Diary of an MSP Alex Fergusson

At the Addaction open day were, left to right, Ian Duffy, Councillor Jim McClung, Amy McCulloch, Elaine McClymont, Anne Rice, Hugh Robertson (Dumfries and Galloway service manager) and Andrew Horne, director of Addaction
At the Addaction open day were, left to right, Ian Duffy, Councillor Jim McClung, Amy McCulloch, Elaine McClymont, Anne Rice, Hugh Robertson (Dumfries and Galloway service manager) and Andrew Horne, director of Addaction

When reflecting on David Bowie’s brief, but welcome, plea for Scotland to remain within the UK, I was reminded of one of his great songs from several decades ago.

It was called “Changes”, and it very accurately describes what has happened in Scotland as a result of two Scottish Parliament decisions taken in February. Two specific pieces of legislation prompt me to make that claim: the Same Sex Marriage Bill, and the Children and Young Persons (Scotland) Bill.

The first speaks for itself and, whether you approve of it or not, same sex marriage will soon be part of life in Scotland. The second Bill has much in it that is good. However, it also contains a section which I believe should concern those of us who still believe the state should intervene in our lives as seldom as possible, especially in family lives and on matters such as how we raise our children.

One part of this Bill means that every child will have to have a “named person” from whom advice can be sought at any time during the first 18 years of life. That person will also have the power to intervene in certain circumstances, and that concerns me.

It is to ensure that no child becomes the victim of some of the truly dreadful abuse we read about all too often. I cannot argue with that principle. But I can see a situation looming when a tragedy occurs whereafter someone accuses a named person of not having intervened soon enough, and that is when the legislation will be found wanting. Pressure will be heaped on every named person to intervene more and more, strengthening the power of the state and diminishing the role of the parent.

Befrienders, Bruce and dairy cows

Things often arrive in threes, and me being asked to chair various events. First up was the annual Befrienders Burns supper – surely now the best attended Burns supper in the region with 225 people in the Easterbrook Hall in Dumfries. It raised £5000 for this great local charity. This supper is going from strength to strength.

My second chairing duty was to preside over an unusual but stimulating debate on the topic of “The murder of the Red Comyn – good or bad for Scotland?”. Held in the Crichton Campus, a sell-out crowd gathered on a cold Saturday morning and enjoyed four speakers arguing on the subject in a very informative manner – with enough humour involved to keep the cold at bay. At the end, the audience voted on the question. The result … well, I won’t spoil it for you: read a little about it and make up your own minds.

My third chairing duty is a flattering one. I have been asked by the diary industry across the UK to chair a review of a voluntary code of conduct between producers and processors, a code that has been operating for a year on the understanding that this review would take place. “It wont be a problem,” I was assured. “The main players will sort out the difficult issues between them – you just need to act as an independent chairman.” Aye, right!

I only hope that this particular chair is as comfortable as the first two.

February recess

The week-long recess each February provides an opportunity to visit various agencies, companies and individuals in the constituency, and I was pleased to accept an invitation to attend an open day by Addaction, the agency that operates out of Stranraer and Dumfries providing support and assistance to those who struggle with addictions. The first thing I learned was that two-thirds of their work is related to alcohol addiction rather than drugs.

I was enormously impressed by the enthusiasm and commitment of the staff, and even more so by the ethos of the process. It is a personalised service within which every person seeking help is given it in the surroundings within which they feel most comfortable. I wish them all well.

Cairnryan traffic

The residents of Cairnryan have always had a problem with traffic. It is long and strung out, built only on one side of the road. Then P&O built a terminal at the southern end of it. The problems increased. Then Stena moved out of Stranraer to a port at the northern end and this once sleepy fishing village became a massively busy freight terminal with houses in the middle. The traffic situation is no longer acceptable.

I was, therefore, happy to join some regional MSPs to make representations to the Transport Minister to make Cairnryan a special case, and I am delighted that he has asked Transport Scotland to look again at what might be done to address the situation.

I will be even more delighted if and when they actually do something about it!

White knights still exist!

I recently had one of those embarrassing moments we all dread. Having 30 minutes to spare between meetings, I went to a cafe and ordered a coffee. As it was poured, I put my hand into my pocket and realised I had left every penny I possessed at home. The coffee sat there steaming at me, as did the pourer, as I mumbled that I was well and truly skint. “Hold on,” I murmured, “I’ll be back,” as I rushed to my car to see if I couldn’t rustle up the necessary. No joy! Mrs F must have been there before me.

So I made my way back to the counter, wondering whether I could offer my watch as temporary credit, only to find the most gentle of men saying: “It’s OK, Mr Fergusson, I’ve paid for your coffee.” In my embarrassed confusion and gratitude, I forgot to ask his name so, whoever you are, sir, thank you.

Library closures and surgery changes

No doubt the council will come up with figures to justify the reduction in library opening times that have taken place, but I can’t support that decision. It’s bad enough in any community, but to constrict the opening hours of the library in Scotland’s Book Town defies belief.

It also affects my monthly surgeries, with the result that the Newton Stewart surgery will be in the McMillan Hall. The times remain the same.