16 January 2019

S5M-15380 Carbon-neutral Economy (Just Transition)

The Presiding Officer (Ken Macintosh): The next item of business is a debate on motion S5M-15380, in the name of Roseanna Cunningham, on securing a just transition to a carbon-neutral economy.

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

Exactly 10 years ago, I was at the 14th conference of the parties—COP 14—in Poznan, in Poland, and the present climate change minister has been to COP 24 in Katowice, also in Poland. Ten years ago, the core of what we were discussing was climate justice, and I had the privilege of meeting, for the first time, Mary Robinson, who is now of the Mary Robinson Foundation—Climate Justice, when she spoke at an event that was organised by the Scottish Government.

Ensuring a just transition has moved up the agenda as an important issue of which we need to take account in protecting people’s jobs, exploiting the skills and opportunities that come from the transition and supporting the people who will need to undertake it.

Why does the agenda matter? In my intervention on the cabinet secretary, I talked about the very welcome move of employment from coal to renewables in the United States. It is estimated that hurricane Florence—a single hurricane—whose ferocity was broadly attributed to climate change, cost $22 billion. Therefore, the cost of doing nothing on the agenda is enormous. Ten years ago, we were being told by the UK Committee on Climate Change that the costs of doing nothing were approximately 10 times as great as the costs of addressing the agenda. I have not heard an update on that ratio, but there is little doubt that it will have remained the same—if not increased—as the issue has become more important. That is why we are addressing the agenda.

The Scottish Government has been doing quite a lot to address the agenda. There has been a just transition of ScotRail drivers from diesel trains—which burn 75,000 litres of fuel a week between Edinburgh and Glasgow, via Falkirk High, according to my back-of-the-envelope calculation—to electric trains, which are now used on the line. There are slightly more of them, with many more seats—30,000 seats per day—and the power that they need comes from only 10 wind turbines. If we compare those two options, we see why, in economic and climate terms, we will be making the transition from an environment in which we rely on oil, particularly in transport.

Oil is important, and the industry in the north-east is important for my constituents. My constituency has the St Fergus gas plant, which brings a huge proportion of the UK’s gas ashore. East Anglia is the other main place for that, together with some places off Blackpool. The skills that have been developed among my constituents and in my constituency are transferable skills that can enable us to build a new renewables industry, but we have got to manage that—it will not happen simply by accident.

We also have the Acorn carbon capture and storage project, which is undergoing its early stages at St Fergus, although the project is not quite of the size that we previously looked forward to at the Peterhead gas station. That is an ideal place to have a carbon capture system because of its proximity to the pipelines that would take the carbonic acid away and into reservoirs offshore.

Will oil continue to matter to us? Yes, it will. We have not found a way of successfully replacing oil in any meaningful way as a feedstock for our chemical industries. That is a challenge. We can see some of the way forward, but we are certainly not ready to complete that transition. We are not yet in a position to say that oil does not matter to our economy or to the future of the human race, but we can certainly see the way forward in transport, and we should. Oil is too precious for us to be burning as much of it as we currently do in transport.

Turning to the just transition process, I very much welcome the debate and its focus on the just transition principles. I am broadly comfortable with the Labour amendment, although not quite as comfortable as the cabinet secretary is, because I am not at all clear that the establishment of a commission that was

“independent of government and accountable to the Parliament”

would make sense or work. Why do I say that? There is a place for outside bodies that fit into that category. An example is the Commissioner for Ethical Standards in Public Life in Scotland, who is our policeman. Quis custodiet ipsos custodes? Who will guard the guards? We need independence in that role. Similarly, the Boundary Commission for Scotland should be independent of politicians and should therefore not report by the normal ministerial lines.

However, I genuinely have concerns about having an independent commission in a policy area such as this. The Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body would have to find the money from parliamentary funds to fund it every year. Also, the commission would have to have a line of accountability to the Parliament—and how would that work? We know that ministers can be hauled up at our behest to account for the areas that are their responsibilities, but the commission’s area would not be their responsibility if the commission was independent and reported directly to the Parliament. Can I be persuaded on the subject? I probably can but, so far, the argument has not advanced to the point that I have heard the arguments for that aspect of a just transition commission—which, in principle, I strongly support.

