‘see me’ Director Judith Robertson.

Jean said:

“Mental health problems are very common – one in four of us will suffer from one this year. Despite that, having mental health issues still often means facing misunderstanding, stigma and discrimination.

“I’m right behind ‘see me’ and the work it does to put an end to that.

“This event is a great opportunity for people with direct experience to get involved. Free travel and accommodation mean that this will be so much more accessible to a wide range of people – especially in the north – than events in the central belt usually are.

“I’d urge people across the Highlands and Islands to apply to attend the event so that they can have their say about what we can all do to put an end to discrimination associated with mental health problems once and for all. This could be the start of a really important movement for change.”

About ‘see me’

  • ‘see me’ is Scotland’s national programme to end stigma and discrimination against people with mental health problems.
  • The ‘see me’ programme is supported by a joint investment of £4.5million over three years from the Scottish Government and Comic Relief and works collaboratively with a range of partners including the Mental Health Foundation, Scottish Association for Mental Health, Voices of Experience, Scottish Recovery Network, Highland User Group, and the Mental Health Co-Operative.

About stigma and discrimination

  • Stigma is an issue of basic human rights and can have an impact on people’s recovery from mental health problems.
  • The most common situations where people with lived-experience face stigma and discrimination are: by friends and family; in employment/at work; within the local community; within mental health or other health services. These are also the situations where people are most likely to have disclosed their mental health problems.

Speech: Thirsting for Justice

Jean spoke in the Labour MSP Claudia Beamish’s member’s debate on the desperate water shortages experienced in Palestine as a result of the Israeli occupation.

You can watch her speech below (start at 45:00), and read the transcript of the whole debate at

Find out more about the Thirsting For Justice campaign on Twitter and Facebook.

Jean Urquhart (Highlands and Islands) (Ind): I thank Claudia Beamish and John Finnie for bringing this topic for debate in the Scottish Parliament. I do not know how else we can raise awareness of the appalling situation in Palestine. How do we in Scotland effect change?

I have not been privileged to visit Palestine, but I listened to members who have had that privilege and who have been in the Gaza strip, and it seems to me that, as Alison Johnstone said, water is a basic human right that is being denied. The issue is being raised around the world by the United Nations, and yet the situation persists.

This might be slightly irrational of me, but when John Lamont suggested that the situation, in which people must live in appalling conditions, is the fault of the Government in Gaza, I wondered whether Palestinians would say that people in Scotland deserve the welfare situation that we have here because it is our Government’s fault. The issue has nothing to do with that. I feel in my heart that real injustice is being done to the Palestinian people. It might be the case that the political situation needs to be resolved, and I know that the problem in the middle east is complicated, but we are concerned with a situation that is causing people to die and families to be driven apart.

There are many visual images of the hardship that people are suffering. Books have been written and films have been made that show us the arid lands and the results of a deliberate withdrawal of resources, including water for arable lands—to feed the olive trees, for example. Water is needed to give life to the Palestinians. It is the source of life, and to deny the Palestinian people their right to clean water and sanitation is despicable.

We can contrast those images with images of the lush growth in the settlements, where there is plenty of water. Members cited the facts and figures. We heard about people having access to 70 litres as opposed to 340 litres, and we heard that in the west some of us have the luxury of access to 4,000 litres per day.

I hope that the thirsting for justice campaign has huge success and that we can reach the hearts and minds of people who care about the Palestinian people. There are Jewish organisations and Israeli people who feel that the situation should not be allowed to continue. Not everyone in Israel thinks that the situation is somehow justified or okay.

If the Scottish Parliament can do anything, I hope that we will try to unite with such people to effect change. Change for the Palestinian people might have to come as a result of Israelis talking to Israelis. However, let no one be uncertain about the feeling in this Parliament. The situation is untenable and cannot be allowed to continue.

I thank Claudia Beamish and John Finnie again for bringing this timely debate about a desperate situation that we must all try to alleviate.