3 October 2018

Justice Committee: Remand

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Christine Grahame): The next item of business is a Justice Committee debate on remand.

... ... ...

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

I was previously the SNP shadow deputy justice minister, between September 2004 and May 2007, and as such I was responsible in particular for prisons. I am fortunate to have visited prisons in four countries, and I found that they work to very different patterns.

My parliamentary constituency, from the point at which I was elected, included Peterhead prison, which originally opened in 1888. It was a classic Victorian prison that was long overdue for replacement. Now, we have the modern HMP Grampian, which serves very different purposes and is much more of a local prison for a mixed prison population, including remand prisoners.

It is worth making the point that the committee’s report, which is wide in scope, makes many interesting and useful recommendations that have led us to today’s useful debate. I want to start with a few observations on statistics, on which almost every contributor this afternoon has made comment.

In the course of the 270-plus justice committee meetings that I have attended since being elected—it feels like even more at times, Presiding Officer—we have made visits to many different places, and one that I remember in particular was a Monday visit to Glasgow sheriff court. There were eight courts running in parallel, and the court that we were visiting was dealing with the weekend incarcerations. There were 59 appearances in the hour for which we were in that court, and a fair number of them ended up as remands. We have to ask ourselves how much consideration was given to the remand process when the time that was being spent per case was about one minute. That is a good and valid question that we should properly ask ourselves.

It is also worth making the point—this is my judgment, and that is all, although it was shared by other members who were present at the time—that there was not a newcomer among the 59 people. They all knew the system, so I could see where the judge was coming from.

However, I would like to focus on the proportion of people who are subsequently convicted, having been remanded, but are not imprisoned thereafter. That is the part of the issue that might be most susceptible, if it were to be studied in depth, of giving us information. If we were to look at a case in which a judge decided, for whatever reason, that remand was the proper thing to do—part of that reason would, I presume, be the consideration that imprisonment might be the ultimate end—we should be able to see why there appears to be a mismatch between the judgment that was made at remand and the ultimate outcome. That might particularly inform us, and perhaps the judicial system, about remand decisions. The Government might consider getting an academic to look at an appropriate number of cases that fit those criteria.

The committee report, at paragraph 154, discusses what informs a remand decision, and a series of things is listed, but it makes the comment that

“decisions are usually made under significant time pressures”.

I have seen that and I think that the report is spot on. Similarly, the report mentions the fact that there is some data and that some courts have a tick list to record it. As the committee recommends, that could be more widely done.

In evidence, the Sheriffs Association said that

“written reasons for refusal of bail are provided if an appeal is taken”,

but only then. Most of the reasons are given orally.

I have been in court and watched witnesses and accused persons hear a rapid oral delivery of various information about bail conditions and so forth, and it is perfectly clear that people do not absorb all that information. There is a danger that justice is not being served if we do not write information down and ensure that the prisoner and their lawyer get it and know exactly what is happening.

In the short time that I have remaining, I will make a comment or two about health. The committee noted in paragraph 84 that even when remand is someone’s only experience of prison, the mark of prison is left on the person, which carries considerable risk.

In paragraph 98, the committee said:

“The Committee considers that procedures should be in place to ensure that, where appropriate, remand prisoners retain access to prescribed medication”.

I am picking at the committee’s choice of words: I do not know what “where appropriate” means in that context. I would have thought that there would be almost no occasion when a prisoner should be denied access to medication that had been prescribed by a qualified practitioner from elsewhere.

Jenny Marra (North East Scotland) (Lab): A few years ago, the Government decided that the NHS would take over health services in prisons. Does the member share my concern that there appears not to be more seamless provision between health services outside prison and services inside prison as a result of the change?

Stewart Stevenson: With the NHS supporting people in the community and in prison, one might imagine that sharing data would be easier than it would be if other arrangements were in place. That is certainly something that we should look at. I think that there are general issues to do with medical data, which sometimes get in the way of what health professionals do.

On the immediate needs referral, which is being piloted, the Government said in its response to the committee’s report:

“Whilst there is no statutory obligation, where local resources permit, establishments may extend this model to include those on remand.”

I encourage the Government to act on that worthy thought.

The whole issue of the NHS, on which I have just taken an intervention, is covered in the Government’s response.

The report is useful. The Government is listening—I see the minister has been making extensive notes during the debate, and I am sure that she will read the Official Report. I hope that the finance secretary will also read it.


27 September 2018

S5M-14094 Veterans and the Armed Forces Community (Support)

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Linda Fabiani): The next item of business is a debate on motion S5M-14094, in the name of Clare Haughey, on Scottish Government support for veterans and the armed forces community in Scotland.

... ... ...

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

I declare that I am a northern area committee member of the Highland Reserve Forces and Cadets Association, and in that role I am happy to support reservists, many of whom are former servicemen. I noted James Dornan’s reference to the cadets, who play a valuable role, often under the leadership of former service personnel and who work with young people across Scotland and the UK.

The Highland RFCA covers approximately one quarter of the landmass of the United Kingdom, extending north from the Forth and Clyde valley to encompass the whole of the Scottish Highlands and Islands.

On Tuesday, I had the privilege of meeting the Defence Medical Welfare Service, which Brian Whittle referred to. That is a fantastic organisation that, since 1943, has given support to more than 1 million patients and their families. I was greatly impressed by the work that has been done by that organisation and by many others. It was a privilege to hear many of its stories on Tuesday.

The backdrop to all this was well illustrated when, in May 1915, Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae wrote the poem “In Flanders Fields” after witnessing the death of his friend the day before:

“We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.”

That illustrates the experience of service personnel and it should be no surprise that that experience can lead to people having needs after they have served in the forces; we are addressing those needs today and will have to address them for a long time. The poem has echoed down the 100-plus years since it was written, and is the reason why we wear a little red poppy on armistice day. As I said in my intervention on the minister, we approach the 100-year anniversary of the armistice, not the end of the conflict, and we should celebrate that. We have seen many memorial services and preparations to honour those who fought in that great conflict, and the great sacrifices that they made.

In my life, I have been fortunate enough to travel to many corners of the world, in many of which one sees the imperial war graves. When I was in Burma, some 40 years ago, the only thing that seemed to work effectively was the graveyard outside of Rangoon, where every blade of grass was within a millimetre of its neighbour, where the book of remembrance was pristine and where the memorial was excellent. Nothing else in that country worked properly, so it was great to see such dedication.

A week ago in my constituency, the community came together for the re-dedication of a memorial marking the commencement of the war. Bands played, prayers were given, and scriptures and poems were recited, including the poem that I just quoted. The Lord Lieutenant of Banffshire, Clare Russell, said:

“The dedication will in no way glorify war or mark any kind of celebration of what was one of the darkest moments in the history of mankind. Rather it will be an occasion for people to remember and to work for peace.”

It was a truly inter-generational tribute, as members of the Royal British Legion stood alongside uniformed youth organisations. That happened around Scotland, which indicates the respect and regard that we have for our veterans.

I am proud that we have taken the steps that we have in Scotland. Other nations in these islands equally respect our veterans, but they support them in different ways and they could learn a little bit from the way that we do it.

Gordon MacDonald referred to the Scottish veterans fund, which has supported 19 projects in the past year and continues to be an important support that is provided to veterans.

The motion before us refers to Eric Fraser, the former veterans commissioner—many members have referred to him, too—and to Colonel Charlie Wallace, our new veterans commissioner. The commissioner’s role is important, because there are something like 400,000 veterans in Scotland who have served in our armed forces at some point in their lives. Further, about 20,000 people in the UK leave our armed forces every year, and the transition to civilian life can be quite difficult for some people.

There are more than 50 veterans organisations in Scotland, which are part of the 300-plus charities that Maurice Corry referred to. Poppy Scotland is well known to us, as is veterans first point. Those organisations, often working with the Scottish Government, are integral to what we do.

The Scottish veterans commissioner’s report described testimony from John Johnston, a veteran and a research project officer at Borders general hospital, who was helped by veterans first point. John stated:

“The whole ethos of veterans first point is that they go the extra mile for everyone who accesses the service. They helped me get out of the house and meet with like-minded people which ultimately is the reason I am still here today.

“Even once you’ve finished treatment or completed a programme ... it never closes its doors on you.”

My personal connections are modest. I inform James Dornan that my father knew Lloyd George. He was his election agent when he stood for the rectorship of Edinburgh university. And his cousin James Stevenson was in Lloyd George’s Government during the first world war and was ennobled by Ramsay MacDonald in the 1920s.


19 September 2018

S5M-13945 Primary 1 Tests

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Christine Grahame): The next item of business is a debate on motion S5M-13945, in the name of Liz Smith, on primary 1 tests.

... ... ...

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

I am afraid that, of all the speakers so far, I probably bring to the debate the least amount of relevant life experience. Three years of lecturing postgraduate students does not qualify me as a teacher—that is for sure—and I am not a dad, so I have nothing to offer in those respects. On the other hand, I have nine great-nieces and great-nephews, a goddaughter and seven nephews and nieces, so I have had some exposure to the issue.

