Since becoming Deputy Convener of the Culture, Tourism, Europe and External Relations committee I have already held a number of meetings on Brexit.
Brexit is the biggest political issue in British politics and it will continue to dominate the political discourse in the years ahead. As we move towards trying to achieve a deal it is vital that we listen to as many people as possible and ensure that Scotland’s voice is being heard in the debate.
That is why I was pleased to be able to go to London, Belfast and Dublin last month to ensure that the views and voices of the Scottish Parliament and my constituents were heard. We need to work hard to ensure that any deal does not hurt our economy, workers and jobs.
Recently I was delighted to welcome representatives from Malawi and give them a tour of the Scottish Parliament.
The group were visiting Scotland as guests of Dalgety Bay Parish Church who have a working partnership with Engcongolweni’s Church of Central Africa Presbyterian.
It was really good to meet members of both churches and hear about their relationship which has brought many positive benefits to communities in rural northern Malawi. This includes a project that provides clean water supply to the area, reaching over 7,500 people.
I was pleased to play my part in continuing efforts to strengthen the strong relationship Fife has established with this community in Malawi and I very much hope that they enjoyed their visit to Scotland.
The Scottish Parliament held a debate to celebrate the 10 year anniversary of the signing of the cooperation agreement with Malawi. The agreement, delivered by then First Minister Jack McConnell, was signed in November 2005 and linked two countries and 17 million people together.
The co-operation agreement was also the first step towards the Scottish Government’s international development fund, which has led to many positive successes around the world.
At the time of the partnership agreement, Malawi was one of the poorest countries in the world. Its income per person was $160 per year, and despite having a population and land area more than double that of Scotland’s its economy was little more than 1 per cent of ours. At the time Falkirk’s local economy was twice the size of Malawi’s.
The country was suffering one of the worst HIV/AIDS epidemics in the world’ life expectancy had fallen from 45 to 37 years, and the number of orphans in Malawi numbered the entire population of Edinburgh.
Since the agreement 150 schools, 15 local authorities, all of Scotland’s universitites, most colleges and hundreds of NGOs, businesses, charities and ambassadors throughout Scotland has engaged with Malawi.
This includes a large number of partnerships within Mid Scotland and Fife. Fife Council was linked with team Malawi in the Glasgow Commonwealth games, and Fife College has a number of links to the country.
Local schools such as Kirkcaldy High and Burntisland Primary are linking pupils in Scotland with Malawi, informing and inspiring future generations in both countries. St Kenneth’s parish church has links with villages in the north of Malawi and is helping to build infrastructure, fresh-water boreholes, schools and sustainable income-generating projects to help to lift people out of poverty.
We now must look at the future of the next 10 years of the agreement and the 10 after that. The work and progress already achieved in health and education is to be celebrated but more can still be done to help boost the country’s fragile economy.
The co-operation agreement is a success story that the Parliament should be proud of. The past 10 years are an example to other nations and an example that we must continue. If we can assist in any way towards a sustainable economy, we will have laid the building blocks of a stable and, I hope, peaceful and prosperous country.
You can watch the debate below or read my speech in the official report here.
As Scottish Labour’s spokesperson for Democracy I opened the debate in the Scottish Parliament on trident for the Party.
I was pleased that the Scottish Government accepted my amendment calling for the protection on jobs and the setting up of a strong jobs diversification strategy. It is vital that if trident is not renewed that the jobs and skills within the sector are not lost.
You can watch the debate on the video below.
The amendment I moved was:
“recognises the number of workers in the British defence system in Scotland and throughout the UK whose employment is linked to Trident-related activities and that firm commitments must be made to the trade unions on the retention of defence workers’ jobs; believes that, in the event of the cancellation of Trident, the establishment of defence diversification agencies at Scottish and UK levels is essential to deliver a strong defence diversification strategy that provides workers with high quality employment through the retention of skills developed in the sector, while delivering a UK defence sector equipped to deal with the world and dangers that it possesses, and calls on the UK Government not to renew Trident.”