This is an excellent debate. Some ministers have shown us the way to do things. In 2008, the Welsh Minister for Environment, Sustainability and Housing, Jane Davidson, was able to travel by train from Cardiff to Poznan, in Poland. The journey took her two days each way. I regret that, as a minority Government minister in 2008, I had to fly. I hope that that will not happen in the future.


10 January 2019

S5M-15279 Future Rural Policy and Support

The Presiding Officer (Ken Macintosh): The next item of business is a debate on motion S5M-15279, in the name of Fergus Ewing, on future rural policy and support in Scotland.

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

First of all, I declare my joint ownership of a very small registered agricultural holding, from which my wife and I derive no income whatever.

Like, I suspect, the whole chamber, I want to agree with Donald Cameron’s comment that we should demand that our farmers be properly supported. Of course, this debate is about the question, “What is proper support?”

I always like to look at what the motions and amendments before us are doing. The first and most obvious thing to note is that the first seven words that the Conservative amendment would delete from the Government motion are:

“including fully replacing all lost EU funding”.

That tells us straight away that the Conservatives are opposed to farming having the amount of funding that it currently gets from the EU. It therefore ill behoves Peter Chapman or anyone else on the Conservative benches to talk about funding, lack of vision or kicking cans down the road, given that the stark reality is that the Conservatives are opposed to farmers having all the funding that they currently have under the scheme. They will have to account to farmers for that.

Peter Chapman: Will the member give way?

Stewart Stevenson: I have not quite finished dealing with the amendment.

The amendment ends:

“and calls on the Scottish Government to ensure that it has sufficient legislative powers”.

If it has “sufficient legislative powers”, the Government will legislate, but the Tories are clearly suggesting that we do not have “sufficient legislative powers” and therefore cannot legislate.

I know that the motion that is before us is in the name of an advocate. I have had many informed and interesting discussions with him, and I suspect that he just didnae read what somebody put in front of him, because it makes no sense to imply that we do not have sufficient legislative powers unless the Conservatives are suggesting that, as we have suggested, powers are being taken away.

Donald Cameron: Will the member take an intervention?

Stewart Stevenson: I will take the intervention from Donald Cameron, but I will come back to Peter Chapman.

Donald Cameron: The point that is being made in the last sentence of the amendment is that, if we are not part of the UK Agriculture Bill, we will not have the belt-and-braces approach that the NFUS has said will provide clarity now. That is the lack of legislative power that we are talking about. Why does the SNP Government not agree with the Welsh Government and the Northern Ireland Administration and believe that it, too, should be in the bill?

Stewart Stevenson: I understand the point that is being made in the debate, but I have to go back to the words that are on the page, which are fundamentally different. I will now take Mr Chapman.

Peter Chapman: I want to respond Mr Stevenson’s claim that we do not want agriculture to be fully funded in Scotland. Of course we want agriculture to be fully funded, and we support the convergence money coming fully back to Scotland. That has always been our position. It has never changed.

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Linda Fabiani): Mr Stevenson, we are very short of time and we have no spare time at all. Please stick to your six minutes.

Stewart Stevenson
: I was conscious of that when I accepted the interventions, Presiding Officer, but I wanted to be fair to the Conservatives, because probably nobody else will be.

The bottom line is that the Conservative amendment would delete the words:

“including fully replacing all lost EU funding”.

Let us move on from that, because enough has been said about that subject.

I think that we all accept that farming is an important part of our economy, especially our rural economy. At Christmas, I was delighted to see that everything on the table had come from locations that were no more than 50 miles from my home. I hope that that was the case for others, but that will not be the case if we do not get the kind of environment that is important.

I will pick up on one or two points that I suspect that others will not pick up on.

The report of the National Council of Rural Advisers contains some wider recommendations beyond support from Government. Action point 4B in that report says:

“Ensure equitable access to finance for rural communities and businesses, including a simplified grant system.”

