13 June 2019

S5M-17660 Restricted Roads (20 mph Speed Limit) (Scotland) Bill: Stage 1

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Christine Grahame):
The next item of business is a debate on motion S5M-17660, in the name of Mark Ruskell, on the Restricted Roads (20 mph Speed Limit) (Scotland) Bill.

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

I rise to speak as someone who signed in support of the proposed bill, but who, having heard the evidence, has come to a disappointing conclusion—it is as disappointing for me as it will be for others.

Let us start with the fundamental thesis, which is a matter on which we will undoubtedly agree. There is European Union research that says that a human-car collision at 20mph has a 10 per cent probability of fatality. At 30mph, the probability of fatality rises to 40 per cent, and at 50mph, the probability is 100 per cent. We can draw the line on a chart: increasing speed in a collision causes deaths.

Those figures are for an adult being hit by a vehicle. I do not have equivalent figures for a child being hit by a vehicle. However, we should not think for a second that the effects would be substantially less severe. I think that we have a shared view—I am sure that Mike Rumbles would agree with this—that speed kills. The question is not so much whether there is a problem waiting to be solved and to which we should turn our attention as how we should solve that problem.

I have some numbers from other research. A 1 per cent increase in speed results in a 4 per cent increase in fatal accidents. The relationship between speed and the outcome of accidents is clear and unambiguous. The work of the committee absolutely recognised that.

We must be careful about what the bill does. There is a danger that we mislead ourselves on that. I confess that I have not looked at the detail of what the Welsh are proposing to do. I heard Mark Ruskell—whose every effort on the bill I utterly commend, without reservation—say that the Welsh are changing the national speed limit. However, the bill before us does not do that—it addresses only restricted roads.

Despite previously having been transport minister, I had never heard of restricted roads or knew what they were—it was not a distinction of which I was aware. Mike Rumbles referred to a restricted road as being a road that is not an A road or a B road and has lampposts no more than 185m apart. That properly covers most of the roads in most of our towns and villages where pedestrians, and young pedestrians in particular, are likely to be found.

John Finnie: I am very grateful to the member for taking a brief intervention. Given what he has just said, does he agree that it is astonishing that people, including the cabinet secretary, say that they do not know the total length of such roads?

Stewart Stevenson: Paragraph 140 of the committee’s report notes that the committee heard that

“21 per cent of local authorities have ... identified the roads that they would wish to switch to a 20mph limit and those on which they would retain a 30mph limit. Another 29 per cent say that they have the asset data to allow roads to be identified.”—[Official Report, Rural Economy and Connectivity Committee, 6 March 2019; c34.]

There is certainly a lot of ignorance out there about the state of our roads and I accept that that is a driver to do something about it. That is unambiguous. It is disappointing that the percentages are as low as reported at paragraph 140 of the committee report, because ignorance is not a good basis for policy making and action on the ground. I congratulate urban areas, such as Edinburgh, that have invested the time and effort in making the difference.

It is worth reminding ourselves of the evidence we heard that the introduction of a 20mph zone where the limit had previously been 30mph appears to result in only a 1mph reduction in average speeds. However, averages are not the whole story. I have to say that the real problem is what those who break the law do on a 20mph road compared to a 30mph road. I do not think that we took evidence that answered that question, but we probably instinctively believe—I instinctively believe—that someone who is going to break the law will break the law anyway. We should not therefore simply put the question of enforcement to one side.

Jamie Greene: I am listening with careful interest to my committee colleague. He started off by saying that he was a proposer and a proponent of the concept behind the bill. I am interested to learn what was the primary thing that made him change his mind and take the position that he now takes. It would be helpful to know that.

Stewart Stevenson: I was just about to come to that. It is a perfectly proper question that I should be asked, given my starting and ending points in the debate. It is also worth saying, in the interests of balance, that political colleagues who will speak from the SNP benches will give different views of the subject.

Ultimately, I was driven by the evidence to the conclusion that the bill is not the most straightforward way of achieving the objectives that it sets for itself. It might be easier to do that by changing the speed limit.

First, many villages have streets that do not have street lighting so, strictly speaking, they are not caught by the restricted road requirement. Mr Chapman and I could probably identify one or two.

Mark Ruskell: Will the member give way?

Stewart Stevenson: Yes.

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Linda Fabiani): The member is in his final minute.

Stewart Stevenson: I am sorry; I wanted to be helpful to Mr Ruskell.

Equally, many A or B roads go through many towns or villages and it would be appropriate to consider them for a 20mph limit.

The bill is a worthy attempt to address the issue, but it falls short in terms of capability of implementation and cost of implementation. I went through a little village close to me recently, and I counted that it would need 80 signs.

We must not take the pressure off the Government and the cabinet secretary to find a way forward, but I am not persuaded by the evidence that the bill is the way forward. I say that with grave disappointment, because I support the member’s objectives.


12 June 2019

S5M-16487 Housing Co-operatives

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Christine Grahame): The final item of business is a members’ business debate on motion S5M-16487, in the name of Johann Lamont, on a new report calling for more housing co-operatives in Scotland. The debate will be concluded without any question being put.

Motion debated,

That the Parliament welcomes the publication of the Co-operatives UK report, Shared space—how Scottish housing co-ops build communities; notes that the report identifies significant benefits delivered by co-ops through the key themes of affordability, empowerment, community and stronger social housing; recognises that the report states that Scotland has just 11 registered housing co-ops, compared to 685 across the UK, at a time when 150,000 people are on council house waiting lists; agrees with the report’s findings that the decline of social housing stock in Scotland and parallel rise of the private rented sector has created a major challenge for those looking for affordable homes in the social rented sector; understands that the report highlights the excellent work of West Whitlawburn Housing Co-op, based in the Glasgow region, as an example of a housing co-op creating “a safer estate with warmer, more attractive homes”; notes that the report has recommended an eight-point policy plan to help deliver more housing co-ops, and notes calls for the Scottish Government to encourage more housing co-ops in Scotland in order to create safer and stronger communities that offer affordable rents and more power to tenants.

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

I congratulate Johann Lamont on securing the debate. Unusually—because these are not words that I often say—I also congratulate James Kelly, who I see is the author of the foreword to the report. The report is excellent, and it is a considerable credit to Parliament that a cross-party group can produce such a substantial contribution to a very important debate.

Johann Lamont referred to the imbalance between the number of housing co-ops in Scotland and the number south of the border. I am never afraid to pick up good ideas from wherever they come, including from south of the border, so I immediately turned to section 08 of the report to look at what it says. In my brief speech, I will not explore it in any great detail, but there are a considerable number of things to say.

The co-operative movement in housing is an important part of creating housing for people across Scotland. It can contribute a great deal to filling the gap that Scotland has suffered from—as the rest of the UK has—since the right to buy was introduced in 1980, which resulted in 2.6 million houses across the UK being sold out of public housing stock. Co-operative housing associations can play their substantial part in creating housing for people who otherwise find it difficult to get housing outside the private sector, in which housing is often very expensive and is not always of good quality, and in providing the living space that is essential for people who want a good standard of life.

Rent prices are going up, and people are being encouraged to invest in buy-to-let properties. The primary focus with such properties is the landlord’s interest in making a profit. In co-operative housing, the people who live in it are at the centre of decision making. That is right and proper, and it unlocks the potential of many people who have, in too much of their lives, little opportunity for their voices to influence the important things in their lives. Co-operatives in general, and housing co-operatives specifically, can make a particular difference to people’s quality of life. It is a neighbourly and collaborative way of making decisions that can encourage social bonds and collective responsibility, which strengthens society as a whole. When people in co-operative housing collectively decide what their priorities are for their area, the whole area gets something that is an example right across communities.

I was particularly interested in the example of West Whitlawburn Housing Co-operative, which has been mentioned. Its work extends far beyond provision of housing. Johann Lamont referred to power bills being frozen, which comes from addressing fuel poverty—which has, of course, been before us in Parliament this week.

There is a challenge for young people, in particular. The number of young people who live in rented accommodation has risen and is higher than it was in my generation and in others that followed. It is important that we strike the appropriate balance between privately owned and social housing. Co-operatives can play a very important part in that strategy.

I think that Johann Lamont and I were both members of the Communities Committee—she was the convener and I was a humble back-bench member. I remember that time occasionally, with fondness. I remember her robust engagement on issues that came before the committee: she has always done that. I congratulate her again on bringing an important topic to Parliament and giving us the opportunity to discuss it. I also congratulate all the co-operatives and their members.


21 May 2019

S5M-17347 Menopause

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Linda Fabiani): The next item of business is a debate on motion S5M-17347, in the name of Christina McKelvie, on ending the stigma of the menopause.

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

I will say just a quick word to Monica Lennon. I have sat around the boardroom table at the Bank of England on a number of occasions. Of course, I left banking after 30 years to come into politics to improve my reputation.

