Following this week’s debate on Social Security in an Independent Scotland, the MSP for Na h-Eileanan an Iar, Alasdair Allan, has welcomed new social security figures showing how the Scottish Government is taking action on tackling poverty and inequality in the Western Isles and across Scotland.
Using the limited mechanisms of devolution at their disposal, the Scottish Government has built a social security system with compassion, dignity, fairness and respect at its very core. As a result, the number of children in Scotland living in poverty is estimated to have been reduced by 90,000 since last year.
Alasdair Allan commented:
“The Scottish Government is investing significantly in robust support for Western Isles households, helping irradicate poverty and inequality across Scotland while working to mitigate against Westminster’s harmful policies.
“Western Isles households have received over £1 million in Child Disability Payments to help support 165 children since the benefit’s introduction in 2021; a further £2.9 million in Adult Disability Payments has been received by islanders since 2022, while the Young Carer Grant has delivered £10,357 for young people with caring responsibilities in the Western Isles.
“Fuel poverty continues to affect the Western Isles more than anywhere else in the country, due in part to outdated transmission charges and a complete lack of action on the UK Government’s part to make the country’s energy system fair and fit for the 21st century. Meanwhile, the Scottish Government supported 1,830 households across the Western Isles to help stay warm this winter with £91,500 in Winter Heating Payments delivered, stopping the most vulnerable in our constituency having to choose between heating and eating.
“The Scottish Government is having to use its limited powers and budget in order to mitigate over a decade of Tory-led austerity and economic mismanagement from Westminster. If Scotland had full control over its welfare policies, as is the norm in independent countries, we could go much further to provide a fully effective and supportive social security system for Scotland.”
The full breakdown of the Social Security Scotland statistics can be found here.
SNP MSP for Na h-Eileanan an Iar, Alasdair Allan, has welcomed figures published this week by the Crofting Commission which show a substantial increase in the number of new entrants to crofting.
Notably, 45% of these new entrants are women, and 29% are aged 40 or younger. The 510 new entrants to crofting were recorded between March 2022 and March 2023, and were recorded across all crofting areas of Scotland.
Commenting on the figures, the islands’ MSP said:
“The latest figures for new entrants to crofting are very encouraging, particularly the proportions of young people and women recorded. This progress demonstrates new measures on helping prospective new crofters secure a croft tenancy are working, though of course there is still more that can be done to make the process more efficient and to further widen access. As the Minister for Crofting stated this week, the Scottish Government will continue to work closely with the Crofting Commission to create additional opportunities for new entrants. It is also my hope that the upcoming Crofting Bill will include provisions to help sustain crofting in the long-term, supporting new entrants and existing crofters alike.”
This morning, SNP MSP for Na h-Eileanan an Iar, Alasdair Allan, asked in Holyrood about what kind of support the Scottish Government will put in place to support the establishment of Areas of Linguistic Significance, a key part of its new Languages Bill.
The Committee for Education, Children and Young People has now begun its scrutiny of the Bill following its publication in November last year.
The Cabinet Secretary responded that existing support would be built on and strengthened by the new provisions in the Bill, with guidance to be prepared for local authorities to assist them in the process of considering which areas could benefit.
The Western Isles’ MSP then asked whether the Scottish Government might look to place a duty on local authorities to designate certain areas where Gaelic speaker numbers were over a certain threshold.
The Cabinet Secretary responded that she would give serious consideration to the view that Scottish Ministers or Bòrd na Gàidhlig should have ‘an enhanced role’ in the designation of these areas.
Commenting, Allan said:
“I would like to thank the Cabinet Secretary for her continued proactive engagement on this issue. This Bill represents a significant opportunity to develop and strengthen Gaelic language policy, helping improve the long-term sustainability of the language, as well as of course introducing provisions for the Scots language for the first time.
“I have read, with interest, a number of stakeholder views so far on the Bill as introduced, and what they might like to see strengthened or clarified within it. I would urge as many people as possible to respond to the Education Committee’s call for views on the Bill’s content, which is open until the 8th March.”
The committee consultation can be accessed here: https://yourviews.parliament.scot/ecyp/scottish-languages-bill-detailed-english/
To view the exchange between Alasdair Allan MSP and the Cabinet Secretary, please use this link.
