13 March 2018

UK Withdrawal from the European Union (Legal Continuity) (Scotland) Bill

The Presiding Officer (Ken Macintosh): The next item of business is a pre-stage 2 debate on the UK Withdrawal from the European Union (Legal Continuity) (Scotland) Bill.

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

Through the chair, I say to Graham Simpson that, from my very first speech in June 2001, I have whole-heartedly, unambiguously and continuously opposed the common fisheries policy, and I am immensely glad that we should be leaving that. Nothing in my previous 728 speeches is at odds with that.

I direct something to the convener of the Standards, Procedures and Public Appointments Committee. Why are the groupings of amendments not numbered at stage 2? They are at stage 3.

I will speak to what would be, if it was numbered, group 11, which is called

“Exercise of powers under sections 11 and 13: integration with UK Government policy”.

I start by looking at Jamie Greene’s amendments 148 and 154. In his speech, he said that we should have watertight law and that we should judge our law by its content. In both his amendments, he uses

“UK Government policy or the negotiating lines of the UK Government”

as the basis upon which they are founded. Neither of those things is available to me. In particular, the “negotiating lines” are not available. Not only that, but they appear to change from week to week and day to day. Whatever merits there might have been in his amendments, they are certainly not watertight law, and they should be judged to be inadequate.

More substantially, I turn to Adam Tomkins’s amendments. By the way, I am going to say that there is an amendment from the Tories that I would be prepared to accept. I will come back to that. [Interruption.] Members should keep listening. That got the Tories’ attention for a brief second.

The key point about Adam Tomkins’s amendments 150, 151 et al is to take back powers that we currently exercise over agriculture, environmental protection and in particular fisheries, because amendment 150 states that

“No regulations may be made under subsection (1)”


“the consent of a Minister of the Crown”

is provided.

Adam Tomkins: Does the member accept that there is no such thing as taking any of those powers away from this Parliament, given that this Parliament cannot currently exercise powers in any of those domains because they are subject to EU law and we may not exercise powers contrary to EU law?

Stewart Stevenson: Mr Tomkins is clearly not much engaged in the fishing debate. In fishing, we make our own regulations, which differ from regulations elsewhere, in requiring landing of species that are not caught on quota, for example. There is a difference between regulations here and those in the rest of the UK and what occurs elsewhere in the EU. The regulations form part of a framework, and we support frameworks—that is without doubt.

The same is true in relation to environmental protection and agriculture. There are clear differences in agriculture. In Scotland, 85 per cent of the area that is under agriculture has less favoured status, whereas south of the border the figure is 15 per cent. Therefore, there are entirely different requirements, which lead to the different legislative solutions that we definitely require.

The amendment that I could accept, were I in the Government, is amendment 122, which says that

“A Minister of the Crown may not withhold consent ... where ... a United Kingdom common framework has been agreed”.

That is fine, but it is a simplex amendment where we need a duplex solution. In other words, I would accept that amendment if the UK withdrawal bill had exactly the same provision in relation to UK ministers’ inability to act without the consent of the devolved Administrations. Therefore, it is possible to accept an amendment from Adam Tomkins and the Tories, but that would have to be utterly conditional.

We have joint decision making. As a minister, I was involved in joint decision making across the border on canals and on appointments to the Committee on Climate Change, on which all Administrations had to agree. Those are only some examples. We know that the Governments in these islands can work together effectively. Where fishing is concerned, we have to get a solution that moves us away from having 60 per cent of the fish that are caught in our waters being caught by foreign vessels, without legal oversight from the Scottish jurisdiction. We have to get that changed, and nothing that the UK Government could do, will do or has threatened to do that would take powers and the right to catch fish in our waters away from Scottish fishermen has had my support in the past or will have my support—not now and not ever.


7 March 2018

S5M-10407 Electronic and Internet Voting

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Christine Grahame): The final item of business is a members’ business debate on motion S5M-10407, in the name of Stewart Stevenson, on electronic and internet voting. The debate will be concluded without any question being put.

Motion debated,

That the Parliament acknowledges that there is an increasingly wide spectrum of applications for digital technology, including those related to internet shopping, banking, travel and automated supermarket checkouts; understands that the latest digital technology has the potential to be developed for electronic and internet voting and deliver electors flexibility in their choice of voting method; considers that the traditional paper voting method has remained virtually unchanged since 1872 and has yet to benefit from advancements in technology; notes the calls by the Institution of Engineering and Technology for government to embrace the latest knowledge in electronic voting, which it believes will encourage more young people in the Banffshire and Buchan Coast constituency and across Scotland to vote and help reduce the costs of the traditional paper voting system; recognises that there are important security considerations relating to confidentiality and eligibility that must first be resolved; believes that when these issues are resolved and public confidence is earned, electronic voting has the potential to deliver lower cost elections and improve voter turnout; acknowledges what it sees as the opportunity presented by the Scottish Government’s consultation on electoral reform to further investigate the potential benefits of electronic and internet voting systems, and notes the calls on individuals and organisations to take part.


