Although I did a massive amount of travelling around the Highlands and Islands during recess, and learned a lot while doing so, the pace steps up another gear once MSPs are back at Holyrood.
During August, I spent 104 hours and 28 minutes travelling over 1,891 miles. That was while Parliament wasn’t sitting; travelling to the remote city of Edinburgh every week may well increase those miles!
In our first week back I was glad to recognise the recent work of Orkney Oot Wae Racism by lodging a motion applauding their anti-racism efforts in the islands. When groups promoting hate appear, it’s not enough just to say you’re not part of it – we must stand against them. Well done, Orkney Oot Wae Racism for taking action and organising what was a Covid-safe and family-friendly event, which by all accounts struck a very positive tone.
While I couldn’t make it to Orkney for that particular occasion, my first visit to the islands earlier in the summer had included conversations around depopulation. This issue may well be helped by initiatives that were spoken about by Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs and Islands, Mairi Gougeon, answering my question during last Thursday’s portfolio session.
I was keen to learn what the Scottish Government is doing to encourage more young people to get the skills and education that are needed to become farmers or crofters, or to take up other land-based career opportunities in the Highlands and Islands, in order to tackle depopulation.
Mairi outlined the Scottish Government’s recent announcement of the establishment of a commission for the land-based learning review, which was part of its first 100 days commitments.
The Scottish Government intends that the review will consider the learning pipeline from early years to adults with a view to increasing opportunities for more people—in particular, more women—to gain qualifications and employment in the land-based and aquaculture sectors. Agriculture is one of the key sectors to be included in the review, which will support the Scottish Government’s ambition of delivering a just transition to net zero and a climate-resilient Scotland by ensuring that our learning system equips people with the skills and knowledge that are needed to work in Scotland’s land-based and aquaculture sectors.
There is no doubt that there is much to do in this area, and that targets are challenging, but as one of a number of initiatives aimed at reversing depopulation in some of Scotland’s islands, it is important to ensure it is designed to work effectively for these areas.
The new term has also seen the Scottish Greens leaders, Patrick Harvie and Lorna Slater, become government ministers as part of the agreement with the SNP. I was encouraged to hear Lorna declaring she intends to be proactive on anti-racism, on anti-sexism on anti-ageism and anti-ableism. And I wholly agree with her view that it is good to see certain demographics unsettled over the kind of policies heralded by the cooperation deal.
There are some exciting times ahead.
This is a regular column by SNP MSP Emma Roddick. All Highlands and Islands MSPs have been offered the same space in The Orkney News to share their personal views.