2 June 2020

Subject Debate: Economic Recovery

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Linda Fabiani): The next item of business is a debate on Covid-19 and next steps for the economy.

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

Welcome back, Presiding Officer. I would like to join you soon.

I start with saying a single word on projects to all members on the Conservative Party’s benches: HS2.

The next steps required to rebuild our economy after the shutdown caused by the pandemic cannot all be known. Indeed, some of what will turn out to be the most important steps may only be identifiable some years after they are taken. The Government’s immediate concern is to minimise harm to existing businesses; that is proper, because businesses that are already established will be the source of employment for the overwhelming majority of those who will be in work in six months, a year or a couple of years.

I will concentrate on where the real building of a new economy will take place. It will start with small businesses—just as almost all new businesses start as small businesses. Ten years ago, Brewdog was a small brewery in my constituency with a handful of employees. Today, it is an international company that is worth in excess of £1 billion. New ideas, new money and risk-taking and risk-managing owners, coupled with very good marketing, helped it to get there. Even with all that, the outcome, and certainly the scale of the outcome, was very far from predictable. The new businesses that will be the new Brewdogs in 10 years’ time simply cannot be known today. It is about removing barriers and about those of us in the public realm being prepared to be brave. Adversity creates difficulty, but it also spurs innovation.

On 27 April 2007, a dispute over the moving of a Soviet-era memorial in Tallinn was the trigger for an electronic attack on every public institution in Estonia—a country of about 1.3 million residents. Today, Estonia has a hardened electronic infrastructure that converted the country into one of robust online commerce. One may become an e-resident of Estonia for a modest sum—currently 120 euros. The country has created infrastructure that allows people around the world to establish companies and open and operate bank accounts, and it has created secure and trusted electronic identities for its e-residents. A large cohort of foreign companies are now resident in Estonia, without the country having become a tax haven—its attraction as a place of residence is much more than that.

There are plenty of other opportunities that we might look to. I say to Government: let us crank up our support for our micro-businesses, small businesses and even medium businesses—the next big winner might be in there.

I will give some specifics suggestions for what we might do—they are deliberately a bit off the wall because I like to provoke thinking. Let us direct our help to new ideas, or to reinventions of old ones, with the expectation that, in doing so, 80 per cent of our interventions will fail. If we get it right, the 20 per cent will do far more than pay for the 80 per cent.

We should not analyse projects to death. If I could spot the winning projects, I would be a very rich man. Instead, we should look at the people who are trying to take something forward. There are those who have the knowledge, energy and self-belief that will take them somewhere useful for themselves and for our country. We should ignore their proposals—we should not pretend we can spot winners.

We should back small teams. It is amazing what one man can do leading a team of 12—that team can succeed even if one of them is a duffer or a Judas. Those who are failing are spotted very quickly in a small team. No management structure is needed to make a small team work.

Hundreds of years ago, Europe’s main centre for medical training was in Edinburgh. Why? Because the old town was desperately unsanitary and had a correspondingly high degree of morbidity, so it was an excellent place to study disease. What could we be doing today in the Covid world? Are there genetic differences that drive differences in outcomes? We know that that is the case for many other conditions. Covid is a virus about which we are still learning, but we have no broad-spectrum attacker of viruses in general, equivalent to what antibiotics once were in relation to bacteria.

Scotland has a particular advantage, in that the data in our national birth, marriage and death records is more comprehensive than is the case almost anywhere else. Thus, it is easier to identify connections of paternity, maternity and consanguinity than in many other countries. Could we use that information? It is worth trying.

In 1973, I fell out with my boss over a software development. I spent the weekend in the computer centre pursuing my idea, which I showed him on Monday. I met someone a couple of years ago who was still maintaining that software, which I had developed 45 years earlier. We might need a few more angry youngsters. Let us find them and support them—and I am not volunteering.


19 May 2020

S5M-21778 Civil Partnership (Scotland) Bill: Stage 1

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Lewis Macdonald): The next item of business is a debate on motion S5M-21778, in the name of Shirley-Anne Somerville, on stage 1 of the Civil Partnership (Scotland) Bill.

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

I apologise to the Presiding Officer and to colleagues for joining the debate late. I am a member of the COVID-19 Committee, and our stage 2 debate on the Coronavirus (Scotland) (No 2) Bill ended just after 4 o’clock. Who said that men cannot multitask?

I will make brief remarks, which I hope will support, and will only to a limited extent duplicate previous members’ contributions. I certainly intended no disrespect to colleagues by not being here to hear their words.

I welcome the bill and support its objectives. Extension of the criteria for civil partnerships will take nothing away from me, nor do I see any demerit for wider society. To legislate in the terms that are set out in the bill will extend benefits to people who, for whatever personal reasons, do not wish to marry. That is proper.

