MSP tables motion to support Benmore’s Giant Redwood and Scotland’s Tree of the Year Competition

Local MSP, Michael Russell, has today tabled a motion in Parliament to note that a giant redwood in Benmore Gardens near Dunoon is a finalist in Scotland’s Tree of the Year Competition.

If you want to vote in Scotland’s Tree of the Year Competition, which is open until 12th October, please click here.

Motion Text: Benmore’s Giant Redwood and Scotland’s Tree of the Year Competition

That the Parliament notes that a giant redwood in Benmore Gardens near Dunoon is a finalist in Scotland’s Tree of the Year competition, an annual event run by the Woodland Trust that invites members of the public to vote for their favourite tree from a list of nominations; understands that this giant redwood is the tallest tree in the striking entrance avenue of giant redwoods at Benmore, planted in 1863, and which is unique in botanical gardens in Europe; notes that the origin of these trees is thought to lie in the request from the landowner, Patrick Matthew (1790-1874), to his sons to send seeds back to Scotland by steam packet from California during the gold rush, and welcomes that the winner of Scotland’s Tree of the Year will compete against trees from all over the continent for the title of European Tree of the Year, which is organised by the Environmental Partnership Association.

Only a week left to claim a share of £750,000

Argyll & Bute MSP Michael Russell has reminded community groups in his constituency that they have only a week to go to apply for a share of the £750,000 that the Co-op is offering as a result of funds raised by the plastic bag levy topped up with proceeds from “bags for life ” and the unique Co-op woven re-usable shopping bag

Mr Russell said : “This Co-op grant scheme called the “Local Fund” could be a real windfall for local groups and charities.   The Co-op expects that up to 1000 groups will get grants of between £200 and £2500 to make a real difference in their communities.

The Scottish Government’s Plastic bag levy has been an enormous environmental success and now it can also help communities with much needed cash thanks to the Co-ops generosity.

There is an on line application process available at  www.cooplocalfund.co.uk.but applications will only be accepted up until midnight next Wednesday (7th October).   The Co-ops one million members in Scotland  will then vote from a shortlist on line to choose the winners.

I would urge all local and community groups in Argyll & Bute to check out the website as soon as they can.  This is an opportunity not to be missed.”

RUSSELL CALLS FOR REDUCTIONS IN RURAL DELIVERY SURCHARGES IN POSTCODE PENALTY DEBATE

Michael Russell, the MSP for Argyll & Bute has voiced concerns about the high surcharges for delivery that his constituents face when using online retail and has suggested a number of innovations to help improve their situation.

 

A recent survey of over four hundred online retailers by Citizens Advice Scotland showed that in 2015, rural Scottish customers paid nearly four times the price of urban delivery for online purchases when surcharges are applied.   And whilst 50% of retailers apply these charges another 11% refuse to deliver to parts of the Scottish Islands entirely.

 

Speaking in a member’s debate on the issue in the Parliament Mr Russell pointed out that the vast majority of his constituency of Argyll and Bute is affected and he offered a number of possible ways forward including, the preservation and expansion of the Royal Mail’s Universal Service Obligation.   Mr. Russell encouraged the Scottish Parliament to work with SNP MPs to help drive reform of the USO at Westminster

 

Mr. Russell emphasized that guaranteed delivery is vital, and that the USO, “needs to be modernized to accommodate the current use of parcels”

 

Second, the Scottish Parliament should work to help educate businesses and consumers about the Consumer Contract Regulations that cover online retail. The recent CAS survey found that nearly a quarter of online retailers deduct the cost of delivery from returns. For rural consumers with high delivery charges, this makes returns infeasible in many situations.

Finally, Mr. Russell commented on a few opportunities for simplifying and reducing the cost of delivery for consumers and businesses. These included, “last mile consolidation” for packages, delivery directly to ferries, and delivery to local post shops and post offices. These ideas can be found in more detail in the CAS survey, linked below. Mr. Russell emphasized the “special circumstance” that exist which would allow communities to work with Cal Mac given the public ownership of CMAL.

