MoonWalk and the Highlands & Islands

Yesterday, I had the opportunity to meet with representatives from Walk the Walk to hear about how the Moon Walk is helping improve the lives of Scotland’s cancer population. The amount of good that Walk the Walk are able to facilitate through their grants system is truly astonishing. Over the last 6 years, the Moon Walk has raised over £15 million in Scotland- hopefully I can help add to that total when I take part next year!



Jean Urquhart, the Independent MSP for the Highlands and Islands, has welcomed First Minister Alex Samond’s announcement of £280,000 in new funding for Scotland’s two UNESCO Geoparks in Shetland and the North-West Highlands. The First Minster announced the cash yesterday afternoon during the Cabinet’s visit to Shetland.

Jean met with representatives of the two Geoparks yesterday in Shetland to celebrate the news and discuss plans for the future.

Jean said:

“I’m delighted by this announcement, and I know the hardworking, passionate teams of the two Geoparks are too. This funding means that their international status is secure, and they can build on their fantastic record of developing the educational and tourist potential of our magnificent geology.

“Scotland is the home of modern geology, and our Geoparks recognise two of the world’s most scientifically important and visually stunning landscapes.

“The many faults running through Shetland’s rock mean that you can see geology from all over the North of Scotland side by side. Geologically, Shetland is the Highlands in miniature.

“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.

“We Scots are rightly proud of our landscape. We want to experience it, to learn about it, and to show it off to our friends from around the world. That’s what our Geoparks are all about, and it’s great to know that they will go from strength to strength.”

The funding, of £140,000 per year for 2013/14 and 2014/15, is the first the Geoparks have received from the Scottish Government. Without it the international status of the two parks could have been at risk, as UNESCO requires that Geoparks be financially secure in order to remain a member of the European Geoparks Network and Global Geoparks Network.

Photos: Dogs Trust Visit, July 2013

On July 4th, I was lucky enough to visit the Dogs Trust Rehoming Centre near Uddingston. The Dogs Trust are a fantastic charity whose dedicated employees and volunteers rehome over 1000 dogs every year. Each rehomed dog is neutered, vaccinated and microchipped, and is matched carefully to its new owners.

I discussed key dog welfare issues with front line staff at the rehoming centre – issues such as microchipping, which is a simple and effective tool that Dogs Trust believes should be made compulsory in Scotland to help trace abandoned pets back to irresponsible owners and reduce the number of healthy dogs unnecessarily put to sleep in the country.

Sadly abandonment is one of the main reasons dogs come in to the centre, and in 2012 they saw 4,524 dogs picked up in Scotland. This equates to 12 dogs being picked up each day by Local Authorities. Dogs Trust strongly believe that these numbers could be reduced by the introduction of compulsory microchipping.

I really enjoyed my visit to Dogs Trust Glasgow, especially meeting all the lovely dogs and dedicated staff who work so hard to care for them. The service that Dogs Trust provides for the dog population in Scotland is invaluable, and I greatly support the work that they do. I’ve been a supporter of compulsory microchipping, and hopefully the Government’s consultation later this year will yield further good news for man (and woman!)’s best friends.

Jean with Ben Hope, one of the centre's puppies
Jean with Ben Hope, one of the centre’s puppies
Jean and the team with Ben Hope.
Jean and the team with Ben Hope.
The Centre has dogs of all shapes, sizes and ages, but there's been a growing number of breeds requiring regular exercise such as huskies, malamutes and collies being brought to the Centre.
The Centre has dogs of all shapes, sizes and ages, but there’s been a growing number of breeds requiring regular exercise such as huskies, malamutes and collies being brought to the Centre.
The dogs in the Rehoming Centre are very well looked after- as well as temperature-controlled rooms, the dogs are well groomed and have at least one long walk a day
The dogs in the Rehoming Centre are very well looked after- as well as temperature-controlled rooms, the dogs are well groomed and have at least one long walk a day
The Centre receives about 3 or 4 dogs every day, and houses 100 or so dogs at any time. Some dogs stay for only a few weeks; others remain at the Centre for years waiting for the perfect owner. So far, 489 dogs have found new homes in 2013.
The Centre receives about 3 or 4 dogs every day, and houses 100 or so dogs at any time. Some dogs stay for only a few weeks; others remain at the Centre for years waiting for the perfect owner. So far, 489 dogs have found new homes in 2013.
Jean with Sandra, the Manager of the Dogs Trust at Uddingston. Sandra was kind enough to show us around the facilities and answer all of our questions.
Jean with Sandra, the Manager of the Dogs Trust at Uddingston. Sandra was kind enough to show us around the facilities and answer all of our questions.



