Live music venue in the Highlands & Islands has moved a step closer to moving into new premises after crunch talks with key players

THE LEADING live music venue in the Highlands & Islands has moved a step closer to moving into new premises after crunch talks with key players.

The Ironwork’s director Caroline Campbell said the mood music that came out of the meeting led by the region’s Labour MSP David Stewart was “fantastically positive”.

Proposals for a hotel to be built on the site could leave The Ironworks with little time to relocate.

However, Caroline Campbell said the commitment shown to support the music business has spurred her on to investigate a potential venue for a move she believes could be seamless for her network of musicians and bookings, and her 62 staff.

She said: “David Stewart MSP and senior members of HIE, High Life Highland, Highland Council and Creative Scotland, discussed finding a new home for our key live music business that plays a vital role in the cultural life of the Highlands and Islands of Scotland and I felt it was a fantastically positive meeting. David Stewart’s online petition was also discussed, and everyone took on board how important the venue is to the people of Inverness and to music-lovers across the wider Highlands and Islands and beyond.”

She added: “I can’t stress this enough when I say this building we are in right now is just a shell. Everything in it we own and is transferrable. I invested heavily in new equipment and that was done deliberately so it could be moveable. It’s business as usual for The Ironworks and details will be released as soon as we know where our new space will be.”

The meeting was arranged by the Labour MSP David Stewart on the back of his campaign to find a new home for the venue.

Highland Council’s executive chief officer Stuart Black told the meeting the local authority was “very keen to see The Ironworks remain in the city centre”.

James Martin, head of development at High Life Highland, agreed to supply Mrs Campbell with costs and crowd-capacity figures for his charity’s network of buildings. Two senior officials from Highlands and Islands Enterprise – Iain Hamilton and Stephanie Andrew – also gave a commitment to investigate the kinds of support the organisation could give to the venue.

Creative Scotland, the public body that distributes funding from the Scottish Government and the UK National Lottery to supports the arts, screen and creative industries, is also engaged in the relocation effort.

MSP David Stewart, who has secured a meeting with Culture Secretary Fiona Hyslop on October 29, said he was “convinced there will be a permanent alternative home for The Ironworks”.
He said: “This venue is vital to the region’s music scene and to its cultural values not to mention the boost it brings to the city’s night-time economy and in turn to Scotland’s culture secretary Fiona Hyslop’s commitment to increase music tourism.

“People who come from as far as Dundee to see bands play at The Ironworks have signed my online petition. It’s been an institution in Inverness for more than a decade, contributing in so many ways without the backing of any regular public funding and I think it is time the Scottish Government started to recognise the good work it is doing. But for me, one of the most positive things that came out of the meeting, is we know there are levers we might be able to pull on to secure it a new home.”

A follow-up meeting has been scheduled for Friday, November 8.

MSPs raise right to die at home after Shetland GP’s call

The right to have full care at home for a patient’s last few days of life is being raised in the Scottish Parliament by Labour MSP David Stewart.

Mr Stewart, who represents the Highlands and Islands and is the Scottish Party’s Shadow Public Health Minister, is seeking cross-party support for his motion for a member’s debate on the issue.

Shetland GP Susan Bowie raised her concerns with him on a recent visit to the islands and she has also received the support of Mr Stewart’s Highlands and Islands Labour MSP colleague, Rhoda Grant.

Dr Bowie stressed that 70 per cent of the population in Scotland wished to die at home and many Highlands and Islands-based GPs were trained in palliative care supporting that wish.

However, Shetland does not have charities or carers who provide “hospital at home care” and the GP believes that other areas of Scotland may also be in the same position, especially in rural and remote areas.

The GP and the MSPs say there should be an automatic right for people to have full care at home day or night for their last few days of life, so that then can have their wish fulfilled to die at home.

Mr Stewart said: “Susan raises an important point, that you have the right to be born at home and the NHS provides midwives, but we don’t have the right to carers to enable us to die at home.

“I am worried that people on Shetland are being treated differently to those in the rest of Scotland due to lack of carers who can go in and support patients for their final few days.

“Often relatives are unable to do this, or just need a break from caring for their loved one, during a very stressful period.