I will pick up on what Daniel Johnson said about multiple-choice tests being stressful. I found it quite stressful to stand beside my goddaughter with a Portsoy Ice Cream gift voucher in her hand—she was not yet three years old—as we experienced the multiple choice of 32 flavours of ice cream. That illustrates the general point that developing skills starts early. I think that by the time they get to five, every child has gone through many multiple-choice examinations; it is just that none of them has been in the academic sector. There is nothing unfamiliar to them in being presented with choices. That is an illustration of how we might all be guilty of overplaying some of the issues.

In the early stages of the debate—this was remedied later, in particular by Alison Harris—members made comparatively little mention of children, but we should put children, rather than teachers, at the centre of the debate. However, teachers are clearly not unimportant and neither are parents. That is for sure.

The real thing in the debate is that the Conservatives have changed their minds: they are entitled so to do. I have occasionally changed my mind, and my political colleagues have occasionally changed theirs. There is nothing wrong with that. If new information comes along, new conclusions can, reasonably, be reached.

However, the question is on what the overall Tory position is on testing, which takes me back to my intervention on Liz Smith, during the first speech in the debate. South of the border, the Tories are moving in a very different direction. From September 2020, the new reception baseline assessment will be statutory for all pupils in England. That is for the reception class or, in other words, kindergarten—before pupils get to primary school. That will be coupled with testing in the first and second years of primary school.

The National Foundation for Educational Research said:

“Our experience in producing a reception baseline assessment in 2015 demonstrated that it is possible to undertake a robust assessment of children’s language, literacy and numeracy skills at this age.”

In other words, at age four, five or six. We should hold on to that expert advice. It is vitally important to lasting and significant change that parents and teachers be provided with transparent and consistent information. That is what the Tories are introducing in England. They have bluntly tried to disconnect the Tories in Scotland from that and take a different position, but there is one Tory party, so I am not at all clear on what basis we should properly look—

Liz Smith: I have to say that there is a lot of opposition and concern about what is happening south of border for exactly the same reasons as there are concerns up here.

Stewart Stevenson: I think that we had a confession there that the Tories are getting it wrong, which is quite interesting. If they are getting it wrong in England, it is perfectly possible for us to consider that they might be getting it wrong in Scotland. [Applause.]

Brian Whittle (South Scotland) (Con): It is interesting that we would take a different position from the one that has been taken down south. Will Mr Stevenson concede that the SNP might be getting it wrong up here?

Stewart Stevenson: I am rarely accused of getting it wrong and I never admit to it. That is not true.

I always look at evidence, but the evidence in this case is that, as has been the case for Maureen Watt, not one constituent has contacted me on the subject. It is simply not the talk of the steamie among those for whom it matters—the pupils and the parents. That is the kind of evidence that is driving me.

It has been said that children at age four, five or six should not be exposed to computers. I spent 30 years working in computers, but I find that most six-year-olds are more adept at working a tablet than I am. Therefore, that is not a particularly credible argument.

Even in Denmark, local government wants to introduce statutory testing for three-year-olds in kindergarten. There are many different ways of looking at the problem. I am very happy to support the Scottish Government’s approach.

Finally, testing is important. Would we let a driver on the road without their having passed the driving test?


13 September 2018

S5M-13876 Food and Drink

The Presiding Officer (Ken Macintosh): Good afternoon. The next item of business is a debate on motion S5M-13876, in the name of Fergus Ewing, on celebrating Scotland’s food and drink success story.

... ... ...

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

It is interesting to hear a Tory member talk about the Chequers plan and demand that the SNP gets behind it. I will be interested to hear when the Conservative Party gets behind it—it has at least six different views on the Chequers plan. However, I am not going to waste time on the Conservative Party’s internal difficulties, which at every turn it tries to deflect on to others who are trying to do the right thing for Scotland.

Our food and drink fortnight is an excellent example of Scotland coming together—mostly, members have done that in this afternoon’s debate—to promote the great-quality food that we produce in our country. I agree with Mr Chapman about the importance of salmon farming, although it is by no means the only food and drink export that we have, as we have heard from others.

The vision of Scotland as a good food nation is one that, in this year of young people, we should relate to the contribution of future generations, in particular. James Withers, the chief executive of Scotland Food & Drink, said:

“Now is an exciting time to be involved in the sector in Scotland and the opportunity for the next generation to raise the bar even higher is hugely compelling.”

I absolutely agree.

On Tuesday this week, Austin Wilkins from the United States joined me as a new intern. He has told me that, at secondary school, he participated in the Future Farmers of America, which is an organisation that seeks to educate people on where their food comes from and to help them to value their food better. When it surveyed a group, one person asked whether only brown cows could make chocolate milk. That is a classic, albeit humorous, example of the disconnect between people’s understanding of food and the real importance of food.

Scotland has almost 20,000 food businesses that employ well over 100,000 people, but whatever the outcome of Brexit will be, it is currently overhanging our industry and its success. I need only cite the example of live langoustines, the premium product that comes largely from the north-east. They go on the buggy to Boulogne-sur-Mer market once a week. If they arrive at 8 o’clock in the morning, they get the price that they command by virtue of their quality, but if they are delayed only until 2 o’clock in the afternoon, they get half the price that they would have got at 8 o’clock in the morning. The challenge lies in how long they will have to wait in the queues to get into France and reach Boulogne-sur-Mer. That is an example of the practical risks that we face if we do not get Brexit right.

Geographical indication status is very important to many of our great Scottish products, particularly Scotch whisky, which has been well regarded around the world for more than a century. Since the Immature Spirits (Restriction) Act 1915, for which my cousin was responsible in Parliament, the whisky has been kept in bond, which has improved its quality. Previously, I referred to the American whisky industry’s desire to have us abandon that three-year storage and go down to one year, to level the playing field.

Whisky has challenges around the world. Many years ago, when I first went to Nepal and walked down Khatmandu’s main street, the Durbar Marg, in the windows was something that looked superficially like Vat 69 whisky. However, it was Kat 69, with the “K” carefully drawn to obscure the fact that it was Nepalese whisky. We are copied all over the place: India has a huge second-hand market in Johnnie Walker bottles; and when I asked for whisky in Burma 40 years ago, what I received was purported to be Scotch whisky but had the faint flavour of paraffin—it had been made out the back the night before.

A great industry in my constituency that sounds as if it is simple is seed potatoes, but it is an eight-figure-a-year industry. It is one of many. Let us support them all.


5 September 2018

Programme for Government 2018-19

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Linda Fabiani): We continue the debate on the Scottish Government’s programme for government 2018-19.

... ... ...

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

That was an interesting opening observation from the Conservative benches. It is the first time that I have heard Murdo Fraser boast that the pound in his pocket is worth less than it was worth before Conservative policies and actions affected it. I will welcome hearing what he says in two years’ time when the effect of higher costs for importing components that are required for manufacturing industry in these islands hits home. There is a short-term benefit, but the long term is much more problematic. We should talk about Brexit in relation to the economy. It is a huge challenge to the Scottish economy and the economy in these islands, but it will not inhibit the Scottish Government from taking the actions that will support Scotland’s further development.

I will say a few words about a few of the announcements in yesterday’s statement from the First Minister. Before I talk about banking, I remind members of my entry in the register of members’ interests. I spent 30 years in banking and came into politics to improve my reputation.

I strongly support the establishment of the Scottish national investment bank. The way that the world of finance and cash works is changing fundamentally for businesses and will do so even more for individuals. For example, in Sweden, there are now only 25 bank branches that deal with cash because the society has, in essence, become cashless. We will get there as well. The Scottish national investment bank, which will focus primarily on investment in the first instance, could in the longer term consider how we support communities that will lose more and more local branches—as they are already—so that the right kind of financial services are available. That will often be through technology assisted by trained people.

I welcome the proposed biometrics bill. I encourage the Government to pay close attention to what has happened in India with the Aadhaar system. That is an identity card system that has issued cards to 1.22 billion cardholders since 2009. An important point about it is that around 50 per cent of the cardholders are functionally illiterate. Therefore, it is an easy-access system and it has many lessons for what we might want to do on biometrics. The Aadhaar card is based on retinal scans.

I will say a wee thing about electoral reform. I hope that we can persuade the Boundary Commission for Scotland to give us more granular detail when it makes boundary changes so that we can see what houses are at the edges of our constituencies. It is not a big deal.

On non-domestic rates, I would like the Government to work with the assessors on how they factor empty premises into the assessment of the value of rents. In the north-east of Scotland, quite a lot of fish factories are empty. The actual rents paid are taken into account for the ones that are occupied, but no account is taken of the fact that it is impossible to let other factories at that rate of rent. The assessment should be made across the board. The valuers know about the empty factories because they consider them as well. I will talk to them about it because I realise that the Government does not control that subject, although it provides guidance.

I warmly welcome the increased investment in infrastructure. I hope that we will think about whether we can support industries that will be particularly hard hit by the absence of workers from Europe when people go back to Europe because of the immigration rules. Perhaps we can help the fish processing industry to increase its levels of automation and the soft fruit industry to develop new technologies for harvesting. In turn, that would create new products that we could sell around the world. I hope that those ideas will be considered for inclusion in the infrastructure investments. Of course, it is up to the industry to come forward with proposals and I have been talking to people in both of those industries about what they might do in that regard. That is about middle-term to long-term investments rather than short-term ones, but it is important nonetheless.

