I am no longer an MSP and I no longer represent the Highlands and Islands.
I was first elected in 1997 and was the first Labour MP to represent the former constituency, Inverness East, Nairn and Lochaber. After losing my seat in 2005, I re-entered politics in 2007 as an MSP on the regional list.
Retiring feels bittersweet. I have dedicated most of my life to politics and to the Labour party. I’ve met thousands of constituents, worked cross-party with countless politicians, been door knocking through rain and shine and I don’t regret a moment of it. Its time though to move over for new blood.
Its been a privilege to serve Inverness and the Highlands and Islands and I want to thank anyone who has ever voted for me. I would also like to thank staff members past and present who have helped me represent constituents. Rhoda Grant for being my long suffering colleague and the local party who have been by my side.
TWO diabetes campaigners from different ends of the age spectrum got together yesterday, setting the wheels in motion for a joint-working action plan.
Highlands & Islands MSP David Stewart, Scotland’s twice-crowned Diabetes Champion, forged an alliance with nine-year-old Type 1 sufferer Chloe MacAllister, who has been spreading the word on the much-misunderstood form of the disease.
The Dingwall Primary pupil, who plays for Dingwall Soccer 7’s football club, inspired a super-hero themed school day of events at the school, sharing the podium with fellow star guest, Type 1 sufferer Commonwealth Games cyclist and ultra–marathon runner Roddy Riddle.
She hopes to organise fundraising events and is keen to support other children at the school who have been diagnosed.
Chloe needs to test her blood before she eats anything and uses an insulin pump. She needs to consider the number of carbohydrates she takes in and facts ranging from the temperature to levels of excitement in her day to day thinking to ensure she stays in balance.
The youngster, who lives at Fraser Road, Dingwall, with mum Melissa (30), dad Craig (33) and seven-year-old brother Ryan, said: “I would like to help them understand why we need to do our blood sugars and let them know they can talk to me, because when your little you don’t understand as well as older children and it gets really confusing.”
Mr Stewart, who has campaigned for fair access to treatment services for sufferers in the Highlands & Islands, co-chairing the Scottish Parliament’s Diabetes Cross Party Group and securing debates in the Scottish Parliament to urge the Scottish Government to do more for people with the condition, was keen to meet Chloe after hearing of her enthusiasm to help other young sufferers.
Presenting her with a bouquet of white and yellow flowers, Mr Stewart told the little girl that she was “a great role model” and “worth your weight in gold”.
He said: “What better teacher for other youngsters newly-diagnosed than someone like you who knows what it feels like to have this condition, but who manages through self-determination to show others that it is possible to live life to the full? You are an aspiring young leader Chloe, you have shown real strength and you really do have the capacity to improve the lives of others. You’re a great role model, worth your weight in gold.”
Mr Stewart added: “I aim to continue my campaigning work for diabetes research and awareness long after my retirement. I want you to know that you will always have my full support.”
Speaking afterwards, mum Melissa said: “Chloe was really excited to meet David. She won’t forget this, we’re very grateful to him. We’ are all just all so proud. Chloe has been through such a lot but she’s still smiling. We always say she’s our hero.”
Mrs MacAllister said dealing with diabetes was a challenge but Dingwall Primary School staff are an enormous help.
She said: “We are so fortunate; the school has got four fantastic pupil support assistants who supervise Chloe while she is doing her blood sugars and they know how to assist her when her bloods are low. They attend training sessions and they’re really supportive for us as a family.”
Angela Mitchell, Director of Diabetes Scotland, said: “Dave Stewart has long been a champion for people living with all types of diabetes in Scotland. So it’s great to see he’s continuing this work – and inspiring a new generation! We know how tough it can be growing up with type 1 diabetes, so to hear that Chloe is not only managing this but supporting others is truly inspiring. We agree with mum, Chloe – you’re a hero.”
Notes for Editors
Type 1 diabetes causes the level of glucose in the blood to become too high. It is not linked to diet, age or lifestyle, can’t be prevented and has no cure, it requires multiple daily insulin injections, or the use of an insulin pump, just to stay alive as well as continual monitoring of blood glucose levels.
There are currently 400,000 people in the UK with type 1 diabetes, over 29,000 of them children.
In his final question in the Scottish Parliament today, veteran Highlands & Islands Labour MSP David Stewart made a plea for the iconic Lochaber smelter.
