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26 September 2013

S4M-07808 Ryder Cup 2014

The Presiding Officer (Tricia Marwick): Good afternoon. The first item of business is a debate on motion S4M-07808, in the name of Shona Robison, on one year to go until the Ryder cup.

14:30
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16:22

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

I was slightly surprised that Neil Findlay did not claim Samuel Ryder as a working-class hero. Samuel Ryder was born in relatively humble circumstances—his father was a gardener and his mother was a dressmaker—and he built his business from his little shed at the end of the garden behind his terraced house. He was the first person to send out penny packets of seeds, which he posted on a Friday to ensure that his working-class clients, having received them on Saturday morning, could use their time off on Saturday afternoon to work in their allotments. He built his fortune, which led to his endowing the Ryder cup, from an entirely working-class background. I hope that, when Mr Findlay reads the Official Report of today’s debate, he will tak tent of that background.

Of course, perhaps one reason why Mr Findlay did not speak about Samuel Ryder is that Samuel Ryder was also a politician. I was surprised that Tavish Scott did not make reference to the fact that Samuel Ryder got elected to St Alban’s town council in 1903, became the lord mayor in 1905 and continued to serve on the council until 1916. As a Liberal, he was extremely critical of his predecessors in office, who were also Liberals, so perhaps that explains why Tavish Scott said little about him.

In our country, golf is par excellence a sport that is broadly open to all. In the 1980s, my wife had staff in Tokyo, who told her that to join a golf club cost in excess of not 1 million yen but £1 million. Furthermore, the golf clubs in Tokyo were only driving ranges. They were not golf clubs with 18 holes of grass around which it would be possible to play the game that we associate with golf.

In many other countries, golf is a sport of the elite but, in Scotland, every town and village has some engagement with it. It is a very different kind of sport for us. That is why it is important not only internationally, but for all the people of Scotland that we are host to the Ryder cup. It is a sport for the masses in a way that it may not so readily be elsewhere.

Tavish Scott also mentioned Colin Montgomerie. He was the victorious Ryder cup captain in 2010 and played in the cup on five occasions. He says on the VisitScotland website:

Scotland, for me, is home.

Like other members, my golfing experience is more limited than I would wish. However, I will make a unique claim as the only member speaking in the debate whose average score on championship courses is par.

I should explain that, in the mid 1990s, I flew my pals Laurence and Tom across to play the Machrie course on Islay. I walked round with them and we came into the 10th hole—the Machrie burn hole. It is a formidable hole with a water hazard to the left, another to the right and some standing stones that the ball could bounce off. However, it was par 3 and it was only 110m. I was handed a club, fluked the ball on to the edge of the green, fluked it within 6in of the hole, and parred that championship hole. I handed the golf club back because I did not want to compromise my average score of par on a championship course. I thoroughly enjoyed the experience and I hope that, when time permits in future, I will return to golf.

Golf is an important business as well as an important recreation. The north-east of Scotland probably underperforms to some extent on tourism. However, one of the big draws that we have is our local golf courses and I hope that the Ryder cup will introduce them to a wider audience.

I will start with the Duff House royal golf course. It was redesigned in 1923 by Dr Alister Mackenzie who went on to design the world-famous Augusta national course. It is an excellent course—a classic links course—and the club has a wide social membership because the 19th hole is as famous as the other 18.

There is also Fraserburgh golf course. A well-known politician—the First Minister—plays on it from time to time. Let me give a little advice to members who have not played with the First Minister. He does not play a great deal and has no handicap but members should not be deceived. He will exploit that lack of handicap at the outset. Members should not let him con them. He is much better than many golfers who do not have a handicap.

The club itself describes the course in challenging terms as having

undulating fairways … wonderful views … spectacular holes

and being

a true links adventure from start to finish.

Peterhead has a golf course as well. Buckie has Strathlene Buckie golf course. It is not an immensely long golf course—it is some 6,000 yards—but it is a cliff-top course that may see golfers being as friendly as they can be on a golf course and to golf balls by not striking the ball very often because it goes off and makes its own way in life.

