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  1. MSPs take evidence on petitions relating to parental consent for mental health drugs and prescribed drug dependence
  2. Ministers answer general questions from MSPs
  3. Party leaders quiz the first minister at FMQs
  4. Tory MSP leads a debate on 100 Years of Women in the British Armed Forces
  5. MSPs debate tackling social isolation and loneliness

Live Reporting

By Craig Hutchison and Louise Wilson

All times stated are UK

That's all from Holyrood Live this week

That concludes Holyrood Live's coverage of the Scottish Parliament on Thursday 18 January 2017.

Nicola Sturgeon defended her justice secretary over claims that he may have acted unlawfully by blocking the chief constable's return to work.

Michael Matheson has been criticised for urging police watchdogs to reconsider their decision to allow Phil Gormley to return to his duties.

Ms Sturgeon told MSPs that she would want her justice secretary to ask questions of the decision to allow the chief constable to resume his duties
Ms Sturgeon told MSPs that she would want her justice secretary to ask questions of the decision to allow the chief constable to resume his duties

BBC Scotland later revealed tha tno minutes were taken during the meeting.

But Ms Sturgeon told MSPs that Mr Matheson had acted "entirely appropriately".

The issue was raised at First Minister's Questions by Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson, who questioned whether the justice secretary acted unlawfully over his involvement in Chief Constable Phil Gormley's period of special leave from Police Scotland.

Decision time

Decision time

MSPs unanimously agree to the Tory motion, but reject the Labour amendment.

It recognised the importance of local government in delivering community services that tackle loneliness, and that austerity-driven budget cuts to local authorities reduce their capacity to do this

27 MSPs backed it but 76 voted against.

The Lib Dem amendment was also agreed to unanimously, as was the SNP motion as amended.

Minister thanks many organisations combatting loneliness

lonely man

Ms Freeman thanks the many organisations who have worked so hard to get this issue on to the agenda.

Labour MSP Monica Lennon asks about those who are worried about their funding.

The social security minister says the finance sector has protected the third sector budget.

She says Scotland is the first part of the UK to publish a strategy to tackle loneliness.

Minister commits to considering suggestions made in debate

Social Security Minister Jeane Freeman commits to following up on many of the points made by members throughout the debate.

She criticises Labour for trying to "shoe-horn" in its assertion that local government cuts put services at risk, adding the government will not support the parties amendment.

Labour MSP Monica Lennon tries to intervene but the minister refuses.

Social Security Minister Jeane Freeman
Social Security Minister Jeane Freeman

On volunteering, she notes rates have remained relatively stable among adults while youth volunteering has grown.

There is a great deal we can build on, she says.

Background: A Connected Scotland

Strategy draft
Scottish government

A Connected Scotland: Tackling social isolation and loneliness andbuilding stronger social connections

The Courier reported that ministers are calling on Scots to talk to their neighbours and reconnect with old friends in the launch of the first national strategy on loneliness in the UK.

The Scottish government proposals include a plea for strangers to perform “acts of kindness” for each other and an expansion of GP prescriptions for community activities.

Launching the draft document A Connected Scotland, social security minister Jeane Freeman said the state has a role to play in improving people’s social lives.

The charity Age Scotland said the Scottish Government is right to take the bold and unusual step of “getting involved in maintaining and improving people’s social relationships”."

Read more here.

Tory MSP says social isolation and loneliness are damaging to physical health

Tory MSP Miles Briggs
Tory MSP Miles Briggs

Tory MSP Miles Briggs says loneliness puts individuals at more risk of cognitive decline.

Mr Briggs says social isolation and loneliness are just as damaging to physical health.

He says Edinburh was described as the loneliest city in Scotland.

The volunteers who try to tackle this issue are praised by the Lothian MSP .

He highlights the Cosy Christmas Campaign launched by Gail Porter which called for people to send a free Vintage Vibes Christmas card to someone experiencing loneliness in Edinburgh.

Mr Briggs says he wrote his during first minister's questions, which was the most constructive FMQs he has ever experienced.

'It's absolutely key we tackle this public health challenge head on'

Labour MSP David Stewart notes the Jo Cox Commission's recommendation that a minister for loneliness be appointed has been accepted by the UK government.

He recalls the time he spent in his twenties working with Samaritans, where he often had to deal with loneliness and isolation.