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

I start by drawing attention to my entry in the register of members’ interests—particularly my membership of the Institution of Engineering and Technology, which is promoting e-voting, and my membership of the Association for Computing Machinery, which is leading a debate on the subject in the USA, in particular.

A professor of computer science at Stanford University, David Dill, who is the founder of the Verified Voting Foundation, captured the challenge of electronic voting—indeed, of any form of voting—when he wrote:

“The winners of an election are usually satisfied with the outcome, but it is often more challenging to persuade the losers (and their supporters) that they lost. To that end, it is not sufficient that election results be accurate. The public must also know the results are accurate, which can only be achieved if conduct of the election is sufficiently transparent that candidates, the press, and the general public can satisfy themselves that no errors or cheating have occurred.”

Until 1872, voting here was done by attending the polling place, orally advising the returning officer for whom one wished to vote and seeing them record that against one’s name in a ledger. Many of those ledgers survive today. Is that a perfect system that would have met Professor Dill’s challenge? No. The ledgers often show that, at the end of voting, there was debate as to what an individual elector had said or whether the clerk had correctly recorded his—in those days it was always “his”—preference.

The change to the use of voting papers and a ballot box was made solely because changes in the franchise qualification led to a dramatic rise in the number of electors and oral voting was too cumbersome. Today, we have a system that works pretty well, in which those who vote have confidence and which broadly allows losers, in particular, to observe the process and be reconciled to the fact that their loss derives from their having failed to win the argument rather than from the voting system having cheated them.

The Open Rights Group says that any voting system must be secure, anonymous and verifiable, and technologists accept those tests. Professor Dill quoted the ACM, which stated that

“voting systems should enable each voter to inspect a physical record to verify that his or her vote has been accurately cast and to serve as an independent check on the result”.

Professor Kaliyamurthie, the head of the department of information technology at India’s Barath university in Chennai, wrote that

“Internet voting is about making the act of voting as convenient as possible”

but qualified that statement by adding that

“this voting channel introduces risks to some of the fundamental principles of democratic systems.”

The question that I pose is whether more convenient voting is of value. Would greater convenience enhance the democratic process?

I have heard some people say that those who do not make the effort to get out of their armchairs to vote do not deserve the vote, but I take a different view. Every political party—and every independent candidate, for that matter—devotes an enormous amount of effort to getting people out of their armchairs and into the polling places. However, there are three numbers that should challenge us: 53, 44 and 34. Fifty-three per cent of people on the electoral roll voted “armchair” in the 2017 council elections, 40 per cent did so in the most recent Scottish Parliament elections and a third stayed away from the 2017 Westminster vote.

The IET has called for the Government to embrace the latest in electronic voting. Can technology help to boost turnout, and can it do so securely, with voter anonymity and in a way that is verifiable by lay observers?

What helps turnout? When I stood in 2003, our local voter database included 6,000 people who had committed to vote for the Scottish National Party in the previous two contacts with the party but had failed to vote in the two most recent elections. We concluded that we needed to get those people to vote. A huge number of activists spent considerable time knocking on the doors of those 6,000 people, and we got 4,000 of them to sign up for a postal vote.

Typically, about 70 per cent of postal voters actually vote. It is fair to say that there is imprecision and uncertainty about that, because we can only infer the number of postal voters from looking at those who voted in person and how many postal votes were issued, thereby indirectly concluding how many votes were postal votes. Nevertheless, the rate of voting is clearly higher among postal voters.

In 2003, which was an election in which the SNP’s vote in Scotland was heading downwards—pretty sharply downwards, it is worth saying—our local vote went up by 3,000. Members might care to think about that. We signed up 4,000 postal voters, and I assert that 70 per cent of postal voters vote. Therefore, I draw a line between our effort to sign up 4,000 people for postal votes and the increase of 3,000 in our vote. People with a postal vote have 21 days over which they can vote from their armchair, which might be one of the reasons why our vote shot up. Of course, the excellent candidate and terrific campaign in Banff and Buchan contributed to the result, but I think that making it easier for people to vote helped.

Have countries that have adopted internet voting seen benefits? Do their systems meet the tests of security, anonymity and verifiability? There are mixed results, but there is substantial evidence of increased voting.

Eindhoven University of Technology researchers de Vries and Bokslag assessed the Estonian system and the Dutch internet voting system against eight criteria, which, in essence, encompassed the three tests to which I have referred. Estonia, which is generally regarded as the most advanced country online, following its experience of suffering a cyber attack from the Russians shortly after becoming independent, did not pass the Open Rights Group’s three tests; it passed only two of them and met only half of the Eindhoven researchers’ criteria. The Dutch system met only one of the researchers’ eight criteria, and it did so very marginally.

The key difficulty in any electronically aided voting system is verification—that is, allowing the observation of every step in the process from voter registration through voting and counting votes to the determination of the final result. Is that an unsolvable problem? No. However, it is probably a problem that is not yet solved.