Cullen golf course is described as one of the top 100 in the world. It was designed by Tom Morris. Our connections in the north-east with golf greats are quite substantial.

Perhaps one of the reasons why I did not get terribly engaged with golf is that, although my father—like me—was essentially right-handed, for some reason unknown to me, he played golf left-handed. Therefore, his golf clubs were left-handed golf clubs, which made it rather difficult for me. If I have not been as engaged with golf as I might be, I entirely blame him.

One of my interests is aviation. I exercised that interest when I flew my pals to Islay. At Edinburgh airport, light aircraft used to fly in to their own runway. That is no longer available—the airport has got too busy and the space is needed for other things. We used to fly over Turnhouse golf course. On our approach to the runway, we would occasionally get hit by golf balls. I am not quite sure whether that alarmed the pilots more than the golfers, but at least when someone skied a drive, we were there to knock it back on to the fairway. A number of our aircraft ended up with dents.

I will leave members with one little fact. There are very few sizes of golf clubs, and there is a good reason for that. If you stand beside someone whose height is 1 foot different from yours, you will find that your knuckles are the same height off the ground as theirs are—within 3 inches. Golf is accessible to all because everyone can use the same set of golf clubs.

16:31

24 September 2013

S4M-07188 Al-Anon Family Groups

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Elaine Smith): The final item of business today is a members’ business debate on motion S4M-07188, in the name of Gordon MacDonald, on Al-Anon Family Groups, supporting families with alcohol-related issues. The debate will be concluded without any question being put.

Motion debated,

That the Parliament understands that Al-Anon Family Groups, a charity that receives no external financial support, has only one focus, which is to help and support families and friends of problem drinkers; believes that for every problem drinker it is estimated that at least five other people are adversely affected; understands that there are over 120 Al-Anon Family Group meetings in Scotland, including in Edinburgh, for people who are or have been affected by someone else’s drinking to meet and gain understanding and support in order to resolve their common problems, and commends the work of Al-Anon Family Groups over the last 60 years in supporting families dealing with alcohol-related issues.

17:03
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17:22

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

I thank Al-Anon for creating the opportunity for the debate and Gordon MacDonald for bringing the topic to the chamber.

Alcohol is an unusual drug—because that is what it is—in that its effect on people is quite varied. For some people, the lowering of inhibitions and the increase in confidence leads to an increase in creativity; for others, that lowering of inhibitions and increase in confidence leads into far less productive areas. Of course, excess use of alcohol—leading in due course to addiction—is destructive of family life, of relationships and, ultimately it is destructive of the addicts themselves.

My father was a country GP and, like all general practitioners, he had his catalogue of alcoholics. In the 1950s and early 1960s, he never felt that he had the remedies at his disposal that delivered the results that he sought. When I was old enough to drive, I provided some pastoral support to some of his alcoholics and others in the family did the same, but the outcomes were not particularly good.

When I became a manager of staff—some hundreds of staff—in the 1970s, 1980s and onwards, I, of course, once again met people who were suffering from the consequences of alcohol misuse. However, by that time the existence of support groups such as Al-Anon and the professional support that was available had transformed the outcomes for those who were affected by alcohol. I can say that the majority of people whom we were able to refer to professional services and connect to support groups had substantially better outcomes. We understand addictions better now than we used to. They come in many forms and alcohol is merely one of them.

Of course, let us not imagine that this is a new problem. The Canadian historian T C Smout, in his social history of Scotland, describes how in the mid-1800s, in a village in East Lothian, there was one pub for every 14 inhabitants. That tells you something about the place of alcohol in that community.

At about that time, it was recognised in the Swedish town of Gothenburg that the evils of drink were affecting wider society. The community in Gothenburg got together and opened its own pub, so that the profits from the trade could be recycled into more useful activities. To this day, in various towns across Scotland one can still see pubs called “The Goth”, which comes from the Gothenburg experiment that came from Sweden.

Drink has probably resulted in genetic changes—particularly in England, where beer was a substitute for water because many cities did not have good supplies of potable water—and tolerance of alcohol has grown. However, the trouble is that, as others who are less adapted have used alcohol, we have seen a disproportionate effect from that.