Formal endorsement in law of a relationship is of particular benefit to the children of a couple. It simplifies inheritance and, generally, simplifies the transfer of assets within close family. Marriage and civil partnership have significant benefits. I have been doing the marriage bit for more than 50 years, and hope to get the hang of it sometime soon.

I was delighted previously to work with Pauline McNeill on marriage issues—she referred to the civil partnership legislation on which we both worked. At that time, we made common cause, and I believe that we can do that again. I note that the Jewish community has identified some—fixable—issues in the bill. I hope that we do something about that. In the legislation that Pauline McNeill and I worked on, a significant issue was how divorce works in the Jewish faith. We were able to work together and with others to ensure that that important group in our community got the changes that mattered to them. I am sure that we will be able to do that again—especially as the current issue looks to be rather more straightforward.

The Family Law (Scotland) Act 2006 identified new rights for cohabiting couples, but those rights fall far short of what might be fair to couples and their offspring. If the bill moves on to the statute book, as I believe is likely, that should encourage many cohabiting couples to seek formal recognition of their relationship.

The act of entering into marriage or civil partnership is important recognition by a couple of their commitment to each other, by affirming that it is not simply a temporary or transient relationship. That commitment is of particular value to the children of those relationships. Although there are financial aspects, the much more fundamental issue is the emotional benefit of a stable family environment, however it is structured. Families can operate in many different ways: it is not for me to comment on anyone else’s arrangements.

I wish, for the bill, all support as it moves forward, in particular so that it can benefit children, as much as their parents.


12 May 2020

Suppressing Covid: The Next Phase

The Presiding Officer (Ken Macintosh): The next item of business is a debate without motion on suppressing Covid: the next phase. I call on the Deputy First Minister and Cabinet Secretary for Education and Skills, John Swinney, to open the debate.

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

By this stage of a debate, much of what can be said has generally been said, but this subject is so wide—encompassing everything that we do and every person in Scotland and worldwide—that that is unlikely to be the case today.

I speak today as someone who is vulnerable by reason of age, although I am actually fitter than I have been for quite a few years. In the eight weeks that I have been absent from Parliament I have walked about 300 miles, so my body is fitter. I have been able to write a daily diary of about 62,000 words so far, so my mind is fitter. Mens sana in corpore sano.

As a parliamentarian, I am exceptionally privileged—as we all are—compared with most of our fellow citizens. My income is unaffected and I no longer have to spend 12 to 14 hours per week travelling. I am missing most of you, but some of you I barely miss at all—no names, no pack drill. My anxieties will be considerably fewer than those of members of the public.

We have heard much of the immense contribution of those—particularly those in health and care professions—who are especially at risk because of their meeting many people who are unwell. However, it is not just those people who contribute. All those who continue to support us directly—such as posties and those who work in shops—are equally valued.

My age means that it is likely that my immune system is probably less effective than it once was. People of any age with a compromised immune system need to be specially protected. However, we should have no assumptions about anyone else and they should all be treated equally. Reference has been made to people who have a range of conditions that do not create extra risk, and we should treat them with respect.

The R number has come up a number of times, most recently in Liz Smith’s speech, and I want to say one or two things about it. It is a statistically derived number that is informed by data from a range of sources, such as Registers of Scotland. The cause of death that Registers of Scotland receives may be of high certainty, informed by a positive test, or it may come from a clinical judgment, where there has been no test.

The high degree of variability in Covid-19 symptoms means that some cases will be missed. In some cases, the symptoms will falsely point to Covid-19. Many medical practitioners who are providing certification will have had no prior experience of the disease. There is uncertainty there.

The numbers also follow infection, probably by a week but possibly longer. Testing is difficult. The current tests rely on a swab from the throat—a swab from the mouth will not do. Any swab in the throat provokes a choke reflex, so it is difficult for the patient and the medical person who administers the test. The uncertainty following a test will be lower and the data more recent, but it is not zero uncertainty. Self-diagnosis by people with milder symptoms who self-isolate after experiencing them also contributes to the numbers.

Suppose that we make up a few numbers—these are not real numbers. Ninety-six per cent of reports to Registers of Scotland are correct, 95 per cent of medical practitioners get their diagnosis correct—many bits of research say that the figure is as low as 50 per cent, although I suspect that that is too pessimistic—and 80 per cent of people self-diagnosing get it right. With equal weight given to those three factors, we get 72 per cent certainty about the R number. The figures of 96 and 95 per cent sound high, so let us suppose that they are both 80 per cent; that takes the certainty down to 50 per cent.

Statisticians have vigorous debates about how much they should rely on the data that they get and the weight that they should give to each factor, so the R number cannot be the precise number that we would all like it to be. What I have said is a gross oversimplification of how we get to R. However, I hope that it illustrates why, if I hear someone come forward with a single number, I will stop relying on that number.

