I was pleased to speak in Tuesday’s debate on the Carbon Neutral Islands project, which will embrace the opportunity for island communities to lead the way in realising Scotland’s climate change ambitions.
There is a special significance for Orkney in this project, with Hoy named as one of the six islands being supported to become carbon-neutral by 2040.
However, while this is an exciting opportunity for Hoy and the other islands, I used the debate to stress the need to find balance in achieving net-zero whilst also not pushing island communities further into fuel poverty.
As an MSP who represents five of the six islands identified for this support, I was very glad to hear Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs and Islands Mairi Gougeon say she will soon be meeting with those already making headway in the islands to make sure that these efforts are made with the community, not to them.
There are obvious extra challenges to living in an island community, including the extra transport costs associated with internal ferries and flights. Many homes and buildings are very old and some are not compatible with air source heat pumps or other greener heating systems.
Fuel poverty is at its highest in parts of this region, not least Orkney. It is vital that when we talk about doing away with oil boilers we think about the impact of that on people who already had energy bills that were impossible to budget for before the cost of living crisis and the looming need to swap to a new, and likely more expensive heating system.
We have to think about the astronomical personal costs, regardless of any grants for installation, that people face in paying for extremely high power consumption to heat badly insulated houses with green energy.
I was therefore glad to see in my Orkney colleague Liam McArthur’s amendment a line that draws attention to the need to consider not just encouraging retrofitting but actively funding it. That is necessary, and it is important that that aspect was brought to the debate.
A greener country cannot just mean flashy statistics; it has to also mean that those living here can afford to heat their homes in winter without starving.
I will continue to make the case with the Scottish Government that, while many of the levers of power around energy policy lie with Westminster, more has to be done at home to support those bearing the brunt of bad decisions down south and more consideration has to be given to island contexts when we create Scottish policy.
Elsewhere, last week I led my first Members’ Business Debate, on Scottish Health Action on Alcohol Problems’ report on the experiences of LGBTQ+ people with alcohol.
Alcohol is embedded in queer culture, but we’re not genetically programmed to experience harm. This is a societal issue.
This is a clear cross-party issue and I was glad to hear my comments on rural and mental health pressures LGBTQ+ people face echoed across the chamber.
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.