Relationships are affected by not just the immediate consumption of alcohol, but the change in people’s behaviours. People become secretive about their addiction, and that cuts them off from their families and friends. Groups such as Al-Anon are vital to preserving and growing relationships and for supporting people with addiction. I hope that such groups continue to support communities across Scotland and beyond.

17:26

S4M-07787 New Learning Disabilities Strategy

The Presiding Officer (Tricia Marwick): The next item of business is a debate on motion S4M-07787, in the name of Michael Matheson, on the new learning disabilities strategy, “The keys to life”.

14:23
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16:20

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

I apologise for my absence towards the end of the opening speeches. I was called away unexpectedly, but I am glad to be back and to participate in this important debate.

When the debate is led by the Minister for Public Health and key speakers are people who have a long-standing engagement in health, the matter is in danger of being viewed as a health issue. It is, of course, nothing of the sort. It is a quality-of-life issue. Health is an issue within that, as are access to culture and recreation, and the emotional life of those who are disadvantaged. Dennis Robertson in particular focused on the issue of generating respect for people whom we may regard as different to ourselves. However, people with learning difficulties see themselves as normal and us as deviating from their normality. We should never forget that that is the case. To the people who are the subject of the debate, we are the oddballs, not them.

Nearly 50 years ago—in 1964—I spent the time between school and university working in a locked ward in Stratheden hospital in Fife. I was 17. We had 32 beds there. As members of staff, we worked a 108-hour fortnight. We used to work double shifts Saturday and Sunday and then get the other weekend off.

We were chronically understaffed. We should have had six members of staff but there was one weekend when there were two of us. From time to time, I was in charge of the ward. I was 17 years old and had had not a single day of formal training.

What kind of people did we used to have in ward M2 in Stratheden hospital? We had a couple of people who were former Carstairs patients. We had people suffering catatonia. We had people suffering the general paralysis of the insane from alcohol or tertiary syphilis. We had severely paranoid people. We had a gentleman from Poland who had spent time in a gulag in the Soviet Union and his mental ill health came from that.

In that environment, we also had people who are the subject of the debate. It was an environment as far removed from what would be suitable to meet their needs as it is possible to imagine.

I will speak about one of them in particular. I will call him Willie—that was his name, but I am sure he is no longer with us so I can speak about him. He was quite competent. He could go to the shop and buy things for us. He could interact with visitors in the hospital grounds. However, 50 years ago, Willie and the likes of him and his friends throughout Scotland were in locked wards in psychiatric hospitals.

Things have got better. Let us not kid ourselves about that.

Dennis Robertson: Does the member accept that there is a vast difference between mental ill health and learning disabilities? We must be careful that we do not stray into mental health issues rather than focusing on learning disabilities.

Stewart Stevenson: The member makes my point for me. In the past, we treated something that is very far from a mental ill health problem as if it was one, and I hope that we never return to those days.

In the seven months in which I worked in that 32-bed ward, we had a single visitor. People were entirely isolated from the world.

How many people with learning disabilities do we have? We have heard various numbers. We have heard that it is one in 100 and that it might be one in 40.

What kind of things are accessible to almost everyone in our society, including people with learning disabilities? That is the interesting question.

When I was a minister, I filled in for one of my colleagues at a GIRFEC event in Aberdeen. Before I went on to do my little bit, we saw a film of a one-hour-old infant responding to music—waving its hand in time with the beat of music. Others might have seen this miracle, but I am not a dad, so I have not, and I was fascinated by it. It reminded me that, when I have been with people with learning disability, I have seen that music is one of the things to which they can respond and contribute in a decisive and important way. We must not forget the importance of access to culture and the opportunities to contribute to culture.

On the related issue of autism, we have the autism strategy, which was launched nearly two years ago. It is interesting, because it has something that I do not clearly see in what is before us today. Yes, the new learning disabilities strategy has around 52 recommendations, but it does not have the sort of single, cohesive, integrated aim that the autism strategy has.

