Enterprise bill evidence in Dumfries

Last Monday, the Rural Economy and Connectivity Committee travelled to Dumfries as part of the evidence-taking process on the South of Scotland Enterprise Bill, which will set up a new south of Scotland enterprise agency. Following an informal discussion with interested business and community groups, the committee held a formal evening meeting in Easterbrook Hall, hearing first from representatives of the two local authorities affected by the bill—Dumfries and Galloway Council and Scottish Borders Council—as well as the south of Scotland economic partnership, and then from community organisations, small businesses and Community Land Scotland.

Rural Economy and Connectivity Committee evidence session on the South of Scotland Enterprise Bill (14 January 2019)


Easterbrook Hall is an impressive art deco building from the 1930s that was built as part of the Crichton royal psychiatric hospital, complete with a variety of facilities for all the patients, including a small swimming pool. Dr Elaine Murray, who was giving evidence at the meeting as the leader of Dumfries and Galloway Council, spoke about the origins of the building in a members’ business debate on the then-threatened Crichton university campus back in 2007, when she was the Labour MSP for Dumfries:

“When Dr James Crichton died in 1923, it was his wish that his considerable fortune should be used to create a university in Dumfries. His widow, Elizabeth Crichton, tried valiantly to have his wish fulfilled but, unfortunately, the existing Scottish universities opposed the creation of a rival in the south. Instead, a psychiatric hospital, the Crichton royal, was created. For many years, it won international recognition as a centre of excellence.

When the treatment of people with mental health and learning difficulties moved away from institutionalised care, the opportunity arose to make Elizabeth and James Crichton’s dreams of a university campus a reality. In fact, one of the ancient universities that had opposed the establishment of a university in Dumfries—the University of Glasgow—spearheaded the new development by signing the first Crichton accord in December 1996. Since then, the Crichton campus has grown into a unique collaboration between higher and further education partners: the University of Glasgow, the University of Paisley, Bell College, the Open University and Dumfries and Galloway College.”

Thankfully, those institutions continue their involvement at the Crichton campus to this day, with the University of Paisley and Bell College now forming the University of the West of Scotland.

Creative Commons photo of Easterbrook Hall at night by Grant McIntosh Photography

From BSL to Bobby Ewing in the shower

At Thursday’s First Minister’s question time, the Presiding Officer extended—in British Sign Language—a warm welcome

“to the many members of the deaf community and BSL users and signers who are present in the public gallery”.

He went on to announce that, for the next six months, the Parliament will provide a signed translation of FMQs. You can find out what this service looks like here—to activate the signing function, simply click on the BSL icon in the “About this meeting” section.

The Presiding Officer also reiterated the plea for concise questions and answers that he had made before the Christmas recess, giving emphasis to the point by signing it in BSL.

When it came to FMQs itself, the initial exchanges were focused on the Alex Salmond investigation, in relation to which the First Minister had made a statement to Parliament on Tuesday, following the conclusion of the judicial review of the procedure for handling complaints involving current or former ministers.

First Minister’s question time (10 January 2019)

First Minister’s statement (8 January 2019)

At this time of year, scrutiny of the draft budget tends to dominate the work of the committees, and on Wednesday, as part of its budget scrutiny, after hearing from the Scottish Fiscal Commission, the Finance and Constitution Committee took evidence from Robert Chote of the Office for Budget Responsibility. In response to a question from Patrick Harvie about a hypothetical no-Brexit scenario, Mr Chote provoked laughter when he said:

“It would not be like that scene in ‘Dallas’ where … it was all a dream.”

At the end of the meeting, the convener, Bruce Crawford, thanked him for that entertaining reference to the Bobby Ewing shower scene and, more generally, for his ability to

“bring humour to such occasions.”

Finance and Constitution Committee budget scrutiny (9 January 2019)


The centenary of the Iolaire disaster: ceud bliadhna às dèidh na h-Iolaire

Yesterday, the Parliament held a debate to mark the centenary of the Iolaire disaster. The debate was led by the MSP for Na h-Eileanan an Iar, Alasdair Allan, who delivered his speech in Gaelic.

In the early hours of the morning of 1 January 1919, His Majesty’s yacht Iolaire was carrying sailors home from the great war when it struck a group of rocks called the Beasts of Holm. The ship sank just a short distance from Stornoway, leading to the tragic death of more than 200 of the around 280 men on board, many of whose families were waiting on the pier to welcome them home from the war.