I cannot describe my solution in my remaining 100 words, but it would leave paper as the medium for each vote that is submitted for counting and would allow secure submission from smartphone to counting centre and verification by voter and observers.

The Government’s consultation on electoral reform closes on Monday—I am sure that the minister will refer to it. Members will be able to read my submission to when I publish it on Monday, on my website at I hope that other members will respond to the consultation.

There are seven unsolvable maths problems—the millennium problems. If someone solves one, they win $1 million. I am working on one of them—the queens problem—and I think that I am halfway there. The problem that we face in relation to electronic voting is by no means unsolvable.


28 February 2018

S5M-09834 Eating Disorders Awareness Week 2018

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Christine Grahame): The final item of business is a members’ business debate on motion S5M-09834, in the name of Clare Haughey, on eating disorders awareness week 2018. The debate will be concluded without any question being put.

Motion debated,

That the Parliament notes that 26 February marks the beginning of Eating Disorders Awareness Week 2018; acknowledges that these disorders are serious mental health conditions that affect people psychologically, socially, and physically; understands that approximately 1.25 million people in the UK have an eating disorder, of which an estimated 89% are female; praises the Scottish Eating Disorders Interest Group and the charity, Beat, on providing what it sees as vital help for people with such conditions and their families; notes that the Scottish Government's Mental Health Strategy 2017-2027 commits to working toward the development of a digital tool to specifically support young people with eating disorders; highlights the programme, See Me, which it considers has been instrumental in tackling the stigma and discrimination associated with mental health issues, including eating disorders, and notes the calls for all stakeholders to continue to working together to ensure that the appropriate help is available and that early intervention is essential in reducing unnecessary deaths.

... ... ...

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

I thank Clare Haughey for providing us with the opportunity to have this important debate. She mentioned our colleague Dennis Robertson, and it reminded me—and, I guess, others who were in the chamber at the time—of how Mr Robertson’s first speech on this subject, which was about his daughter, made the hairs on the back of my neck stand up. I remember the personal and emotional charge that I felt as he talked about his personal circumstances. However, he turned what could have been a life-constraining tragedy into the driver of a very worthwhile campaign that we would all support, and I note that he continues his public service in Aberdeenshire Council, where I see him regularly and continue to have good discussions with him.

We have all referred to the increase in the number of people presenting with eating disorders. I am delighted to hear that, in Clare Haughey’s constituency, the 18-week target for being seen has been substantially bettered, but perhaps more interestingly—and more troubling—it takes, I am told, an average 149 weeks before those experiencing eating disorder symptoms seek help. Perhaps we should look in the mirror with regard to some of the ways in which we and wider society respond to people with eating disorders and perhaps, without meaning to, discourage them from seeking the kind of help that they really need. It is said that 34 per cent of adults in the UK cannot identify signs of an eating disorder, while 79 per cent do not know that there are psychological symptoms associated with such disorders.

Some of these anomalies lie in the fact that we still view those who suffer from eating disorders as having only one body type—skinny and sickly—and perhaps as being selfish. That is utterly wrong. Many believe that people of normal weight or who are overweight cannot be suffering from an eating disorder; unless you look very unhealthy and weak, people will assume that you are fine. It is a common misconception that sufferers are simply attention seekers.

Clare Haughey mentioned anorexia and bulimia, and gave us a list of other conditions that apply, of which there are a huge number that we need to pay attention to. I want to talk a little about social factors. I am disturbed—I do not know whether others will be—by the fact that Weight Watchers has started offering free six-week memberships to children as young as 13. I am sure that it has reasons for doing so and that part of what it will say is that it is fighting childhood obesity and other health complications. However, offering that kind of illusory opportunity to people who are potentially vulnerable emotionally and whose body shape is likely to be rapidly changing is not something that I feel comfortable to support. The simple consent of parents is all that is required for teens to be granted that imperfect opportunity to get that supermodel physique.

It has been some years since I have paraded my physique on the beach or at the side of a pool and there are good reasons for that, because I am somewhat short of that ideal shape. I can see that members around the chamber are nodding in agreement with that. However, we live in a society that glamorises that illusion of perfection, which is something that we should all seek to address. We need to educate people about symptoms and treatments and the fact that there is no condemnation in accepting that we have eating disorders. We are endomorphs or ectomorphs from genetic disposition.

Again I congratulate Dennis on having first brought this issue to Parliament in the way that he did and I congratulate Clare on giving us the opportunity to discuss further a very important subject.


27 February 2018

S5M-10433 Scotch Whisky (Contribution to Tourism)

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Linda Fabiani): The final item of business is a members’ business debate on motion S5M-10433, in the name of Rachael Hamilton, on the Scotch whisky industry’s contribution to the Scottish tourism industry. The debate will be concluded without any question being put. Members who wish to speak in the debate should press their request-to-speak buttons now.