I propose that our aim should be to deliver to people with learning disabilities the best available quality of life that is attainable with their individual needs and opportunities, to do so in a way that does not require support, where possible, and to provide support when it is required. Rather than having everybody who is engaged in this issue having to remember 52 recommendations, let us get to a position in which everybody has a single thing on their mind that they can carry forward.

Today’s debate is part of a continuity of effort that has gone on from the very resumption of this Parliament in 1999. Our predecessors in office did a lot, and we build on that. That is as it should be.

My wife frequently goes to the Boyndie centre in my constituency for afternoon coffee. It is an excellent venue and provides employment and opportunities to socialise for many people with learning difficulties. I am sure that all members have similar good examples in their constituencies.

This has been an excellent debate. I congratulate the minister on giving us this opportunity to discuss these issues.

16:27

19 September 2013

S4M-07734 Scottish Economy

The Presiding Officer (Tricia Marwick): Good afternoon. The first item of business is a debate on motion S4M-07734, in the name of John Swinney, on Scotland’s economy.

14:30
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15:34

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

My speech will be largely about food and drink, and perhaps I will say a word or two about education.

On food and drink, we are doing well and we are progressing with the powers that we have, although I will of course say that we could do more if we had more powers. However, I cannot move into food and drink, which are largely export-led successes, without picking up on the specific thing that Iain Gray said about free access to the widest possible market and Mr Rennie’s contribution, which made similar reference to our £45 billion trade with the rest of the UK.

The threat to our export industries lies entirely with Westminster, which wishes to disconnect us from a market of over 400 million in the European Union. Indeed, if anyone is in the business of erecting barriers, the threat is at the UK level. It would take us out of the EU and create the barriers that would create difficulty.

Why do we do so well with food and drink in the world? We have some powers that enable us to help our industry, which is good, but fundamentally things depend on Scotland’s reputation in the world, people knowing about Scotland, and people believing that Scotland is an environmentally good place from which to buy their food and drink. They do that because of successive Governments’ attention to that subject. We have a clear and clean environment, and we know that our waters in Scotland are pristine and that our land is free from contamination from genetically modified crops. The Government has been very clear that it wants to sustain that.

Our products have been going around the world for a very long time. The Liberals once did something useful for the Scotch whisky industry, when the Immature Spirits (Restriction) Act 1915 was passed when Lloyd George was Chancellor of the Exchequer. Mind you, that act was drafted by his official, James Stevenson—yes, he was a relative, of course. The act dramatically improved the position of the malt whisky industry in Scotland.

Scotland’s whisky industry is so successful that a person cannot go to India without seeing evidence of the recycling of Johnnie Walker bottles, to be filled with local hooch. If a person goes to Nepal, they will see a brand called Kat 69 whose appearance is famously very similar to that of Vat 69. Our successes are copied around the world.

Moves to geographically protect a wider range of our products have also happened under the Government’s watch. Examples of those products are the Arbroath smokie and, most recently, the Stornoway black pudding, which are fine examples of Scottish food and drink products.

Our salmon farming industry, which is now the third biggest in the world, is exporting to the far east, where the product is in huge demand. Scottish farmed salmon is the first product to have Label Rouge accreditation in France.

There are threats to our success in food and drink. Most notably, we are unable to engage in the most effective way on the issues that come from the Faroe Islands’ and Iceland’s abrogation of pelagic fisheries. That is a serious threat to an economically important industry, and it threatens marine stewardship designations. It is slightly ironic that, when I went to Iceland in 1973, the Icelanders had just declared a 200-mile limit to protect the fish in their area from exploitation. I am afraid that they are now guilty of that themselves. As we are not internationally represented in a meaningful way, we are not able to engage in a way that would enable us to protect our markets to the maximum possible extent.

On education, it should be remembered that, for hundreds of years, Scotland had four universities while England had merely two. Our students went all over Europe and all over the world. Now, we export our education around the world from our universities, often by satellites and increasingly by providing online courses. I very much welcome the fact that the knowledge, experience and pedagogical achievements of our universities are now reflected in the internet world. That earns new revenue for Scotland.

