Duke of Buccleuch
I have been campaigning on a number of fronts in relation to the Duke of Buccleuch’s sale of the so-called Evertown portfolio. Buccleuch Estates are disposing of this 9,000 acre portion of South Scotland, near Langholm, as part of a larger restructuring of the business.
Two of my constituents, Alison and David Telfer tenant farmers, have approached me as they have been threatened with removal from their land. They have lived and worked on their Cleuchfoot farm near Langholm for 20 years. They had a verbal agreement with the previous Duke that they could farm Cleuchfoot until they retired. However, the estate wants to plant trees on part of their farm and are taking it back in house. After protests from the Telfers’ and supporters such as myself, they were allowed to keep the rest of their farm, until next year – but that falls far short of what they had previously been promised. Now they find the farm has been put up for sale as part of the Evertown portfolio and the “planting potential” of the hill ground is advertised as a benefit. I support the forestry industry and the many jobs it creates. But I do not support large land owners like Buccleuch receiving forestry grants which will incentivise them to move tenant farmers off the land. I have asked the First Minister in parliament and was pleased she agreed with me that this was a human rights issue. As a result of lobbying from the Telfers’ suporters, the Scottish Land Commissions has intervened to tell the estate their behaviour is unreasonable. The SNP conference also passed a motion from myself, Rob Gibson and Annandale and Eskdale SNP supporting the Telfers and reiterating that public money should not be given to land owners like Buccleuch for these purposes. The Duke must see reason. There is also a petition supporting the Telfers online, which I would encourage everyone to sign - https://you.38degrees.org.uk/petitions/let-the-telfers-keep-their-home-and-business
However, this sale affects more than one farm. Savills, the estate agents marketing the sale, have been advertising the Canonbie coalfields for its coalbed methane (CBM) deposits. I, along with the people of Canonbie, have long objected to any extraction proposals. Scotland is resolutely against unconventional gas extraction. CBM extraction is a messy process. The social and environmental harm caused by it would be catastrophic. The process requires fracking, injecting sand, water and chemicals into the ground at high pressure, the vast majority of the time. This highly controversial practice can lead to methane migration, contamination of the water supply, air pollution, increased carbon emissions, explosive levels of methane under buildings, the rupturing of utility lines, housing collapse due to subsidence and noise from truck traffic, heavy equipment, seismic explosions, drilling rigs and gas compressors. These effects can become more acute in a rural community like Canonbie. Added noise pollution can cause great harm to wildlife and livestock. Methane migration can lead to the death of crops and vegetation; this in communities reliant upon agriculture. In short, it is shameful to attempt to profit off the land by advertising its destruction.
I put a question to Roseanna Cunnigham MSP, Cabinet Secretary for Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform, regarding the Duke’s advertisement of CBM in Canonbie.
The Cabinet Secretary made clear the Scottish Government’s opposition to any unconventional gas extraction. I will continue to campaign against this irresponsible disregard for the wishes of the local communities affected by the sale.
I was privileged to be welcomed to Dunbar Harbour, which is part of the South Scotland region, which I represent. The purpose was to hear about the Royal National Lifeboat Institute's plans for the lifeboat station there. This visit was a fascinating insight into the good work that the RNLI are doing. I met several of the volunteers who go out in all weather to help anyone struggling at sea. The work of the RNLI is entirely self-funded and they have come under particular pressure as a result of the UK Government closing Coast Guard stations. The type of work that they are involved with has changed from. Previously, their work mainly involved coming to the aid of fishing and merchant vessels; now, they are dealing with many more pleasure crafts and even holiday makers swept out to sea on inflatable devices.
The Cycle to Syracuse
I was privileged to speak in a parliamentary debate, brought forward by Oliver Mundell MSP, to commemorate the 30th anniversary of the Lockerbie disaster and promote the Cycle to Syracuse
The Cycle to Syracuse is a fantastic initiative to mark 30 years since the Lockerbie disaster. The cycle will feature 5 representatives of the Police, Fire, Ambulance, RAF and Lockerbie Academy who will complete the journey that was never made by Pan Am Flight 103.
Proceeds from this fundraiser will go to Soul Soup: a charity which provides free mental health support and counselling for young people in Dumfries & Galloway.
