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20 December 2012

S4M-05203 Draft Budget 2013-14

The Presiding Officer (Tricia Marwick): The next item of business is a debate on motion S4M-05203, in the name of Kenneth Gibson, on the Finance Committee’s report on the draft budget 2013-14.

14:44
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15:23

Stewart Stevenson (Banffshire and Buchan Coast) (SNP):

When reviewing the given draft budget, we must ask whether the plan will increase sustainable economic growth. I believe that it will.

Goals are necessary considerations. Money allocation can be a mathematical process—one that could perhaps even be assigned to a computer. We know that the budget has a certain, tightened amount of money to work with and that there are a constant number of areas that require funding, unless we take Professor Kaye’s recommendation and just pick winning areas. However, that is not in alignment with the Government’s approach.

Professor Kaye talked about broadband simply being for people getting films over the internet. I would ask to him to look at my constituency and other rural areas in which, increasingly, people have to interact on the internet or not at all. Registering VAT returns is an internet-only option, and I have constituents who have a round trip of more than 20 miles to register their VAT, which is not terribly helpful to business.

Our goals take us away from the cold, complicated computations and instead allow us to aim higher. President John F Kennedy said:

“Man is still the most extraordinary computer of all.”

It is man and the deliberations of men and women that make the difference.

The Scottish Government has said that the budget’s priorities are to accelerate economic recovery, to continue the shift towards preventative approaches to public service delivery, and to maintain commitments to the social wage for Scotland, which is not something that is accepted in other parts of the chamber. These are all crucial and viable goals from which the people of Scotland will only benefit, and the drafting, reviewing and debating process provides an excellent opportunity to ensure that the final budget best meets those goals. It is also a time to debunk the notion that hacking off parts of the social wage will build support for anything other than further decline, not only economically and socially but in every other way.

Therefore, we must continue to keep our goals of growth and sustainability in mind when we take a closer look at the Scottish Government’s draft budget. There is £40 million for affordable housing, £18 million for skills training, and £80 million for schools for the future. These investments in housing, training and schooling are investments in our future.

Gavin Brown: Is the £80 million for schools for the future for next year’s budget?

Stewart Stevenson: You have read the budget as I have and you can see the number as I do. The £80 million for schools for the future is a very important part of creating the necessary infrastructure to ensure that we have a trained and effective population that can seize future opportunities. That is the important point.

The investment plans are directly for the people of Scotland, who are suffering from the downward spiral that the economy went into in 2008 and with which we will be grappling all the way to 2018. They aim to expand the availability of housing and schooling facilities, creating new jobs each year. Housing, skills and schools provide the resources for recovery.

Ken Macintosh: Will the member give way?

Stewart Stevenson: Ah—I give way to the man who has lost his sock at the end of his bed because he is getting another for Christmas.

Ken Macintosh: I am trying to follow that metaphor.

I am pleased that Mr Stevenson says that the Government should be measured on how it achieves economic growth. However, the Government has also claimed that this is a budget for jobs. Does Mr Stevenson think that the Government should be measured on whether unemployment goes up or down, either in a stand-alone way or simply in comparison with the rest of the UK?

Stewart Stevenson: The member might be somewhat unwise to open up the rest of the UK, given that across the piece we are doing a bit better—and doing so without the powers that would enable us to balance taxation with expenditure in the way that a normal country can. Had we the full powers, we would have a full range of economic levers to address the situation beyond the success that we have had already.

Our investment in construction, skills and the green economy is in addition to a green investment package, with £30 million for fuel poverty, energy efficiency and low carbon transport, and plans to use the fossil fuel levy surplus to establish the renewable energy investment fund.

These are all steps in the right direction, bringing us closer to our climate change targets. Green jobs and a green economy will certainly meet our goals of growth in addition to sustainability—and there is more to come.
Last year, 95 per cent of the £2 billion transport budget was invested back into the private sector, supporting 12,000 jobs. Let us now plan to invest another £180 million over two years in construction, skills and the green economy. In my constituency, there will be £18 million to establish an energy skills academy, which is proudly being taken forward by Banff and Buchan College.

The economy is clearly going through a hard time, but not as hard a time as Ken Macintosh seems to be going through. He really needs “Accounting for Dummies”; if he does not buy it, his sock is going to be empty.

15:29

S4M-05153 Clydesdale Bank Job Losses

The Deputy Presiding Officer (John Scott): The next item of business is a members’ business debate on motion S4M-05153, in the name of Drew Smith, on job losses at the Clydesdale bank. The debate will be concluded without any question being put.

Motion debated,

That the Parliament notes with disappointment the announcement by National Australia Group that over 200 people in Scotland will lose their jobs at Clydesdale Bank sites across Scotland, including in the Glasgow region; understands that this brings the total number of jobs lost to 400 since 2011; regrets that, as part of the strategic review outcome for the Clydesdale and Yorkshire banks, four financial solution centres will close in Scotland, in Paisley, Bearsden, Dunfermline and Inverurie; believes that this will have a negative impact on staff and their families who are affected by the closure, and regrets the loss of developed skills at sites across Scotland.

12:32
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12:52

Stewart Stevenson (Banffshire and Buchan Coast) (SNP):

As other members have done, I thank Drew Smith for giving us the opportunity to discuss the issue in Parliament. For the avoidance of doubt, as I will be talking about banking generally, I declare that—regretfully—I continue to have a shareholding in Lloyds Banking Group.

In what has happened in the banking industry, a matter of great regret is the great division between the rewards that there appear to have been for failure at the top of too many banking organisations and the price that has been paid and the hardship that has been experienced by those front-line staff who have not had the luxury of heavily gold-plated pensions and large pay-offs. At Christmas in particular, our thoughts are with those front-line staff and their families.