“I hope other MSPs from all parties can get on board and highlight this so that a solution can be found.”

Mrs Grant added: “The Scottish Government will say we have the choice but without the right to care at home in the last few days of life, and social care or the NHS providing that care, it can’t happen easily especially if someone just has a few relatives.”

Dr Bowie said in the past when someone wished to die at home, she was able to organise help for families in caring for their relatives, as often children find it difficult to take care of their parent’s personal needs.

“This was in the form of ‘hospital at home’ here in Shetland, a list of trained people who would be available occasionally to help if required, and to give relatives a break. It was a great low-cost service,” said the GP.

“However, this was closed in Shetland years ago, but social care cannot fill the gap. Apparently, they are not available at night or at weekends.”

  • Pictured with David is Susan Bowie at her Shetland practice

Motion S5M-19252: David Stewart, Highlands and Islands, Scottish Labour, Date Lodged: 03/10/2019

Right to Full Care to Die at Home

That the Parliament understands that 70% of the population in Scotland wish to die at home; notes that many Highlands and Islands-based GPs are trained in palliative care that can support those who wish to die at home; believes however that not all areas of the region have charities or carers who provide “hospital at home care”, especially overnight, and notes the calls for there to be an automatic right for people to have full care at home day or night for their last few days of life, so that then can have their wish fulfilled by being able to die at home with suitable palliative care.

Current Status: Eligible for Members’ Business, Pending Cross Party Support

MSP’s dismay as train station ticket machine continues to run the risk of overcharge passengers

David Stewart at the Nairn ticket machine.

SCOTRAIL is under the microscope once again over a ticket machine at Nairn Railway Station that prompts passengers to pay over the odds for train fares.

Weeks after the train firm promised new software had been installed to sort the problem, Labour MSP David Stewart has been contacted by a constituent complaining the same thing was happening again.

Mr Stewart’s own checks  initially at the machine have this week confirmed it is still failing to display the lowest available fares on its main display screen.

It continues to prompt off-peak passengers travelling on the 09.17 service from Nairn-Inverness to pay the higher peak-time travel fare of £9, instead of the £6.50 off peak-time fare.

Mr Stewart, who flagged up the problem for the first time in July, said it was unacceptable ScotRail had failed to fix the issue.

He said: “It’s galling to think that this is still happening and I am raising this with Scotland’s Transport Secretary Michael Matheson. I’m sure he will agree it’s totally unacceptable that this ticket machine has still not been fixed and may still be catching passengers out.”

He added: “I have also been back in touch with ScotRail who have, once again, apologised. They said they thought it had been fixed and they would look at it again. I’ve told them this has to be done urgently and they have said I can expect to hear back from them early next week. They have assured me that this glitch is only affecting the Nairn machine and no others but I am making further checks into this.”


Stewart asks for answers on Chronic Pain waiting times

Highlands and Islands Labour MSP, David Stewart, has contacted both NHS Highland and the Scottish Government to ask what is being done to bring down the unacceptably long waiting times for people in the Highlands to be seen by the Chronic Pain service.

David Stewart said “This issue has been raised with me before, and has now been raised again.  I have been advised that there are very long waiting times for first appointments and that in some cases there can be more than a year’s wait for follow up appointments.

“I raised this initially with NHS Highland who have acknowledged that the demand for the service is very high with an increase in the number of referrals into this service leading to increased waiting times.  The health board has advised that it is currently undertaking a strategic review of the service and I await the outcome of this review with interest.

Mr Stewart continued “I have also been advised however that there is a shortage of Consultants in Chronic Pain nationally, which is escalating the problem, and I have written to the Scottish Government asking what they are doing to rectify this situation.

Mr Stewart concluded “While I welcome the review being undertaken, this will be of little comfort to those in the Highlands who are suffering from chronic pain and are waiting much too long for treatment.  Chronic pain affects not only the sufferer’s private life, but can also impact on their ability to work while they wait for treatment.  We need to see waiting times lowered and the Scottish Government must step in to help struggling health boards.”

Elgin bus service “dreadfully” missed – but the battle goes on to have it reinstated

David Stewart MSP joined an Elgin bus stop protest today (October 4) to fight for the reinstatement of an axed bus service.