I will also make a little point about something that Elaine Smith perhaps illustrated, on the topic of the advice that we all sometimes receive about things. The last thing that a woman wishes to do if they have a hot flush or are sweating, or if their temperature has risen, is take a cold drink. The reason for that is that a cold drink will actually boost their system and turn the temperature up, because when the cold drink hits the stomach, it is very close to blood vessels, and the body’s temperature rises. That is why, in the middle east, people drink masala chai, which is warm tea, because putting something warm in the stomach lowers the body temperature—it also reduces the flush. Medical advice often does not cover such very simple things.

Of course, the menopause is not simply a medical or physical issue; it is a social and employment issue. It is also not just an issue for women but an issue for we men. I am glad that—I think—four of us will speak in today’s debate. It is an issue for us perhaps simply because we are there to provide support to those who are close to us and who are affected by the issue. We may also find ourselves employed by, or employing, women who are affected by it. We will also meet, both casually and formally, women who are affected by it.

Elaine Smith very effectively concealed the use of the fan in a previous session, on which I congratulate her. However, she deserves every support.

We will meet premenopausal and perimenopausal women who are worried about how we men might react to menopausal symptoms. We have a duty to be part of an environment in which women feel comfortable about the menopause, because it will happen to all our female friends and relatives and to others we meet.

Men need to learn to deal with their hormone issues, which largely lead us to respond more aggressively to circumstances that we find uncomfortable. We must learn to be much more supportive in our relationships with people we love, people we meet and people we bump into. Neither the male nor the female should be placed in a superior or inferior position to the other; we should simply recognise that differences arise from gender.

Professor Mary Minkin of Yale medical school has done interesting research on the effects of the menopause. She found that Swedish, Danish and Norwegian women were most likely to report that going through the menopause was better than they expected, whereas women in the US, the UK and Canada were most likely to say that their experience was worse than expected. That tells us that the effect relates not simply to a physical and hormonal change but to the information that people have and how society reacts to them.

We have heard references to diet, exercise and attitudes to getting older. As the only septuagenarian to speak in the debate, I would like people to like older people a bit better. In Japan, the old are revered; here, we are more likely to be pitied.

Members have talked a bit about employment. Engender tells us that the Department for Work and Pensions has reported that the largest increases in employment rates recently have been in the 60 to 64 age group and the 55 to 59 age group.

I very much welcome the debate and the opportunity to participate in it. I hope that I leave members a little better informed and a little better prepared to deal with the effects—in men and women—of the menopause.


16 May 2019

S5M-17304 Brexit (Impact on Food and Drink)

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Linda Fabiani): The next item of business is a debate on motion S5M-17304, in the name of Fergus Ewing, on the impact of Brexit on Scotland’s food and drink.

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

I declare that I have a share in a very small registered agricultural holding for sheep.

A number of points have been put before us about the UK’s planned departure from the EU—Brexit. Donald Cameron said that we must vote for the deal that is available because it is the only deal. There is a reason why it is the only deal—it is because it is the only deal that Theresa May asked for. In her Mansion House speech in 2017, she drew the red lines that constrained the ultimate deal to the deal that is before us.

The deal is rather opaque, because the proposed withdrawal agreement bill has not been shown even to the UK Cabinet yet. I predict that it will not be published until after 23 May; Theresa May is trying to keep publication until as late as possible in the debate, because the bill will cause internal chaos in the Tory party and she knows that she does not command her party’s support. In those circumstances, it is hard to work out why anyone else should support the bill. The only on-the-record reference that I have is from Sir Graham Brady, who chairs the 1922 committee.

Until we see what the withdrawal agreement bill says, some of the impacts on food and drink will definitely not be clear. However, it is clear that being out of the single market and the customs union will have severe impacts on food and drink. Proposals were made on that in December 2016, which was a month before the Mansion House speech. Our food and drink sector’s future success will be determined largely by what happens in the UK’s departure from the EU.

In every constituency—be it urban or rural—we all have important food and drink interests. Summerhouse Drinks is a small company in my constituency that is a particular favourite of my wife, who loves its lemonade. That touches on something, because we do not grow terribly many lemons. A lot of the company’s drinks are entirely local products—it uses lavender and mint that are grown locally—but the lemons are imported. Who knows what will be the condition of the lemons that Claire Rennie from the Rennie family farm can import and what price she will have to pay for them?

It is worth saying that a lot of preparation is associated with Brexit. We in the Parliament have done a great deal. The website that has been established to help Scottish businesses talks about a number of issues for food and drink businesses and others. Exporters and importers might face huge increases in costs; 53 per cent of goods in the UK are imported, and they include many materials that the food and drink industry requires.

On recruitment, we have heard that the fruit industry cannot get people into the country. Yesterday, Michael Gove gave us no meaningful assurance that people will be able to travel to the UK and particularly Scotland to harvest our excellent fruit and continue to support our excellent fish-processing industry.

I brought the debate on the sea of opportunity to the Parliament, because leaving the CFP—into which the Tories took us—will certainly benefit the fish-catching industry, in so far as it can catch more fish. However, we will be denied the economic benefit if our processing industry is unable to process the extra fish that are caught. If we catch 50 per cent more fish and earn half the value of that, we will actually be worse off. We have to get our processing industry in a good place.

As for my three whisky distilleries, if—as the Americans want to negotiate—we abandon our three-years-in-a-warehouse position, the quality product that earns so much for our food and drink industry will be devastated.


30 April 2019

S5M-17059 Music Tuition in Schools

The Presiding Officer (Ken Macintosh): The next item of business is an Education and Skills Committee debate on motion S5M-17059, in the name of Clare Adamson, on the committee’s report “A note of concern: The future of instrumental music tuition in schools”.

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

When I was the Minister for Transport, Infrastructure and Climate Change, I recall attending a getting it right for every child event at 11:30 on 12 March 2010 on behalf of one of my fellow ministers, Adam Ingram, who could not go. It was at the Pittodrie stadium in Aberdeen and we arrived a little early. A psychologist gave a presentation that included a bit of film showing a one-hour-old child. The child was, not surprisingly, lying on its back. Music was being played to the baby and it was beating its arms in syncopation with the music. When the music was switched off, the baby stopped moving; when it was switched back on, the baby started moving again. I found that immensely moving. It was absolutely fascinating that the effect of music on somebody who was one hour out of the womb was so significant.

I happen to be surrounded by a number of female friends who are pregnant. They say that playing classical music diminishes the palpitations in the womb—their child, even in the womb, is responding to music.

There should be no doubt whatsoever about the beneficial effects of music on us all, on both our psychology and our physiology, but it was the GIRFEC event that led me to that understanding.

I am with Ross Greer and Tavish Scott: my musical competence could barely be described as limited. At primary school, there was an attempt to teach me the violin that utterly failed. My only competence in musical instruments is in using a spoon on my teeth. By flexing my cheeks, I can change the note that comes out. To describe that as music would be gross exaggeration.

I wanted to intervene on Tavish Scott when he was talking about Shetland fiddle achievements, to make an important point. I very much love fiddle music from Shetland and, although there has been talk of postcode provision of instrumental music tuition, we must ensure that variation is possible so that we can preserve, enhance and develop local variations in the instruments being used. In the case of Shetland, that would apply to how the bow is used on the fiddle, which is quite different from elsewhere.

I think that I have a love of music, and I suppose that it has been a significant part of my life. For my very first date with the person who this year will have been married to me for 50 years, I suggested that we go to the Dubliners concert at the music hall in Aberdeen in 1966. That may have been the first time that she heard “Seven Drunken Nights”, but it was not the first time that I had been exposed to the same as a student.

Today, I find myself greatly enamoured by three Québécois groups—Soldat Louis, Salomé Leclerc and Le Vent du Nord, which all play a range of instruments. Le Vent du Nord plays one instrument that I could just about deal with—the jaw harp. To play it, a person sticks it in their mouth and pings the metal. That might be something that I could do. I think, too, if one examines with a powerful magnifying glass the photograph on the cover of one of the 12” LPs by the Corries that we have at home, one will see that, among the approximately 1,000 people who are pictured, there we are, in the front row. Music has been an important part of my life.

Incidentally, one of the reasons why the Dubliners came to fame involved a guy named Ronan O’Rahily, who was the founder and owner of the immensely popular pirate station Radio Caroline, which played an enormous number of songs by the group.

I very much enjoyed reading the committee’s report. I have two music teachers in my family. My late brother-in-law was a guitar teacher, and one of my nieces is a music teacher in Kent. She is finding it rather sterile territory at the moment, so, on Thursday, she is standing for the local cooncil to try to do something about it. Obviously, she is not standing for the SNP, so I am uncertain whether I should wish her all the best, but I do.

I will close by saying that my favourite piece of classical music is Gustav Holst’s “The Planets”, which is absolutely apposite to the debate. When I think of the people who have spoken in the debate, perhaps Rachael Hamilton is “Mars, the Bringer of War” and Jenny Gilruth is “Venus, the Bringer of Peace.” For my part, I am clearly “Saturn, the Bringer of Old Age”. Of course, the Deputy First Minister and Cabinet Secretary for Education and Skills has to be “Uranus, the Magician”.