The broad causes of the banking difficulty have been well discussed, but a couple of the causes of the causes are worthy of a bit of examination. One of those relates to the interaction between investment banking and clearing banking. In the aftermath of the last crash in the 1930s, the Democrats Carter Glass and Henry Steagall introduced legislation that required separation between investment banking and clearing banking. Section 20 of the Banking Act 1933—the Glass-Steagall act—prohibited any bank in the Federal Reserve system from being involved in

“the issue, flotation, underwriting, public sale, or distribution”

of securities. That was a successful innovation that protected the clearing bank system across the world for many generations of bankers and bank customers.

The Glass-Steagall act also put a geographic limit on the operation of United States banks: they could operate only in a single state. That did not work so well. Bank of America, which was based in California, simply went international; Citibank, which was based in New York, did the same. Some of the measures in the act worked and some of them did not work.

In the mid-1930s there was an attempt to overturn some of the Glass-Steagall act’s provisions, but President Roosevelt said that the old abuses would come back if underwriting were restored in any shape, manner or form in the clearing bank system. We are here today because that is precisely what happened, first in the US in the 1960s, when the Glass-Steagall act began to be interpreted in a different way and barriers started to be broken down, and then in the 1980s, when Margaret Thatcher’s Government did the same here. That is one of the causes of the causes.

The other cause of the cause is contemporary and is to do with qualifications. Front-line staff are encouraged to study in their spare time and many achieve a qualification from the Chartered Institute of Bankers in Scotland that is at least equivalent to a first degree and, in my view, much harder to achieve than a first degree, given that people have to study in their spare time.

Such qualifications are regarded as necessary for front-line staff, but banking qualifications and the experience that goes with them have been notably absent from the ranks of senior management in the Royal Bank of Scotland, the Bank of Scotland and, to a lesser extent, the Clydesdale Bank. When RBS and the Bank of Scotland got into difficulties, only a single senior manager in each bank had any banking qualification of any kind. We need front-line staff to be qualified and yet somehow we have a system that allows the people who make the key decisions to be unqualified. I cannot help thinking that that contributes to the problem.

In a sense, the Clydesdale Bank has been lucky, in that it was owned by Midland Bank in the 1980s, when everyone was fearful that Midland was going down the tubes—it nearly did, but the Hongkong and Shanghai Banking Corporation saved it. HSBC sold off Clydesdale, which was ill managed and ill served by its new Australian owners. There was rapid turnover of chief executives, who served for a year or 18 months, and the bank did not have the support that would have enabled it to develop a franchise. As luck would have it, that kept the bank out of some of the mires that other banks got into. Nonetheless, that inattention contributes to where we are today.

I remind members that the Clydesdale used to be called Clydesdale & North of Scotland Bank, so the matter does not concern only Glasgow; it touches on the interests of my constituents and people throughout Scotland.

12:57

19 December 2012

S4M-05150 Marine Renewables (Pentland Firth and Orkney Waters)

The Deputy Presiding Officer (John Scott): The final item of business is a members’ business debate on motion S4M-05150, in the name of Rob Gibson, on marine energy constraints in the Pentland Firth and Orkney waters. The debate will be concluded without any question being put.

Motion debated,

That the Parliament notes with alarm the recent report from Scottish Renewables suggesting that the costs of grid connection and transmission for the delivery of electricity produced from marine renewables in the Marine Energy Park area, which comprises of sites in the Pentland Firth and Orkney waters, are set to soar; understands that this follows new charges from Ofgem that will result in a transmission regime that will increase costs by 91%; notes that the estimates of the projected annual connection charges for the Pentland Firth and Orkney Waters area have increased from £56 million in 2011 to £107 million by 2020; understands that this contrasts with an annual subsidy of some £2 million that would have been available had these been commissioned in the waters off south-west England; believes that clean green energy brings massive potential for renewables and that the sector is already delivering jobs and investment in the Pentland Firth area, and expresses strong concern that, because of a UK regulatory system that it considers unfit for purpose, there is continued discrimination against the marine renewables sector in Scotland that could hinder the sector’s development.

17:03
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17:32

Stewart Stevenson (Banffshire and Buchan Coast) (SNP):

I hope that we will base our deliberations tonight on fact. Mary Scanlon has just asserted as a fact that the estimates are wrong. That is an interesting thing to say. I hope that she will compensate us if the figures are higher than the current estimates.

I represent an area of Scotland with significant energy interests, both thermal and renewable, and a planning application is in for a 6GW alternating current to direct current converter in my constituency as part of a new generation of electricity transmission. At higher amperages, direct current is a more effective way of transmitting electricity with lower losses than alternating current. In addition, it requires only a single cable instead of two, thus reducing the cable costs.

In my area in the north-east of Scotland, and elsewhere, we expect to have a role in the future of renewable energies in providing offshore engineers and servicing offshore facilities. We already have the experience of decades of oil extraction from the Scottish sector, and the decades to come of further oil exploration mean that, from the outset, an engineering infrastructure is available that offshore renewable energy businesses can exploit. That is a major leg-up for an infant industry, minimising some of the start-up costs. However, inappropriate transmission charges, which will hit the life of projects, could scupper all those advantages.

Liam McArthur says that there is a logic behind the existing charging system. The problem is not the logic; rather, it is the limitations in its application. The present system—that is the Ofgem system—which arithmetically and systematically determines the outputs depending on the inputs, is cost reflective but, as a cost reflective system it fails—not because of the arithmetic, but rather because too many of the costs of energy production and transmission are excluded from the calculation. The carbon cost of thermally based generation is excluded, and that is one cost that will rise dramatically over the years to come.

