Jean Urquhart writes to PM over EU referendum franchise rules.

Today Jean Urquhart MSP has written to Prime Minister David Cameron regarding the franchise rules for the upcoming referendum. These rules see the right to vote being given to British citizens living outwith the United Kingdom, even if they have not lived in, or paid taxes in the UK for up to 15 years.  At the same time, EU citizens resident in the United Kingdom and contributing to their communities are being denied the chance to take part in this democratic process.

Jean previously wrote to the Prime Minister in an appeal to reconsider the franchise and to extend the vote to 16 & 17 year olds and EU citizens resident in the United Kingdom, this appeal was rejected with no explanation.  Today’s letter was prompted by contact from numerous constituents asking why they were being denied the right to vote.

The full text of the letter is as follows:

Friday 26th February 2016

Dear Prime Minister,

Since the announcement of the EU referendum, and the confirmation of the franchise for this referendum, I am increasingly contacted by constituents asking if it is true that they will be unable to vote, and why.  These are fellow EU citizens, now resident in the United Kingdom, and I am unable to offer them a reasonable explanation as to why they have been denied the right to take part in this democratic process.

That this government seeks to extend voting privileges to expats, tabling a Votes for Life Bill to abolish the 15 year rule, yet refuses citizens living and working here in the United Kingdom the right to vote, suggests that your values are based purely on ethnicity.  It sends a message that it does not matter if you are no longer contributing to the British economy, even if you haven’t stepped foot in Britain for years, you were born here and that gives you a privilege. And to those who pay millions each year into our economy, those who fill thousands of jobs, our nurses, our teachers, our doctors – even our politicians in the case of my colleague, Christian Allard MSP – are they to be treated as lesser citizens?  Many see this rhetoric as inherently racist and archaic.

Because of our relationship with the European Union there has never been a need for EU citizens to apply for British citizenship, yet they now face discrimination because of their ethnicity.

I have written previously, on behalf of my constituents and as Convenor of the Scottish Parliament Cross-Party Group on Poland, appealing for you to reconsider and amend the European Union Referendum Act.

I understand that it is now too late now to change the franchise for the upcoming referendum, but perhaps, for the sake of all those EU citizens who call the United Kingdom home, you could offer an explanation as to why you seek to alienate them from this process.

Yours faithfully,

Jean Urquhart MSP

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Jean condemns Carmichael

Jean has this afternoon condemned Orkney and Shetland MP Alistair Carmichael for failing to admit to his responsibility for the now infamous leaked ‘memo’ which falsely accused First Minister Nicola Sturgeon of favouring David Cameron to be Prime Minister.

The false memo was leaked following a meeting between the Scottish First Minister and the French Ambassador. Both Ms Sturgeon and the Ambassador rejected the memo’s version of events, which said Ms Sturgeon would prefer a government led by David Cameron and stated that she did not think Ed Milliband was ‘of prime minister material’.

The memo was later found to have been leaked by the Scottish Office during the election campaign – when the Government was in purdah. Speaking at the time, the then-Scottish Secretary Mr Carmichael dismissed the leak, saying ‘These things happen from time to time.’

His admission this afternoon comes after an official Cabinet Office inquiry found that Mr Carmichael’s adviser leaked the document under direction from the Scottish Secretary.

Speaking from Shetland following Mr Carmichael’s statement, in which he described the matter as an ‘error of judgement’, Jean said:

“Mr Carmichael’s actions go far beyond a simple ‘error of judgement’ – this was a calculated and deeply cynical attempt to undermine the integrity of Scotland’s First Minister during the election campaign.

It was a deliberate attack on a fellow politician and this incident seriously calls into question Mr Carmichael’s fitness to continue as MP for Orkney and Shetland.

Politics is all about best judgement and integrity, and he has failed his constituents on both counts – by leaking the memo in the first place, and then by delaying his admission of guilt until after the election. Mr Carmichael is the Liberal Democrats’ ‘last man standing’ in Scotland – but only as a result of intentionally deceiving them about his role in this under-handed attempt to undermine Nicola Sturgeon.