I want to pick up on one or two further things in my final minute.

Slovakia was referenced earlier. Strangely enough, I do not think that, with a 10 per cent per annum growth rate, the Slovakian people are immediately queuing up to change their constitutional status after their independence in the world.

In any event, the Scots as a people are not put off by barriers. My great-great-grandfather applied for his passport in 1853 to emigrate to Canada and, today, I have living relatives in Canada, the USA, New Zealand, Australia, Norway, Sweden, Denmark, all the countries in the British Isles and beyond. [Interruption.] I think that somebody is encouraging me to join them, Presiding Officer.

I refuse to accept the first invitation; I will conclude my remarks at that.

15:40

17 September 2013

S4M-07712 Opencast Mining

The Presiding Officer (Tricia Marwick): The next item of business is a debate on motion S4M-07712, in the name of Fergus Ewing, on opencast mining in Scotland, coaling and restoring.

14:18
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15:45

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

As the member who, as minister, took the Climate Change (Scotland) Act 2009 through the Parliament, I place that issue at the heart of my remarks.

I will start with carbon capture and storage. Helen Eadie and I are Europe enthusiasts, but CCS is one area in which Europe is not doing well. We do not have a single CCS facility in the whole of the EU. The number of CCS plants in China is now in double figures, and even the United States—which is not the most obvious climate change champion given its engagement on the issue—is making progress on it.

The need to tackle climate change was something that united us when we took the legislation through in 2009, and it continues to do so to this day. Although we share objectives, when it comes to means I differ substantially from the two minority groups in the Parliament that are behind the amendment that stands against the consensus that is represented by the majority.

It is worth responding to what Mike MacKenzie said. I remember that, when my brother and I were water bailiffs in 1968, we brought coal into our bothy by sea—we had half a ton of it to keep us warm over the summer. Remote and rural communities often depend on coal in an important way.

I want to talk about the positives that can be derived from opencast mining. On 1 November 2011, at the invitation of the River Nith salmon fishery board, I made a ministerial visit to see the positive impact that the opencast industry was having on the environment. I will contrast that with poor examples, as well. The industry there had redirected the Nith on several occasions but, in its restoration, had improved the water flow. It had improved the embankments on the river by moving fences out to keep beasts from polluting the river and had put in trees to improve the riverside environment. In addition, it worked with the salmon fishing industry to suspend blasting operations at times when the salmon were spawning. The result of that was a fourfold increase in the number of salmon that reached the upper reaches of the Nith. The collaboration between the opencast mining industry there and the champions of environmental excellence representing the salmon fisheries in the area was highly successful. Would that that were the universal experience. Clearly, it is not.

We know of the difficulties that were caused by the proposals to increase track access charges, which would have put £4 on each tonne that was carried. Fortunately, those proposals were mitigated. I am not sure that that was a great advert—as Claudia Beamish would have us believe—for cross-border collaboration. It was an issue that was of vital economic concern to us but of comparatively little concern to the larger UK. Fortunately, the arguments against those proposals swayed the day. Today’s debate is another example of rational argument prevailing.

It is worth looking at what opportunities exist for the industry in future. It is, of course, important that we get to an energy mix that is fully sustainable, but we will get there in stages. We must continue to exploit non-renewable resources. We must use fungible resources as an intermediate technology en route to a fully sustainable energy mix. Such resources are part of the economic mix.

If we destroy the economy, we destroy the economics that will be necessary to take us to a fully renewable future in which we have dramatically reduced our climate change footprint, in line with the legislation that we have passed. So, the economy and doing the right thing for the environment are inextricably linked and cannot be separated, unless we decide to close down the whole of the human race and all our activities. Well, fair enough: a sterile world without us on it would indeed be relatively free of climate change impact. However, what would that be worth to us or, indeed, to the world and all that lives in it?