25 April 2019

S5M-16708 Hutchesons’ Hospital Transfer and Dissolution (Scotland) Bill: Final Stage

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Christine Grahame): The next item of business is a debate on motion S5M-16708, in the name of Kezia Dugdale, on the final stage of the Hutchesons’ Hospital Transfer and Dissolution (Scotland) Bill.

Before the debate begins, the Presiding Officer is required under the standing orders to decide whether, in his view, any provision of the bill relates to a protected subject matter—whether any provision will modify the electoral system and franchise for Scottish parliamentary elections. In this case, the Presiding Officer’s view is that no provision of the Hutchesons’ Hospital Transfer and Dissolution (Scotland) Bill relates to a protected subject matter. Therefore, the bill does not require a supermajority for it to be passed at the final stage.

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

As we have heard, George Hutcheson’s deed of mortification of 1639 is the genesis of what we are engaging with today. The charity’s history is long and interesting. In her intervention, Elaine Smith was right to point out the educational aspect, but it is worth saying that nothing that we will do today appears to change the status of anything in that regard.

The charity provides grants, which it describes as pensions, to 20 to 30 people, so its size is comparatively modest. That means that having a complex and long parliamentary act for its oversight is no longer consistent with how we wish to do things. The promoter explained to the committee that the charity employs a part-time social worker, who visits the grantees.

The committee looked carefully at what was proposed. In particular, we looked at any impacts on those who receive support, and we accepted the promoter’s assurance that no one who currently receives benefits will lose out as a result of the proposed changes.

The promoter’s memorandum says:

“The charitable purposes of the SCIO”

the new form that the charity will take—

“seek to respect the spirit and underlying intention of the Incorporation’s purposes, but in a manner that more satisfactorily and effectively allows the charitable funds held by the Incorporation to be applied in the 21st century.”

The SCIO that will take over has been established and is waiting to take responsibility. That is a modern form of organisation for charities that was provided for by the Charities and Trustee Investment (Scotland) Act 2005 and is regulated by the Office of the Scottish Charity Regulator. The structure will be more effective and will remove the need for parliamentary scrutiny of the charity’s activities.

In our evidence session, the committee heard that the charity will have greater flexibility in how it carries out its purposes—for example, in how it invests. As a SCIO, the charity will be able to invest in anything that furthers its purposes, provided that the trustees believe that that is right for the charity.

The committee thought that the proposed approach would make the whole operation much more future proof. Other members have referred to the complexity of multiple deeds of mortification and similar deeds, almost all of which are in old Scots—perhaps we should relearn the old Scots. The documents include a deed of ratification by Janet, Bessie and Helen Hutcheson; deeds of mortification by James Blair in 1713 and Daniel Baxter in 1776; and settlements by William Scott in 1818 and Mary Hood in 1817. There is a complex picture and history behind the charity.

Mr Donald Reid, whose firm has acted as chamberlains to the charity for some 200 years, explained that he had gone through all the tin boxes that they have and found nothing further that is relevant. It is worth saying that this opportunity that a lawyer has presented to the Parliament is unusual—at his request, we are going to reduce that lawyer’s income. I therefore commend the bill as something that the Parliament should absolutely support. In the event that something arises that is not in the tin boxes, the SCIO will be the body that will deal with it.

Like others, I thank my colleagues on the committee and, in particular, the non-Government bills unit, which has, as promised, smoothed the path and made it straightforward for the committee to deal with the bill. I hope that the vote at 5 o’clock reflects the Parliament’s belief that that is the case.


23 April 2019

S5M-16671 The Open University at 50

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Linda Fabiani): The final item of business is a members’ business debate on motion S5M-16671, in the name of Claire Baker, on the Open University at 50. The debate will be concluded without any question being put.

Motion debated,

That the Parliament recognises that 23 April 2019 marks the 50th anniversary of The Open University (OU); notes that the Royal Charter that it received in 1969 required it to “promote the educational wellbeing of the community generally”; acknowledges the OU’s mission to be “open to people, places, methods and ideas”; considers that its open access policy, which requires no entrance qualifications for most courses, is as radical today as it was 50 years ago; notes what it sees as its contribution to social justice and accessible higher education across Scotland and the transformational impact that it has had on lives and communities, with more than 200,000 Scots from all backgrounds having studied with the institution, and wishes it well for the next 50 years and beyond.

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

I congratulate Claire Baker on securing the debate—I congratulate her relative, too—and I wish the Open University all the best on its 50th birthday. It is a significant milestone, and I congratulate it on its work. The Labour Party has achievements that I can respect, and the Open University is certainly one of them.

In the days of the launch of the Open University, we had a 12-inch black and white television at home. It had one channel. It had been purchased to view the coronation, in 1953, and it had still not been replaced when I left home. The technology that we were using then is a world away from the technology that every one of us now has in our mobile phone to make broadcastable material—in technical terms, if not in content.

The mission of the Open University is important and underpins its academic strategy. It is

“to be open to people, places, methods and ideas”.

That is the very exemplification of inclusion and possibility: being open to opportunity and open to inspiration.

In 1972, I did a short, focused OU course on systems behaviour. The coursebook is still sitting on my shelf among my other academic books, although I admit that it has been a little while since I took it off the shelf and revisited it. The coursebook was of value to me then and contains many truths that still matter to me.

John F Kennedy said:

“the educated citizen ... knows that ‘knowledge is power’ more so today than ever before. He knows that only an educated and informed people will be a free people, that the ignorance of one voter in a democracy impairs the security of all”.

The Open University plays an important part in helping people to learn about society, about a wide range of subjects and—perhaps more critical—about how to keep learning throughout their lives. The ability to weave the learning process into one’s working life, through the Open University, is important.

In its briefing for the debate on where it is after 50 years, the Open University highlights a couple of things that are right up to the minute. The free learning website OpenLearn, which has had 60 million visits so far, and the massive open online course—MOOC—platform are very effective ways of drawing people into the world of learning through the internet. That is important and of huge value.

There are people who have yet to find the Open University. I hope that tonight’s debate will play a part in spreading the word to people whose talents and skills are as yet undiscovered and whom the traditional methods of learning will simply not reach. The Open University has been transformational for many people and it will be transformational for many more. In Scotland, we recognise the value of education being open to all by providing free education. The Open University is important in delivering education to society as a whole.

Like Iain Gray, I struggled with the self-discipline of full-time study, although perhaps I did not struggle as hard as Iain Gray did. When I finally graduated, my mother was so relieved that she bought my girlfriend a present, because she knew that she had pushed me over the line.

Education must remain open to all, regardless of what road we take, and the Open University is a vital part of our learning infrastructure that supports that.


4 April 2019

S5M-16747 Transport (Scotland) Bill: Stage 1

The Presiding Officer (Ken Macintosh): The next item of business is a debate on motion S5M-16747, in the name of Michael Matheson, on stage 1 of the Transport (Scotland) Bill.

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

I declare my honorary presidency of the Scottish Association for Public Transport, which has a keen interest in the topic before us.

I will start with the Labour Party’s desire for perhaps every council in Scotland to take over the running of bus services and some of the financial implications of such a move. I have previously talked about the financial implications of Labour’’s proposals for bus passes for the under-25s, and these proposals are equally improbable. The general principle is that, if a franchise is taken away from a business, that business must be compensated not with one year’s profit but with one year’s revenue. That is £700 million or £800 million straight away.

Next, we should take a look at the accounts of Lothian Buses—which is, I should immediately say, an excellent company. Indeed, 100 years ago, my great-uncle Alex was the cabinet member of Edinburgh council with responsibility for it, so it is all probably down to him. What is the capitalisation for Lothian Buses, which covers about 10 per cent of Scotland’s population? The answer, which can be found in the accounts as at 31 December 2017, is £147 million. If I factor that up—which I accept is a very crude way of working and is open to being criticised, but I have nothing better—we get a figure of £1.5 billion. If we then add the £700 million, we are talking about £2.2 billion.

I accept that that is the ceiling, which we certainly would not reach and could not exceed, but it illustrates the general point that, although there are a lot of numbers to look at, there has been almost no talk about those numbers. There is, of course, profit—the dividend comes back—but we need the capitalisation in the first place. It is also worth saying that a local authority would need to buy vehicles either from existing bus companies or from elsewhere, and I suspect that the existing bus companies would not give it a huge discount, given that it would be, in effect, a forced sale. The Labour Party is perfectly entitled to pursue its proposals, but I urge it to produce some numbers based on something more than my—to be blunt—20 minutes of research using the accounts of Lothian Buses—which, I repeat, is an excellent company that I use from time to time with my bus pass.

Colin Smyth: The member has, in effect, slated the idea of local authorities being able to set up bus companies in an unrestricted way, but does he support the Government’s plan to allow them to set up such companies only to meet unmet need? If so, exactly how many local authorities does he think are going to do that?