A funding blackhole, caused by developers’ contributions from Scotia Homes and Robertson Homes reaching the end of its lifespan, means the vital bus service that covered a circular route around Elgin is no longer viable for the operator Deveron Coaches to run.

For the first time in weeks, pensioners have found a reason to stand at the bus stop now heartlessly happed-up with a black bin liner.

“It’s a shame. The bus got people out.  I’ve no company now”, said 86-year-old Belle Anderson as she looks around at the small crowd of people roughly her own age, comrades-in-arms, who are out in protest after being left isolated by the bus service cut.

The scrapping of a popular 28-seater bus that they have come to rely on as their daily link to the outside world has left their stop next to Bishopmill Primary surplus to supply.

“I’ve come out today to tell the Scottish Government we want our bus back”, said Mrs Anderson.

“It’s got to be worth a try.”

Three home-made carboard placards waved above her head echoing her calls as the campaign calling for the reinstatement of thebus service enters its eighth week.

David Stewart MSP at the campaign.

The fight was launched in late August by MSP David Stewart.

Today’s renewed effort to give the battle a fresh twist saw 15 protesters, at least three of whom were in their early nineties, out on a nippy October morning to stand shoulder to shoulder with Elgin Community Council member Douglas Clark.

He said he was determined to send a clear message to the First Minister, whose government turned down his council’s funding bid.

“Where’s our bus Nicola?” said his placard.

“Not just a bus – A lifeline!” said another’s.

Eighty-eight-year-old Grace McBeath is testament.

“I hardly go out now,” she said.

“I’m tired by the time I walk all the way to the Eight Acres Hotel and I don’t like standing around in the cold waiting for the Stagecoach bus. There’s no shelter there.”

Another woman complained that she misses the bus “dreadfully”.

I’m 93 so I can’t walk as far as I used to,” she said.

“The bus went to all the main points that I needed to get to – the shops, the doctors, the hospital, even the railway station. We really need it back.”

Another campaigner, Malcolm Hunter, said he joined the bus stop protest out of fears for what the future might bring.

“I have a degenerative illness which means although I’m able to drive just now in the future I won’t be able to,” he said.

“It’s a mile to the nearest shop from MacIntosh Drive where I live and its about £6 one-way for a taxi. Life could become quite prohibitive for me, so this bus is really important.”

Lead bus campaigner Sara Marsh said she knocked on doors to tell the pensioners about the protest.

“When I ask them how they are doing since the bus stopped they all say “fine” but the truth is they’re mostly sat at home all day now because they can’t get to the town centre like they used to. It’s expensive for a taxi so they can’t be paying for one every day. The loss of the bus has made a massive difference to their lives. It’s such a shame.”

In a bid to get the bus reinstated, Elgin Community Council wrote to First Minister Nicola Sturgeon requesting a share of a new £500 million Scottish Government fund set up to encourage bus travel. It was turned down.

Mr Clark said: “We won’t be giving up. We’ll be writing back to the First Minister to tell her that we understand the current Scottish Government policy is that bus services are operated on a commercial basis which means operators can decide to cut services if they are not covering their operating costs.

“But we believe that this policy unfairly affects smaller communities and rural areas and we would like the Scottish Government to recognise that this policy of theirs is unsustainable and completely ignores the social and environmental costs that arise when communities lose their limited bus services. It’s not good enough to leave it to bus service operators to look at profit and loss balance sheets in isolation from the costs that the Scottish Government will need to carry as a consequence of vulnerable people losing their independence and social interaction. Our initial letter to the First Minister made this point precisely. The 340/341 bus was not simply a means of transport.  It was a meeting place, a place where people could check on the welfare of others and that is why the term ‘community centre on wheels’ was coined.

“Elgin cannot be the only community suffering because of this unsustainable approach to bus services. It is time to change the policy and we would like to see Nicola Sturgeon and Transport Scotland take the lead in bringing about this necessary change.”

MSP David Stewart said: “I will continue to back these passengers and my discussions with stakeholders including Moray Council and Stagecoach are ongoing. The knock-on-effect the loss of this bus is going to have on older people’s health through social isolations cannot be calculated. But it was such a good turnout today and my thanks to everyone who turned up. What a lovely bunch of people they are. I was so touched by the community spirit. It’s heartening to see a community taking care of its older people in this way.”