Scotland has proudly led the UK in our response to the refugee crisis and it is important that we continue to do so. We must ensure that refugees that come to Scotland are given more than just a place to stay but also hope of a better future.
That is why the work undertaken by organisations such as Fife Migrants Forum is so important and I was delighted to be able to visit their offices in Kirkcaldy to highlight their efforts in ensuring that migrants and refuges are integrated into their local communities. The visit followed a roundtable meeting on the ongoing crisis in the Scottish Parliament which we both took part in.
Following the UK Government’s announcement that they would be accepting 20,000 Syrian refugees over the course of Parliament, the Scottish Government has agreed to their share of at least 2,000. Fife Council has signed up to accepting a number of these refugees to the Kingdom, with the first refugees due to arrive in the next few weeks.
This week SCIAF joined us in the Scottish Parliament to celebrate their 50th anniversary, hosting a well attended evening celebrating on Wednesday.
It was good to meet and discuss all the fantastic work they do throughout the world. I look forward to further conversations as we work together in my role as Democracy spokesperson for Scottish Labour.
Yesterday I led a debate for the Scottish Labour Party on the ongoing refugee crisis. The debate was an opportunity to discuss Scotland’s response to the crisis and to push for more help for refugees both in Syria, its neighbouring countries and in Europe
Prior to the debate I called for the Scottish Government to increase the number of refugees to be accommodated in Scotland to be at least 2,000 and I was pleased that following a meeting of their refugee taskforce they committed to meeting these numbers.
Scotland has led the UK in our response to the refugee crisis and it is important that we continue to do so. That is why I called for the number of refuges to be welcomed in Scotland to be at least double the 1,000 originally announced.
I also moved an amendment – that was passed by Parliament – which looks to build on the work of the University of Glasgow in accommodating Syrian students and academics.
Studies have been disrupted, jobs and trades lost and carers halted by this crisis. We must look at how we rebuild the lives of refugees and help them to build a better future.
We must ensure that refugees that come to Scotland are given more than just a home, they must be given hope of a better future.
Yesterday I stood alongside Scottish Labour leader Kezia Dugdale in calling for the UK Government to take action towards tackling the ongoing refugee crisis.
This is one of the biggest humanitarian crisis to hit Europe in recent years and it is vital that we all come together to do whatever we can to help.
Anyone that saw the truly heart-breaking picture of little Aylan will have felt a range of emotion from sorrow to helplessness and an urge to see action.
That is why I am pleased that Scottish parties have joined together to attend a humanitarian summit in Edinburgh today and I am delighted to see that Fife Council is offering support to the Governments at Westminster and Holyrood.
I believe that Scotland is an open, inclusive and multicultural society and that we will welcome refugees into our communities.
I am pleased to announce that I will be taking part in a cross party steering group established by the Scottish Government to work towards the reintroduction of the Post Study Work Visa in Scotland. The group will include members of all the major Scottish parties such as the Minister for Europe and International Development Humza Yousaf, and John Finnie MSP as well as representatives from the business and college and university sector.
The post study work visa was first introduced by the then First Minister Jack McConnell and his Labour led executive. Then it was part of the Fresh Talent scheme and its success in Scotland led to it being rolled out across the UK by the then Labour Government. Unfortunately it was then cancelled by the coalition during the last Westminster term.
The previous post study work visa allowed international students to remain and work in Scotland for 2 years following graduation from university, with the aim is to attract and retain world-class talent in Scotland. Continue reading →
On Saturday I joined with approximately 700 fellow Fifers in marching through the driving rain in Kirkcaldy to show our support for those affected by the terrible atrocities taking place in Gaza.
The march, organised to show solidarity with those in Gaza and Palestine, highlighted the strength of feeling within the Kingdom to speak out against what is taking place in the Middle East.
Fife Council has taken action to raise awareness by flying the Palestinian Flag over Fife House for a week. With Council Leader David Ross stating that he hopes it will “add strength to the public pressure for a lasting cease fire which can help bring about peace and stability in the area.”