Working in Shetland this afternoon I have spoken to a number of residents, and they are shocked and appalled by Mr Carmichael’s behaviour.

He has said he considers that this would be a matter which, had he still been in cabinet, would have required his resignation as a Minister. In my view, had Mr Carmichael continued to be part of the government post-election, this may never have come to light. It is exactly this kind of cover up in so many aspects of the Westminster bubble that the majority of the people of Shetland and Scotland voted against.

It is incredible that he believes he can continue to represent the constituents he has openly misled.”

Music Therapy: Pledging My Support

Every week in Parliament, different charities, voluntary organisations and other groups have the opportunity to host a stall by the Members’ Block or the Members’ Lobby to discuss issues with MSPs. Two weeks ago, it was the turn of the Nordoff Robbins Music Therapy in Scotland group to highlight the tremendous work they do to MSPs.
Music Therapy is vital for many people, whatever their condition or illness. Music Therapy helps people to take their first steps in engaging or re-engaging with the world around them, and the work of groups like Nordoff Robbins changes the lives of people with dementia, autism, learning disabilities and other complex conditions by enabling them to connect and communicate. They currently help nearly 400 people a week, and although they don’t currently have a centre in the Highlands and Islands, their clinics in Broxburn, Maryhill, Crosshill and Dundee and their work in schools, hospices and other settings across Scotland are really to be commended.
I pledged to help them in any way I can in the future- if you’d like to learn more, visit visit http://www.nordoffrobbinsscotland.org.uk or call 01506 239 578 .

Jean at the Nordoff Robbins stall in Parliament
Jean at the Nordoff Robbins stall in Parliament

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.”

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.

Jean backs Amnesty ‘Write for Rights’ Campaign

The following is a press release on Jean’s support for the Amnesty International ‘Write for Rights’ Campaign:

“MEDIA RELEASE – Jean Urquhart MSP

For immediate use, Wednesday 11th December 2013

NORTH MSP BACKS AMNESTY ‘WRITE FOR RIGHTS’ CAMPAIGN

On international Human Rights Day (10th December), Independent MSP for the Highlands and Islands Jean Urquhart has given her backing to Amnesty International’s Write For Rights Campaign 2013. Taking part in the campaign, Ms Urquhart has written in support of the people of the Palestinian village of Nabi Saleh, who are routinely fired on by the Israeli military during their weekly peaceful protests against the Israeli occupation.

Amnesty’s annual global campaign runs from 1 November to 31 December and highlights human rights abuses taking place around the world while others are celebrating the holiday season. Ordinary people everywhere are asked to send a message of solidarity and hope, or to appeal directly to the relevant government in the country where the abuse is taking place.

Amnesty are asking Scots to write in support of one of 13 priority cases of human rights abuse around the world. Jean, who is Co-Convenor of the Scottish Parliament’s Cross-Party Group on Palestine, has written to Israeli Minster of Defence Moshe Ya’alon to urge him to stop the use of violence against peaceful demonstrations in the Palestinan village of Nabi Saleh.

Much of the agricultural land and water supplies of Nabi Saleh have been seized for for use by the illegal Israeli occupation settlement of Halamish. The armed forces of Israel have responded to these demonstrations by firing tear gas canisters, stun grenades, rubber-covered steel bullets and live ammunition. The security forces’ violence has wounded hundreds including women and children, and killed two young men, Mustafa Tamimi and Rushdi Tamimi.

Speaking in support of the Write For Rights campaign, Jean Urquhart said:

“I am proud to back Amnesty International’s Write for Rights campaign to help them highlight these appalling human rights violations.

“On the day we commemorate Neslon Mandela’s successful fight against apartheid in South Africa, it feels right to be joining Amnesty International in speaking out against another human rights abuse on a grand scale – the violent subjugation of Palestine.

“The people of Nabi Saleh have been denied their livelihood, their land and water stolen by the occupying Israeli forces. But when they try to protest, exercise their human rights to assembly and expression, they are shot at by one of the most heavily-armed militaries in the world.