It is simply perverse in an industry that makes long-term investments—typically a power station is 60 per cent of the way through its life span before it crosses into profit—that only short-term matters influence the calculations of the revenue costs that will make or break the calculation about whether projects go ahead.

Do not get me started on the underwriting of nuclear stations’ decommissioning—or, perhaps, even building—by Government. It is what is put into the calculations that makes the real difference. It is perfectly reasonable to consider cost reflective approaches, although I would prefer the French approach, which is simply to have a level playing field. That is a perfectly sensible way to do things when we are talking about national infrastructures.

The bottom line is that we must have wider policy objectives that go beyond simply costing the network—we must look at the network in the context of the whole energy system and of social needs. If we do that, we can still have a logical system that is cost reflective. We can have a system that means that we get a square go at this new industry in the islands and the remote areas of Scotland that will be so important to future energy provision in Scotland and the British Isles, and through substantial exports over the DC network that is being proposed and built all across Europe.

17:37

S4M-05229 Water Resources (Scotland) Bill: Stage 1

The Deputy Presiding Officer (John Scott): The next item of business is a debate on motion S4M-05229, in the name of Nicola Sturgeon, on the Water Resources (Scotland) Bill.
15:12
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16:09

Stewart Stevenson (Banffshire and Buchan Coast) (SNP):

Presiding Officer, as I stand before you, I am a mixture of natural chemicals. The most important of those, without which I would have no existence, is formed by two atoms of hydrogen in close embrace with one atom of oxygen: H2O or water. That constitutes some 57 per cent of my body—of all the chemicals that make up the essential me.

We can survive without food for many weeks, but we can survive without water for only a very few days. We can choose, but people in areas of substantial aridity have no choice whatsoever.

I am lucky so far: my body receives water of adequate quality, processes it with other inputs, retains enough for its needs and discharges water waste, all with adequate efficiency. That is a model for Scottish Water.

A key part of the bill relates to those who are less lucky. We need to embed the domestic success of Scottish Water—which is cheap, cheerful and effective in comparison with companies elsewhere in these islands—in the wider world. The bill addresses the hydro nation agenda, and we should ensure that, through our expertise, others gain the type of skills that we have in Scotland.

I have no objection whatsoever to a state-owned company in Scotland helping with and engaging in commercial and social activities in countries elsewhere. Alex Johnstone may care to consider whether DB Schenker should be thrown out of the rail network in the UK, or whether the Dutch post office should not get to undermine Royal Mail, but I suspect that that is not where he was going with his remarks.

Providing commercial services through Scottish Water’s expertise and working in conjunction with the 300 or so companies that constitute Scotland’s water industry is important in engaging internationally.

I particularly welcome the duty that the bill places on ministers at section 1(1)(b) in relation to ways that

“contribute to the sustainable use of”

water

“resources”.

The wider sustainability agenda is progressed through the climate justice fund, with which I have been pleased to be associated. Those two elements—economic and sustainable futures—march together. As the bill says, our water resources are to be used not just for economic benefit but for any other benefit, and I particularly welcome the cabinet secretary’s plans to make that much clearer.

I will focus a little on the international activities relating to water in which we can be involved. When I was in Rio as the Minister for Environment and Climate Change, I was pleased to meet a number of international organisations for which water was a key issue. While we have—too often, perhaps—a surfeit of water, increasing numbers of people around the world are in water deficit. Meeting people from around the world who come from countries that are in water deficit, and who have to deal with those problems from day to day, is a graphic way of engaging attention and making real what are otherwise only words on paper.

I am pleased that we have been able to work with Mary Robinson and others to create the climate justice fund and, through that, to support water initiatives. The Government has said—and I support this—that it wants to be

“the helpdesk to the world on water governance”,

which is very important.

Water and energy are closely connected. What do members think a tonne of water looks like? The answer is a cubic metre. Moving water around involves moving a heck of a lot of weight, and I welcome the fact that Scottish Water is now engaging in producing green power on its own estate. The bill gives certainty to Scottish Water’s ability to profit from doing that and to produce an economic and environmental benefit, rather than simply to use such activity for its own purposes.

That builds further expertise at the join between the economy and the environment, which I welcome. It is another opportunity for countries to learn from the developed world, and for us to support countries that are in greatest need where they cannot afford to pay for such skills as we have.

There have already been border disputes over water around the world, and it is not unlikely that, in the next 100 years, skirmishes and perhaps even wars will be fought over water. No asset in the modern world will be more important. We can contribute to world peace—and what higher objective could we serve?—by engaging with countries around the world whose populations are in water deficit. We must allow Scottish Water and other companies with expertise in the water industry in Scotland to engage internationally, to support those in greatest need and to contribute to world peace.

That is a pretty good day’s work. I congratulate the committee and the Government on what they have done so far, and I look forward to more of that in future.

16:15

18 December 2012

S4M-04857 Migrants’ Rights Day

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Elaine Smith): The final item of business today is a members’ business debate on motion S4M-04857, in the name of Christina McKelvie, on migrants’ rights day. The debate will be concluded without any question being put.

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Motion debated,

That the Parliament welcomes the Migrants’ Rights Day celebrations that will take place across the country on 18 December 2012; notes that the date marks the 22nd anniversary of the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families, adopted by the UN General Assembly in 1990; appreciates the continuing contribution that migrants from around the world make to Scotland, both economically and culturally, and continues to support people seeking sanctuary and solace in Scotland; commends the work of the organisation, Migrants’ Rights Scotland, in its bid to promote the rights of all migrants, regardless of where they are from and acknowledges their commitment to providing support for migrant community organisations (MCOs), and understands that Migrants’ Rights Scotland supports MCOs in representing themselves more effectively in the immigration system by sharing information and building on existing knowledge and campaigns on their behalf for justice across all social policy areas.