That is great. However, when I picked up the Scottish Rural Action report that I got from the stand yesterday, I saw that it focuses on the closures of branches of the Royal Bank of Scotland, which is a bank that is publicly owned by the Government down south. If we take banks out of communities, it will be a heck of a lot more difficult to follow that recommendation. The issue is not just about funding farmers; it is about the total infrastructure that we have.

Action point 8B of the report of the National Council of Rural Advisers talks about micro-enterprises and ways of encouraging women and young people into the sector. I support that very much.

The bottom line that the Conservatives at Westminster in particular have to think about is this: what is the effect of creating barriers between Scotland—and the UK, for that matter—and one of our biggest markets, which is the EU? The NFUS and other farmers unions have called for frictionless trade. If we are not in the single market, we do not have frictionless trade, and, as the ministerial statement that we heard before this debate highlighted, if we do not have free movement of people, there will be problems for more than just the strawberry farms in Fife—as well as the raspberry farms in Fife, one of which I worked on donkey’s years ago. That issue goes to the heart of the problem that confronts us. Yes, the issue is about support to farmers, but it is also about the total system, and things are not looking terribly good.


S5M-10559 End-of-Life Carers Support

Deputy Presiding Officer (Linda Fabiani): The next item of business is a members’ business debate on motion S5M-10559, in the name of Mark Griffin, on the report by Marie Curie and Macmillan Cancer Support, “Getting it right for carers supporting someone at the end of life”.

Motion moved,

That the Parliament welcomes the new report by Marie Curie and Macmillan Cancer Support, Getting it right for carers supporting someone at the end of life; notes that the report found that too many people caring for someone at the end of life are going unidentified and unsupported, carers supporting someone at the end of life without support are at risk of falling into crisis and a breakdown of care, the decline towards end of life and death can often be rapid, sometimes quicker than expected, and that the support needs of carers can be very high at this time; further notes that the report sets out that carers need to be identified early, need good care co-ordination and information to support them in their caring role, need respite and/or replacement care to give them a break, and that more needs to be done to identify those in caring roles, especially those caring for someone at the end of life and particularly by those in primary care roles, such as GPs and district nurses, and recognises the report’s recommendation that all those caring for someone at end of life, including those in Central Scotland should have their needs assessed quickly and a plan put in place to support them.

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

I thank Mark Griffin for the opportunity to debate this important subject. Equally, I thank Macmillan in a personal capacity as someone whose family has benefited, as have so many others, from its support over the years in circumstances of terminal illness.

Given that I am statistically closer to death than anyone else present in this debate, it is worth my saying that death is the last great taboo. Therefore, we often do not engage with the idea of death and the necessity to prepare for it in a way that would support to an adequate extent the person who is departing and those who care for them. That lack of recognition is part of the issue.

I make the minor observation that one thing that has not emerged in the debate, which slightly surprised me, is the role of faith communities in supporting families of terminally ill people. The visit from the priest, pastor, minister or elder of the church can often be a very important part of the support before death and the bereavement process after death to which Mark Griffin and Monica Lennon referred.

As a GP’s son, I am aware of the conventional view of bereavement that there are five phases and that, basically, it lasts six months. As Monica Lennon and Mark Griffin said, it is important that there is support for people in that time. It does not matter how unexpected a death is or how long-anticipated it is—it is a shock when it happens, and bereavement support for the carer is very important indeed.

Modern medicine has created particular problems in this regard. People survive after diagnosis of a terminal condition much longer than they used to. They might survive with comorbidities; people might have many different conditions and a complex set of needs and require support from the medical profession. In that sense, we create a problem for the system of supporting carers.

We expect more of carers, given those comorbidities, and we expect longer-term support because of the generally longer survival times after diagnosis. Therefore, this whole issue has become more important than it ever was.

We cannot start early enough to help people to understand the process of death and bereavement. This might sound quite trivial, but that is one of the reasons why it is quite important for children to have pets—it confronts them with the idea that nothing in life is forever, because pets tend to die, and that is as true of us as it is of our pets.

I hope that this debate makes its own modest contribution to engaging us with the idea that death is normal and natural. Indeed, it is important that we move out of the way to allow the next generation to come through.