Business will certainly be very different in the years to come compared with a year ago. Gillian Martin spoke about people who are suffering from the effects in their business lives. However, perhaps one of the most important things that we might think about—I have not heard this spoken about yet—is what we will do about young companies that are at a stage in their development that means that they have negative cash flows. Somewhere in that lot are companies that will be the successes of the future. We need them.

Finally, I want to speak briefly about messaging. The stay at home message has been self-explanatory and widely respected. We as politicians get bored with messages much quicker than the general population does because we are constantly repeating them and hearing ourselves saying them. We get bored, but we have to tolerate that boredom more than we have been, until the public tell us that it is time to refresh the message.


4 March 2020

S5M-21090 Scottish Rate Resolution

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Christine Grahame): The next item of business is a debate on motion S5M-21090, in the name of Ben Macpherson, on the Scottish rate resolution.

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

I want to pick up on a few issues that other members have raised in the debate. I will go through them chronologically.

Let me start with Donald Cameron. He seems not to be here to hear me, but I am sure that he is listening somewhere. It was exceptionally brave of him to raise the issue of council tax, given that the average band D household council tax in England is £429 higher than the average band D council tax in Scotland. Donald Cameron therefore gets full marks for bravery and, perhaps, a few odd bonus marks for effrontery.

Rhoda Grant seemed to suggest that, under the proposals, I will pay less tax than I used to. I will consult the Official Report later, because I cannot really believe that she said that. I have gone into my database, got out my tax returns, and have found—I have various sources of income—that I am now paying £2,051 more per annum than I previously paid. I am happy to do so, as would many people with a social conscience in Scotland.

Rhoda Grant also criticised the relationship between the SNP Government and councils. There is a key thing that we did in 2007. When the SNP Government came in, we found that the Labour Party had left us with a situation in which 25 per cent of the money that councils got was ring fenced. We cut that amount dramatically. It has crept up a wee bit, subsequently, but councils have freedom that they very much welcome.

Willie Rennie—the man who never takes an intervention because he knows that it will hurt too much—criticised capital spending. When the Liberal Democrats came to me, when I was a Government minister, about the replacement Forth crossing, the budget was £3.4 billion to £4.3 billion. When the crossing went into the Official Journal of the European Union for bids, the top was £2.3 billion and the floor was £1.9 billion. We built it for less than £1.4 billion—half a billion pounds below budget. Willie Rennie, as a Fife MSP, should tak tent.

Alexander Burnett said so much that I am not sure that I have time to deal with it. Let us start with one of the crippling things that the Tories have done for local authorities across the UK: they have doubled the Public Works Loan Board interest rate. How will that help councils across the UK? It was done simply to tackle the abuse of borrowing powers by a couple of councils in England, which put money into commercial investments. The Tories could have dealt with that in another way.

Alexander Burnett criticised the position of Aberdeenshire Council. I have looked at Audit Scotland’s 2019 report on Aberdeenshire Council. In the period from 2013-14 to 2018-19, it did extremely well in improving its position—only West Lothian Council and Midlothian Council did better. Moray Council, which covers the other council area that I have the privilege to represent, was next. The Scottish Government is therefore undoing historical wrongs in council funding. Members will get that information on page 19 of the Audit Scotland report.

As I approach the end of the four minutes that I have, it is perhaps worth reminding members that the subject of income tax is fascinating. When did income tax start? The answer to that question is 1798. Who introduced it? It was William Pitt the younger—a Tory.


19 February 2020

S5M-20055 Prehistoric Rock Art

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Christine Grahame): The final item of business is a members’ business debate on motion S5M-20055, in the name of Gil Paterson, on the Cochno stone and the social value of Scotland’s prehistoric rock art. The debate will be concluded without any question being put.

Motion debated,

That the Parliament congratulates Dr Kenny Brophy of the University of Glasgow Archaeology Department on the extensive work on prehistoric rock art throughout a wide expanse of West Dunbartonshire; notes that this includes numerous excavations in the Faifley area of Clydebank, including, in particular, the Cochno Stone; understands that this is one of Europe’s most important examples of rock carvings, and that this was entirely uncovered and intricately documented, including a full digital scan and recording; notes that this important work by Dr Brophy and his university team was assisted over many months by volunteers from far and wide, including local people and school pupils, and considers that this project is a model for collaboration between experts, well-practised helpers and a very supportive, well-informed community that wants to bring to the wider world the iconic art that is there to be exposed, enjoyed and celebrated by all.

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

I, too, thank Gil Paterson for giving us the opportunity to debate this interesting subject. We are talking about something that is very old, so it is entirely appropriate that the four oldest members of this Parliament are all present. I note that I am the fourth oldest of those four, but we are all of an age at which antiquity is of particular interest to us. [Laughter.]

The Cochno stone is of uncertain age. Some of my research says that it is 5,000 years since it was produced and other research says that it dates from the third millennium BC and, thus, is perhaps not quite as old.

