The start of a new year is all about making resolutions. Whether it’s getting fitter, saving money or making that black pudding superfood part of your staple diet, come the end of January we’ve often abandoned some resolutions for another year.
Regardless, the SNP remains strong in its resolution to do its very best for the people of Scotland. This is the continuing commitment of myself and my colleagues in the SNP Group at Westminster and at Holyrood.
Here in my constituency in Na h-Eileanan an Iar, there remains much concern over the reliability of air services and I am continuing to monitor this situation and engage with Loganair as well as their franchise partner Flybe.
Air passengers need to see a marked improvement before confidence will be restored but I am pleased to hear that Loganair have made a commitment to improve services and the condition of aircraft. It is also good news that the Scottish Government have now increased the Air Discount Scheme to a 50% reduction for island residents and I hope this will make a difference to passengers.
The roll out of superfast broadband continues at a faster pace than first expected which is very positive news but I have been in touch with BT and HIE pushing for more areas to be included in phase 2 of this vital project. For some there also remain issues over reliability of the most basic service - the phone line - and I am liaising with BT on this matter.
The mission for 4G mobile phone coverage continues and I am pleased to see some progress with this with the Northern Lighthouse Board giving off positive signals regarding the use of their facilities by mobile companies which could herald a major step forward.
The announcement by Marine Harvest last week that they plan to cut 100 jobs across the company is a concern and I have been engaging with them to seek more detail on any impact this may have in the Western Isles where they employ more than 70 staff producing some of the healthiest food you can buy.
I am pleased that there has been signs of progress in securing the future of the Carloway Mill and wish them all the best in the future.
I was very disappointed with the outcome of the consultation on the management of the Marine Protected Areas on the West Coast as the views of the fishing industry do not seem to have been taken into account and although some alterations are being considered, these are not on a large scale and the consultation period over Christmas and New Year was far too short. Again I was disappointed this was not extended despite my protestations and that of others but I will continue to support the local fishing industry in pushing for the protection of not only the marine environment but also the economy of the islands.
This month I had the pleasure of questioning the Prime Minister, David Cameron, directly – a first ever for an SNP MP in this format - as a member of the Liaison Committee due to my role as Chair of the Commons Energy and Climate Change Committee. I quizzed Mr Cameron on his ever-changing energy policies including the u-turn on the Carbon Capture and Storage plan.
The constant change of direction by this government does not instil confidence that they have the right priorities in place or a strategic vision for tackling climate change. This includes the lack of support for onshore wind projects which is the cheapest option on the table for meeting the UK’s legally binding Carbon Targets.
I also asked Mr Cameron to concede to investigate claims by independent sources that 82 civilians had been killed by UK forces in Iraq when previously the Ministry of Defence position was that they would only investigate when the MoD itself reported that civilians had been killed.
He relented from the Government position, I am pleased that he agreed to do this and will be following this up with his office. The Liaison Committee is due to meet with the Prime Minister again later this year.
Also on the agenda at Westminster this month was the reform of Women’s Pensions and I am very supportive of the case put forward by Mhairi Black MP for fair transitional state pension changes for those women born in the 1950s who would be negatively impacted – I have been contacted by many of those affected here in the Western Isles.
Wednesday was Holocaust Memorial Day and last week I spoke in a special debate in the House of Commons to mark this. ‘Don’t Stand By’ is the theme of this year’s events across the country and I am pleased to see An Lanntair in Stornoway were hosting an event and commend those who organised this.
As it’s the New Year and many are trying to eat a bit more healthily, I was very happy indeed to hear that Black Pudding is now classed as a superfood. I tabled an Early Day Motion in Parliament noting that the House welcomes this recognition and also notes the economic benefits this can bring to local butchers who make the world famous Stornoway Black Pudding.
I am trying to keep black pudding being mentioned in Parliament and indeed the Leader of the House has gone further, talking of a black pudding competition, I see no need as I know Stornoway Black Pudding would win.
So to making Stornoway Black Pudding and of course some local salmon a regular on my menu, a resolution that won’t be hard to keep!