£2.5m to help rural communities build their own broadband

Jean has welcomed today’s announcement of an extra £2.5m to help rural communities build their own broadband networks.

The Scottish Government is already investing £410m in the Digital Scotland Superfast Broadband programme, but this extra money, announced by Nicola Sturgeon this morning in Thurso, will go to help communities that are too remote to benefit from standard broadband schemes.

The funding will be managed by Community Broadband Scotland, which works across the country but is run by Highlands and Islands Enterprise.

Jean said:

“The internet has revolutionised our world, bringing it closer together than ever. So a fast, reliable internet connection is even more important in remote rural areas than in the cities. But it can be hard to get that connection to communities far from the nearest telephone exchange.

“This investment means more communities in the Highlands and Islands will be able to build local broadband networks using technology like satellite broadband to overcome the distance.

“From Eigg’s community energy company to the worker ownership of Loch Fyne Oysters, we in the north have shown time and time again that local people can manage big projects. I’m delighted that the Government have recognised that by giving our communities the opportunity to build their own solutions to the challenge of rural broadband.”

Stop Torture – Jean backs new Amnesty campaign

stop_torture

Jean has called on a Nigerian governor to investigate allegations of torture, as part of Amnesty International’s Stop Torture campaign, which launched last week.

Jean has written to Emmanuel Uduaghan, the governor of Nigeria’s Delta State, urging him to take action in the case of Moses Akatugba. In 2005, aged just 16, Moses was arrested by the Nigerian Army and charged with stealing mobile phones. He says he was shot in the hand, beaten, and had finger- and toenails pulled out with pliers. Convicted on the ‘confession’ extracted under this duress, he is now sentenced to death.

Jean said:

“Torture is never, ever acceptable. That’s a truth publicly accepted by most countries and yet around the world those same countries continue to let it happen. I’ve been a long-time Amnesty supporter and am proud to back the Stop Torture campaign.

“As part of Amnesty’s campaign, I have written to the Governor of Delta State to request that he commute the death sentence passed against Moses Akatugba. Mr Akatugba was arrested by the military aged just 16 and condemned to death on the strength of ‘confessions’ he says were extracted by torture. I have asked the Governor to launch an independent investigation into the allegations of torture.”

Siobhan Reardon, Amnesty Scotland’s Programme Director, said:

“Thirty years ago 151 countries signed up to the UN Convention Against Torture, but since then we have seen a steady decline in almost every one of those countries and today torture is flourishing. Governments hold up the convention in one hand whilst sanctioning horrendous acts of brutality against their own people, with the other.

“Torture has been used against people in the name of national security. It has been used to silence dissidents and political rivals. It has even been used against schoolchildren. In some countries, torture is routine, while in others cases of abuse are isolated and exceptional. However, just one case of torture or ill-treatment is not only prohibited by international law, it is completely unacceptable.

“Amnesty International has been at the forefront of the campaign to eradicate torture for fifty years and although achieving the Convention Against Torture in 1984 was an important milestone, we need a global campaign to end torture more than ever.

“Today is the Stop Torture Global Day of Action and we are asking everyone in Scotland to speak out on behalf of all those who have been tortured – and are being tortured right now. Torture is never justifiable and should never be used by any government for any reason.”

Amnesty International launched its global Stop Torture campaign ahead of the UN International Day in Support of Victims of Torture on 26 June. The human rights organisation says torture is flourishing, despite a 30-year global ban.

In the last five years, Amnesty has recorded torture and other forms of ill-treatment in at least 141 countries from every region of the world but the secretive nature of torture means the true number is likely to be even higher.

Amnesty’s 30-page briefing, Torture in 2014: 30 Years of Broken Promises details a shocking variety of torture techniques with at least 27 different kinds of torture and other cruel treatment recorded during 2013-14.

These include beatings with fists, rifle butts, wooden clubs and other objects; needles being forced underneath a victim’s fingernails; prisoner having their joints drilled; boiling water being poured onto the body; the administering of electric shocks; the stubbing out of cigarettes on the body; water torture/partial suffocation; and the use of stress positions and sustained sleep deprivation.