Gil Paterson is ahead of me, as he has converted to the metric system. He said that the stone is 100m2, while my notes say that it is 42 feet by 26 feet. I am a mathematician so I had to do the arithmetic, and he is absolutely spot on: 42 feet by 26 feet is 100m2. I am glad that Gil got that right.

Something as old as the Cochno stone is always fascinating. People of all ages can realistically engage with anything that throws us back to a previous age and which has mystery around it. One of the first things that I wondered was where this name came from. It appears that it is from cauchanach, which is the Gaelic for “place of little cups”. When we look at what is on the stone, that is a credible explanation, although it is not a certain one; we will probably never have that. We know that the stone is named after a Cochnol house that was on the site before we found the stone, but that is not to say that the house was there before the stone. The stone was almost certainly there before the house was built by the Hamiltons, some 100 years ago.

Although the stone was buried, the locals continued to remember it over a long period of time and it was a source of stories and inspiration for stories, like many such ancient artefacts. The fact that it has been dug up, reburied and dug up again provides an interesting comparison with China, on which Gil Paterson, with his passion for all things from the east, threw light when he talked about it.

To come up to date, the University of Glasgow, Factum Arte and the local community are now involved in engaging with and protecting the stone, and in cleaning the area in which it stood and removing the ground around it so that we can actually see it. The fact that Gil Paterson could not find the stone, because of overgrowth on the site, tells us everything that we need to know about the previous neglect of the stone.

It is great that the modern technology in a 50 megapixel camera has been used to create 3D images, but in our modern arrogance, we must remember that the electronic world is quite an ephemeral one; the electronic images might vanish quickly and become inaccessible to us. However, the stone will probably outlive any of the technology that is being used—excellent as it is as a way of reaching out across the world to tell the story of this archaeological endeavour and creating a database that allows people across the world to study the carvings from the Cochno stone and see echoes of them in other areas.

It is interesting. I thought that the word “Cochno” came from cochlea, the Greek word for snail, because I had not properly looked at the stone. I then realised that the carvings were not snails and were much more like cups.

We have had an interesting short debate and it is tremendous to see so many of those who have been involved in the project in the public gallery. Just as I, in primary school, was given a little ammonite—a fossil that was billions of years old—that inspired me, I hope that this project will inspire many in the area where the stone is located. For Dr Kenny Brophy and his team, the schoolchildren who have been involved and the community, this is an important part of their history but it will also be part of their future.


6 February 2020

S5M-20184 World Cancer Day 2020

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Christine Grahame): The next item of business is a members’ business debate on motion S5M-20184, in the name of Monica Lennon, on world cancer day 2020. The debate will be concluded without any question being put.

Motion debated,

That the Parliament recognises that 4 February 2020 is World Cancer Day, a global initiative that encourages everyone to put cancer on the global agenda; understands that one in two people will get cancer in their lifetime and that over the last 40 years survival rates have doubled, with half of people in Scotland now surviving cancer thanks to the great progress that research has made, and that Cancer Research UK’s vision is to see three-quarters of people with cancer surviving the disease by 2034; believes that it is crucial to address variations in outcomes between cancer types and patient groups where they exist in Scotland; welcomes world-leading research funded by Cancer Research UK and others into those cancers with the lowest survival rates, including lung, pancreatic and brain cancers; notes what it sees as the persistent gaps in outcomes, especially for those in Scotland’s most deprived communities and recognises calls for urgent action to address cancer health inequalities in any form; understands the need to ensure that cancer services in the Central Scotland region and across the country are planned to ensure the best outcome for every patient wherever they live, while allowing patients to decide what matters most to them on their cancer journey, and notes that Members can show their support for World Cancer Day through the wearing of the Unity Band.

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

I endorse Lewis Macdonald’s remarks about the excellent work that is done by Friends of ANCHOR, CLAN and other charities in the north-east of Scotland. Of course, I thank Monica Lennon for the opportunity to discuss this important subject.

I had a look at my previous speeches on the subject, and I found four: one on breast cancer, one on lung cancer, one on skin cancer and, most recently, one on young people’s cancers. We are all aware that there is a wide variety of cancers.

I turn to the number of cancers that we are diagnosing. By 2027, we will be looking, perhaps, at as many as 40,000 per year, and 110 people will be diagnosed with cancer every day.

Both my parents died of cancer, some considerable time ago: one of breast cancer and one of prostate cancer.

Mortality rates have decreased by 12 per cent in males and 7 per cent in females over the past 10 years, so we are making progress. As we increase our diagnostic capability, we are improving our treatment capability and outcomes.

The lowest survival rates are those for lung cancer and small cell lung cancer, smoking being the cause in many cases. Of course, people being overweight is also a significant cause of cancer. I sit on the very edge of the normal range of body mass index, occasionally dodging out of it and then struggling to come back in. However, too many people in our communities—for all sorts of reasons, and particularly in areas of social and economic disadvantage—are suffering from problems due to being overweight or greater consumption of tobacco. There are a wide range of risk factors that we have to address, as other speakers in the debate have mentioned. Deprived communities are part of the inequalities that we have to tackle.