Macmillan’s study is a very valuable contribution to understanding the pressures on carers and the support gaps that we need to address. As a rural MSP, I point in particular to the difficulties in reaching people in rural areas and in identifying carers there. In those areas, people are more likely not to be identified and to lack support.

We can never thank Macmillan too much; I do so again.


9 January 2019

S5M-15094 Rotary Club of Currie Balerno (Recycling Computers)

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Christine Grahame): The final item of business is a members’ business debate on motion S5M-15094, in the name of Gordon MacDonald, on Rotary Club of Currie Balerno recycling personal computers. The debate will be concluded without any question being put.

Motion debated,

That the Parliament thanks the Rotary Club of Currie Balerno, which has recycled and provided used computers for schools in Africa for over six years with its partners, the Turing Trust; recognises that over 4,000 PCs have been wiped, refurbished, installed with educational materials and shipped to schools in Ghana, Malawi and other African countries; considers that there are not only social benefits from reusing old PCs but also environmental benefits from the offsetting of 2,058 tonnes of CO2 emissions so far, which is the equivalent of planting 5,145 trees; acknowledges that many of the project volunteers learned IT refurbishment skills and that four trainees have used their training and work experience as an opportunity to end long-term unemployment and get full-time jobs; understands that the club’s most recent project, under the Scottish Government’s small grants programme, is to provide computers for classrooms in Malawi over a three-year period and that, to date, it has helped 41,067 students to gain vital digital literacy skills; encourages potential donors to provide old computers, and notes the calls on the Scottish Government to give greater consideration to smaller charities such as these to develop their projects and expertise.

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

I draw members’ attention to my entry in the register of interests as a member of the Institution of Engineering and Technology and of the Association for Computing Machinery.

It is a great delight to see the members of the Rotary Club of Currie Balerno in the public gallery. My father became the president of the Rotary Club of Cupar in 1956, which was just a few years ago, and one of my very early speeches on computing was given to that Rotary club in 1974. Rotary clubs are a very important part of our social infrastructure and do good work right across Scotland, as well as work with international reach. It is a delight to hear of a relatively small club doing something that, without question, is benefiting people in Africa who need our support.

Old computers are something that I rather like, given that I am the oldest person in the chamber—I am looking around carefully—and think that there is some value in things that have aged. We can reuse them and rediscover their merits. Although computers are obsoleted by updates in the software environment and changing fashion, they can in fact continue to operate for many years delivering useful service. The reuse of old computers benefits the environment, but it is of wider benefit altogether. It is worth saying that two pals and I built the first home computer in Scotland in 1975, which is still running up in Caithness with one of that combine.

There is something in what Gordon MacDonald said about scaling up, but there is an intrinsic value in many ways, particularly in innovation, in having comparatively small teams. Innovation happens when communication between the members of a group is tight and close; if there is a big group, that becomes much more difficult. Where the opportunity has been created in Africa for access to technology, we have seen genuine innovation that shows the way for people far beyond Africa. In particular, Africa is the place where electronic money has been developed using mobile phones. To avoid having to go to banks, people can exchange money between phones. That technology has been developed locally and it shows the rest of the world that there is genuine ability to innovate there if only we can give people the equipment with which to do it.

The Raspberry Pi is a wonderful tiny computer that can sit in the palm of one’s hand. The American moon landing programme was the genesis of the integrated chip. There was only 0.4W available for the 2 kilobyte computer that navigated the moon lander down, and that required the integrated chip. Today, the integrated chip is such that I now have 4 gigabytes of memory in the device on my wrist, whereas the first computer that I programmed in the 1960s had 1 kilobyte of memory.

The world moves on, but that should not mean that the computers of the past are without value. I very much welcome the Rotary Club of Currie Balerno showing the way in how we can reuse computers. I hope in particular that we will see the recycling of laptops, which seem to have a shorter fashion life cycle. One of the important benefits of a laptop going out to areas where continuous access to electricity is limited is that they work when they are not connected to the mains. I hope that, if laptops have not been part of the focus, they will become part of the future focus.