A Highlands and Islands MSP has urged constituents with smartphones to help “crowd-source” a new phone signal map for the region through the use of an innovative app.

The RootMetrics app, promoted by the Countryside Alliance, can be downloaded onto smartphones and tablets from the iTunes or Google Play store. Users can then test their local signal strength, a record of which is also sent automatically to RootMetrics to help build an accurate picture of phone signal across the UK.

Jean Urquhart MSP, who has downloaded the app, commented:

“As a Highlands and Islands resident, I am more than aware of the patchy nature of signal across the region and the frustration of trying to find a mobile operator that offers the most consistent coverage

“It is deeply unfair that mobile phone tariffs cost the same regardless of location but that phone users in the Highlands and Islands do not get the same service as other parts of the UK do.

“I hope that this crowdsourcing project will prove useful in identifying blind spots in the Highlands and Islands and will continue to put pressure on mobile operators and the Government to improve coverage.

“I’ve downloaded the app, and will add to the sample size in the Highlands and Islands as I travel round the constituency- I hope that other constituents with smart phones and tablets do the same to build as accurate a picture as possible.”

Jean with the RootMetrics app
Jean with the RootMetrics app

Shetland Times Article: Supporting the “Drop the Debt” Campaign

The Shetland Times’ “Drop the Debt” campaign is a worthy and welcome reminder of the need for governments to be held accountable for their promises and their actions. The historic housing debt that burdens not only Shetland Islands Council but other councils across Scotland is a drain on local government resources at a time when every penny by necessity must be a prisoner.

Much of the historic background of the housing debt has been covered in great detail by other contributors, but the political context of the debt must also be analysed if the campaign is to be met with success. This is the Liberal Democrats’ first taste of power at Westminster for a century, and 3 years into a Coalition Government no action has been taken on housing debt. Despite holding the balance of power after the 2010 election, no promises were extracted on housing debt; instead, a referendum on the voting system was agreed at a cost of £75 million. Although I support a fairer, more proportional electoral system, I find it extraordinary that the political capital held by the Liberal Democrats was squandered so fruitlessly.

The Shetland Islands’ own MP, Alistair Carmichael, is Lib Dem Chief Whip and a major player in the Coalition Government in Westminster. The Chief Secretary to the Treasury and member of the infamous “Coalition Quad”, Danny Alexander MP, is a Highlands MP who promised at the last election to wipe out Highland Council’s historic housing debt. Both are decent, honourable men who strive to do the best for their constituents, but neither has yet taken visible action to make the case within the halls of Westminster for dropping the debt.

The consequences of such a staggering debt hang around Shetland’s neck like an albatross. We are all aware of the continual cloth-cutting Shetland Islands Council are forced to make to education, transport and other services, just as we are aware of the extra costs being shouldered by council house tenants.

As Councillor Alastair Cooper has previously argued, had Shetland Islands Council not built the houses it had in the 1970s, oil and gas revenues that have sustained successive UK Governments would never have flowed into the Treasury. Given that Shetland contributed £82 million more to the UK state than it received back in 2011, the situation becomes even more farcical. It is nothing short of a scandal that the billions of pounds of taxes that flow from the North Sea have never found their way to cancelling the debt incurred by Shetland to facilitate the industry in the first place.

Westminster’s cuts to Scotland’s budget (8% in real terms between 2010-11 and 2014-15) make it very difficult for the Scottish Government to mitigate the tremendously difficult situation Shetland and other local authorities find themselves in. However, the £40 million that would be required to wipe out the debt is a drop in the Westminster ocean. For example, the sum of money lost annually through tax avoidance is estimated at £25 billion, roughly the same as the entire Scottish Government’s budget, demonstrating that good governance could deliver more revenue to support stretched local authorities.