“Mustafa Tamimi, 28, was killed by a tear gas canister shot from a grenade launcher into his face at close range. Rushdi Tamimi, 31, was shot in the back after a commander ordered his unit to fire live ammunition just because they’d run out of tear gas.

“Even though the Clearances were 200 years ago, we in the Highlands still carry a deep and painful understanding of what it means when land and livelihood is ripped away from the people. In Palestine, far worse human rights abuses still happen every day. I would encourage everyone to join me in opposing the violence against Nabi Saleh, or any one of the other 12 equally appalling cases of human rights violations that are highlighted by the Write For Rights campaign.

“This is a time of year for friendship and solidarity around the world, when we should all take a little time to help others – together we have the potential to make a huge difference.”

Amnesty International Scotland’s Programme Director Richard Hamer said:

“I would like to thank Jean for taking part in our Write for Rights Campaign and helping raise awareness of the cases we have chosen of ordinary men and women who are having their human rights taken from them in the most appalling ways.

“It is a sad fact that the thirteen cases we have chosen to highlight this year, are only a very small sample of some of the individual cases that Amnesty International is dealing with. However, we know the power people have when they come together to make a stand and put pressure on governments involved to help those we have identified.”

Readers can take part in the Amnesty International Write For Rights campaign 2013 by visiting https://www.amnesty.org.uk/write-rights-2013.

NOTES TO EDITORS

1.Jean Urquhart’s letter to Minster of Defence Moshe Ya’alon can be downloaded at http://bit.ly/1f6oP3z (PDF).

2. Amnesty International video on Nabi Saleh: http://vimeo.com/78341120

3. Jean Urquhart has signed a motion by colleague John Finnie, the Convenor of the Cross-Party Group on Human Rights, backing the Write For Rights campaign:

Motion S4M-08130: John Finnie, Highlands and Islands, Independent, Date Lodged: 31/10/2013 R

Write for Rights Campaign

That the Parliament notes that 1 November 2013 marks the start of Amnesty International’s annual worldwide greetings card and letter-writing campaign, Write for Rights; commends the campaign, which aims to send messages of hope and solidarity to people who experience human rights abuses; believes that the campaign can have a positive impact on their circumstances, especially when authorities see that people worldwide are watching their actions, and encourages elected representatives and people from across Scotland to take part and exercise their freedom of expression in defence of human rights across the world.

4.  Amnesty International has selected thirteen instances of human rights abuses around the world that people can choose to support:

1. Eskinder Nega – being held in prison by the Ethiopian authorities for speaking out about the Ethiopian Government’s use of anti-terror laws and speculating the Arab Spring could extend to Ethiopia

2. Yorm Bopha – a Cambodian activist, wife and mother, who peacefully but vocally challenged local authorities and developers who were tearing her community apart.  She is now imprisoned, convicted on false charges

3. Jabeur Mejri – imprisoned in Algeria for seven and a half years for posting a picture of Mohammed on his own Facebook page.

4. Afghan Women’s Skills Development Centre – This group of pioneering women’s rights activists set up the first ever shelter in Afghanistan for women escaping violence. Today there are around 20 shelters, a network that has helped 1389 women, girls and dependents.

5. The Bolotnaya Three – Vladimir Akimenkov, Artiom Saviolov and Mikhail Kosenko were detained during protests against Vladimir Putin’s rule in Moscow, in May 2012. Initially released, the trio were arrested again the following month and charged with participating in a ‘mass riot’.  Since then the men have been held in custody, which is taking a toll on their health.  All three firmly deny the charges and video footage supports their claims.

6. COFADEH – one of the Honduras’ main human rights organisations, seeking justice for human rights abuses by security forces and ‘disappearances’ in the 1980s.  Since 2011 the number and severity of incidents against CPOFADEH staff has intensified, with death threats, harassment and attacks. Female members have also been threatened with sexual violence.

7. Ihar Tsikhanyuk – a LGBTI rights activist, who unsuccessfully attempted to register Human Rights Centre Lambda, with the Belarus authorities. He was subsequently questioned by police, who subjected him to physical and verbal abuse because of his sexuality.