Torture or other ill-treatment reported in 141 countries in past five years, and in at least 79 already in 2014, with 27 different types of torture during 2013-14

Since 1984, 155 countries have ratified the United Nations Convention Against Torture – a milestone convention that Amnesty campaigned hard for in the 1970s and 1980s – yet Amnesty is now accusing governments around the world of betraying their commitments to stamp out torture.

While measures such as the criminalisation of torture in national legislation, the independent monitoring of detention centres and the video recording of interrogations have led to a decrease in the use of torture in some countries, Amnesty is calling for the wide implementation of rigorous protective mechanisms such as proper medical examinations, prompt access to lawyers, independent and effective investigations of torture allegations, and the prosecution of suspects and proper redress for victims.

“Wellies before slippers” CAP plans welcomed

Pedigree cow "Cavans Bourbon" on Orkney, bred and photographed by Robert Scarth
Pedigree cow “Cavans Bourbon” on Orkney, bred and photographed by Robert Scarth.

Jean has welcomed government proposals on implementing the new Common Agricultural Policy in Scotland.

She praised ministers’ efforts to put “wellies before slippers” by targeting support towards active farmers and away from wealthy owners of unfarmed land, and extend extra assistance to new entrants to farming and to island beef farmers.

The plans were announced to MSPs in a statement by Rural Affairs minister Richard Lochhead on Wednesday.

Jean said:

“Richard Lochhead has shown a real ‘wellies before slippers’ attitude, putting working farmers first and tackling the exploitation of subsidies by wealthy absentee landlords.

“The decision to cap payments at £400,000 puts an end to million-pound payouts to the very wealthiest landowners, making more available for smaller farms with bigger needs.

“The ‘Scottish Clause’, which cuts off direct payments for land with no farming activity on it, means we will no longer subsidise the ‘slipper farmers’ who claim grants for simply owning vacant land. And shooting estates which do not genuinely farm the land will no longer be able to claim funds intended for farmers. These welcome moves support working farmers and create jobs by incentivising bringing unused land back into production.

“I welcome particularly the extra help available to new entrants, the future of farming. They can now look forward to finally getting equal treatment from 2019, and in the meantime will get additional funds from the national reserve, and start-up grants of up to €70,000.

“The centralisation of slaughterhouses and associated transport costs mean that island beef farmers have been squeezed hard. I’m delighted that Mr Lochhead has not only won the fight with Whitehall to keep production-linked support across Scottish beef farming, but added a €65 per calf to-up for the islands.

“We heard only yesterday that Scotland is falling short in our ambitious efforts to tackle climate change, so I’m pleased to see mandatory fertiliser planning for grasslands, which can reduce carbon emissions, improve water quality and increase profitability.

“All in all, these policies are a remarkable achievement given the funding cuts imposed by both the EU and UK, and the balancing act of serving the fantastically diverse but often vulnerable Scottish farming community.”

Read Richard Lochhead’s full statement on the plans here.

Jean’s call to save geology in schools

A geology student uses a compass-clinometer on a geology field trip.
A geology student uses a compass-clinometer on a geology field trip.
Photo: www.flickr.com/photos/benbowenphotos.

Calling Scotland “the birthplace of geology” and praising the work of Scotland’s two UNESCO Geoparks in Shetland and the Northwest Highlands, Jean has joined calls to save the Higher qualification in geology, due to be axed by the Scottish Qualifications Authority in 2015.

Jean added her signature to a letter by Willie Rennie MSP to Education Secretary Michael Russell, urging him to delay the scrapping of Higher Geology.

Although an ‘Earth Science’ Higher is planned to eventually replace it, jean raised concerns of a gap in tuition of the subject if Geology is axed now.

Jean said:

“Scotland is the home of geology, the place where James Hutton invented the science and proved the earth is ever-changing. Geology is vital to our future too, from developing our energy economy to dealing with the consequences of climate change.

