Diary of an MSP Alex Fergusson

Almost unbelievably, we’re into December and what I sometimes call the “retrospective month”, when we tend to look back at the past year.

That’s exactly what we did when I joined more than 250 people at the Easterbrook Hall to attend Dumfries and Galloway Life magazine’s People of the Year awards. This event oozes positivity and it is wonderful to revel in good news and success for two or three hours.

What’s more, the various categories highlight the fact that our region can match any when it comes to the quality of arts, crafts, culture, entrepreneurialism, tourism, food and drink and community spirit. We have much to be proud of and the overwhelming feeling during the event was unadulterated pride.

I congratulate everyone who was recognised at this event.

Cockling resumes

Ever since the demise of the well intentioned but ultimately unsuccessful Solway Shellfish Management Association, I have been keen to see organised cockling resume on the Solway. It is ridiculous that we have a natural product that is in great demand worldwide and we cannot access due largely to bureaucratic blindness. So I was absolutely delighted when the efforts of a great many people bore fruit in mid-November when a local co-operative of hand gatherers took to carefully selected cockle beds and began harvesting for the first time in too many years.

However, this does not mean that the Solway cockle fishery is open. Far from it. What is underway is a carefully designed scientific exercise to determine whether a certain type of management system could lead to a sustainable fishery in the Solway. The trial is being conducted under the auspices of Marine Scotland, and there is considerable involvement from other agencies, notably the police, the Solway Partnership and the council. Furthermore, bids for the tender to undertake the trial were received from far and wide, so it is greatly to the credit of the local co-operative that it was successful.

The trial will run until February . If it helps to define a structure for a sustainable industry on the Solway it will be worth it. We have the fishermen and we have the stocks. We just need to make sure that one and one does equal two!

Awepa

It has been an incredibly busy month in Holyrood. The Independence White Paper and the Same Sex Marriage Bill got all the headlines but headlines only tell part of the story. I was pleased to host a meeting of members and officials with an interest in helping African parliaments to build democratic processes. The purpose of the meeting was to make us aware of an organisation called AWEPA: an association of European parliamentarians with their African counterparts.

As the ethos and workings of AWEPA were explained to us, I was struck by the similarities between them and the work we undertake in Malawi under the auspices of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association. Regular readers will recall I visited Malawi last February. If I had to describe the work in one phrase, it would be about empowering parliamentarians to hold their governments to account. The problem is that doing that is one thing in Europe; it is an entirely different thing in most African countries, where parliaments simply endorse government action rather than question it.

I hope our Holyrood links with AWEPA will grow ever stronger over the coming years.

FLAG funding for Port William

I was more than pleased to learn of the awarding of a large grant to the Port William inshore lifeboat for the building of a boat shed. I have no doubt this will transform the operational capabilities of the brave volunteers, and I am delighted that they have benefited from the European funding stream aimed at coastal communities.

I was, however, disappointed that an application to the same fund that could have transformed Drummore Harbour did not succeed. Sadly, this was in no way down to the application itself but was to the inability of the “charitable” Harbour Trust (which owns the Harbour) to work with the wider community in Drummore. The ultimate loser is Drummore. This funding is made for places such as Drummore, and I understand there is likely to be a second tranche in the near future. These differences must be sorted out by then.

Tesco, Trussell and FareShare

FareShare, the Trussell Trust and Tesco have again teamed up to undertake a national food collection, and I had the pleasure of supporting this initiative in Castle Douglas and Stranraer. Members of the public are asked to donate items of food and Tesco then adds an additional 30 percent. Millions of food parcels are then given to local food banks. It is a great initiative and I was amazed at the response it was clearly getting from shoppers.

Mobile signals

I met representatives of Arquiva in Holyrood, a company that won the UK contract to provide mobile signals to communities that currently have none. Note that word communities – not individuals – and there are strict criteria the company has to stick to. However, we have several such communities across the region, and it is good to know that, within the next couple of years, they will receive quality mobile signals.

Mind you, I still believe that the day is fast approaching when houses with no signals of any kind will be able to command large premiums – sometimes I would give a great deal to be uncontactable!

Portpatrick in Peru

When visiting my family in Peru during October, I was asked if I could undertake a visit to Portpatrick Primary School. The time and date was arranged, and I entered it in my electronic diary. I should have allowed for the six-hour time difference plus the clocks changing. Had I done so, I wouldn’t have phoned the school at 9.15am on the day of the visit (3.30pm in my diary) to discover I was expected at 10.30am. Result? I was only five minutes late and thoroughly enjoyed a stimulating visit.