17:02
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17:22

Stewart Stevenson (Banffshire and Buchan Coast) (SNP):

The modern United States, Canada, New Zealand, Australia and Brazil exist as they do today only because of migration, albeit imposed migration that failed to respect indigenous people’s rights adequately. My great-great-grandfather Archibald Stewart left Stirling in 1852 to cross the Atlantic. I now have 400 or so living relatives in North America—more than I have anywhere else in the world, although I have a substantial number of relatives in Australia. There is nothing uncommon about that story, which will be true for many of us.

Modern migration has a rather different character. Much of it comes towards us in response to our economic needs and to migrants’ economic needs. Probably 3,000 to 4,000 people have come to my constituency in recent years, because we need people to fill the vacancies in many of our important industries. Unemployment is less of an issue in my area than it is elsewhere.

In the early stages, some of the problems that are associated with migration were immediately manifest. Single men came, which created social pressures—and opportunities for many of the unattached young ladies in Peterhead, Fraserburgh and other fishing communities.

Now, the pattern has changed. It is important that the immigration system does not create barriers that prevent families from coming. When families and couples come, that is a much more stable form of immigration that helps receiving communities—such as mine and those elsewhere in Scotland—and those who come to live and work with us.

There are some surprising side effects from all that. I once visited a primary 6 class at the Peterhead Central school. There were 14 children in the class, of whom eight were native Doric speakers—as is the case in the north-east of Scotland—and six were native Latvian speakers, because for some reason the Latvians all seem to come to my constituency. Of course, the children had reached an accommodation by teaching one another the other language, so they were all bilingual and spoke a hybrid Latvian/Doric language. The genuine difficulty was that the teacher had been no part of that process and was having substantial difficulty understanding what the kids were talking about. I found that hugely amusing; the children tried to teach me a little of their new Lat-Doric language, but they utterly failed to do so as I am not much of a linguist.

From time to time we will all meet people who make remarks about immigrants. I always respond simply by saying that, if we send everybody home to their point of origin, what would we do with the 40 million Scots that we would have to take back to Scotland?

Immigration is part of the modern world, and it contributes to many of our areas. In my area 10 years ago, we had one quarter of the number of dentists per head of population that Edinburgh had. Many of my constituents had to travel to countries in Europe for dentistry, as they could not even access private dentistry facilities. Now we have a lot of Polish dentists and a stable dentistry system, so that is one example of the benefits of immigration.

The Poles have been coming in waves of immigration. When I was a boy scout, my patrol leader was Zbignew Klemens Skrodski—members will be able to guess where he came from.

I am delighted that Ban Ki-moon has given an excellent statement in support of international migrants’ day. I am also delighted that we are having this debate, and I thank all those who have made it possible.

17:26

S4M-05225 Commonwealth Games 2014

The Presiding Officer (Tricia Marwick): The next item of business is a debate on motion S4M-05225, in the name of Shona Robison, on the Commonwealth games 2014.

14:59
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16:19

Stewart Stevenson (Banffshire and Buchan Coast) (SNP):

The Government says about legacy that

“We are determined to improve the physical and mental wellbeing of the people of Scotland”.

That is an absolutely excellent aim with which to set out.

As a member from north-east Scotland, I am delighted to be speaking in the debate, despite Hanzala Malik’s suggestion that it is nothing to do with me and only to do with Glasgow. Glasgow is to be commended for bringing the games to Scotland.

I suggest that we need to link inspiration, which will come from the games, to perspiration, which comes from our pores. We know that lack of exercise kills. The physically active gain 20 to 30 per cent reduced risk of premature death and a 50 per cent reduced risk of major chronic disease, such as coronary heart disease, stroke and cancer.

We know that the inspiration is already in place. We have debated that this afternoon. We can see the absolute proof of inspiration in the fact that 40,000 people—and there will be more to come—have already volunteered for the 15,000 volunteer spaces. However, we need 5.3 million people who are prepared to perspire, as well as to be inspired.

When Eric Liddell won gold and bronze in Paris in 1924, he inspired a nation. My father, along with huge numbers of other people, cheered him on his return to Scotland. Liddell was an athlete, a missionary and an inspiration. He ran in the 400m race because he had been unable to run in the 100m race as the heats were on a Sunday and he would not run on a Sunday. He ran with a quotation from 1 Samuel, chapter 2, verse 30 in his hand:

“them that honour me I will honour”.

There is no higher honour than to be selected to run, jump or compete for one’s country. I am sure that every athlete who comes to Scotland and Glasgow in two years’ time will bear that honour with dignity.

My father carried Eric Liddell’s achievements with him for the rest of his life. Perhaps that is why he continued as a determined competitor in a physical sport until my mother finally persuaded him to retire at the age of 75.

Our focus on legacy may be on physical infrastructure because that is tangible, visible and accessible not only in Glasgow but, I am sure, elsewhere in Scotland. However, the really important legacy that must flow from the Commonwealth games is a change in our people. Too many in our population fall into sloth and, at best, spectatorship.

Winning medals will assist in inspiring and, therefore, we must support our elite athletes. That support should not be limited to Olympic and Commonwealth games sports but should encompass any sport that can raise exercise levels cost effectively.