8. Kalpana Chakma – the organising secretary of the Hill Women’s Federation, which campaigns for the rights of indigenous peoples in the Chittagong Hill Tracts, Bangladesh. On 12 June 1996, she was abducted from her home by plain-clothed security officers. Aged 23 at the time of her abduction, she has never been found since.

9. Laísa Santos Sampaio – a member of a group that promotes sustainable development in Nova Ipixuna municipality in Pará state, Brazil, she has been the target of persistent death threats since 2011.

10. Miriam López – Abducted after dropping her children off at school in February 201, Miriam was raped and tortured for a week until she signed a statement falsely implicating herself in drug offences. She was imprisoned and released seven months later. No-one has been brought to justice for the torture and sexual violence she suffered.

11. Dr Tun Aung – a community leader in Burma who has been sentenced to 17 years’ imprisonment after an unfair trial, in which he was accused of inciting riots in 2012 despite independent eyewitnesses confirming that he actively tried to calm the crowds and played no part in the violence.

12. Nabi Saleh – a village in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, whose 550 residents face frequent violent repression from the Israeli army for holding weekly peaceful protests against the Israeli’s military occupation and illegal settlement of Halamish, which has taken over most of their farmland.

13. WOZA – Women of Zimbabwe Arise (WOZA) stands up for the social, economic and human rights of women in Zimbabwe, but since their formation in 2003 their members have been arrested, harassed and severely beaten by the police simply for exercising their right to peaceful protest.”

MSPs ‘PAWS FOR THOUGHT’ THIS CHRISTMAS TO MARK 35TH ANNIVERSARY OF ICONIC DOGS TRUST SLOGAN

Dogs Trust Xmas

On Thursday 5th December, Members of the Scottish Parliament attended an event in Holyrood organised by Dogs Trust, the UK’s largest dog welfare charity, to raise awareness of its annual Christmas campaign.

 

The event, sponsored by Kenneth Gibson MSP, celebrated the 35th anniversary of the iconic Dogs Trust slogan; “A Dog is for Life, Not Just for Christmas”. The phrase was coined in 1978 by the charity’s CEO, Clarissa Baldwin OBE, in a bid to highlight the issue of dogs being given as Christmas gifts and later abandoned when the novelty wears off.

 

MSPs were given the opportunity to take a festive Dogs Trust sleigh ride and meet a large number of furry friends. These pooches, however, were all stuffed toys – the only suitable kind of dog to give as a gift! Attendees also learned more about the charity’s annual campaign, which encourages people to pause and think carefully before taking on a dog, especially during the festive season.

 

Jean Urquhart MSP for Highlands and Islands said:

 

“I am delighted to support Dogs Trust and help the charity mark the 35th anniversary of its famous slogan, which is as important now as it ever has been. A dog is a lifetime commitment and should never be bought on impulse as if it were a new television or a pair of shoes. This message is particularly poignant during the festive season, when people are buying all sorts of gifts on a whim without necessarily considering the consequences. I would urge anyone thinking of buying a dog or puppy as a Christmas present to ‘paws’ before doing so, and remember that a dog is for life, not just for Christmas.”

 

Laura Vallance, Head of Public Affairs at Dogs Trust said:

 

“We are delighted that so many MSPs are supporting us once again in raising awareness for our annual Christmas campaign. Although our iconic slogan is known throughout Scotland, we still see dogs and puppies all too frequently purchased as inappropriate Christmas gifts. It is clear that our message is as poignant now as it was in 1978, which is why it so encouraging to see MSPs get behind our message that a dog really is for life”.

 

Every year since 1978, Dogs Trust has campaigned to highlight the problems surrounding dogs being given as gifts at Christmas. The charity aims to curb this problem by educating people about responsible dog ownership and about the potential risks of buying pets on an impulse, be it in pet shops, directly through breeders, or online.

 

Dogs Trust is the UK’s largest dog welfare charity and cares for over 16,000 abandoned and unwanted dogs a year through its nationwide network of 18 rehoming centres, including Glasgow and West Calder. For more information about Dogs Trust, the UK’s largest dog welfare charity, visit www.dogstrust.org.uk.

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.

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.