Cancer Research UK tells us—it is an exact figure—that 41.5 per cent of cancers are potentially preventable. Beyond the prevention work that we have to undertake to get smoking, obesity and our consumption of alcohol under control, one thing that is helpful is early detection. I am in the age group of people who get an annual postal thing that allows them to test for blood in their stool, which is a primary indication of potential bowel cancer. I welcome the fact that the number of samples that one has to take went down from five, as it was when I entered the system, to three, and that it is now just one. The process is not highly engaging or exciting, and the more that we can deconstruct barriers to people doing the test, the better.

That is particularly important for me because I have another condition that tends to give false positives. NHS Grampian has been extremely good in showing in the follow-up that there was a false positive. I have far too intimate knowledge of one of its cameras, which has looked at my innards. I hope that NHS Grampian will continue to give me support as and when it may be necessary. Most recently, it offered me an appointment on a Sunday, which I thought was superb because it did not interfere with other things. That is an example of the innovative approaches that are being taken.

The Scottish Government’s detect cancer early programme, which has been running for a number of years, is a major contributor to detecting early signs of cancer, and I hope that it continues to do so. I hope that we all manage to avoid cancer or, if we get it, that we get the treatment that we need. I am sure that we shall.


5 February 2020

S5M-19941 Cheyne Gang Singing Group

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Christine Grahame): The final item of business is a members’ business debate on motion S5M-19941, in the name of Gordon MacDonald, on the Cheyne Gang singing group.

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

I, too, thank Gordon MacDonald for providing us with the opportunity to recognise the Cheyne Gang singing group.

Let me say that, as other members have said of themselves, I am usually paid to remain silent when singing is taking place. However, I suggest that I could do a bit of whistling and humming as background to the singing, because that is equally good for the lungs. Perhaps a puirt à beul session, with me humming in the background, might be the answer.

As Elaine Smith mentioned, singing is a very inexpensive way of helping people with pulmonary rehabilitation, so I expect the national health service to sign up for it with great enthusiasm. However, there are practical issues around its use. In the 1940s I was diagnosed as suffering from what was then described as “broncho spasm”. I was treated with a horrible little M & B tablet, which was delivered to me, wrapped in tomato jam, on a spoon. To this day, I am a little averse to having tomato jam. It was not clear whether the condition that I was suffering from was bronchitis, asthma or something else. It continued into my adult life, but I no longer suffer from it. My father, who was a GP, taught me a form of hypnotism, which we might now call mindfulness, so that I am able to use my psychological skills to prevent an attack from happening. The doctors at my medical practice think that I should have an inhaler with me at all times. I have not had one for 30 years, so that is too bad.

The bottom line is that singing helps us to avoid the rapid breath-stacking pattern of breathing—a dynamic hyperventilation of the lungs that reduces inspiration of air. When sufferers have an attack they think that they cannot breathe in, whereas the reality is that they cannot breathe out properly. Our lungs can hold 3 litres of air, but our breathing uses about 500 millilitres each time. Because of my lifetime condition I am usually down at the 380ml mark. However, I know that since I have stopped using the lifts to reach the fifth floor of the Parliament my lung capacity has gone up by 15 per cent—I have a device for measuring it.

There are many ways of doing things cheaply, but the bottom line is that asthma, and lung conditions in general, prevent people from being active and cut them off from social occasions. They also have psychological negatives such as anxiety, depression and hospitalisation. Therefore, communities such as the Cheyne Gang have wider effects that are beyond the purely medical: they also have social benefits, which we should encourage.

In the UK, 8 million people have been diagnosed with asthma, which I find slightly puzzling. I went to what was probably the biggest secondary school in Scotland. In my year, which consisted of more than 400 pupils, only three of us—Roger, Teddy and me—had asthma, whereas now the statistic is one person in 17. Therefore, something about the modern world means that asthma is a more pressing concern than it formerly was.

Elaine Smith: Will the member take an intervention?

Stewart Stevenson
: If the Presiding Officer will allow it.

Elaine Smith: On that issue, last week it was discovered that although more boys might have asthma, more women than men die of asthma; that point needs to be looked at, and I have lodged some questions on it.

Stewart Stevenson
: That is a very interesting point, which I was not aware of. I thank Elaine Smith for raising it.

In the previous session of Parliament, one of our colleagues suffered from COPD. I will not name him, because it was not generally known, but the suffering that he experienced was apparent from time to time. Fortunately, he continues to experience good health in life after Parliament.

The reduction in tobacco use has improved things. It has always been a trigger for lung conditions, although one of the ironies of tobacco is that it freezes the cilia in the bronchial tubes, which initially makes one feel better, not worse—a very curious and unhelpful thing.