Stewart Stevenson: I am very clear that the Government’s proposals are good and worthy of support, and there are other proposals from the Labour Party to which I must say to the member that I am not closing my mind. Nevertheless, I must point out to him that, to gain support from across the Parliament, he will have to provide some numbers for the investment and the capitalisation that would be required as well as for the liabilities that would be taken on, particularly in relation to pensions as people were brought across from commercial companies under the Transfer of Undertakings (Protection of Employment) Regulations 1981. I simply urge the member to produce some numbers, because he might then persuade more of us who have yet to be persuaded.

On the bus improvement partnerships, it is fair to say that the previous voluntary and compulsory partnerships have not delivered as I think we had all hoped when we passed the previous legislation. However, I know that the bus companies are cautiously supportive of the new proposals, which is only reasonable, and I am certainly prepared to be cautiously supportive of them, too.

I think that we can do more on bus lanes. It should be compulsory for all bus lanes to operate 24 hours a day. We should also enforce them better. Once we do that, bus journey times will be consistent and people would rely on them more.

On parking, it is important that we respect the needs of those with reduced mobility, particularly those who are blind, who may walk into vehicles that are parked on pavements because they simply do not see them. Dropped kerbs are an issue for blind people, too, because they need a clear delineation between pavement and road.

On loading and unloading, I make a rather obvious suggestion: someone should be able to load and unload only if they have an indicator on their windscreen that is adjusted to show at what time they parked the vehicle. That is done in other countries, by the way—there is nothing particularly novel about that.

In conclusion, I will mention the workplace parking levy. Like others, I have not seen the proposed amendment, and the whips have not yet approached me to tell me what I have to say or do on the subject. However, I will say this: there are different ways of introducing such a levy. I encourage John Finnie to consider that I am reluctant to support any measure that puts a cost on individual citizens but I might be prepared to support a measure that puts the cost on those who provide the parking. In other words, if the charge is on companies, that is fair enough, but if the charge is on individuals, that is a much more difficult ask for me.

I have no hesitation in saying that I will support this excellent bill come decision time tonight.


2 April 2019

S5M-16697 Climate Change (Emissions Reduction Targets) (Scotland) Bill: Stage 1

The Presiding Officer (Ken Macintosh): Our next item of business is a debate on motion S5M-16697, in the name of Roseanna Cunningham, on the Climate Change (Emissions Reduction Targets) (Scotland) Bill, at stage 1.

... ... ...

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

With the Climate Change (Scotland) Act 2009, we showed leadership in tackling the scourge of climate change, and we can and will do so again with our Climate Change (Emissions Reduction Targets) (Scotland) Bill. I deliberately say that it is “our” bill rather than the Government’s bill because in a Parliament of minorities, the Government is merely the midwife; we must all be the bill’s parents.

In 2009, the Parliament united to support our bill, and as we consider whether to support the general principles of the new bill, the Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform Committee has shown the way by unanimously agreeing its report. That does not mean that any of us has resiled from the detailed differences that we will explore as the bill proceeds, but we have to put some of our differences on hold in order to agree the next steps, and that will continue to be true throughout the bill’s passage.

For my part, I have already written two stage 2 amendments—I saw the cabinet secretary flinch when I said that. One is to put into the bill the zero carbon target that is implicit within it, and the other is to add to the long title a reference to the world’s need to restrict global temperature rise to 1.5°C. I cannot see any way that we could make it legally enforceable in those terms, but others may do so.

It is vital that we continue to challenge one another and ourselves on every proposal, including the ones that I have just described, but in the end we must return to agreement if we are to succeed in moving our fellow citizens with us to protect our planet and all life that depends on it. That means that we must be prepared for compromise, but it does not require us to advertise what compromises we might contemplate before we actually make them.

In essence, we are writing a corporate plan for our country’s future—a model process, actions and method for other countries to follow. We are but a small speck on the globe’s surface, but that small speck can be the fulcrum over which we leverage others’ actions. However, a corporate plan is mere hot air if it is just a piece of paper. It has to lead to individual change. For that reason, I want to talk about some of the things that we in the Parliament can do—the practical things that we can do on the ground to contribute to reductions.

I will illustrate that. In my first full year in the Parliament, I claimed for 19,391 miles in a car at a rate of £49.03 per mile. [Laughter.]

Stewart Stevenson: It was 49.3p per mile. Did I say something different?

Members: You said “pounds”.

Stewart Stevenson: If only. Presiding Officer, are you not glad that everyone is listening to my every word? [Laughter.]

I also claimed what would have been £369.67 had I been able to use a senior railcard, as I now do. Therefore, 96 per cent of my travel costs were for car miles. In the year that has just ended, I claimed for 6,387 miles at 45p per mile and £2,707 for public transport. Only 51.5 per cent of my costs are for car miles now, and my mileage is less than a third of what it was in 2002-03.

Finlay Carson (Galloway and West Dumfries) (Con): I wonder what costs the member puts on democracy given the lack of representation that people in very rural constituencies who do not have the luxury of a train station might experience if their members were unable to visit them by car in order to represent them properly in Parliament.

Stewart Stevenson: My personal activity rate, measured by the number of surgeries and the number of entries in my diaries, was broadly the same in the year that has just ended as it was in 2002-03. If I can do it, others can. We also have modern technology. Why do we not do online video surgeries with our constituents so that they can engage with us without leaving home? That idea was just made up on the spur of the moment. I am talking about what we can do to set an example. I am not saying that everyone can do it.

Elaine Smith: Will the member take an intervention?

Stewart Stevenson: I ask the member to forgive me. I will make a little more progress on cars, if I may.

The marginal cost of a car mile is falling steeply as hybrid propulsion becomes more pervasive, and for all-electric vehicles the fuel cost is now down to 3p per mile. I am going to write to the Presiding Officer at the end of this debate to suggest that we reduce our expenses per mile, initially from 45p per mile to 30p per mile, and that we commit to tapering it to zero by 2032, which coincides with our going electric, because the marginal cost of driving becomes almost zero.

We should also keep our cars for longer; I plan to keep mine for 10 years. I have a paperless office in the Parliament, which saves money. Other people can do that as well. [Interruption.] Okay, my speech is on paper—I have a 99.5 per cent paperless office. [Laughter.]

Neil Findlay: Will the member take an intervention?

Stewart Stevenson: I will. I will regret it, but I will.

Neil Findlay: Would the member care to hazard a guess how many of the people who access the electric vehicles grant are from the lowest socioeconomic groups? I have tried to find that out from the Government, but I cannot get the information.

Stewart Stevenson: I will not hazard a guess. However, I know that there are a lot of electric vehicles out there, because there are 6,500 charging points in Scotland and, as time goes on, more vehicles will be available at cheaper prices. Let us hope that that happens sooner rather than later.

We are also encouraging active travel for our citizens. I propose that we stop allowing MSPs to claim for short taxi journeys—initially journeys of less than a mile, less than 1.5 miles by 2021 and less than 2 miles by 2026. I am going to write to the Presiding Officer about that, too.

I walked 81.3 miles in March. It is not very much—only 2.6 miles a day—but how far did everyone else in the chamber walk?

If we, as individuals, do some of those quite simple things, we can have credibility and a dialogue with the citizens of Scotland. I have given only a couple of examples. If I had another hour to speak, Presiding Officer—

The Deputy Presiding Officer: Which you do not have, thank you.

Stewart Stevenson: —I could give another 100 examples.


28 March 2019

S5M-16231 Misogyny, Racism, Harassment and Sexism Against Women

The Presiding Officer (Ken Macintosh): The next item of business is a members’ business debate on motion S5M-16231, in the name of Rhoda Grant, on condemnation of misogyny, racism, harassment and sexism. The debate will be concluded without any question being put.

Motion debated,

That the Parliament condemns misogyny, racism, harassment and sexism against women, especially in the working environment; considers that decades of policies to eradicate this have failed in some quarters, and notes calls for more to be done in public agencies to tackle the problem and to eradicate such damaging mistreatment once and for all across Scotland, in the Highlands and Islands, and beyond.

... ... ...

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

None of the behaviours that Rhoda Grant has described will ever, in any context, place or time, in public or private domains, be acceptable. In signing Rhoda Grant’s motion, I found myself agreeing with every single word of it. However, I do not think that it is a matter only for public agencies; there are a great deal of issues in the private sector as well, and I will make some reference to that.

I am not as well prepared as I would like to be with regard to the specifics of Rhoda Grant’s contribution, because I was not aware that that was to be her focus. It might have been helpful to have let me know that she was going to focus on that case, because I would have wished to respond in that regard. There is no discourtesy in my failing to engage directly with the detail. I am not wholly familiar with the case, and my shorthand did not enable me to take enough of it down. Do forgive me.

More than 30 years ago, a simple little thing illustrated to me attitudes in other people that I had not quite twigged. I recruited a systems analyst—a lady—who had been out of the job market for some time while she raised her family. I recruited her as a part-time member of staff. I assessed her as being highly competent, with good previous experience. In the computer industry, things move fast, so I agreed with her that I would pay for her to go on a full-time course for her first week, and I sent her on that course. My boss discovered that I had done that and I got quite severely criticised for spending money on a course for a part-time woman employee. I was absolutely shocked. It had never occurred to me to think in those terms and it was shocking to me that my boss did.

