Diary of an MSP Alex Fergusson

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The return of Border TV

As I am sure readers are more than aware, the merging of the Border TV area with that of Tyne Tees by ITV in 2009 robbed us of a much loved and watched local TV programme which focussed on our Region in a way that its successors has certainly not. I am fully aware that it wasn’t perfect, but it was much better than what we have now and I am absolutely delighted that it could be set to return.

Ofcom, the broadcasting regulator, recently consulted widely and concluded that we in Dumfries and Galloway and the Borders were unhappy (I could, and have, told them that for nothing!) and, to ITV’s great credit they are consulting on two options – the first is for the restoration of a dedicated news service for the Border TV area plus a weekly current affairs programme from that area. The second is for the same restoration, plus 90 minutes a week of “other regional programmes” which could be bought from STV.

While there are naturally pros and cons with either option, I will support option one, as it will maximise the coverage from our Region and allow for topical current affairs views to be aired – a very important local consideration in the run-up to next years referendum.

Above all though, well done to both Ofcom and ITV – how nice it is to hear of agencies and companies that both listen and act accordingly – and how sadly rare that is.

High hedges

From the very earliest days of the Scottish Parliament, constituents have raised the issue of high hedges with me – and I have seen some pretty terrible examples of the way hedges and trees can confine some people to living in almost total darkness. In the second session of Parliament, a backbench Labour MSP brought the issue into the spotlight with a Private Member’s Bill, on which he consulted fully, but ran out of time. He wasn’t returned in 2007, but the issue was kept on the boil by the minority SNP government, although legislation was still not forthcoming.

Now, a further Member’s Bill is making progress and I am genuinely pleased to be able to report that a Bill has passed the first stage of the legislative process. That is most welcome but, as with any legislation, it will not please everyone. Changes will be introduced at the next stage to amend it but, in the meantime, if anyone wants to know the general thrust of the Bill and the issues that still cause concern, please contact my office, and I will ensure that they are brought up to date.

Honest sonsy befriending faces

With Mrs F being away on a tour of the American continent visiting the grandchildren, I appreciated even more than usual the weekly Burns suppers that I attended over the past few weeks, given that they saved me from having to put my very basic cooking skills to use for the sake of self-preservation. I usually slightly dread the annual Burns-fest, as I inevitably have to sing – well, speak, actually – for my supper but, without fail, I always enjoy them enormously. The knowledge, humour and talent that is always on display never ceases to amaze me and I learn more about the works of that amazing man with every year that passes.

When that all comes together to raise money for a good cause, then the satisfaction is even greater and so it is with enormous pleasure that I can now report that the Befrienders Burns Supper – which has become a fixed annual event after only 7 years – this year raised over £3,500 from the biggest turn-out yet. Given that the organisers work their socks off for the Befriending project day-in and day-out, it speaks volumes for them that they continue to organise such a successful event as well. Keep it going!

Championing the oyster

I know that they are meant to rate alongside caviar as desirable edibles, but I have never liked oysters. One of my worst moments as Presiding Officer was being offered a plate of oysters in Australia, with no way out of sliding it from the shell to my mouth with, presumably, complimentary comments thereafter. I got it into my mouth OK, and then spent about 10 minutes doing my best to pretend I had swallowed it – which I hadn’t. It was a very large oyster, and I cannot possibly reveal its final destination other than to say that it was not as intended by our hosts!

You might then justifiably ask why I have became Environment Link’s species champion for the native oyster, and the reason is simple. Far and away the most important native oyster beds in Scotland are to be found in Loch Ryan and, as that is the only species requiring a champion that is exclusive to my constituency I went for it, having ascertained that I don’t have to eat any as part of my championing duties.

Hats off to Environment Link though for this initiative. It is a novel way of highlighting a number of vulnerable species in the Year of Natural Scotland, and I am more than happy to participate in that initiative.

Quilting Hampden

Every week there are at least two exhibitions in the Scottish Parliament designed to draw members’ attention to a wide variety of issues. All require to be “sponsored” by a MSP, and I am thrilled to be sponsoring a rather special exhibition this week, February 25. It came about after I was approached by Alzheimer’s Scotland’s quilter-in-residence to sponsor this exhibit, which will publicise the challenge to cover Hampden Park in quilts in the cause of Alzheimer’s awareness. It will require 5000 quilts and lots more are still needed, so if anyone out there is interested in contributing to this novel idea, get in touch and I will pass on the contact details. Lets face it, 5000 quilts will be a lot more entertaining than what we usually see on the surface of Hampden!

Go Rural

I attended an interesting event in Holyrood recently, entitled “Go Rural”. The initiative first came through the efforts and experiences of a Nuffield scholar who travelled abroad to look into working examples of what is referred to as “agri-tourism”, and has been expanded by a team of rural leaders who took part in the 2012 Rural Leadership Programme –which I have the pleasure of hosting for a day at Holyrood every year. The idea is basically that you stay on a farm, learning about local food production and the rural way of life in general.

The accent is very much on quality, as it should rightly be, and that goes for the accommodation as much as it does for the food and drink that is produced. As a way of trying to restore the once strong link between town and country, I think it has much to commend it and it is something we should be able to excel in here in Dumfries and Galloway. So tell your urban dwelling friends and relatives: “Next holiday – go rural.”

Malawi

Regular readers will recall that I visited Malawi back in 2011. I had been told before I went that Malawi has an extraordinary effect on people, and I have been no exception to that general rule. I remember writing that if you strip away the vast difference in material wealth between our two countries, Malawi was a much richer nation in many ways, and I still hold that to be true.

So I jumped at the opportunity of returning to that amazing country that was afforded through a Commonwealth Parliamentary Association visit scheduled for the middle of March. Through the work of the CPA, the Scottish Parliament does a lot of good work with Malawian MPs, and I cannot wait to see what differences, if any, have taken place with the change of presidency that took place last year. Scotland’s links with Malawi are immense, as are those from Galloway, and I will report on the visit more fully in next month’s column.

MV Princess Victoria

I was only three years old when the MV Princess Victoria was lost in a dreadful storm between Stranraer and Larne, but I can distinctly remember the atmosphere that day in our home at Larbrax, just north of Portpatrick, which looked out onto the Irish Sea. I was, therefore, very moved by the simple ceremony to mark the 60th anniversary of that tragedy which took place on January 31 in Stranraer, as indeed I was by the number of people for whom that tragedy still has very strong personal links. Sons, daughters, wives, husbands and other relatives still abound and I felt very humble when laying a wreath on behalf of the Scottish Parliament. But it was absolutely right and proper that I should do so.

Surgeries

We may now be well into a new year, but my monthly surgeries remain open to all. First Fridays are in Dumfries, second Fridays in the Stewartry and the third in Wigtownshire. Just ring free on 0800 028 7260 for full details.