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25 September 2014

S4M-10988 Accessible Tourism

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Elaine Smith): Good afternoon. The first item of business this afternoon is a debate on motion S4M-10988, in the name of Fergus Ewing, on accessible tourism.

14:30
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16:12

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

I will kind of disagree with everybody who has spoken so far in the debate, because we have been utterly without ambition in our contributions, and I intend to remedy that in my seven minutes or so.

We have just heard from Rob Gibson, who said that

“we are not there yet.”

However, nobody has described what “there” is. Nobody has said what the world would look like if we had a blank canvas and we drew it anew. The reality is that the world that we all seek is one in which there are no special facilities for people with special needs or disabilities, not because we do not provide for them but because every facility meets their needs and everybody uses them.

Is that hopelessly ambitious? Not necessarily. Those who have travelled on a class 170 train on our railways—they are the trains that are mostly used between Edinburgh and Glasgow, so many members might have done that—will know that the toilets are disabled capable. They are not disabled toilets, as we all use them. Why should that not be the case everywhere?

Dennis Robertson: Will Mr Stevenson take a brief intervention?

Stewart Stevenson: I will in a minute or two, but I want to say a little more first.

We have spent far too much time focusing on people’s inabilities and not enough time on realising people’s capabilities that we currently do not provide for. I will give a few examples. A colleague that I used to work with was registered blind and his visual acuity was, in essence, restricted to being able to distinguish light from dark, yet one of his hobbies was flying gliders. He did not do it on his own, but he was able to fly gliders. Was that not stepping up to something ambitious?

Do members know that it is possible for people to get a private pilots licence when they have only one eye and they cannot hear? Why should not more people who have only one eye and no hearing get that pilots licence? Why do we not have cookery courses, or gardening courses, for people with a range of shortcomings in sight, hearing or touch? Why should not holidays for people with some restricted capabilities also be holidays for their carers? Taking on holiday another team of carers would double the economic benefit and the benefit to individuals.

When we get away from the ghettoisation of some members of our community and we are all the same and all accessing the same facilities, that will be the real triumph.

Dennis Robertson: The gold standard was spoken about earlier by Nanette Milne and Jamie Hepburn in relation to Crathie Opportunity Holidays, whose chalets are fully accessible not only to people with mobility or sensory impairments but to people who have no mobility or sensory impairments whatsoever. The beauty of such a facility is that it shows that the gold standard can happen, because it is fully accessible to all regardless of need.

Stewart Stevenson: Delightful, excellent and a model for everywhere, but we succeed only when everywhere is like that. I do not think that we are setting our ambition high enough. Of course, in reality we can probably never realise every aspect of that ambition. However, if we aim for the highest possible standard and drop a little bit short, is that not better than aiming for mediocrity and succeeding? I say to colleagues around the chamber that that is the key message.

There are a few other things that have not been mentioned. There is a range of sensory deprivations that people might have and ways in which we might stimulate the senses. That might particularly be the case for people with a degree of mental ill health, who might benefit from being able to go into a garden and just listen to the bumblebees gathering the pollen from the flowers. As someone without any particular needs, I love doing that. There was a garden for smells in Aberdeen at one stage—I do not know whether it is still there—which people with particular needs felt were interesting.

In my intervention on the minister, I talked about the need to consider people who are suffering ill health, whether it is temporary or permanent, and who are unable to get insurance to travel internationally and are experiencing some limitations. We must include those people. That means, for example, that they need to have confidence that they can get their specialist medicines if they need them in, perhaps, Acharacle or some more distant part of Scotland. We need to ensure that that happens and that local medical people can get access to their records if they are required in order to give confidence to the people concerned that that will be possible.

Let us not underrate the ambition of people who have apparent restrictions. A great event—I have not heard of it for a wee while—was the Grampian Society for the Blind racetrack day, when blind people drove around a racetrack. Someone sat beside them saying “Left”, “Right”, “Slow down” and occasionally “SLOW DOWN!” That was great excitement for people who are blind. Of course, us sighted people got blindfolds and drove around the track blind as well, and we were not nearly as fast as the people who had no sight at all.