Please get behind this endeavour and others like it; it really makes a difference to people's lives.
You can watch the full discussion here:
CPG on Shared Parenting
I attended the Cross Party Group on Shared Parenting concerning Scotland’s National Action Plan on parental involvement, parental engagement, family learning and learning at home.
You can learn more about the group here:
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.
The debate sought to highlight the negative impact that bank branch losses have on Scottish communities. This is evident in Dumfries and Galloway.
My speech paid particular attention to Langholm, Annan and Lockerbie – where branch losses have greatly impacted the elderly and the vulnerable. In Langholm, for example, due to closures, the nearest branch is now 30 miles away. This is a prohibitive distance for many of the most vulnerable in our society. Though improvements have been made to broadband coverage across Scotland, thanks to Scottish Government investment: a lack of faith and confidence in digital options coupled with a preference for face-to-face engagement precludes many of the elderly residents of Dumfries and Galloway from being able to access their banking services.
I wrote to RBS CEO Ross McEwan who deftly ignored my concerns regarding the elderly and vulnerable of Dumfries and Galloway but delighted in outlining RBS’s profits this year.
The UK government owns 62% of RBS after the bank was bailed out by the taxpayer. They must act to reverse these closures and thus, reverse the damage they have done to the local economy.Read more
In a statement to the Scottish Parliament, the Scottish Government announced this week that it was launching a consultation on proposals to provide stability and security for rural businesses in the immediate post-Brexit period. It marks the start of the process of developing a new rural support policy for Scotland with a consultation focusing on what might be done to provide stability in the period immediately after Scotland might have to leave the EU in 2019. In my question to the Cabinet Secretary I pressed the importance of retaining customs union and single market membership for the future of agricultural support.
I was delighted to meet the WASPI women from Dumfries and Galloway on Monday. The women were extremely frustrated at their treatment by the UK government and keen to refresh the local campaign highlighting pension unfairness for women born in the 1950s. They want to reach out to affected local women, many of whom they believe may be unaware of the campaign – and encourage them to contact the DWP about their situation. They also have letter templates which they can use to assist. Anyone interested should contact Dumfries and Galloway WASPI campaign at: Waspidg@outlook.com. In the mean time I will do what I can to help.
I visited First Base Foodbank in Dumfries with MSP Emma Harper to hand over a transit van full of provisions donated by independence campaigners ahead of last Saturday’s march . The donations covered everything from pasta to tinned meat and essential toiletries. There were 12 very large shopping bags and six large boxes which only just fitted in to Mr Frankland’s van. The independence movement is very much focussed on making Scotland a fairer place and the generous donations shows that they put their words into action.
This week I published my response to the consultation on south Scotland’s new enterprise agency. Our new agency should act as a champion for the region as well as providing appropriate business and community support, as is the case with the north through Highland and Islands Enterprise. Access to capital is one of the key challenges for both SME’s and micro businesses in South Scotland. During my time on the Scottish Parliament’s Economy Committee I saw a lot of evidence that access to capital was particularly acute in South Scotland and this applied to private finance as well as public agency loans and grants. The Agency must address this if our businesses are to grow and develop. The creation of a dedicated enterprise agency by the Scottish Government is a huge opportunity and we must grasp it. Dumfries and Galloway has the potential to be an economic success story. We already have very strong food and drink, creative, and manufacturing sectors – and the agency can push to define Dumfries and Galloway as a centre of excellence for them all.
On Monday I was at The Usual Place as the community cafe collected a national award for its changing places toilet - the only facility of its kind in the region until the DGRI Hospital opened last year. I think it is important that other public facilities across the region consider whether they can emulate this wonderful initiative to promote equality across the whole region - if a small charity like The Usual Place can do this, then so can larger organisations.
On Tuesday I was delighted to meet representatives from Cycling Without Age Scotland SCIO who were in Parliament this week encouraging MSPs to help support the extension of the programme in their own constituencies. Cycling Without Age organisers were given Scottish Government funding to bring together and train volunteers to 'pilot' trishaws in a bid to help older people get out and about in the fresh air. They are always looking for people who want to pilot as well as organisations such as care homes. If anyone is interested in becoming involved, please contact Christine Bell on firstname.lastname@example.org