What the election recess means for constituents

I am retiring from the Scottish Parliament at this election. Under normal circumstances, Parliament would have been expected to dissolve on 25 March, prior to the official start of the election campaign. However, in order to ensure that the election can take place fairly and safely, the Scottish General Election (Coronavirus) Act 2021 provides for the dissolution of Session 5 of the Parliament on 5 May 2021 instead.

However, while this means I will remain East Lothian’s MSP until dissolution on 5 May, I am unable to take on any new casework for constituents during the election period. My office will continue to deal with existing casework and also try and signpost people to alternative sources of help if possible. This website will also remain live and emails will be monitored during the campaign.

Comment on latest lockdown announcement

Commenting on the First Minister’s latest announcement on the easing of lockdown measures, Iain Gray MSP said:

“Much of the latest announcement will be warmly welcomed, including the reopening of some “non-essential” services like garden centres, barbers and hairdressers, gyms and hospitality next month. It points the way back towards the greater freedoms we have all been craving since the current lockdown began.

“However, as the First Minister highlighted, all of the dates for returning to a greater level of normality remain contingent on the infection rate staying low, which means all of us continuing to be sensible about following public health guidance.

“That said, this update certainly provides cause for some cautious hope and a degree of optimism about our route out of lockdown and towards the start of our path to recovery from the longer term impact of the pandemic.”

Iain makes final speech in Parliament

With just a fortnight left before the Scottish Parliament enters recess and the start of the election campaign period, Iain Gray has made his final set piece speech as the East Lothian constituency’s MSP.

Speaking during the Stage 3 debate on the Redress for Survivors (Historical Child Abuse in Care) (Scotland) Bill, Mr Gray reflected on some of the main achievements of the Parliament during the 14 years he has spent representing East Lothian and the four years he spent as one of the original intake of MSPs in 1999.

Mr Gray also used the final opportunity in Parliament to reiterate his belief that East Lothian is the “best constituency, best county and best part of Scotland in which to live or work”.

Commenting after the speech, Iain Gray MSP said:

“I was elected to the Scottish Parliament in 1999, serving as MSP for Edinburgh Pentlands from 1999 – 2003, and then for East Lothian from 2007 to 2021. I will be retiring when the current parliamentary session ends for the election in May, so when I spoke yesterday it was my last parliamentary speech.

“I was participating in the final stage debate on the Redress for Survivors (Historical Child Abuse in Care) Bill, which parliament went on to pass unanimously, but I took the chance to reflect on what the parliament has achieved in 22 years, what I think it should concentrate on, and to say a few thank yous.

“One of those reflections is that progress has in some ways stalled when it comes to using the powers of the parliament to tackle issues such as child poverty and drug deaths. As I said in the speech, it’s one of the most powerful devolved legislatures anywhere in the world and should be using every power it has to right the wrongs of poverty and injustice.  

“It was also a last opportunity to restate what a privilege it has been to represent East Lothian and my belief that it is not only the best constituency at Holyrood, but also the best place to live or work in Scotland. While I will retire from Parliament in May, I will remain an East Lothian resident and continue to support and be an advocate for our county and everything it has to offer.”

The full speech can be watched here.

Iain welcomes publication of miners’ strike pardon consultation paper

Iain Gray MSP has welcomed the Scottish Government’s publication of a consultation paper on the development of a pardon scheme for men convicted of certain offences during the 1984/1985 miners’ strike.

An independent review into the impact of policing on communities during the strike, led by John Scott QC, recommended that the Scottish Government should introduce legislation to pardon miners convicted for certain matters related to the strike, subject to establishing suitable criteria.

Commenting, Iain Gray MSP said:

“I warmly welcome the publication of this consultation paper. It will inform the details of the scheme of pardon to be applied and I would encourage anyone in East Lothian with an interest in this issue to submit their views.

“You don’t have to have a conviction or have been involved with the strike to respond. Please take a few minutes to give your views and help with the delivery of at least some degree of justice for those who have carried the weight of a conviction for so long.”

