MSP monthly column

editorial image

Parliament dissolved

The current Scottish Parliament is more or less at an end. After a few days more of hectic efforts at getting the Government’s legislation concluded in time, Parliament will be dissolved on the evening of 23 March.

A new Parliament will not be elected till 5 May and, between those two dates, Scotland will have no MSPs.

As the current parliamentary term has drawn to its close, the Scottish Government has been faced with getting some pretty enormous things crossed off its to-do list.

Perhaps none of these was bigger than reaching a settlement with the UK Government over the “fiscal framework” around the Scottish Parliament’s new powers.

Dry as all that might sound, if John Swinney had not managed to get the UK Government to climb down on this, I would now be writing a column explaining that Westminster had just taken seven billion pounds out of Scotlands public services.

100% coverage plans for superfast broadband

Looking back at the subjects people have raised with me over the last parliamentary term, probably not many issues have generated more correspondence than broadband coverage in the islands.

A year and a half ago, nobody in the islands had access to superfast broadband, until the Government paid for fibre cable to be rolled out to the places BT would not otherwise have gone.

By the end of this year, more than 60 per cent of island premises should enjoy the broadband speeds that most of the rest of Scotland takes for granted. But there is a huge amount still to do

So, one of the most striking things mentioned in the First Minister’s speech to the SNP Conference in Glasgow this week was the commitment she made on this very issue.

Over the course of the next term of the Scottish Parliament, she committed to ensuring 100 per cent of homes in Scotland have superfast broadband.

That will mean, if she is re-elected, a very significant further phase of work to improve broadband in the islands.

Other news this week

On another subject, the last few days has also seen a great deal of correspondence on late CAP payments to crofters, so it is good to see that for those crofters who have not had their first instalment by the end of this month, the Scottish Government will meet the cost of payments from a £200 million fund of its own.

The diary has not slowed down in the last few days as I took part in the recent Convention of the Highlands and Islands in Stornoway Town Hall, where councils and other bodies from across the Highlands and Islands met with government ministers.

Subjects raised varied from the need for an interconnector for the islands’ renewable industry to mobile coverage in the region.

I am writing this in my office in Stornoway, but the next few days takes me to Edinburgh for Parliament, then the plane to Benbecula on Friday, constituency visits in Uist, the ferry to Leverburgh on Saturday and the bus north to Stornoway that afternoon to get to the official opening of my campaign base in Cromwell Street.

On the campaign trail

It has been a huge privilege to serve as your MSP, and I would like to thank everyone who has got in touch with me in the islands about issues that matter to them.

I will now be spending the next few weeks on the election trail, trying to get round as many of the islands’ ten thousand or so houses between Ness and Vatersay as is humanly possible.

It’s a task that began some time ago, but will now be aided as the evenings get lighter!