Back to business
Every year, as summer recess ends and we prepare to return to parliament three days a week, I recall the feeling of going back to school after the holidays. Returning to Holyrood is not something I look forward to with eager anticipation, though it is always fine when you get there. But the length of the summer recess lulls one into a different routine that definitely does not include commuting to Edinburgh for half the week. It also has to be said that this summer’s spectacular weather has made the past couple of months all the more enjoyable.
I was more than pleased to attend a meeting in Dumfries recently to discuss the continuing disappointment of figures across Dumfries and Galloway failing to mirror those from the rest of Scotland and the UK in terms of economic recovery and employment. It was refreshing to sit round a table with the relevant agencies and local politicians to discuss this real concern – one that is particularly worrying when the unemployment figures for young people are examined.
No magic solution is going to emerge from that meeting. But one or two failings were identified which will be kept in the spotlight, and some actions have been initiated already. I very much hope this meeting showed that elected members of all parties across this region can speak with one voice.
I am intrigued to read in one of our local papers that a Scottish government consultation on “Planning for Scotland’s Seas” is to include the possibility of a Marine Protected Area (MPA) in the Solway. I understandi the consultation is more about the potential for the development of so-called offshore wind farms and other marine-based renewable energy projects.
Indeed, during our Rural Affairs Committee work over the past year I have consequently quizzed officials on why a MPA was not being proposed around the Mull of Galloway, given the importance of the bird species there. “Was its exclusion,” I asked, “due to the fact that the area between the Mull and the Isle of Man is designated as a possible wind farm site?” Any answers were somewhat less than convincing, so I’m off to brush up on the details of the consultation. I would urge readers to attend these consultation meetings if possible. The future of our magnificent coastline might well be at stake.
The low point of my recess was the death of my colleague, the first Scottish Conservative leader, David McLetchie, through cancer at the age of 61. His funeral underlined the fact that he was liked and admired by politicians of all persuasions and his absence will be keenly felt. I admired the fact he so ably established his party as a credible force in the new political environment that existed from 1999.
Donald Dewar, Jim Wallace and Alex Salmond led the other parties, yet David more than matched them. The fact that so many former and current MSPs attended his funeral highlighted the high esteem in which he was held.
Among the major beneficiaries of the great summer weather were the community events – and what a difference it makes when the brollies and wellies can be left at home. The gala days and festivals could be just what they set out to be, and the agricultural shows allowed the waterproofs to be left in storage.
I was on grandchildren duty for some of the shows, but was able to go to Wigtown which, after the quagmire of last year, was just about as perfect as a show day can be. Days out in the summer don’t get much better.
By way of contrast, the Galloway Country Fair at Drumlanrig was a damp and dismal affair on the Saturday I attended. I’m told the Sunday more than made up for it, and this show seems to be going from strength to strength.
All these events just go to emphasise the huge variety of interests and community that makes up the western half of our region. I don’t think there’s anywhere else quite like it.
During the recess, I have tried to visit and talk with as wide a variety of the local businesses as possible, to gain a better understanding of the problems they face. It has been fascinating and enlightening, and I am left even more in admiration than I already was at the determination to succeed that these businesses display. Whether the business is employing 200 people or two, it seems that the three main barriers to expansion are shared: the difficulty of persuading banks to lend, the volumes of bureaucracy that surround any application to any agency supposed to be in place to help and the poor infrastructure, both transport and IT, that serves the region. Major improvements to the IT infrastructure are on the horizon but until these hurdles are tackled, it is hard to see when the trend will be reversed.
I enjoyed meeting all those who came to my various surgeries around the constituency. The surgery tour gave me another opportunity to wonder at the incredible variety our region offers. I cannot undertake that number of surgeries on a frequent basis, but my monthly surgeries in the main towns will continue. Call free on 0800 028 7260.