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11 September 2019

S5M-18571 Scottish Food and Drink Fortnight

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Christine Grahame): The next item of business is a members’ business debate on motion S5M-18571, in the name of Alasdair Allan, on the 10th anniversary of Scottish food and drink fortnight. The debate will be concluded without any question being put.

Motion debated,

That the Parliament celebrates the 10th anniversary of Scottish Food and Drink Fortnight, which this year runs from 31 August to 15 September 2019; welcomes the aims of the fortnight to encourage more people to buy, eat and promote Scottish food and drink, and have as many people as possible taking part in the nation’s biggest food and drink celebration, with events taking place throughout the country; acknowledges the growth in Scotland’s food and drink sector and the contribution it makes to the economy, with a record £14.8 billion turnover and £6.3 billion in exports; acknowledges the ambition of the national food and drink strategy, Ambition 2030, to double the value of the industry by 2030, and believes that Scotland has some of the most popular protected food name products in Europe, including Stornoway Black Pudding PGI, which make a unique contribution to what it considers its food and drink success story.

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17:22

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

I congratulate Alasdair Allan on securing the debate. I add to his litany of constituency interests, as I first had spoots at Northton. They were harvested within a mile of where I was eating them—that is cutting down food miles. My constituency also has unusual and interesting things in it; it is where extra virgin rapeseed oil came to the fore, because of one of the farmers in my area.

I, too, offer congratulations on the 10th anniversary of Scottish food and drink fortnight. Of course, Scotland has wonderful seafood, Scotch whisky and much more. My constituency has multiple fishing ports and farms, and it even has four whisky distilleries: Knockdhu, Inchgower, Glenglassaugh and Macduff, which provide high-quality products and high-quality jobs.

Scotland has four of the largest fishing ports in the UK, and we account for almost all of the UK’s aquaculture production. Nearly 5,000 people work on Scotland-registered fishing vessels and 8,000 work in seafood processing—in both cases, many of those jobs are in rural areas. The Scotch whisky industry employs 10,000 people in Scotland, including 7,000 people in rural areas. Those are big numbers, and continued growth could make them even bigger. The efforts of ambition 2030 stand to be recognised, because the contributions that the food and drink industries make to our economy are heading in a most positive direction. When we eat and drink their products, we are eating and drinking the most healthy food on earth.

Our food exports have increased by 111 per cent since 2007, to £1.5 billion, with salmon and seafood leading the way. Capital investment is also going up. Across Scotland, there are improved distilleries, new distilleries, refettled distilleries and new visitor attractions. Farmed salmon is up by 16 per cent and Scotch whisky has increased in value by £153 million, to more than £4 billion. Its export value has grown by 7.8 per cent, with 40 bottles of whisky exported every second—that will be 9,600 bottles during this speech.

Our food and drink sector deserves to be toasted and celebrated. Scottish food and drink fortnight is an ideal expression of that, and I encourage the public to join in. I listened with interest to what Finlay Carson said. He mentioned the Stranraer oyster festival, which I was going to cite as an example of what is done in the south. The spirit of Speyside festival, in the north, is among the events that take place in my area.

It is important that we continue to support local food and drink. The sector is a massive success story for Scotland. It is diverse and omnipresent, and I am looking forward to tucking into some Scottish products later this evening, to augment the Scotland-sourced tacos that I had at lunch time.

17:25

S5M-18778 Citizens Assembly of Scotland

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Linda Fabiani): The next item of business is a debate on motion S5M-18778, in the name of Michael Russell, on the citizens assembly of Scotland.

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16:01

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

We have heard interesting contributions from Conservative members. Adam Tomkins said that we in Parliament do not have all the answers, and I agree with him. However, Rachael Hamilton said that Parliament is the citizens assembly. Those are fundamentally different points of view, so there are obviously differences among views in the Tory party. We in the SNP have robust debates and ways of dealing with different points of view.

I want to start with the character and experience of one of the conveners of the assembly. I know one of them, but not the other. When David Martin was first elected as an MEP in the 1980s, he came to the Bank of Scotland to meet senior executives. I remember sitting round the lunch table—we were hospitable to him—to hear his questions and his responses, and the issues that he was raising with the bank. That was more than 30 years ago. The first thing that David Martin brings to the table is objectivity. The second is experience and the third is honesty in his political opinions—which are not my political opinions, but come from a different tradition.

If we attack the citizens assembly, we attack David Martin and his substantial record of public service, his preparedness to serve the public good and his preparedness to tackle the democratic deficit, or emergency, that undoubtedly exists in these islands. Today’s court judgment is just one part of the continuing failure of the UK’s democratic systems to solve major problems.

I absolutely support the Green Party proposal, which has been supported by Conservative members, to involve citizens more on the issue of climate change. I progressed the Climate Change (Scotland) Bill in 2009, for which we had unanimous support: I hope that we will get such support again. In an era of post-truth politics, in which climate change is an issue and globalisation is a matter of debate, our citizens must be part of deciding the future.

Who is taking a risk by establishing the citizens assembly? In Parliament, we have a majority in favour of independence. Those who support that objective—which is part of a wider agenda and does not stand on its own—are taking the risk that the citizens assembly, which is independent of Government and is chaired by a lifelong opponent of the political philosophy that I espouse, could come up with a conclusion that will make us desperately uncomfortable.

I believe that we will have convincing evidence and arguments that will lead the assembly to a different place. However, those of us who support Scotland’s independence are taking the risk. The fact that the Tories and the Liberal Democrats will not take such risks is very revealing.

