Diary of an MSP Alex Fergusson

Court closure proposal

I am, frankly, appalled at the Scottish government’s proposal to close Kirkcudbright Sherriff Court – another proposal that seems to highlight the centralising nature of this Scottish government. It seems to me that these proposals have everything to do with saving money and “increased levels of specialisation” – whatever that means – and precious little to do with either the course of justice or, most importantly, the victims of crime.

The consultation can be accessed on the Scottish Court Service’s website, and I hope it will receive a resounding thumbs down from those who respond. We will then find out whether it is yet another consultation of which the results are simply ignored by the government in Edinburgh.

New hospital

I was absolutely delighted that the preferred new site for the proposed new hospital at Dumfries is to the west of the town. Anywhere on the A75 would have been an improvement from the access point of view, but the preferred site is the best possible outcome for my constituents, and therefore I am very happy with it.

I am not quite so happy with the decision that the hospital is to consist of single-roomed patient accommodation only, for the simple reason that I am far from convinced that the patients’ viewpoint was taken into account by the Scottish government before it declared that all new and refurbished hospitals should be single-roomed only, unless there was a clear clinical case made for multi-bedded wards.

Now, I have no desire to stir up a controversy about this at all, but some questions still need to be answered. I did ask the relevant minister in parliament about the degree of consultation that had been carried out on this issue with patients, and the answer was unconvincing, to say the least.

I am assured that, as the new hospital is to be for acute cases only, no-one will be there for more than two or three nights, but I do find myself asking whether we have enough beds across the region for everyone else. I also appreciate most younger people are less comfortable in multi-bedded wards but we have an exceptionally high number of elderly residents in Dumfries and Galloway and I am convinced many of them benefit considerably from multi-bedded wards.

This is largely about the prevention of hospital acquired infections and that is laudable. But I do find myself wondering whether the linoleum floors and the matrons of the past were such a bad thing after all!

What’s wrong with ME?

Before you get over-excited, this is not a question I am asking – it is the title of a recently published book. And it’s not just any old book, I assure you. It is the title of a book that Mrs F began some years ago and worked on while I was busy being the Presiding Officer of the parliament.

Regular readers will know that our youngest suffered from ME during his teens to the extent that he was virtually bedridden for two years. While I could hide in my work, Mrs F’s dedication to our son’s care was phenomenal, and it turns out that she kept a diary during that time.

ME (myalgic encephalomyelitis) is still something of a mystery, and it is not high up on the list of diseases that the medical research world seems to want to do much about, despite the fact it is the root cause of the majority of cases of long-term absence from school. In order to try to shed some light on this vile disease, Mrs F has combined extracts from her diary with factual explanations of various aspects of the disease.

The launch at the Catstrand in New Galloway was a complete sell-out, everyone who was there told me it was a huge success and I find that I am now married (very proudly) to a published author – good grief!

Wigtown Book Festival

Talking of books, the Wigtown Book Festival is with us once again. The launch of Wigtown as Scotland’s National Book Town was my first event as a candidate for the Scottish Parliament in 1998.

I had been selected only the night before – and it has been fascinating to watch the change to Wigtown since. The festival has grown into a 10-day event which ranks among the best of its type in the UK, and which now encompasses visual arts, music and food and drink as well as literacy events. The fact it now attracts authors such as Alexander McCall Smith and Jan Morris, statesmen such as Douglas Hurd, the former Foreign Secretary, and journalists such as John Simpson – all of who figure this year – says it all.

It is a wonderful festival and I hope you managed to take some of it in. Everyone involved does a great job and we should all be truly proud.

Moving Stories in Dalry

As part of the parliament’s 10th anniversary events, Holyrood commissioned a travelling exhibition, called “Moving Stories” which was to display, through actual examples, how individuals can use the processes of parliament to highlight issues that concern them and, hopefully, have them addressed.

I should know, as I officially launched that exhibition at least three times in different parts of the country during my time as Presiding Officer. It features the stories and experiences of up to 10 different people in an attractive and interactive display and it is coming to St Johns Town of Dalry where it will be located in the hall from October 16.

When it was launched (the first time!) we decided it would continue for as long as it was worthwhile and was well received. That it is still going three years later speaks for itself.

Timber lorries

One issue in my inbox/mailbag that continually crops up is that of timber lorries on the roads. We live in a heavily forested part of the country and, when all these trees were being planted in our hills in the 1960s and 1970s, no-one gave much thought as to how they would be removed 40 years later. However, we have a highly modern timber industry as an important part of out local economy, so timber in transit is part and parcel of our everyday life.

Much has improved over the years. Convoying of timber lorries now rarely takes place, movement is often timed to avoid things like school runs on minor roads, but the subject still crops up. So I was intrigued to see a proposition that could see a considerable amount of timber leaving our area by sea rather by road. The idea is to use the old port facility at Kirkmabreck and I’m told there is a potential for at least 12 boatloads a year to begin with, which is the equivalent of 700 lorry loads of timber. If that takes them off lengthy sections of the A75, it must be worth investigating.

Charity begins …

I find it amazing how much people are still willing to do for the right causes, despite the exceptionally difficult economic times. Last month I confessed to my fear of heights, and used it as an excuse to get out of abseiling down Drummore Lighthouse. So I was thrilled to learn that around 70 much less wimpish souls, one of whom was 75 years young, undertook this, and raised an incredible £11,000-and-rising for Save the Children.

Just over a week later I had the pleasure of addressing over 100 ladies from across the region who had decided to hold a fund raising dinner in aid of Macmillan Cancer. You might argue that giving an after-dinner speech to 114 ladies as the only man present was more foolhardy than throwing yourself over the edge of a lighthouse, but at least I could keep my feet on the ground (and there was one other male present, to my infinite relief!). Suffice it to say, more than £2000 was raised.

All of which leads me to say of the people of this region: “Wha’s like us? Gey few!”