He says his former career as a social worker was inspired by this experience.

Labour MSP David Stewart
Labour MSP David Stewart

"It's absolutely key we tackle this public health challenge head on," he says.

He notes individuals in rural areas are often most at risk, but notes this has led to many initiatives which he goes on to praise.

Volunteering plays a very important role, Mr Stewart adds.

He paraphrases Sir Water Scott in concluding by saying all that is needed to tackle the issue is the "will to do and the soul to dare".

Loneliness does not draw any distinction across class or age, says Lib Dems MSP

Lib Dems MSP Alex Cole-Hamilton stands to close for his party.

Lib Dems MSP Alex Cole-Hamilton

He highlights a few statistics on isolation, including that half of all 75 year olds say their main company is TV or a pet.

Also mentioned is the isolation felt by children in care, which is often made worse when they have to leave their care placement upon adulthood.

Loneliness does not draw any distinction across class or age, he says.

SNP MSP praises Alive and Kicking Project


SNP MSP Bob Doris praises the Monday Club in his constituency Glasgow Maryhill and Springburn and the Alive and Kicking Project.

Mr Doris says the project is an outstanding template that could be copied across the country.

He calls for more connectivity to tackle loneliness and isolation.

Background: Scots faced Christmas loneliness epidemic

Xmas alone
Getty Images

In December we reportecd that there has been a 50% increase in the number of Scots pensioners who would spend Christmas day alone since 2015.

Age Scotland said about 60,000 people over the age of 65 would experience the day without family or friends.

The charity said the figures represented a surge in the "epidemic" of loneliness.

They have launched their No One Should Have No One campaign to highlight the issue of isolation across the country.

Background: Age Scotland

Age Scotland
Age Scotland
Age Scotland

Age Scotland is the leading charity representing older people in Scotland and supporting their rights and interests.

Vision: Our vision is a Scotland where everyone can love later life.

Read more here.

Green MSP says she is deeply concerned about loneliness

Green MSP Alison Johnstone
Green MSP Alison Johnstone

Green MSP Alison Johnstone says there is a great deal of consensus in the chamber this afternoon and she says she even agrees with Jeremy Balfour, particularly in regard to Murdo Fraser and Facebook!

The Green MSP says thriving communities cannot be built if we continue to design around the car.

She praises the benefits of the Edinburgh bus services but says other areas, like Glasgow, are not so ugly.

The Green MSP says active travel can increase social interaction.]

She says she is deeply concerned about loneliness.

Background: UK must tackle loneliness, says Jo Cox Commission report

Lonely woman
Getty Images

The government should create a national strategy to combat loneliness, says a report by a commission set up by the murdered MP Jo Cox.

The commission, formed by the MP before she was killed in her constituency in 2016, calls for the appointment of a minister to lead action on the issue.

It says loneliness is as harmful to health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day and affects nine million UK people.

The government says new initiatives will be announced next year.

Mrs Cox set up the commission before she was killed in 2016
Mrs Cox set up the commission before she was killed in 2016

The report acknowledges that government action alone cannot solve the problem.

However, it says: "Tackling loneliness is a generational challenge that can only be met by concerted action by everyone - governments, employers, businesses, civil society organisations, families, communities and individuals all have a role to play.

"Working together we can make a difference."

The report is calling for the Family Test, a measure of assessing the effect of government policies on stable families, to become a family and relationships test.

The report's release will coincide with the launch of three Royal Voluntary Service projects set to tackle loneliness and isolation in Mrs Cox's former constituency.

The schemes - partly financed by the Jo Cox Fund set up in her memory - will include lunch clubs, activities, and workshops as well as a new Community Connections Programme.

Negative impact of social media highlighted by Tory MSP

Tory MSP Jeremy Balfour begins by quoting a Simon and Garfunkel lyric, "I am a rock, I am an island".

But he notes the song finishes: "A rock feels no pain and and island never cries".

Tory MSP Jeremy Balfour

He says there has been a generational change and notes the sometimes negative impact of technology.

Recalling that some of his friends have withdrawn from social media when going through a difficult time, he adds: "Facebook is full of cats and dogs and happy faces... and Murdo [Fraser] talking about himself."

He concludes with a final call for everyone to play their part in tackling loneliness.

