“Absurd” plan to merge every Moray school

John Finnie speaking at the University of the Highlands and IslandsJohn Finnie has urged Moray Council bosses to abandon their plan to merge all of Moray’s primary and secondary schools into a single 12,000-pupil mega-campus.

John said:

“Moray Council need to stop wasting time with this obviously absurd plan and get back to finding a realistic solution that keeps schools at the heart of communities across Moray.

“The megaschool would have more pupils than there are undergraduates at the University of Aberdeen. On school days, it would be a town the same size as Forres. Children as young as four would have a commute of up to an hour each way.

“Not only would this be unworkable, it would tear schools and school children out of their communities. We need more community connection with our schools, not less.”

Holyrood congrats for Uist school

Ronnie MacPhee of Sgoil an Iochdair carrying the Commonwealth Games baton
Ronnie MacPhee of Sgoil an Iochdair carrying the Commonwealth Games baton. Ronnie led Sgoil an Iochdair’s youth club for 17 years.
Photo: Sgoil an Iochdair.
Uist’s Sgoil an Iochdar has been recognised in Parliament after a successful year that saw the school awarded Gaelic School status for the first time.

John Finnie has lodged a motion of congratulations at Holyrood, listing just a few of the highlights from the school year.

Volunteer Ronnie MacPhee is singled out for particular thanks, as he retires after leading the school’s youth club for 17 years.

John said:

“It’s fantastic to see a school so connected to the local community. The imagination and dedication of teachers, and the close involvement and support of parents, is what makes Sgoil an Iochdar able to offer such a varied and fun programme of events and clubs.

“The school’s success in Gaelic is particularly impressive, given it only became a Gaelic School this year. Their joint project with Sgoil Dhalabroig saw children – including English-medium pupils – write and perform their own Gaelic plays and took the two schools to joint runner-up in the Scottish Education Awards.

“And Sgoil an Iochdar not only hosted the Uist Provincial Mod, but won more points than any other primary school, including the most points in Gaelic.

“I’m especially grateful for the school community’s welcome to families fleeing the war in Syria. The Parent Council’s offer to help refugee families settle into Uist life exemplifies the warm, active and open-minded community spirit that is key to Sgoil an Iochdar’s success.”

The motion has already been signed by 7 other MSPs, and reads:

S5M-00793 John Finnie: A Great Year at Sgoil an Iochdair, South Uist

That the Parliament congratulates the pupils, staff and community of Sgoil an Iochdair, which is on South Uist, on the primary school’s many achievements over the last year, its first as a designated Gaelic school, which included being named runner-up alongside Sgoil Dhalabroig in the Gaelic award at the Scottish Education Awards for the joint drama initiative, in which pupils from both schools wrote and performed original plays in Gaelic; notes that the school also hosted both the Feis Tir A’Mhuran and the Uist provincial mod, at which it won the most points of any primary; considers the involvement of the community to be a key factor in its success, with parent volunteers making it possible to establish many clubs, such as football, music and drama; recognises in particular the contribution of Ronnie MacPhee, who has retired after 17 years of leading the school’s youth club, and thanks the members of the Parent Council for their warm welcome and generous offer of help to refugee families who have fled Syria and have arrived in the Outer Hebrides.

Immigration is good for Scotland – so bring back the post-study visa

John Finnie speaking at the University of the Highlands and IslandsThis post first appeared on the Scottish Green Party blog.

Scotland has some of the best universities in the world, and would benefit from international graduates of those universities staying in Scotland and contributing their new skills to our economy.

That seems an uncontroversial statement, and indeed has just been endorsed by 100 leaders from academia and business, but we face a battle to get the UK immigration system to acknowledge it.

Until 2012, we had a ‘Post-Study Work Visa’ that allowed students to live and work in Scotland for two years after graduation. It began in Scotland as ‘Fresh Talent’ in 2005, before becoming a UK-wide scheme as part of the new immigration system in 2008.

But the Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition abolished post-study work visas altogether in 2012, as part of their UKIP-appeasing campaign against migrants.

The door to positive change was opened a crack by the Smith Commission, in which all five parties agreed that the Scottish and UK governments should begin discussions on a new post-study work visa for Scotland.

Now the Europe and International Development Minister, Humza Yousaf MSP, has convened a cross-party working group to examine how we can bring this about. I’ve been appointed by the Scottish Greens to represent our party on this new group.