I hope that the debate helps to ensure that what is going on in the Rotary Club of Currie Balerno and in Africa with used computers becomes more widely known and that the model is picked up and copied. I hope that there are no patents and no copyrights on the design of the SolarBerry, because it sounds like a rattling good idea that I would certainly like to see replicated elsewhere. The next time I meet Rotarians in the north-east of Scotland, I will certainly be drawing their attention to the example that the small Rotary Club of Currie Balerno has given us. I congratulate its members and congratulate Gordon MacDonald on bringing the debate to the Parliament today.


8 January 2019

S5M-15243 Ultra-low-emission Vehicles

The Presiding Officer (Ken Macintosh): The next item of business is a debate on motion S5M-15243, in the name of Michael Matheson, on ultra-low-emission vehicles.

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

I declare that I am honorary president of the Scottish Association for Public Transport and honorary vice-president of Railfuture UK.

I listened with interest to what George Adam said about taxis. Six years ago, I was across in Ireland to give evidence to the Irish Parliament’s rural affairs committee, and I travelled back to the airport in an electric vehicle: a Nissan Leaf. The driver told me that he could drive all round Dublin on a single charge. The technology has been with us for a while. That driver was an early adopter; Nissan had given him the taxi, to prove that it could do the job—so he was really enthusiastic, because he had got the car for nothing.

The Tory amendment mentions “standardisation of charging points”. That is a proper matter to consider, but I am very uncertain as to whether we are ready to set a standard. There is direct current charging, there is alternating current charging and there are nine different physical connections that can be made in different charging points. We have 150kW charging points coming in this year and 350kW charging points coming in in about a year or 18 months’ time. The standards are probably not stable enough to enable us to choose a winner.

However, there is a way forward. We can have a standard of physical connection—that would be helpful. We can have a standard on the logical messages that travel between the charging station and the vehicle that is being charged. We can build in a standard that future proofs charging stations, so that they can accommodate changes. It is time to do that.

It is worth considering that 100 years ago, when electricity was being put into domestic and industrial premises, there were no standards. Every electricity company had a different plug design. Some systems used DC and some used AC. Systems ran on different voltages and to different fusing standards—some had no fuses at all. We are in such an era now, and we need to move out of it.

Claudia Beamish talked about planning and domestic houses. My colleague Richard Lyle has been banging on about councils for some time, because councils could make it a planning condition that new developments must put in terminals. That would be a good idea.

I had not realised that Orkney has the greatest density of electric vehicles. I looked into the matter after seeing Liam McArthur’s amendment, and I found that there are seven charging points in Kirkwall. I was going to wind Mr McArthur up about that, but now I discover that there is a perfectly good reason for it.

I look forward to the Loganair Islander aircraft becoming electric in about three years’ time. The new Audi e-tron is 408 brake horsepower and the Islanders require 520 BHP, so that is well within the compass of what is available and working now. When electric engines are put in, the weight of the aircraft will be reduced, and it will be easier to fly—and, by the way, the top speed of the Islander is about the same as that of the new Audi, which has a range of more than 200 miles.

A lot is happening in public transport. In the central belt, we have new electric trains. Yesterday, I had a high-speed train for my journey down to the Parliament; I loved it. On the Inverness to Aberdeen line, there are classic HSTs that are not yet refurbished but are still super. There are the class 170s on the line down to Edinburgh—and a lot of journeys on that line are on HSTs—and there are the class 385s. The railways are super; they are not perfect everywhere, but my goodness, I would not go back to my journeys of 10 years ago, for anything.

We have been talking about ultra-low-emission vehicles, but no one has mentioned ferries, and we have the first electric ferries—[Interruption.] I beg members’ pardon; out of the corner of my eye I saw a hand go up. Well, no one has mentioned electric bicycles. Getting more people to use electricity-assisted bicycles would help people to get exercise.

Getting involved in transport is almost an instinctive thing. My first motorised transport was my piler—otherwise known as a bogey or a cairtie—which we used to put the motor mower in front of to tow us around the back garden. It is amazing that we did not kill anybody with the blades going.

This is an excellent debate. I look forward to my next vehicle being an electric one in about two years’ time. I hope that everybody else does the same.


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