The tragic loss of so many men in such cruel circumstances had a devastating impact on the island communities of Lewis and Harris, where most of the men were from, and it continues to be remembered with deep and grave sadness to this day. As Alasdair Allan pointed out in his speech,

“We are probably talking about the equivalent of 5,000 families in Glasgow all losing a son on one day, as that was the scale of the impact that the Iolaire had on Lewis and Harris. Bear in mind, too, that the Iolaire came after a war in which that same community had already lost 1,300 people.”

The enduring sadness and grief caused by the disaster was palpable during the debate, with many members giving deeply powerful and personal speeches. Angus MacDonald, who grew up on the farm in Lewis next to where the tragedy occurred, and whose grandfather donated the land for the first official memorial, said:

“this is probably the most difficult speech that I have ever had to write or, indeed, to deliver in the chamber.”

Interestingly, “Iolaire” is the Gaelic word for eagle, which is pronounced /jul̪ˠɪɾʲ/ or “ee-yol-air-uh.” However, when referring to HMY Iolaire, most people, including Gaelic speakers, pronounce the word as /eɪəʊˈle/ or “eye-oh-layer.”

As Alasdair Allan explained in his contribution to the debate, although the ship had a Gaelic name, “the Royal Navy had no idea how to pronounce [it], so ‘I-o-laire’ stuck.” Indeed, the ship was referred to as the /eɪəʊˈle/ throughout the debate (although the Official Report, as the written record of proceedings, does not convey that nuance).

Many events are planned to mark the centenary of the disaster, including a national commemorative service on new year’s day 2019 that will be attended by Prince Charles and the First Minister. Following the service, Prince Charles will unveil a new sculpture to commemorate the Iolaire.

As Lewis Macdonald said in concluding his speech, “Gu dearbh, cuimhnichidh sinn iad: We will indeed remember them.”


Readers might be interested to know that the National Library of Scotland has an excellent resource on the Iolaire. Those with an interest in finding out more about the Parliament and its work in Gaelic might like to have a look at the Parliament’s Gaelic blog: https://parlamaidalba.wordpress.com/

Our thanks go to Dr Alasdair MacCaluim, Oifigear Leasachaidh Gàidhlig/Gaelic Officer at the Scottish Parliament, for the following Gaelic translation of this post:


Chùm a’ Phàrlamaid deasbad an-dè gus ceud bliadhna bho mhòr-thubaist na h-Iolaire a chomharrachadh. Chaidh an deasbad a stiùireadh le Alasdair Allan, BPA airson nan Eileanan Siar, a thug seachad òraid sa Ghàidhlig.

Tràth sa mhadainn air 1 Faoilleach 1919, bha His Majesty’s Yacht Iolaire a’ giùlan sheòladairean dhachaigh bhon Chogadh Mhòr nuair a bhuail i air na chreagan air a bheil Biastan Thuilm. Chaidh an long fodha gu math faisg air Steòrnabhagh. Bha mu 280 fir air bòrd agus chaidh còrr is 200 aca a mharbhadh san tubaist uamhasach. Aig an aon àm, bha na teaghlaichean aig mòran aca a’ feitheamh air a’ chidhe airson fàilte a chur orra agus iad air tighinn dhachaigh bhon chogadh.

Thug e fìor dhroch bhuaidh air na coimhearsnachdan eileanach ann an Leòdhas is na Hearadh gun deach an uiread de dh’fhir a chall ann an suidheachadh cho uamhasach. Bha a’ mhòr-chuid de na fireannaich às na coimhearsnachdan sin agus thathar a’ cuimhneachadh air na thachair le bròn domhainn trom chun an latha an-diugh. Mar a thuirt Alasdair Allan san òraid aige,

“Is dòcha gum biodh sinn a’ bruidhinn mu dheidhinn 5,000 teaghlach ann an Glaschu a’ call mac air an aon latha. Sin an seòrsa buaidh a bha aig an Iolaire air a’ choimhearsnachd ann an Leòdhas agus na Hearadh.  Agus, cuimhnich, thàinig an Iolaire às dèidh cogadh anns an robh an aon choimhearsnachd air 1,300 neach eile a chall.”

Bha am bròn leantainneach a dh’adhbharaich an tubaist follaiseach tron deasbad agus thug buill òraidean seachad a bha fìor chumhachdach is pearsanta. Dh’fhàs Aonghas Dòmhnallach suas air an tuathanas ann an Leòdhas ri taobh far an do thachair an tubaist, agus thug a sheanair seachad an talamh airson a’ chiad charragh-chuimhne oifigeil. Thuirt e:

“is dòcha gur e seo an òraid as doirbhe a bha agam ri sgrìobhadh, no gu dearbh, ri lìbhrigeadh san t-seòmar riamh.”