We have an opportunity to recalibrate how our democracy works. What is before the assembly lays out the way in which to address issues, but the assembly is the master of its own destiny. The Liberal Democrat amendment does not disagree with the assembly’s remit, so I invite Liberal Democrats to endorse the motion in their concluding remarks. The word “independence” appears nowhere in it.

The UK’s general relationship with the devolved nations is changing; in England, there are huge tensions across geography and people’s different experiences in different parts. Citizens assemblies can be important in allowing countries to consider how they take themselves forward.

In Ireland, the removal of the eighth amendment to the constitution was a suitable subject for a citizens assembly to contribute to the subsequent referendum debate—and it was very successful. The referendum followed closely the recommendations of the assembly but—more to the point—participants said that it made them consider the impact of a proposal in ways that they never would have done before. It is important to rely on the deep reflections of fellow citizens who come without the baggage that every party politician here inevitably has. That brings honesty and openness to the deliberative process, so I congratulate our friends in Ireland for showing us the way to re-ignite thoughtful dialogue.

It is worth considering Brexit. If, three years ago, we had taken forward the post-2016 referendum deliberations via a citizens assembly, we would not have got ourselves tied up in the cul-de-sac that was created by the Prime Minister in January 2017, which has contributed to the failure of the political system to come to a meaningful conclusion.

This is not really a debate about the proposals from the Government for an assembly; it is about the credibility of David Martin—a man with whom I have often disagreed but whom I continue to respect.

16:07

5 September 2019

S5M-18695 European Union Exit (No Deal)

The Presiding Officer (Ken Macintosh): The next item of business is a debate on motion S5M-18695, in the name of Michael Russell, on avoiding a no-deal exit from the European Union.

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16:09

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

The Independent newspaper reports that

“some loud bloke who stunk of booze yelling at us”

is a description of how number 10 attempted to persuade 21 former Tory MPs to vote for Prime-Minister-in-name-only Johnson’s plans. The New York Times today describes this week as “a sobering week” for the Prime Minister—if only.

The cabinet secretary and others have confirmed that the EU has seen nothing by way of proposals from the UK Government.

Our colleague Donald Cameron is a serious man, with a demonstrated ability to think through complicated issues and break them down into solvable bite-size chunks—the attributes of the Scottish advocate down the ages. However, today’s amendment in his name falls substantially short of what his pupil master would have required of him in his days of training as an advocate.

Proper parliamentary procedures continue in the Scottish Parliament—they have been abandoned by a Prime Minister who is yet to win any vote in the house of which he should remember that he is a servant. Here, our duty is to offer sober-minded dissection of even the most obtuse proposal, so I will consider the three planks of Mr Cameron’s amendment.

First, we are asked to respect the referendum result. There has always been a fundamental conflict between the 2014 and 2016 referendums. A key reason why the argument for Scottish independence was lost in 2014 was the Scottish people’s attachment—later proved, in the 2016 vote—to our membership of the EU. The no campaign asserted that Scotland could remain in the EU only if it rejected independence. My side of the argument then lacked the ammunition that would convincingly rebut that—now provably implausible—argument.

In passing, I note that many of my constituents see opportunity—even a sea of opportunity—in leaving the common fisheries policy, which is a policy that only the SNP has always opposed. [Interruption.] The Tories had better keep listening. However, many of my constituents also see the ruin that awaits our fish processors as a result of Theresa May’s choice of the method of exit.

At 8.58 this morning, I received an email from the largest fish processing firm, which I am able to quote on the record. I will read out exactly what it says:

“The Scottish Conservatives today in Edinburgh Parliament will hit their normal drum of stating that the Conservatives are ‘champions’ of the Scottish Fishing Industry ... From my end I am very clear: leaving the EU without a deal will cause long term damage to the fishing industry, both the catching and onshore sector and will result in a considerable economic loss to our coastal communities. A ‘no deal Exit’ has to be avoided at all cost.”

It goes on:

“I wish you well in the debate ... all sectors of the Scottish economy will be adversely affected and damaged through the actions of a Conservative group of UK Ministers driven by a right wing ideology. It has to be stopped.”

That is from the fishing industry—the one area in Scotland that might have been expected to benefit from a proper exit. The industry clearly sees that what the Tories are progressing will not benefit it.

The conflict between the two referendums defeats the argument behind the first plank of the Tory amendment. The second plank is the call for a “negotiated exit”. We know that there is no negotiation, so no negotiated exit is in prospect. Mr Johnson is not negotiating. No proposals have been tabled. My long history of business negotiation has persuaded me that going into a negotiation with a blank sheet of paper and waving that paper under the noses of the people at the other side of the table does not progress the negotiation.

It is clear that Johnson has spent too much time with Trump and is adopting Trump’s relationship with truth, rationality and clarity.

On the third plank of the Tory amendment, I do not know how one reaches a deal when one refuses to allow civil servants to engage meaningfully with the EU and politicians carry blank sheets of paper to Brussels.

As Yogi Berra said:

“If you don’t know where you are going, you will end up somewhere else.”

As a lawyer, Donald Cameron will be familiar with the saying:

“A man who is his own lawyer has a fool for a client.”

It is perhaps time to update that old saying: a man who journeys without a map will never know his destination.

The Tories: clueless; leaderless; mapless. The Tories: beyond reason; beyond parody; beyond hope.

16:15

Stewart Stevenson
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