If you will allow me, Presiding Officer, as there is no motion, I will pick up on one thing that is not directly to do with the economy but which I am particularly interested in—the announcements in relation to mental health. In 1964, I worked in mental health as a nurse for eight months. My father-in-law was a psychiatric nurse and my sister-in-law is a psychiatric nurse. I am absolutely clear about the value of investing in people’s mental health and of helping people with early signs of mental ill-health in schools. That mental ill-health might otherwise develop into a real cost to the economy—to come back to that—but, more fundamentally, investing in mental health will benefit people in Scotland: it will improve their lives, not just their wallets.


26 June 2018

S5M-12842 National Health Service 70th Birthday

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Christine Grahame): The final item of business today is a members’ business debate on motion S5M-12842, in the name of Richard Leonard, on the NHS’s 70th birthday. The debate will be concluded without any question being put.

Motion debated,

That the Parliament celebrates 5 July 2018 as the 70th anniversary of the founding of the NHS; agrees with the words of its founder, Aneurin Bevan, that it is “a triumphant example of the superiority of collective action and public initiative”; believes that, each and every day, both in Central Scotland and throughout the country, there are countless examples of the importance and success of the NHS; thanks all health service staff, past and present, for their compassion and dedication in delivering care to people in need, and wishes the NHS a happy 70th birthday.

... ... ...

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

I start by paying tribute to things that the Labour Party has done, which is not a natural thing that members would expect me to do. However, in the past hundred years, the legislation that it has introduced to establish the national health service is a most significant and enduring achievement that we should all commend. In this Parliament, I have commended Jack McConnell in the past—and I do so again today—for his political courage in introducing legislation on smoking. The Labour Party is capable of getting things right. However, I have to draw one or two different conclusions from those that we have just heard in the contribution that has been made so far in this debate.

First, I remind members on the Labour benches that, in fact, the story of the national health service really started with the Highland and Islands medical service, which was established in 1913 and covered half of Scotland’s land mass. It was not free at the point of supply, but it set the limit on what people paid at a very low level so that, for the first time, ordinary working men and women had access to a health service.

In rolling out the service in the 1940s, Beveridge was drawing on that model, so the routes that have got us to where we are are more diverse than the simple idea that it was Beveridge. It is none the worse for any of that, I have to say, and I do say. Indeed, the quotation from Nye Bevan in the motion is one that I agree with.

I will do what I did in the previous health debate. I went again to the Care Opinion website and found the following entries, all from the past week, and it is not all doom and gloom. A patient treated at Aberdeen royal infirmary said:

“I was diagnosed with Type I diabetes in September 2017 ... the support of the whole diabetic team at Davidson Anderson Building, ARI has been incredible.”

A comment on the play service at Aberdeen children’s hospital states:

“I think the play service is a really valuable service that helps children make the hospital seem less scary.”

Commenting on their son’s three-and-a-half-week stay at the Royal Aberdeen children’s hospital, a parent said:

“My boy broke his femur at 2.5 years old and was in traction for 3.5 weeks ... My son really enjoyed his time with the play staff who made his stay very enjoyable”.

Listen to that. They are talking about someone in traction with a broken femur. That is how good the hospital was. Another comment, on Dr Gray’s maternity hospital, states:

“When my grandchild was born in August 2017 he had to stay in SCBU for 10 days ... The care that was given to both my daughter and grandchild was exceptional.”

That tells us a lot about the staff in the health service, because that is front-line experience. It also tells us about the system that supports the staff.

I will conclude with a comparison with the world before then, because I was born before the health service. I have here a copy of a medical bill that my mother had to pay, because the year before I was born she had an ectopic pregnancy—a pregnancy in the fallopian tube—and had to go to hospital and have that fallopian tube removed. It was a very serious operation, but fortunately it was done with such skill that she was then able to give birth to me, her first live birth, and to two subsequent children.

The point is that the amount of money on the bill is three-and-a-half weeks of the average working man or woman’s wage at that time. My mother was fortunate to come from a family who could afford that. The health service made it possible for the quality of service that my mother was able, fortunately, to pay for, to be available to all. I congratulate the health service on its upcoming 70th birthday. We are all grateful for its enduring contribution to our society.


19 June 2018

S5M-11823 International Women in Engineering Day

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Linda Fabiani): The final item of business is a members’ business debate on motion S5M-11823, in the name of Gillian Martin, on welcoming women in engineering day. The debate will be concluded without any question being put.

Motion debated,

That the Parliament welcomes that Women in Engineering Day is on 23 June 2018; notes that it highlights the work needed to go further and faster to meet the target of 140,000 women engineers by 2022; understands that only 9% of engineers and 18% of the tech workforce are female; notes the view that action must come from the industry and other stakeholders to make the changes within the sector; believes that there are a number of positive action measures that can be taken, such as outreach, placements, training and activities, which target women and girls, and notes the calls for the industry to meet the future needs of the engineering and technology sectors.

... ... ...

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

I will certainly not try to be too frivolous, but I will try to rise to the challenge that Iain Gray issued and give some role models in software engineering and related activities. Girls do belong.

Ada Lovelace, who was Lord Byron’s only legitimate child, was born in 1815 and died in 1852. She was the computer programmer for Charles Babbage, who got a huge amount of money from the Government to develop the analytical machine and the calculating machine. She developed the first computer algorithm and identified the importance of branching—testing and changing the direction of a program depending on the results, which is key to how software works today. She was a mathematician and a computer person. She was largely encouraged by her mother, because her father fled one month after she was born and she never saw him again.

On 5 October 1972, I had the immense privilege of meeting Rear Admiral Grace Hopper at the University of York. Born in 1906, she was a programmer on the US Navy mark 1 computer in 1944. That computer had a partly electromechanical system. One of her program runs failed—a moth was stuck between the contacts. The Americans call a moth a bug, and that bug is Sellotaped to her lab notes and can be seen in a New York museum; it is why we say that computer programs have bugs.

Grace Hopper did something incredibly important. She was the first person to develop a computer program that wrote computer programs. Today, we utterly depend on such computer compilers.

Rear Admiral Grace Hopper retired three times from the US Navy. She was re-recruited because she was genuinely indispensable. She finally retired at the age of 80 as the oldest ever uniformed member of the US armed services, but then went to work full-time for the Digital Equipment Corporation, where she was still working at the age of 85.

Stephanie Shirley used the name Steve professionally, so that the people she was dealing with would not know that she was female. She developed a rather deeper voice than the one she might have been born with to use when on the telephone. She founded Female International, which is one of the very successful early computer consultancies. She is still around doing good works in the House of Lords.

I turn to the original NASA computers for the orbital manned missions. In 1962, John Glenn did three hops around the earth. The computer failed for three minutes during his three orbits—only 99.95 per cent reliability was required, and failures were allowed. Thank goodness that Katherine Johnson, who was the orbital mechanical engineer responsible for the mission—or “that computer”, as such ladies were known—was there when the computer failed.

Today in the NASA Langley research center, the director, the chief scientist and the chief technical editor, Pearl Jung, are female. There are plenty of places where girls belong in engineering.


S5M-12846 Scottish Crown Estate Bill: Stage 1

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Linda Fabiani):
The next item of business is a stage 1 debate on motion S5M-12846, in the name of Roseanna Cunningham, on the Scottish Crown Estate Bill.

... ... ...

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

I draw members’ attention to my registered small agricultural holding.

I will respond first to something that Tavish Scott said. I cannot find where it says in the bill—although I know that it is there—that it is possible to sell assets, provided the proceeds are used to purchase another heritable asset. That may not be a complete answer to Tavish Scott’s point.

I respond to the suggestion that this is a technical bill by making a few technical points that go beyond the Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform Committee’s consideration of the bill. A particular point relates to section 6(2)(a), which requires that a body that takes over the management of an asset has to have

“no fewer than 20 members”.

I invite the Government to have a wee think about that and build in some flexibility. I am thinking in particular of the recent buyout at Ulva, where, because of the way in which the community was defined, consent was required by a large number of people who were not on Ulva. There might be similar circumstances in future.

I want to make a few points about finance. Managers of assets that have been devolved to local communities are allowed to have other interests, although they have to keep the accounts for the Crown Estate asset separate from the accounts for any other assets. That is a perfectly proper provision. However, the aggregation of a Crown Estate asset with one that is not from the Crown estate may add to the value of the two assets. There is an unresolved question in the bill as it is currently drafted about how the income and liability should be divided.

Speaking of which, I refer to section 3(4)(a), which relates to a transferee ceasing to exist. It says:

“the function, and any rights or liabilities, transferred to the transferee ... are to transfer to another person”.

There is a wee bit of an awkward construct there in relation to liabilities if a community organisation becomes insolvent. Such an organisation is likely to be registered under the companies acts and therefore there will be provision for insolvency. It would be very unusual for the liabilities not to be extinguished at the point of insolvency; instead, we are legislating that they be transferred to someone else. In some very unlikely circumstances, a degree of irresponsibility could arise, where liabilities never rest on the shoulders of those who should be responsible for them. I invite ministers to have a wee think about that.