Motion debated,

That the Parliament recognises the contribution that Scotch whisky makes to the Scottish tourism sector; believes that 2016 saw a record number of visits to Scotch whisky distilleries, totalling 1.7 million, meaning that Scotch whisky distilleries, as a tourist attraction, are as popular as the Scottish National Gallery and St Paul’s Cathedral; understands that the average visitor spend was £31 per person and £53 million overall in 2016; welcomes the new distillery to Hawick by The Three Stills Company, the first in the Scottish Borders since 1837, where a local visitor centre is planned, and wishes new and old whisky distilleries continued success in the coming year and beyond.

... ... ...

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

I, too, thank Rachael Hamilton for creating this opportunity to talk about the wonderful Scottish product that is whisky. It is almost impossible to imagine that, between 1837 and now, there was no informal production of whisky in Rachael Hamilton’s constituency, as there was right across Scotland. Indeed my father, as a GP in Fife, used to get the occasional informal bottle from one of his patients in the 1950s and 1960s.

I have an intern working with me at the moment—Chase, who is from the United States. He tells me that, prior to departing for Scotland, he received three questions: whether he would be buying a kilt, whether he would be trying haggis and how many whisky tours he would be tagging along for. Thus far, he has had no budget for a kilt, he has yet to try haggis and he has been on only one tour, so he still has a lot to do. That is testament to how much is known about whisky and how important it is as a symbol or emblem of Scotland and Scottish tourism.

Why does whisky account for such a large proportion of our food and drink exports? I suggest that it is because of its diversity. We have a whisky for every occasion and palate, with or without food. I have a pal who shared a tiny portion of whisky out of a bottle that cost £1,000. I will not buy such a bottle, and I noticed the care with which my friend resealed the bottle to ensure that there was no escape. There is a little bit of magic in every bottle of whisky.

There is also a bit of a gender issue around whisky. It is predominantly thought of as being a male drink, so I welcome the fact that, yesterday, Johnnie Walker produced a new bottle of whisky called the Jane Walker, which has a young lady on the label instead of the man in the top hat. That has not necessarily gone down terribly well. Maura Judkis wrote a long and amusing article for The Washington Post yesterday, at the end of which she says, “This article is satirical.” If we are to change the gender issue around whisky, we might need to be a little more cautious about how we do it.

Huge numbers of people visit distilleries. My constituency has four, and I hope to get Chase up to visit some of them, to multiply his one visit to a distillery. The Isle of Arran distillery had more than 100,000 visitors in 2017. The numbers keep going up, and most distillers have found it useful to have a visitor centre to increase knowledge of whisky and to let people see the skills involved and the setting for this wonderful drink that goes across the world.

I often make personal references in my speeches, so I cannot let pass the opportunity to mention my father’s cousin, James Stevenson, later Lord Stevenson, who was the managing director of Johnnie Walker when the symbol that is currently on the label was introduced. As part of Lloyd George’s Government, he was responsible for the Immature Spirits (Restriction) Act 1915, which meant that whisky was kept in bond for three years, which improved its quality and marketability. He was also responsible for the fact that the English got a football stadium: Wembley.


S5M-10652 Healthy Weight Strategy

The Presiding Officer (Ken Macintosh): The next item of business is a debate on motion S5M-10652, in the name of Aileen Campbell, on developing a Scottish healthy weight strategy. I call on the minister to speak to and move the motion.

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

David Stewart made a sideways reference to what we should call my seniority in this debate. Indeed, looking round, I see that I am the only member—apart from someone in front of me, perhaps—who might remember rationing. Indeed, I was six years old—[Laughter.]

The Deputy Presiding Officer: The ground is gradually opening up under your feet, Mr Stevenson.

Stewart Stevenson: When I wrote this speech, someone else was in the Presiding Officer’s chair, of course.

Anyway, the bottom line is that I was six when sugar rationing ended, so as a youngster my palate was not used to having sweet things. There is an important point in the rather amusing comment that I made, which is that how we eat in the very early days of our lives will influence our preferences throughout our lives. I have survived to the point where my blood pressure is 120 over 60, my heart rate is 72 and my respiration is running at about 20. More critically, I have been sworn in to the Parliament on five occasions and on each occasion I have worn the same suit. However, now for the bad news: I am 30 per cent heavier than I was when I got married nearly 50 years ago. So, it is not all good news; it is merely not as bad as it might be.

I am afraid that I must say that most of that weight gain is probably fat rather than muscle. Brian Whittle—the most accomplished athlete in our number this afternoon—would no doubt agree that of course muscle weighs more than fat so perhaps there is a modest advantage.

I want to talk a little bit about the psychology of being overweight. We heard about tomorrow’s debate on eating disorders; of course, such disorders can cause people to be underweight or overweight. Being in possession of an eating disorder is linked to stress and low self-esteem; it might even be linked to some degree of mental ill health. Some of the language that is used does not help. We have used the expression “junk food” quite frequently in this debate and I think that when we suggest to people that they are eating junk food, we demean them and we disincentivise them; we make them feel bad about themselves, because the word “junk” is not a nice word. I do not think that it is the kind of word that we should use too much.