Food Train praised by SNP MSP

SNP MSP Kenneth Gibson
SNP MSP Kenneth Gibson

SNP MSP Kenneth Gibson praises the work of the Food Train and he agrees with Tory MSP John Scott to speak to the finance secretary about funding going forwards.

Food Train
Food Train

'People are often lonely in communities in plain sight'

Loneliness is not the preserve of the elderly, Alex Cole-Hamilton says, arguing that young people at risk of isolation are not properly identified.

Adverse childhood experiences increase the likelihood of young people suffering, he says.

He calls for the protection of befriending services, which he labels one of the most powerful antidotes to loneliness.

Welcoming the appointment of Tracey Crouch as the new UK loneliness minister, he says it was a "silver lining" in an "otherwise calamitous reshuffle".

"People are often lonely in communities in plain sight".

Alex Cole-Hamilton

Here is the Lib Dem amendment

Kenneth Gibson

Lib Dem MSP calls for a national fall strategy

Lib Dem MSP Alex Cole-Hamilton
Lib Dem MSP Alex Cole-Hamilton

Lib Dem MSP Alex Cole-Hamilton says the timing of this debate is well pitched as it follows the festive period where loneliness is amplified.

Mr Cole-Hamilton says the vast majority of people do not recognise a community spirit.

He says: "All too often we are buliding dormitories not communities."

The Lib Dem MSP raises the issue of the fear of falling at this time of year.

He says that is why he sought and won support for a national fall strategy.

Here is Labour's amendment

Here is Labour's amendment

Increasing numbers of young people suffer from isolation

The strategy is an opportunity to consider how government can show leadership in preventative action, Monica Lennon says.

She points to research from the Mental Health Foundation indicating loneliness is affecting many young people, despite it often being considered an issue mostly impacting the elderly.

Change does happen from the ground up, she says, explaining her amendment focuses on the important role of local government in delivering services which connect communities.

Monica Lennon

Ms Lennon says "public sector budgets are being squeezed", which has a knock-on effect on the third sector and therefore reducing its capacity to help.

She concludes by stating this topic requires cross-party works and commits her party to taking part in that.

Background: Jo Cox Foundation

Jo Cox Foundation
Jo Cox Foundation
Jo Cox

From the Jo Cox Foundation website:

The Jo Cox Foundation exists to channel the energy and determination generated by Jo's life and untimely death into practical efforts to advance the causes she championed.

"My sister was not a complainer. She was a doer."– Kim Leadbeater, Jo's sister

As an MP, Jo didn't believe any issue was so intractable that it had to be left on the 'too difficult pile'.

Led by her example, we are restless for change. Just as she did, we believe in working together with individuals and organisations that share the commitment to a fairer, kinder and more tolerant world.

We are convinced that by working together effectively we are greater than the sum of our parts. We seek to amplify the voices of all those who believe that compassion, understanding and optimism are signs of strength and not weakness.

Read more here.

Background: UK minister for loneliness appointed to continue Jo Cox's work

Getty Images

A minister for loneliness, a project first started by the late MP Jo Cox, has been announced by Downing Street.

Tracey Crouch said she was proud to take on the "generational challenge" to tackle an issue affecting about nine million UK people, young and old.

The 42-year-old said she would work across political parties in the role.

The Commission on Loneliness was first set up by Ms Cox,who was killed before the EU referendum.

A 2017 report said loneliness was asharmful to health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day.

Labour MSP says loneliness can be as harmful as smoking up to 15 cigarettes a day

Labour MSP Monica Lennon
Labour MSP Monica Lennon

Labour MSP Monica Lennon welcomes the government strategy to tackle social isolation and loneliness.

Ms Lennon congratulates the minister for her leadership on this issue so far and says Labour are committeed to working with the government on this issue.

She thanks both Ms Freeman and Ms Wells for their recognition of Jo Cox and the commission on loneliness.

The Labour MSP says loneliness can be as harmful as smoking up to 15 cigarettes a day.

'Preventing social isolation and loneliness is the responsibility of us all'

Ms Wells questions how social prescribing will become part of the NHS.

She notes research indicating signposting to support services increases people's likelihood to seek help.

There needs to be more national awareness of what support it out there, she argues.

The Tory MSP asks how the government intends to monitor local projects which could be rolled out elsewhere, she asks.

"Preventing social isolation and loneliness is the responsibility of us all."

Annie Wells