“In Scotland perhaps more than anywhere, geology is a vital part of so many careers in so many industries. But as the next generation grows up in an age of environmental challenges, they also need to be informed citizens, who understand how our planet functions and are able to take the big decisions to secure our future.

“We should be encouraging many more pupils to choose geology, not taking it out of schools altogether while the new qualification is developed. Axing Higher Geology now is premature at best.”

Jean highlighted Government support for the Geoparks as examples of success in developing the educational and recreational potential of our internationally important geology, saying:

“Our Geoparks honour two of the world’s most scientifically important and visually stunning landscapes, and do brilliant work developing their educational and tourist potential.

“Shetland’s complicated fault lines mean that you can see rock types otherwise found scattered across the North of Scotland, side by side. Geologically, Shetland is the Highlands in miniature and a visit to the Geopark is a whirlwind tour of billions of years of Scotland’s history.

“The North-West Highlands are home to the oldest rocks in Britain. At 3 Billion years old, some are well over half the age of the planet. The Moine Thrust that runs right through the NW Highlands Geopark was instrumental in proving that the continents are moving – a debate that wasn’t settled until the 1960s.

“The Scottish Government’s recent support of £280,000 over two years secured their status as full UNESCO Geoparks, and recognised the importance of geology to Scotland. I hope we can recognise that in our schools too.”

The full letter is below:

Dear Mr Russell

We are writing to you regarding the Scottish Qualification Authority’s (SQA) decision to remove higher geology from the qualifications that are available to Scottish school pupils. The current higher qualification in geology is due to be scrapped in 2015, leaving a huge void in the teaching of geology in Scottish secondary schools. A focus group of school teachers, academics and industry representatives (Earth Science Education Scotland), coordinated by the Royal Scottish Geographical Society (RSGS), have proposed the development of a new higher in earth science which would cover the wide range of topics that modern earth sciences currently spans, and that would typically be offered in Year 6. As outlined below, there is a demonstrated demand for earth science teaching by schools, universities and industry. We urge you to promote the development of a new earth science higher qualification, and to extend the life of higher geology until the new higher course is prepared.

We are aware that SQA and your office believe that the number of pupils studying higher geology is not large enough to support running higher geology because the numbers have declined over the years. We argue this is almost entirely due to the fact that no teachers have been trained in support of the subject since 1985, and that schools have never been encouraged to rank geology as an important subject. The Earth Science Education Scotland (ESES) focus group know of many schools where demand is high and teachers wish to offer higher geology, but the head teachers have not permitted it to run. However, ESES also knows that there is a huge demand and interest in a new earth science qualification that is on par with other science subjects and encompasses the broad range of topics that earth science now spans. A recent survey of more than 130 teachers, carried out by the University of St Andrews, found that 80% would consider offering this new qualification given the opportunity and appropriate support. According to a recent article in the TESS (April 18, 2014), SQA may have begun to recognise this, as Dr Gill Stewart, SQA Director of Qualifications Development, is currently looking to determine the demand for an earth science qualification.

Support for a new higher also comes from industry, with organisations such as Oil & Gas UK recommending the introduction of this qualification, which they believe would help to address the serious and well documented skills shortage. Investment in the UK oil and gas industry is at an all-time high, with up to 24 billion barrels of oil and gas yet to be recovered. This has the potential to provide energy security to the UK for decades to come and jobs for young people in Scotland. As such, the discipline of geology is absolutely vital in aiding the industry to unlock the potential of the resource, while also aiding industry to maintain its position as the largest industrial investor in the UK and a globally recognised centre of engineering and manufacturing excellence.

The level of interest in earth sciences is also demonstrated through the work of the Earth Science Education Unit (ESEU) and initiatives such as GeoBus, partially funded by industry, which provides support to teachers who want to cover geology content but have no resources or background to teach the subject confidently.

