As the awful conflict in Ukraine continues, the stream of folk leaving the country to seek safety elsewhere in Europe grows daily.
As the Scottish Government’s role as a super sponsor for Ukrainians fleeing their homes develops, I have been heartened to hear that folk across the Highlands and Islands, including Orkney, which has its own housing pressures, are offering to open their doors to refugees.
The Minister for Refugees from Ukraine is, of course, Neil Gray, and I know he is pleased to see folk in his home islands eager to help. The Scottish Government is making £15 million available to bolster the support to Ukrainian nationals arriving in Scotland, with just over £11 million to go to local authorities and £2.25 million set aside for temporary accommodation.
It is clear that this may be a long-term arrangement for those arriving in Scotland, and we need to ensure that Ukranians fleeing the conflict know that they will have a home here for as long as they need it.
Elsewhere, I am really glad to see that, as the Scottish Government begin taking over adult disability benefits from the UK Government, we are already able to begin taking a much more compassionate approach.
The new Adult Disability Payment will replace PIP and opens for new applications in pilot areas this month. Those on the highest components of the new benefit and whose needs are highly unlikely to change will not be subjected to reviews and can rely on their new benefit into the long-term. This is a key change and has been widely welcomed – with many suggestions that this should be replicated at a UK level as well.
As a strong advocate for active travel, I am delighted to see the Scottish Government invest record levels of funding into ensuring that walking, wheeling and cycling become the natural choice for short everyday journeys.
A record sum of £150 million is being invested for active travel in 2022/23 and at least £320 million or 10% of the transport budget has been committed for active travel by 2024/25.
Active travel brings numerous mental and physical health benefits, whilst also helping us meet our climate targets, and so I am really pleased to see record sums being used to deliver on the ground.
Finally, I recently contributed to the Equalities, Human Rights and Civil Justice Committee’s debate in the Scottish Parliament on ending conversion ‘therapy’ practices.
As a member of the LGBTQI+ community, this debate hit very close to home. Listening and responding to the speakers who came before me was, truthfully, a very emotional experience.
We are rightly proud of Scotland’s historic record on LGBTQI+ rights. It is one of the things that makes me so hopeful about the future of our country. However, we cannot allow ourselves to slip or slow down in our determination to make this country the best it can be.
We must follow the example of France and Canada and ban conversion therapy in Scotland for good.
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 views.