Highlands and Islands Scottish Conservative MSP Donald Cameron has said that the decline in school subject choice is “deeply worrying” after research conducted by Professor Jim Scott of Dundee University indicated that not a single secondary school in the Highland Council area or the Western Isles now offered as many as 8 subjects at S4.
Donald expressed his concern after a meeting of the Scottish Parliament’s Education Committee yesterday (Wednesday 24th April) which is conducting an inquiry into declining subject choice.
The revelations follow concern expressed last month at the committee when research by Highlands and Islands Enterprise showed that 46% of school pupils in the Highlands and Islands region believe that the range of subjects available will limit their post-school options.
Donald said: “I am particularly worried about the knock-on effect this could have on Highers and Advanced Highers.
“There is widespread concern that this contraction in choice is leading to a decline in subject areas such as music, art, languages and technology.
“These are all creative subjects that have a particular resonance in the Highlands and Islands and we will be much poorer as a country if they continue to decline. Frankly, it is deeply worrying.”
Donald added: ”It is a sad fact that Nicola Sturgeon’s statement yesterday on a second independence referendum was her sixth on the constitution since becoming First Minister.
“She has not made a single statement purely on education to the Scottish Parliament.”
Liz Smith MSP, Scottish Conservative shadow education secretary said;
“While Nicola Sturgeon is busy pushing for another independence referendum, experts have fully exposed the extent of the subject choice crisis affecting so many schools across Scotland.
“Professor Scott’s detailed analysis tells us that the majority of state schools are now offering fewer subjects, undermining the strong Scottish tradition of breadth within the curriculum which was so admired around the world.
“Parents simply do not buy the argument that restricting subject choice is beneficial.
“Instead of giving statements on independence, Nicola Sturgeon should be explaining why experts think the SNP’s education reforms are failing a generation of pupils.”
Highlands and Islands Scottish Conservative MSP Donald Cameron has described the failure of the SNP Government to resolve the longstanding issue of the inadequate Dunoon-Gourock ferry, despite repeated promises to take action, as “12 long years of shameful failure.”
Donald’s comments came ahead of a meeting being held in Dunoon next week by the SNP Minister for the Islands Paul Wheelhouse to discuss the ferry situation.
“When the SNP narrowly won the Argyll and Bute seat back in 2007 it was widely credited to their promise to sort out the ferry service which even then was a source of concern to people living in Dunoon and the surrounding area.
“12 years later, and nothing has been done.
“This represents 12 long years of shameful failure as we still have the same unreliable ferries sailing between Dunoon and Gourock.
“The SNP Government seems not to understand that this lack of action has a major impact on sustaining communities in areas like Cowal which face major challenges in retaining young people and attracting investment.
“Mr Wheelhouse simply must come up with a credible action plan.”
Donald added “ I am looking forward to attending the Dunoon Ferry Action Group on 26th April to hear directly from residents. I will do all I can to ensure progress is made.”
Cllr Bobby Good (Scottish Conservative – Dunoon), said: “Ever since I was elected two years ago local people have been asking me when we will return to a decent service from Dunoon.
“The answer is, when the Scottish Government finally sits up and accepts its responsibility for Argyll’s vital transport infrastructure.
“My fear is that they will seek to replace the ferries we have, poor as they are, with a passenger-only service.
“It is imperative that the minister listens to our community and accepts that we deserve a ferry service fit for the twenty-first century.
“And that means ferries which can carry vehicles.”
Highlands and Islands Scottish Conservative MSP Donald Cameron is demanding action to protect air services to the Inner Hebridean islands of Coll, Colonsay and Tiree after Argyll and Bute Council confirmed that the service from Oban may cease, at least temporarily, after the current contract ends on 16th May.
Donald received the warning after the council’s Head of Economic Development and Strategic Transportation, Fergus Murray, replied to a letter from Donald asking for an update on the state of the contract negotiations
Donald said: “This air service is a lifeline for the communities that it serves on Coll, Colonsay and Tiree.
“Among the people who use it are pupils attending high school in Oban and medical professionals.
“It goes without saying that these island communities will be dismayed by this continued uncertainty.
“It is clear from this letter that funding air transport links to these islands presents major financial challenges for the council, which have been made much worse by years of unfair financial settlements from the Scottish Government.
“At the end of the day, SNP ministers in Holyrood control the purse strings and they have a responsibility to protect our most vulnerable island communities.
“They need to act now and use their powers to sort this matter out and provide islanders with the reassurance that the route is secure.”