I have a personal interest in the world orienteering championships that are coming to Scotland in 2015, as one of my nephews has been world champion on two occasions. That sport no longer gets support for elite athletes from sportscotland. As a result, my nephew now lives in Scandinavia, not Scotland. Orienteering requires little more than the open country, a wheen of volunteers, maps for competitors and running shoes. It is engaged in by people from the age of five to the age of 100. We need to capture more of those five-year-olds for physical exercise and sport. We must move them from imagining that they are involved in sport when they simply watch it on satellite TV and into active participation.

Schools are an excellent place to start and I am pleased that the Government intends to build on the London 2012 get set education programme. That has shown a way of creating a network of schools, colleges and other learning providers that can support what we need to do. We need to link young people to schools and sports clubs. We need to enthuse parents so that they support their youngsters.

As other speakers mentioned, we have had Commonwealth games in Scotland before—in 1970 and 1986. In Edinburgh, we can see a pool and a stadium that were built for the games.

I took up badminton for the first time after watching that sport in the 1970 Commonwealth games. I know that others were similarly inspired to new initiatives. I almost hesitate to say this, but I noticed a couple of weeks ago that my wife has a legacy from the 1986 games. She has a pair of 1986 Commonwealth games socks, which have the symbol of the games on their ankle. Let us hope that all legacies endure in the way that they have.

Of course, the 1986 games were singularly ill-starred because they were boycotted by the majority of Commonwealth countries and, as others have mentioned, they were supported by that fraudster Robert Maxwell. We will not find it terribly hard to do a lot better than we did in 1986, both in the games and in the legacy. I cannot really think of very much legacy from 1986.

The Deputy Presiding Officer (John Scott): You should be drawing to a close now.

Stewart Stevenson: The real challenge will be to try to keep pace with the achievements of the 2012 London Olympics, which was a hugely successful event, but all the signs are that we are up for that. However, if I may make one wee plea, I ask the minister and all those involved with the Commonwealth games to ensure that the torch comes to my constituency this time—it did not during the Olympics.

Glasgow 2014 will carry the name of Glasgow and of the host country to the four corners of the world; we also need to carry the spirit of Glasgow 2014 to the four corners of Scotland and inspire to perspire.

16:26

13 December 2012

S4M-05186 United Nations Climate Change Negotiations

The Presiding Officer (Tricia Marwick): The next item of business is a debate on motion S4M-05186, in the name of Paul Wheelhouse, on the United Nations climate change negotiations. ...

15:34
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15:57

Stewart Stevenson (Banffshire and Buchan Coast) (SNP):

When we passed our Climate Change (Scotland) Bill in 2009 we did so unanimously. I am delighted to have heard excellent speeches from Claudia Beamish and, with the exception of his nuclear obsession, Alex Johnstone. I am pleased that we still seem to have a common view on where we should be going, because it is our ambition, engagement and contribution to this vital debate that will book our place in worldwide discussions.

Our attendance at various conferences of the parties predated this Government, with Ross Finnie previously attending. COP14 was my first conference of the parties, which was held in Poznan. I found such huge conferences an immensely puzzling experience—the Copenhagen conference was attended by more than 40,000 people—and they are initially quite intimidating. I congratulate the minister on the engagement that he achieved at his first COP.

Neil Findlay (Lothian) (Lab): Will Mr Stevenson advise us how the 40,000 people got to the conference?

Stewart Stevenson: Neil Findlay’s Labour colleague, the Welsh environment minister, went by train, which took two days each way. Unfortunately the parliamentary arithmetic in Scotland meant that I was not allowed by the whips to make that same choice and I had to fly. I regret that, but that is the honest truth of the matter.

In 2009, the convener in Copenhagen said:

“This is the time to deliver. This is the place to commit.”

Delivery and commitment remain bafflingly elusive; progress is snail-like, but it is being made. COP17, when we were in Durban, reached agreement on the timeline for a global climate treaty. How has Doha COP18 progressed matters? I am delighted that the damaging effects of climate change on gender issues, in particular on women, moved up the agenda. I am delighted that the Government has worked with Mary Robinson on the broader climate justice agenda, in particular how that affects women. I very much welcome the minister’s announcement that we will host a climate justice conference.

We know that climate change is damaging farming in Africa and reducing access to water and firewood. That is no mere inconvenience to people in faraway countries. They are paying the price for what we have created for them through our emissions, so it is a moral issue for us all. However, it also represents a genuine economic, and perhaps wider, threat. Mass migration from areas of aridity to areas with water is inevitable. There is also the prospect of family dislocations and real conflict.

When the Kyoto protocol was first introduced, countries such as Russia and Poland signed up in good faith, expecting that the accounting units that they were allocated would lead to their having money to invest in dealing with the problem. The failure of the US, and Canada’s subsequent withdrawal, have undercut that. If it is difficult to get those countries to re-engage, I understand that.

If the United States needs a warning, hurricane Sandy is one. The same thing will happen again and it will happen more frequently. There are states in the United States, such as California, that are engaged on the matter, but we need the big boys in the big pond to make a real commitment to real change.

I congratulate the minister on his work at Doha. I hope that we all support him.

16:01

12 December 2012

S4M-05172 Fisheries Negotiations

The Presiding Officer (Tricia Marwick): The next item of business is a debate on motion S4M-05172, in the name of Richard Lochhead, on the annual European Union fisheries negotiations.

14:42
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15:43

Stewart Stevenson (Banffshire and Buchan Coast) (SNP):

When I rose to my feet to speak on 14 June 2001 at 11 minutes past 4, it was my second day in this Parliament and the subject was the CFP. This is my 442nd speech in Parliament and yet so much remains the same. Jamie McGrigor and Tavish Scott spoke on that day. Absent are the late Margaret Ewing, and also absent are Ross Finnie and Rhona Brankin, who were ministers. The motion that day was moved by the convener of the European Committee, Hugh Henry. Richard Lochhead was the first member to speak after Mr Henry. Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose—or, as Angus MacDonald said, we are having “that déjà vu feeling”.