The consultation can be read and responses made on the Citizen Space website until 4th June.

County Climate Change Strategy highlighted at Holyrood

Speaking in Parliament this week, Iain Gray MSP highlighted East Lothian Council’s Climate Change Strategy and asked the Scottish Government what it is doing to support the county’s ambitious plans.

At Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform Questions, Mr Gray pointed out the progress the council has made so far on its strategy, which covers the period 2020 to 2025, and some of its future plans, including the East Lothian climate forest, which will see two million new trees planted locally over the next 10 years.

Speaking after his question, Iain Gray MSP said:

“I asked the Scottish Government what discussions it has had with East Lothian Council regarding its ambitious Climate Change Strategy 2020-2025.

“I also highlighted the fact that the council’s strategy is already driving real change. It has worked with the People’s Energy Company to launch an affordable energy tariff for county residents, household recycling rates have increased to 55.3 per cent of total household waste and there has been great progress on the installation of solar photovoltaics in the council’s housing stock. 

“Most recently, the ambition to develop the East Lothian climate forest has been added, with the aim of planting 2 million trees across the county over the next decade. All that good work is happening in the face of a £4 million shortfall in funding for the council.

“I took the opportunity to ask if the Scottish Government would provide real and practical support to help deliver the strategy and back East Lothian’s contribution to tackling the climate emergency we all face.”

New campaign to help overcome vaccine hesitancy

The British Red Cross has launched a nationwide campaign to help tackle vaccine hesitancy and encourage families to talk openly about the benefits of having the Covid vaccines.

East Lothian MSP Iain Gray has welcomed the new campaign and is helping the Red Cross promote its key messages, including facts about the Coronavirus vaccines, to constituents.

Speaking about the campaign, Iain Gray MSP said:

“There are many myths and a lot of conflicting advice and information about the vaccines, which can lead to some people feeling worried and unsure about what to do when invited for their vaccination.

“The British Red Cross has decades of experience of supporting vaccination programmes, so their encouragement to anyone hesitating to have the Covid vaccine will be vital. 

“Their latest video features families talking openly about the Covid vaccines and encourages people to have more informed conversations with loved ones about their safety and the protection vaccines offer for individuals and communities.

“I welcome these vaccine voices and the important work being done by the Red Cross and others to support the NHS and encourage people who may be feeling nervous to go ahead and get vaccinated.”

Find out more about the campaign and information about the vaccines at https://www.redcross.org.uk/coronavirus-vaccine

Minister fails to acknowledge need for fair funding as population soars

Iain Gray MSP has raised East Lothian’s soaring population growth and the impact it is having on local services in Parliament, with a call for the Scottish Government to address the issue with fair funding to meet the additional demand.

In reply to Mr Gray’s question, Aileen Campbell, Cabinet Secretary for Communities Local Government, failed to even acknowledge the rapid growth, which has seen East Lothian’s population increase more than any other local authority area over the last 20 years.

Speaking after his question, Iain Gray MSP said:

“Over the past 20 years, East Lothian has experienced the highest percentage increase in population in Scotland, with growth of three times the Scottish average. Additionally, over 10,000 new homes are being built in the county as a requirement of the Scottish Government’s national plan.

“Such growth requires significant extra resources in order to meet the increased demand on local services, but East Lothian Council has not received such additional investment, leaving it with a gap of over £4 million in its revenue funding for 2021-22.

“I asked the Cabinet Secretary for Communities and Local Government, Aileen Campbell, to explain why East Lothian is not being given the fair funding that it needs to support local services with this huge growth.

“Unfortunately, she failed to even acknowledge the impact of the population increase and fell back on a lame excuse about funding formulas being determined by COSLA. This is not good enough and underlines the fact that fairness for East Lothian is just not on the SNP Scottish Government’s radar.”

Watch Mr Gray’s questions and the Cabinet Secretary’s replies here.

Confirmation that county is least connected part of Lothians

A reply to a parliamentary question tabled by Iain Gray MSP has confirmed that fewer properties in East Lothian have access to superfast broadband of 30 Megabits per second (Mbps) than anywhere else in the Lothians.