The level of interest and demand for more earth sciences in the curriculum can be demonstrated with over 24,000 pupils in 160 different Scottish secondary schools have been involved in earth science workshops with GeoBus since 2012 alone.

We are aware that SQA believes that geology and earth science content is being moved into other science subjects within Curriculum for Excellence. This, however, is not the case. ESES has found that geology content within the new geography curriculum is being diminished and the earth science content in the new curricula for Biology, Physics and Chemistry also shows a distinct lack of breadth and depth. A limited number of themes taught across a range of subjects will result in slight exposure to earth sciences, but the connectivity of topics across the different subject areas will be lost. Importantly, the new science curriculum will not equip students to understand the behaviour of the solid earth, natural resources and exploration, energy challenges, the hydrocarbon industry and geological climate change.

We see an earth science qualification as a unique opportunity to consolidate on the learning achieved within the pure science subjects by studying a more applied science subject that underpins the economy and tackles some of the most difficult questions of our time: present and future energy challenges, new sources of natural resources, and climate change. In this context, we want to develop informed citizens who have at least a basic understanding of how the planet functions and where resources come from. By offering higher earth science in the final year of secondary school, pupils have an opportunity to additionally develop skills training (including outdoor fieldwork), research experience, some independent learning and careers awareness prior to leaving school.

A common response of SQA is that higher geology is not required for entry to a university degree course. This is true, because there are hardly any schools offering the subject in Scotland and so this would unfairly disadvantage pupils. As stated above, getting pupils to take the subject at university isn’t the sole aim of a higher in earth science. It is worth noting, however, that in 2010, 45% of all entrants into earth science degree subjects in England and Wales held an A level or higher in geology. Clearly, offering the qualification at secondary school influences how many pupils will consider it as a degree course at university. In addition, while 33% of the pupils sitting A level geology in 2013 are female, about 50% of the student cohort in earth science courses at university are female; it is a route into science for women.

We call on you as Cabinet Secretary for Education and Lifelong Learning to do everything in your power to delay the removal of higher geology until a new earth science qualification can be established. With the support of teachers, academic institutions and the energy industry, the demand for this new qualification cannot go unnoticed, nor should the future students of geology be held back due to short sightedness on the part of the SQA.

“We Poles are a freedom loving nation.”

Polish-Scot actor Tomek Borkowy
Actor Tomek Borkowy is urging fellow Poles to vote Yes on 18 September.
Jean has welcomed Polish-Scottish actor Tomek Borkowy’s announcement that he will be voting Yes in the independence referendum. Tomek is a household name in Poland, as the star of the hugely popular drama series Dom (“Home”), which ran for twenty years from 1980 to 2000. He first came to the UK in 1977, unable to speak English, and is now a British citizen and runs Edinburgh-based international performing arts agency Universal Arts.

Tomek said:

“A Yes vote is a vote for the new opportunities for all people in Scotland, but especially for Poles, who left their country because they felt marginalised by Polish politics and politicians. A lot of us have succeeded here and many more will. Scotland gave us an opportunity, and we will repay our debt.

“I will vote Yes because I strongly believe that this is the best deal for the people. We Poles are a freedom loving nation. Only 25 years ago we reclaimed our full independence. We understand the need of a nation for self-determination and most of us, I hope, will support it.

“Scotland has more economic potential than most European countries which regained their independence in the last quarter of a century and I urge all of my countrymen to vote Yes and be involved in the social, cultural and political life of our adopted country.

“Unlike the rest of the UK, which persistently is more inward looking, Scottish parties supporting independence are outward thinking. Scottish independence will open more self-development opportunities for Poles and the prospect of a balanced and enhanced life for them and for their children.”

Jean is Convenor of the Scottish Parliament’s Cross-Party Groups on Poland and Culture. She said:

“I’m really delighted that Tomek will be voting for independence in September. The Polish community has contributed so much to Scotland, and should grab this opportunity to shape our shared future with both hands. They’ve more than earned it.