We have heard a little bit about labelling—from Ash Denham, for example. We need vigorous rules on labelling. It is sometimes really quite difficult to work things out. I pick things up and I look at how many calories they have. Then I notice that in tiny, tiny print, it says that the number of calories is what is in half the contents of the packet. In some cases, it is even a fifth of the packet. I want to see, in 20-point print on the front of everything that is prepackaged, how many calories are in the packet. Then I can start to do some meaningful estimation.

Members have talked about the outdoors and exercise. It is worth saying that we can extend the eating habits of the young by encouraging them to just walk around. There is hedgerow food—we normally pick enough brambles to last for most of the year. They go in the freezer. There has been a huge crop of wild raspberries in our area, and there are mushrooms out there. If I want something sweet when I am in the country, I pick up a clover flower and just stick it in my mouth and suck it; it is lovely. There is seaweed not far away, there is tree resin, and there are nettles, which are an excellent thing to add to mince, stews and so on. Of course, when they are cooked, they have no adverse effect whatsoever on one’s palate.

We have talked a bit about salt, which is, of course, sodium chloride. It is possible to buy formulations of salt that have potassium chloride, which is much less harmful to the metabolism, but gives exactly the same flavour benefits.

We have heard a little bit about alcohol. I must confess to members here and now that I reckon that the amount of calories in my alcohol consumption is probably equivalent to a meal a week, and for a lot of members it might be something similar. People should think of their alcohol consumption in those terms when they are thinking of its benefits.

In my lifetime—and I think that this goes to the heart of it—there has been a shift. At the beginning of my life, people were eating to live; now, alas, too many of us are living to eat.

The Deputy Presiding Officer: That was entertaining as usual, Mr Stevenson, as well as informative. I call Anas Sarwar to close for Labour.


17 January 2018

S5M-09328 The Economic Potential of Robert Burns

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Linda Fabiani): The final item of business is a members’ business debate on motion S5M-09328, in the name of Joan McAlpine, on the economic potential of Robert Burns. The debate will be concluded without any question being put.

Motion debated,

That the Parliament welcomes the contribution that Robert Burns continues to make to Scotland’s economic and cultural life; understands that business generated during the Burns season includes spending on food and drink, hospitality, accommodation, kilt hire, printing and merchandising; notes that the creative economy is boosted through arts events such as the Big Burns Supper Festival in Dumfries, which is the culmination of Scotland’s £390,000 Winter Festivals Programme; understands that year-round Burns-related tourism is on the increase thanks to Burns Scotland partner destinations such as the Robert Burns Birthplace Museum in Alloway, Ellisland Farm near Auldgirth, the Monument Centre in Kilmarnock and Burns House Museum in Mauchline, as well as numerous places around Scotland associated with the poet; notes that Burns the brand helps promote Scotland’s exports and trade links through Burns suppers around the globe, including through more than 250 member clubs of the Robert Burns World Federation; understands that Burns contributes to the success of Scotland’s higher education institutions, including the Centre for Robert Burns Studies at the University of Glasgow, which encourages interest in the Bard through publications, seminar series, conferences, community and performance events, advice to exporters, research grant funding and international students and donor gifts, while providing strong strategic support to the National Burns Collection; understands that the last evaluation of Robert Burns’ economic impact on modern Scotland was completed in 2003 for the BBC by the World Bank economist, Lesley Campbell, who estimated that he generated £157 million each year for Scotland, and believes that this figure has grown exponentially since the research was carried out and that celebrations of the Bard’s birthday on 25 January will be an enriching experience in every sense of the word.

... ... ...

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

Like others, I thank Joan McAlpine for the opportunity to speak on this subject.

My new intern, Chase Lindemann, started with me yesterday, and as is often the case when I have a new intern, I set him the challenge of writing a speech for me. Chase has written tonight’s speech; he has come from the United States and he has not been to Scotland before, but it is an indication of the reach of Burns that, in a short space of time, Chase has produced an insightful and interesting speech on Robert Burns.

One of the things that Chase has identified is that Sophie Craig, a 16-year-old member of the Alloway Burns club in Ayr, has been given the opportunity to travel to Hungary to promote the works of Robert Burns. She will recite poetry and songs at the Corinthia hotel for more than 300 guests, hoping to raise money for sick and disadvantaged children in central Europe. The financial benefits of Robert Burns are more diverse than we, perhaps selfishly looking in our own mirror, have thought. Sophie is a young adult who is showcasing the power that Robert Burns’s poetry has to unite people from all walks of life.

A poem such as “To A Mouse” transcends socioeconomic status, allowing all and any to delight in the humorous comparisons and links between the lives of mice and men. The universality of his message makes it easy for Burns’s poetry to reach non-Scottish ears. His poems permeate the minds of people across the planet, and haggis and whisky have spread likewise, introducing more people to Scottish culture and cuisine.

Well done to the Parliament’s canteen for providing the haggis today. Alas, there was no whisky, but ho hum, there we are.