I think, too, of Evelyn Glennie, who plays in an orchestra and yet has no hearing. Why should we not encourage people who have no hearing to follow Evelyn Glennie’s example and have a holiday playing in an orchestra and learning an instrument? We have got to use every means to create the opportunity for people to extend their experience and capabilities and test their limits. That applies to us all, by the way. This is not a ghetto issue, but a matter for all of us. That is what life is about. It is about grabbing it by the throat and trying new things. We must create a society and a world in which that is possible.

We will triumph when there are no disabled signs visible anywhere. We will triumph when everybody is treated equally and has equal opportunity. It may not be possible, but it is about time that we started to think in terms of trying.

16:19

S4M-10672 Hydroelectric Dams and Tunnels (Contribution of Building Workers)

The Deputy Presiding Officer (John Scott): The next item of business is a members’ business debate on motion S4M-10672, in the name of Annabelle Ewing, on remembering the contribution of those who built the dams and tunnels. The debate will be concluded without any question being put.

Motion debated,

That the Parliament notes plans by Scottish and Southern Energy to develop a new state-of-the-art visitor centre at Pitlochry Dam and salmon ladder; recognises the contribution that this and other hydroelectric dams and tunnels throughout Scotland can make as tourist attractions as well as their primary function contributing to Scotland’s renewable electricity generation; respects the contribution made by the men, of many nationalities, who built the dams and tunnels, such as the Lednock “Tunnel Tigers”, who set a world record by tunnelling 557 feet in seven days in 1955 while working on the St Fillans section of the Breadalbane Hydro-Electric scheme; further recognises that this was hard, dangerous work and that a number of men lost their lives and countless others experienced injury or illness that affected them for the rest of their lives; understands that some of the public visitor information boards list several nationalities of workers in the tunnels but make no reference to Irish workers, and looks forward to the new visitor centre properly reflecting the contributions of all of the men who built the dams and tunnels.

12:32
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12:48

Stewart Stevenson (Banffshire and Buchan Coast) (SNP): I congratulate my colleague Annabelle Ewing on lodging the motion and giving us time to debate the important matters that it raises.

Like others, I have connections with the issue, which are various. Among the many jobs that I have had, I have never worked on a hydro scheme or in a tunnel—except when I was around 10 or 11, when we used to build tunnels with a former tunneller from a Stalag Luft prisoner-of-war camp. However, that was a very different thing that is not to be compared at all with what we are talking about.

As a family, we used to camp regularly at Ardgualich farm, which is just below the Queen’s view on Loch Tummel. One of the highlights of all our visits there was the salmon ladder. My father, my brother and I were enthusiastic brown-trout fishermen, and to gaze in awe at the big brother—the salmon—was well worth doing. We aspired to catch it, but that would have required us to pay out money for a licence, or to find some other way of being able to fish for salmon, which we would not have contemplated.

The building of dams and tunnels is a substantial engineering issue. We sometimes forget how much the Victorians achieved in their engineering. For example, we should consider their achievement in building the Union canal—a topical name—which traverses the whole of central Scotland with a rise and fall of no more than 4 inches.

The Victorians, in building their tunnels, bridges and cofferdams, developed an impressive set of technologies. Some of the challenges involved in such work are quite substantial. The adiabatic lapse rate means that, for every 1,000 feet that one goes down, the temperature rises by 1.98° and the barometric pressure rises by 33 millibars. In addition, one is exposed to the release of methane in underground workings. There is a wide range of natural challenges, to which we can add the challenge that Richard Simpson mentioned: the dust from such work is perfectly contained in a closed environment for those who are working to inhale, to the substantial detriment to their health.

When the Lednock tunnel tigers tunnelled 557 feet in a week, it was a huge achievement. They were able to do that perhaps because the rock in the area through which they were tunnelling was comparatively soft, but that would increase the risk of roof fall and people being killed as a result. It is unlikely that the tunnellers were drilling through granite at that rate of knots. However, those are formidable achievements that we can admire from a distance.

Like other members, I have a connection with the benefits of electricity. My wife lived in a council house a mere 6 miles out on the main road down to Fort William from Inverness, and was at secondary school before the household got electricity. It came, of course, from the work of the hydro. To this day, the very large oil lamp that used to illuminate my wife’s house and by which she did her early studying when she was at school adorns our living room. It is a very impressive piece of kit, at about two and a half feet tall.