 

Mr. Russell finished his speech by recounting the experience of the community store in Jura.  Here, community efforts have helped mitigate the problem by a collaborative approach to picking up supplies when they are delivered to Islay.    As Mr. Russell described it, “community members volunteer to travel to Islay from Jura, pick up the packages, and deliver them back to the store. That is not only for the stores’ deliveries, but also for residents of Northern Jura, who face a long journey to get to Islay. This is community action from an earlier age but it can help solve problems now.”

 

For more information on the Postcode Penalty issue, find the CAS report here: http://www.cas.org.uk/publications/postcode-penalty-distance-travelled

You can view my contribution to the debate below:

Lochdonhead Primary School Win “Our Environment 2015” Competition

It was good to meet Alex & Ella from Lochdonhead Primary School in the Parliament at lunchtime where they showed me their school’s entry for the “Our Environment 2015” competition . They had already won through to the final because of the wonderful wildlife garden next to the school which they have been creating but they still have to find the money for a shed. Five minutes later they won the competition, and the £1000 first prize. Now they have asked me to come and open the shed when it is built – which I would be delighted to do.

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RUSSELL CALLS ON FIRST MILK TO RESCIND THEIR HAVORFORDWEST DECISION

Argyll & Bute MSP, Michael Russell has described the dairy industry in Kintyre, Bute and Gigha as “in crisis” and has said that “the future of the dairy industry in my constituency hangs on a knife edge. If there is not a significant price rise or significant intervention before the winter sets in, with increased feeding costs, many of those who are presently in the sector will leave it, no matter the cost to them.”

 

Speaking in a debate on agriculture in the Scottish Parliament he used the example of Cllr Robert Macintyre’s Dunallan farm on Bute to illustrate the severe problems facing dairy farmers and he criticised the dairy co-operative First Milk for their decision to use increased payments from TESCO to the company’s Havordfordwest Creamery solely for the benefit of farmers directly supplying that plant rather than sharing it amongst co-operative members

 

Commenting on that situation Mr Russell said in the debate:  “When is a co-operative not a co-operative? The answer is when it is run by First Milk.

 

I appeal to First Milk to rescind that decision to help all its members to survive, not just some. The members of First Milk have much money tied up in the company and they want it to succeed, but if First Milk turns its back on them just when they need it most, it will forfeit all right to respect and continuing support”

 

Mr Russell also praised the Scottish Government for its help with the refurbishment of the Campbeltown Creamery but called on Cabinet Secretary Richard Lochhead to bring forward urgent new assistance for local dairy farmers and to ensure that European payments, due in December, are paid on time or even earlier than in previous years given the pressure caused by price issues in the sheep and beef sectors, the dairy crisis and the bad weather experienced during the summer.

 

Mr Russell’s contribution to the debate can be found here:

Official Report

Scottish Parliament Video

 

MSP tables motion to support ‘I Heart Castle Toward Campaign’

Local MSP, Michael Russell, has today tabled a motion in Parliament to support the ‘I Heart Castle Toward Campaign’.

Motion Text: I Heart Castle Toward Campaign

That the Parliament notes the launch of the campaign, I Heart Castle Toward; understands that this has brought together a range of talented and creative individuals, all of whom are aware of the profound and inspirational effect that the castle has had on the generations of young people who were given the opportunity to express themselves in that special place; believes that the campaign hopes to persuade Argyll and Bute Council to halt the sale process to an individual and to open negotiations regarding the purchase of the building with this wider grouping, which seeks to both re-establish it as a centre of excellence for creative education and to involve the community that has worked hard to purchase the property, and urges the leadership of the council to act accordingly and listen to what it believes is the vast majority in and outwith the area who want to see the castle put to these uses.

