Diary of an MSP Alex Fergusson

Dumfries and Galloway Conservative councillors Gill Dykes, Finlay Carson and Graham Nicol with European Parliamentary candidate for the Scotland electoral region, Dr Ian Duncan and MSP Alex Fergusson in Newton Stewart on Monday.
Dumfries and Galloway Conservative councillors Gill Dykes, Finlay Carson and Graham Nicol with European Parliamentary candidate for the Scotland electoral region, Dr Ian Duncan and MSP Alex Fergusson in Newton Stewart on Monday.

I am horrified at the decision by Police Scotland to close the control centre in Dumfries with the loss of 34 civilian jobs and the fate of 10 police positions hanging in the balance.

I instinctively dislike centralisation, which is why I always opposed the creation of a single police force. Justice and policing are among the many services that should be managed and delivered as locally as possible. Local people know and understand the area and communities where they live far better than those who don’t, and are much better placed to handle calls swiftly and effectively.

The creation of Police Scotland was supposed to save the public purse more than £100 million, according to the SNP government. It now seems to be cost-neutral at best. What odds on this move saving money and increasing efficiency? I’d keep my money safely in my pocket rather than bet on that!

This retrograde step is a fait accompli but I understand the proposal will go before the Police Board and that the affected staff can put forward a counter-proposal. I have one such counter-proposal: this is about making better use of technology. Why, in that case, should one of the surviving centres not be located in Dumfries? That would at least show that this SNP government actually knows that the south-west of Scotland exists.

Rain, rain go away …

Mrs F and I escaped the worst of the floods over Christmas and New Year by spending most of our recess in the West Indies with our “American” son and his family.

While we enjoyed a delightfully warm break, it was concerning to read of the pounding the region was taking in our absence. As we live up a steep hill about 100ft above the Ken Dee river, we assumed we would be spared damage. However, on arriving home, we were astonished to find that a large section of the hillside out of which our driveway was dug many long years ago had disengaged itself from the hill and slid across the drive.

Snow and ice have previously prevented us from getting up the drive, but I had never thought we would be blocked by a landslide. The driveway is now clear but there’s an awful mess. At least our damage was outside – I have enormous sympathy for those whose houses got flooded inside.

… And don’t come back for many a day

There has been a huge amount of damage done to our coastline as well. Some of the pictures in the local press resemble scenes from abroad rather than what we expect to see locally. Yet it would appear that the damage exceeds £650,000 in the west of the region alone and the total damage must be well in excess of £1 million. Governments exist to help in such circumstances and, while we have been promised an improved flood warning system in 2015, I think more immediate help may be needed. I will be exploring that possibility with ministers as urgently as possible. I have had calls from a number of constituents who are registered with SEPA for early warning but who didn’t receive any. They are not happy.

Acrobatics, burlesque and Burns

I confess I couldn’t see how a combination of these three could work, but I was wrong, as I discovered in the Spiegletent at the launch of the third Big Burns Supper – Dumfries’s rapidly growing winter arts festival.

Although the launch guests were treated to just a glimpse of the whole show, I found the combination of Burns songs and scantly clad but stunningly impressive acrobats incredibly enjoyable and refreshingly challenging to the traditional ways of celebrating our Bard’s life and works. Long may the Big Burns Supper live – it is a huge asset for the region.

You say tomato …

But I now have to say Solanum Lycopersium L, apparently. An email came through last week attaching a letter from the Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs regarding “changes being made to the UK’s National List Legislation to accommodate the botanical name change for tomato in European legislation”.

I did not know whether to laugh or cry at this stunning news. Here we are, struggling to get out of a devastating recession, agriculture in turmoil over CAP reform, trying to identify right from wrong in the constitutional debate and a million other vitally important things to worry about when everything is put on hold to accommodate a change in the botanical name for a tomato.

Panel night in Whithorn

The annual “panel night” in Whithorn, run by the estimable Business Association in early January, provides an excellent opportunity to get the grey matter up and running. This year was no exception and the variety of questions, which ranged from the impact of wind farms on local businesses and tourism to the advisability of forming a local development trust, were as challenging and interesting as ever.

One thing is sure: Whithorn faces a fascinating year with the probable development of that trust, a restructuring of the existing Whithorn Trust, the development of “the St Ninians way” and the exploration of the “All Roads Lead to Whithorn” initiative which was so successful last year. Whithorn is undoubtedly on the move, and I look forward to seeing how all this energy translates into action over the coming months.

Surgeries

Due to the council changing the opening times of some libraries, my monthly Dalbeattie surgery (second Friday of each month) will now be held in the Community Initiative Office at 4pm and in Newton Stewart (third Friday of each month) in the McMillan Hall at 5.30pm.