Mr Stewart endorsed comments made by the Cabinet Secretary for Rural Economy and Tourism Fergus Ewing in his ministerial statement.
Cabinet Secretary was asked to reassure Parliament about the smelter owner’s operations in Scotland, particularly in Lochaber, following the collapse of the Greensill Capital UK finance firm.
Mr Ewing told the chamber jobs at the smelter were secure and the order book was healthy.
In a speech that followed, Mr Stewart said: “This smelter plays an important role in Scotland and the UK as the only smelter still operating. It is really important because of its high-skilled workforce and the effect that it has on the Lochaber and beyond economic and social fabric of the area and it is important that it continues to be part of Scotland’s industrial strategy and the creation of green jobs.”
Mr Ewing thanked Mr Stewart for the contribution that he has made to the Highlands and Islands over the three decades he has devoted to elected politics. While at opposite corners of the ring, had said they always got on well and had strongly campaigned on the same issues.
Mr Stewart’s fellow Labour MSP Rhoda Grant raised questions around community land ownership.
She said: “I am pleased to receive the reassurance with regard to GFG Alliance’s operations in Scotland and especially in Lochaber.
“When it purchased the Alcan Estate and Smelter in Lochaber a commitment was made to the Scottish Government and the community that they would transfer some of the vast estate to community ownership, this would have created more jobs and boosted the local economy.
“I understand from East Lochaber and Laggan Community Trust that this has not happened.
“I wrote to the Cabinet Secretary about this, and in his response, he appeared to wash his hands off this matter.
“Therefore, can I prevail push upon him to ensure that GFG Alliance make good this commitment?”
The Cabinet Secretary accepted there was work to do in this area, saying community involvement was something he would very much like to see taken forward. He said he has had discussions with the owner, Sanjeev Gupta, and that they had spoken to Community Councils and had been looking at one project in particular – to which there was no further mention.
Speaking afterwards, Mrs Grant said: “I was pleased to hear some work is being done on this but we definitely need to keep the pressure up on them to get things moving. If anything is coming down the line, it’s a long time coming.”
I’m delighted at the news that the Haven Appeal has secured the remaining funding needed to allow the building of the Haven Centre to go ahead.
This is fantastic news for the Elsie Normington Foundation and for the people throughout the Highlands who will benefit from the Centre.
It shows the power of resolute campaigning in never giving up and I congratulate Elsie Normington on having the vision and the determination in driving this through from a plan to a bricks and mortar project.
It will be Scotland’s first integrated centre for young people with learning difficulties and complex needs and will be life-changing for its users and their families.
It has been my privilege to support the appeal team in taking the proposal to Scottish Ministers.
The Scottish Government is engaging with the UK government on a four-nations approach to develop a Covid passport.
Michael Matheson, the Cabinet Secretary for Transport, Connectivity and Infrastructure, told this morning’s Health Committee in Holyrood: “We are already looking to develop our own thinking around how it would operate through the data system we have within NHS Scotland, but we also have to be mindful of the ethical issues associated with this”.
It followed hard questions from Highlands & Islands MSP David Stewart.
The Labour MSP strongly supports a Covid passport system to rescue the international tourism industry.
He has been pressurising the Scottish Government for months to step up the pace of its work on the issue.
Mr Matheson insisted his officials were working swiftly and he pointed out that they were also engaging with the World Health Organisation “which is developing a set of data-specific regulations that could be applied universally”.
However, he believed it was too soon for the Scottish Government to allocate specific staffing or budget lines to this work.
Mr Stewart said he was “worried” Scotland was falling behind.
He said: “My real worry is the train is leaving the station and we aren’t on it.
“I have been watching closely as many other countries, including Greece, are announcing -well ahead of the UK – their plans to bring in a Covid passport system for the recovery of their travel industries.”
Mr Matheson said this seemed premature.
He said: “I think it’s far too early for ministers in Greece to say that they will be looking to welcome people from the UK this summer if they have a vaccine certificate.
“We don’t know what the state of the pandemic will be at national level. We don’t know what the situation will be in Greece and we don’t know where we will be with the vaccination programme.”
He said the practical operation, in his view, required some international agreement to ensure it operates effectively and adheres to necessary data standards.
