As we move into the New Year – and indeed a new decade -we unfortunately also move closer to Brexit day on 31st January and the stark reality of a Tory majority government becomes clear, despite us rejecting both in Scotland.
Predictably, Prime Minister Boris Johnson – emboldened by that majority – has denied the First Minister’s request for a section 30 order. Perhaps he knows the only way to stop Scotland choosing independence, is to avoid asking us.
The UK government’s stance on this matter is unsustainable and self-defeating. It is not politically sustainable for any Westminster government to stand in the way of the right of the people of Scotland to decide their own future and to seek to block the clear democratic mandate for an independence referendum.
And while Unionists try to stand against it, an unstoppable momentum behind a fresh independence referendum is clearly evident – just look at the 80,000 people who turned out in a dreich Glasgow last weekend to march for an independent Scotland.
Over the summer last year, I spoke to many islanders who were keen to have the opportunity to choose independence in future. Brexit was changing their view towards an independent Scotland.
The SNP has recently taken the Tory government to task over its failure to confirm future investment in Scotland’s Islands Growth Deal. Since pledging to match the Scottish Government’s investment last summer, the Tory government has failed to offer a timescale or a cash offer. Despite Westminster’s silent treatment Orkney Islands Council, along with colleagues at Comhairle nan Eilean Siar and Shetland Islands Council, have been working hard to develop a framework on how the funding would be spent – it’s now up to the UK Government to honour its promises.
While there is a lot to be frustrated with concerning Westminster, there is also a lot to look forward to this year. From August 2020, all three and four year olds, and around a quarter of two year olds, will be able to benefit from 1140 hours of funded early learning and childcare. As Minister for Children and Young People, I’m thrilled to see this expansion becoming real and I want to encourage families in Orkney to find out what is available locally for their child and to get registered. We want to ensure that Scotland is the best country in the world to grow up in and I’m confident that this increase in funded hours will play a fundamental role in that.
In the first week of parliamentary business, the Scottish Parliament voted overwhelmingly against the EU Withdrawal Bill, in line with the decisive and repeated votes of the people of Scotland. The Scottish Government also outlined plans to hand over new powers to local councils that will allow them to license and limit the number of short-term lets, such as Airbnb establishments. Whilst we welcome tourism here in our islands, we must strike a balance between the economic benefits of tourism and the impact on local communities.
This is a regular column by Maree Todd MSP, SNP. All list MSPs for the Highlands and Islands have been offered the same space in The Orkney News to share their own viewpoint.