There is a better way and Scotland cannot hesitate this time, says Isles MP

Na h-Eileanan an Iar SNP MP Angus MacNeil says there should be a Scottish independence referendum in the next year.

Speaking after First Minister Nicola Sturgeon’s launch of a fresh independence campaign today, Mr MacNeil said:

“Many people have told me that if it was known in 2014 of the Boris/ Brexit/ Westminster debacles that were to come, Scotland would have voted for independence and been in a much better situation now.

“Meanwhile we have the cost-of-living crisis, a clueless Chancellor and the money that was printed by the Bank of England to help the economy ending up in the hands of the already super-rich, making inequality worse.”

He continued: “We should, in the next year, have a referendum that will mean Scotland can choose and change its own government when Scotland chooses. This rather than having a Boris Johnson-type whom Scotland didn’t vote for or his Tory policies which are largely ignoring poverty or the increasing costs of living and even sending poor unfortunate refugees to Rwanda.

“There is a better way and Scotland cannot hesitate this time.  Similar and smaller neighbours in Denmark, Norway, Iceland, and Ireland prove we would have a better country if we were independent like them.   All there is to fear is fear itself, and of course the stream of negative scare stories in some daily newspapers – which I hope people are wise enough to see through.

“Had we chosen independence in 2014 we certainly wouldn’t be thinking of going back now – we would have instead felt very lucky we were clear of the ongoing Westminster debacles.”

The Scottish Government has today published its opening documents in support of independence.

The document titled ‘Independence in the Modern World; Wealthier, Happier, Fairer: Why Not Scotland?’ is the first of a series of documents due to be published.

Clarity must be provided on £400 energy bill grant eligibility, says Isles MP

Na h-Eileanan an Iar SNP MP Angus MacNeil has written to the Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak calling for clarity on how the £400 Energy Bills Grant will work, particularly for off-grid households.

Many island residents use heating oil and propane gas to heat their homes.

Mr MacNeil submitted a Written Question on this topic prior to the announcement of the grant. He has now written to the Chancellor for clarification on how constituents will receive this payment.

Mr MacNeil stated: “In response to this announcement from the Chancellor, I received a lot of queries from constituents who are frustrated by the lack of clarity provided by the UK Government.

“I have asked for detail on how this will work for those with off-grid oil and propane gas central heating.

“Everyone is feeling the acute impact of rising energy costs, regardless of how they access their energy, and it is only right and fair that all households are provided with this much needed support.”

Historic Environment Scotland must live up to their responsibilities on Kisimul Castle

Na h-Eileanan an Iar SNP MP, Angus Brendan MacNeil has called on Alex Paterson, Chief Executive of Historic Environment Scotland to come to Barra to explain to the community why their stewardship of Kisimul Castle has left the Castle closed this summer.

Kisimul Castle is the most historic Castle in the Hebrides and has been a popular visitor attraction for years.

Commenting, Mr MacNeil said:

“Historic Environment Scotland is not living up to their promises on Kisimul Castle.  The community feels let down and is quite angry at Historic Environment Scotland’s attitude toward Kisimul Castle.

“People travel from all over the world to see Kisimul Castle which is reputed to be almost 1,000 years old.  A Castle that is set in the sea with a freshwater well and is of historic importance to the Isle of Barra, the Clan MacNeil, and the wider Hebrides.

“Historic Environment Scotland is not working to keep the Castle as they should have when they leased the Castle from the late MacNeil of Barra for £1 a year and a bottle of whisky.  We expect so much better from Historic Environment Scotland and I feel that they can’t run away from the community.  They must come to Barra and discuss with people what their plans are.”

ENDS

 Isles MP MacNeil writes to Comhairle on education jobs

Na h-Eileanan an Iar SNP MP Angus Brendan MacNeil is writing to Comhairle nan Eilean Siar about concerns from secondary teaching staff that the Comhairle is trying to impose more online remote teaching by introducing uniform timetables for s5/6 pupils across the islands whilst calling some teaching jobs in secondary schools ‘unviable’.

