Routemap to increased south-west prosperity
Routemap has very much become a well-used word these days when describing aspirations, options and plans on a range of issues.
It is particularly apt, and much needed, when seeking transport solutions for Dumfries and Galloway.
However, I believe the direction of travel looks more promising now than it has for many years, thanks to efforts at UK level.
The Union Connectivity Review, under the leadership of Network Rail chairman Sir Peter Hendy, is taking a hard objective look at ways of improving transport across the four home nations and he and his team have not been afraid to think outside the box in Dumfries and Galloway.
Progress has come about partly through Brexit with a variety of funding and project prioritising decisions returning to our shores from the EU in Brussels.
I've made sure that the Hendy team are very much aware of the transport needs and issues facing my constituents and their ideas and hopes for the future.
They are now looking at completing a UK-wide blueprint and I feel certain they will come up with a routemap which is good for our region -- and all four home nations.
I eagerly await their initial findings but I'm encouraged the study has looked at the potential of a UK directly-funded upgrade of the A75, serving the ferries and, significantly, exploring a possible road-rail tunnel crossing linking Wigtownshire with Northern Ireland.
There are some exciting and more cost-effective civil engineering concepts evolving around the world and one, a submerged floating tunnel, could match the challenges of potential crossing routes in the North Channel or wider Irish Sea
Such projects, if given the green light, would bring massive economic and employment opportunities to Dumfries and Galloway -- at a time when they could help with long-term recovery from the global pandemic.
The UK Government would like to work closely with our colleagues at the Scottish Government but, unfortunately, so far, SNP Ministers in Edinburgh have prevented their civil servants from engaging with the connectivity study.
I also felt it unjustified that South of Scotland SNP MSP Emma Harper should take potshots in the press at this UK Government initiative that could potentially bring huge amounts of extra infrastructure investment to our area.
Her rejection of the UK strategic approach, which could bring new money, was particularly galling when Dumfries and Galloway trunk roads have clearly been a low priority for nationalist administrations in Edinburgh for many years.
It would also appear from Emma's comments that she does not fully understand that the tunnel options being examined in the review are being chosen to overcome issues such as historic dumping of ammunition at Beaufort's Dyke.
The Union Connectivity Review is both positive and timely -- and could deliver a realistic routemap to a more prosperous south-west Scotland.
Vaccine teams doing great job
I would again like to acknowledge the excellent efforts by NHS Dumfries and Galloway, other agencies, individuals and the Army in combating coronavirus locally.
It was fantastic to learn that more than 50,000 people in the region have so far received their first dose of a Covid-19 vaccine, including the majority of people aged over 65.
That represents more than a third of the region's population and illustrates significant progress in bringing the virus under control although we must continue to take great care in observing guidelines and fully socially distancing.
In another step forward testing is now available across the region to people regardless of whether or not they are showing symptoms.
It is part of a further expansion of testing capacity and an additional tool in slowing the spread of the virus.
As with any operation on this scale, administrative glitches can arise, but all involved in the efforts in our area deserve great credit as they continue to help save lives.
Outlook better in our schools
As i've commented before in this column the pandemic has been very difficult for many school-age children who have had their education and normal activities disrupted.
That's why I'm pleased that the fall in the Covid-19 infection rates and other trends have made it possible for a phased return to school, initially with the three youngest primary years and some secondary pupils with practical work to complete.
Online education has been, and currently remains, an incredibly useful tool but, like in so many aspects of life, it is far from a substitute for face-to-face contact.
Climate in focus
I valued a recent opportunity to have a virtual meeting with local members of the Scottish Youth Parliament.
Not surprisingly one of their principal concerns was the future impact of climate change.
That illustrates just how important the UN Climate Change Conference (COP26), hosted by the UK Government in Glasgow this November, will be to the global community.
Decisions taken at this massive event on our doorstep could be crucial to the planet's future and that is why I'm enthusiastic to see engagement on the issue with young people like our local MSYPs Hannah, Halime and Cameron.
It was interesting to look back at media accounts and pictures of events in our region two decades ago this month.
Eastern parts of the area were close to the epicentre of the devastating 2001 Foot and Mouth Disease outbreak.
The slaughter of huge numbers of prized livestock, burning carcuses and the lingering stench will never be forgotten by many rural and town dwellers.
Whilst Wigtownshire escaped the worst of the outbreak, the knock-on effect on the UK's entire agricultural industry, tourism and rural-focused businesses was immense over many months.
Looking back at the news cuttings was also a reminder of how, in times of crisis, Dumfries and Galloway communities pull together.