While I believe that Westminster must take action on this, I am cognisant of Malcolm Bell’s call for Shetland Islands Council, the Scottish Government and Westminster to all play their part in righting this historic wrong. Let’s recognise Shetland’s financial contribution and Drop the Debt.

Jean signing the "Drop the Debt" petition in Parliament.
Jean signing the “Drop the Debt” petition in Parliament.

Screen Machine Event, Scottish Parliament

Last week, I was able to catch up with some old friends when the Screen Machine  rolled into Parliament for its 15th anniversary. The Screen Machine is a tremendous mobile cinema, lodged inside a 35-tonne articulated lorry and taken into every nook and cranny in Scotland to bring the latest films to rural communities.

Thanks to funding from Creative Scotland, HIE and Comhairle nan Eilean Siar, as well as support from RBS, the Screen Machine was able to visit 34 different communities in 2012/3, and is soon to be on its travels again. One of the films being shown is the much-lauded crowdsourced documentary We Are Northern Lights, and I was lucky enough to meet its director outside the Screen Machine last week.

Full details of the current tour and programme, including details of how to book tickets, are available at: or by phone on 0871 902 5750 – more information can also be found on their Twitter and Facebook pages.

Jean with Nick Higgins, Director of We Are Northern Lights (photo by Hannah Houston)
Jean with Nick Higgins, Director of We Are Northern Lights (photo by Hannah Houston)


Jean Urquhart MSP backs latest ‘see me’ campaign

Jean Urquhart MSP has backed ‘see me’s latest campaign urging Scots to get talking about mental ill-health and listen to what is being said.

‘Just listen. You could change a life.’ is the message of the latest campaign from ‘see me’, Scotland’s national campaign to end the stigma and discrimination of mental ill-health. Talking openly about mental ill-health isn’t always easy but with someone there to listen, it could change a life.

This latest activity comes on the back of recent research which found that a sizeable number of Scots[1] (40%) would find it hard, or are unsure how to discuss or talk about mental illness, despite nearly two thirds (61%) of the population[2] being in touch with someone with experience of mental ill-health.


Jean said: “I am supporting this latest campaign from ‘see me’ because stigma surrounding mental health ill-health still exists in Scotland and is something we all need to play our part in breaking down.

“I hope the campaign will encourage people across the Highlands and Islands to open up and talk about mental health issues. We need to start talking if want to stamp out the stigma and discrimination of mental ill-health once and for all.”

Suzie Vestri, ‘see me’ campaign director, said: “If you think someone close to you might be experiencing mental ill-health, the first and most important thing to do is to ask how you can help, and listen to what they say to you.

“It’s not easy, and your help might not seem welcome at first, but keep asking how they are and listen attentively when they do open up. Only by talking positively and openly can we end the stigma that surrounds mental ill-health. I would encourage everyone in the Highlands and Islands to just listen. You really can change a life.”

Activity kicked off with a refreshed TV advert which features two friends talking about how one didn’t give up on the other who was experiencing mental ill-health until he opened up. This will be supported with new radio and print adverts as well as key digital and social media activity to start the Just listen. You could change a life conversation online.

Watch the TV advert here:

Get involved in the online conversation by liking the ‘see me’ Facebook page or tweeting #endstigma #justlisten.

[1] Figures from YouGov Plc.  Total sample size was 1011 adults. Fieldwork was undertaken between 18 – 20 September 2012.  The survey was carried out online. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all Scottish adults (aged 18+)

[2] Figures from YouGov Plc.  Total sample size was 1011 adults. Fieldwork was undertaken between 18 – 20 September 2012.  The survey was carried out online. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all Scottish adults (aged 18+)


The Independent/Green Group in the Scottish Parliament will highlight the incompatibility of NATO membership with nuclear disarmament in the Scottish Parliament’s debate on Trident on Wednesday.

The Group’s amendment to the Government’s motion has been accepted for debate by the Presiding Officer, giving Parliament a chance to discuss the relationship between Britain’s nuclear deterrent housed in Scotland and membership of NATO. Jean Urquhart MSP will represent the Group, who opposed the scheduling of any business in Parliament on Wednesday due to the PCS strike taking place, in the debate.

