Maree Todd MSP On A Mixed Week for Orkney

I guess it’s been a bit of a mixed week of good and alarming news for Orkney folk, depending on your perspective.

Islanders, along those in Shetland and the Western Isles, could celebrate being able to visit each other in their homes once again from last Friday, after the Level 1 restrictions were eased. This was only relaxed for the three island authorities, and I am sure was very welcome.

However, whether visiting or sitting in their own homes, Orkney farmers tuning into Andrew Marr on Sunday to hear about the future of their industry under Tory Brexit were in for a shock.

It was put to Tory Environment Secretary George Eustice that due to 90% of UK sheep exports going to the EU, sheep farmers would be “devastated” in the event of a No-Deal Brexit.

Eustice dismissed this, and his solution to significant issues that tariffs look set to cause sheep farmers was that “mixed farmers could always diversify into beef because the UK would be importing less from Ireland”.

I suspect that Orkney farmers shared the opinion of National Sheep Association chair Jennifer Craig, who said that for a Government minister to suggest such a move, in the event of the lamb price crashing, on national television was“quite frankly a laughable response”.

And anyone left in doubt of the views of the UK Tories when it comes to Scotland got the message loud and clear from the PM himself on Monday evening, when reports emerged that he had told an online gathering of his own MPs that “devolution has been a disaster north of the border”.

Thank goodness, then, that Scots are realising that something much more attractive lies beyond the present devolution settlement. The 14thopinion poll in a row shows a majority of voters in the country would now vote for Scotland to become independent.

It is clear that part of the growth in support for independence is the contrast in the trust in the leaders north and south of the border – whatever Boris Johnson’s view of what is going on this side of the border may be.

However, I suspect that new policies such as the recently launched Scottish Child Payment – which is unique to Scotland – are also helping. (Scottish Child Payment- a ‘gamechanging’ new benefit) The Scottish Government has prioritised the early introduction for families with a child under six and, despite the impact and disruption of Covid-19, are able to start payments from early 2021.

Scotland is the only part of the UK where this additional payment for families with young children will be available. The payment could support up to 194,000 children this financial year and the payment will be made every four weeks.

This is the most ambitious anti-poverty measure currently being undertaken anywhere in the UK. Almost 60% of all children in poverty live in a family where a child is under six, so it is great to see it come in almost two years ahead of the original commitment for its introduction.

Stay strong folks.

This is a regular column by Highlands and Islands SNP MSP, Maree Todd. All list MSPs for the area have been offered the same space to share their personal views in The Orkney News.

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