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6 September 2017

Programme for Government 2017-18

The Presiding Officer (Ken Macintosh):

Resumed debate.

14:43
... ... ...
15:10

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

Let me start my remarks by directing through you, Presiding Officer, some comments on Dean Lockhart’s speech. He referred to Scotland as the most highly taxed place in the UK. Of course, with a 25 per cent difference between Scotland and England in local taxation on premises, we would do well to remind ourselves which is the higher—it is not Scotland; it is England. It is Scotland that has taken 100,000 businesses out of local taxation altogether. We find different solutions in a different environment, but we certainly are not the highest-taxed part of the UK.

Dean Lockhart might also consider talking to his colleagues at Westminster about the plans that have been revealed, inadvertently it seems, to exclude, in particular in my constituency, thousands of workers in the fish-processing industry from future employment simply because of their nationality—because they are not UK citizens. If he genuinely thinks that it is a contribution to the Scottish economy to shut down that industry in the north-east of Scotland—and other industries elsewhere—I am afraid that he is deluded in the extreme.

I want to talk primarily about the environment. I particularly welcome making the A9 an electric road, as an addition to our existing electric road—I refer, of course, to the A719, or the electric brae, which is in Ayrshire. The second electric road in Scotland will be a true piece of innovation and it is connected to the ambition to have all-electric, or all-renewable, transport by 2032. That is a bold ambition to set, because we are not in control of everything that has to happen to make it happen.

Patrick Harvie (Glasgow) (Green): Will the member take an intervention?

Stewart Stevenson: I will come back, if I may.

It is a bold ambition simply because, at the moment, it would be very difficult to drive from Edinburgh to Inverness, however many charging points there are, because most electric cars have to stop and recharge.

I will take an intervention from Patrick Harvie now.

Patrick Harvie: I am grateful to the member.

Perhaps the member would be so helpful as to clarify. He said that the ambition was for Scotland to be wholly electric on transport by 2032. My recollection from yesterday’s statement was that new cars and vans that run on petrol and diesel would not be available for sale after that point. That is very different from saying that we will not use them.

Stewart Stevenson: I accept what the member says. If there was an imprecision, I am happy to be corrected.

Let us be quite clear that it is an ambitious thing for us to do, but we should not shy away from ambition. Those of us who were here in 2009 will recall that, when we discussed the Climate Change (Scotland) Bill, we did so in cross-party consensus, with every party represented in the Parliament making a contribution to the resulting Climate Change (Scotland) Act 2009. That is the sort of consensus that I hope we will continue to sustain on climate change.

It is interesting that, in the United States, where the President has withdrawn from the Paris accord, The Washington Post reports this very morning that the advice that he received that caused him to do that was from a right-wing think tank that has looked at the scientific consensus that climate change exists and is anthropogenic in its origins and which has concluded that the very existence of the consensus demonstrates that there is a scientific conspiracy to delude the public. Anyone who believes that believes in the tooth fairy and a wide range of other things.

The US approach is quite the most disappointing thing that has happened in the world of climate change in recent years, and it reinforces the need for climate change leaders such as Scotland to continue to apply themselves to the issue. The rest of the world will find it very hard to compensate for the excess emissions that come from the United States, but that should not stop us trying to do something.

In relation to my constituency, we heard about the acorn project at St Fergus and the welcome investment in that regard. It is also worth looking at the Hywind project. That is a floating wind farm, which the Norwegian oil company Statoil is installing off the coast of Peterhead. The project is reusing engineering skills that we have here, and the fundamental point, which goes to the heart of the long-term failure of the UK Government, is that it demonstrates how it is possible, with the proper regime, to recycle moneys from the oil industry into renewables.

Statoil is the state oil company, which was founded in 1972 on the back of the oil wealth of Norway. In the UK, Scottish oil resources were—frankly—flushed away in current account spending and were not invested in the future. That is the most shameful long-running failure of the UK Government in relation to Scotland and Scotland’s economy. It is a failure with which we live today and about which we have limited opportunity to do much.

Hurricane Harvey is a wake-up call about climate change. It has impacted on the price of oil world wide, with a quarter of United States refineries currently shut down, and Houston and the surrounding areas are awash with pollution and disease. Climate change is an issue for the whole world. Albeit that the issue is most critical for the parts of the world that are least able to respond to it, such as Africa and the middle east, it is the biggest challenge for all of us.

I hope that in Scotland we will continue to enjoy a broad consensus on the need to engage with climate change and support measures in that regard. We will continue to have vigorous debate about the detail, as is entirely proper, but I hope that we will sustain the consensus that led to the Climate Change (Scotland) Act 2009. We had high ambition then and are stepping up action now. This Government has a record that is second to none on climate change, the environment and the economy.

15:17

Stewart Stevenson
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