SNP MSP for Na h-Eileanan an Iar, Alasdair Allan, has issued a fresh call for urgent action to improve the condition of Baleshare causeway.
On Saturday, the islands’ MSP visited the site with members of the local campaign group, who showed him the further deterioration in the causeway’s condition since his last visit.
The causeway, which connects the island of Baleshare to North Uist, was built in 1962 (though works were apparently not fully completed, with a culvert never being installed, for example). Upgrades since the original construction have been very limited – many of the rocks added in 2000 to one side of the causeway have slipped leaving large parts of the causeway exposed, and it is believed there were no repairs carried out after the causeway was badly damaged in 2005’s infamous storm.
Commenting, Allan said:
“The condition of this causeway has now reached a critical point – it is clear that maintenance should have taken place far more regularly and the causeway brought up to modern standards long before now. Local residents can frequently be completely cut off during bad weather, and this has an impact on the wider Uist community as well, with NHS, home care and education employees unable to get to work.
“Responsibility for maintaining and upgrading local infrastructure like roads and causeways lies with the council. However, I recognise that the current financial climate is extremely challenging for the comhairle, and every funding avenue must be explored.
“In the meantime, I have requested that the comhairle install a camera onsite to capture the extent of the danger adverse weather poses to anyone trying to cross the causeway, as well as providing copies of any reports which have been carried out to examine the condition of the causeway.”
MSP for Na h-Eileanan an Iar, Alasdair Allan, has welcomed recent progress on the Islands Connectivity Plan, with yesterday’s publication of the Strategic Approach paper and the Vessel and Ports Plan, alongside a public consultation.
The public consultation on these documents will run until the 3rd May 2024, and in-person public consultation events are due to be held by Transport Scotland throughout Scotland’s island communities from late February onwards.
Following the announcement, which was made in answer to a parliamentary question lodged by the islands’ MSP, Alasdair Allan said:
“I welcome the latest progress on the Islands Connectivity Plan, which will replace the existing Ferries Plan and be wider in scope, taking into consideration aviation, fixed links, and connecting travel, as well as our ferry services. In improving our islands’ connectivity, a joined-up approach like this is essential.
“I would encourage as many people as possible to read the latest publications and contribute their views as part of the consultation process over the next three months. I hope the ongoing work on the Islands Connectivity Plan moves forward at pace, as it is vital that our islands’ connectivity, both inter-island and to the mainland, improves in the immediate and long-term to protect the sustainability of our island communities.”
Alasdair Allan MSP has called on Tory MSPs to distance themselves from their colleague Liz Smith’s endorsement of bringing back “backdoor tuition fees” which could stop students from lower-income families in the Western Isles from attending university.
Bringing back graduate endowment fees would force graduates to pay a significant lump sum after leaving university – with the policy costing graduates £2000 in 2007.
Alasdair Allan MSP has said Liz Smith’s proposals would be a dangerous step backwards for widening access to tertiary education in Scotland, with the potential to rip away opportunities for many young people in the Western Isles who would be very unlikely to be in a financial position where they could stump up this kind of fee upon completion of their university degree.
Since the SNP brought in funded university tuition, the number of Scottish domiciled first time full time degree entrants has increased by 31% and there is a record number of students from Scotland’s most deprived communities entering university.
The comments from the Scottish Tories’ finance and economy spokesperson also follow Labour Leader Keir Starmer ruling out free tuition under a UK Labour government, breaking a manifesto commitment.
Commenting, the islands’ MSP said:
“Scottish Conservative MSPs must make clear whether they agree with their party colleague Liz Smith that only those with the ability to pay should be able to go to university – if not, they must distance themselves from this classist rhetoric, which threatens to row back years of progress the Scottish Government has made in widening access to university, with entry dependent on ability, not financial status.
“Thanks to action from this Scottish Government, a record number of pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds across Scotland are now accessing university. A large factor in making this possible is the SNP’s unwavering commitment to keeping tuition fees free - something both the Tories and Labour have refused to back.
“Ensuring access to university is based on the ability to learn rather than the ability to pay is central to the SNP’s values – while the Tories and Labour are showing that their values are completely out of touch with people in the Western Isles and across Scotland.
“There should not be a price on higher education and the opportunities this education affords students as they enter the world of work. We must ensure that tuition fees in Scotland remain free for everyone.”