As I have described, restoration by the coal industry is, at its best, very good indeed; but at its worst, it is unacceptably bad. It is right that the Parliament focuses on the bad, because that is where we wish to effect change. We must ensure that the industry has the opportunity to generate the funds that will enable it to do restitution. Like others, I drive from time to time up the M90, and we can see the impact of today’s opencast mining and recognise that it will be substantially expensive to make good what has been done, although we cannot quantify it.

It is perhaps worth extending the hand of friendship to political colleagues across the chamber, so I congratulate Claire Baker and her colleagues on working effectively with the minister and putting aside some of the tribalism that sometimes contaminates debate in here—through gritted teeth, I say that I even extend that to Murdo Fraser on the Conservative benches.

The Scottish Parliament has not always been kind to the miners. In 1701, we passed the Habeas Corpus Act of Scotland, the purpose of which is relatively self-evident, which specifically said that

“this present Act is in no way to be extended to colliers”.

In other words, they excluded colliers from freedom, and they remained in enslavement to the owners until an act of 1799. Today, we have an opportunity to unite in a positive way that does some good for the coal industry while simultaneously propelling us closer to meeting the climate change objectives that we all agreed on in June 2009.

15:52

11 September 2013

S4M-07643 Enterprise Networks

The Presiding Officer (Tricia Marwick): The next item of business is a debate on motion S4M-07643, in the name of Fergus Ewing, on enterprise networks.

15:39
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17:02

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

I have a special interest in the enterprise network, as the constituency that I represent is the only one that straddles the areas that are covered by Highlands and Islands Enterprise and Scottish Enterprise, so I have to deal with both agencies in my constituency work.

The experience is markedly different in the Highlands and Islands, where social concerns are at the centre of the agency’s activity, in contrast to the business-focused approach in the south of Scotland. I commend the Highlands and Islands Enterprise model to the rest of the country.

I have a couple of examples from elsewhere that might inform the debate to some extent. Our English friends do not necessarily get everything wrong—I have to say that because as my English granny, who came from the north-east of England, would not—from up where she is—wish to hear me saying any different down here. The north-east is one of the areas of England that has suffered most from Westminster’s abolition of the regional development agencies.

One of the people with whom I worked when I was Minister for Transport, Infrastructure and Climate Change was Andrew Adonis, the Labour Secretary of State for Transport at Westminster—and a very effective minister he was. He is now working closely with a group of local authorities in the north-east of England to try to fill that gap, produce economic reports and co-ordinate activities. They are doing very well, in comparison with doing nothing, but they are denied the tools—as the report that he has published make clear—that would enable them to compete as effectively with Scotland as they wish. Many people in the north-east of England are now looking to us and considering the ways in which we could collaborate across the border, and I wish them well in that endeavour.

I will say just a word or two about Brazil, which is now part of the BRIC acronym—Brazil, Russia, India and China—that denotes the next wave of successful economies that will come to the fore in the world in the years to come. When I visited Brazil in 1982, it was in very deep difficulties indeed. In the eight days I was there, the value of the cruzeiro—Brazil’s currency—halved, and by the time I got back home and received my credit card statement with my transactions from Brazil, I actually had to pay less than one fifth of what the price had been when the transaction was conducted. That economy was in a difficult place.

However, the Brazilian Government then recognised that capital investment was essential to get the country out of the hole it was in. For example, the Government supported a university engineering course that included an exercise to design a commuter aircraft. That project led to Embraer, whose aircraft can now be seen at all our major airports—including Edinburgh, Aberdeen and Glasgow—operating regional routes around Europe. It is now a successful company. Out of adversity, the right investment policies by Government, through its enterprise agencies, can lead to successful outcomes.

Let us not imagine, however, that every investment will be successful. Indeed, it is necessary that we are not so risk averse as to invest only in certainties. We must be prepared to take some of our money and put it into projects that involve slightly higher risks than we might otherwise want. Some of those will pay off big style, but we should be prepared to carry the can for those that do not, and we should be prepared to make such investments.