Highlands and Islands Scottish Conservative MSP Donald Cameron has described a decision by Michael Matheson, Cabinet Secretary for Transport, to postpone a meeting of the A83 taskforce by more than two months as “unbelievable”.
The meeting, which was due to take place yesterday (27th March), will now take place in June.
Donald said: “The A83 is a major arterial road serving many residents and businesses in Argyll. They will be enormously disappointed by this delay.
“For the Cabinet Secretary to cancel the meeting with just two days’ notice, is simply unbelievable. Apparently he has more pressing committee business elsewhere.”
Donald, who pressed Mr Matheson in January on progress on the A83 with questions in the Scottish Parliament, added: “Once again, issues which are crucial to rural parts of the Highlands like Argyll are put on the back-burner by this SNP Government.
“It simply isn’t good enough to hold up progress in this way and I will be asking for a full explanation of how the SNP Government proposes to make up for this lost time.”
Councillor Alastair Redman (Scottish Conservative – Kintyre and the Islands Ward) said: “It’s seems that Mr Matheson and the Scottish Government he represents talks the talk without walking the walk. This is yet another example of how little this central belt urban obsessed SNP cares about rural Argyll.
“Time and time again this Government have left our trunk road network underfunded and have not shown any real leadership over this matter.
“I’m in full support of the ongoing campaign from Argyll residents and the local press alike to find a long term solution to the problems with the A83. This means the Scottish Government taking responsibility and investing large scale funding to our trunk road network here in Argyll not just piece meal patchwork.
“The SNP have in the past tried to pass on the blame for their own failing on ferries, Police, NHS, Education and our economy to the U.K government and no doubt they will try the same with the A83 but the people of Argyll are fed up with their excuses.
“The fact remains that if this was a trunk road linking two of Scotland’s urban centres it would already be fixed. This continued sidelining and indifference to the needs of rural Argyll must stop.”
Scottish Conservative Highlands and Islands MSP Donald Cameron has expressed concern following the release of figures which indicate that the Comhairle nan Eilean Siar is to receive the worst financial settlement of any local authority in Scotland, while rates paid by businesses in the islands are forecast to rise by 10%.
Donald said: “The figures released from the SNP Government show that the Comhairle is to receive an overall increase of just 0.38%, which of course is below the rate of inflation.
“This is the lowest figure for any local authority in Scotland.
“If you remove ring-fenced funding for additional Scottish Government projects, the actual amount received for the council’s core activities is to be cut by 2% – which is on top of the years of cuts that have already caused so much difficulty.
“At the same time as Council services are due to be further sliced, the business community in the Western Isles is looking at an overall rise in its business rate contribution of over 10%.
“Any business which operated like this would have ceased trading years ago.
“How on earth are we supposed to build a brighter future for our island communities when our business sector is treated like this?
“The SNP Government does not seem to understand that the economy depends on us having thriving private businesses, large and small.
“Instead of passing on the extra funding it has received from the UK Government, the SNP Government has continued to starve local authorities in the Highlands and Islands while finding money to spend on its pet projects, usually in the Central Belt.
Councillor Ranald Fraser (Sgir Uige agus Ceann a Tuath nan Loch) said: “For the islands to prosper and attract and retain young people we need to create the conditions for businesses to thrive.
“I hope that this tenet is always a consideration for any Scottish government.
“I am fearful that business rate payers and domestic council tax payers in the Western Isles are faced with another year of ‘pay more, get less’ when it comes to the council services that we all rely on.”
Scottish Conservative Highlands and Islands MSP Donald Cameron has urged caution following representations from concerned farmers about the possibility of re-introducing the lynx to Scotland including Kintyre.
His intervention follows feedback received from Councillor Alastair Redman (Scottish Conservative, Kintyre and the Islands Ward) who has also been contacted by constituents concerned about the proposal.
Cllr Redman said: “Livestock farmers in Kintyre are very concerned that an apex predator like the lynx, which is quite capable of killing sheep, could be introduced locally.
“I have discussed this at length at my surgeries in Kintyre and I have every sympathy with the wishes of farmers to protect their stock from the possibility of attack.
“We have all seen the results of dogs attacking lambs and sheep and we cannot have a situation where this could be made even worse.”
Donald said: “The reintroduction of native species which have become extinct should only be contemplated following extensive consultations with all interested parties.
“And that must include land managers, farmers and crofters who stand to be most affected. Having spoken to many in the farming sector whose livestock are already suffering from predation from other wild species, I’m very sceptical indeed about reintroducing lynx to Argyll.