He added: “I think there is still a considerable amount of work to be done in taking forward the whole concept.”
Speaking afterwards, Mr Stewart said: “Other countries are moving ahead with this, industry is doing it without government. I was keen to find out from the Cabinet Secretary if something was happening at Scottish Government level beyond just a generalised discussion with the UK Government.
“What we have essentially heard today is no specific funding or staffing has yet been allocated from the Scottish Government’s budget because they believe it is too soon. What are they waiting for?
“As someone who represents the Highlands & Islands tourism is of course our most important asset and product. I am looking at the future where we will have tourists coming safely to our area and Scots are travelling internationally again and I do not think the Scottish Government is giving this the urgency and attention that this issue needs.”
Highlands and Islands Labour MSP, David Stewart, quizzed Nicola Sturgeon about the £190million penalty the Scottish Government faces because of irregularities in its EU structural fund spending.
In Mr Stewart’s last question at FMQs today before he retires, he highlighted how much the region had relied on European funding in the past and asked Ms Sturgeon for her response to reports about the penalty.
He said: “The First Minister will, of course, be well aware that my region, the Highlands and Islands, has been one of the UK’s top three beneficiaries of structural funds, from the Kessock Bridge to the University of the Highlands and Islands, funding which has sustained and developed the local economy.
“However, the European Commission expressed concerns for years about two points, weaknesses in verification checks by the Scottish Government and the failure to meet annual spending targets.
“Could the First Minister explain why the situation was not resolved. resulting in millions being lost to the Highlands and Islands and indeed the rest of Scotland?”
The First Minister agreed that European structural funds had supported people and communities and was pivotal to supporting growth over a number of years.
She added that the Scottish Government did not face a £190million penalty explaining that this was a “worst case scenario” if the European Social Fund and European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) remained in suspension but the suspension on the ERDF was lifted in December 2020.
She did concede however that these were “highly technical matters” and promised Mr Stewart would be contacted by the Scottish Government to explain the steps that had been taken to address the criticism.
Mr Stewart thanked Nicola Sturgeon for her detailed response, but after the session added: “People in the region will be well aware of projects that were supported by European funds.
“Take a trip around the Highlands and Islands and you can see the bridges, the roads and the structures which benefited from the welcome injection of cash, improving life for communities and for visitors alike.
“The Scottish Government didn’t come up to scratch when dealing with this funding and the First Minister can’t wriggle out of that. I await the follow up letter with interest.”
Highlands & Islands Labour MSP David Stewart delivered his farewell speech to the Scottish Parliament today before he retires at the May election – and said a fond farewell to “The Best Job in Scotland”
He gave an emotional thanks to his staff this afternoon, some of whom he has worked with for decades.
One of a small band of Scottish politicians who have served as a councillor, an MP and an MSP, he became the first Labour MP to represent the previous constituency of Inverness East, Nairn and Lochaber in 1997, doubling his majority in 2001 before losing his seat to Lib-Dem Danny Alexander in 2005.
In 2007 he re-entered politics as a Highlands and Islands Labour MSP on the regional list, and was elected for a further two terms, the latest ending at the election.
In fact, Mr Stewart will be 65 the day before polling day.
During a six minute speech on Scotland’s recovery through a Highlands and Islands lens, the MSP for Highlands & Islands told his colleagues this afternoon: “This will be my final speech in Parliament after 14 years of service as an MSP – I am conscious some members will react with relief on this news! But I have a sense of sadness, humility and pride.
“Sadness, because any parting is such sweet sorrow. A sense of loss in leaving the best job in Scotland – representing my home and birthplace – the Highlands and Islands.”
Mr Stewart paid homage to Donald Dewar, describing him as “a visionary with a wicked sense of humour and an appetite that seemed to defy nature and indeed gravity”.
He described former Scottish Lib Dems leader Jim Wallace as “one of the great understated players in the foundation of devolution”.
And he celebrated “The class of ’99 – the original MSPs and the excellent officials led at the time by Sir Paul Grice”.
Mr Stewart also praised the Parliament’s “personalities”.
He said the late SNP MSP Margo MacDonald was a politician who was “greatly-missed and widely-admired” – and he would always remember her fondly as someone “who could start a party in an empty room”.