Between 2011 and 2015, we exported £4.85 million-worth of haggis to 28 different countries. Whisky, of course, has also enjoyed an increase in exports. In 2013, 1.3 billion bottles, worth £4.37 billion, were exported.

John Scott (Ayr) (Con): It is my understanding that the Scottish Government has secured access to the American market for haggis. Can the member confirm that that is correct?

Stewart Stevenson: A whisper from the front bench tells me that it might be Canada; the States may still be off. I am prepared to be corrected if necessary, but I think that there are now some quite good vegetarian haggises and I believe that some of them are going to the States. I hope that the real thing will follow quite soon.

Tourism is also an important part of our economy, and Burns is an important part of why people come here, as well as the tartan, the bagpipes, the whisky tours and, of course, our history, of which Burns is an important part. I thank Robert Burns for creating the opportunity and helping us with that.

Burns’s poetry covers a wide range of themes, from quite short poems to narrative tales of wonderful complexity and interest. His use of the Scots language has helped to introduce 20 million Scots Americans to the language of their ancestry.

I note that Kenneth Gibson today circulated a motion asking us to rename Glasgow Prestwick airport as the Robert Burns international airport. I am sure that John Scott will be on the case, and it will be a good thing for Prestwick and for Burns.

Burns clubs do not exist only as a means of cherishing the life and poetry of Robert Burns. They encourage the young to take an interest in the poet and poetry, songs and competitions in general. Clubs are an avenue for people of all social classes. On 25 January, people in Atlanta, Georgia, in Budapest, and all the way down to Bendigo in Australia will celebrate the birth of our bard. Members of international Burns clubs will join millions of Scots by partaking in an evening of haggis, whisky and poetry recital.

For my part, I look forward to visiting the Deputy Presiding Officer’s constituency with my colleague Ruth Maguire. I am sure that you will lay out the red carpet for us as we come to speak on Burns.

My favourite place to have spoken at a Burns supper—and the most prestigious—was the British embassy in Paris, which is the most wonderful building. I have also spoken in the United States and elsewhere.

The “Heaven-taught ploughman” has given us enormous value and, before I sit down, I cannot help reminding members that the Burns family came from the north-east of Scotland.


11 January 2018

S5M-09821 Developing the Young Workforce

The Presiding Officer (Ken Macintosh): Good afternoon. The next item of business is a debate on motion S5M-09821, in the name of Jamie Hepburn, on developing the young workforce: review of progress at the midpoint of the seven-year programme.

... ... ...

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

In relation to today’s topic, I draw members’ attention to my being a professional member of the Association for Computing Machinery, a member of the Institution of Engineering and Technology and a fellow of the Royal Society for the Encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce, all of which have an interest in the education of young people.

In relation to my life experience, I am largely an autodidact, which is a bit inconvenient because it means that I have no one to blame but myself for any shortcomings in my knowledge and understanding of the world. I have, however, re-engaged with education in recent times. Since I stopped being a minister in 2012, I have managed to find time to do an online postgraduate certificate at the University of Strathclyde. The reason why I raise that is that it illustrates the new ways in which education can be done. It was an online course, so I could choose at what time of day I did the study. I could choose exactly when I was going to complete exercises. If I came in bleary-eyed in the morning, that might have been some of the reason why.

That leads me to a much broader issue that we have not mentioned, that of self-paced learning, which is enabled by the development of online computer training. Particularly for people who have other responsibilities, such as childcare or caring for parents, it is of value to be able to choose the pace at which they move through an education system. That applies particularly to people who find even the present quite flexible approaches still too restrictive. As technology improves and develops, there is great scope for us to look at further opportunities in that area.

In that regard, I encourage the Government and others to think about where people get access to the technology. The people who we want to bring into the system are often those who have least access. That means having computer terminals in libraries and other public spaces and perhaps in voluntary sector places. Equally, we need the people who are there to be able to provide at least the basics of support and give a bit of direction to those who find themselves in difficulties.

I will move on to a more general issue, under the heading “Achieving the impossible”. One of the great things that our youngsters do is to achieve the impossible. Old lags like myself and others in the chamber might consider something beyond contemplation, but our youngsters do not know that it is impossible and they achieve it. I may have used this example before but, when I was a minister, we had only £12 million to do a wee bit of electrification of the railway network, when all the officials said that it would cost £27 million and could not be done for a penny less. Eventually, they got fed up and gave it to an engineering graduate apprentice, who worked out how to do it for £12 million, because he did not know that the project was impossible. He did it on the very simple basis that a bit of the overhead wires could have no power in it as the wires went under a bridge, so the bridge did not have to be jacked up and the railway did not have to be taken down, and that got the project in at £12 million instead of £27 million. There is huge potential in our youngsters and other people in the system and it is at our peril that we talk them out of tackling the impossible and succeeding.

