Ques­tion time on Arran airs peo­ple’s pri­or­i­ties

The Arran Banner - - Front Page - Kathie Grif­fiths ed­i­tor@ar­ran­ban­ner.co.uk

Pres­sure is to be put on ferry and bus op­er­a­tors on Arran to im­prove timeta­bles and con­nec­tions.

A ‘Ques­tion Time’ style-ses­sion with First Min­is­ter Nicola Stur­geon and cabi­net mem­bers at Arran High School on Mon­day heard that un­less foot pas­sen­gers can ‘sprint’ off the fer­ries, buses of­ten leave with­out them.

It means peo­ple go­ing to the north of the is­land have to wait two and a half hours be­fore their next con­nec­tion, ac­cord­ing to one wo­man, who also wanted to see im­proved com­mu­ni­ca­tion from cal­mac let­ting peo­ple strug­gling with mo­bil­ity and lug­gage know that as­sis­tance was avail­able.

A high school stu­dent also ques­tioned why pen­sion­ers, who were wealth­i­est de­mo­graphic group on the is­land, got free or re­duced travel when young peo­ple, who were the poor­est, did not.

An­swer­ing those ques- tions, trans­port min­is­ter Michael Mathe­son said in­te­grat­ing timeta­bles should be a pri­or­ity not just for Arran but for the whole of Scot­land, es­pe­cially at key in­ter­change hubs and he would take on that is­sue to see timeta­bles aligned more ef­fec­tively.

He said he would ask Cal­Mac to put up ap­pro­pri­ate signs and make sure help was in place for pas­sen­gers who needed as­sis­tance and also said pol­icy mak­ers were look­ing at ex­tend­ing travel con­ces­sions for young peo­ple on mod­ern ap­pren­tice­ships.

Sub­jects dur­ing the top­i­cal de­bate, which lasted one and a half hours, in­cluded in­de­pen­dence for Scot­land, step­ping up to cli­mate change and bio-diver­sity chal­lenges, im­prov­ing dis­abled ac­cess, Tri­dent, Brexit, ed­u­ca­tion, hous­ing and sup­port for in­shore fish­er­men.

The first min­is­ter and cabi­net reg­u­larly go on tour

out­side of Ed­in­burgh hav­ing meet­ings in towns, cities and com­mu­ni­ties across Scot­land.

Stu­dents from the high school made up around a quar­ter of Mon­day’s packed au­di­ence but it was 12-year-old Gary Find­lay who asked the most phili­soph­i­cal ques­tion of all.

‘I don’t re­ally have a ques­tion to ask you but I wanted to know what ques­tion would you ask your­selves?’ he said.

While the first min­is­ter said: ‘I’m ask­ing why I agreed to let my­self be ques­tioned by such smart school pupils’, Michael Rus­sell, Ar­gyll and Bute MSP and sec­re­tary for gov­ern­ment busi­ness and con­sti­tu­tional re­la­tions had a Brexit-themed an­swer: ‘I’m ask­ing, how on earth did we get into this mess.’

An­other pupil asked about the short­age of homes, say­ing her dis­abled granny was still look­ing for a house. An­other said a rel­a­tive had been med­i­cally ad­vised to take a year off work but had been forced back be­cause ben­e­fits had been re­fused.

Ed­u­ca­tion was also a worry. An older pupil said her lit­tle brother and oth­ers like him were not get­ting the ex­tra sup­port they needed be­cause of cut­backs to teach­ing as­sis­tants.

Class­room con­cerns were con­tin­ued by a teacher ex­press­ing her frus­tra­tion that IT pro­vi­sion was ‘well below par’ and at times they had to ‘go back to text­books’.

But all was not doom and gloom, Fi­nance Min­is­ter Derek Mackay told the au­di­ence that Scot­land had ‘a strong eco­nomic record’ and added: ‘There are many rea­sons to be pos­i­tive and cheer­ful.

‘Scot­land has ev­ery­thing we need to be an in­de­pen­dent coun­try but we don’t have in­de­pen­dence – that’s a choice for the peo­ple to make.’

He also said spend­ing £180 bil­lion on Tri­dent mis­siles was a choice that he be­lieved peo­ple in Scot­land would not make. ‘We could spend that money on other things,’ he said, adding: ‘We are in­vest­ing in hous­ing and ed­u­ca­tion now. It’s about build­ing for the fu­ture.’

Arran res­i­dent John Web­ster wanted to know, if Scot­land had in­de­pen­dence would the gov­ern­ment sign the global pro­hi­bi­tion of nu­clear weapons – the an­swer was yes.

One mem­ber of the au­di­ence, orig­i­nally from Trinidad, got a big round of ap­plause af­ter plead­ing with the first min­is­ter to ‘please, please just name a date’ for Scot­tish in­de­pen­dence.

‘Can’t we just take a vote now and de­clare it,’ quipped Ms Stur­geon.

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Pro­duc­ers and heads of food and drink in­dus­tries on Arran show­case the wealth of pro­duce avail­able from the is­land dur­ing the visit of First Min­is­ter Nicola Stur­geon, who lent her back­ing to a new plan to boost food and drink tourism in Scot­land. See in­side for full story.

Cabi­net line-up at Mon­day’s pub­lic meet­ing on Arran.

First Min­is­ter Nicola Stur­geon said the meet­ing would give ‘food for thought’ to take back to Ed­in­burgh.

Gary Find­lay, 12, hav­ing a post-meet­ing chat with First Min­is­ter Nicola Stur­geon.

Arran High School pupils, who were in the au­di­ence ask­ing ques­tion.

Wait­ing to hear an­swers at the first min­is­ter’s and cabi­net’s pub­lic meet­ing.

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