Commenting Angus MacNeil said:

“I find it quite concerning that the council are trying to put a strait jacket on schools by trying to make them all have the same timetable.  This does not enable flexibility or the idiosyncratic needs in each school. If there was much merit in this proposal it would be adopted across Scotland but quite clearly everyone knows that different schools have different needs with different pupils and different demands.

“Therefore,  logically the Comhairle shouldn’t be doing this. I am looking for clarity as to what I am hearing being described as ‘unviable’ teaching posts which sounds like cover for trying to take jobs from very rural communities.  No teaching job is unviable,  if a teacher is required, a teacher is required, and it should be a physical teacher, not one teaching via a computer.

“It also seems quite foolhardy for one of the smallest education authorities to go banding around the world ‘unviable’, lest they be merged with one of the larger mainland education authorities. So, I look forward to some clarity from the council on their proposals, especially as there is talk of local strike action from EIS at which apparently would be a first across Scotland, and certainly not what we want to see or become known for in our islands.”

Isles MP calls for action to improve inter-island patient travel arrangements

Na h-Eileanan an Iar SNP MP Angus MacNeil is calling for joint working to radically improve patient travel arrangements between the islands.

Mr MacNeil has been contacted by Barra’s main care provider, Cobhair Bharraigh, who have informed him of a patient’s 41 hour return journey to an appointment in Stornoway which took 10 minutes, versus the 28 hours it might take to travel to and from Glasgow.

Mr MacNeil is calling on NHS Western Isles, Comhairle nan Eilean Siar and the Scottish Government to improve the travel arrangements for patients between Barra, Uist and Stornoway, to allow patients to get to hospital appointments in a timely and decent manner.

Mr MacNeil: “Over the last number of years we’ve seen a degradation in the transport system in the Hebrides meaning it is now easier to go to Edinburgh or London or even Brussels faster than it is to go from one end of the Hebrides to the other.

“At the moment, people have unacceptably long journeys, of ferries, overnight stays and then a flight to get to Stornoway, then all day to wait to get a flight back with the hope it is not delayed so there is another overnight stay before getting home.

“For now, the fastest way to get to Stornoway from Barra is via Glasgow. Unfortunately, the difficulty there is that Loganair have been selling PSO seats to day-trippers which fills up the planes. Therefore, action has to be taken, either flying via Glasgow to get to Stornoway or instead using Glasgow hospitals to avoid the difficult journeys patients have had as highlighted by Barra’s Care organisation in a letter to members of parliament, the Comhairle and NHS Western Isles.”

MP demands urgent action from Home Office on Passport applications

Na h-Eileanan an Iar SNP MP Angus MacNeil has written to the UK Home Office calling for urgent action to resolve passport application delays.

Mr MacNeil has been contacted by constituents who have been waiting beyond the advised 10-week period to receive their new passports.

He said: “I have written to the Home Office to stress the need to urgently improve the system to process people’s passport applications in a timely manner.

“People are unable to get through to the Passport Office on the phone and are left in limbo as to whether they will be able to travel.

“Delays in processing applications leads to unnecessary stress and anxiety to those planning long awaited travel.”

Isles MP delighted to meet with Ukrainian family

Na h-Eileanan an Iar SNP MP, Angus MacNeil has today met with a family who fled war-torn Ukraine to come to the Isle of Lewis. 

Derek and Nataliya Macleod from the West Side of Lewis contacted Mr MacNeil for help in arranging for family to get out of Ukraine following Russia’s invasion.

Mr MacNeil and constituency office staff had weeks of frantic dealings with the Home Office, who bizarrely insist that people who have been caught up in the conflict must go through the visa application process before coming to Scotland.  After many weeks and angry exchanges with the Home Office they are finally safe with family on Lewis.

Commenting Angus MacNeil MP said:

“Derek and Nataliya Macleod were anxiously trying to get their family out of Ukraine to come and live with them in their home on the West Side of Lewis.