Section 14 limits the granting of a lease to 150 years. The period is a slightly odd choice; the period in the Long Leases (Scotland) Act 2012 is 175 years. Mr Wightman in particular will remember that because, as minister, I worked with him on that subject. I heard Edward Mountain refer to long leases of the sea bed. If a lease was more than 175 years, the 2012 act converted it to ownership. I post that as an interesting little aside, because I do not know whether there are any cases in which that has happened.

Primarily, I want devolution in relation to Crown Estate assets to work to the maximum possible degree. I am less interested in local authorities taking responsibility, although clearly there are areas in which that is appropriate. The success of what we are doing here will depend on our getting good, effective devolution down to quite small communities for which it may make a substantial difference.

The bill is relatively silent on the issue of community and there is some advantage in that. The Ulva buyout illustrates that as, although we were able to make the land reform provision for community buyouts work, it worked in a very odd way, because only a tiny minority of those who had to give permission were on Ulva. It is worth looking at that.

Paragraph 342 of the report draws attention to the absence of an

“up-to-date assessment of the condition of Crown Estate assets in Scotland”.

I welcome the fact that that is being remedied, because lack of knowledge of one’s assets is the road to economic and financial perdition.

I wish the bill every success.


13 June 2018

S5M-12706 Mental Health

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Christine Grahame): The next item of business is a debate on motion S5M-12706, in the name of Alex Cole-Hamilton, on health.

... ... ...

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

Alex Cole-Hamilton’s motion says that the

“hard-working staff do not have the resources and support that they require to deliver the service that they would wish”.

I beg to differ. I agree with Anas Sarwar, who said that it is the patient who matters. Therefore, my entire speech simply quotes from the Care Opinion website. All three cases come from the previous week and cover all Scotland.

The first comment is about Aberdeen royal infirmary:

“I attended A&E during a mental health crisis. From the start, reception staff were really patient and understanding. I got seen in triage by Gail and, her manner with me was just fantastic. She genuinely listened to me and didn’t make me feel like I was a burden or anything.

Due to the way I was feeling and the state I was in, I was kept in A&E to see the psychiatry team. In A&E whilst I was waiting, another nurse, Bethan was looking after me. I appreciated just the small things—giving me some juice and a biscuit, listening to what I had to say.

I was in A&E for about 3 hours and, in that 3 hours they didn’t fix everything but, they gave me somewhere safe when my thoughts were too much and a plan. I can’t really ask for much more.”

Alex Cole-Hamilton: Will the member take an intervention?

Stewart Stevenson: We will hear from patients; we have heard from politicians.

The comment continues:

“I know a lot of the A&E nurses from various admissions with self harming but, Gail and Bethan did an absolutely amazing job when I needed it most”.

A kiss—an X—then follows.

The second comment, which was made this week, is about Crosshouse pharmacy services:

“My son who has Aspergers Syndrome and mental health issues.

“His medication leaked in his bag on Sunday. If he misses a dose of medicine his mood can change considerably. It is normally a special order prescription, I rang my local pharmacy who had none in stock.

I then phoned the pharmacy at Crosshouse Hospital and spoke to a very helpful pharmacist, Ailsa, she phoned round a number of community pharmacies and found one which had it in stock, making sure that I knew exactly where it was. I can’t express strongly enough how grateful both my son and myself are for this excellent service.”

This is what someone in the south of Scotland had to say last week:

“I suffer with depression and anxiety (which can be pretty severe)”

They said that they had

“suicidal thoughts and feelings (which are present every single day) and at times become overwhelming”,

and went on to say:

“What I would like to say about the Crisis Team is how I feel they really are in a league of their own when it comes to Mental Health Services. It was during my first experience of using the service that one nurse in particular said a few words to me in a moment of such mental and emotional pain, with such compassion and conviction, that someone felt my life, me, had value, to know that someone out there was ‘hoping’ for me because I couldn’t.

A nurse from the team would visit me every day for around the next 10-14 days ... the crisis team are a team of very special people”

Of course there are challenges in mental health. I have experienced suicide in my family, so I know that perfectly well. However, there are good stories, too, and let us not demean our staff by pretending that there are not.


12 June 2018

S5M-12690 Improving the Lives of Scotland’s Gypsy Travellers

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Christine Grahame): The next item of business is a debate on motion S5M-12690, in the name of Angela Constance, on improving the lives of Scotland’s Gypsy Travellers.

... ... ...

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

Alex Cole-Hamilton referred to the Gypsy Traveller community as being disengaged from the political process. During the 1995 Perth and Kinross by-election, which brought Roseanna Cunningham her parliamentary debut when she won it from the Tories, one of the things that I was given to do as a campaigner was to go and talk to the Travellers who were just outside Milnathort. I found a group of well-engaged people who had some focused and relevant questions to ask of the person who called at their door to ask for their vote. We had an animated discussion, followed by a welcome cup of tea and a biscuit. I am sure that, although I did meet a Conservative voter among them, I can use the singular word.

Alex Cole-Hamilton: I was not suggesting that the Gypsy Traveller community is not engaged politically. The political class infers that they are not engaged politically, so politicians do not reach out to them.

Stewart Stevenson: I hope that, between us, we have made the point that we neglect the involvement of anyone in our society at our peril, including the Gypsy and Traveller community.

As my name is Stewart, it would be perilous for me to be disconnected. When my father was a GP and the Travellers used to come for the berries and the tattie howking later in the year, three names came to the door—the McPhees, the McAlindens and, of course, the Stewarts, who are a well-established Scots Traveller family. I have a wheen of people in my family who are called Stewart and I also have McPhees in my family. I do not know whether they were Travellers in either case, but I certainly cannot disregard the possibility.

The key thing that those people exhibited that we should tak tent of is that they were self-sufficient. They could teach us a lot about how to make the most of our circumstances and attributes. The rest of us often lie back while those who travel and seek work and success where they can find it are much stronger people in some ways.

Kevin Stewart referred to Jeannie Robertson, so I will, in turn, refer to Belle Stewart from Blairgowrie, who was a well-known Scots folk singer from a Travelling family. Just to illustrate how prejudice works in rather curious and irrational ways, in the early 1980s Belle Stewart went to the Sidmouth festival to sing at the festival’s invitation. Among the people attending were new age travellers, not Travellers in the traditional sense. They did not believe that Belle Stewart could possibly be a Traveller because she was far too clean. Is that not another example of the kind of prejudice that was embedded in the people that she met there?

Belle Stewart’s biography was written by her daughter and it captures the Travelling spirit and the spirit of Belle Stewart. It is called “Queen Amang the Heather”.


6 June 2018

S5M-12573 Historical Sexual Offences (Pardons and Disregards) (Scotland) Bill: Stage 3

The Presiding Officer (Ken Macintosh):
The next item of business is a debate on motion S5M-12573, in the name of Michael Matheson, on the Historical Sexual Offences (Pardons and Disregards) (Scotland) Bill at stage 3.

... ... ...

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

I am an accidental participant in the debate. Before the stage 1 debate, the whips found that they were one short in volunteers to participate, so I got the tap on the shoulder to do so. I did what I always do in such circumstances, particularly as I was the last member to speak, at the end of the debate: I read the bill. That is how I was able to identify a little something that I was delighted to bring forward at stage 2—and I have heard acknowledgements from two colleagues for that little bit.

When members have attended 266 Justice Committee meetings, as I have, they will have learned how to read bills quite quickly and spot where the elephant traps are. There is no special skill; it is just length of service. Members will all be able to do that when they have been to 266 Justice Committee meetings—I wish them well with that prospect.

This stage 3 debate is very unusual. There are no amendments—that, in itself, is not particularly unusual. However, the Parliamentary Bureau has served the Parliament well by extending the time for the stage 3 debate to fill a full debate slot. That might be unique; it is certainly pretty unusual. I very much welcome the comprehensive opportunity for a much wider range of members than usual to participate in the stage 3 debate.

We are not here to rewrite the past, because we simply cannot do that. Any attempts to do so would require the most careful of considerations. I do not much like the renaming of streets, for example, in an attempt to rewrite history, but I might support the removal of celebratory statues. For example, the statue of Felix Dzerzhinsky, who used to gaze across Dzerzhinsky Square, at the back of Red Square, to the Lubyanka, is no longer there. The street is no longer called Dzerzhinsky Square, and that is proper, given the abuses of human rights that he oversaw as the founder of the precursor to the KGB.

However, I like righting the effects of wrongs that were done in the name of the state. We do not forget what has happened, but we can offer some redress. We should bear in mind that, although we might be striking the official record from public gaze, the newspapers will still carry many reports of convictions and prosecutions. We cannot legislate for that in any meaningful sense, but I hope that that will not interfere with what we are doing today.

I will touch on some of the preceding debate. It is worth saying that we are all making a journey. My parents were both Edwardians who were born well before the first world war, and their moral compass and view of society would have been very different from mine and the views that we are expressing this afternoon. My youngest grandparent was born in 1872, at a time when women could not even own property. The world changes, and society evolves.

