SNP MSP for Na h-Eileanan an Iar, Alasdair Allan, has welcomed the news that Scotland’s Baby Box – 871 of which have already been delivered across the Western Isles – is receiving a makeover for its fifth birthday.
The Scottish Government introduced the Baby Boxes scheme in 2017, entitling every newborn in Scotland to a box containing essential items intended to make sure that every child has the best possible start in life.
Based the latest figures for number of Baby Boxes given out by health boards, 235 622 boxes have been distributed to parents across Scotland since the start of the project.
Commenting, Alasdair Allan said:
“The arrival of a new baby is a wonderful moment for every family, but as every parent no doubt appreciates, the financial costs involved in welcoming a new addition to the family can be significant - particularly when household budgets are under increasing pressure with the cost-of-living crisis.
“Regardless of the circumstances of new mums and dads, receiving a baby box with the essential items needed for the first six months of their child’s life really is a huge help to families here in the Western Isles.
“The baby box is one of many transformative actions the SNP is taking to make a real difference to children and families in Scotland. For example, the Scottish Child Payment for families on low incomes is a benefit unique to Scotland, and will soon be raised to £25 per week per child.
“The SNP government continues to deliver bold policies for a fairer Scotland with the limited powers at its disposal. However, it is only with the full powers of independence that we can properly build a better future that works for everyone.”
Na h-Eileanan an Iar SNP MSP Alasdair Allan has called for democracy in Scotland to be upheld following today’s ruling from the Supreme Court.
Earlier today, the Supreme Court delivered its judgment on a reference from the Lord Advocate, the Scottish Government’s senior Law Officer, seeking clarity on whether or not the Scotland Act 1998 allows the Scottish Parliament to legislate for a referendum on independence.
Alasdair Allan said:
“We should be clear that the Supreme Court judgement today was about interpreting a narrow question around the provisions of the Scotland Act 1998, as opposed to a judgement on independence itself. Judges interpret the law; not make it. I offer no criticism of the judges and we should all respect and accept the judgment of the Court.
“However, the ruling exposes the limitations placed upon Scotland by devolution. If there is no legal way for Scotland to exercise decisions on its own constitutional future, and the UK Government blocks all other routes, who can credibly claim Scotland is in a voluntary union?
“The UK Government is now regularly ignoring Scotland’s elected parliament. Scotland cannot afford to stay in this union under governments that we generally don’t elect. Democracy cannot be denied forever. The people of Scotland will be given the opportunity to choose their own future at the next UK General Election.
“As the Chair of the Scottish Constitutional Convention Canon Kenyon Wright once said: ‘What if that other voice we all know so well responds by saying, 'We say no, and we are the state'? Well we say yes – and we are the people.’”
SNP MSP for Na h-Eileanan an Iar, Alasdair Allan, last night held a public meeting in Uig in Lewis to discuss the widespread and damaging effects of the continued mobile signal and 4G problems across the area. The meeting was attended by over 80 members of the community.
For three weeks, the local MSP has been pressuring EE to urgently resolve the issues affecting its network all over Uig, highlighting the impact the signal outage is having on local businesses, people working from home, and on essential services. Most premises are fully reliant on EE’s 4G signal for their broadband provision, with superfast broadband not currently due to be installed in the area until 2028.
EE have indicated that repairs to one of the affected masts in Uig last Thursday was “not fully successful” and that additional repairs would be carried out by engineers over the next two days.
Commenting, Allan said:
“The Uig community is rightly frustrated by the continued disruption to mobile signal and 4G in the area. Still to be in this position after more than a month is completely unacceptable.
“I have had constituents in touch with me who are very worried about losing their jobs due to not being able to be online when required; local businesses are seriously considering relocating elsewhere; vital services like the medical practice, community shop and local school are unable to operate effectively without 4G signal.
“The high attendance at last night’s meeting left no room for doubt as to the strength of community feeling on this issue, and people feel EE do not fully appreciate how completely the community remains cut off while they await a resolution. To take just one example, people seeking to pick up a prescription currently face a fifty mile round trip.
“EE must redouble their efforts firstly to fully and quickly repair their mast issues, but must also urgently commit to a clear plan of how they will be investing in and upgrading their local infrastructure, as it is clearly not fit for purpose at present.”
Following today’s budget statement by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, SNP MSP for Na h-Eileanan an Iar, Alasdair Allan, has called for further clarity on the support which is due to be provided for households who use fuels such as heating oil, LPG and biomass to heat their homes.
When the former prime minister announced her energy support measures in September, households off the gas grid had been told they would receive ‘equivalent’ help to those benefiting from the cap on the cost of gas units. It was later announced that this would amount only to a £100 one-off payment.
The Isles MSP had previously written to both former UK Secretaries of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy to highlight that this amount was wholly inadequate, given how sharply the cost of these fuels has risen over the past year.