Tavish Scott took a pop at Kevin Stewart’s references to The Economist, but I must say that The Economist is an excellent newspaper. My wife used to write for it, so I am bound to say that. It was deeply offensive to Scotland for The Economist to include on its cover, in the edition to which Tavish Scott referred, a map of Scotland with the label “Skintland”. That label was actually quite disjointed from the article inside. I confess—please do not tell anyone that I did this—that, for some months afterwards, whenever I passed through a railway station, I moved The Economist behind other magazines, so ashamed was I that people might buy it.

Presiding Officer, I have—to use the minister’s word—oodles more that I could say. Would that I had the time to do so, but thank you very much.

17:07

5 September 2013

S4M-06993 Links with China

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Elaine Smith): The next item of business is a members’ business debate on motion S4M-06993, in the name of Graeme Pearson, on enhancing enterprise for Scotland and China. The debate will be concluded without any question being put.

Motion debated,

That the Parliament recognises and celebrates both the historical and contemporary links that exist between Scotland and China; notes that China is currently the second largest economy in the world, with many experts predicting that it will overtake the US as the largest within the next decade; supports all efforts to foster trade links between Scotland and China, including establishing a direct flight path from Scotland to China, but is concerned that visa regulations are not conducive to Chinese businesses operating in Scotland and vice versa; endorses the educational links that exist between Scotland and China, including what it understands is the high number of Chinese students who choose to study at Scottish universities and the links between schools in the south of Scotland and their Chinese counterparts; welcomes these links, and notes calls for the encouragement of the learning of Mandarin and Cantonese in Scottish schools and their twinning with Chinese schools.

12:34
... ... ...
12:50

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

I thank Graeme Pearson for providing the opportunity to have this important debate.

None of us will be any more than a couple of metres from something that has some Chinese technology in it. Very few of us will be more than a couple of generations away from people in our family who went to and engaged directly in China. In my case, a rather distant cousin of mine, James Jeffrey, died in Shanghai at the age of 33 in 1870. The connections between Scotland and China go a very long way back. We should not get too complacent about them, because we played a not too creditable role in the exploitation of the Chinese population in the opium industry, but the world moves on and I think that we are in a substantially better place.

My wife and I had the great privilege to go to China immediately after the end of the cultural revolution; we arrived there on 4 November 1978. We had had our names on the waiting list for a couple of years. When we put our names on it, we could not afford to go, so the delay was welcome as it enabled us to save up enough money.

When we went to Beijing in November 1978, we found a country substantially different from that which one would find today. We saw not a single privately owned car while we were in China in the 1970s. Today in Beijing, the number of cars per 100 households is 60. That compares to something like 35 per 100 households in London and somewhere in the 40s per 100 households in Edinburgh and Glasgow. That is not all good news, but it is a very strong indicator of the economic progress that is being made. All the premium car makers have assembly plants out there. Indeed, the MG is now a Chinese-owned brand.

We also had the immense privilege to go down to Kunming in Yunnan province—that was accidental; we had not intended to go there. Kunming is not well known, but it is the other end of the road to Mandalay, which most people will know about. We were told—this was not verified, but it could certainly be true—that we were the first westerners to go there since the revolution in the 1940s.

The history of Scotland’s engagement with China was writ large in that visit in 1978. The English that people spoke—and it was spoken widely—was spoken with a Scottish accent, because the original tutors of English to the Chinese were Scots missionaries. Not everything about engagement with the Scots missionaries was good, but that was. Businesses such as Jardine Matheson in Hong Kong, which has Scottish roots, continue to this day.

In 1978 we were some five months away from a referendum on establishing a Scottish assembly—the vote was held on 1 March 1979. Everywhere I went in China in 1978 I was asked questions about that referendum. Then, just as now, the Chinese knew about and were interested in what was going on in Scotland.

The motion before us touches a lot of important buttons. I will say a word or two in my concluding remarks about air links. As transport minister, I probably had five or six meetings with Chinese interests and I know that the current minister does the same. The barrier that we have is a rather odd one: it is the difficulty around the Boeing Dreamliner, which is the only aircraft that fits the runway lengths that we have here and can go to China in a single hop. There is actually a huge advantage for Scotland, because Edinburgh and Glasgow airports are closer to Beijing in flying distance than London Heathrow. The Chinese are interested in making a Scottish airport their European hub connection airport. Let us hope that we can do that. I congratulate Graeme Pearson again.

