With just a week until Christmas, I would like to take this opportunity to wish everyone in Na h-Eileanan an Iar a very happy Christmas and a prosperous New Year.
We are very lucky to live here in the peaceful and safe islands with a strong sense of community and a charitable reputation to so many different causes at home and beyond.
It has been a challenging month in Westminster and I left Parliament with a heavy heart on December 2nd following the decision of the UK Parliament to approve airstrikes on Syria. Despite the best efforts of many MPs from across the party spectrum, this feels like action without a mandate from the people and in particular the people of Scotland.
Scotland welcomed the first groups of refugees over the last few weeks, many of whom have fled from areas where airstrikes are being carried out. The Western Isles will welcome the first families next spring. I have been delighted to hear so many offers of help and even accommodation from people around the islands and look forward to meeting our new neighbours.
Looking out for our neighbours is something people in island communities have always done and I know first hand the value of a good neighbour! Recently I also had first hand experience of how shopping around for energy suppliers can save you a significant sum of money and I would urge people to look into this and offer assistance to your neighbours with this if you think they too could be paying over the odds.
I am delighted to see a long list of island communities who will have a very positive start to 2016 in terms of steering their own destiny through community ownership. Gallan Head Community Trust in Uig and Keose Glebe group have secured funding to take forward their plans and the Pairc Trust have finally taken ownership of the land and I wish those communities well in their future ventures. It was also a great night for Point and Sandwick Community Trust last week when they picked up the Scottish Green Energy Community Award – this is the second year in a row that this has been won by a Western Isles community with Barra and Vatersay winning last year. This is testament to the hard work and dedication from those community groups who are making the most of the Isles energy potential.
I recently met with Community Land Scotland and representatives from several community trusts who outlined the challenges they face in light of the UK Government’ plans to scrap Feed-In Tariff and other levies. I am supporting their view for community projects to be considered separately from large scale commercial plans and will make representations to the UK Energy Minister on this matter.
In Westminster last month, it was a great pleasure for me to present a 10 Minute Rule Bill in the House of Commons proposing the introduction of Scots Votes for Scots Laws. I am calling for an amendment to the Scotland Act 1998 in light of the Parliament’s recent decision to approve English Votes for English Laws. As the Prime Minister said many times all options of devolution are there and all are possible and therefore I look forward to the second reading of my Bill due to take place in March.
I am extremely concerned to learn that the UK Government plans to withdraw funding for Gaelic TV and I have written to Secretary of State for Scotland David Mundell MP to urge him to do all in his power to reverse this decision. The Gaelic media industry not only supports many jobs in the Highlands and Islands but also has a vital role to play in nurturing the future of our language.
I am pleased to receive confirmation that trawlermen may soon be able to land the edible fish Spurdog. Fisheries Minister Richard Lochhead MSP has advised that the EC will now be asked to consider allowing a genuine by-catch to be landed without allowing a targeted fisheries to develop. A proposal to argue for a small quota is being prepared for December to support a by-catch pilot programme, this will be informed by the results of recent and ongoing research such as the FISA project based in the Minches spearheaded by Islander Shellfish, Stornoway and Barratlantic Ltd. I’m delighted there is at last an emerging possibility of a genuine by-catch being considered. Credit for this progress must in large part go to Islander Shellfish and Barratlantic for initiating and running the Spurdog project used to inform these proposals.
On another positive note, Vodafone have given a commitment to deliver 4G mobile internet technology to much of the Western Isles within the next two years if the fibre broadband network is in place for it to do so. I will continue to press the firm for progress on this and I have also been in correspondence with BT who stress that they are also committed to working with the mobile companies to bring this about. I am also one of the group of cross party MPs who have written to the Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osbourne urging him to continue investment in broadband across the UK. I will continue to push these issues in the new year as I know how important they are to people and businesses across the Isles.
Finally let me once again wish you all a very happy and peaceful Christmas and best wishes for 2016.
If you would like to contact me with any issue please contact my office on 01851 702272 or email email@example.com.
You can also follow me on Facebook Angus MacNeil MP or on Twitter @hebridesmp.
This column appeared in the Stornoway Gazette on December 10th 2015