He describedBanffshire and Buchan Coast SNP MSP Stewart Stevenson as “The Boer War veteran, inventor of the wheel and discoverer of penicillin” – adding: “Maybe not – but he had me convinced.”
And he mentioned First Minister of Scotland from 2001 to 2007, Jack McConnell, and described him as “a man of action and ideas who really understood rural disadvantage”.
Mr Stewart said he was proud of the Scottish Parliament and of devolution.
He said: “Devolution is just a shade younger than my daughter Kirsty but what they both have in common is that they grew stronger through conflict, experience and rebellion.”
The retiring MSP who is perhaps best known for his award-winning campaigning work on road safety, initially becoming involved in fighting for a Graduated Driving Licence for young drivers after the death of two 17-year-olds in a tragic accident in Inverness in 2010, spent eight-years campaigning and securing cross-party support from the Scottish Parliament and was delighted when the UK Government finally decided to pilot Graduated Driving Licences. And MPs calling on government to reconsider those limits for new drivers gives room for further optimism.
Winding his speech to a close, Mr Stewart thanked his wife Linda, his son Andrew and his daughter Kirsty for their “unwavering support”.
He also thanked his Labour colleagues and members over the years – “particularly Peter Peacock and MSP Rhoda Grant for their support and putting up with my bad jokes”.
He paid tribute to his staff in Inverness and Stornoway – Olivia, Gemma, Laura, Donna, John and Chris, led by Andrene Maxwell. And he said thanks to his researcher Kate Fry in Edinburgh – “for, among many other things, being able to decipher my hieroglyphic handwriting”.
Addressing Scotland’s recovery, particularly within the Highlands and Islands, Mr Stewart said: “Before I joined Parliament in 2007 I worked for The Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations. I was privileged to meet hundreds of people in the voluntary sector throughout rural Scotland. The work they do – some of it paid, some of it unpaid, is the lifeblood of rural Scotland – delivering services locally and building the social capital that sustains real rural communities. That does not happen by chance.
“It is not an inevitable by-product of economic success. The work these people do in their communities needs to be recognised, valued, and, most importantly, needs to be given the funding to make it sustainable.”
He went on: “Of course, Presiding Officer, some will ask: What did the Labour Party ever do to help recovery in rural areas?”.
“I would take them back to the 1940s, when Tom Johnston, the Labour Secretary of State for Scotland, nationalised hydro power giving electricity to poor Highlanders for the first time.
“I would take them back to 1965 when Willie Ross, the Secretary of State for Scotland, created the Highlands and Islands Development Board and turned around a massive population decline in the Highlands and Islands.
“I would take them back to 1999 when Tony Blair created the first national minimum wage. It was my privilege to vote for that legislation as a Highland MP.
“The votes continued all night and I left at 9am. I have to confess that it unwashed and unshaved crossing Westminster Bridge heading for my Waterloo flat I was happy – although not in a self-serving, party-political way; I was glad to protect the waiters in Fort William, the bar staff in Galashiels and the security guards in Inverness.”
And touching on the issues facing the area, he concluded: “We all know the rural development challenges in the Highlands and Islands and beyond – distance, remoteness, peripherality, low population density, lack of access to services and low GDP. My great personal concern is the loss of young people from remote and rural areas.
“However, there are great opportunities for renewal and recovery. It is better to light one candle than forever curse the darkness. Let us build on the competitive advantage of the culture and the environment. Yes, the hills and the glens are important, but it is as much about the character of the people.
“Renewal and rural development must have the intelligence and individuality of the people – but we need to develop life sciences, create green jobs in green ports, build clusters of renewables, stimulate research and development in areas like spaceports and link industry with universities such as UHI.”
The veteran MSP finished his speech by saying: “I have a great love of American political and military history – maybe soon I will have time to read all the books gathering dust on my bookshelf at home! I read the other day the valedictory speech of General MacArthur at West Point. He referred to a 1920s American ballad which said, ‘old soldiers never die – they just fade away’.
“In a few short weeks my parliamentary political career will come to an end – the torch passed to a younger generation.
“Perhaps veteran politicians never die – they just fade away. A Highlander who loved his job and tried to do his duty.”
Highlands and Islands Labour MSP, David Stewart, has made one final push for The Haven Appeal before he steps down from his role as a Highlands and Islands MSP in May.