In 2001, I referred to Allan Macartney, who, for some years prior to that, had been an active proponent of regional management—locality management—of our natural fishing stock. It is good news that that is now, in essence, an orthodoxy in the debate and it is very much to be welcomed. On that day in 2001, Jamie McGrigor spoke of more local control. We could see the beginnings then of the consensus that we are hearing in today’s debate. I certainly welcome that.

On that day, I referred not only to the economic issues around fishing but to the human issues that are involved in what is the most dangerous industry in these islands. Tavish Scott and I, who represent the constituencies that have probably the most substantial fishing interests in the country, have too often had to engage with the consequences of that danger.

The cabinet secretary spoke of legal bickering. That is nothing new. When I first visited fisheries negotiations at the end of 2002, the commissioner was Franz Fischler—I see the nodding heads of those who remember—who was a small country’s commissioner. He was from a country with no coast, no fishermen and absolutely nothing at stake. He was, of course, an Austrian. The person whom I and the then shadow fishing minister, Richard Lochhead, met that day was Maja Kirchner, who was the commissioner’s assistant and—yes—a lawyer. The lawyers have been around this issue for some considerable time, to the benefit of no one apart from perhaps themselves, due to their funding receipts.

A year later, in an article for my local paper, I wrote of Tavish Scott’s difficulties as a minister as a result of the way in which the Executive’s dithering on the subject was hanging over him. Mr Scott’s colleague in Westminster, Alistair Carmichael, described the 2003 deal as

“bad, corrupt and downright deceitful.”—[Official Report, House of Commons, 9 December 2003; c 1024.]

Tavish Scott: That is typical of Alistair Carmichael.

Stewart Stevenson: As I said, nothing changes—including Alistair Carmichael.

In 2004, the real effects of the cuts in our fishing fleet started to be seen onshore and offshore. Painters who were based around harbours closed as a result of there being fewer boats to paint and we even saw butchers’ shops closing, which had been the main source of food supplies for the fishing fleet.

In 2006, Jim Wallace, who is now out of ministerial office, reminded us of a speech that he made in Westminster in 1988, in which he referred to

“drastic cuts in the total allowable catch, particularly those for cod and haddock.”—[Official Report, House of Commons, 1 December 1988; c 912.]

The lawyers have not been helping, but our fishermen have been rising to the challenge. They have designed new nets that enable them to be highly discriminating in terms of the species that they catch. Our fishermen are hugely more effective conservationists than is any lawyer in any office anywhere in the EU.

The right to catch has to be viewed as a basic human right—not a right that is for sale, but one that is held in trust for future generations of our fishermen. It gars me grue that, as has been referred to, Spanish fishermen are fishing in some of the deep holes off Peterhead from which our fishermen are banned for good conservation reasons. In a single haul of a net, they can lift years of future catch that is barred to our fishermen. We simply have to get away from that being the way in which we work.

We need our ministers speaking for our fishing interests at the top table in Europe. As I said all those years ago, even Ross Finnie would make better decisions than Franz Fischler.

Tavish Scott: Praise, indeed.

Stewart Stevenson: Indeed.

Richard Lochhead has done well. We have managed to negotiate something that is appropriate to our circumstances, but he could do even better if we had the powers of a normal country.

I agree with Tavish Scott about the necessity of dealing with the issue for the sake of our pelagic fleets. It is absolutely appalling that we have not been able to resolve the issue. I do not know how to—which is not a sentence that is heard often in Parliament. However, we must—for heaven’s sake—get together and find out the answer because we need it, and we need it now.

15:49

11 December 2012

S4M-05154 Role of Science in Public Policy

The Presiding Officer (Tricia Marwick): The next item of business is a debate on motion S4M-05154, in the name of Alasdair Allan, on the role of scientific evidence in advice on public policy. ...

14:28
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16:01

Stewart Stevenson (Banffshire and Buchan Coast) (SNP):

I declare an interest, as I am an associate member of the Institution of Engineering and Technology.

I also want to put on record my thanks to my dentist, who, just before the debate, managed to replace a filling—science has a practical application as well. Now, suitably equipped, let me get my teeth into this debate.

Science, technology, engineering and mathematics—the STEM subjects—underpin our economy. In each of those areas, Scotland has a proud record. In science, we have Alexander Fleming and the discovery and development of penicillin. In technology, we have Wolfson Microelectronics, one of our university spin-outs, and the digital/analogue signal processing chip that allowed Apple’s iPod to be developed. In engineering, we have the fax machine and the first electricity-generating wind turbine in Marykirk in 1887. In mathematics, as has already been mentioned, we have John Napier, the inventor of logarithms and also of the slide rule—a device that is still in use today, in circular form, on my watch.

Napier might be thought to be a model for offering advice to Government. In his dedication of “A Plaine Discovery of the Whole Revelation of St John” to James VI in 1594—when Scotland was independent, which means that Napier was a scientist who worked successfully in an independent Scotland—Napier counselled the king to

“reform the universal enormities of his country, and first to begin at his own house, family, and court.”

It is not clear whether the calls of this respected mathematician were heeded.

What are we doing today to create the ability to learn, innovate, deliver and—crucially, for this debate—inform Government in future? Without a well-informed Government, excellent outcomes become a matter of mere chance.

Perhaps too often in the consultations that we conduct, we are looking for public opinion rather than searching for facts to inform. The collision of a convenient policy with an inconvenient fact is not something that many ministers of any political persuasion wish to contemplate very often.

