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13 January 2015

S4M-12034 Protecting Public Services

The Deputy Presiding Officer (John Scott): The next item of business is a debate on motion S4M-12034, in the name of Keith Brown, on protecting public services.

14:26
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15:53

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

Let me start on a consensual note and congratulate the Labour Party on the third part of its amendment, which

“calls on all parties to work together to tackle inequality, support economic growth and proudly protect Scotland’s public services.”

That is pretty hard to disagree with. Essentially, of course, it just replaces the last part of the Government’s motion, which it deletes, with a slightly different formulation. More significant is what the Labour Party’s amendment takes out of the Government’s motion, which is most of it.

First, we might look at the deletion of the reference to and criticism of

“the impact that the UK Government’s austerity agenda will have on the delivery of public services”

Labour obviously disagrees with that, as it deletes it from the Government’s motion.

Secondly, Labour’s amendment seeks to delete from the Government’s motion the reference to welfare cuts of £15 billion, so clearly the party agrees with those cuts.

Ken Macintosh rightly referred to the fact that Government spending at UK level currently makes up the smallest proportion of national income since the 1930s, but at 5 o’clock he will, if he so chooses, vote for a Labour amendment that seeks to delete the reference to that fact from the Government’s motion.

The reality is that Labour’s biggest and most important proposed deletion from the Government’s motion relates to spending money on weapons of mass destruction rather than on other things. The motion is drawn quite widely and covers all levels of government. I will spend a bit of my time highlighting the need for proper defence for Scotland and our interests, which is an issue that also touches on the UK’s wider interests.

Scotland contributes disproportionately more soldiers than does elsewhere in the UK. When our soldiers were peacekeeping in Kosovo, they had to use their personal mobile phones for communication because the Army’s mark IV radios were so poor that they did not work properly in the mountainous terrain. That is because money was not spent on developing communications systems that were fit for purpose.

When our soldiers were in Iraq, they were ordering boots by email from suppliers in the UK because the rubber soles on the boots that the Army had provided were melting in the desert sands. The equipment was not fit for purpose.

More fundamentally, in Afghanistan, the UK has so few helicopters that only 5 per cent of soldiers have gone to points of application by helicopter, in comparison with 95 per cent of US soldiers. The most dangerous part of deployment is when soldiers travel from their barracks to the point of application. As a result, the casualty rate among UK military personnel has been 50 per cent higher than the rate for the US military, because we are not investing money in the right equipment for our troops. That diminishes their effectiveness and leaves Scotland and the UK vulnerable.

In the past week, we have seen further evidence of underinvestment. As a result of money being diverted to weapons of mass destruction that will never be used in our maritime interests, we have had to scrounge support from other countries when there appeared to be threats off our shores.

Scotland has the longest coastline in Europe—in fact, our coastline is half the length of that of China, which is one of the biggest countries in the world after Russia. Every single country around us has a proper defence system. The Irish have maritime surveillance aircraft, as do the Icelanders and the Norwegians, but the UK has none. The Irish have eight vessels posted around their coasts to provide coastal defence, and the Icelanders also have vessels, but there is not a single vessel based in Scotland for the purposes of coastal defence or support.

Spending our money on weapons of mass destruction not only deprives our public services and public servants of proper funding; it does not even serve the purposes of defence by any reasonable measure that one might apply.

We need to get the basics right rather than spend money on weapons of mass destruction. I seek to make not a moral case against such weapons, as easy as that would be, but a simple pragmatic case that highlights the current priorities that the Labour Party, in common with other parties, seeks to delete from the motion. I assume that Mr Findlay and all his Labour colleagues will, at 5 o’clock, vote to spend £100 billion on new nuclear weapons.

There are only two of us in the chamber who were born—I think—before the creation of the national health service; I will not name the other member. I was fortunate—as others have been fortunate since the health service was founded—because my parents were able to afford the cost of approximately £50 for an operation for my mother so that she could conceive me and give birth. There may be members in the chamber who regret that, but the kind of benefit that I got from my family is now, through the health service, extended to all our population.

I congratulate the Labour Party on having created the health service back then; would that the party once again adhered to the principles that carried the health service into being and resiled from the cuts agenda to which it is now irrevocably wedded.

16:00

Stewart Stevenson
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