It is hardly believable that when I wrote only a fortnight ago Russian forces had not yet entered Ukraine. Less than two weeks on the crisis that has created the biggest movement of people in Europe since World War Two seems to have been with us much longer.
I know that Highlands and Islands communities have reacted in various ways to show their support for the people of Ukraine, but Orkney was certainly to the fore when those gathering for a vigil in front of St Magnus Cathedral made clear their opposition to the imminent visit of a Russian-owned oil tanker to Scapa Flow.
The UK Government’s very belated last-minute decision to stop that visit happening was at least a positive sign.
In stark contrast, the flat-footed and over-bureaucratic Home Office response to the refugee crisis has been heartlessly inept. It falls so far short of the humanitarian reaction we have witnessed on mainland Europe that it demands a complete overhaul of UK policy towards Ukrainians. The Home Secretary needs to follow the example of our European neighbours and scrap visa requirements for Ukrainians fleeing the Russian invasion, as well as scrapping the cruel anti-refugee Nationality and Borders Bill, which would criminalise those who seek refugee protection here, outside regular routes.
Countries all over Europe are playing their part in supporting the Ukrainian people in their time of need – the UK must follow suit.
Closer to home, last week I had the opportunity in Holyrood to raise an issue that many constituents care deeply about: controls on second homes.
In rural and island communities, we cannot separate the issue of depopulation from homes lying empty for most of the year. I know that in Orkney, the dire housing situation has caused serious issues around recruitment to health service and local authority posts among others, with successful candidates struggling to find accommodation. This cannot be allowed to continue.
I was elected last year on an SNP manifesto that promised to tackle this issue, and I will continue to press for it to be tackled. I was delighted to get reassurance from the Cabinet Secretary for Housing, Shona Robison that this policy remains on the Scottish Government’s agenda. She pledged that, during the stakeholder discussions on the remote, rural and island housing action plan, the Scottish Government will engage with stakeholders about proposals on what additional powers are needed.
Finally, the staggering increase in household energy bills on the horizon, alongside rising food prices and the national insurance hike, will have a devastating impact on families in Orkney and across the Highlands and Islands.
The UK Chancellor should introduce an emergency budget to support families through this crisis, which includes delivering a Real Living Wage, reversing the cut to Universal Credit and changing his energy loan into a grant to make the scheme more generous than planned.
The Scottish Government continues to have to find extra funding to fill gaps in the promises of the Tories at Westminster. Things need to change.
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 own views.
In 2016 the UK voted to leave the EU. Looks like we made the right decision……..
In January 2021 the EU introduced a new mechanism to refuse EU funds to national governments who breach the rule of law; in March 2021 Poland and Hungary challenged the regulation in the EU Court of Justice; last month the court dismissed Poland and Hungary’s appeal. This morning, the EU Parliament voted 478 to 155 to apply immediate sanctions on the two countries.
The Commission “must take urgent action and immediately apply the Rule of Law Conditionality Mechanism by notifying the member states concerned in writing.” In the last fortnight, Poland has taken 1.2 million Ukrainian refugees, Hungary has taken 191,348. How exactly do EU parliamentarians believe these financial sanctions will aid the two countries to clothe, feed and house the refugees in the midst of war on their borders…