Blog: Why I’m Supporting the Named Person Scheme

There’s been a lot of controversy in recent weeks over the provisions in the Government’s Children and Young People Bill to introduced a Named Person Scheme. I have my own amendment lodged on a separate issue, and will write a bit more about that later on this week- however, for now, I think it’s more important to address some of the claims made about the Scheme. Although it may, on the face of it, seem an unnecessary or worrisome step, I am afraid that its intent and effect has been misinterpreted by the media.

Highland Council have implemented such a scheme since 2010, and have said that the scheme emerged from parents’ desire for a clear point of contact for services to support their child’s wellbeing or development. This is therefore a roll-out of a tried and tested system, and although there will probably be some bumps along the way (as there is with any new system) it is not the step into the dark that some are claiming. As an elected representative for the area during the trial’s lifetime- a Highland Councillor until 2012 and an MSP for the area since 2011- I’ve yet to receive any casework or correspondence from parents who feel that the authorities have over-reached or that liberties have been taken.

The Minister taking the Bill through Parliament, Aileen Campbell, has written an excellent letter to all MSPs tackling some of the more troubling misconceptions. As she states:

“the proposals are not about:

• treating every child with the same procedures with which we treat vulnerable children.
• recommending that a social worker be appointed for every child
• giving named persons the authority to enter every house
• establishing a national database. “

It also helps to reduce the burden on social workers; Barnado’s Scotland, for example, have said that where named person schemes are already in place there has been a reduction in caseloads for social workers, allowing them to prioritise helping those most in need of support. I have also been reassured by the support across the children’s sector for the scheme. As well as Barnado’s, rolling out the named person scheme across Scotland is supported by Children 1st, Parenting Across Scotland, One Parent Families Scotland, the NSPCC, Aberlour, the Scottish Youth Parliament, Action for Children, Quarriers, Royal College of Nursing and the Scottish Childminding Association- a show of real support from those who have expertise in the relevant issues. I am a believer in listening to the experts when it comes to policy making, and while this must be combined with proper scrutiny, I am absolutely reassured by the briefings and conversations I have had with representatives from the sector that this will be a positive change.

The named person scheme will create a safety net that no child should slip through, by reducing confusion over what professionals have what responsibilities and allowing action to be taken more quickly. We all want the best for our children, and I believe that this provision- among the others in the Bill – will help to make Scotland an even better place for our children.

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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 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

 

Speech: Dundee City of Culture Bid (12th November 2013)

On behalf of the Independent and Green group, I would like to echo the support for Dundee’s city of culture bid that has been expressed by members across the chamber.

Dundee is, in many ways, a microcosm of Scotland. It is a city with a proud industrial heritage that is reinventing itself for the 21st century and leading the way in video games technology and biomedical research. Over the years, it has been infused with Irish, Italian, Polish, Asian and Chinese immigrants—to name but a few—and both of its top-class universities continue to attract students from all over the globe.

The continued investment by the Scottish Government in Dundee’s waterfront will transform the way in which its citizens interact with the city and will, I hope, add further architectural excellence to Dundee’s many cultural accomplishments. I am assured by my Dundonian researcher that the city’s football teams—of which I know absolutely nothing—particularly the one that plays in dark blue, are also worthy of mention for their European heritage and exciting style of play.

What really makes Dundee worthy of its bid, though, is its people and how they have shaped their sense of self through the bid. Artists and writers are now thriving in a city that is universally recognised to be bursting with opportunity and ambition. From Sheena Wellington’s show-stopping performance of “A Man’s a Man for a’ that” at the opening of the Parliament in 1999 to the wry observations and brilliant talent of the much-missed Michael Marra, Dundee’s contribution to Scotland’s traditional and contemporary folk scene is legendary. Its links to Deacon Blue, Snow Patrol and The View and its annual blues bonanza demonstrate that that musical legacy continues to the present day.

New publishing firms such as Teckle Books and the success of the Bob Servant novels perfectly encapsulate the irreverent Dundonian sense of humour. Those success stories beget popular events, with the DCA’s Dundead horror festival and the Dundee literary festival being other highlights of a packed cultural calendar.

The bid for city of culture status gives Dundee an opportunity to celebrate all her heroes. There are too many other cultural strings to Dundee’s bow to mention: the McManus Galleries, the impending V&A museum, DC Thomson, Brian Cox, AL Kennedy, William McGonagall—I could go on.

It is worth noting in particular the continuing success of Dundee Contemporary Arts and Dundee Rep, not least because both were established at a time when some would have suggested that arts funding should be a lower priority for the city. As two key drivers of Dundee’s continued regeneration, I believe that they have demonstrated the intrinsic worth of cultural investment, and they are two potent symbols of the dedication of the city of Dundee to its artistic community. They are successful because they are used—and used well—by the folk of Dundee.

