Edinburgh should get new Eye Pavilion after Lib Dems strike deal over Scottish budget – Alex Cole-Hamilton MSP

Scottish Liberal Democrats have secured a vital commitment in the Scottish budget that should see the construction of Edinburgh’s new Eye Pavilion finally go ahead, potentially reversing the decision by the SNP government to cancel it.

Wednesday, 10th March 2021, 7:00 am
Dr Hector Chawla, clinical director of the Edinburgh Eye Pavilion, with a patient (Picture: Colin Mearns)

A cross-party campaign had gathered momentum after the government had decided that Edinburgh people in need of eye care could be treated in other facilities around Scotland.

This was a hugely concerning development for people with sight loss, or in need of emergency eye care, who depend on the pavilion.

It would have also left Scotland as the only capital in Europe without a dedicated eye-care facility. Thanks to our efforts, the budget will now include a section committing the government to protecting specialist eye services in the city.

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Liberal Democrats in the Scottish Parliament had made the new Eye Pavilion a red line and part-payment for our votes to support the government’s budget, passed by Parliament just yesterday.

The government gave way on this point as well as several others. All told, Lib Dems secured a commitment of £300m in new money primarily for mental health, education bounce-back and for local councils.

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I’m particularly proud of the massive cash injection for mental health. It was a Lib Dem motion passed by the Parliament which declared a national mental health crisis (something the SNP voted against) last month.

Alarmed by growing suicide rates and colossal waits for mental health treatment, we’ve been fighting tooth and nail for better investment in mental health for the past ten years.

Eighteen months ago, if you’d have told me that I’d be voting in favour of the final Scottish budget just weeks before the election, I would have been very surprised. Four times previously, the Scottish Liberal Democrats had put forward sensible proposals for investing in the services that matter, only to be rebuffed by the Scottish government.

This time, however, this is a budget working its way through Parliament at a time of profound national crisis. It demands to be treated seriously as within its spending columns and datasets are lifelines of support for those suffering the economic impact of the pandemic.

As always, my Lib Dem colleagues and I approached these negotiations like grown-ups and put forward a set of proposals that tackle the most urgent issues affecting the country and our constituents.

Let me say with clarity, backing a budget like this is not a show of confidence in the administration. To my mind, the SNP have grown fat and entitled in their 14 long years in government. The rot is beginning to set in and a civil war is raging in the party of government.

But the public will have a chance to make up their minds on all this in a little under two months’ time.

This is a crisis budget for unprecedented times and so it is important that we put recovery first and get help to the people who need it.

The public expects their parliamentarians to find common ground where it is possible to do so, especially when the country is on its knees. That we could secure wins on this scale along the way is the icing on the cake.

Alex Cole-Hamilton is the Scottish Liberal Democrat MSP for Edinburgh Western

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