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Updates from Holyrood

Alison writes a regular column for local newspapers in the North East to keep residents updated with the latest goings on at Holyrood, and on her work on important issues from around the region. Below you can find a recent column, along with links to those from previous months.

Rail announcement long overdue

You may have seen last week that long-overdue investment in the Inverness to Aberdeen rail line was announced. Over the next five years this will hopefully lead to reduced journey times and more trains between the two cities.

This was a well thought out Liberal Democrat strategy that I worked on when I was chair of the local transport body Nestrans. However, it has taken the Scottish Government seven years to recognise the need to tackle our Victorian intercity journey times.

While passenger numbers have soared, we have had to work hard for the small improvements we have seen, such as more Sunday services and additional carriages on peak services. We even had to fight to preserve our direct cross-border rail links which the Scottish Government considered removing.

We have been short changed for too long, receiving just 0.5 per cent of the money spent on transport improvements in Scotland since 2005. That is why this announcement must only be the start. Key projects such as a station at Kintore, Crossrail, the Aberdeen bypass, and better public transport must follow.

Last month in Parliament I also argued that reducing journey times on the East Coast Mainline should be a national priority. Improvements that would cut the time it takes to get from the North East to the Central Belt are modest in comparison to the billions that the Scottish Government is planning on spending on a fifth line between Edinburgh and Glasgow.

This demonstrates why Scottish Liberal Democrats at our conference at the AECC in Aberdeen last month launched a new campaign aimed at securing a fair deal for the North East. It calls for more infrastructure investment, more affordable housing and a fair share of local government funding.

The area must be better supported if it's to continue to create jobs and growth and accommodate our growing population.

Stop and search laws need tightening

Last week I had the opportunity to lead a debate in Parliament on the future of the controversial police tactic stop and search.

Used properly, stop and search is an appropriate and legitimate part of the policing toolkit, helping keep communities safe and taking drugs, alcohol and weapons off our streets. However, there have been a series of revelations about how the tactic is being used and recorded.

The number of people stopped and searched has risen fourfold since 2007 and the tactic is used much more often here than it is in England and Wales. Around three quarters of a million searches are now carried out each year, including on hundreds of very young children.

The problem is three quarters of these searches do not have a proper legal basis, are not based on any intelligence or suspicion, and are not recorded properly. When being stopped by the police, people are not told their rights or how they can complain if they believe they have been stopped unfairly.

The current system, described by experts as "unregulated and unaccountable", is therefore open to all manner of abuse, from falsifying statistics to harassment. I am also worried that it could cause young people, who are disproportionately and persistently targeted, to resent the police.

I want this tactic to continue to be available to our police. However, I also want the public to be able to have confidence that the tactic is always used legally, fairly and transparently. That is why I will seek to amend the Criminal Justice Bill, currently going through Parliament, to improve the regulations around stop and search.

In Britain, in Europe and in work

European elections have not always made it to the top of news bulletins in years gone by. But this time it is different.

With the Conservative Party flirting with exit from the EU, and uncertainty over what the SNP's independence plans would mean for Scotland in Europe, the vote next month will have a real impact.

I don't want to see Scotland left outside of the EU looking in. Being in Europe defends hundreds of thousands of jobs and billions of pounds worth of trade. Why would we choose to make it more difficult for businesses to sell their products overseas?

Our partnerships with other countries also allow us to work together on everything from catching criminals, to protecting the environment and abolishing the mobile phone roaming charges which make staying connected when visiting Europe so expensive.

I believe the way to secure progress is to break down barriers, not build them up.

European elections are coming up on 22 May. If you haven't registered to vote already, you only have a short time left to do so.

My Holyrood Columns

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