’S e ainm Gàidhlig a th’ ann an “Iolaire”, a’ ciallachadh “eagle”, agus tha seo air fhuaimneachadh mar /jul̪ˠɪɾʲ/. Ach, nuair a thathar a’ bruidhinn mun HMY Iolaire, bidh a’ mhòr-chuid, a’ gabhail a-steach daoine aig a bheil Gàidhlig, a’ fuaimneachadh a h-ainm mar /eɪəʊˈle/. Mar a mhìnich Alasdair Allan anns an deasbad, ged a bha ainm Gàidhlig air a’ bhàta, “cha robh càil a dh’fhios aig a’ Chabhlach Rìoghail ciamar a chanadh iad an t-ainm sin, agus bha an t-ainm “I-o-laire” air a chleachdadh.”

Gu dearbha, tron deasbad air fad, b’ e an /eɪəʊˈle/ am fuaimneachadh a chaidh a chleachdadh (ged nach eil seo follaiseach bhon Aithisg Oifigeil a chionn ‘s gur e clàr sgrìobhte de na gnothaichean a th’ ann).

Tha iomadh tachartas gu bhith ann gus ceud bliadhna bhon tubaist a chomharrachadh, a’ gabhail a-steach seirbheis cuimhneachaidh nàiseanta air Latha na Bliadhna Ùire 2019, far am bi am Prionnsa Teàrlach agus am Prìomh Mhinistear an làthair. Aig deireadh na seirbheis, foillseachaidh am Prionnsa Teàrlach ìomhaigh ùr gus an Iolaire a chomharrachadh.

Mar a thuirt Lewis Dòmhnallach aig deireadh na h-òraid aige, “Gu dearbh, cuimhnichidh sinn iad: We will indeed remember them.”

Seasonal proceedings

Several items of chamber business last week had a seasonal feel—seasonal in the parliamentary sense, that is. On Tuesday, rural economy secretary Fergus Ewing led the annual debate on the European fisheries negotiations while, on Wednesday, finance secretary Derek Mackay made the now traditional December statement on the draft budget for the forthcoming financial year.

Debate on the end-of-year European fisheries negotiations (11 December 2018)

Ministerial statement on the Scottish Government’s draft spending and tax plans for 2019-20 (12 December 2018)

Given the wider political situation, it was no surprise that the budget statement was preceded by a Brexit update from Michael Russell. That was followed, on Thursday, by a statement by the Lord Advocate on the UK Supreme Court’s judgment on the UK Withdrawal from the European Union (Legal Continuity) (Scotland) Bill, in which the court determined that section 17 of the bill would not be within the legislative competence of the Parliament.

Ministerial statement (Brexit update) (12 December 2018)

Statement on the Supreme Court’s judgment on the legal continuity bill (13 December 2018)

Later on Thursday, the Pow of Inchaffray Drainage Commission (Scotland) Bill—a private bill—completed the final stage of its parliamentary passage. As Andy Wightman noted, many of the 16 private bills that the Parliament has previously enacted have dealt with infrastructure projects or common good land. Since the passing of the Transport and Works (Scotland) Act 2007, most infrastructure projects no longer require this form of legislation, but private bills are

“unavoidable where the intention is to review, update or amend older private acts.”

Mr Wightman went on to encapsulate the historical significance of the land that the bill relates to and the importance of the Parliament’s role in balancing competing interests in all the legislative proposals that it considers:

“Throughout the middle ages, the abbey of Inchaffray was known as Insula Missarum, or the Isle of Masses. It was one of a number of islands rising above the flooded marshland. As early as 1218, the monks had reclaimed parts of the marsh and, following the battle of Bannockburn, when the abbot reportedly led mass for the Scottish army, further work was undertaken as a mark of appreciation and thanks by Robert Bruce.

At one level, this is a fascinating story of how private enterprise has, over an area of 2,000 acres, secured drainage of valuable land under a governance scheme that makes it clear where the benefits and liabilities fall. That function is being updated through the bill. As Mary Fee correctly pointed out, such bills are balancing acts that will not always be agreeable to all parties. However, that illustrates Parliament’s importance in balancing competing interests that always arise with bills, whether private or public.”

Debate on the final stage of the Pow of Inchaffray Drainage Commission (Scotland) Bill (13 December 2018)


Rail disruption, the AWPR and the poetry of Brexit

In the chamber last week, the recent disruption on Scotland’s rail network was the first subject up for discussion in a heavily subscribed topical question time. Representing the Government was Michael Matheson, the Cabinet Secretary for Transport, Infrastructure and Connectivity, who had to deal with more detailed questioning on the same topic at Wednesday’s meeting of the Rural Economy and Connectivity Committee. However, the issue that was uppermost in committee members’ minds at that meeting was the delayed completion of the Aberdeen western peripheral route, on which it had earlier heard from the contractors for the project. As part of his evidence, Stephen Tarr of Balfour Beatty explained the nature of the problem with the River Don crossing.