Pulmonary rehabilitation as an education programme and a part of physical exercise is a good way to go about things. We have moved on terrifically. In the 1940s, when I was first diagnosed with asthma, the treatment was an M & B tablet and going out in the street when there was a tar wagon around, because it was thought that the tar fumes were helpful. It is rather doubtful whether that was actually the case. There were many myths, some of which endure to the present day. The Scottish Government’s plan to improve pulmonary rehabilitation through its respiratory care plan is to be welcomed.

The Cheyne Gang and community groups across Scotland are on the front line and I recognise their value to their communities in leading the way. They are to be utterly commended and, as somebody who I should now describe as a former asthmatic, I am astonished and delighted to hear about their work.


30 January 2020

S5M-19810 Public Works Loan Board Rate

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Linda Fabiani): The next item of business is a members’ business debate on motion S5M-19810, in the name of Keith Brown, on the Public Works Loan Board rate. The debate will be concluded without any question being put.

Motion debated,

That the Parliament condemns the recent UK Treasury announcement of an increase in the rate of borrowing from the Public Works Loan Board (PWLB) by one percentage point; understands that the PWLB lends money to local authorities for community infrastructure projects; is concerned by the implications of this percentage-point hike in interest rates on Scottish councils’ abilities, including Clackmannanshire Council, to carry out crucial infrastructure developments, such as affordable housing, schools, leisure and regeneration projects; agrees with a number of local authorities that this increase is paramount to the UK Government “profiteering at the expense of council tax payers”; recognises the detrimental impact that this move will have on infrastructure projects in Clackmannanshire and Dunblane and other local authority areas across Scotland, and acknowledges calls on the UK Government to reconsider its decision.

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

I thank Keith Brown for giving us the opportunity to debate this important subject.

Before I move to the central thrust of what I want to say, I will respond to a few things that were said by Alexander Stewart. He said that the aim is to put a limit on what councils borrow, so why not change the rules on what they can borrow for rather than put costs up? He also said that councils are struggling to service debt. I am sure that increasing the interest rate by 56 per cent will not help them to do that. Under the prudential borrowing rules that councils work within, they will have to reduce the number of projects that they fund by that mechanism by a third in order to pay the same interest as they are currently paying. Therefore, the effect of this small change in terms of the amount of interest that might be paid each year is fundamental to the way in which councils are able to renew public infrastructure.

Let us remember that it is the Public Works Loan Board: the money is for public works. It is simply unacceptable that, in hard times, the UK Government is making it fundamentally more difficult for councils in Scotland—indeed, across the UK—to do what their local communities require. Many councils, including my own, rely on the PWLB.

Last year, £819 million was borrowed, so the increased rate is going to have an impact—members can work that out for themselves. Fife wanted funding for a new campus for Woodmill high school, St Columba’s high school and Fife College. Clackmannanshire and Dunblane needed funding to increase affordable housing and improve their schools. Aberdeen budgeted for £481 million to be spent on capital projects over the next five years, of which £293 million was to be borrowed. All those plans may now be delayed or halted altogether. That is the real, on-the-ground effect. Alexander Stewart said that councils are suffering—how does the increase help them and the communities that they serve?

The underlying cause of the increase—I recognise that it is a valid issue—is illustrated by Spelthorne Borough Council, in Surrey, which borrowed £1 billion. For what? For a school or a community centre? No, it was used for commercial investments. I do not think that any of us would defend that council’s use of the money for that purpose. However, if councils’ doing things like that is the problem, increasing the interest is hardly the solution. The solution is to change the basis on which councils can borrow.

Woking Borough Council, which is also in Surrey, borrowed £1.2 billion, a large proportion of which was used to buy the town’s main shopping centre. Those are risky commercial investments that are not central to public works, the development of new facilities or the improvement of existing ones. The funds are meant for sustainable community development that will directly improve the lives of residents. If a main road requires to be built, a council has to find the money. Borrowing costs are a significant part of councils’ costs—that is for sure—but increasing the PWLB rate is simply going to increase that significant burden.

The PWLB places all authority to determine the usage of its loans on the councils, and most councils behave responsibly. Let us not allow the majority of our councils to be penalised for irresponsible spending by the likes of Spelthorne Borough Council. Let us make a distinction between that and loans being taken out for proper purposes. It is time for the UK Government to rethink the matter and take a different approach to solving the genuine problem that led to this issue.


23 January 2020

S5M-20544 Consumer Scotland Bill: Stage 1

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Christine Grahame): The next item of business is a debate on motion S5M-20544, in the name of Jamie Hepburn, on the Consumer Scotland Bill at stage 1.

... ... ...

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

The debate reminds me that I asked the whips at the beginning of this parliamentary session whether I could be on the Economy, Energy and Fair Work Committee—unfortunately, they put me elsewhere—because the committee’s work is clearly interesting and of value. The report that the committee produced on the Consumer Scotland Bill is an example of that. I now find myself on the Rural Economy and Connectivity Committee and the Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform Committee marking my own report card by reviewing things that I did as a minister—it is a bit odd, but there we are.