The reply from Paul Wheelhouse MSP states that: “92.6% of all properties in East Lothian now have access to superfast broadband of 30 Megabits per second (Mbps). This compares with 98.8% in the City of Edinburgh, 94.3% in Midlothian and 98.1% in West Lothian.”

Commenting on the response, Iain Gray MSP said:

“Throughout the time I have represented the East Lothian constituency, we have experienced problems with broadband connectivity and been at the back of the queue for investment in this vital infrastructure.

“Despite repeated assurances from Ministers that the Scottish Government is acting to ensure that everyone can benefit from superfast broadband, I still receive regular complaints from constituents about lacklustre broadband speeds that are simply not up to scratch.

“This has been a particular problem for many households over the last year with additional pressures created by home working, remote learning and more streaming for entertainment. This underlines the reality that broadband is now an essential service in the same way as electricity and water.

“The latest reply from Paul Wheelhouse confirms that we continue to lag behind the rest of the Lothians, with around one in 10 households here still without access to the broadband speed they need.

“East Lothian Council and local organisations such as Lothian Broadband have been doing their best to try and plug the gaps and improve broadband access and speeds, but they desperately need more investment from governments at UK and Scottish level to bring our broadband infrastructure up to the level required.”

Minister responds to call for local remote court hearings

In his reply to Iain Gray MSP’s letter requesting consideration be given to holding remote hearings in East Lothian as the courts system recovers from the pandemic, Justice Secretary Humza Yousaf has said while there are no current plans for such hearings, he has shared the suggestion with the Scottish Courts and Tribunal Service to take into account when considering future plans.

Mr Gray’s call followed reports of a dramatic reduction in the number of trials taking place at Scotland’s courts due to the impact of COVID-19 and the subsequent negative impact this has on victims, witnesses and others in the justice system.

Using technology to continue to conduct some court business locally was something the then Justice Secretary Kenny Macaskill promised to explore at the time he took the decision to close Haddington’s court. Unfortunately, that commitment was quietly dropped by his successor in the role who rubber-stamped the closure decision and snuffed out 800 years of locally delivered justice in East Lothian.

Iain Gray MSP said:

“Given the history of the closure of our court in Haddington, it’s not really a surprise that there are no current plans for holding remote court hearings in East Lothian. However, I do welcome the Cabinet Secretary’s apparent openness to considering this option as part of future plans for our justice system.   

“I believe that the dramatic delays and backlog in court cases that the pandemic has caused, and the impact this is having on victims, witnesses and other court users, means we should explore all options for getting our justice system back on track.

“Virtual courts have been running for some time and court practitioners and sheriffs are now getting used to remote working. I believe conducting some hearings remotely via videolink to East Lothian could play a part in tackling the backlog, make access to justice easier and safer for local people, and help return a local dimension to the administration of justice.”

Global Coronavirus funding appeal renewed

The Disasters Emergency Committee (DEC) has renewed its Coronavirus Appeal to raise funds to help the world’s most fragile countries battling Coronavirus on top of enormous existing humanitarian challenges.

DEC is renewing its appeal due to the mounting needs in places like Yemen, Syria and other fragile states becoming increasingly overwhelming.

The urgent need in these countries is not just due to the impact of the spread of the virus, but also the severe knock on effects on local economies and of course millions of people who have been forced from their homes by civil war or other disasters, floods/droughts/locusts and more.

Supporting DEC’s renewed call, Iain Gray MSP said:

“Coronavirus has heightened existing problems in many of the world’s poorest countries and put their health and welfare systems under immense strain. This week, DEC launched a shocking new report highlighting the extreme need which now threatens famine in many places around the world.  

“The charities that are working under the DEC umbrella are undertaking vital work to support those in need through the crisis and need more funds to support them with their efforts. I would encourage anyone who wants to support their work to donate to the fund at  www.dec.org.uk/appeal/coronavirus-appeal.”

The DEC’s new report can be read at https://breaking-point.dec.org.uk/