Mr Stewart has contacted the Cabinet Secretary for Rural Economy and Tourism, Fergus Ewing, again in a bid to secure the remaining funding needed to allow the project to go ahead.
The project team has secured £2.6m of the £4m required and have had what they describe as ‘very positive’ meetings with Scottish Government officials in recent months.
Mr Stewart, who is due to retire the day before the Scottish Parliament elections in May asked the Scottish Government to supply the remaining funding in July last year and has been in contact with Scottish Ministers a number of times since then, in a plea for the gap funding to be awarded.
He said “This project has untold benefits for families across the Highlands. It would be Scotland’s first multi-purpose centre for children and young people with severe learning disabilities.
“The project is being driven forward by the Elsie Normington Foundation who are desperately seeking the last piece in their jigsaw. They have secured the planning permission for the building of the centre and have worked tirelessly to secure £2.6m of the funding required.
Mr Stewart continued “On top of the benefits to the users and their families, there would be a year’s worth of construction jobs and the resulting social care jobs when the centre opens.
“I very much hope the discussions that have taken place with the Scottish Government bear fruit and the required funding comes north to allow the project to go ahead.
“People in the Highlands are very supportive of the plans for the centre and I hope their support is recognised and funding is awarded by Scottish Ministers.” concluded Mr Stewart.
A LEADING public health expert has today reinforced Highlands & Islands Labour MSP David Stewart’s continuous calls for a health passport system for travel to be implemented in Scotland.
Devi Sridhar, professor of global public health at Edinburgh University, told Holyrood’s Health and Sport Committee, that Mr Stewart “is absolutely right – Covid passports are the way the world is going “though it does bring real equality issues”.
Responding to a question from Mr Stewart, Professor Sridhar said: “Looking forward, everyone says, ‘How are we going to get out of this?’
“I think if these vaccines stop transmission, which they look like they might, we will reach a stage of vaccine passports.
“It’s already being discussed in the EU. We already have countries like Israel which have introduced green cards domestically if you actually have been vaccinated.
“And I think similar to yellow fever, where the WHO has certification if you’ve been vaccinated, we’ll reach a stage where aviation will continue – and Spain and Greece are really keen on this for their tourism industries – where you will be allowed to fly and you can have international mobility, but only when people are vaccinated and we have that confirmation that you will not infect others when you travel.”
Professor Sridhar added that WHO (The World Health Organisation) had not yet followed this pathway “because we do not yet know conclusively that vaccination status reduces your risk of transmitting to others”.
However, she said studies suggest vaccines reduce the chances of people becoming infectious.
She added: “This is really brilliant because that’s the missing piece, in a way. I think once that’s conclusive, they will move towards that.”
She believes the next stage could be to introduce a vaccine passport system domestically.
She went on: “Then you can really start creating an incentive to people. You can say to them ‘if you want to go to the concert, if you want to be able to be active in the places where spreading occurs, then you have to protect and make sure you’re not infecting others’.
“So, it’s heading this way and Scotland needs to be ahead of this and preparing for it and thinking actually if we’re going to do it, how do we do it properly.”
Mr Stewart, speaking afterwards, said: “I have been repeatedly asking in the Scottish Parliament how do we make some inroads on the next few months on this? What I have observed is the EU is marching ahead of this.
“My own view is that I can only see the world’s economy and particularly tourism operating anything like normal if we have an internationally-recognised passport particularly one done through the World Health Organisation.
“I am very aware of data protection and individual liberties. This is obviously a difficult balance to strike but the main focus would be on access to travel and not to day-to-day services. I understand there are more social and individual liberty issues around that.”
He went on: “There seems, however, to be a clear block her in terms of a willingness within the Scottish Government to even have a proper debate. However, if there are already countries across the world implementing Covid passports, our government is going to have to come up with some sort of system. If we are going to have to prove some sort of vaccination record or negative test record before, then we are at risk of being left behind.”
A PARLIAMENTARY debate was secured yesterday (Thursday, February 18) by North MSP David Stewart.
In what was his final members’ business debate before retirement, Mr Stewart paid homage to the early pioneers of 1913 who founded and staffed the Highlands & Islands Medical Service, the forerunner to the National Health Service.
Here is the speech in full:
This will be my last Members’ Debate before I retire; could I therefore thank all members who have signed my motion – and for those who have not, I warmly welcome all sinners who repent.