Jean said:

“I have been a member of CND for decades, and look forward to moving the amendment on behalf of the Group. Membership of NATO and removing Trident are such contradictory aims that I believe it’s vital that we have a chance to highlight this and to have an honest discussion about Scotland’s future. It’s just a pity that such important business was scheduled on a strike day and that one of the Group had to cross the picket line to make these points.”

Patrick Harvie, Green MSP for Glasgow and Co-convener of the Scottish Greens, said:

“We know how unpopular Trident is with the majority of Scots so it is disappointing that discussion of this important issue will be limited due to the SNP Government scheduling the debate on a strike day. I urge members of all parties in parliament to seriously consider how membership of NATO, an alliance predicated on a nuclear first strike policy, helps Scotland’s international reputation.

“Scottish Greens led a debate on Trident in the last session of parliament which resulted in a historic vote against its renewal. Just think of the powerful, positive message we would send by ending a system that has horrific humanitarian consequences.”

The original Government motion, and the amendment lodged by Jean Urquhart MSP, are as follows:


S4M-05988 Keith Brown: Trident-That the Parliament acknowledges the devastating humanitarian impacts of nuclear weapons; endorses the Secretary-General of the United Nations’s five-point plan for nuclear disarmament; calls on the UK Government to acknowledge the opposition of the Scottish Parliament to nuclear weapons and to the presence of Trident in Scotland, and further calls on the UK Government to explore options for the removal of Trident ahead of the so-called main gate decision in 2016.


Supported by: Nicola Sturgeon, Margaret Burgess


S4M-05988.1 Jean Urquhart: Trident—As an amendment to motion S4M-05988 in the name of Keith Brown (Trident), leave out from “and further” to end and insert “; considers membership of NATO to be a barrier to the removal of Trident, whether as part of the UK or as an independent Scotland; believes that membership of an alliance predicated on a nuclear first strike policy is as harmful to Scotland’s international reputation, and poses the same threat from external agents, as the presence of a nuclear deterrent in Scottish waters; notes that European countries such as Ireland, Finland and Sweden are not members of NATO and are still considered to be full, cooperative members of the international community; further calls on the UK Government to disarm Trident and not to replace it with any other nuclear weapons system, and commits to ensuring that, in the event of independence, Trident will not be permitted to operate from Scottish waters.”

Supported by: Margo MacDonald, John Finnie, Alison Johnstone, Patrick Harvie


Jean Urquhart MSP, a member of the Scottish Parliament’s Cross-Party Group on Epilepsy, has highlighted Epilepsy Scotland’s call to discover the Top Employer of the Year and encouraged businesses and organisations in the Highlands and Islands to enter.


Jean Urquhart, an Independent MSP for the Highlands and Islands, remarked:  “I’m happy to join the search for the country’s most supportive employers.  They already go that extra mile to help an employee with epilepsy develop their skills and contribute fully to the organisation.  Any workplace, small or large, can enter and the winning employer might be right here in the Highlands and Islands.”


Epilepsy Scotland’s chief executive, Lesslie Young explained:  “One person in 97 has epilepsy.  Many will have good seizure control and epilepsy will not impact on their working life.  But some may need additional support.   So our award, which is unique in the UK, recognises employers who are leaders for their assistance.  Often they don’t think they are doing anything special – but they are!  We want to highlight their standards as an example for others to follow.”


Organisations can also apply for a best practice certificate.  Every workplace following the Equality Act guidelines is eligible.  Displaying this best practice certificate in the workplace shows everyone that employees with epilepsy are as valued as any other worker.  Both employers and employees can nominate their workplace for a best practice certificate anytime and the Employer award by 26 March 2013.



Notes to editor


  1. The Scottish Parliament Cross-Party Group on Epilepsy has the largest MSP membership.  The purpose of this Cross-Party Group is to address the needs of 54,000 people with epilepsy in Scotland.  The Group brings together those interested in epilepsy issues and provides MSPs with information and access to expert opinion.


  1. Epilepsy Scotland works with people affected by epilepsy to ensure their voice is heard.  We campaign for improved healthcare, better information provision and an end to stigma.  We represent one in 97 people with this common neurological condition – that’s nearly 54,000 people – as well as their families and carers.  Our freephone Helpline 0808 800 2200 offers information on epilepsy matters including employment issues as does our website:  The Employer of the Year award and best practice certificate can be downloaded or completed online.