The Chancellor’s budget today, however, indicated that the UK Government will now increase the Alternative Fuels Payment to £200, delivered “as soon as possible this winter”. Non-domestic consumers will receive a one-off £150 payment with “top-up” payments available for large users of heating oil. The details of the new support committed today have however still to be confirmed.
Commenting after today’s budget statement, Allan said:
“While I welcome the UK Government’s admission that £100 was nowhere near enough to meaningfully help off-gas-grid households with their skyrocketing heating bills this winter, much more clarity is needed now over how this support will be administered, and when.
“People need help now to be able to afford to fill up their oil tanks for this winter, not weeks or months down the line. Households who are not on the gas grid should already have been receiving this help, not forced to struggle while they wait for the UK Government to come up with a feasible administrative plan for this support.
“The Chancellor’s announcement today notes that due to the high number of off-gas-grid homes in Northern Ireland, every household there will receive the £200 payment. However, given that the proportion of off gas grid homes in the Western Isles is 12% higher than in Northern Ireland, and the fact that those in the Western Isles already pay far higher than average rates for their electricity, I believe the £200 payment should be available to all Western Isles households.”
The announcement about the Alternative Fuels Payment can be found on p. 47 of today’s UK Government budget.
It is estimated that 88% of homes in the Western Isles are not on the gas grid, compared to 76% in Northern Ireland.
This afternoon in the Scottish Parliament Na h-Eileanan an Iar SNP MSP, Alasdair Allan, raised the issue of soaring island house prices.
A recently published National Statistics UK House Price Index for Scotland showed that the Western Isles experienced the largest growth in house prices of any local authority area in Scotland between August 2022 and August 2021 at 27.7%.
The islands MSP highlighted that this is part of a trend which has seen house prices rise more than 81% since August 2015 – again higher than any other local authority in Scotland. The average price of a house in the Western Isles has gone from £91,859 to £166,373 over this time period.
Alasdair Allan MSP commented:
“The Western Isles face serious challenges from depopulation over the coming years. We can all see this in things like falling rural school rolls, labour shortages and staffing challenges across our health and care services.
“Despite all this, sky-rocketing house prices are making it increasingly difficult for young islanders to get on the local housing market. We also have areas across the islands where a sizeable chunk of the housing stock is tied up in second homes and short-term lets.
“I am grateful to the Cabinet Secretary for agreeing to meet with me, and partners like Comhairle nan Eilean Siar, to discuss how we tackle the housing crisis.”
A new initiative, titled Cruinnich (‘to gather’), was launched this week across the Western Isles, with the aim of promoting social connection and supporting local communities this winter.
Community groups and churches, in partnership with Third Sector Interface Western Isles and local MSP Alasdair Allan, have been collaborating to establish a network of welcoming community spaces where local people can attend regular activities and events this winter.
Plans include weekly soup lunches, craft sessions, film nights, boardgames afternoons, exercise classes, music sessions, social clubs and community cafés.
Commenting on the project’s launch, MSP for Na h-Eileanan an Iar, Alasdair Allan, said:
“The impact of the cost-of-living crisis, with regards to fuel poverty in particular, is unfortunately already being felt sharply by many in the islands. While this initiative will of course not fix the many challenges facing our islands at present, I hope that these opportunities to gather together will play some small part in ensuring people are supported and can maintain and build connections within their own communities in the months ahead.
“Many people are struggling, with services feeling the strain, and volunteer fatigue increasing given how much time and energy volunteers have contributed throughout the pandemic and beyond.
“However, I have been very encouraged by the enthusiasm and commitment of all those involved in the Cruinnich project who are keen to do all they can to support members of their local community over the months ahead. If your organisation would like to be a part of Cruinnich, please get in touch – and if anyone would like to volunteer as an individual, I would advise you to contact your local venue directly.”
The Chair of the Third Sector Hebrides Western Isles (TSIWI), Eoin MacNeil, stated:
“It is incredible to see just how third sector organisations and volunteers are responding to this cost-of-living crisis following all the support they provided during the COVID pandemic. The TSIWI are working with third sector organisations and community groups throughout the Western Isles to provide as much advice and co-ordination as possible.”
In Clachan, in North Uist, a community ceilidh is being held every Friday afternoon from 1pm. Alastair Banks, Session Clerk of Carinish Church of Scotland said:
"We are very happy to be playing a part with so many other local groups in providing a place for people to meet to socialise and have some food in a warm and inviting space. These are challenging times and we are privileged to be able use our church hall as a place of warmth and welcome.
“We are really grateful for the coordination and support that has been provided by Dr Alasdair Allan MSP and his team and, locally, by the staff of Uist Council of Voluntary Organisations."
The full list of participating venues can be viewed here: www.alasdairallan.scot/cruinnich
For details on events running at your local venues, check the organisations’ websites or get in touch with the local TSI contact, whose details are included in the list of participating groups.