MSP welcomes ferry route improvements

Michael Russell, the MSP for Argyll & Bute, has welcomed the announcement by the Scottish Government of major enhancements to the ferry services on the West Coast of Scotland from next summer.

Mr Russell said :

“These announcements are very good news.   Not only has the Scottish Government honoured its commitment to introduce RET across the Hebridean and West Coast routes in this Parliament – a task that will be completed next month when Bute and Mull join the scheme – and recently commissioned two new vessels but it is now signalling its intention to go on investing and improving ferry services for the benefit of our island communities.

Mull has been waiting for a long time for a timetable that would make doing daily business between the island and the mainland a realistic proposition.  I have been involved with a number of groups who had wanted an early morning service and the use of two vessels and the increase of 50  crossings a week will go a long way to ensuring that the island can take advantage of the short  link to Oban.   I am sure that Cal Mac will also want to work on better reliability on the route given the high level of cancellations over the last year but if that can be sorted then the new opportunities allied with the reduction in costs from RET from this October will be a major boost to the island economy.

The increase in sailings for Coll, Tiree and Colonsay will also be very welcome.   The success of RET has meant that some summer sailings to Coll & Tiree have been difficult to book for weeks in advance and greater capacity will allow greater flexibility and better opportunities for visitors and residents alike.   Colonsay has been hit hard by cancellations this year with some severe difficulties in terms of reliability of vessels so once again if reliability can be improved alongside new services and RET this will be hugely beneficial.

Two significant areas of concern remain.  Islay has also had significant problems with ferry reliability this year and the island is very concerned about any possible erosion of the overall capacity on the Kennacraig route which requires not just two vessels but two large vessels.  Islay is not only a tourist destination it also produces a very substantial amount of whisky and has a strong agricultural trade.  There must be a commitment to that route and improvements on it and I shall continue to press the issue.

The people of Kintyre are also keen to get a firm commitment to the continuation of the Ardrossan service which has just completed its three year pilot phase.  It has worked well but a more flexible timetable is needed to fit in with the realities of holiday lets and the needs of local people and I am glad that the Minister has agreed to meet a delegation from Campbeltown led by Cllr John Armour in October.  I hope he will have good news for the area. “

MSP welcomes creative Castle Toward bid

 

“Stop the Sale” says Russell

Argyll & Bute MSP Michael Russell has welcomed the plea to Argyll & Bute Council regarding the future of Castle  Toward which has come today from a group of Scottish celebrities all of whom share a passion for the place and the potential which the building has to become, once again, a centre for artistic and creative excellence for young people.

Commenting on the news story which has appeared today in the national and local press on the matter Mr Russell said:

“This is an exciting and welcome development which comes at the eleventh hour given that the Council still seems determined to hand the building over to a commercial developer at the end of the month.

This distinguished and exciting group includes individuals with tremendous creative reputations.   All of them testify to the importance of Castle Toward to their lives and careers and they want others to be able to have the life changing experiences that they experienced there.

There is now a stark reality which the Council  has to accept.  The only people who want to sell this iconic building to a private sector developer are the 23 administration Councillors in Kilmory  , backed up by their senior management.

Everyone else – the community,the opposition in the Council, the MP and MSP, senior members of all political parties at national level , the Scottish Government and now the cream of Scotland’s creative talent are all united in their desire to see another  solution .

Unless Council Leader Dick Walsh believes there is some vast conspiracy afoot then surely even he has to accept that he is out of step with the overwhelming  majority .    I therefore appeal to him to see sense and stop the sale to allow a better solution to be implemented. “

Referendum one year on

What a difference a year makes.

In the dawn light of the 19th of September 2014 I drove to Edinburgh from the Referendum count in Lochgilphead feeling downcast. Despite what had been for me years of campaigning, despite the most positive and enthusiastic message and despite the goodwill of many across the world fear had triumphed over hope at the very last minute and secured what appeared to be a generational defeat for the idea of Scottish independence.