“The grim policies of the UK Government insisting upon visa applications which involved an immense amount of paperwork and added enormous stress to what was already a traumatic time.  This was in stark contrast to EU countries which showed compassion and waived the need for visas.

“This has probably been one of the most challenging cases I have dealt with and I can only begin to imagine how stressful a time this was for Derek, Nataliya and family.  Nataliya told me that she lost kilograms in weight and didn’t sleep well for weeks because of the extra stress to get them to safety.

“Today I was very pleased to meet with the family.  As MP for the islands, I conveyed my delight and that of everyone who has spoken about it, that the family have made their way to safety.  There was a funny moment, when one thought my face was familiar, later she realised that she had seen me asking questions in the House of Commons for Ukrainian people to come to Scotland, which she said she had seen broadcast on Ukrainian TV before she left.

“It was a moving and happy moment when the youngest of the family, 6-year-old Nataliia gave me a poster she had made as a thank you which I will put on the wall in my office.

Commenting Derek Macleod said:

“I would just like to say, on behalf of myself and my wife’s Ukrainian family, the biggest thank you to Angus MacNeil MP and Constituency Office staff, we are so grateful for their help to get to the island safely.

“The Home Office said that there was a visa application centre in Warsaw that we could walk into and do the biometrics and application but that wasn’t quite true and we were going to have to wait till the 22nd to be seen. Then we were told we could go to Ireland to do biometrics there, however Dublin was very busy as it was St Patrick’s Day and the rugby was on, making finding a hotel an issue. 

“It turned out that the UK Visa Centre in Dublin were unable to take our biometrics and we had to apply again for the 4th time in order to just register the passports on the application, luckily most of this work was done in Angus MacNeil’s Constituency Office in Stornoway which helped a lot.

“The hoops we had to jump through was very expensive, in travel and hotels, and it was traumatic for our whole party.

“I truly hope I never have to go through that ever again. It took me over 2 weeks to get a proper sleep.  I was imagining vivid scenes of possible deportation and disappointment, I was terrified of failing these people and having to say I’m sorry, I lied to you when I said I was taking you to safety. 

“We had to go through 4 different countries over 4 days and take disappointment after disappointment to get them finally here, God only knows how we got here. My mother is the greatest person in the world in my book, and knowing she was praying for me every minute of the day, kept me thinking we were going to be okay.

“When you are in a situation where everything goes wrong, but somehow you managed to get through it even shocking yourself that you managed to get them here. It was like that but on steroids.

“We are now sitting in the sun breathing Hebridean air celebrating May Holiday together.  Life for them is truly better and we say thank you, thank you, thank you.”

ENDS

Levies on cancelled ferry bookings are not the answer, says Isles MP

Na h-Eileanan an Iar SNP MP Angus MacNeil is calling on CalMac to rethink plans to introduce levies on cancelled ferry bookings.

CalMac are considering introducing levies on booking cancellations which could mean deduction of 100% of the total vehicle fare if cancelled less than 24 hours in advance.

The level of deduction would reduce if cancelled with a longer time scale.

Mr MacNeil does not think levies are the answer at a time of increased household costs and at a time when the ferry network is regularly unreliable.

The impact of levies on constituents who are employed offshore and often must change travel plans at short notice should also be considered.

Mr MacNeil has urged CalMac to abandon this idea: “I have many concerns about this. Plans change for a myriad of reasons – such as one CalMac boat being late for another, even a flat tyre or a flat battery in a car – adding red tape hassle is the last thing we need.

“I do not believe that people should have to absorb these additional costs if they need to cancel a booking and particularly at a time when the cost of living is increasing.  I highlighted the impact this would have on oil workers suggesting that oil workers are considered under exemptions. 

“I have further pointed out to CalMac that if they do this, then customers should also be reimbursed if a sailing is cancelled as we cannot have the company using its power against the passenger.  However, the extra hassle, work and resources for passengers and the company, makes all this a bad idea.