Let me take that example further. That person continued in her employment for several decades and then retired. On the day that she retired, she would not leave the office until 8 o’clock at night, because she wanted to complete the work that was in her in-tray. She was a dedicated, committed person, who, in her part-time employment, delivered much more than many male colleagues did in their full-time employment.

That is the sort of situation that we have had historically. It is a great shame that, to this day, we are in a position where the natural behaviour of too many of my gender in particular—Anas Sarwar is absolutely correct on that point—has not moved. That is a huge gender issue.

Until 1975, my wife, a highly paid professional lady, was not allowed to join her company’s pension scheme—something for which she continues to suffer today as she is in receipt of pension. This is a long-running issue.

On race and ethnicity, in my constituency we have a very diverse population. In Peterhead academy, 24 languages are spoken. When many of the people in the area initially came there from elsewhere, that created genuine difficulties—there was resistance and abuse of people. I commend Aberdeenshire Council—my party is not in the administration there, so I do so entirely honestly—which organised ways of getting the community to realise the value of that diversity and what people were contributing economically, socially and in every possible way. Today, I see the benefit of that.

Have we eradicated misogyny, racism, harassment and sexism? No—alas, no. However, the situation is dramatically different from where we were.

The word “eradicate” is used twice in the motion. I think that we must all work to eradicate these things. I have to say that I am a wee bit pessimistic that we will ever succeed, but we must never stop trying.


27 March 2019

S5M-16555 Climate Emergency

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Linda Fabiani): The next item of business is a debate on motion S5M-16555, in the name of Mark Ruskell, on climate emergency.

... ... ...

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

This 70-minute debate and the number of people who are here in the chamber mean that we, as human beings, will have emitted approximately 1,000 litres of carbon dioxide. All human activity has a price in climate terms, so it is important that we unite in seeking to deal with it.

Opinions on the subject are pretty uniform in saying that there is a problem. Taking the Climate Change (Scotland) Act 2009 through Parliament as Minister for Transport, Infrastructure and Climate Change 10 years ago fundamentally changed my attitude to life and everything.

Greta Thunberg is the flag bearer for the young generation, but she does not stand alone. Even an unlikely suspect, the United States Central Intelligence Agency, in its “Statement for the Record: 2019 Worldwide Threat Assessment of the US Intelligence Community”, makes it clear that

“Climate hazards such as extreme weather ... are intensifying, threatening infrastructure, health, and water and food security. Irreversible damage to ecosystems and habitats will undermine the economic benefits they provide, worsened by air, soil, water, and marine pollution.”

There is, therefore, the broadest possible spectrum of people who are for tackling the agenda, and we should respect that.

However, it also important that we do not imagine that all seven greenhouse gases must come down to zero. The economics and prioritisation that we must bring to the agenda are important. We must tackle the easy-to-reach low-hanging fruit first, and ensure that every pound that we spend delivers the maximum possible benefit.

Farming suffers in particular because of the way that the emissions inventory works. Farming gets no numerical benefit for its activity in forestry, for example, or for the substantial renewable energy that comes from wind farms on farmers’ fields. That is elsewhere in the inventory and that is fair enough. Peter Chapman is correct that farmers are part of the solution, so we should not talk ourselves into thinking that there is a major crisis in farming.

However, the IPCC made it clear in its report in October that there is a real and pressing crisis. It talked about the Arctic having no ice whatsoever: if all the ice in the world were to melt, the world’s seas would rise by 60 metres. Every single coastal town and city on the planet would be inundated. It is that serious.

However, lesser inundations come from lesser changes in the climate. 10 per cent of the ice melting is within practical consideration and would raise the seas by between 6m and 8m, which would cause many cities around the world to suffer. That is an economic problem, for sure, but it is also a real human problem. That is why it is right and proper that the Greens have brought the debate for us today.

Liam Kirkaldy in Holyrood magazine highlights some of the practical effects by talking about the effect of cyclone Idai on Beira, which is a city of half a million people. Every building in the city has been affected by the cyclone. That is not in and of itself part of the climate change problem, but it is the sort of thing that is happening with increasing frequency as the climate changes.

As we progress the Climate Change (Emissions Reduction Targets) (Scotland) Bill, it is important that we have vigorous debates such as today’s, but that we also decide unanimously, at the end of the day, on a programme for action. We might have to compromise to get to that, but if we unite we can deal with the issue.


26 March 2019

S5M-16542 South of Scotland Enterprise Bill: Stage 1

The Presiding Officer (Ken Macintosh): The next item of business is a stage 1 debate on motion S5M-16542, in the name of Fergus Ewing, on the South of Scotland Enterprise Bill.

... ... ...

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

As the committee proceeded with its scrutiny of the bill, it was an absolute delight to have the opportunity to visit the south of Scotland.

My personal connections with the area are extremely limited. My grandfather was married in Eyemouth on 2 May 1890, but he came from West Lothian and his wife came from Northumberland, so I have no idea how that happened. My first visit was on 20 January 1952; I was five, and my father was preaching at the church in Leitholm. Maureen Watt might be interested to know that, in the late 1960s, I had the first yoghurt of my entire life, on the harbour at Kippford, while participating in the Scottish OK dinghy sailing championships. I did not do too well in the championships but I enjoyed the yoghurt.

A number of issues have come up in the debate. Alex Neil properly identified that the border area that the new agency will cover is not a single, cohesive, homogenous area. When the committee went to Galashiels, we got a different response to what is going on to that which we got when we went to Dumfries.

I say immediately that Gala was substantially easier to get to. We got on the train to Galashiels and then walked and got a taxi to the venue, and we were able to return on the train, on a midweek evening. As for Dumfries, if the committee had not previously realised the important need for infrastructure investment in the area, the journey to Dumfries—for me, at least, coming from the north of Scotland—perfectly illustrated that need. I was not persuaded that I could get back from Dumfries to Linlithgow—where I have a house in which I live during the parliamentary week—in the evening, so I had to drive from the north of Scotland all the way down to Dumfries and then back to Edinburgh.

That was a minor inconvenience for me, on a single occasion, but it perfectly illustrates the need for investment for the people who live and work in the area. Transport is an important issue, and I think that there is a consensus on the need to do something about it. The new agency can take a lead in promoting the issue, working with the regional transport partnership.

We have talked a lot about Highlands and Islands Enterprise. I think that Kenny Gibson and I are the only constituency members in the chamber whose constituencies cross the boundary between the Scottish Enterprise and Highlands and Islands Enterprise areas. Some 15 per cent of my electors are in the Highlands and Islands Enterprise area. As a constituency MSP who is exposed to both agencies, I see how markedly different the two agencies’ priorities and modes of operation are.

We are right to consider Highlands and Islands Enterprise’s way of operating as the model for the south of Scotland agency. It is clear, for example, that there is an important emphasis on social responsibility and social enterprise. HIE’s documentation talks about its being aim to

“Support social enterprise and community-led development through our Community Account Management programme”

I am not suggesting that that programme should be lifted, unchanged, to the Borders, but it is worth having a look at, especially given that the new agency is likely to be dealing with similar problems to those that were present at the time of the creation of the Highlands and Islands Development Board and, subsequently, HIE.

The Highlands area now has Inverness, which has been fundamentally transformed in the 50 or so years since my wife left her home territory. It is now a very significant regional conurbation with a strong economy, but that still leaves a lot of the Highlands needing support. Dumfries has no equivalent of Inverness, but we might hope that the intervention of the new body might get us there.

The way in which Highlands and Islands Enterprise works is fundamentally different from Scottish Enterprise. It has a different account management structure whose focus reaches much closer to community bodies and small enterprises in a way that Scottish Enterprise does not.

The fact that incomes are lower in the border areas is a key indicator of the need to do what is proposed. It is important, too, that we look at helping communities to make their own decisions. Highlands and Islands Enterprise allows community account management to help

“communities to ... identify and realise their aspirations”.

In other words, it is not centralised decision making—the Highlands telling them what to do. We do not want that model in the border counties either.

It is very important that the constitution of the board and the way in which it works ensure strong lines of accountability from the board back to its communities and strong channels for input from communities, to allow the board to be demonstrably responsive to them. That is quite different from the idea of a board that is representative. I want people with the greatest skills and people who understand and, preferably, live in the area concerned. I want people to be there not simply as representatives but because of their skills and to sustain accountability and responsiveness.

I will be happy to support the motion at decision time.


20 March 2019

S5M-16408 Free Bus Travel (Under-25s)

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Christine Grahame): The next item of business is the debate on motion S5M-16408, in the name of Colin Smyth, on free bus travel for under-25s.

... ... ...

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

I draw members’ attention to the fact that I am honorary president of the Scottish Association for Public Transport. Indeed, it is the annual general meeting of the SAPT a week on Friday in Perth. Should any colleagues wish to join me, I can tell them that Tom Harris will be an excellent speaker, albeit that he will be speaking about trains, not buses.

