As part of my surgery this week, I met with one of my constituents, Dami, who is being threatened with deportation. I had previously written to the Home Secretary regarding the case.
Dami secured a place to study midwifery but her family’s visa application was rejected.
I have written to the Home Office on my constituent’s behalf to request them to review the situation. I will continue to fight their corner. These are good, hardworking members of our community. The family has been left destitute by this decision. They are legally prevented from working and ineligible for claiming benefits. Dami has lived in the UK for all her adult life. She has filled her time with volunteering. She is able, enthusiastic and hard working. Additionally, she wants to work in our NHS – helping people. The Tories claim they want to encourage migrants who contribute to our society – well, how does that reconcile with this? A bright and talented woman, who has built her life in the UK, is having her chance to study and fulfil her dream revoked. Her treatment at the hands of the Home Office is deplorable.
I was delighted to meet with the owners of Annandale Distillery. The distillery is very new and very old. While it was established in 1836 making it one of Scotland’s oldest operating distilleries, Annandale was closed in 1918.
The distillery was rescued and restored by Professor David Thomson & his wife Teresa Church in 2007, having been abandoned since its closure a century ago.
But now in 2018, Annandale is back and whisky is being produced in this historic area once more. This can only be good news for the residents and visitors to the area. The perception, particularly for many tourists from across the border, is that you need to journey far up into the highlands to truly imbibe the whisky culture in Scotland. The rebirth of Annandale will challenge that perception. We should champion such enterprise as it can only be a boon to the local economy.
Scotland’s Role In UK Trade
I spoke in a Parliamentary debate on Scotland’s role in the development of future UK trade arrangements
The UK government talk about post-Brexit trade deals but they are also clueless. The Tories think the current trade deals, which the UK is party to through the EU, will simply roll over after Britain exits the bloc. But none of the 60 + countries who have deals with the EU have said they will allow the UK to benefit them after Brexit.
Westminster’s dismissal of Scottish interests within UK trade deals is a shameful indictment of the current state of our democracy. Scotland voted to remain within the EU.
In a briefing for the debate, the Trade Justice Coalition Scotland derided the UK Trade Bill - voted through the House of Commons in July – for containing nothing that would give the Scottish Government or the Scottish Parliament the right to scrutinise or amend UK trade deals after Brexit.
In other words, Scotland will have no role in the ratification of such agreements. This will have a profound impact on a litany of devolved issues that are within the competence of the Scottish Parliament.
The interests of Scottish producers, exporters and consumers can only be adequately represented and supported when the Scottish Government and Scottish Parliament are able to scrutinise post-Brexit UK trade arrangements.
I chaired a meeting of the Cross-Party Group on Culture concerning the impact of Brexit on the arts.
The cultural sector is generally concerned with issues of funding but the uncertainty fostered in the current political climate makes these concerns more acute.
Fundamentally, if we are going to be stockpiling food and medicine, how will we continue to encourage and nurture burgeoning artistic talent in Scotland?
So many young artists from across the sector are being given their chance to flourish through EU funding programmes. The benefits of artistic endeavour should not be underestimated. Self-expression plays a key role in allowing people to lead more fulfilled and happy lives and increasingly we understand that the nation’s health, wellbeing, economy and productivity are improved by access to culture. A creative nation is a smarter nation.
I asked questions in parliament regarding the EU Pet Travel Scheme – following UK Government confirmation that British pet owners will face increased barriers if they wish to travel to the EU with their pet post-Brexit.
The EU Pet Travel Scheme affords pet owners a wonderful amount of freedom to make their travel plans without the need for concern about what will happen to their beloved pets. Many owners do not feel comfortable leaving their animals at home, alone, or in the care of anyone but themselves.
The uncertainty created by the UK Government’s irresponsible approach to negotiations thus far has allowed matters like this to fall by the wayside. Now, people will be made to pay simply for owning pets. That cannot stand.
According to the UK Government, if the UK leaves the EU in March 2019 with no deal, it would become a ‘third country’ for the purposes of the EU Pet Travel Scheme.
Pets would continue to be able to travel from the UK to the EU, but the requirements for documents and health checks would differ depending on what category of third country the UK becomes on the day we leave the EU.
Culture Tourism, Europe and External Affairs
It’s been a busy time for the Committee on Culture, Tourism, Europe and External Affairs, of which I am convener. This week we were questioning the Cabinet Secretary Fiona Hyslop about the forthcoming Scottish budget. The committee wants to see a continuation of culture funding despite cuts in lottery funds, at local authority level and, in future, because of Brexit. We also asked Ms. Hyslop about proposals from local authorities on a tourist tax. The week previously we took evidence from COSLA, as well as Edinburgh, Aberdeen and Highland councils. All believed some sort of “Transient Visitor Levy” is necessary to meet the additional costs tourists place on services, such as road maintenance and street cleaning.
Also last month we took expert evidence on the tragic fire at Glasgow School of Art to examine the causes of the fire. After all, this is the second fire to strike the GSA in recent history.
The committee is tasked with gathering evidence as to the causes of the fire as well as making recommendations upon the future of Mackintosh’s masterpiece and the collection it held.
The school is one of the most important pieces of art that Scotland has ever produced and we must ensure that the correct decisions are made going forward.
If you wish to learn more the committee’s website is here:
Arts and Business Scotland
I hosted a parliamentary reception acknowledging and celebrating the new business and cultural partnerships formed through the Culture & Business Fund Scotland (CBFS).
Launched on 1 April 2017, CBFS is funded by the Scottish Government via Creative Scotland and managed by Arts & Business Scotland.
In the fund’s inaugural year, 38 projects have been awarded match funding across Scotland from Dumfries and Galloway to Na h-Eileanan Siar (Outer Hebrides) generating a total investment of £645,698 into new arts and heritage projects, some of which would not have taken place otherwise and many with inspiring partnership stories to share.
All 38 arts and heritage match funded recipients and their business sponsors were invited to attend along with other cultural organisations and leading businesses from Arts & Business Scotland’s membership.
I met with the British and Irish Parliamentary Assembly: the body whose mission is to promote co-operation between political representatives in Britain and Ireland. We had a lively question and answer session on Brexit and its implications for Scotland. I spoke to the parliamentarians about the research commissioned by my committee and the in-depth enquiries we have held into the cost of leaving the EU. As well as myself, the committee met Scottish Government ministers and other political leaders.
We want to build on the close relationships established in recent years between politicians throughout Britain and Ireland.
On Friday I visited the new BBC studio in Dumfries. The opening was held in conjunction with the retirement of Dumfries and Galloway’s broadcasting stalwart, Willie Johnston.
Willie has been broadcasting across the region for three decades and he has been involved in some of the region's biggest stories, including the Lockerbie bombing and the foot and mouth disaster. I wish him the very best for the future.
I hope that the new studio will boost news coverage in the Dumfries and Galloway area. It also has an in-studio camera for the first time. This means that local politicians and others can contribute to the BBC’s national news programmes such as Reporting Scotland. I hope the Devorgilla Bridge features in the backdrop when it is designed.
I had the pleasure of being welcomed to Raydale Park, home of Gretna FC 2008. This is a fans initiative football club set up after the sad dissolution of Gretna FC in 2008.
Gretna 2008, who play in the Lowland League, hosted a Walking Football Festival in aid of Prostate Cancer UK. I was able to donate a special football for auction, signed by players in the Gretna team from the final 2007/08 season. The Chief Executive of Gretna 2008, Stuart Rome, took the ball on behalf of the club. It is heartening to see that even with the demise of Gretna FC, the spirit of the club has endured. I wish Gretna 2008 every success for the rest of the season and beyond.