I gently engage with Patrick Harvie in that context. I do not think that we can bully anybody into changing their point of view; that just does not work in politics or in life. There is a five-stage process that we might consider. I have just jotted down that process, so it can be criticised. Step 1 is to get people to recognise that there is a difference. Step 2 is to get people to acknowledge that difference. Step 3 is to get people to engage with that difference. Step 4 is to get people to celebrate that difference. Step 5 is to get people to promote the positive values of difference. That is not simply about today’s debate; it is how we progress people, step by step, to a new view of the world. I encourage Patrick Harvie to consider that we should find a way of engaging with those who have a particular viewpoint rather than bully them.

It is worth returning to Alan Turing, who is one of my great heroes. Alan Turing lives on in computer science in the Turing test, which is the test of a machine’s ability to exhibit intelligent behaviour. That is exactly what we are doing today: we are exhibiting intelligent behaviour.

I very much welcome the bill and the work of Tim Hopkins, who was probably the first lobbyist I met when I came to the Parliament in 2001. He does not look a day older.

Tim Hopkins does not look a day older, but he should because of his indefatigable efforts to help us and to help me, as someone who came from an Edwardian family and was not naturally equipped for today’s debate, not only to engage in all the stages of the debate but to vote for the bill at decision time with gladness in my heart.


5 June 2018

S5M-11127 Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Linda Fabiani): The final item of business is a members’ business debate on motion S5M-11127, in the name of Daniel Johnson, on the portrayal of ADHD treatment. The debate will be concluded without any question being put.

Motion debated,

That the Parliament notes the documentary, Take Your Pills, which has been distributed by Netflix; expresses its strong concern about what it sees as the programme's unbalanced portrayal of ADHD and its treatment; notes the recent publication of updated NICE guidelines on the diagnosis and treatment of the condition and the Royal College of Psychiatrists in Scotland’s, ADHD in adults: good practice guidelines; acknowledges the calls for the Scottish Government to bring forward plans to update the SIGN guidance on ADHD, which, it understands, has remained the same since 2009, and notes the views that there is a need for a more informed understanding of the condition in Edinburgh and across the country and that taking prescribed medication to treat diagnosed neuro-developmental disorders and mental health conditions is as legitimate as taking prescribed medication to treat physical illness.

... ... ...

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

Like others, I thank Daniel Johnson for the opportunity to have the debate. I congratulate him on his very individual and particular contribution and the courage that it takes to make it. Fortunately, I am not in a position where I have to exercise that kind of choice.

Members may have heard me talk previously about the first job that I had when I left school. For about eight months in 1964, I worked in a locked ward in a psychiatric hospital, just at the time when the very first medications were becoming available that would give people with quite a wide range of psychiatric and other conditions better treatment than simply being locked up in the old asylums. The asylum in which I worked had about 1,200 patients; today, the hospital that sits on that site has around 100 patients. My starting point, therefore, is that medication is an important part of dealing with a wide range of conditions, one of which is ADHD.

As others have done, I thank the Scottish ADHD Coalition for its briefing for the debate. The briefing talks about the coalition’s survey of parents and refers to

“medication, parent training, school interventions and psychological support.”

I must confess that I have not watched the Netflix film—I take Daniel Johnson’s word for what is in it, supplemented by what Emma Harper said. However, a few weeks ago I saw “The Doctor Who Gave Up Drugs”, which was on BBC Four on 23 May 2018. What was interesting was that the doctor used a mindfulness approach to support school students who had ADHD, the idea being not to get them off the drugs but to give them choice and space. I was quite impressed, although of course television programmes always short-circuit complexities; we need to be very careful about that. I am not assuming that the magic bullet was contained in that one hour of television.

That leads me to an important general point, which is our use of the word, and concept of, “normal”. We increasingly view normal as a much narrower range than it is proper to consider. Normal is anything—behaviours, aptitudes, abilities and conditions—that does not harm the individual or cause the individual to harm anyone else. We should review normal as covering a much wider range and variety.

I have my own phobias. I cannot go to my office on the fifth floor of this building—I am generally in first—without straightening up all the rubbish bins. It is just something that I feel compelled to do. I rarely use the phone—I am virtually phobic about that—and I hate pills. There is a reason why I hate pills; I was in an experimental drug programme for a condition that I had when I was 12. The trial did not sort the condition and has left me with lifelong issues associated with it. I use self-hypnosis to deal with pain and asthma. I have not taken medication for my asthma for 35 years; I am fortunate in that I am able to do that, because my condition is probably not severe enough to require medication. Is that not at the heart of the issue? We have to treat people as individuals and find individual treatments that suit them. That might involve a mix of medications, psychological support, family support and educational system support. When we think about ADHD, we should perhaps consider the diversity and range of what is normal.

Daniel Johnson deserves our thanks for raising the issue in this context and showing us that there is more—or perhaps less—to the issue than we might otherwise have thought.


30 May 2018

S5M-12437 Islands (Scotland) Bill

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Christine Grahame): The next item of business is a debate on motion S5M-12437, in the name of Humza Yousaf, on the Islands (Scotland) Bill at stage 3.

... ... ...

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

It is perhaps no surprise that it was the Scottish National Party that introduced the Islands (Scotland) Bill, because it is the only political party, as far as I am aware, that has previously owned an island, as Eilean Mòr MacCormick was gifted to our then party leader in 1979. It is now on a slightly different footing as it is looked after by a trust that is a registered charity. I look forward to the new arrangements for electing councillors leading to one person living on Eilean Mòr MacCormick, electing himself or herself as councillor and serving as such for that island.

It is worth having a wee look back at the history of how things happened. A hundred years ago, someone living in Tarbert on Harris was part of a council that had its headquarters in Inverness, and someone living in Stornoway on Lewis was part of a council that had its headquarters in Dingwall, because one was in Inverness-shire and the other was in Ross and Cromarty. That was a most idiosyncratic way of looking at things, notwithstanding the intense rivalry between the people of Harris and Lewis.

In more modern times, when postcodes were first introduced after a trial in Norwich in the early 1960s, the postcode for Stornoway was PA. In other words, it was a Paisley postcode, because the second-class mail was sorted there and the aircraft that transported the mail to Stornoway came from the Glasgow aerodrome in Paisley. We now have a postcode that reflects the character and individuality of the area—HS. I have no idea where the HS comes from. [Interruption.]

“Hebrides” has just been whispered in my right ear. See? We learn something every single day.

One thing that the debate has done is that it has written Tavish Scott’s obituary—which I hope will not be required for many years to come. When his obituary is published, at the top of the page will be written, “The man who saved Shetland from obscurity”, because he got through the amendment that has put Shetland in its proper place in the cartographer’s world.

That is not a trivial matter, and it is not just an emotional matter. In the early 70s at the Bank of Scotland, we did a mathematical modelling exercise to work out where our branch network should be—it is amazing how some things come back again—and we looked at how far some people might have to travel to different branches. A company in London did the data preparation, and when we did the first run of the model, the results looked a bit odd because the Lerwick branch should, apparently, have had customers from Elgin and the coast of the Moray Firth. We were able to see that such a gross error had occurred because staff in the London company had not realised that Shetland was not in the Moray Firth, and had mapped it accordingly. Sometimes, there are practical effects of such things.

It has been an interesting debate. My little contribution to the islands is that I had the privilege of being the minister who brought RET to the islands and other places. I gather that RET is not 100 per cent popular, but I have not met people with whom it is unpopular.

We will now move from the purple paper of the bill to the vellum of the act. The parliamentary beehives will be working overtime to provide the beeswax to create the seal on an excellent act. I wish it Godspeed and I wish every success to our island communities.


22 May 2018

S5M-12344 Disability Employment Gap

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Linda Fabiani): The next item of business is a debate on motion S5M-12344, in the name of Jamie Hepburn, on a fairer Scotland for disabled people: tackling the employment gap.

... ... ...

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

My key skill is an ability to conceal gaps in my personal knowledge and skills. For example, I play no musical instrument, I would judge it a great success if I drove a golf ball more than 100m, and my swimming abilities are close to nil. I highlight those examples of my shortcomings to illustrate the fact that many disabled people can exceed my skills in any one of those areas. The same will apply to all of us in the chamber. In other words, someone may be disabled in one part of their life, but that does not mean that they do not have abilities in another area. That is a key point that we should all remember.

It is surprising that we have not talked much about how we need to get inside the minds of many disabled people, who are talked down to, perhaps from quite early on in their lives, and made to think less of themselves than they should do. We need to look for some role models who illustrate the fact that having a disability is not an impediment to a successful life. It is only two months since Stephen Hawking died at the age of 76. His intellect far surpasses—I think that I will not be challenged if I put it this way—the collective intellect of all of us in the chamber. I can read his book, “A Brief History of Time”, and I seem to understand each sentence as I meet it, but when I get to the end of the book I find that very little has penetrated the cerebral cavity on a permanent basis.

Alex Rowley talked about people who are disabled and unable to work, and what he said is certainly true. However, I would like to put a different gloss on it, if I may. People who cannot work are nonetheless able to contribute to society and to give us something that is of value, simply by existing. They may contribute to a small circle of family and friends, and very often to a much wider circle. We should not forget that.