Let me say at the outset—as I have said before—that I do not criticise everything that Labour and the Liberal Democrats did in their period in office from 1999 to 2007. The work that Jack McConnell led on smoking was visionary, successful and to be applauded, and I applaud it again. Equally, the bus pass scheme was a great achievement of that period.

I, too, am a bus pass holder. I just looked up the details on my mobile phone and it says that it never expires. That is certainly true under this Government, despite some of the myths that have been peddled at various points. I am also a user of my bus pass, but I am among the 46 per cent of people who use their pass at least once a month, rather than weekly or daily, simply due to my travel pattern. Therefore, I have an interest in supporting the bus pass scheme that we have.

Let us look at what the Labour Party proposes. People aged 25 or under make up 19 per cent of our population, or slightly more than 1 million people. There are 1.3 million bus passes, which cost us £200 million. What will it cost to provide bus passes to a similar number of people? It will cost £13 million, if we are to believe Richard Leonard when he was interviewed by Peter MacMahon on “Representing Border”. That requires an interesting piece of arithmetic. How we get the cost down to just over 5 per cent of the current cost, I do not quite know.

The issue will run and run. Work with the Scottish Youth Parliament to ensure that we understand the costs is the basis on which we can proceed. I am in favour of extending the bus pass scheme. When I was a minister, I extended it in a relatively modest way, for disabled ex-servicemen, so in principle I am up for that and very much hope that we find ways of doing it.

However, I say gently to my Labour colleagues that where Labour is in power rather than merely talking about power, performance and behaviour are quite at odds with what I hear from members on the Labour benches. Despite the power to do so existing in Cardiff, we have seen no move there to take public ownership of the buses. We have seen no extension of the concessionary schemes to anything other than local services—and not to a national scheme. We have not seen Labour in government do anything that approximates to what the Labour Party did here before 2007 or what it seeks to do now.

I close with an international comparison. My current intern, Bella, comes from California. She has a wee house on the other side of Edinburgh and travels in daily by bus. She is astonished and delighted by the quality of the bus service that gets her to the Parliament every day. Her view accords with those of the 91 per cent of people who, according to the most recent survey, say that our bus services are very good. That is a number that is going up.


14 March 2019

S5M-16312 Space Nation

The Presiding Officer (Ken Macintosh): The next item of business is a debate on motion S5M-16312, in the name of Ivan McKee, on building on Scotland’s strengths in technology and engineering to become Europe’s leading space nation.

... ... ...

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

For this debate, two obvious questions come to mind. First, why Scotland? And secondly, why space? The answers are really quite obvious.

Why space? In Scotland, we have a long tradition of engineering and invention, and many of the technologies that we use today are possible because of that history. David Stewart referred to James Watt, who introduced the steam engine to our industries. John Logie Baird invented the television; indeed, he demonstrated the first colour television in the late 1920s, not long after the first black and white television. Ken Gibson referred to Montgomery Scott of Star Trek but failed to provide the quotation from the actor, James Doohan, who played Scotty and who, when asked by the director of the film what nationality he thought the engineer should be, simply replied

“all the world’s best engineers have been Scottish.”

That is why Star Trek had a Scottish engineer.

Scotland continues to punch above its weight—we all know that. Members have referred to many of the companies in the west of Scotland such as Spire, which has been blown away by the first-class employees that it can attract in Scotland; that is why Glasgow houses its European headquarters.

Now, why space? Well, space represents an infinite—or near infinite—possibility. In financial terms, we have heard about the value of the industry now and the expectations that it will triple in the lifetime of many of the people who are here today. Capturing just a little bit of that cake would be extremely valuable for our economy, for growth, for the creation of well-paid jobs and, indeed, for the development of new technologies and ownership of the intellectual property here, in order to provide enduring income streams. The public sector has its role in providing the consents and the infrastructure at both UK and Scottish level.

Of course, there is a bit more to it than that. Space has soft power, which we need to recognise. Sputnik 1 went up on 4 October 1957, as a demonstration of Soviet power, and Sputnik 2, with the first mammal, a dog called Laika, on board, went up to align with the 50th anniversary of the Russian revolution—in what was, according to the old calendar, October 1917—on 3 November 1957. Therefore, it is about soft as well as hard power.

We need to look beyond ourselves, at what we can be rather than what we are. I simply love the Shan Jahan quotation that is on the side of the Taj Mahal, which says:

“happy are those who dream dreams and are prepared to make the sacrifice to make them come true.”

Well, we have dreams for space and we have the means to make them come true—they do not even need great sacrifice.

Tavish Scott made an important point when he said that we should be the first, and the history of space illustrates that. Who was the second woman in space? The answer is Kondakova. We remember Valentina Tereshkova, who was the first, but we do not remember who was second. Who was the second American to orbit the earth? We remember John Glenn, who was the first, but Gus Grimmon we might not remember. And who was the second Soviet? He was Titov; Gargarin, of course, we remember.


6 March 2019

S5M-16123 Supporting Scottish Agriculture

The Presiding Officer (Ken Macintosh): The next item of business is a debate on motion S5M-16123, in the name of Donald Cameron, on supporting Scottish agriculture.

... ... ...

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

I will respond to a couple of issues that have come up in the debate. I share John Scott’s concern about the Tayside beavers. There are now 550 of them, descended from what we must remind ourselves were illegally released, or perhaps escaped, beavers. The Government is picking up the tab for someone else’s illegal activity and I wish that we did not need to do that.

I want to pursue Mark Ruskell’s point on climate change. To a certain extent, John Scott and I will make common cause on the issue. Mark Ruskell asked for a net zero farming sector. Moving the whole of our environment to net zero could damage the climate change agenda. It would be perfectly easy to move the human race to net zero emissions: remove all humans from the surface of the planet and it would be achieved overnight. Of course, that is not what we will do, but people who ask for net zero in farming are making a similar suggestion.

Mark Ruskell
: Will the member take an intervention?

Stewart Stevenson: Forgive me, but I do not have time. I am watching the clock.

The point is that we want to have net zero as measured across all our sectors, but not in every sector. We should spend the pounds that will get us to net zero where they will be most effective.

We must remember that farmers do not get enough credit for the efforts that they are making. For example, the work that is done in forestry is not attributed to the farming sector. There are now days when all of our electricity comes from wind farms. Where are the wind farms? By and large, they are on agricultural farms, but, in the numbers that we have, not a single part of the climate change benefit is attributed to farmers.

The bottom line is that we need to spend the money on climate change mitigation and reduction in the most cost-effective way. If putting the money into farming will lead to the greatest reduction in emissions for every pound spent, we should do that. However, if, as is more likely, greater reductions will come from putting the money into insulating houses and decarbonising our transport sector, that is where we should put it.

If, for doctrinaire reasons, we decide to put it into farming, where it may not give us the greatest bang for our buck, we would damage our ability to reach net zero overall. We need to be very cautious about those—forgive me, Mr Ruskell—simplistic views of a complex issue.

Mark Ruskell rose—

Stewart Stevenson
: I have one minute to go, so forgive me, Mr Ruskell—we will have a chat afterwards. [Laughter.]

I come back to the core issue of farming and support for it, which is at the heart of the motion that we are debating. I found Mr Cameron’s, and indeed Mr Mountain’s, remarks baffling, considering what the NFUS briefing to us says.

“It is the view of NFUS that ‘Stability and Simplicity’ ”

—the Government document—

“effectively captured the recommendations from various expert groups appointed by ... Government in recent years.”

It is saying that “Stability and Simplicity” has been a pretty good thing. It is not giving uncritical and absolute support, and I would never expect that from farmers. It also says:

“It is the view of NFUS that if the ‘Steps to Change’ approach were to be adopted,”

much of what

“is required by way of future support for Scottish agriculture could be delivered with greater efficiency—in terms of funding, process and outcomes.”

The farmers have got the message; they know where we need to go and I look forward to continuing to engage with farmers in my constituency and across Scotland on the many occasions that present themselves. Indeed, I hope that at this year’s Turriff show I will once again sit next to Mr Gove. I hope that he will be able to account for what the UK Government will have done in the period from 29 March—but I am not holding my breath.


5 March 2019

S5M-16107 European Union Withdrawal Negotiations

The Presiding Officer (Ken Macintosh): The next item of business is a debate on motion S5M-16107, in the name of Nicola Sturgeon, on European Union withdrawal negotiations.

... ... ...

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

In all of this there is one person for whom I have briefly felt a very small degree of sympathy, and that is Theresa May. I have a quotation from Sophocles from 2,400 years ago, which is especially for her:

“The keenest sorrow is to recognise ourselves as the sole cause of all our adversities.”

I say that because—at the outset, before getting anything in return, and in invoking article 50—she chose to give away one of the most important negotiating tools that she had at her disposal, which was time. It is the one thing that we all get equal amounts of, but when we give away time we give away the debate.