“I know that the Lynx UK Trust has already suggested trialling lynx reintroduction into Kielder Forest in Northumberland but the proposal was turned down by the UK Environment Secretary Michael Gove who said that there was not sufficient evidence of local buy-in for the proposal and neither had there been adequate research into the ecological impact of lynx introduction.
“If it’s not good enough for Northumberland then, it’s hard to see why it’s suitable for Argyll or indeed anywhere else in Scotland either.
“Bringing back former native species can be a very positive thing but only if such projects command widespread public support and are properly funded and supported by the relevant agencies.
“We should not undermine trust in this process by initiating schemes which have not been properly thought through or assessed.”
Scottish Conservative Highlands and Islands MSP Donald Cameron paid tribute to the Lochaber and Glencoe Mountain Rescue teams and the Coastguard during First Minister Questions.
He made his comments in the same week that rescue teams responded to an avalanche in Ben Nevis which claimed the lives of three climbers.
Donald said: “I felt it was right to draw attention to the courage and professionalism of those people who make themselves available to help others at risk of death or serious injury in the mountains.
“As someone from Lochaber with friends in the mountain rescue team, I am very aware of the immense effort over many years that has been made by volunteers to rescue walkers and climbers who have got into difficulty in this challenging environment.
“Members of the Mountain Rescue Teams subject themselves to many hours of training and preparation in order to carry out what can be gruelling and sometimes very upsetting tasks in the most extreme of conditions.
“There are many people alive today who owe their lives to their efforts.
“We owe the Mountain Rescue Teams and the Coastguard a huge debt of gratitude for their selfless commitment on behalf of others who share their love of Scotland’s mountains.”
Scottish Conservative Highlands and Islands MSP Donald Cameron lobbied the Scottish Government for an improved ferry service for Islay.
Donald said: “Distilleries in Islay are rightly concerned about a potential lack of capacity in the ferries serving the island.
“Action in this area is absolutely vital if we are to secure the economic future of Islay and attract investment.
“I am pleased that the minister has offered to discuss this crucial matter with me and I will certainly be taking the offer up.
“My priority is to ensure that the right investment in transport infrastructure takes place before problems start arising in the service due to under-capacity.
“Islay makes a very significant contribution to Scotland’s reputation as a producer of internationally renowned products and it is right that elected representatives keep the pressure on the SNP Government to deliver the investment that allows that contribution to continue and grow in the future.”
The Scottish Conservatives have today published “A New Approach to Scottish Farming” which sets out the principles of their future farming policy for Scotland.
The document forms the basis of the Scottish Conservative debate on future agriculture policy in the Scottish Parliament today.
A Scottish Conservative approach to Scottish farming will focus on productivity, regional differentiation, environmental protection, research, education and securing the future of farming careers.
The Scottish Conservatives will highlight the opportunity of designing and implementing a new support system that is much better suited to the needs of Scottish agriculture than the outdated Common Agricultural Policy.
The rest of the UK remains the biggest market for Scottish farm produce; it is crucial that any new system does not create any friction with this internal market.
This approach recognises the unique landscapes and circumstances faced by 85 percent of Scottish agriculture and would maintain funding to farmers facing remoteness, harsh climate, and poor soil quality.
The Scottish Conservative focus will provide support to farmers providing key environmental outcomes, combining financial stability with environmental measures.
The introduction of measures to help new entrant farmers, more flexible working and managing exits from farming would help to secure the future farming workforce.
Our education system must also adapt to support a new generation of land managers through Rural Skills Level 4 and increased vocational training. STEM subjects must be a priority in order to allow farmers to harness technology, and implement future focused environmental strategies.
Scottish Conservatives Shadow Secretary for the Rural Economy Donald Cameron MSP said:
“The Common Agricultural Policy is not fit for purpose and we have an opportunity to design and implement a system far more responsive to the needs of Scotland’s farmers.
“The SNP continue to let farmers and crofters down, by being far more preoccupied with promoting independence than working with Scottish agriculture to grasp this opportunity; as a result farmers face uncertainty and anxiety.
“Our focus is on practical, simple support that farmers can access easily and quickly.
“The Scottish Conservatives want government to support environmental measures, new technologies, new entrants to farmers, and flexibility for those in farming as well as those who wish to exit with dignity.
“Scotland’s unique landscape poses challenges and opportunities which we will embrace and continue with the same levels of funding.
“Above all, Scotland’s farmers deserve an ambitious programme of support and encouragement that will ensure our rural communities capitalise on the opportunity we now have.
“In contrast, the SNP seems content to wage constitutional warfare rather than address the serious, practical issues facing farmers today.”