I will highlight some further models of achievement in disabled people. Dennis Robertson, a former member of the Scottish Parliament, is blind, as members know. I will give another example. In 1969, when I joined the Bank of Scotland to work with computers, I was stuck in a room to read some manuals to learn about what computers were and what one did with them. One of my colleagues, Brian, used to come in and walk across the room, get some blank punch cards, put them in the punch machine, punch things out and take them away, and off he went about his way. In the second week, I moved the heater in the room, because it was approaching winter and very cold, and Brian walked straight into it. I got a full mouthful of abuse from him, because he was blind. I had not known that he was blind for the first 10 days that I had known him. He had learned, more or less off by heart, all the technical manuals relating to the IBM computers that we used. We used to go to Brian with all our really difficult questions, and he always had the answer. That is another example of someone turning a disability into an advantage and a success.

Another issue, to which members have made reference, is invisible disability, such as mental ill health or incapacity, or indeed deafness—it is not obvious that someone is deaf. We have to think hard about how we help people with invisible disabilities to see a way forward in their lives and about how we help employers to understand that such people are of value to their companies.

Members have talked about the economic contribution that will come from increasing the number of people who are employed. I have no time—not a single second—for that argument. We are not here to serve an abstract idea of the economy; the economy is here to serve us, and not to enslave us. We should remember that whenever we consider this subject and a wider range of matters.

There are now some wonderful disabled role models. For example, there are quite a lot of disabled comedians—ain’t that great? That engages us and draws us in.

I remind everyone that this debate is on a fairer Scotland for disabled people. We should forget “disabled”: we are all people.


10 May 2018

S5M-12140 Energy Efficient Scotland

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Linda Fabiani): The next item of business is a debate on motion S5M-12140, in the name of Kevin Stewart, on a route map to an energy efficient Scotland. We have quite a bit of time in hand, so I can give time for wonderful speeches or interventions.

... ... ...

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

I am grateful to Ben Macpherson for making me aware that I have tenements in my constituency. I had not previously twigged that a block of four houses on two floors sharing a common stair could qualify as a tenement, so I will go away and have a wee look at the implications of that.

It has been an interesting debate in all sorts of ways. I want to pick up on a few wee things. One thing that we have spent comparatively little time debating is district heating. We recognise that it looks unlikely that the targets that were set previously look will be met.

In the north-east, we have a unique opportunity to use geothermal heating. I had the privilege, as a minister, to visit a Stagecoach bus depot to see its geothermal heating. Two boreholes went down only 100m, but water could be pumped down to the bottom of the hole and brought back up to heat a large garage, inside which, even with snow on the ground and the doors open, it was really too hot. The cost of doing that about 10 years ago was something like £40,000. That is not a huge amount of money for a heating proposition for a bus depot of that kind, but it is considerably more than most people would consider investing in a domestic scheme. On the other hand, if we think about 10 houses sharing such a facility, we start to get into the realms of economic possibility.

However, as I look at the subject, I find that there are some practical difficulties in relation to way leaves—in other words, taking utility supplies across other people’s properties. Statutory undertakers can get way leaves. They include rail, light rail, tram and road transport, water, ports, canals, inland navigation, docks, harbours, piers and lighthouses, airport operators and suppliers of hydraulic power. However, missing from the list of statutory undertakers are suppliers of heat. It seems from my research that no way-leave condition is available for transport of heat from one place to another. I have heard that that has proved to be difficult for Michelin Tyre plc in Dundee when it wanted to transport heat, so there is a legal issue in that regard.

I am unclear, to be candid, as to whether district heating comes under a reserved power. We have powers under section 9 of the Energy Act 1976 that allow us to legislate for liquefaction of offshore natural gas, but none of the other powers that might cover district heating appear to be devolved. There is a lack of clarity, and my research is not necessarily complete, but I think that there are opportunities to consider how we might produce district heating, particularly in the north-east. We have a very good example in Aberdeen, but it is of quite a different character. Geothermal energy is not just a north-east issue, although Mons Grampus, and the granite therein, provides particular opportunities.

I join Gail Ross in outbidding Graeme Dey on travel distances. When my wife was getting the insulation in our roof void taken from 200mm up to 600mm, workers came from Lanarkshire to rural Banffshire to do it. However, I can even outbid Gail Ross on the distance travelled, because they had to come twice. They did not bring enough material the first time and my wife would not let them in the house until they turned up with enough, which meant that they had to make the journey twice. I therefore claim precedence over Gail Ross on that.

There is a serious point in the story of putting in that insulation. In a rural single-storey dwelling that is never going to be EPC C-rated because of the way it is constructed, the simple act of putting in that insulation cut our fuel consumption of kerosene by 40 per cent. In fact, it took us a full week of tweaking the thermostats on the radiators to get the temperature down to an acceptable level, as we were roasting because of the additional insulation. Were that sort of intervention to be installed in all rural houses, that would be great. The Government has done a great deal; that installation was through a Government-funded scheme and did not cost us anything at all.

I will talk finally about tax incentives, about which we have heard a number of comments in the debate. As I mentioned in an earlier intervention, the Climate Change (Scotland) Act 2009, which I had the privilege of taking through Parliament, provided tax incentives for improving houses. However, it relied on councils bringing forward schemes, but by no means all of them did so. In fact, I am not sure that very many did. I suggest that the track record for tax incentives based on houses is, at the moment, showing a “Not proven” verdict, at best.

I am a wee bit disappointed that the Tories are seeking to delete from the Government motion that there is a “‘whole economy’ value” of £10 billion. I would have thought that the Tories would have been quite interested in that sort of number. I certainly am, so I say “Go to it, minister.”


3 May 2018

S5M-12010 Digital Connectivity

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Christine Grahame): Good afternoon. The next item of business is a debate on motion S5M-12010, in the name of Fergus Ewing, on Scotland’s digital connectivity.

... ... ...

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

Communications is a very important part of the world economy and every aspect of the world. The first great step forward in digital communications took place 2,000 years ago, when the Romans introduced wig-wag, which was a hilltop system that carried a signal from Londinium to Roma and back in the course of a single day. That replaced the three months that it would have taken, by sea and by cleft stick, before then.

When the telegraph came in, in the early 1800s, there was another quantum leap. Of course, when Alexander Graham Bell demonstrated the telephone system for the first time, in 1876, that took us to another place—voice. Only five years later, the telephone directory for Edinburgh had 300 connections in it. Scotland has been a leader in communications in many ways in the past.

In his opening remarks, the cabinet secretary spoke about there being broad consensus on the need for broadband. I am delighted that no one has attempted to break that consensus, because we all know and assert its importance.

The first digital communications system on which I worked, when I worked in technology, was in the 1960s. It ran at 110 bits per second—not kilobits or megabits—but we were able to connect all 400 branches of the bank to a real-time data inquiry and collection system at that speed. We have moved on rapidly with mobile technology. The first digital system, GSM—the global system for mobile communications—came in in 1990. I was one of a group of 12 people who piloted it in the UK. When I was the manager of the Bank of Scotland’s data centre 30 years ago, my telecoms bill was £10 million. I could buy that service now for a few hundred pounds. Things progress all the time.

Before I go on too much, I want to rein in Fin Carson slightly. I heard, with delight, that the UK Government will deliver a speed of 10 megabytes per second to everyone. That would be eight times its current promise, because that is for 10 megabits, and not 10 megabytes. I also want to say that smartphones do not rely on the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers 802.11 standard, which is for wi-fi, but on high performance data mining and applications, or HPDMA; enhanced data GSM environment, or EDGE; and general packet radio service, or GPRS. In other words, they use different communications technologies, so wi-fi is really quite irrelevant.

In the time that I have left, I want to pick up a particular point in the Tory amendment, which says that the digital gap is

“widening between urban and rural Scotland”.

Let us look at some numbers. In 2012, for cities, the penetration of fibre-enabled premises ranged from 95 per cent in Dundee to 59 per cent in Stirling. At the other end of the scale, in Aberdeenshire, as Mr Rumbles referred to, we were at 25.1 per cent, which was 33.9 percentage points behind the worst city and 74.9 percentage points behind the best. Argyll and Bute was on 26 per cent, Moray was on 28 per cent, Highland was on 23 per cent and the Western Isles, Orkney and Shetland were on zero. Has the gap widened? Well, clearly not.

Argyll and Bute has advanced by 54.8 points, Moray by 66.2 points, Highland by 62.4 points, Western Isles by 75.9 points, Orkney by 74.7 points, Shetland by 79.6 points and Aberdeenshire—the council area in which Peter Chapman, Mike Rumbles and I live—by 65.6 points. In only one city has it grown by more than 20 points—in Stirling, which was bottom of the pack, it has grown by 34.6 points. I have juggled the numbers left-handed, right-handed, two-handed, off the floor, off the wall and every which way, and rural areas are catching up with cities every single day.

More fundamentally, I expect that, by 2021, people such me, who are in the 5 per cent who are not fibred—and indeed who do not have DAB radio, do not have Freeview, have no mobile phone signal and cannot see either of the data satellites because of terrain issues—will be fibre at the premises. I expect that most of the R100 will end up in that position. That means that rural areas will have 300Mbps megabits capability if they have fibre at the premises. We will actually be ahead of urban areas, if we are lucky.