By ten o’clock I was in my Government office in St Andrews House and half an hour later I accompanied John Swinney to say thank you to the civil servants who had worked so tirelessly to provide good public information and to organise an impeccable referendum and who had been standing ready to undertake the enormous but wonderful task of transitioning to a new country.

Everyone was emotional and everyone was tired. It was not a time to make judgements about what had taken place or what would happen in the future.

I drive back to Argyll later that afternoon, listening on the car radio to the unfolding drama of Alex Salmond’s resignation and being moved beyond measure by his assertion that the dream would never die.

Within days that was the mood that gained the upper hand. People were not prepared to give up the changes they had seen taking place all around them as their fellow citizens engaged with politics and our national future, many for the first time. Tens of thousands wanted to carry on with the campaign to secure a better country .

Within a few weeks the membership of the SNP in Argyll and Bute had risen five fold. The unionist political parties found themselves under intense pressure to take forward ever more radical proposals for powers of the Scottish Parliament and the work of the Smith Commission, invented as a sop to stop independence, was challenged again and again by those who wanted real, not cosmetic, change. Wisely the Scottish Government worked with those who were proposing change, but always in the spirit of encouraging radical progress. In so doing they exposed the last minute UK Party Leaders “Vow” to the Scottish people as the cynical ploy it always was.

By the start of 2015 there was a new newspaper supporting independence, there were thousands of new political party members, there was an energy in community groups pushing for more powers at local level as well as at national level and vigorous campaigning had started for the Westminster election. Polls suggested a wipe out for the Westminster other parties, something that no one could believe until it actually happened in May. The biggest landslide in Scottish electoral history resulted in 56 SNP members being returned, leaving the other parties with a single seat each.

Yet the lesson of the referendum has still not been learned in London. All but two of Scotland’s MPs oppose Trident, yet the new Trident is coming with vast sums of money already being spent. All but one of Scotland’s MPs opposes draconian welfare reform that is penalising the poor and the disabled and driving people to an early death, yet these cruel procedures are being accelerated.

Key issues that need to be devolved, and on whose devolution there was agreement, are being pared back and commitments reneged on. And the Scottish Parliament is still being sidelined by a UK Government with no mandate and only one Scottish Tory MP.

Real democracy is still in deficit in Scotland and the Scottish people have woken up to that fact. Polls are now beginning to show a shift that may produce a majority for independence at any future referendum.

The Scottish Parliament elections next year will give Scotland another opportunity to strengthen its hand against the depredations of an unelected Conservative Government and will offer those living here a radical, achievable manifesto which will continue and build on the good work done over 9 years of SNP Government since 2007.

The referendum energised Scotland. What appeared to be a defeat on the 19th of September has become a springboard for greater success as we approach the Scottish Parliament elections of May 2016.

Working with my Westminster colleague Brendan O”Hara – elected with a massive majority just a few months ago – I am ensuring that the people of Argyll & Bute get the first class local service from their Parliamentarians that they demand and deserve. But we are also both focussed on ensuring a strong Scottish Government again next May and further radical changes that will improve the lot of everyone in this area.

 

Local MSP tables motion in Parliament to congratulate Oban Communities Trust

Local MSP, Michael Russell, has today tabled a motion in Parliament to congratulate Oban Communities Trust in winning the Rural Innovators Award.

 

“Motion Text: Oban Communities Trust Wins Rural Innovators Award

That the Parliament congratulates the Oban Communities Trust on winning the Scottish Rural Parliament Rural Innovators 2015-16 Award for “Land”, which recognises the work that has been done to save the old Rockfield school in Oban and the plans that the trust has to convert it into the Rockfield Centre to provide what it considers a much-needed hub for the town to celebrate art, culture, history and heritage and embrace education, enterprise and community wellbeing, and wishes the trust and the town of Oban every success in taking forward what it sees as this imaginative project.”