I have some other interesting quotations. I want to spend a little time talking about how fishing has been dealt with in many of the relevant documents. The First Minister referred to the American negotiating document, to which I will come back in a minute or two. In any negotiation process that ends up with a printed document, it is as well to remember what the American singer-songwriter Tom Waits said:

“the large print giveth and the small print taketh away.”

As far as the large print is concerned, fishing figured in Theresa May’s speech at the Mansion house in January 2017—there was a single mention in a very substantial speech. In essence, she said that we should deliver equity in fishing to foreign countries. There was not a single word about our fishermen in the UK, whether Scottish, English, Welsh or Irish—it was all about the foreigners. Mrs May realised her mistake and, in Florence, she said that there should be equity between our fishermen and those of other countries. In other words, she was teeing us up for her to sell out our fishermen again.

Today, we have practical problems: we are now into the small print. We will need export health certificates if we are to land fish from Scotland in other countries. How is the crew of a vessel that is fishing off Greenland to decide where it will land—decisions on whether to land in Norway, the Netherlands, Denmark, Scotland or England are made while the boat is at sea—when they do not have the certificate that enables them to make that choice? Obtaining a certificate carries a cost, but it also involves a delay and so costs time, too.

Let us have a look at other small print from the American negotiating document. I will read one paragraph, which is on sanitary and phytosanitary measures:

“Include strong provisions on transparency and public consultation that require the UK”

remember that it is the Americans who are saying this—

“to publish drafts of regulations, allow stakeholders in other countries to provide comments on those drafts, and require authorities to address significant issues raised by stakeholders and explain how the final measure achieves the stated objectives.”

In other words, other countries have to sign off the drafts. The requirement is repeated in relation to technical barriers to trade. It is quite clear that if the UK thinks that it is getting independence, it is mistaken. The last big country with which we might wish to have a trade deal has negotiating terms that tell us precisely how it wants to control how the UK operates in that regard. Of course, we have nothing much to give.

Let us also think about the role of the NHS. The American negotiating term that deals with trade in services says that the rules

“apply to all service sectors”

and that

“Discrimination against foreign services suppliers”

is not allowed. It goes on to say that the UK should

“Retain flexibility for U.S. non-conforming measures”.

In other words, the Americans are allowed non-conforming measures, but the UK must conform.

The term on “State-Owned and Controlled Enterprises”—which would include the NHS—says:

“Ensure that SOEs act in accordance with commercial considerations with respect to the purchase ... of goods and services.”

In other words, activities cannot be run without being opened up to commercial competition. That is what the Americans want.

A long-term issue between the United States and the European Union has been the privacy and use of data that is collected. Under “Financial Services”, the negotiating document refers to

“commitments to ensure that the UK refrains from imposing measures ... that restrict cross-border data flows”.

In other words, our data should be able to be lifted from the UK and taken to the regime in the United States, where personal data is not protected in the way that we are used to expecting and requiring.

The document also says that non-tariff barriers against US agricultural goods must go—in other words, we must accept chlorinated chicken and hormone-treated beef. That is all in there.

Here is another one—it is a cracker. Under “Labor”, the document says:

“Require the UK to ensure that foreign workers are protected under labor laws.”

That is not for the US—that disnae really matter; the US can keep people out for as long as it wants to.

I return to the small print that goes with the withdrawal agreement. The debate has been all about the agreement, and there has been little discussion of the political declaration. Paragraph 75 of the declaration says:

“Within the context of the overall economic partnership the Parties should establish a new fisheries agreement on, inter alia, access to waters and quota shares.”

In other words, we will not get the sea of opportunity that we have been promised and we will not get control over our fishing waters in our own right.

I conclude with a quote from 1862, in another age of great difficulties—the American civil war. I am reading the latest biography of Frederick Douglass, an ex-slave who, interestingly, visited Scotland in 1843. I direct the attention of our Conservative friends—I have Conservative friends—to what he wrote:

“He is the best friend of this country, who, at this tremendous crisis, dares tell his countrymen the truth”.

It is time for the Tories to start telling the truth to themselves and not to spread falsehoods about others.


28 February 2019

S5M-16038 Census (Amendment) (Scotland) Bill: Stage 1


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

Thank you, Presiding Officer. Some invitations are more welcome than others, and that is one of them.

I have not been part of the consideration of the bill until now. I am a data user of censuses, but I am also a user of censuses. In other words, my interest in genealogy means that I read a census every week, but the censuses that I read are all 100 years old. That is of some, limited interest to today’s debate.

The Scottish Parliament information centre tells us:

“The information on equality groups in the Census can be used to monitor discrimination and to plan public services.”

That is, of course, correct, but during the debate we need to bear in mind that the census is a statistical survey. It is not about identifying the responses and needs of individuals; it is about identifying the needs of communities—often quite small communities—to ensure that public services are provided appropriately.

SPICe also says:

“The information collected must be ‘authoritative, accurate and comparable’ for all parts of Scotland”.

There is a difficulty in that description of what we are trying to do. The information should certainly be authoritative, it should perhaps be accurate and it should almost certainly be comparable. Retaining the question on whether someone’s birth identity is male or female helps with comparability, but we must remember that, at birth, the parent registers the birth and the gender of the infant.

I have an example from exactly 150 years ago. A child called Keith—I will not use the second name, because there will be living descendants—was registered, as we would expect, as a male, but in the census three years later and in every subsequent census, Keith was shown as female. In 1905, Keith married a man and gave birth to children. An error was probably made in 1869, when Keith was born. When someone dies, there needs to be medical information on their death certificate, but there is no medical requirement to provide information about gender to someone who is registering a birth. Therefore, there are some difficulties with the authoritative aspect of the census information. As the example that I have given shows, it is possible for someone to have something on their birth certificate and to put something else on the census. There has always been that possibility.

Who fills out the census? In broad terms, it is the head of the household. I welcome the indication that there will be a way for individuals to provide information that they might not want to share with the head of the household at that point. However, the question is voluntary, so we will not get the information from everybody for whom there might be a particular answer, and we will not necessarily get an answer from people who do not choose to use the separate system that allows them to respond individually.

That opens up a much broader question—for which I have no direct answer—of how, statistically, we can rely on information from a self-selected group, using a self-selected description. It is possible to deal with that, but I hope that the National Records of Scotland finds out, perhaps through sampling, how the answers that we get represent the underlying reality, because the statistics that come from the census are important for the planning of services.

Voluntary questions were introduced in the 1891 census, when for the first time there was a question about whether someone spoke Gaelic, which they did not have to answer. There is nothing new about a voluntary question, and we can do that in the bill, as we did then.

I trust my colleagues as we take the bill forward—I will not be playing any part in it. It is important that there is a clear distinction between physical sex and how people wish to be recognised and treated. The human right in our society to be able to choose how one is treated goes to the heart of this debate, and I very much welcome the fact that a tiny legal provision—it is really only a couple of lines in a very small bill—will leverage big consequences for quite a lot of people in our society. It is right and proper that we take this forward in the way that we are planning to and that we continue to engage to make sure that the questions that we ask give us answers that, statistically, help us to respond to a wide range of diverse needs that we did not recognise and certainly did not talk about in the past.


20 February 2019

S5M-15617 Hutchesons’ Hospital Transfer and Dissolution (Scotland) Bill: Preliminary Stage

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Linda Fabiani): The next item of business is a debate on motion S5M-15617, in the name of Kezia Dugdale, on the Hutchesons’ Hospital Transfer and Dissolution (Scotland) Bill.

... ... ...

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

The primary task of the committee was to consider whether the bill is a private one. We have thought about that and have looked at the definition that is in the Parliament’s standing orders, and we have concluded that it is. In doing so, the committee is merely following the long history to which Kezia Dugdale referred, from 1639 via the 1872 act, which, although it was not technically based on a private bill, clearly served private purposes. As the bill that is before the Parliament today is a private one, it is part of the continuum of support that has been given to people in Glasgow.

The promoter had considered whether it could use alternative ways of dealing with the issue that confronted it, such as the charity reorganisation provisions that are set out in chapter 5 of the Charities and Trustee Investment (Scotland) Act 2005, which are available to charities in certain defined circumstances. However, there appeared to be a lack of clarity as to whether the Royal Incorporation of Hutchesons’ Hospital in the City of Glasgow would meet the criteria for applying those provisions.

To test that, the committee sought advice from an academic and a Queen’s counsel, which is set out in considerable detail in the committee’s report. The advice is more fascinating than might be imagined, and I encourage all members to read it. However, the bottom line is that it drew the committee towards the conclusion to which the promoter of the bill had come, which is that it could not reliably use the provisions of the 2005 act without the prospect of legal challenge. Therefore, instead, it has pursued the private bill that is before us today.

The consequences of a legal challenge, were one to arise, could be both financially and practically quite challenging, so I think that the safe option that they have adopted, which the committee is happy to endorse, is to bring forward a private bill.

Of course, that leads to an issue for the Scottish Government, which we deal with in our report. It is that the legislation that I mentioned—the 2005 act—should perhaps be revisited to see whether we can provide greater clarity.