The Irish and other workers—including Dr Simpson, as we now know—achieved much in building our dams and tunnels and contributing to our having one of the most green sources of electricity quite early in the development of the idea that that was a good thing. More fundamentally, getting electricity into the hills and glens is a substantial achievement that I am delighted that we are able to celebrate today. I look forward to visiting the new facilities, which will tell the tale again in a modern context and perhaps redress the omission, in particular, of the Irish navvies and the others who made such a big contribution.

12:53

23 September 2014

Referendum Debate

15:19

Stewart Stevenson (Banffshire and Buchan Coast) (SNP): This is the fifth referendum in which I have campaigned, starting with the 1975 European Economic Community referendum. Like other referenda, it has given us an opportunity to work across the grain of the established party-political structures. In 1975, I campaigned on behalf of the SNP against the EEC. However, I had my own private views and, when I voted, I did so against my party—I voted for the proposition. I am not sure that I have told many people that, but this is a good time for us all to recognise that political parties have neither control of their members and supporters nor a monopoly of wisdom. I know that, because I am one of those who have crossed that line.

In referenda, we build new teams to fight campaigns. I want to spend a couple of minutes talking about the First Minister’s abilities with regard to building teams.

I first met the First Minister in the mid-1970s when, as a student, he was the editor of the Free Student Press. I am not going to say anything that might pre-empt what he might write in his biography in due course. It is all on the public record; I simply want to remind members of the point. The Free Student Press was a great effort. It was a paper that went to every student in Scotland once a term, paid for by advertising and contributed to by many. I mysteriously found myself part of the team in a tiny way, providing some photographs. The First Minister drew me into that team, as he drew in others.

In West Lothian, during the 1979 referendum campaign, Alex Salmond essentially orchestrated a cross-party campaign, an SNP campaign and—because Tam Dalyell widnae dae it—the Labour campaign for yes. How many men can run three campaigns and not break sweat? That is magnificent. Indeed, in his book on the 1979 referendum, Neil Ascherson picked out the West Lothian campaign as being by far the most effective.

In 1987, Alex Salmond defeated the incumbent Tory in Banff and Buchan. At that time, employment in that constituency was in the worst quintile in Scotland. Unemployment was a significant problem. When he demitted that office in 2010, the constituency was in the best quintile for employment. Therefore, the First Minister was absolutely correct to focus on the need for real powers that generate employment. How did Banff and Buchan move from the worst quintile to the best? Every time there was a threat to a job, at the front of the queue, fighting for jobs, was the First Minister. That is what he has done throughout his political career, and I know that he will continue to do so.

Alex Salmond is a man who takes on immense challenges. There was no greater challenge than the one that presented itself in relation to the Peterhead fishing boat, the Sapphire, which sank within sight of the harbour mouth. The families who lost their loved ones—all on board were lost—sought to have the boat lifted so that they could recover their relations. It was an impossible task that no one else would have contemplated doing. However, somehow, within a matter of days, millions of pounds-worth of effort had been committed to the raising of the Sapphire and, at a quarter past 8 on 14 December 1997, the Sapphire was brought into Peterhead harbour by the barge Tak Lift VII. That was an achievement of great moment—one that involved building a team and bringing people in but, fundamentally, one that was focused on giving comfort to individual people. It had nothing to do with party politics and everything to do with doing the right thing by people.

Our First Minister is, rightly, robust in how he deals with perceived weakness and failure, but, when people need support in extremis, he is first in the queue to deliver it.

In 2007, Alex Salmond built a team that delivered the first ever SNP Government. It was a team of individuals who—including himself—had not a single minute of ministerial time between the lot of them, and he turned us all into a very effective team. In 2011, he earned the right to lead the first majority Government in this Parliament.

In 2014, we moved from a position of around 30 per cent support for yes to a vote of 45 per cent. We did not do that alone; we did it by building a team across political parties and people of no party. That is the result of the effort that Alex Salmond put in.

Today we are looking at a victory for the no vote that might yet be seen to be a pyrrhic victory. The leading article in today’s Australian says:

“The Scottish Nationalists need not despair: they have lost a battle but not necessarily the war.”

One of the great Chinese philosophers said, “Of the greatest leader, the people will say, ‘We did it ourselves.’” If there is a message from this referendum it is that we, the people, did it ourselves; Alex Salmond merely helped.

15:25

Stewart Stevenson
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