  1. There are two Employer of the Year categories; one for organisations which employ up to 50 people and one for those with more than 50 employees.  The closing date for award entries is 26 March 2013.  It coincides with International Purple Day – a fun day for raising awareness of epilepsy.  The awards will be presented by Cabinet Secretary for Health and Wellbeing, Alex Neil MSP on 25 April 2013.  The Employer of the Year winners will attend the ceremony before a mainly corporate audience attending Epilepsy Scotland’s Glasgow Wag of Wags gala dinner.


  1. This is the fifth Employer of the Year award for epilepsy.  Previous award winners include Harry Gow Bakery (Inverness), DARE hair salon (Aberdeen), Fife Constabulary, CMM Architects (Glasgow), Russell Hamilton Business Systems (Glasgow) and the Scottish Parliament.


  1. For more award details contact:  Allana Parker, Public Affairs Officer Direct line: 0141 419 1701.  Mobile 07884 012 147


Independent Highlands and Islands MSP Jean Urquhart has today expressed her delight at securing a debate in the Scottish Parliament of the importance of crofting in the Highlands and Islands.

Just after 5pm next Tuesday, Members of the Scottish Parliament will debate Jean’s parliamentary motion that highlights the role played by crofting in Scottish agriculture, the challenges facing the sector and how crofting helps to maintain rural and remote communities. The debate will last for approximately 45 minutes and, in line with Parliamentary procedure, will be concluded with a speech from the Minister with responsibility for crofting, Paul Wheelhouse MSP.

Commenting on the news, Jean said:

“I am delighted that the motion, which I first lodged back in October, has been selected for debate next week.

“Given the coverage over the issue of sporting rights on Raasay last week, I think it’s very timely that MSPs from across Scotland, but particularly the Highlands and Islands, will have a chance to make the case for crofting in the Chamber.

“I would encourage all of my fellow Highlands and Islands MSPs to take part in the debate, and for anybody interested to watch the live stream of the debate on the Scottish Parliament’s website or to get in touch with my office afterwards to obtain a transcript of the debate.”

-The text of Jean’s motion is as follows:

That the Parliament understands that there are 18,027 crofts in the Highlands and Islands and across Scotland, housing over 33,000 people; considers that crofters play a key role through the production of store animals for the agricultural supply chain and in maintaining land in remote areas; believes that crofts are a valuable source of high-health status animals for larger agricultural food producers; considers the work of crofters to be vital to Scotland’s national food and drink policy and to the continuing success of the sector; understands that most crofters rely on common agricultural policy subsidies to earn a marginal income and that they have to take on second jobs; believes that, by bringing in new inhabitants and because of the economic links that crofters have with the rest of the agricultural sector, crofting has helped maintain population levels in remote communities, considers crofting to be of paramount importance to the environment, food and drink sector and economy, and would welcome the interests of crofters and their communities being championed.

Supported by: Bruce Crawford, Angus MacDonald, Roderick Campbell, David Torrance, Dennis Robertson, Rob Gibson, Mike MacKenzie, Richard Lyle, Stuart McMillan, Anne McTaggart, Maureen Watt, Kevin Stewart, Brian Adam, John Finnie, Annabelle Ewing, Bill Kidd, Joan McAlpine, Adam Ingram, Rhoda Grant, Colin Beattie, Chic Brodie, Gil Paterson, Fiona McLeod, Dave Thompson, Jamie McGrigor, Mary Scanlon, Jamie Hepburn, Sandra White, Patrick Harvie

-Members’ Business is a debate on a motion proposed by an MSP who is not a member of the Scottish Government. Generally the topic discussed relates to a particular region, marks a specific event or highlights an issue of interest to the MSP that might not otherwise receive attention. Members’ Business normally takes place after Decision Time on Tuesdays and Wednesdays and at 12.30 on Thursdays.* It lasts 45 minutes and concludes without any vote being taken.

-The debate can be watched either on the Scottish Parliament’s ‘Parliament TV’ section of its website ( ) or on BBC’s Democracy Live:

-The Official Report of the debate will be available from next Wednesday onwards.