In my time as a minister, it was our climate change legislation that, in its fundamentals, was most driven by scientific fact. In relation to our decision about our 2020 target for the reduction in greenhouse gases, scientific advice gave us two choices—good scientific advice informs and guides; it does not command. We were offered a 34 per cent reduction or a 42 per cent reduction. We debated a 40 per cent reduction, which came from another source, but that appeared to be politically based. I am glad that we chose the scientifically derived number because it means that we can hold fast to science underpinning that area of policy. I am proud that we chose that option.

We have good examples of debates being informed by science. Fiona McLeod referred to the alcohol debate. Four hundred years ago, James VI talked about attending post-mortem examinations of smokers and seeing the evil tar in their lungs. In the past, monarchs and rulers have looked to science to help to inform and guide.

There is a ladder of knowledge that we must try to promote to people. One of the books on the shelf in my office here is about the psychology of mathematics. Maths is something that people find difficult and yet they use it a lot. Anybody who gambles is thinking about the odds and about numbers. Anybody who fills in their tax form is dealing with numbers. Indeed, my mathematics teacher at school, a wonderful Lancastrian called Doc Inglis, used to do his tax form with the sixth year class, either to tell us how little he got paid for putting up with us or to show us that there was a practical application to maths. In the first year, he took us around the school searching for infinity. Is that not the kind of inspiring teaching that we want?

My time as environment minister touched with science on a number of occasions. One of the best ones was an engineering and science experiment in the north-west of Scotland, in which all the fish coming down a river were caught and tagged. As they went up and down thereafter, they were recorded. The seals in the bay were tagged, and when one of the seals ate one of the fish, the device on the seal recorded the tag on the fish that it had just eaten. In real time, in a little hut on the side of the loch, we had all this information telling us what each individual fish and each individual seal was doing. I was enthused, and it helped me to understand the way in which the science that I was using as a minister was delivering something for us.

Scientists are not always good communicators. My professor of natural philosophy when I was at university was RV Jones—great scientist; absolutely crap lecturer. I was told only this week that Professor Higgs—

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Elaine Smith): Watch your language, please.

Stewart Stevenson: Is that word not allowed, Presiding Officer?

The Deputy Presiding Officer: No, it is not.

Stewart Stevenson: He was a less than perfect lecturer. Apparently, Professor Higgs is tarred with the same brush by some.

At university, I returned to mathematics because my first-year lecturer Mr Morrison—not even a PhD—was so inspiring that I got 97 per cent in the term exam. He never lectured me again and I never returned to those dizzy heights. We have talked about error. It is worth saying that every success is preceded by generations of failure.

We have to change. To conform is to sustain the status quo; to rebel is to create the new. Let us listen to the scientists and find out useful ways of rebelling.

16:08

6 December 2012

S4M-05109 Careers Services

The Presiding Officer (Tricia Marwick): The next item of business is a debate on motion S4M-05109, in the name of Angela Constance, on the modernisation of Scotland’s careers services.

14:57
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16:29

Stewart Stevenson (Banffshire and Buchan Coast) (SNP):

I might be one of a tiny minority of people who benefited from having no contact with formal careers advice. As a youngster I was not very well and missed a fair bit of my primary education. The most important classes that I missed were those on how to learn from the education system—a skill that I absolutely flunked.

However, I was fortunate to have well-educated parents and to be brought up in a house that was full of a diverse range of books, which I simply devoured in random order. I read J D Mackie’s “A History of Scotland” when I was five and I read a biography of Lloyd George when I was seven—that probably shows that we are what we read. My reading and my enquiring mind enabled me just about to muddle through—

Neil Findlay: Will the member take an intervention?

Stewart Stevenson: I will wait a little, but I will give way later.

I muddled through and eventually graduated with a modest degree in mathematics. Had I had a good degree, I would have been headhunted for a traditional role in the civil service, ICI, BP or whatever. My girlfriend—now my spouse of 43 years—was the person who consulted the university careers advisory service and, right at the end of my academic career, the advice filtered through to me that I should go into computers. That was the best move that I ever made, but throughout my career I got there by chance.

Neil Findlay: Given the member’s exciting career—I know that he has been a pilot and a water bailiff and invented the computer—is the answer that we should not give careers advice but just let people read about Winston Churchill and so on when they are five years old?

Stewart Stevenson: I used my individual example to illustrate that I have been incredibly lucky by not having careers advice, but luck should not play a part in the lives of children across Scotland.

Such a casual attitude to careers advice, which was adequate or good enough for me in the 1950s and 1960s, is absolutely no longer adequate today. There are now more careers and the more prescriptive rules about entry to careers mean that people need qualifications and need to have studied subjects. To do that, people may need to have received, 10 years in advance of acquiring a qualification, the kind of guidance that Iain Gray talked about—from a very informed basis, I thought—in a way that I neither got nor, as luck would have it, required.

Clearly, having only a single skill is also risky—again, Iain Gray made reference to this—so we need to learn how to learn and learn how to adapt. The first law of epigenetics is that the more highly optimised an organism is for one environment, the more adversely it is affected by a change in that environment. The way in which villages where everyone was employed in coal faced problems when the coal industry went away perfectly illustrates that risk. Good careers advice can pinpoint potential in students that those close to them, and even the students themselves, simply will not spot.

Today’s students are very different from the student that I was. They have keyboard skills and they work computers as extensions of themselves. I was typing by the age of eight and nine, but I did not use a telephone for the first time until I was 15. That might seem rather odd, but the telephone was a much rarer beast, to which I had less access than to a keyboard.