Dundee fully deserves to be awarded city of culture status, and I hope that, when the judges take in the spectacular view as their train travels over the silvery Tay, they realise that they have just arrived in a city of great culture in any year.

Why I Won’t Be Supporting Rhoda Grant’s Criminalisation of the Purchase of Sex (Scotland) Bill

I’ve recently had a number of constituents get in touch with me regarding Rhoda Grant MSP’s proposed Criminalisation of the Purchase of Sex (Scotland) Bill. Sex workers are among the most vulnerable workers in Scotland, and many work at daily risk of exploitation and violence.

The role of the law should be to protect the vulnerable from harm. I believe that should Ms Grant’s proposals become law, it would significantly increase harm suffered by sex workers in Scotland.

For this reason I will be arguing against the proposed Bill.

Regrettably, the consultation on this proposal largely dismisses the testimony of those most affected – sex workers themselves – and of those, such as drug services, who have witnessed the effects first-hand. If these voices are taken properly into account, a picture of serious harm resulting from hardline legislation in Scotland and elsewhere emerges.

Criminalising the purchase of sex causes clients to avoid visible locations, requiring sex workers to operate further from police and other services that protect their safety and health, including peer support networks. Sex workers will be more isolated and more vulnerable as a result.

The reduction of demand, which is the stated aim of the proposal, means that in order to continue working, sex workers will be forced to accept clients or working conditions that they previously would have rejected. This will include such dangerous practices as not concluding negotiations before accepting a client, not using condoms, and accepting clients known or suspected to be violent.

I am a member of the Cross-Party Group on Human Trafficking and take the reality of modern-day slavery very seriously. I believe the proposal would exacerbate the horror of trafficking and frustrate efforts to eradicate it. The effect of criminalising the clients of sex workers will be to prevent them coming forward if they encounter sex workers whom they believe to be trafficked, underage, or otherwise exploited.

I understand that many feel strongly about this issue on both sides of the debate. For me, the only reasonable starting point is to ask: what will best protect the safety, wellbeing and human rights of those most affected? The answer to that question is improved services, improved police training, and improved public understanding, not crackdowns that drive sex workers further from social protection.

PRESS RELEASE: JEAN URQUHART MSP SIGNS UP TO HELP MAP PHONE SIGNAL

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

Why I’ll Be Supporting Jim Hume MSP’s Bill

I am proud to be supporting Jim Hume MSP’s proposed Smoking (Children in Vehicles) (Scotland) Bill.

It is anomalous that while workers have rightly been protected since the Smoking, Health and Social Care Act in 2005, children continue to be exposed to dangerous levels of smoke. In fact, I learned from Jim Hume’s briefing in Parliament that children with two parents who smoke commonly have the same level of cotinine in their saliva – a test for second-hand smoke exposure – as adults who worked in smoky bars prior to the 2005 Act.

The Royal College of Physicians estimates that 25 children per day are admitted to hospital, and 600 per day have to see a doctor, as a result of second-hand smoke exposure.

The Scottish Centre for Indoor Air studied children’s exposure to smoke in cars, and found that the air in a smoker’s car contained on average 8 times more PM2.5 particulate matter than the background level in urban areas of Scotland, or 28 times more than the level in the cleanest rural areas.

The good news is that research with the children of smokers found that the vast majority did take precautions to try to reduce their child’s exposure, such as leaving the living room when smoking. This means that if we can get across the message that a car is a particularly dangerous place to expose children to cigarette smoke, we can expect that many smokers will willingly change their behaviour. This law will help us do that.

Ben McKendrick from the British Heart Foundation has also pointed out that as well as 84% of the general public supporting the measure, as do half of smokers.

I think this is an important and common-sense proposal that could help protect the health of thousands of young people, as well as helping to move us towards a smoke-free Scotland. I’ve told Jim that I am fully behind his proposed bill, and happy to help him get it into Parliament and then into law.

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: www.screenmachine.co.uk 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)

 

Photos: National Epilepsy Week Photocall

Last week I took part in a photocall organised by Epilepsy Scotland to mark National Epilepsy Week. As a member of the Cross-Party Group on Epilepsy, I’m becoming more and more aware of the issues affecting Scots with epilepsy and the great work being done by so many in helping to research and raise awareness of the condition. It was great to see so many fellow MSPs take part and to touch base again with Epilepsy Scotland, who are a credit to their cause.

DSC01603 1 DSC01607 Jean Urquhart MSP