Each week, our team at the Official Report brings you a selection of parliamentary highlights from recent meetings
On Monday evening, the Rural Economy and Connectivity Committee met in the theatre of Kirkwall grammar school in front of an audience of locals. The committee was visiting Orkney as part of the process of gathering evidence on the Islands (Scotland) Bill, and the evening meeting followed a full day of activity that included talking to local businesses, communities and organisations and making an extremely blustery visit to the European Marine Energy Centre.
When John Mason—whose journey to Orkney by train and ferry had taken 13 hours—asked the invited representatives of Orkney Islands Council and Shetlands Islands Council whether the bill should include a specific overarching objective such as that of “stabilising and strengthening the population of every island in Scotland”, the Orkney council leader, James Stockan, said that that was a given in everything that the councils did on the islands and, in general, the councillors did not want the bill to be prescriptive.
One aspect of the bill is about marine development, and in response to a question from Peter Chapman, Steven Heddle of Orkney Islands Council joked that “we have our navy in the form of tugs and ferries, we have our early warning system and we also have an air force, because we operate the internal air service”.
Members’ journey home by Loganair was considerably quicker!
O wad some Pow …
Occasionally the Parliament considers a private bill. We have a couple going on at the moment, and one is about updating the arrangements for maintaining the Pow of Inchaffray.
“Pow” is a Scots term for a slow-moving stream or channel, and the word is attached to a few waterways in Scotland—a Pow Water in Dumfriesshire and Pow burns in Ayrshire and Angus, for example. The Inchaffray pow is not just any old drainage channel; it dates from the 13th century and was dug by the Augustinian monks of Inchaffray abbey, with further improvements made on the orders of no less a person than King Robert the Bruce, after Bannockburn.
Last week, the committee discussing the private bill on the pow heard details about, among other things, the creation of beaver barriers and Scotland’s first beaver exclusion area to prevent beavers from entering the pow area.
In the chamber
In the final debate of the week in the chamber, Roseanna Cunningham asked Parliament to agree to the general principles of the Wild Animals in Travelling Circuses (Scotland) Bill.
Emma Harper set out the ethical arguments, memorably comparing the use of wild animals in circuses to historical exhibits once thought acceptable involving “Siamese twins” and Joseph Merrick:
“There was a time when people like him were displayed in travelling circuses for the amazement, amusement and entertainment of paying customers, but, eventually, the time came when that archaic practice was no longer acceptable ethically.”
Other speakers supported the ban but would have preferred it to have been done on animal welfare rather than ethical considerations. Mark Ruskell was “perplexed” by the route taken by the Government, which “had us, quite frankly, chasing our tails”, and favoured introducing a framework for animal performances more generally.
The lack of definitions in the bill was also raised—the absence of a definition of “circus” was, according to Graeme Dey, “the elephant in the room”.
Roseanna Cunningham summed up the debate by saying that, given that no travelling circuses with wild animals are likely to visit Scotland in the future, the bill is important as a “symbolic marker on how we value and treat all our animals” rather than for its practical impact.