Gamekeepers Association

Myself and Alex Hogg (Chair person of the Gamekeepers Association

The Scottish Gamekeepers Association unites gamekeepers, stalkers, river and land ghillies, wildlife managers, and recreational sportsmen and women in one representative body. They aim to represent the members’ interests, highlighting the positive role they play in rural stewardship, species conservation, tourism and the economy, and defending them where their jobs or sport may be adversely affected.

I recently attended their exhibition in the Scottish Parliament, set up to raise awareness of the importance of gamekeepers in Scotland. Gamekeepers manage around 4.5 million hectares of land in Scotland, and most people only know about them through the media.

I was joined by Alex Hogg, Chairman of the Gamekeepers Association. He told me that 49/50 people have never heard of a gamekeeper. As spokesperson for Environment, Climate Change & Land Reform I strongly believe that gamekeepers deserve more recognition than they currently do. Most people don’t understand their role and the importance of it and I would encourage as many of my constituents to find out more about them. You can visit their website where there is a wide range of information and some opportunities that you can get involved in.

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Bield care home closures

I am concerned by the Bield’s recent announcement that their facilities are closing, two of which are in my region, Langvout Court, Biggar and Millfield Gardens, Jedburgh.

This is a very stressful time for residents and their families and I am seeking clarity from both South Lanarkshire and Borders Councils as well as the Scottish Government on what the next steps will be.

I am also mindful of the uncertainty for care home workers who may be affected by this, I have contacted Unison to understand how this impacts them.

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MSPs and the ‘Bee Quest’ book

Last week I was delighted to welcome Meg Beresford, an active wildlife campaigner, to the Parliament to present the book ‘Bee Quest’ by Dave Goulson to me and my MSP colleagues, Mark Ruskell, Finlay Carson and Cabinet Secretary for Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform, Roseanna Cunningham.

I’d like to thank Meg for her visit which raised awareness of the importance of bees and pollinators to the environment, and how their diminishing numbers poses a real threat to our ecosystem.

Meg’s message is an important one and there are a number of projects and partnerships working towards protecting pollinators. I had the pleasure of seeing the Scottish Wildlife Trust’s work in action during a visit to Ayrshire where they are creating a ‘Nectar Network’. Local authorities, businesses and landowners are encouraged to use pollinator friendly plants which will connect pollinator hotspots through meadow and land management.

However, we can all make a difference. By planning bee friendly plants in our gardens and window boxes we can all do our bit to encourage pollinators. There are a number of great bee friendly plants we can grow. In the spring, Crocus, hyacinth, and wild lilac. In the summer, cosmos, lavender, snapdragons foxglove, and later on in the year, hosta, sedum, asters and witch hazel.

I highly recommend ‘Bee Quest’. In Dave Goulson’s hunt for rare bees which takes him on a number of adventures, through different countries, we are reminded of our reliance on bees and how we can all do our bit to protect them.

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The Usual Place

I recently attended the Scottish Labour leadership hustings in Dumfries in Galloway. It was held at ‘The Usual Place’ which is a not for personal profit café, meeting and events place for local people and visitors to get together in the heart of Dumfries.

I was amazed by the work done by this organisation and the benefits it brings to the people who use it and the local community

Heather Hall who is the Chief Executive Officer of ‘The Usual Place’ said:

“We promote the employability and citizenship of young people 16 – 26 who have additional support needs. Our aim is to provide each young person with the environment and resources required to enable them to reach their full potential, achieve their ambitions and contribute to their communities. We take a strengths based approach. Our young people come to us with lots of gifts and skills. Our qualifications are all externally assessed and accredited. Young people are successfully qualifying and moving onto mainstream Further Education, self-employment and work. The Usual Place is a real business environment in which young people can gain work experience and develop a range of other transferable life skills that with the correct focus and support, develop naturally when you are working as part of a team with people from many backgrounds. The public see young people with additional needs doing well at work and we know this is helping to close the social distance and change attitudes towards disabled people. We are well supported by our Statutory and Third Sector partners. We are looking to develop our offering for young people and extend the range of qualifications available.”

If you would like more information about ‘The Usual Place’ please visit their website.


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SNP delay Air Departure Cut

Today the Scottish Government gave a statement on Air Departure Tax.

Scottish Labour has consistently opposed this cut, as it is wrong to introduce a tax cut which predominantly benefits the well-off in our society at a time of financial constraint.

Furthermore, this proposal from the Scottish Government is inconsistent with Scotland’s climate commitments which world-leading targets.  The implementation of these proposals would mean that the drive towards a low carbon economy will be in doubt. You cannot offer a tax cut to airlines  with the aim of increasing the number of flights and not take into consideration the implications that that will have on the level of emissions.

The statement today claimed a difficulty with EU law and the Highlands & Islands exemption means the policy will be delayed.