Having said that, the Scottish Government has published in the past month a consultation on Scottish charity law with a view to possible update of the 2005 act, and it includes a question that relates to the matter that I have just been referring to. Preparation of the consultation would have been well advanced but, nonetheless, the Hutchesons’ committee was quite right to bring the bill forward in early course.

The other option was that it could have hobbled on with the 1872 legislation and the 95 largely indifferent people who were on the committee. There was some suggestion that many of them were not even aware that they were on the committee, including as it does all of Glasgow’s councillors and many ministers of religion who, simply because of their office, end up legally and formally being on the committee.

We came to the conclusion that doing nothing did not make sense, because the trustees made a pretty cogent argument that we should look at updating and modernising the 1872 arrangements and bringing them into the world that we now have, with the oversight of OSCR and an SCIO. Having considered the alternatives, we are content with the promoter’s conclusion that a private bill is most appropriate and best available method of achieving the aims.

We are left with one question alone, which is how we will adjudge the success of the parliamentary process. I think the key test is that the beneficiaries of the trust see no difference whatsoever and it continues to provide the support that they have enjoyed for some time. The support was described in the 1872 act, which was based on the mortification of George Hutcheson of 1639. It says:

“aiget, decrippet men may be enterit and placet yrin”.

I am “aiget” but hopefully not “decrippet”, but I was particularly excited by the provision that there be

“foure shillingis Scottis money”

every day, and every year

“ane gowne of convenient cullor”.

Before we get too excited, I note that, although four shillings sounds a lot of money, in today’s money, because it was Scots pounds and not English pounds and because of decimalisation, that would be tuppence. I know that the beneficiaries get a little bit more than that today. The parliamentary process should, and I believe will, enable them to continue to receive the benefits in proper legal form.


6 February 2019

S5M-15677 Salmon Farming

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Christine Grahame): The next item of business is a debate on motion S5M-15677, in the name of Edward Mountain, on behalf of the Rural Economy and Connectivity Committee, on the committee’s inquiry into salmon farming in Scotland.

... ... ...

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

I start by thanking Tavish Scott’s constituents for the excellent products that they produce at their salmon farms; indeed, I thank constituents all round Scotland for that. That produce supports industries in my constituency—Sutherlands Of Portsoy, for example, has been smoking salmon for a hundred years. It originally smoked wild salmon, but now we have the salted salmon being smoked with shavings from whisky casks to produce that marriage made in heaven that is the taste of whisky on smoked salmon, which I so enjoy—particularly if it is anCnoc, Glen Deveron or Glenglassaugh whisky from my constituency.

Fiction has been running through the debate a lot—the fiction that the producers of farmed salmon like sea lice on their fish. No: if there are lice on the fish, its commercial value goes down because it looks ugly in the fishmonger’s display. There is a fiction that the fish farmers are indifferent to mortality, but every time a salmon dies on a fish farm, that is income lost to the salmon farmer. We must not pretend that the industry does not want to engage on the genuine and properly expressed challenges that it meets.

Donald Cameron referred to Loch Fyne in an attempt to show a link between fish farms and reduced salmon runs. Martin Jaffa’s book refers to Loch Fyne in relation to sea trout, which is essentially the same species. Of the three rivers that run into Loch Fyne, the one in which there has been the greatest reduction is the one in which the fish have not swum past the fish farms. The river in which the fish have to swim past all the fish farms has had the smallest reduction.

There are many causes of reductions in numbers of salmon in the wild environment, and many things affect both salmon farms and the wild environment. When my brother and I were water bailiffs for the Tay District Salmon Fisheries Board in 1968, the talk of that and previous seasons was the reduction in fish. Why did it happen? There was illegal exploitation: as bailiffs, we experienced dynamiting, hangnets and sniggering. I arrested somebody for sniggering, which is an illegal method of catching fish, on the island in Perth.

We had the Klondikers from Russia sitting in their vessels in Loch Broom catching salmon offshore. That was when the limits were 3 miles and 12 miles, rather than the 200 miles that we have today. We had predation from, for example, seals. The closure in the 1970s of Wee Bankie, which was a sprat fishery out in the North Sea, caused quadrupling of the number of seals in the North Sea. Guess what? Seals like eating salmon.

It is not just one thing that causes reductions in salmon numbers, but a complex environment of different things. I first saw sea lice in the 1950s. While standing on the bank trying to catch salmon with rod and line, I, unlike Jamie Greene, look in the mirror when trying to find the cause for my failures. I am an indifferent fisherman; my failure is not because there are no fish in the river. I have never seen Jamie Greene fishing, so I cannot judge his confidence. However, I saw sea lice in the 1950s.

In our rivers, we have crayfish that consume almost anything in the river, and there are some rivers in which there is nothing left but crayfish. We have acidification of rivers from the artificial fertilisers that run off our farm land. We have rising temperatures in rivers. We have the clearing of vegetation from the edge of rivers, which allows pollution and cattle—and what they produce—to go into the rivers. There is dredging of rivers, which makes it more difficult for salmon.

There are good examples, too; there are dams and weirs. There is the Pitlochry fish ladder, which is famous for supporting proper up-river passage of salmon. There are other examples elsewhere.

Let us not turn this into a simple-minded battle between the fish farms and the wild fish industry, because the issue is much more complex than that.

I wish our industry every success in the future. I will continue to enjoy eating the industry’s products and I will watch with interest as we regulate in an appropriate way.


23 January 2019

S5M-15186 Adult Learning

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Christine Grahame): The final item of business is a members’ business debate on motion S5M-15186, in the name of Colin Beattie, on celebrating the reach of adult learning. The debate will be concluded without any question being put.

Motion debated,

That the Parliament acknowledges the partnership established between Midlothian Council’s Lifelong Learning and Employability Service and Melville Housing to assist tenants to improve their digital skills through cooking, specifically supporting people on low incomes in the Dalkeith, Mayfield and Easthouses areas; believes that, by providing a unique adult learning programme that develops digital skills, financial capacity, research and use of online information, this has helped tenants become more aware of the benefits of a healthy lifestyle; understands that the participants were able to develop social networks to reduce social isolation; welcomes what it sees as the outstanding contribution that community-based adult learning makes to people, and welcomes debate about the impact and effect of adult learning in disadvantaged communities across Scotland.

... ... ...

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

I start by apologising to you, Presiding Officer, the people in the public gallery and colleagues in the chamber, because the Rural Economy and Connectivity Committee has a meeting in Galashiels tonight and, after I have spoken, I will depart to catch a train to get me there on time.

I am sure that this will be an entertaining and interesting debate. I thank Colin Beattie for giving us the opportunity to discuss this very important topic and I also thank my intern, Bella Nguyen, who has done the research and written my speaking notes for me. It is always a challenge for somebody when they come to the Parliament to be invited to look at a policy area that they have never looked at previously and to come up with something, and it is always quite revealing how quickly they can find that we are doing quite a lot. The important point is that, although we all say that Scotland aspires to be a welcoming and inclusive country for all and that part of that is about ensuring that adults in Scotland have a good social network and support, many continue to experience severe social exclusion. The emphasis in the motion before us on developing social networks is therefore very welcome.

NHS Health Scotland’s report “Social Isolation and Loneliness in Scotland: a Review of Prevalence and Trends” talks about those who are particularly at risk, which includes

“children and adults who are socio-economically disadvantaged and those experiencing ... physical and mental health”

that is below the norm. A whole set of stigmas is associated with people on low incomes or people with disabilities who are isolated, so any initiatives that we can take that help people develop a better sense of themselves, which they should properly have because we value everyone in our society, would be helpful. However, we should also equip them to develop relationships that will be life long and beneficial to them.

The Scottish household survey reported that 8 per cent of responders disagreed that they could turn to friends and relatives in the neighbourhood for advice or support. That gives us some measure of the problem, which is perhaps bigger than we might have imagined. That survey also reported that 18 per cent of responders said that they had limited regular social contact in their neighbourhood. That leads, according to other research, to health issues that are sometimes readily measurable, such as high blood pressure, poor sleep and depression. More fundamentally, it leads to mental health issues, which can be more insidious, particularly at low levels where they are subclinical, the need to seek help is not necessarily recognised and help is not sought. We therefore need to reach out to that category of individuals in particular and ensure that there is a wide range of opportunities for them to participate in the range of things that most of society takes for granted. Through that participation, they can improve their social contact with others and allow others to see opportunities in supporting such people in the long term.

Technology is adding to the problem in many instances, rather than being a solution. If people do not have the skills, the incentive or the equipment to engage in the modern digital world, they are further isolated. The focus on ensuring that people have the ability to develop online and digital communication skills is as important as other initiatives. Our libraries and other public spaces are often very good places in which people can undertake such development. For example, in my Banffshire and Buchan Coast constituency, the community learning and development team is hosting small group sessions to address that digital issue, which is part of a wider national picture of activity that I very much welcome.

There are big opportunities and a lot to do, but we are making good progress.


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