“There are far better ways of achieving demand management and I have again called on CalMac to look into introducing booking windows which could be done in such a way that 70% of the car deck would be released up to a month in advance, 20% up to a week in advance and the last 10% released on the week of sailing.  There is no need for a new contract to bring in this change either, in my view it could be done tomorrow.

“I understand from CalMac that the exemption list is examples and that they are going to speak to the community groups to discuss these proposals.  My short message to them is to save the hassle and scrap the idea.”

Sovereign wealth fund’s interest in inter-island tunnels is a ‘transformative step’ says Isles MP 

Inter-island fixed link tunnels could become a reality, says Isles MP Angus MacNeil after very positive discussions with a sovereign wealth fund from the Middle East. 

Mr MacNeil, who is Chair of the House of Commons International Trade Committee, met with the Mubadala group of Abu Dhabi this week, and the issue of ferry replacement inter-island tunnels was raised. 

Mr MacNeil informed the group that the Scottish Government were consulting on inter-island tunnels and received an instantly positive response. 

He said: “They mentioned they were aware there was plenty of opportunities in Scotland in offshore wind and when I told them the Scottish Government was also consulting on inter-island tunnels, they showed immediate interest. 

 “The deputy chief executive Waleed Al Mokarrab Al Muhairi said ‘that’s it, we are going to Scotland’.”

MacNeil said the project could follow the Faroese model, where ferry replacement tunnels up to 10km long linking islands are paid and financed by pension funds in Canada and sovereign wealth funds elsewhere. 

He said that as the tunnels would be a replacement for inter-island ferries, they would have fares in the way that ferries do and pointed out that the tunnels in the Faroes were already paying themselves off, with one paid off in 12 years instead of the expected 25. The Faroes are now building their fourth tunnel which is almost complete.

 He added: “The tunnels could be priced over 25 years and would be cheaper than the ferries are at the moment, plus they are available all the time regardless of the weather. 

“If there was a return on the investment, the finance would come and if the tunnels were priced over 25 years they would be cheaper than building and maintaining ferries.” 

Mr MacNeil has pressed for many years for the potential of tunnels to the islands to be looked at.  In 2019, he worked directly with Norwegian consultant Norconsult over the feasibility of the project which suggested a tunnel between Harris and Skye as the best option with a possible additional inter-island link between Harris and North Uist. 

MacNeil said tunnels were a serious option for the islands as a means of reducing reliance on the ferry network and making savings in the long term. 

Isles MP welcomes start of Scotland’s new Adult Disability benefit

Na h-Eileanan an Iar SNP MP Angus MacNeil has welcomed the start of Scotland’s new Adult Disability Payment which is being piloted in three areas including the Western Isles.

The scheme is open to applications from those aged between 16 and state pension age who are disabled, have a long-term health condition, or have a terminal illness.

This is the twelfth benefit to be introduced by the Scottish Government, with seven of these benefits being brand new forms of support that are not available elsewhere in the UK.

Mr MacNeil said: “The introduction of this benefit which will replace the system currently delivered by the UK Government’s Department for Work and Pensions (DWP).

“We know that applying for disability benefits through the DWP has often been a stressful experience. I hope that this new system will make the process much more straightforward and will remove some of the degrading examinations which were carried out previously, such as asking a person to ‘touch their toes’.

“Adult Disability Payment is there to support people to live well and provide security at the most difficult of times. I would encourage those who think they could be eligible to check and apply.”

Adult Disability Payment will be administered through Social Security Scotland and will replace Personal Independence Payment, which is currently delivered by the Department for Work and Pensions.

People with ongoing awards of Personal Independence Payment and Disability Living Allowance do not need to make an application for Adult Disability Payment. Their awards will transfer to the Scottish social security system automatically from this summer.

For details of eligibility and how to apply please visit: https://www.mygov.scot/browse/benefits/adult-disability-payment