Labour MSP David Stewart to spearhead rallying cry of Elgin bus service campaigners

MSP David Stewart.

Labour MSP David Stewart will stand shoulder to shoulder with passengers of an axed Moray bus service tomorrow (Friday, October 4) to stage a protest at their bus stop after their bid for funding from First Minister Nicola Sturgeon was turned down.

A government transport official has this week replied to the letter Elgin Community Council sent to the First Minister asking for a share of a new £500 million fund set up to encourage bus travel.

It was hoped Mrs Sturgeon would release some funds to reinstate the 340/341 bus service after it was slashed last month due to a funding blackhole.

However, a bus policy officer at the Scottish Government who replied on her behalf revealed the £500 million fund will not be available until next year. And the reply also says the bus industry in Scotland operates in an open market and local authorities have a duty to identify if there is a social need for particular services and can subsidise “but this is entirely at their discretion”.

Mr Stewart said the disappointing response came as no surprise.

He said: “I too have had a knock-back when I approached the Transport Secretary Michael Matheson for funding support for this bus but I am determined to keep the campaign going for these people who’ve been left out in the cold. The First Minister and Moray Council both seem to be washing their hands of this issue but that’s no comfort to the passengers who rely on this bus service to get them out of the house on a daily basis, so they can stay active and continue to be a part of the community.”

Labour MSP David Stewart on the bus with the passengers.

Mr Stewart last month joined passengers on the bus to listen to their concerns. He also handed a near 500-name petition set up to save the route to Transport Secretary Michael Matheson. His discussions with the Scottish Government, Moray Council, Stagecoach and other key groups are ongoing.

Bus campaigner Sara Marsh described the most recent reply from the Scottish Government as “pathetic”.

“The response hasn’t even come from Nicola Sturgeon,” she said.

“It’s come from an officer who she’s passed the buck to. This officer says we should approach Moray Council or Stagecoach for funding. Does he think we’re stupid? Doesn’t he realise we’ve not already tried that? I thought it was a pathetic reply.”

Moray Council has said it cannot afford to fund external bus routes.

However, Mrs Marsh believes it has a duty to do more and has vowed to continue pressing the council to negotiate funding from the housing developers who built the Duffus Heights scheme and hundreds more which are planned for Findrassie.

She added: “If the council is allowing planners to build hundreds of homes it should come with a requirement that there is bus infrastructure in place otherwise they’re cutting off the south side where there’s lots of affordable housing and shared housing units for the elderly. New developments need public transport in the same way that they require street lighting, refuse collection etc.”

Sara Marsh meeting David Stewart MSP on the 340 bus with her petition.

Douglas Clark of Elgin Community Council said: “We were a bit despondent after reading the Scottish Government’s reply but we’re not giving up. The plan, with agreement from the community council, is to get another letter back to the First Minister saying how disappointed we are with the first letter and what we wanted was some recognition that this bus is much more than just a mode of transport.

“An elderly gentleman who passed by while I was out in the garden the other day told me he’s really missing the company because that’s where he met all his pals. Another woman who’s a wheelchair user was saying she’s having to get taxis now because there’s never a space available on the Dial-A-Bus. There’s either no service at the time she needs or no wheelchair space. We need to keep pressing hard for this. The fight will go on.”

Deveron Homes stopped running the circular bus service last month after the subsidy it was getting from Moray Council though developers contributions from two house building firms came to the end of its lifespan.

The much-loved bus is no longer serving the two circular Elgin routes.

The Hamilton Gardens part of service (Service 340) was supported by Scotia Homes and Robertson Homes as a developer commitment to the area until the road linking this development with Covesea was completed.

The Linkwood/South Elgin service (Service 341) was commercially operated by Deveron Coaches.






Raigmore Interchange crossing: Transport Scotland asked to investigate complaints

Transport Scotland is being asked to look again at the safety of the Raigmore Interchange crossing where earlier this year a pedestrian was involved in a serious accident with a car and later died in hospital.