We need to see what comes from the contracts, but there is a huge difference between getting fibre to the premises, which is a very likely outcome of the tender that is out there—that is what I hear from some of those who might be interested in bidding—and the miserable 10 megabits that the UK Government guaranteeing to everybody. It is well outside the 30Mbps that our Government is promising, but it is substantially ahead of what the UK Government is promising. We are likely to have fibre to the premises as part of R100.

Is there a challenge here? I will not know when I will get my fibre until a little man or woman engineer has come and looked at the path to my very door. They will need to walk from the exchange up to my house and check where they can lay the cable. Every premises will need to be inspected before a date can be given. We can do it by area only in the first instance. Inspection of premises needs to follow after that.

I will be very happy to support the Government’s motion. I may even think about some of the amendments, although the Tories’ amendment is a bit of a challenge.


24 April 2018

S5M-11788 National Plan for Gaelic

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Linda Fabiani): The next item of business is a debate on motion S5M-11788, in the name of John Swinney, on the national plan for Gaelic.

... ... ...

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

Tha mi nam bhodach: I am an old mannie, so I am unlikely to learn Gaelic before I shuffle off this mortal coil. However, like many of us, I have Gaelic antecedents. My grandfather Alexander Campbell MacGregor was a Gaelic speaker. He was a ship’s rigger; he married someone from Edinburgh and settled in Leith. My mother was therefore brought up in a bilingual household and spoke Gaelic to her father and English to her mother. When she went to school in 1914, she entered an environment where she was punished if she spoke Gaelic. My great-great-grandfather—Archibald Stewart—took his Gaelic with him to Canada, but that was a very long time ago: he was born in the late 1700s.

On the other side of the equation, and perhaps less to the merit of the Stevensons, is my grandfather William Stewart Stevenson, who married Elizabeth Tait Barlow in 1890. His first appointment as a teacher was in the Gaelic community on Lewis, where, as an Anglophone monoglot with an English wife, he was sent to make sure that nobody in the school that he taught in spoke Gaelic. Thank goodness that we are now in different times.

Like Iain Gray, my wife went to Inverness royal academy—I have not spoken to her about her experience, but she does not come from a particularly strong Gaelic tradition.

How do I connect to Gaelic today? Like others, I see Gaelic place names and geographical features; I have Runrig’s “Maymorning” CD in my car, which they produced for the opening of the Scottish Parliament in 1999; and I also have a Julie Fowlis CD. Do I understand everything that I hear in Gaelic? Certainly not, but I have a few words. I was interested to find that as I was listening with one ear to the English translation of my colleague Kate Forbes’s speech and with the other to the Gaelic, I could pick up some of the crossover. However, can I speak Gaelic in any meaningful sense? No, absolutely not.

When I was a young lad, if someone wanted to hear Gaelic, the place where they would hear most Gaelic was, bluntly, under the heilanman’s umbrella in Glasgow, which is where, traditionally, the people from the Western Isles gathered—it is adjacent to Central station under the arch over Argyle Street. They would have heard more Gaelic there than English. Just as we now see the development of Gaelic in the cities, historically—albeit in the more recent past—it was also a city thing.

The area that I used to represent in Parliament, which is now, after a reorganisation of the boundaries, represented by Gillian Martin, was where the “Book of Deer” came from nearly 1,000 years ago. The “Book of Deer” is a copy of the Bible that contains the oldest piece of written Gaelic. When the first attempts were made to work out who owned Scotland, the monks from Deer abbey went round writing down in Gaelic information in the margins of that Bible about who owned what. That is really quite interesting.

Some of the Gaelic that we are talking about in Aberdeenshire is not Scottish Gaelic. There is a town that is now known as New Pitsligo, which has the alternative name of Cyaak. That is actually Welsh, or Brythonic Gaelic. The linguistic traditions that we have are quite diverse.

My voice is a wee bit rusty today—for that, I touched on Gaelic, as I had a gargle of anCnoc, which is the whisky that is made nearest to me. It is the Gaelic name for the Knock, which is the hill behind the distillery.

I very much welcome the announcement of additional investment in Gaelic teaching in Glasgow and the opening of other facilities elsewhere. Thankfully, the 1616 act that Iain Gray referred to did not succeed, and Peter Peacock, our ex-colleague, was absolutely pivotal in moving Gaelic to another place and building on what had been done before. I give my absolute support to efforts to bring Gaelic to more people.

I conclude with a very simple suggestion that might help and which we might consider doing. We have lots of geography and places with Gaelic names. We might start to help Anglophones with the pronunciation of Gaelic, because, as an Anglophone, it can be quite baffling to look at some Gaelic names. With a wee bit of help, we might learn how to pronounce Gaelic.


18 April 2018

S5M-11659 Historical Sexual Offences (Pardons and Disregards) (Scotland) Bill: Stage 1

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Linda Fabiani): The next item of business is a stage 1 debate on motion S5M-11659, in the name of Michael Matheson, on the Historical Sexual Offences (Pardons and Disregards) (Scotland) Bill.

... ... ...

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

I am delighted to join the unanimous support in the chamber for the Historical Sexual Offences (Pardons and Disregards) (Scotland) Bill. I have come to it comparatively late, and my starting point, as it often is, is that I have read the bill. I want to make one or two observations that I hope will be seen as seeking to improve it.

Section 5 is entitled “Application to have conviction for historical sexual offence disregarded”. I note that the Government is going to consult on the application process, but I think that we may be being too prescriptive in areas where we might need flexibility. My particular example is section 5(2)(b), which provides that an application must include

“the applicant’s name and address at the time of the conviction”.

That is not necessarily as easy as it sounds, because people, particularly those who have felt vulnerable, may have moved on a number of occasions and may not be able to provide the necessary accuracy in relation to their address at what might be a relatively distant event. The form of words in the next paragraph—

“in so far as known to the applicant”—

could usefully precede the reference to the address. It is a small matter, but the cabinet secretary might even consider taking the requirements at section 5(2) out of the bill and putting them into secondary legislation so that they can, if necessary, be modified relatively straightforwardly in the future.

Section 7(1) will require Scottish ministers

“in particular ... to obtain ...any record of ... any subsequent proceedings relating to the conduct.”

I raise the question whether that explicitly requires ministers to go and look at newspaper information, which might turn out to be the only preserved information that relates to the issue. I ask ministers to have a wee think about that.

There is a more substantial point to be made about removal of records. Section 10(4) says that

“Regulations may provide that removal from records means recording with the details of the conviction ... the fact that it is a disregarded conviction”.

High Court records go to National Records of Scotland after 10 years, and sheriff court records go after 25 years. That might be well within the lifetime of the person whose record has been marked as having been disregarded, and the marking will, of course, be a public record and available for people to see. I am not sure that that is absolutely right. I accept that the original record needs to be available somewhere, but I suggest that we think about redacting the personal information that goes to NRS, and about not making the record generally available until a substantial time has passed. The period in relation to the register of births is 100 years—I speak as someone who does genealogical research.

Section 10(5) provides that the Scottish ministers may designate a “relevant record keeper”, by Scottish statutory instrument. I invite the Government to ensure that National Records of Scotland is among the relevant record keepers, so that the provisions can cover NRS—otherwise, they might be thought not to do so. If the Government wants a model, I suggest that it consider how privacy is protected in the context of adoption records. Records are available in specified circumstances; I had to look for an adoption in relation to a probate case and was able to find the information, having given adequate reasons for my search.

Maurice Corry and Alex Cole-Hamilton referred to Alan Turing, who is someone whom I, as a mathematician and a software engineer, admire enormously. Alan Turing came from a family of Scottish merchants and was a computer scientist, mathematician, logician, cryptanalyst, philosopher and theoretical biologist. He covered almost the whole gamut. He was in charge of hut 8 at Bletchley Park during the war, where people were working in particular on Ultra and the code that the German navy used, which used aspects that the German army was not using and delivered some 16 billion billion variant outcomes.

Some people have suggested that the contribution of Alan Turing and hut 8 to the war effort helped to shorten the war by two years and might have saved as many as 14 million lives. That is the upper end of the estimate, but it could well be true. Alan Turing was recognised for his work—he was made an Officer of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire in 1946 and was elected as a fellow of the Royal Society in 1951.

None of that protected him when, in 1952, he was convicted of an offence such as those to which the bill makes reference. His security clearance was withdrawn and he could no longer contribute to the security and safety of the country. He committed suicide in 1954, as a result of how he had been treated. Today, we continue to celebrate Alan Turing’s memory—the Turing test is an important part of modern work on artificial intelligence.

Be they ever so great or ever so humble, the people who were convicted of such offences were all caught by the injustices of the past. We will not forget the records and the detail. Sometimes we see the past glinting through the mist. If members go to Rose Street Lane, they will see engraved on a wall, at the corner, “No loitering”. We have been talking about the particular meaning of “loitering”. Most people who look up and see the notice will be absolutely puzzled as to what it means. When we reach a point at which people are equally puzzled by the past in relation to the subject that we are considering, we will have succeeded.


17 April 2018

S5M-10859 Aberdeen Trades Union Council

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Christine Grahame): The final item of business is a members’ business debate on motion S5M-10859, in the name of Lewis Macdonald, on the 150th anniversary of Aberdeen Trades Union Council. The debate will be concluded without any question being put.

