Question time on Arran airs people’s priorities
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.
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.