Monday saw the latest Convention of the Highlands and Islands held in Orkney, with several of my Scottish Government colleagues in the islands to discuss the impact of Brexit on the region.
Transport and the marine economy were also up for discussion in Kirkwall’s King Street Halls on Monday, when ministers met with council representatives and stakeholders.
This is a key way that Orkney and its neighbouring authorities can get the ear of the Scottish Government. Deputy First Minister John Swinney chaired the convention, joined by Islands Minister Paul Wheelhouse, Rural Economy Secretary Fergus Ewing, and Minister for Public Finance and Digital Economy Kate Forbes.In addition, I know that Kate stayed on to carry out a number of ministerial visits on Tuesday.
As such, it shows that the SNP Government is always on hand to engage directly with rural communities, exchange ideas, and strengthen the relationships between national and local government.There were opportunities to explore the potentially catastrophic impacts of Brexit on Highland and Island communities, along with strategic priorities to help Scotland mitigate those impacts, including how to bridge the EU funding gap, something that will be vital to the future prosperity of Orkney’s agricultural community and fishing industry.
At a time when the list of UK government resignations grows almost daily among the Westminster Brexit shambles, it is difficult to think of the Tories being able – or willing – to send such a delegation of ministers to hear the concerns of folk in Scotland’s northernmost communities. In fact it appears that the Tories have no cares whatsoever for the impact of Brexit on anyone in Scotland.
It is scandalous that we are just days from a Brexit catastrophe being inflicted upon Scotland by the Tories. All parties, including Scotland’s Tory MPs, had the opportunity last week to vote for Ian Blackford’s amendment and remove the risk of No-Deal, not just at the end of March, but remove the risk of No-Deal forever. It is disgraceful that all 13 Tory MPs who represent Scottish constituencies betrayed Scotland by voting to keep the threat of No-Deal on the table – against the clear interests of their own constituents, who will be left poorer and worse off as a result. The Tories are not standing up for Scotland’s interests, and if that Brexit catastrophe hits then every single one of them will bear the responsibility.
To end on a more positive note, I was delighted last week to attend a Holyrood reception to hear about proposals for an Islands Deal, which is a joint bid from Orkney, Shetland and Na h-Eileanan an Iar.
The proposals include specific and cross-island targets, covering areas such as low carbon energy, tourism, housing and healthcare. They will be refined in discussion with government officials, and then submitted to the Scottish and UK Governments. The Scottish Government has committed to 100% coverage of Scotland by City and Region Deals, so it was good to hear Islands Minister Paul Wheelhouse welcome the case from the islands.
This is a regular column by local MSP Maree Todd, SNP. All List MSPs have been offered the same space.