Scottish Labour Transport Minister Neil Bibby said,  “Passengers in the Highlands & Islands have received an exemption for years and exemptions must continue. The devolution of Air Passenger Duty was agreed by the Smith Commission three years ago and it has been SNP policy for many years before that. Now Derek Mackay is telling us that he can’t switch on Air Departure Tax despite the Parliament passing a piece of legislation agreeing to do so. The SNP is using a convenient opportunity to kick a bad policy into the long grass. Let’s be clear. The SNP’s ADT cut is bad policy. Instead of delaying it, it should be cancelled. The SNP cannot justify a multi-million-pound tax cut for the frequent flying few at a time of real hardship and austerity for the people of this country.”

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Back Home Safe Campaign

Unite the Union have launched a petition to not reintroduce the Airbus Super pumas H225 and AS332 L2 on UKCS commercial operations This petition is for all UKCS Offshore Oil & Gas workers, their families and the general public, to finally say enough is enough with the Superpuma airframe. In signing the Airbus Superpumas H225 and AS332 L2 will not be reintroduced into commercial operations in the UKCS and expressing a vote of no-confidence in the safety of these airframes. You can sign the petition by clicking here

Unite members have told us, their Health & Safety is paramount in the offshore sector. We are asking you to support all offshore workers and their families and visibly support this campaign.

My colleague Lewis Macdonald MSP has lodged a parliamentary motion about the issue;

Motion Number: S5M-07724

Lodged By: Lewis Macdonald

Date Lodged: 15/09/2017

Title: ♦ Workforce Concerns Regarding Helicopter Safety in the North Sea

Motion Text:

That the Parliament understands that the Civil Aviation Authority has lifted the ban on the use of Superpuma H225LP and AS332L2 helicopters in the UK despite continuing concerns over the safety of these helicopters among offshore workers; further understands that Airbus, the manufacturer of Superpuma helicopters, has carried out a survey of North Sea workers and aircrew in order to establish their attitudes towards helicopter safety; notes the finding that 62% of respondents would be unlikely to fly in a Superpuma helicopter, given a choice; further notes that 44% of respondents were unaware of work done to improve safety since the Superpuma crash in April 2016, including increased monitoring and inspection measures and more regular replacement of gearbox components; recognises that Unite the Union has launched a petition opposing the reintroduction of the Superpuma helicopters, signed by thousands of offshore workers in the North East Scotland parliamentary region and across the country, who remain concerned about their safety and reputation, and notes calls for flights in these Superpuma helicopters to not resume.

Workers will not accept a return ‘business as usual ` and will express their views about the Airbus Superpuma 225s choppers.

More information can be found on their website:

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Scottish Government announcement on fracking – not far enough

Responding to today’s announcement on fracking, Scottish Labour environment spokesperson Claudia Beamish said:

“This is a victory for Labour, environmental groups and communities across Scotland.

“Labour has long argued that the climate change science is clear – we do not need another fossil fuel. Instead Scotland needs to develop forms of renewable energy with unionised and well paid jobs.

“This announcement is a result of Labour pressure and specifically my proposal to change the law to ban fracking in Scotland.

“But extending the moratorium indefinitely is not as strong as a full legal ban, and could be overturned at any point at the whim of a minister.

“These proposals don’t go far enough. They do not offer the protection of my Bill.

“That’s why I want the SNP government to work with me to ensure a full legal ban.”

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First Minister’s Questions – on climate change

This week I asked a supplementary question to the First Minister. The Climate Change (Scotland) 2009 Act requires the UK Committee on Climate Change is report on Scotland’s progress in meeting our climate change reduction targets every year. The most recent report, that considers data from 2015, revealed that there has been very little progress in reducing agricultural emissions since around 2008.

The committee I sit on, the committee on Environment, Climate Change, and Land Reform, shares the recommendation for compulsory soil testing for farmers in an effort to limit agricultural emissions. I used this week First Minister’s Questions to see if this will be included in the Scottish Government’s final Climate Change Plan.

Watch below:


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The Hunter Foundation

On the 26th of May 2017 we had the honour and privilege of hosting President Barack Obama here in Scotland.

To celebrate and mark that occasion the Hunter Foundation invited pupils in secondary schools across Scotland to submit an essay outlining their priorities if they had the opportunity to rule Scotland.

The Hunter Foundation produced this e-book (which can be found here) with all the submissions made. I found this very interesting to read as it gives us decision makers an insight of the views of our younger generation.

Their voices tell us they care about our communities, our environment, equality for all, embracing our differences, caring for those who can’t care for themselves, mental health, ambition and reaching for the stars.

We are a small nation that can so easily punch above its weight, by enabling young voices we will achieve so much more for Scotland.

I truly hope you enjoy this book.

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New Carers Grant Announced

The Scottish Government recently announced a new Carers Grant. This grant will be awarded to those aged 16-18 who do at least 16 hours of caring a week but, do not qualify for carers allowance. Although this is welcomed news there are still a number of challenges young cares face.

Throughout my time as a MSP, I have been very passionate about carers, their rights and support that is available to them. Having been a young carer myself, I know how it feels and the stress that young carers can go through.

The SNP Government have slashed local authority budgets since 2011 which has greatly impacted on the support available to young carers. We will only be able to properly address this when we invest in our public services.

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