Having always opposed the creation of a single police force for Scotland, I thought it only right that I should meet with Sir Stephen House, Chief Constable of Police Scotland, and I was pleased to be able to do so. One of my main concerns was, and remains, that the new force will roll out a one-size-fits-all policy for policing that will not allow the necessary degree of flexibility that a rural area such as Dumfries and Galloway requires.
Sir Stephen maintained that will not be the case, and flagged up the benefits of the police in our region being able to call on the resources of the single force whenever local communities feel extra resources are necessary. Furthermore, they can now do so without any impact on a local budget, as the entire resources of the single force are available.
In many ways that has to be good. Yet I find myself wondering why the policing of the Wickerman Festival seems to require about double the number of officers this year, many brought in from other parts of Scotland, when it has been policed perfectly satisfactorily by our local force for the past 11 years.
You have to laugh
I took advantage of the recess to visit my mother, who lives in Perthshire and took her for a drive so she could show me some of her recently discovered haunts. During our tour, I was intrigued to note that, according to a signpost, we were approaching a village called Dull. My day was made by the sign at the edge of Dull which read: “Welcome to Dull. Twinned with Boring, USA.”
A visit to the town of Boring, in Wyoming, is now on my “bucket list”. Furthermore, I now understand that the town of Bland, in Australia, is looking to enter a three-way twinning arrangement. They are surely made for each other.
When you read of the rise of food banks, the continuing recession is brought home in stark reality. So, while I have often been a critic of Tesco and its impact on high streets, I can only commend the company’s food collection initiative, in conjunction with the Trussell Trust and Fair Share, two charities which pack and distribute food to those who need it. I was more than happy to join the staff at the Castle Douglas branch during the food collection weekend and was struck by the enthusiasm of the staff, matched by the keenness of the customers to make a contribution.
It was impressive to note the initiative collected more than 350,000 “meals” across Scotland, with 1040 of those being contributed by the Castle Douglas store.
Following last month’s column, in which I wrote about the High Hedges Act, I have received a number of calls asking how the Act works. I am sorry to have to report that the Act will not come into force until next year, as there has to be consultation between the Scottish government and councils to thrash out the details. This process is a necessary evil, but I can understand the frustrations of those constituents waiting for this legislation for many years.
NCSL at Holyrood
In 2010, when I was in Washington DC as Presiding Officer with a parliamentary delegation, I addressed the National Convention of State Legislatures (NCSL). This body is comprised of the speakers, and some members, of the “parliaments” of every state in the US. It is a high-powered organisation. My speech on Scotland’s climate change legislation was well-rehearsed, and preceded by a video montage of the Scottish parliamentary events accompanied by the Proclaimers’ “I will walk 500 miles”. My speech was well received. I was to be followed immediately by President Obama’s Environmental Secretary Steven Chu, but my heart sank when I heard the chairman announce that, as Mr Chu had been delayed for at least 30 minutes, Mr Fergusson would be happy to take questions. Questions had never been previously mentioned! I have no idea how I got through that last half hour, but I got away with it somehow.
It takes a lot to get me out of the constituency during the recess, but I felt I had to attend a reception and dinner in Edinburgh for the NCSL spring event which, for the first time, was to be held outside the US. They had chosen Scotland for this ground-breaking event, and the first question I put to one of the delegates was: “Why Scotland?” “Well,” came the reply, “you guys made such a good impression on us that we thought we’d come to Scotland. Mind you, the whisky helps!”
All aboard the Food Train
I have finally managed to do something I have been meaning to do for ages: join the Food Train. The volunteers who crew the train do a fantastic job by doing the shopping for those unable to do their own. During my morning’s experience, we delivered food to a number of homes in and around Newton Stewart, and I was more than pleased to learn how the operation works. While it sounds simple, you need a lot of people to mount this type of operation, so credit is due to all the volunteers as well as those retailers who make it possible. I finished with the impression it’s not just the food delivery that’s important – the interaction between recipients and volunteers also plays a huge part in making this initiative such a success. Long may it last.
Having held almost 40 surgeries over a two-week period across the constituency during July, I enjoyed meeting those constituents who came to see me. The award for “surgery venue of the year”, however, has to go to the good people of Crocketford who, having discovered they had double booked the hall, erected a gazebo, complete with side panels, for my surgery. I can only say thanks.