I’m very proud that Greens on both sides of the border have refused to go along with the anti-immigrant rhetoric indulged by the old Westminster parties. When Labour released their infamous “Controls on Immigration” coffee mug, we countered with one that reads “Love immigration – vote Green”.

Greens recognise that people are an asset. We know that migrants make huge contributions to Scotland’s economic, social and cultural life. We’re not fooled by the right-wing parties that seek to blame immigration for the damaging effects of their own policies on everything from housing to low pay.

Nowhere is that more clear than in Scotland’s higher education sector. Our wee country boasts five of the world’s top 200 universities, attracting students from all over the world – our own Co-Convenor, Maggie Chapman, was one of them when she came to Scotland from Zimbabwe to study.

International students make Scotland’s universities the world centres of education that they are, but as soon as they graduate they are forced out of the country. They take their years of top-class education, their skills, and their international experience with them when they go.

The University of California system has invested almost incalculable sums of public money in educating students from across the US. With no California version of the Home Office to throw them out, many of those students stayed in California upon graduation. The results include Silicon Valley.

If we want our brilliant international graduates to help us build our own Silicon Glen, or solve the engineering challenges of clean energy, or create the best health service in the world, then we have to stop letting a paranoid immigration system throw that talent away.

This is just one of many, many ways in which the anti-immigrant obsession of Westminster politics harms both Scotland and the people who would like to make their homes here. But with cross-party effort, it might very well be one we can change.

Congratulations to Daviot Primary’s prizewinning young engineers

Daviot Primary School logoFour young engineers from the 11-pupil Daviot Primary School near Inverness have beaten 200 other schools to win the 2015 Junior Saltire Prize by designing and building a floating device to harvest energy from the waves.

Team Daviot have form in the competition, as they also took home second place in last year’s Junior Saltire.

The Highlanders claimed the 2015 medal with a device consisting of a plastic box weighed down with lead and containing a pendulum that is swung by the motion of the waves, powering a dynamo to generate electricity.

John Finnie has lodged a motion at the Scottish Parliament to recognise the Daviot team’s achievement:

Motion S4M-13408:John Finnie, Highlands and Islands, Independent

Daviot Primary School Success at 2015 Junior Saltire Award

That the Parliament congratulates the pupils of Daviot Primary School on their success in the 2015 Junior Saltire Award; understands that the primary 6 and 7 pupils from the 11-pupil school won the award for designing their own floating wave energy device, which was tested by the University of Edinburgh’s FloWave Ocean Energy Research Facility; notes that the school came second in the 2014 Junior Saltire Award, and believes that, for a small rural school, reaching the final twice in two years is a huge testament to the work of the staff and the pupils.

John said:

“For any school, reaching the final of a tough competition like the Junior Saltire twice in a row would be a huge achievement. It’s even more impressive for a small rural school. I hope the pupils and staff are thoroughly proud of themselves – I know I’m proud of them!

“Scotland boasts half of the European Union’s entire marine energy potential, so our sea is the key to the clean energy and skilled jobs of the future. With Scotland producing brilliant young engineers like the pupils of Daviot, it looks like our energy future will be in safe hands.”

The Junior Saltire Prize is the young people’s version of the Saltire Prize, a £10million Scottish Government competition to accelerate the development of wave and tidal energy technology.

John visits Asher’s in Nairn to back apprenticeships

John Finnie at Asher's bakery in Nairn with Alister Asher, Jane Weir of Skills Development Scotland and apprentices Lawrence Gimenez and Gary Mann.
John Finnie at Asher’s bakery in Nairn with Alister Asher, Jane Weir of Skills Development Scotland and apprentices Lawrence Gimenez and Gary Mann.
John paid a visit to Asher’s Bakery in Nairn this morning to meet Modern Apprentices and learn more about their importance to the business, as part of Scottish Apprenticeship Week 2015.

Asher’s employs three Modern Apprentices at its Nairn bakery. The firm was founded in the town in 1877, and is still family-owned, with 13 shops across Inverness, Strathspey and Moray.

John said:

“It was great to meet these young people who have both the drive and the opportunity to build a career in baking. So much UK government policy is about pushing us towards an unskilled, zero-hours, poverty-pay economy, so it’s really encouraging to see that there are still businesses investing in young craftspeople.

“The apprentices I met today at Asher’s show passion for their craft and work hard for the business. They’ve held up their end of the bargain and then some. Employers and politicians alike have a duty to make sure these skilled craftspeople are valued, and can look forward the fulfilling, well-paid career they have a right to expect.

