I am excited to be writing my first column for The Orkney News, having met editor Fiona Grahame in June during my first visit as an MSP.
After being elected in May to represent the Highlands and Islands I was determined to start getting round this massive constituency as soon as possible, so when I heard that Orkney Pride was on towards the end of June it went straight into my diary.
That was such an open, happy and welcoming event and I was delighted to be able to support what was the first ever ‘in person’ Orkney Pride. It was a really colourful and inclusive day as I took part in the virtual march, and a fitness class at the Pickaquoy Centre that tested my stamina! It was heartening to see the Pride flag flying over Kirkwall Town Hall – despite it being slightly controversial for some in the community – as we gathered on Broad Street.
After that positive experience earlier in the summer, it was disappointing and shocking to hear that there have been a number of racist incidents in Orkney in the past few weeks. I am heartened that local campaign group Orkney Oot Wae Racism has reacted in a positive manner to organise an event for the coming weekend.
I am happy to give my full support to the organisers of the ‘You can bide here’ gathering, which will be an opportunity to demonstrate Orkney’s wish to welcome everyone to the islands, regardless of race, ethnicity or nationality. I am sure that, as with Orkney Pride, it will be an uplifting and inclusive occasion, and I love the idea of bringing folk together with food and readings or songs celebrating diversity. I hope the weather smiles on all who gather in front of St Magnus Cathedral on Saturday.
As thoughts now turn to the new session at Holyrood, the cooperation agreement with the Scottish Greens holds exciting potential.
I am particularly keen to see progress on housing issues, including plans to create a new housing regulator to enforce tenants’ rights in the private rented sector. The agreement also covers greater restrictions on evictions during winter, penalties and compensation for illegal evictions, and targets the building of 110,000 affordable homes by 2032, with 70% available for social rent and 10% in remote, rural and island communities.
Of course, the SNP already has plans to give local authorities powers to restrict the number of second homes in their areas. Short-term lets regulations are something I personally support very strongly and believe are necessary, particularly in the Highlands and Islands. Tourism is important to our economy; however, we mustn’t put visitors above our local residents.
I have heard stories in both Orkney and Shetland of health and social services staff unable to find accommodation due to the housing situation in the islands. This must be addressed urgently.
Action to regulate the numbers of short-term lets will make a big difference in housing availability and affordability, especially in areas like Orkney.
This is a personal column by Emma Roddick SNP MSP. All MSPs who represent the Highlands and Islands have been offered the space in The Orkney News to share their own views in a regular column.