Diary of an MSP - Alex Fergusson

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Have your say

I have never written about party politics in this column and I have no intention of starting now.

However, I hope I’ll be forgiven if I say just a little about the politics of my party, which is currently in the early stages of electing its new leader, following the one-and-only Annabel Goldie’s decision to step down.

This is a rare occasion and that brings with it a rare and welcome opportunity to debate where my party should go from here, having steadily declined at Scottish Parliamentary elections since 1999. And the four candidates who are contesting the leadership certainly represent all sides of that debate, which has to be a good thing. All four are MSPs, which makes me wonder if any other party has ever had over 25% of its elected representatives standing in a leadership contest!

One candidate wants no change at all and even wants a referendum before the changes already agreed by the Calman Commission, the Scottish Parliament and Westminster are brought into effect. As they are already integral to the Scotland bill that is already under way at Westminster, methinks that she is a tad too late. A second candidate, only elected last May, believes that we should accept those changes but no others.

Calman represents “a line in the sand”, she says – one that shouldn’t be crossed. A third, a long-serving party stalwart, says that he is open to ideas about change, but has a history that suggests he is not exactly an ardent devolutionist.

The fourth, another with a long history in the Party, believes that we need a fundamental change of direction with an emphasis on Scottish policies and a proactive belief in devolution.

The four candidates therefore accurately reflect the broad range of views of party members.

I have made no secret of the fact that I support the fourth candidate – a radical change that allows us to focus on devolved issues in the Scottish Parliament. I also believe that we must raise a significant portion of the Scottish budget, which is over £30 billion every year, here in Scotland. How else can we possibly be properly accountable to you - the electorate?

Enough already, as they say in the US. Does anybody outside my Party care? Possibly not, but they should. All good Parliaments need a proper balance of political opinion within them, otherwise you end up with an effective dictatorship, and we don’t want that, do we?

shawhead success

Some readers might have read about the extraordinary success of the pupils of Shawhead Primary School, who have won First Prize in a UK wide project, called the Sky Rainforest Challenge, run by the World Wildlife Fund. Fascinated, I visited the school to see for myself and came away mightily impressed by the pupils and the confidence they have achieved through participating in this project, which has involved a whole range of measures they have taken to reduce their energy consumption and, more importantly, to educate mums, dads and the wider community about the whole issue.

What’s more, they are coming to the Scottish Parliament this very week to tell us about it in a super presentation, written by themselves, of which I had a sneak preview during my visit.

young veterans

Sounds like a contradiction in terms, doesn’t it, but as I’ve written in this column before, soldiers returning from action these days can be 18 or 19 years old and they are indeed veterans. One of the slight anomalies of Parliamentary elections is that Cross Party Groups have to be reformed at the start of the new Parliament. CPGs are single-issue groups, supported by MSPs of all parties, which aim to raise awareness amongst other MSPs of the various issues affecting the subject of the group.

I was quite concerned, therefore, when no-one seemed to be picking up the baton of the CPG on Veterans that had begun during the last Parliamentary session.

I am therefore delighted to report that I have recruited a Cross Party platoon of like-minded MSPs and we will be meeting in the near future with a view to re-establishing this particular CPG.

DO IT YOURSELF

There is nothing better than coming across a community project or individual initiative that hasn’t sat back and waited for things to happen but has just gone out to get it done. So I was very proud to be asked to open Carsphairn’s Community Garden on Saturday September 4 – a day on which the sun rediscovered itself with a perfect sense of timing.

This project deserved sunshine. It began back in the late 90s as an idea for a Millennium garden. The Millennium came and went but the idea remained.

The land was acquired in 2002, fundraising began, drainage problems arose, more fundraising effort, form filling, finding volunteers – everything that goes with a great community effort. Finally, it all came together and Carsphairn now has a truly wonderful community asset to show for all the blood, sweat and tears that went into its creation. It has all been worth it, believe me.

buenos aires comes to holyrood

Readers of this column might recall that I have a son who is an English teacher in Argentina. Somewhat amazingly, a group of his pupils have been over on a two-week expedition to the UK and I arranged a visit to the Scottish Parliament while they were in Edinburgh.

My son had given me a list of the type of questions he thought they would ask, in line with what they were studying, but I must confess that they didn’t seem too keen to follow up my prompting in that chosen direction.

No wonder really, as I discovered that they had flown overnight from Buenos Aires to London, straight up to Scotland, could only dump their bags as their rooms weren’t ready, and then been frogmarched down to Holyrood! No wonder my son wasn’t on the trip!

beware bogus callers

I got an e-mail from an acquaintance the other day telling me he had been mugged while on holiday in Athens and needed help. Could I phone his hotel, it asked, and he’d let me know how to get him some money until he got home. It was all very plausible (unlike the many messages I get from Africans promising me many millions in return for my bank details), but turned out to be a complete scam.

It is therefore timely to highlight the Give with Care campaign, which is raising awareness of bogus firms which collect goods on the doorstep ostensibly in aid of charity.

Ask for ID. All genuine collections will have a Scottish Charity number starting SCO; ask for a contact phone number and which specific charities will benefit. Don’t stop giving, just be careful who you give to!