... ... ...

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

I congratulate Lewis Macdonald on giving us the opportunity to celebrate an important milestone not only for Aberdeen Trades Union Council, but for the whole of north-east Scotland.

It is as well to remember what the world looked like in 1868. It was the year of the first Trade Union Congress meeting in Manchester, it was the last year in which penal transportation to Australia took place, and it was the last year in which there was a public hanging. Across the water, in the United States, the 14th amendment to the American constitution was passed, which gave freed slaves citizenship. It was a very different world from the one in which we live today, but the fact that the trades council continues to operate after 150 years shows that it is still relevant. It continues to promote and improve the economic and social conditions of working people.

Although it has witnessed a few name changes through the years, the council has remained active in campaigns for dignity, equality, and diversity in the workplace and beyond. Let us focus on the word “beyond” and what that means for the council’s campaigning. The name of the council might suggest that it is focused only on the working class of north-east Scotland, but the council is actually very much more than that.

On Saturday 7 April, the ATUC held a protest in St Nicholas Square to show solidarity with the people of Gaza after atrocities were committed against them on land day 2018. Even while celebrating its illustrious anniversary, the council found time to promote the dignity, equality and diversity of people outside Scotland.

The council’s involvement in foreign affairs goes back even further, as is evidenced by various memorabilia in its Adelphi office. There is, for example, a Spanish flag that was wrapped around the bodies of two Aberdonians who died fighting during the Spanish civil war.

The council was initially created, as is stated in its objects, to advance and protect the rights of labour and the wellbeing of the working class. To do that, the council took active roles, as Lewis Macdonald mentioned, in trade and municipal matters in Aberdeen, at a time when there were quite limited opportunities for ordinary folk to participate in the democratic process. Beyond Aberdeen, the council was a key player in the development of the trade union movement across Scotland, and helped to found the Scottish Trades Union Congress in 1897. The STUC is still very active today, as we have just heard, and Jimmy Milne and others have been senior officials.

Reference has been made to the May day rally, which has been occurring annually since 1890. It is known as international workers day, and people around the globe take to the streets in celebration of labourers and the working class. That solidarity has been demonstrated for many, many years.

As the council moves forward, the challenges that it faces change only slightly. As joint president Tyrinne Rutherford said at the Aberdeen City Council civic reception in March that

“their goal hasn’t changed ... their tactics have. They still want to pay us peanuts to maximise profit”

and they will do that to any they see fit to do it to. Victorian men who showed up to the factory with no guarantee of work or pay are not much different from the workers at Deliveroo who race one another to get people’s food orders.

Moving forward, I hope that the ATUC will continue to act as a catalyst for change and to support people in their time of need. It has been an important figurehead and a practical source of trade union organisation and representation in Aberdeen and the north-east.


S5M-11643 Air Quality

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Christine Grahame): The next item of business is a debate on motion S5M-11643, in the name of Graeme Dey, on behalf of the Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform Committee, on “Air Quality in Scotland Inquiry”.

... ... ...

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

My sole contribution to the committee’s report was to join the committee in time to get my name and photograph in it. Otherwise, my contribution to the report was entirely nil. I therefore thank all those who preceded me on the committee for the hard work that they have done. They missed a typo in paragraph 50, which has been cut and pasted into the executive summary, but let us not worry too much about that. Donald Cameron does not need to worry about his late arrival on the committee, either: I came to it much later.

As an asthmatic, I will focus on health issues for people who have problems of one sort or another with their lungs. I particularly welcome the report’s focus on diesel cars as being contributors to poor air quality. I now have a petrol car after many years of having diesel cars. I admit that my reasons for getting one were quite separate from pollution, but at least it means that I am slightly ahead of the game.

The Government’s “Cleaner Air for Scotland: The Road to a Healthier Future” strategy was published in November 2015, so the strategy is about halfway through its five-year term. As others have, I will focus on particulate matter. PM2.5 relates to particles of less than 2.5 micrometres in size. Such particles are so small that they cannot be seen using an ordinary microscope; they can be seen only using an electron microscope. Because of their small size, they have a disproportionate effect. In its report on the subject, the Government highlights that the Scottish objectives in relation to PM2.5 are similar to what is laid out in the World Health Organization guidelines, which is welcome.

However, I want to highlight where the WHO is going. Through the research that it is co-ordinating and reporting on, it is becoming more aware of the impacts of PM2.5. We are talking about tiny particles, and the smaller a particle is, the greater the ratio is between the surface area and the content—in other words, there is a lot of surface area and not much content. That means that such particles are much more likely to stick to human flesh, particularly in the lungs. So small are they that they will go right down to the bottom of the lungs, to the bronchial tubes and beyond, and they are much less likely than larger particles to be expelled. That is partly why PM2.5 particles are so important.

The WHO’s “Review of evidence on health aspects of air pollution”, which is a technical report, is a very meaty document of well over 300 pages. It brings to light a lot of interesting research that goes right the way back, including research from across Europe and North America, on the effects of PM2.5. It mentions that

“A systematic review reported significant associations between exposure to PM2.5 and birth outcomes, including low birth weight, preterm birth and small for gestational age births”

and that is aside from any effects that are directly associated with lungs.

More recent research has been done that shows that exposure to such small particles even for a single hour has measurable effects on lung function that are associated with a higher rate of mortality and morbidity. The evidence on larger particles is less clear, but the issue is an extremely serious one that we need to be very careful about. Even healthy people are affected, and people who already have cardiac or lung issues are affected disproportionately badly.

Limited research has been done on the interaction between electrostatic charge and very small particles, and the WHO report lists eight areas in which further research is required. Rural areas are better. When my wife puts the washing out in Banffshire, it smells beautiful and there is no smut. If it has been out in West Lothian, it comes in black and smelly. Therefore, I say to members: live in the country and live longer.


29 March 2018

S5M-11350 Housing (Amendment) (Scotland) Bill: Stage 1

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Christine Grahame): The next item of business is a stage 1 debate on motion S5M-11350, in the name of Kevin Stewart, on the Housing (Amendment) (Scotland) Bill. I invite members who want speak in the debate to press their request-to-speak button now.

... ... ...

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

Through the chair, I will say a couple of words to Andy Wightman, who gave us a 40-year horizon since housing associations came into play. “The Digest of Justinian” covered the co-operative housing associations in ancient Rome, and Babylon had co-operative models 2,500 years ago, so Scotland has come to the party quite late.

Members might reasonably ask why I am speaking in the debate. I forced my way to the front of a long queue that the whips had drawn up to fill the last speaking place from the Government benches. The temptation for my part arose, of course, when I read in the committee report at paragraph 10 that

“The Bill is short and technical”.

That word “technical” inevitably drew me in.

It is fair to say that this is not the most contentious thing that we have debated since I came to Parliament in 2001, but it is quite interesting. It illustrates some of the unintended side effects of revising the way in which we do accounting—in particular, the accounting of bodies that have to report their assets, liabilities, income and expenditure. In 2001, I found that, under the old financial reporting standard 17, the accounts for the private finance initiative contractor Kilmarnock Prison Ltd—I was interested in prisons at that time—treated Kilmarnock prison as a disposal in the second year of trading because it had a commitment in the 30-year contract to pass the prison to the Government. It vanished off the contractor’s balance sheet as an asset but, as far as the Government was concerned, it did not appear as an asset on its balance sheet until 30 years hence. That asset appeared on no balance sheet for almost 30 years, under the old system.

We are now under the international financial reporting standards and have a new thing called “contingent assets”. That means that the prison now appears on the balance sheets of both Kilmarnock Prison Ltd and the Government. The bottom line of all that, in relation to the issue that is before us today, is that we need to have the right balance as to where things appear in our public accounting.

The problem that has been presented to us by the Office of National Statistics is perfectly proper. The question is whether the associations were in a place in which they had sufficient freedom of action that they could control, manage, dispose of and buy assets without the Government telling them what to do. The next question is whether they were creating assets for the Government, and the final question is whether they, by their actions, created involuntary liabilities—contingent or otherwise—for the Government. It was uncertainties in those accounting areas that properly caused the Office for National Statistics to say that those bodies are connected to the public sector—although they are private bodies, as Mr Wightman reminded us—and are really part of the public sector. If that was the case it would, of course, inhibit the Government in its spending plans and, more fundamentally for the policy that we are interested in here, inhibit the ability of those societies to borrow money and build housing. Alex Rowley is perfectly correct to say that we have to build more houses, by whatever means.

Elaine Smith (Central Scotland) (Lab): When he read about the bill, did Stewart Stevenson come across comments by UK Finance that lenders might have to “ramp-up their ... due diligence”? What does he think about that point?

Stewart Stevenson:I was very pleased that UK Finance came to a position of supporting what is proposed—I gather that there was some doubt about that initially.

Elaine Smith makes a valid point: whenever we change a system, we risk creating greater complexity. That would not be good news if it got in the way of our building more houses and made life more difficult for housing associations. However, the bill strikes the right balance and I shall be very happy to support it, come decision time.


Stewart Stevenson
does not gather, use or
retain any cookie data.

  © Blogger templates The Professional Template by 2008

Back to TOP