The Scotland Act 2016 devolved responsibility for consumer advocacy and advice to the Scottish Parliament, which is very much to be welcomed and is the foundation of the legislation that we are debating. However, advocacy and advice need not be all that we do, because we can also inform—for example, we can inform manufacturers and small businesses. The important point is to understand through evidence why consumers experience harm, and then to develop solutions that increase fairness to consumers, thereby increasing consumer confidence.

It is important to consider that, in the context of the Consumer Scotland Bill, we are not setting up something in opposition to manufacturers and suppliers; on the contrary, an informed and demanding consumer who raises the game of suppliers and manufacturers is in the interests of those businesses, because that will make them more competitive in their efforts to sell into their local and export markets. In other words, good products command a market, so the legislation is not the enemy of businesses.

I turn to some of the detail. I note from paragraph 29 of the policy memorandum that consumer Scotland will be

“a body corporate”

and that one thing that will be necessary is to have

“an Order in Council”


“the civil service is a reserved matter.”

I simply ask that the minister advise—perhaps now or at a later point—whether he has engaged with the UK Government to get assurance that such consent will be given. I would be surprised if there were any difficulties in getting that, but it would be useful to know that for the sake of completeness.

Paragraph 66 of the policy memorandum—and elsewhere—talks about the impact on highland and island communities and rural communities more generally. As someone who represents a hybrid area that is very rural and has significant large towns, I have particular interest in the application of the legislation to areas that are more distant from city centres. I see no reason to doubt that there will be benefits to those areas, as there will be elsewhere.

A number of members—most notably and recently Jackie Baillie, in relation to white goods—raised the topic of product recall. I have said before in the Parliament that we should seek to get the serial number of our white goods on the front of the goods. The number is always on the back and people have to take the product out of where it is installed in order to find it. I think that that is a big contributory factor to why so many recalls do not have high returns—people find it very difficult to find out whether their Whirlpool, or whatever the brand of the product might be, is subject to a recall. Although we do not have the power to command that, we might, through this legislation, have the power to inform consumers, persuade them about the issue and demand that that change happens.

Richard Leonard spoke about additional delivery charges, as did Gordon Lindhurst, when speaking in his role as convener of the Economy, Energy and Fair Work Committee.

The issue of chlorinated chicken was also mentioned. That leads us to the issue of the labelling of products and their origins, because that informs the consumer whether the product that they might be contemplating buying, particularly in relation to food, is one that they want to engage with and buy. However, we cannot do everything that we might want to do—we cannot cut into competition law or operational matters, but we can certainly assist consumers in making choices.

Another reserved issue that we can, nonetheless, engage in is helping consumers to understand what advertising means. I include in that much of what happens on social media, where the boundary between advertising, comment and information is not always particularly clear.

The bill, and what will be done, is not just about preventing harm; it is about delivering real benefits. Others have talked about Citizens Advice Scotland, which I strongly support; I regularly send my constituents in its direction when they have difficulties. I certainly would not wish to see its role being diminished in the many communities in which it is represented on the ground, with local people as directors and other local people who understand the communities’ needs. A central body elsewhere might be less able to engage directly with local issues.

I will close on the issue of vulnerability and vulnerable consumers, which has also been raised. Andy Wightman mentioned the Donoghue v Stevenson case, which was brought in 1932. One of the interesting things is that May Donoghue, who pursued that case, relied on in forma pauperis. She was a pauper and was able to take her case all the way to the House of Lords because she was relieved under that provision of carrying the costs of her opponent, should she lose the case.

I think that that is an interesting example, going back some distance, that might inform how we see the new consumer body operate. May Donoghue was a pauper to the extent that only one of her four sons survived into adulthood. She has delivered, as the most famous litigant in life, a little bit that contributes to this debate.


22 January 2020

S5M-20401 Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh (350th Anniversary)

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Linda Fabiani): The final item of business is a members’ business debate on motion S5M-20401, in the name of Jeremy Balfour, on the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh’s 350th anniversary. The debate will be concluded without any question being put.

Motion debated,

That the Parliament acknowledges the 350th anniversary of the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh and the announcement of a year-long programme of events; understands that many events will focus on the climate crisis and global loss of biodiversity; notes that highlights include an expedition to Papua New Guinea, a Big Botanics Birthday Party, a gala concert, and the opening of a Garden of Tranquillity, which will provide a safe, peaceful and sensory space for visitors with dementia and their carers; further notes that the Botanics will also exhibit in the RHS Chelsea Flower Show Discovery Zone in May 2020, showing how its work will help secure the future of the world’s plants, and understands that, in the last of its events, scientists will discuss the biodiversity crisis from a botanical perspective at a Halting Plant Extinction debate in November.