“I am proud that Scotland has a good record of welcoming not just Poles, but generations of New Scots from every corner of the globe, in contrast to the UK establishment’s increasingly xenophobic rhetoric. The chance to build a country of mutual respect and friendship, not fear and loathing, is one of the great prizes of independence.

“As Scotland considers our constitutional future, we have much to learn from Poland’s example. The 1791 Constitution of the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth was one of the first in the world to recognise the people as sovereign, and we can take heart from Poland’s centuries-long but successful struggle for independence, first from occupation and latterly from Soviet domination.

“As Tomek says, the Polish people know more than most the value of freedom. I am so proud to work with the Polish community in Parliament, and will be even more proud to celebrate with them on the 19th of September.”

The Electoral Commission have provided Jean, as Convenor of the CPG on Poland, with a factsheet on the voting rights of Polish citizens in Scotland – like all EU citizens, Poles have the right to vote in the referendum as well as in the European Parliament election on 22 May, Scottish Parliament elections and local government elections.

Everything you need to register to vote is available at www.aboutmyvote.co.uk.

Record voter registration in Scotland ahead of referendum

You can vote in the Scottish Independence Referendum if you are 16 or over. Make sure you register. Click for more information. The Electoral Commission.Jean has lodged a motion in the Scottish Parliament celebrating the news that voter registration in Scotland is now at its highest ever figure – 4.1 million are now registered, including 92,000 16- and 17-year-olds.

Jean’s motion highlights the great work of Radical Independence, who have been canvassing and registering voters in working-class areas where both registration and turnout have historically been low, especially since 1989 when many removed themselves from voting rolls to avoid the notorious and unjust Poll Tax.

You can join in with RIC’s canvassing at upcoming events including Inverness this Saturday 5 March, East Kilbride on Sunday 6 April, and Castlemilk in Glasgow on Wednesday 16 April.

Jean also congratulates the Electoral Commission on their work to inform those from other EU citizens who are resident in Scotland of their right to vote in the referendum. They have provided Jean, as Convenor of Holyrood’s Cross-Party Group on Poland, with a factsheet on the voting rights of Polish citizens in Scotland – the same rules apply to all EU citizens. The Electoral Commission also provide voting forms in English, Welsh and 14 other languages including French, Polish and Portuguese.

The motion, whose full text is below, has so far been supported by John Finnie (Ind, Highlands and Islands), Alison Johnstone (Green, Lothians), Patrick Harvie (Green, Glasgow), Bill Kidd (SNP, Glasgow Anniesland), John Mason (SNP, Glasgow Shettleston), and Kevin Stewart (SNP, Aberdeen Central). As always, if you’d like your other MSPs to support the motion, you can find and contact them at WriteToThem.com.

Motion Number: S4M-09585
Lodged By: Jean Urquhart
Date Lodged: 02/04/2014

Title: Voter Registration in Scotland

Motion Text:
That the Parliament welcomes the news that the number of voters registered in Scotland is, at 4.1 million, the highest it has ever been; notes that approximately 92,000 of the 120,000 16 and 17-year olds in Scotland have added their names to the electoral roll; reaffirms its support for extending the franchise for the independence referendum to 16 and 17-year olds; believes that a high electoral turnout across all age groups, ethnic backgrounds and social classes is of paramount importance; cautions that there is still progress to be made to ensure that those not currently on the electoral roll, particularly from working class areas, are registered in time to vote in the referendum; welcomes the moves taken by groups such as Radical Independence to register residents of working class areas and to provide legal advice for those who removed themselves from the electoral roll at the time of the “Poll Tax”; further welcomes the Electoral Commission’s work in engaging with citizens of other EU countries who are resident in Scotland to inform them of their voting rights, and encourages everyone, regardless of whether they intend to vote Yes, No or to spoil their ballot, to engage in the independence debate and the vote on 18 September 2014.

“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: www.flickr.com/freddieh/.
The Post Office on Iona, one of the islands still left out after the rule change.
Photo: www.flickr.com/freddieh.
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.

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.