We have talked a little about maths. The most expert mathematicians I ever see are people who do not regard themselves as doing any maths at all. Liz Smith talked about arithmetic. I was in the cohort who sat the very first ordinary grade arithmetic exam in 1962. I must say that I found it rather simple, although I am sure that others found value in it. The people who use maths without knowing it are the guys—sorry, but it is mostly guys—who stand around in the bookies with a wee pencil behind their ear, working out five-horse accumulators with complex odds and instantly saying how much money they will win if it all comes good. I cannot do that, and I have a degree in mathematics. People will not be persuaded to use or to acquire those kinds of skills if we do not persuade them to do so.

Elaine Smith: Surely the huge potential of our young people that Stewart Stevenson mentioned will not be realised with insecure work and low pay.

Stewart Stevenson: The member is absolutely correct. For some people, who choose things such as zero-hours contracts so that they work when it suits them, they are fine. However, we can all condemn exploitative zero-hours contracts that are controlled by employers. I will just leave that little thought there.

I very much welcome the support that there has been for people in rural areas such as Aberdeenshire and Moray, but we have a wee bit more to think about. Those who have to attend classes sometimes still have quite an issue with how to get to college. The bus services in the north-east have been retuned, which is generally quite helpful.

Finally, I want to say three things. First, people need to learn a systematic approach as part of their life skills, and that means actively learning about time management. Secondly, they need to learn how to develop and apply analytical skills. Finally—this is a hobby-horse of mine, because I lectured postgraduates on the subject for a couple of years—they need to learn project management skills. That applies to almost every area of life and work, but I have not heard it specifically referred to.


10 January 2018

S5M-09828 Holocaust Memorial Day 2018

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Christine Grahame): The final item of business is a members’ business debate on motion S5M-09828, in the name of Adam Tomkins, on Holocaust memorial day 2018. The debate will be concluded without any question being put.

Motion debated,

That the Parliament recognises that 27 January 2018 marks Holocaust Memorial Day; believes that the day serves as an opportunity for learning institutions, faith groups and communities across Scotland, including in Glasgow, to remember the six million men, women and children murdered by the Nazi regime in occupied Europe; notes that the theme of the 2018 memorial day is the Power of Words; understands that this theme aims to look at how words can make a difference, both for good and evil; values the Holocaust Education Trust’s Lessons from Auschwitz project, which gives two post-16 students from every school and college in Scotland the opportunity to visit Auschwitz-Birkenau; celebrates the Holocaust survivors who subsequently made Scotland their home; thanks them for their contribution to Scotland as a nation, and acknowledges the view that anti-Semitism in all its forms should be challenged without fear or favour.

... ... ...

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

I, like others, thank Adam Tomkins for creating the opportunity to have this evening’s debate—I have previously participated in similar ones.

It is as well to remember that the Holocaust was not a single event but the aggregation of millions of decisions to execute millions of people who had committed no crime.

The world’s legal systems have worked over the decades since 1945 to deliver justice for the missing millions, their families and friends, but that on its own cannot be enough. We cannot undo the injustice done by the Nazis. We cannot restore life and liberty to those from whom such basic rights were removed by the Nazis. We simply cannot reset the world that the Nazis destroyed.

However, we can remember those whom we lost to the Holocaust. I have the tiniest of personal connections with the events. The last sentences passed at the Nuremberg trials were passed on 30 September and 1 October 1946, and those who were found guilty were due to be hanged on 16 October, which was my first full day on this planet. Indeed, Hermann Göring beat the hangman by committing suicide on 15 October, the very day that I emerged from my mother’s womb.

We have to use the example of the Holocaust to remind our contemporaries of the injustices that came from it and to educate new generations about the dangers of demagoguery designed to characterise ethnic or religious difference as somehow less worthy. The theme of Holocaust memorial day 2018, which is the power of words, is a fine choice, because it was words that created the Holocaust—when Adolf Hitler sat in prison writing “Mein Kampf”, he wrote the words that would lead to the Holocaust. We can, to some extent, prevent a repetition with our words and the words of others.

Words can lead to action, which can be good or bad. Adam Tomkins reminded us that our business as politicians depends on words, and the meanings that we ascribe to them and the use to which we put them are important. Our most important words might be those that we deploy when we defend those with views with which we disagree and when we defend their right to be different from us. Democracy depends on diversity, and so does society’s future.

Those who lost their lives in the Holocaust were not an undifferentiated group. Each was an individual of worth. Each had individual views and potential. Each could disagree with his or her neighbour, as we do with each other in this place.

My personal visits to Auschwitz thus far have been vicarious. The good work of the Holocaust Educational Trust features regularly in the media. The trust was founded in 1988, and its good work in taking school students to the site is highly valued by those who participate in its programme. The most important visit that I have made to Auschwitz was via the television series, “The Ascent of Man”, which was written and presented by Jacob Bronowski and broadcast in 1973, a year before he died.