Asher’s director Alister Asher said:

“It was great to host John this morning and show him around our bakery, especially in support of something as important as Scottish Apprenticeship Week.

“Our three apprentices make a huge contribution to our business right now, but they’re also the future of Asher’s. There’s no machine that can replace the skill of a great baker, so it just makes sense for us to invest in training the bakers of tomorrow.

Scottish Apprenticeship Week 2015 runs from 18 to 22 May, and is the fifth year of the campaign by Skills Development Scotland (SDS) to highlight the benefits apprenticeships bring to employers, individuals and the local economy. SDS Chief Executive Damien Yeates said:

“Modern Apprenticeships work for employers of all sizes, from family firms to global companies. Scottish Apprenticeship Week celebrates Modern Apprentice employers and the achievements of apprentices, who play a vital and valuable role in Scotland’s economy.”

John Hears School Pupils on Children’s Right to Education

“Let us pick up our books and pens, they are the most valuable weapons”

Primary 7 pupils of St Eunan’s Primary School, Clydebank


Yesterday I had the real pleasure of hosting the Primary 7s from St Eunan’s in Clydebank at the Scottish Parliament. Of course, Clydebank isn’t in the Highlands and Islands region I represent, but I also serve as Convenor of Holyrood’s Cross-Party Group on Human Rights, and the pupils were here for a particular reason; to call for the realisation of Article 28 to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child – the right to an education.

Having studied human rights in class, the children decided they couldn’t just learn about the many ways those rights are not respected – they had to do something. So they founded their own campaign, Education for Every Child Everywhere.

They have visited other primary schools, secondary schools, and two universities to campaign for the global right to education, and now they were bringing that campaign to Holyrood.

Along with Gil Paterson, the constituency MSP for Clydebank and Milngavie, and Annabel Goldie, one of the regional MSPs for the West of Scotland, I was inspired and captivated by the pupils’ presentation.

Brilliantly informed and passionate, the class explained that although Article 28 guarantees the right to a free primary education for all children, an estimated 50 million children do not receive one. They demonstrated that the problem is especially bad for girls, with 33 million fewer girls than boys attending school worldwide.


St Eunan's Primary


The explained the barriers to education that underpin this crisis – poverty and war. They told us that nearly half the world’s population lives on less than £1.60 per day, and 150 million children are in child labour, with 1 in 4 of those doing jobs that are dangerous or harmful to their health. War makes it unsafe for many children to travel to school – for example, we learned, 3 million children in Syria and neighbouring areas are prevented from going to school by the wars between the Syrian regime, ISIS, and other forces. And of course, some children are even forced to go to war: there are around 250,000 child soldiers worldwide. I was struck by the banal obscenity of why children are so popular as fighters “we are easy to brainwash, and we don’t need much food,” one P7 told us.

Their presentation was expertly researched, but it was anything but dry facts. The children brought a passion and empathy that is so often missing from the Committee Rooms of Holyrood. They understand the children they are standing alongside as brothers and sisters, not just statistics. When they recited what they wanted to be when they grew up – a pilot, a scientist, a vet – they asked “why are my dreams a reality, and theirs an unreachable aspiration?” And they displayed that passion through a prayer and a song, both written especially for the campaign.

But this visit was not a counsel of despair, it was a hopeful demand for change. “All of these things are upsetting,” one girl said, “but a feeling will not get a child into school. We need to turn our words into actions.”

The children of St Eunan’s carried banners with the face of Nobel Prize-winner Malala Yousafzai, who defied Taliban gunmen in her determination to get education for herself and for all children. They are inspired by Martin Luther King and Nelson Mandela. And they know exactly where the responsibility lies. As they pointed out, not only does Article 28 declare that children have a right to education, it demands that wealthy countries should help poorer ones achieve that right.

Primary 7 of St Eunan’s came to the Scottish Parliament because it is a place of power, and they want those in power to act. They’ve certainly inspired me to redouble my efforts to stop powerful countries like ours sponsoring or supplying the wars that stand between children and the education they deserve, and to investigate what more the Scottish Parliament can do to assist children in places like Syria.

This blog post can’t do the children’s achievement justice; if you had been there you would have, like me, scrambled to sign their petition there and then. But if even a fraction of these pupil’s passion, determination and expectation has made it onto the screen, I’m sure you’ll sign it now. Please do add your name to St Eunan’s call for Education for Every Child Everywhere at: https://you.38degrees.org.uk/petitions/education-every-child-everywhere