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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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16:25

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”.

16:31

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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15:36

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.

15:41

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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17:46

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.

17:51

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.

15:51

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.

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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.

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