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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.

15:07
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15:53

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.

15:58

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.

14:47
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16:27

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.

16:34

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.

17:33
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17:41

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.

17:45

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”.

14:57
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15:38

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.

15:43

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