Diary of an MSP
Alex Fergusson

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What a waste

Understandable anger has been expressed over the council’s plans to introduce kerbside recycling, which will mean all of us sorting rubbish into four or five separate bins.

Quite where these bins are supposed to go on narrow pavements I have no idea, but that is what is going to happen. And all after the Eco Deco plant was built at Dumfries with the promise that it would put us at the forefront of environmentally sustainable waste disposal for years to come. What is worse is that it is estimated that only around 20% of Dumfries and Galloway householders will comply – so 80% of our waste will have to be split centrally or not at all. It is a shambles.

I understand the anger and frustration – but it should not be aimed at the council. The fact is that SEPA and the Scottish Government have interpreted new European guidance in a way that has virtually forced this change upon us.

Shambellie’s future

It came as a very unwelcome surprise that National Museums Scotland (NMS) had decided to close the National Collection of Costumes at Shambellie House, New Abbey, without any prior consultation. NMS has three other buildings – the Museum of Rural Life in East Kilbride, the Museum of Aviation in East Lothian and the National Museum in Edinburgh. If Shambellie were to close, NMS would become the National Museum of the Central Belt.

Recently, we had an excellent debate in parliament about this awful decision. Five MSPs from all four parties have opposed it, meeting the chief executive of NMS, then with the Cabinet Secretary for Culture and finally sending a joint letter to each individual trustee of NMS asking for a year’s grace to explore the many management models that could ensure a future for Shambellie. The council, Chamber of Commerce, DD&G, ADGAP and hundreds of individual businesses and visitor attractions endorse this position and I will be bitterly disappointed if that grace is not granted.

But I remain worried. The Cabinet Secretary says a “better offering” is required from NMS – that falls far short of a wholehearted endorsement – and the chairman of the Trustees is to meet council representatives to discuss “the closure of Shambellie”. When the constituency MP and MSP, four regional MSPs, every local stakeholder and hundreds of individuals seek a year’s stay of execution, surely NMS, dependent on public funding, can listen?

The return of Border TV?

I was delighted to learn that the issuing of ITV franchises could see the return of Border TV. Research has been done since our “local” centre of ITV operations moved to Newcastle and – surprise, surprise – nobody likes it! I am happy to welcome the rethink that appears to be taking place, as I have always felt we have been left with something of a local news deficit since Border moved to Newcastle.

Parliamentary précis

I promised to include a parliamentary précis at the request of a constituent who wants to know more of what we talk about in Holyrood. Over the past month, we have had debates with motions, amendments and votes on Air Passenger Duty, further education (twice), business tourism, asylum seeker destitution, local government finance, freedom of information, drink driving, adoption, Scotland’s relationship with Malawi and universal benefits. We also have three Members’ debates each week on a range of topics from Shambellie House to the Christian Aid Tax Justice Bus. No votes are taken in Members’ debates, and the government cannot be bound by them. Parliamentary debates take place on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays, with the mornings given over to committee meetings, also held in public. The Rural Affairs, Climate Change and Environment Committee, on which I sit, meets every Wednesday and is focusing on CAP and CFP reform as well as the recently introduced Aquaculture and Fisheries Bill. For anyone keen to find out more, I recommend Googling the Scottish Parliament and exploring the website – debates are recorded under the “Official Report” –and some recent ones have been pretty heated.

Clive Fairweather RIP

I once had a great old shepherd full of wonderful sayings. Coming back from a funeral with him once he remarked: “Aye – it’s no sae bad ’til they start pickin them oot o’ yer ain pen.” He meant, of course, that attending funerals is one thing, but attending funerals of people your own age makes you sit up and think. That phrase came back when I attended a memorial service in Edinburgh for the remarkable Clive Fairweather – a former SAS officer who became chief inspector of prisons and, latterly, a fundraiser for the charity Combat Stress. I know many constituents have come across Clive over the years. He was a remarkable man of humility and humanity and will be missed. He was “oot o’ ma pen”, and my pen will be much the poorer for his absence.

Milestone at Stranraer station

I attended an unusual event at Stranraer station, where I unveiled a plaque commemorating the 150th anniversary of the station jointly with Lord Stair. Given the uncertainty over the future of the rail service, it was a poignant moment, but I joined others in expressing the hope that the ceremony would mark the beginning of the next stage of the station’s life.

One interesting and ironic fact came to light when I was reading the station’s history. Years ago there was a bit of a row between a ferry company and the railway company. So heated did the row become that the railway company at one point threatened to move to Cairnryan. Now, all these years later, it is the ferry company that has moved to Cairnryan! But well done, in particular, to SAYLSA – a pressure group dedicated to saving the railway line and service south of Ayr – for ensuring this anniversary was not forgotten.

YFC 75th anniversary

I recently attended an event at Ingliston to mark the 75th anniversary of the Association of Young Farmers Clubs, and was reminded of my involvement in that organisation during the two years I spent in New Zealand after I left school. Indeed, the first debate in which I ever took part was in a YF team, for which I proposed the motion: “Sheep should be made to wear hats”! Not only did we win, but we went on to be crowned the Hawkes Bay Junior Young Farmers Debating Champions of 1966. Heady days!

There is a tendency among some to think YFCs simply provide an opportunity for young people to party at agricultural shows. As the presentation at Ingliston made clear, today’s YFCs are about helping others, empowering, upskilling, team-working and responsibility while having a lot of fun. That is an impressive resumé and it is no wonder the organisation continues to go from strength to strength.

Clean up Scotland

Some months ago I was asked to host a reception at Holyrood for Keep Scotland Beautiful. Last spring, KSB held a National Spring Clean – a national event during which volunteers collected enough black bags full of litter to cover Hampden Park to a depth of three feet. That is a lot of litter, yet you only have to drive around our beautiful region to see that the problem continues. The only long term answer is education.

In recognition of the many national and international events coming to Scotland in 2014, KSB has launched a Clean Up Scotland campaign. I am hugely supportive – I hate litter and find it hard to believe people seem to think it’s OK to chuck litter out of their cars or houses. I wish KSB every success with the campaign.