Unsurprisingly, given the febrile atmosphere at Westminster and the series of lengthy debates in the Commons on exiting the European Union, the main debate in the chamber on Wednesday afternoon was on the EU withdrawal agreement and political declaration—more specifically, on a Scottish Government motion that the agreement and declaration

“be rejected and … a better alternative be taken forward.”

Following the debate, which was the occasion for the first use in the Official Report of the term “clusterbùrach” (see the accompanying post for more on this!), the motion was agreed to by all parties except the Conservatives.

The issue of EU exit—this time, in the context of the environment—was also the focus of attention at last week’s meeting of the Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform Committee, with Roseanna Cunningham, the Cabinet Secretary for Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform, and Fergus Ewing, the Cabinet Secretary for the Rural Economy, setting out the likely negative impacts of Brexit on their portfolios.

On the matter of the UK Government replacing funding that has hitherto been provided by the EU, Fergus Ewing was moved to quote Burns:

“‘In gath’rin votes you were na slack;
Now stand as tightly by your tack:
Ne’er claw your lug, an’ fidge your back,
An’ hum an’ haw;
But raise your arm, an’ tell your crack
Before them a’.’

That is, after the voting, you have to fulfil your promises. We are saying, ‘Do what you promised you would do.’”

But Ayrshire lad John Scott wasn’t willing to give the cabinet secretary the last word, retorting:

“I do not really want to get into an exchange of Burns quotes, but I refer you to ‘To a Louse’ and the suggestion that:

‘O wad some Power the giftie gie us
To see oursels as ithers see us!
It wad frae mony a blunder free us,
An’ foolish notion’.

I think that you are overemphasising the uncertainty beyond 2020 and 2022.”

At Westminster, too, poetry was resorted to on Brexit, with Conservative member Sir Nicholas Soames selecting some lines from Lewis Carroll’s “The Hunting of the Snark” that he felt were appropriate to the UK’s present situation. You can read his speech, which was graciously received by the SNP’s Stewart Hosie, here.

Boorachs, bùrachs and clusterbùrachs

Debate in Parliament on the UK leaving the European Union has prompted a flurry of uses of the expressive Scots word “boorach”—or, if you prefer, the Gaelic word “bùrach”. Originally meaning a heap of earth, “boorach” is now used as a term for a mess or a shambles. Over the first 19 years of the Parliament, “boorach” has been used variously to describe crofting law, the 2007 council elections, the Edinburgh trams project and the Gourock to Dunoon ferry service, but in the last couple of years it has become especially popular among critics of the UK Government’s handling of Brexit. Fergus Ewing is just one of those who have referred to the “Brexit boorach”, and last week Mike Russell recorded the first usage in Parliament of a development of the term when he said:

“this is a complete bùrach—it is, to use a word coined by my friend Hugh Dan MacLennan, a clusterbùrach.”

Mr Russell has described the word as a Gaelic term, so we adopt the Gaelic spelling when he uses it. However, it is not clear from the etymology whether the word has moved from Gaelic to Scots, or from Scots to Gaelic, so there is an equally strong case for our usual spelling: boorach.

A St Andrew’s day night—in the Doric

Friday was, of course, St Andrew’s day, and Thursday lunch time’s members’ business debate celebrated that fact and recognised that, this year, the theme for events to mark the day was “make someone’s day” or, as Ruth Maguire put it, take a moment

“to perform a small act of kindness”.

In leading the debate, Tom Arthur acknowledged former MSP Dennis Canavan’s efforts to promote participation in Scotland’s national day and the legacy of his work, the St Andrew’s Day Bank Holiday (Scotland) Act 2007.

Mr Arthur also noted that this year was the first year that St Andrew’s fair Saturday would be celebrated, and that it would coincide with small business Saturday. He explained that the fair Saturday movement originated in the Basque County

“as a positive cultural response to the excessive consumerism of black Friday.”

While many speakers in the debate took the opportunity to highlight events in their area along the “make someone’s day” theme or to mark fair Saturday, Peter Chapman chose to celebrate Scottish culture and heritage by reciting a poem about a party that was held one St Andrew’s night, at which prodigious quantities of food and drink were consumed.

What was noteworthy about the poem—and Mr Chapman’s recitation—was the fact that it was in Doric. Why not enjoy the richness of the feast, the language and the delivery by watching Mr Chapman’s performance?

Peter Chapman reading “St Andrew’s Night” as part of St Andrew’s day 2018 members’ business debate (29 November 2018)