The establishment of the Highlands & Islands Medical Service in 1913 was, in my view, the greatest achievement in the history of the region.
“Picture the scene.
“All part of one great awe-inspiring effort to bring care and treatment to people in what would later become recognised as the world’s first provision of state-funded healthcare.
“Nurses riding push-bikes and motorbikes, cutting across some of the most difficult terrain in the country. Doctors – sleeves rolled up, strong arms at the oars, moving from one scattered and rural population to another, navigating from place-to-place by simple rowing boat.
“Bringing medicines, creams, and critical medical expertise to super rural, isolated estates where there was no care at all.
“And its practices and principles were to become the bedrock, the very foundation upon which our National Health Service was created.
“The Highlands and Islands Medical Service came into being after it was discovered that crofters were exempt from the 1911 National Health Insurance Act.
“This meant that many people all across the Highlands and Islands were receiving no form of health care.
“And all at a time when the region’s healthcare was inadequate.
“Chaired by Sir John Dewar, the Dewar Report of 1912 sought to understand the impact poor housing, health and income was having across the region.
“And this was no armchair exercise.
“His large team travelled across huge swathes of the Highlands and Islands, engaging with, and listening to, communities in Inverness, Orkney, Shetland, Lewis, Skye, Oban, and many other settlements.
“It is difficult to exaggerate the enormity of this task, with the inadequate transport infrastructure available back then in the early part of the 20th century.
“Doctors, crofters, fishermen and others were consulted across the region.
“It was found that the geography of the Highlands and Islands was proving problematic, both for doctors to reach people and for patients to travel to receive treatment.
“Poverty meant diets were poor, homes were damp, and disease spreading from livestock was rife.
“Many people died needlessly.
“Here’s an extract from the evidence of Dr James Reardon in South Uist, published in the Dewar Report:
“What do you blame? To begin with, there is no foundation for the children. At the age of three months they are supposed to be able to take porridge and sops. The reason for that is that the milk of their cows is given to the calves, and there is no milk for the children. It is a case of the survival of the fittest.”
“The Dewar Report was to change lives for the better.
“Its philosophy was that income, class and geography should be no barrier to receiving healthcare.
“It recommended the establishment of a minimum wage for doctors, funding for more district nursing associations, and the standardisation in the cost of a doctor’s visit – regardless of distance.
“Parliament approved these recommendations, and the Highlands and Islands Medical Service was swiftly established in August 1913 and handed an annual grant of £42,000 – worth more than a million pounds today.
“Good value for money.
“The Service was a rousing success.
“The grant provided accommodation, transport, further study, and holidays for healthcare workers, and the standard of healthcare began to exceed the rest of Britain.
“These successes were detailed in the Cathcart Report of 1936, a review of the state of Scotland’s healthcare systems.
“On the basis of the family doctor, there has been built up by flexible central administration a system of co-operative effort, embracing the central department, private GPs, nursing associations, voluntary hospitals, specialists, local authorities and others, to meet the medical needs of the people.”
“Additional funding from the Treasury in the 1930s led to a further expansion of the Service.
“Stornoway now had a surgeon, as did Wick, ahead of Shetland and Orkney which had one by 1934. And by 1935 the first air ambulance service was established.
“The first patient lifted by the air ambulance was fisherman John McDermid in 1933.
“He was in urgent need of a stomach operation that couldn’t wait for travel by sea or road. An hour after he was lifted in Islay, Mr McDermid arrived at the Western Infirmary in Glasgow and received treatment.
“By 1948, the air ambulance service was carrying 275 patients a year.
“Some 300,000 people across the Highlands and Islands – half of Scotland’s land mass – were able to experience a revolution in healthcare that greatly improved their quality of life, social mobility and community spirit.
“The Highlands and Islands Medical Service had been running for 35 years by the time the NHS was established by the Attlee Labour Government in 1948.
“And the rest of the United Kingdom was able to learn from and be inspired by the successes of communities all across the Highlands and Islands.
“The early pioneers of 1913 deserve our praise, admiration, and recognition. I have no doubt they inspired Beveridge and Nye Bevan in the concept of a national health service – free at the point of use.
“Not for the first time, the Highlands and Islands provided inspiration and leadership with a philosophy of “better to light one candle that to forever curse the darkness”.