Diary of an MSP – Alex Fergusson

Zip Wire Triumph

I have just descended the longest zip wire in the UK which has now been officially opened at Laggan Outdoor Centre.

All I can say is that this is a “must do” activity and that it is without doubt the best value you can get for £15 anywhere. I really believe we now have the attraction for which people will turn left at Gretna. Get there before the crowds arrive.

Highland Show

Dave Smith, of Savour the Flavours, called it “the greatest collaborative effort across the whole of Dumfries and Galloway” that he had heard of. The effort was the President’s Initiative at this year’s Royal Highland Show. At the end of the day, we mounted an £80,000 plus promotion of our region, involving a vast number of individuals, businesses large and small, agencies and the council – all of which, with great support from our wonderful sponsors, made a significant impact both within and beyond the showground itself, and for which I, as president, am enormously grateful.

From Langholm to Port Logan, countless numbers of people gave their time, talent and their enthusiastic commitment to this effort and my heart simply swelled with pride as I watched the whole thing – the end result of a year’s work by so many people – coming together at Ingliston the day before the show began.

Then the weather decided to make its presence felt! The one thing we hadn’t really planned for was three days of rain and the resulting quagmire that everything outdoors became. There is nothing you can do about it, and the stoicism of the Scottish people in still producing the fifth highest ever attendance at the show was there for all to see. But if you hadn’t got a tarmac path in front of your tent you were in trouble – and we had eight tarmacless tents in the Dumfries & Galloway village we had created.

So it was a case of putting your best foot forward, and our representatives came up trumps. Always smiling and forever cheerful, they made Dumfries & Galloway’s presence clearly felt.

Outdoor activities, arts and crafts, nature-based tourism, our themed town, and everything that makes our region special was there for all to see. The upside of all this was that everyone headed indoors and, in the immensely popular food hall, were met with a fantastic display of Dumfries & Galloway’s finest food and drink that genuinely wowed the thousands who came across it.

Jubilee Celebrations

Pride has been very much to the fore over the past month. As an unashamed monarchist, I was delighted to see the great variety of events that communities across the region held to mark the Queen’s diamond jubilee – yet another celebration that was weather affected, but enthusiastically participated in by thousands across Galloway. The Union Jack was prominent in almost every community once again and I am pleased to see how many of them are still to the fore a month on. And why shouldn’t it? The Saltire is the Scottish flag, the Union Jack is the British flag – I have always been proud to be both.

The torch

I don’t yet know whether it was the responsibility of the London Olympic Games Organising Committee, the Scottish government or the local council, but someone missed an enormous opportunity to publicise this region when the Olympic torch began its Scottish leg in Stranraer. I hauled myself out of bed at 4am and got to Stranraer at about 5.30, parking in the town centre without any difficulty. “No-one here,” I thought, only to be utterly gobsmacked as I walked towards the Castle Square by the veritable throng of people that had gathered. It was a truly fantastic occasion and speaks volumes for the people of Galloway that they turned out in such numbers to witness this once in a lifetime event despite the lack of prompting to do so by those who should have known better. All those present should give themselves a pat on the back – you did brilliantly.

Volunteering

Every year, Volunteers Week gives us elected members the opportunity to get a taste of various projects and initiatives that simply wouldn’t happen without the input of the voluntary efforts of the wonderful men and women who keep themselves busy by volunteering. I don’t know if anyone has ever worked out how much volunteers save the state every year, but it must be many billions of pounds.

This year I spent time with Alcohol and Drugs Befrienders, the Citizens Advice Bureau and the Stranraer Recycling Project, all of which carry out invaluable work that would be impossible without the input of the volunteers. None more so than the Stranraer Recycling Project that now runs the van on recycled waste cooling oil that is turned into fuel to drive the van that collects the cans from across Galloway that are sorted, compacted and taken to collection centres where they are exchanged for the money that keeps the project going. That is genuine recycling, it’s terrific, and more details can be found on its new website www.stranraerrecycling.org.uk.

Go on – have a look!

A75

A recent Member’s debate in parliament highlighted the need to upgrade a section of this so-called Euroroute to the east of Dumfries – a section within which a recent tragic accident resulted in the death of a young child. I was sorry I was unable to participate in that debate because, despite various suggestions for upgrading being mentioned by MSPs, there was no mention of the continuing urgent need to bypass Springholm and Crocketford – two villages that will soon become the only two communities with 30-mile limits between Dover and Stranraer. I know people who moved to Springholm well over 20 years ago on the understanding that it would be bypassed in the near future. They have long since given up any such hope.

I can understand prioritising road upgrades on proven accident areas. But it is well past the time when Springolm and Crocketford should at least be included in a five- or 10-year programme. Governments of all colours have let these communities down and I am sorry they are no longer mentioned in any debate on the A75. I’ll just have to make sure that I can attend the next one.

Windfarms

The concern over the seemingly unstoppable spread of onshore windfarms has been given fresh impetus by the Scottish government’s recent plea to councils to ensure even more urgency is given to identifying areas “suitable” for windfarm development. It is, therefore, interesting to note that two local authorities have recently called for a moratorium on further applications until they have managed to make sense of the ones they have already received. I wish ours would do the same.

Recess

And so the schools break up for the summer hols, and parliament closes for the summer recess. Two months to concentrate largely on constituency matters without having to go to Edinburgh three days a week. I greatly welcome that opportunity, and look forward to seeing as many constituents as possible across the constituency at all the great events, both large and small, that fill up our summer months so effectively every year. What’s more is that we are overdue a great deal of sunshine – let’s hope they coincide!