Bronowski was born in 1908 into a Jewish family at Łódź, a couple of hundred kilometres north of Auschwitz. Forty-five years on, the profound effect of seeing him at Auschwitz, walking slowly towards the camera, pausing, leaning down to scoop mud into his hand from a puddle, then looking at the mud and saying in a quiet voice, “This is my family,” remains with me and will never leave me. Personal experience speaks directly in a way that our debate today—worthy and necessary as it is—simply cannot match. That is why each generation must relearn the lessons of Nazi bigotry. That is why visits can communicate and embed by experience the message of history in students who are supported by the trust. That is vital, if we believe that this should never, ever happen again—and we do.


9 January 2018

S5M-09732 Article 50 Withdrawal Process

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Linda Fabiani): The next item of business is a debate on motion S5M-09732, in the name of Joan McAlpine, on the Culture, Tourism, Europe and External Relations Committee’s inquiry into the article 50 withdrawal process.

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

I wish a happy new year to all my colleagues in the chamber except for Tavish Scott, who will shortly celebrate new year with his constituents at Up Helly Aa, rather than celebrate it conventionally, on 1 January.

My constituents are exceptional, too, as, perhaps more than others elsewhere, they are taking a keen interest in the negotiations on the UK leaving the EU. That is because they, rather differently from most people in Scotland, can see a local benefit from our doing so. That benefit is from our exploitation of our escape from the common fisheries policy and the regaining of control over fishing opportunities in our waters out to 200 miles.

I referred to my opposition to the common fisheries policy in my first speech in Parliament in 2001, which was made on the day following my first swearing in, and members have heard me speak on that subject on many occasions since.

We only gain meaningful benefit from being outside the CFP if the exit negotiations deliver certain other matters of importance to our fish-catching sector. Catching more fish means little if we lose the opportunity to add value to an increased weight of fish through increasing our processing activity. Yes, skippers would be able to land the increased amount of fish directly to European Economic Area ports, which would probably mean Norway, and thereby make a gain. However, the bigger prize—and the bigger industry right now—is onshore, on our shores. It can flourish, and the entrepreneurial spirit is strong, but it needs fair and, essentially, timely access to export markets. Some products, such as the Cullen skink Scotch pie that I sent to David Davis for Christmas, are products that are designed for delivery by time-variable means such as the post. I hope that he enjoyed the pie as much I enjoyed one for my lunch on the same day. Other products, such our world-famous langoustines, halve in value if they arrive even four hours late.

Tariff barriers are currently less critical with the fall in the value of the pound, but if the pound recovers its previous exchange rate, they might again be an important matter. Access to market is what matters, yet we see no sign that that has a high-enough priority in the negotiations.

We have greater, if substantially less than full, clarity on migration. Our fish processing industry’s future depends on people from many nations coming and, crucially, being able to settle here. About half of the migrants who have come to the north-east in recent years have made a permanent relocation. It is not simply seasonal recruitment, but permanent employment. Alasdair Allan’s evidence to the committee suggested that 46 per cent of people in fish processing in the UK are EEA nationals, and we know that 70 per cent of workers in north-east fish processors have been migrants. They add huge value to the local and national economies, particularly in the north-east, which is an area of high employment where recruitment has long been difficult. They also enrich and strengthen our culture, substantial as it already is.

The Cabinet Secretary for Rural Economy and Connectivity, Fergus Ewing, told members that the UK minister Michael Gove has a sympathetic ear to the issues around fishing and fish processing, and Mr Gove’s connections to the north-east of Scotland underpin his understanding. However, for the UK, the industry is a very minor part of the economy, and I share the concern of others that it will end up as a bargaining chip and that benefits that we expect will be traded away.

I listened with great interest to Jackson Carlaw, who is in soft focus for me today because I do not have my glasses—I have no migraine but no glasses. However, the secrecy, the exclusion of the devolved nations’ Governments and Parliaments from the development of post-Brexit policy and rules, and their exclusion from the negotiation itself feed a paranoia, justified or not, about possible outcomes. It also has the practical effect of reducing the resource that can be applied to the shared interests of all the nations of the UK—for clarity, I include England when I say that—in what is the greatest challenge to our future in my lifetime. I am pleased to note the consensus that has been referred to already that we cannot yet—I repeat, yet—give our consent as a Parliament to the UK Brexit bill.

However, the prospect of cutting off migration is the one that is worrying me most. Historically, the Scots are probably the greatest migrants in the world. The cities of Warsaw, Krakow and Gdansk each have areas in them called Nowa Szkocja, or New Scotland, which is a testament to our outward migration in the late 1600s. Indeed, a Scot was the mayor of Warsaw on four occasions. The 2011 census says that there are 55,000 Poles in Scotland. They are our largest immigrant group.

Countries around the world would not exist in their present form without our citizens; Canada is the most obvious example. In my own family, as in others, it continues. A niece, born in Edinburgh, is now a Swedish citizen because of Brexit. Her brother will shortly be a Dane.

Leaving the EU and thus leaving the common fisheries policy, while remaining in the single market and retaining free movement of people, ticks most of the boxes for most of my constituents, as it does for Scotland as a whole and as it will do for all the nations of the UK.


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