12:54

4 September 2013

Programme for Government 2013-14

The Presiding Officer (Tricia Marwick): The next item of business is the continuation of the debate on the Scottish Government’s programme for government for 2013-14.

15:20
... ... ...
15:48

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

Members may recall that, just before recess, the Subordinate Legislation Committee, of which I was the deputy convener, was translated to a higher purpose, and it is now the Delegated Powers and Law Reform Committee. Therefore I am particularly pleased that among the bills that the Government is bringing forward is a bill that has come from the Scottish Law Commission report “Review Of Contract Law: Report On Formation Of Contract: Execution In Counterpart”, because that appears to be precisely the sort of bill that it is thought might now come to the DPLR committee.

It is a little, modest bill, one might imagine, but it steps right back into some of the history of Scotland, and I will come to that later in my jamming session about this exciting piece of legislation. Essentially, the bill is about providing three things to businesses: security, privacy and certainty when they are conducting contract completion by other than the traditional means of bits of paper and everybody having to get to the same place. Essentially, it creates a legal framework for us to send documents across the ether with security, privacy and certainty, and thereby complete contracts. That will save effort and speed things up in business, which I am sure will be very welcome.

The bill is part of a larger agenda to use the electronic world to speed up processes in business and in government. Much more of our life is now online, and businesses want the legal certainty to be able to use the online world to a greater extent.

To make this work, we must rely on a piece of software called RSA, which was developed by and named after three eminent gentlemen called Rivest, Shamir and Adleman—incidentally, a Hindu, a Muslim and a Jew working together, which is quite interesting. That is due entirely to the UK Government. A brilliant scientist called Clifford Cocks, working for Government Communications Headquarters, developed that technology in 1973, but the UK Government decided that it was so powerful and so secret that it was bound by the Official Secrets Act until 1997. As a result, the United States, which had no such material inhibitions on the technology, grasped the commercial opportunity. The US now owns the rights to the encryption software that protects our financial and other transactions on the internet. It did not do us much of a good turn in that regard.

In the past week, President Obama described his country as

“the world’s oldest constitutional democracy.”

We have seen some abuses of power in this area by the US National Security Agency, but at least there are constitutional remedies. I would like to see, in an independent Scotland, a constitution that enables us to provide in law safeguards for the citizen and for businesses that guarantee the protection of data. At present, of course, the Scotland Act 1998 prevents us from doing so, in particular at section B8 of part 2 of schedule 5, which designates the interception of communications as a reserved matter.

There is a limit to what we can do. However, we have the intellectual horsepower in Scotland to build on the bill that I have mentioned, which creates a framework for one small part of the electronic communications world and gives us an opportunity to move into other areas. We can genuinely be a world leader if we can look further at what we are doing through the bill, and if we can get the powers that are currently reserved to Westminster.

The technology is new, but it is not new. Mary, Queen of Scots used exactly the same technology as we now use through RSA to communicate with her lovers. She did not use a mathematical origin, but she had a special box with two locks on it. The trick in protecting communications is not to share your key with anyone. She had the key to one lock and her lover had the key to the other lock, and there were no duplicates. The message was put in the box, and she locked her lock. The box was sent to her lover and he locked his lock, and it was sent back to her, and so on. In an insecure world, that box could travel around and nobody could open it. That is the technology that will be at the heart of a particular piece of our legislation. Well done, Mary, Queen of Scots. The First Minister, who comes from Linlithgow, where Mary was born, will be particularly pleased.

That story illustrates perfectly a fundamental truth about where we are. I can speak of many of the things that we have to do only in the following terms. We are limiting ourselves, when we use devolved powers, to using a teaspoon to bail us out of the consequences of the substantial problems that we face, such as the financial tsunami and the cuts from Westminster. Let us get to where we can use the bulldozer of full powers, so that we can do so much more.

15:54

Stewart Stevenson
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