Highlands and Islands Labour MSP, David Stewart, has contacted the agency’s Chief Executive, Roy Brannen, following further concerns from constituents about the pedestrian crossing.

Although warning signs have been installed on the A96 carriageway, following the tragic accident in February, people have told Mr Stewart they believe these are ineffective and pedestrians are still at risk there.

Mr Stewart first called for a safety review of the southbound A9 slip road, which links to the A96, after the incident involving the Inverness grandmother.

There are no pedestrian crossing lights at the spot, but there are some on the other slip road which is only a few years away.

“Although I welcomed the move to put in temporary warning signs while the development of improved pedestrian and cycle routes was worked on, these appear not to solve the safety problem,” said Mr Stewart.

“One issue is the number of other signs on the stretch of the A96 between the Snow Goose restaurant leading up to Raigmore Interchange, meaning drivers may miss the crossing warning signs.

“Another is the fact that drivers are looking right to check roundabout traffic rather than left where pedestrians may be crossing. There is also a lack of warning signs for traffic coming from Inverness, along Millburn Road and entering the roundabout and then taking the A9 slip-road turn-off.

“Constituents have told me by the time that traffic reaches the slip road it can be travelling at 50/60 mph.”

Transport Scotland previously told Mr Stewart it was working with Highland Council and Sustrans on an active travel network project, which includes improved pedestrian and cycle routes through the interchange where the A9, A96 and Millburn Road meet.

Mr Stewart was told that the completion date would be some time in 2020 and he has now asked if there is a specific date for the project. He has also suggested temporary pedestrian crossing lights might be a solution.

The MSP has also written to Highland Council and Police Scotland seeking their views on safety.


FMQ – 27.09.19

On Thursday at FMQ’s i asked about a new study which suggested young people in the poorest parts of the country are three times more likely to die before their 25th birthday than those in the most affluent areas.You can see my question and the First Minister’s response below.

David Stewart asks First Minister about poverty

A Labour MSP put the First Minister on the spot today by asking about a new study which suggested young people in the poorest parts of the country are three times more likely to die before their 25th birthday than those in the most affluent areas.

Highlands and Islands MSP David Stewart, who is also Labour’s Shadow Cabinet Secretary for the Eradication of Poverty and Social Inequality, asked Nicola Sturgeon for the Scottish Government’s response to the study.

He said: “Aberlour Trust, who sponsored the research, argue that ‘a bad start shouldn’t mean a bad end’.

“Professor Treanor, who carried out this research, emphasised the impact of poverty, across the whole of a child’s life – with links to housing, health inequalities and education – all areas where the Scottish Government has the power to take radical action.

“Does the First Minister share my view that a young person’s life expectancy should not depend on a post code lottery and that the solution is a major shift in policy to fight with vigour and fortitude the massive inequality between the rich and poor in society?”

The First Minister said in reply that the figures were “shocking” and were a major cause for concern blaming Tory welfare cuts and outlining the action the Scottish Government was taking to tackle the issue.

Afterwards Mr Stewart explained: ““These figures are a disgrace for Scotland and amount to a sad loss of life for our young people who should have so much to live for.

“Most of the deaths included suicides, drug and alcohol poisonings, falls and road traffic accidents as well as deaths resulting from neglect or maltreatment, assault and violence.

“A major reason for the higher incidence of early deaths was poverty and its impact across the whole of a child’s life – linked to housing, neighbourhoods, health inequalities, nutrition, outdoor space, education and access to activities as well as the stresses poverty caused families.

“We cannot afford to ignore research such as this and the Scottish Government must do more to tackle inequalities.

  • Prof Morag Treanor, of Heriot-Watt University, carried out the research for charity Aberlour. She said the results showed the “massive inequality” between rich and poor in Scotland. It showed young men and boys were far more likely to die before 25 than young women and girls.

The study analysed data from the National Records of Scotland on the causes of death from 2011 to 2017. In total there were 4,081 deaths across the seven-year period, excluding those who were less than a year old. The academic responsible for the report Prof Morag Treanor mapped the deaths against the Scottish Index of Multiple Deprivation

She found a rate of 0.21 deaths per 1,000 people among under 25s in the poorest areas compared with a rate of 0.07 in the richest.