Important routes to the future
It does not seem like a decade since Stena Line moved more than six miles up the coast from Stranraer to Cairnryan accompanied by major investment.
But as we reach the anniversary and take stock, it is also good to acknowledge that, whilst passing trade may have been reduced in the town, the ferries remain an essential part of the Wigtownshire economy and an important source of employment.
It is vital though that projects to develop the waterfront at Stranraer and deal with issues such as what to do with the decaying council-owned George Hotel progress as soon as possible.
As I stated in a previous column, I believe it was important to reassess the potential of a tunnel / bridge to Northern Ireland as the latest information could prove invaluable for future planning purposes, even though such a project is not currently considered financially feasible.
The importance of the Cairnryan ferries has never been greater and, whatever the conclusion of the eagerly awaited Union Connectivity Review, improvements to the A75 and A77 deserve to be a high priority in the eyes of most of my constituents.
More resources needed locally
I had some sympathy with the views of long-serving Rhins socialist councillors Willie Scobie and Tommy Sloan expressed in last week’s Free Press when they called for the Scottish Government to increase funding to local authorities like Dumfries and Galloway Council.
There is no doubt that many of my constituents are unhappy at the pace of delivery of some services, maintenance and projects which are overseen by the Labour / SNP - controlled local authority.
However, the delays are, at least, partly due to the inadequate level of funding being passed down to councils by the SNP Scottish Government — despite record amounts of UK money being transferred from Westminster to Holyrood through the Barnet Formula and other routes.
Whilst, I’m sure, both Willie and Tommy would be swift to point out that our party political viewpoints differ, we all have a shared ambition, although different approaches, to achieving the best possible services and solutions for our area.
A trend towards centralisation has accelerated in the years since the SNP came to power in Edinburgh and I beleive the time is right for more decision-making and resources to be devolved to local level.
Export Academy ready to help
It was a pleasure on Tuesday, as Secretary of State, to host a ‘Taste of Scotland’ promotional event at Dover House, the home of the Scotland Office in London.
The products on display ranged from single malt Scotch whiskies and smoked salmon to very familiar home produced brands such as Tunnocks Tea Cakes and Irn Bru.
Locally, we have a mouth-watering range foods produced and I’m encouraging companies in the sector from south-west Scotland to investigate new opportunities available through the UK Government’s recently published export strategy.
A 12-point scheme highlighted at the Whitehall event had the objective of giving Scottish producers the tools they need to sell our high-quality foods to new markets around the world.
From the Stranraer Oyster Festival and Castle Douglas Food Town to whisky distilleries and cheesemakers, our region has much to offer and great potential.
I’m delighted the UK Department of International Trade has confirmed that they are preparing to launch an Export Academy in Scotland to help first-time exporters access masterclasses, roundtable meetings and networking events.
Moderator returns to Whitehall
I was pleased to host a special lunch marking the official visit to London of Lord Wallace of Tankerness in his role as Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland.
Jim Wallace is a native of Dumfries and Galloway and as a former MP, MSP, Depute Scottish First Minister and, as a previous Advocate General, is no stranger to the Scotland Office in Whitehall.
His legal background, political knowledge and, most of all his deep faith, mean he is well equipped to lead the national church during his year of office and in meeting the challenges facing many denominations at this difficult time.
Climate top priority after COP26
One of the achievements of the recent UN COP26 climate change conference in Glasgow has been highlighting more widely the urgency of limiting and eventually reducing greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.
Whilst not every proposed target and timescale was agreed across the international community, the direction of travel was clear with global support to further limit and reduce emissions along with financial help for the developing world, parts of which are already experiencing the worst impact of climatic trends.
I was privileged to spend time at the conference and I believe Glasgow, Scotland and the UK as a whole can be proud of the way this massive event was hosted and organised and I welcome the resulting extra international interest in our towns, cities and countryside.
My thanks too go to Police Scotland and other agencies for their great contribution and other UK police forces who deployed officers as part of mutual support.
It was good to see representation from Dumfries and Galloway at events inside and outside the conference campus and, indeed, special projects in local schools together with community events, such as an impressive art exhibition at Auchencairn.
Getting jabbed the best decision
As we edge further into winter my firm hope is that Wigtownshire and the rest of the constituency start to turn a corner from the impact of the Covid crisis although we must remain vigilant in the weeks and months ahead.
The case numbers have increased as life has returned closer to normality but the success of the vaccine and flu inoculations programme across the region has reduced the risk of our local hospitals becoming overwhelmed.
I would like to make a timely reminder for all those who qualify to be vaccinated whether by age, health or their job to take the option, both to protect their own health and that of others.
Extra funding for Literature Centre
The team effort to rescue Moat Brae in Dumfries — a very special building — and develop an inspiring new role by creating a unique top-grade visitor attraction has impressed me greatly in recent years.
A group of dedicated volunteers, against the odds, have drawn upon the building’s links with J. M. Barrie and his iconic character Peter Pan to create a centre for children's literature which is also of interest to visitors of all ages.
I'm delighted that the contribution of £280,237 from the UK Government Community Renewal Fund has been confirmed and will help create an immersive exhibition which, I understand, will greatly enhance the Moat Brae experience.
This should bring many more people from across the UK and overseas and, with Moat Brae's central location, should assist Dumfries town centre's long-term regeneration as a vibrant regional hub, a prospect very close to my heart.
As many Wigtownshire children have already found out Scotland’s first Centre for Children’s Literature is well worth a visit.
Why we should never forget
There were ceremonies at war memorials across the constituency on Armistice Day and Remembrance Sunday when communities rightly commemorated those who lost their lives in the service of our country.
They were very much on my mind when, as part of ministerial duties, I laid a wreath along with the First Minister, at the memorial at Edinburgh City Chambers before a national service of remembrance in St Giles' Cathedral.
My personal thanks go to Sally, a young forces cadet assigned to me, for her assistance during what were a very moving service and ceremonies.
Designs for Happy Christmas
One of the highpoints of this time of year is choosing designs for my annual official constituency Christmas card.
There was again a bumper entry from primary schools across the area with some very imaginative styles and pictures created by pupils.
We hope to finalise the prize-list in the near future and I’m assured that one of the prominent addresses where the card will be on display will be 10 Downing Street!