The term “moody teenager” applied not just to Neil Findlay but to me, and I will bet that, if we compare photographs, we will find that I was spottier than he was—and that is an unusual claim to make. As a teenager, the last thing that I would have wanted would have been to have someone looking over my shoulder. I was adapted to private study and to doing things for myself. For many children, that is why it is useful to have online systems that are comprehensive in detail, timely in content and—a key point missing from the debate so far—personalised. Such interactive systems are not like the first websites of 20 years ago—that is when I produced my first website—which were simply an electronic library.

Kezia Dugdale: Would the member rather have an algorithm or a one-to-one conversation?

Stewart Stevenson: I would rather that we indulged in heuristic learning, where the computer adds to the available ways in which we can learn of the needs of the person sitting at the computer, in addition to the interactions with human beings.

Computers will continue to be part of people’s lives in years to come. The worldwide web will develop and become even more important and its interactivity is the vital thing. Its ability to guide, to search and to respond to people is vital, so personalisation is important.

I will give members one little insight into how we may be making wrong assumptions about people’s relationships with technology. I worked in technology in the Bank of Scotland for 30 years. When we introduced our first cash dispensers in 1980—my brother had developed them for the Royal Bank of Scotland three years earlier, so I was behind him—we found that people would stand in the rain to queue for a cash dispenser rather than go into a bank branch. We did a survey and found that usage in Scotland was three times higher per head of population than in England, because people would rather deal with a machine than share intimate things in their lives with somebody behind a counter.

That is a narrow, specific example. It need not map to the subject that is before us, but we should not, by any means, discount the electronic world.

I will say a word about the red-amber-green system. I feel very disappointed because, in essence, I hear that we should divert resources from the red group, who need help the most, to the green group, who can be more adaptable, start online and get human interaction when they need it.

I am delighted to participate in this important debate.

16:36

4 December 2012

Leveson Report

The Presiding Officer (Tricia Marwick): The next item of business is a debate on the Leveson report.

I ask members who wish to speak in the debate to press their request-to-speak button now. I note that Ruth Davidson is not in the chamber.

14:51
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15:45

Stewart Stevenson (Banffshire and Buchan Coast) (SNP):
The word “sensitive” has occurred a number of times in the debate. Harper’s Weekly said of Abraham Lincoln that he was a

“Filthy Story-Teller, Despot, Liar, Thief, Braggart, Buffoon, Usurper”

and so on. Interestingly, a hundred years ago, Harper’s Weekly closed for business and today Abe Lincoln is on the $5 bill. Time sometimes provides the remedy but mostly it does not.

In a number of instances, I find what the media do—with my heart, my head, my whole being—utterly repugnant. In the 1950s, around the family dinner table, my parents still talked about the fact that in the 1930s, the proprietor of the Daily Mail required his paper to support the British Union of Fascists. In 1964, when the News Chronicle, which my mother read, was taken over by the Daily Mail, it was immediately replaced in our house by The Courier. The Mail would not come into our house.

I may find it utterly repugnant—and others may join me—that a mainstream paper should adopt such political positions, but nonetheless I absolutely defend the right of the Daily Mail and any other publication to take actions of their choice that are within the law. A diverse media, just like democracy, means respecting the rights of those with whom we may fundamentally disagree.

Like other politicians—clearly, that includes Johann Lamont—I have to get the message across about what I am doing to as many people as possible. I have to persuade and inform. I have to communicate. Our media—our newspapers—are an important part of that. I have even visited the Daily Mail office upstairs from time to time and I have been successful in getting it to take stories from me. I have benefited from that process of proper engagement.

I visit—as I am sure other MSPs do—all the editors of my local newspapers, my local radio stations and the other broadcast media that come into my constituency to see what they want from me; to seek to influence the filters that they will apply to what I say; and to assess the support that they are prepared to give to the positions that I take. That is no surprise—it is normal business.

However, legal protections are there to help our media hold us to account when to account we should be held. With that comes a concomitant responsibility not simply to obey the law—that is the duty of every citizen—but to behave in a way that is proportionate. We who are in politics often feel ill-served and ill-treated by the media but we have the corporate strength of our political allies, the parties of which we are members, to fight back.

Others simply do not have that power. That is the essence of what Leveson seeks underpinning for. Too many people in the media have crossed the boundary into illegality when they have sought information. Even more to the point, too many of them have parlayed away the rights of private citizens for profit, not because of public interest. On that basis I welcome Johann Lamont’s remarks in relation to Milly Dowler, for example. I cannot do anything but agree with what she said.

The media have in their hands, when they get something wrong, the opportunity to correct it. As we heard from Mark McDonald, such retractions are too often grudging, inadequate and in no proportion whatsoever to the original error. The Press Complaints Commission has a fine set of principles and operating standards but, in practice, it seldom rises to meet the need and it more often falls to the level of industry preference.

I guess that no one understands the print media better than the print media itself, so self-regulation could be reasonable, if properly delivered. However, the present circumstances do not show self-regulation in a good light or show that it is operating adequately.

With the new PCC or whatever body or bodies—there could even be multiple bodies south of the border; I cannot discount that, as I do not know what will happen—we need legal underpinnings to incentivise and to penalise, when necessary. That is important.

We have heard about the legal framework in Ireland. We know that that allows a free press and protects citizens. We can draw on the knowledge and understanding there when we look at what we require here.

Each legal jurisdiction will need underpinnings that are specific to local law, but let us not take an early position on how we achieve that. The principles and practices of a new independent PCC can be easily encompassed into one package that could cover the Republic of Ireland and the whole British Isles.

I conclude by doing something that I do not often do: I quote the bible. Perhaps the media should tak tent of Thessalonians:

“Prove all things; hold fast that which is good.”

Let each and every one of us try that one for size.

15:51

Stewart Stevenson
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