... ... ...

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

I thank Jeremy Balfour for the opportunity to recognise the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh’s 350th anniversary and to talk about the work that it has done to protect biodiversity and provide solutions in a changing world.

Jeremy Balfour referred to the founders of the RBGE, Balfour and Sibbald, who wanted to study plants for medicinal purposes. Particularly in earlier centuries, Edinburgh was the centre of medical research in Europe.

Three hundred and fifty years after its foundation, the botanics continue to be a national and international treasure, attracting over 1 million visitors annually. Over the weekend, my intern, Airin Wu, who has helpfully provided my speaking notes, chose to visit the botanics. It was only her second week in Edinburgh, so it was high on her agenda. She told me that she was astonished by the greenery and the diverse plant life that she saw. I imagine that it is very different to the arid climate of California to which she is more accustomed.

The beauty of the gardens is well deserving of appreciation, but more to the point is its mission in relation to science, conservation and education, to which other members have referred. The RBGE should be highly praised for having that as a large part of its work, as well as for its focus on accelerating species discovery. Jeremy Balfour and Alison Johnstone referred to the new plants that are discovered—they gave slightly different numbers and I have a third, but we all acknowledge that a lot of plants are being found.

This year, the botanics are hosting a wide range of events—from an expedition to Papua New Guinea to the big botanics birthday party—which will bring attention to the climate crisis, loss of biodiversity and the role of the RBGE in all that. Who is the culprit in the climate and biodiversity crises? We are—the human race. Our activity has been the biggest driver of climate change. We pressure wildlife to make room for us as we mismanage aspects of agriculture, continue with urbanisation and pollute too many environments that many species call their home. We know that around 1 million species face extinction globally because of us.

In the past 22 years, numbers have decreased in 49 per cent of Scottish species. Numbers have gone down in 54 per cent of vascular plant species, 44 per cent of bird species and 39 per cent of butterfly species. Almost one in 10 Scottish species are at risk of extinction. Species that are at risk include the world-renowned Atlantic salmon, which do not find the warmer oceans to their liking, and the Arctic char, which is a cold-water species that might not survive in our waters.

Our iconic habitats—peatlands, uplands and oak woodlands—are all vulnerable to the hands of climate change. As humans, we need biodiversity, as it sustains the very ecosystems that keep us alive. In Scotland, biodiversity is also an important part of our economy, as it supports our tourism, farming, forestry, aquaculture and fishing industries. It improves our quality of life, too.

The Scottish Government is doing its bit to support the mission of the RBGE through its biodiversity strategy and 2020 challenge, which are in response to the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity and the European Union’s biodiversity strategy. It is clear that the Scottish Government’s funding is a crucial part of our support of ecosystems and the environment as a whole. They depend on it.

I am confident that the botanics will continue to support our environment and to entertain and engage us all. Like other members, I wish the RBGE another successful 350 years from here onwards.


16 January 2020

S5M-20261 Sustainable Development Goals

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Linda Fabiani): The next item of business is a members’ business debate on motion S5M-20261, in the name of Lewis Macdonald, on sustainable development goals. The debate will be concluded without any question being put.

Motion debated,

That the Parliament welcomes the publication of On target for 2030?, a report from civil society organisations co-ordinated by the UWS-Oxfam Partnership and the SDG Network Scotland; understands that this report aims to offer a snapshot analysis of progress in Scotland against each of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals, which officially came into force on 1 January 2016, from expert organisations operating within each relevant field; considers that the negative effects of slow progress on achieving Sustainable Development Goals are felt disproportionately by low-income households, including in the North East Scotland region, and that this undermines the pledge made by UN Member States to ensure that “no one will be left behind”; acknowledges that the report encourages Scotland to do more to meet its Sustainable Development Goals, and understands that progress in this area is not the responsibility only of government but also of business, the third sector and individuals, if Scotland is to fulfil its commitments by 2030.

... ... ...

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

I thank Lewis Macdonald for the opportunity to discuss a substantial report of 82 pages, including what would probably best be called essays from 17 contributors. A rough count suggests that there are more than 200 references that lead the reader to further reading, so it is not only the report that is in front of us, but what underpins it that help us to have a proper discussion about whether we are on target to meet the United Nations sustainable development goals by 2030.

On our walks to Parliament and elsewhere, we all see the visible evidence of homelessness, and I am sure that many members will have spoken to people whom we see on the streets. Every 18 minutes, which is about the time it takes to get a bus down to Parliament from the centre of town, someone in Scotland becomes homeless.

Under the sustainable development goals, we have a target to get to zero poverty by 2030, which includes achieving zero hunger and achieving good health and wellbeing. In 2015, the First Minister adopted that target to help to reduce inequality across the globe, but inequality continues to exist in Scotland, as it does elsewhere.

Lewis Macdonald referred to people who are food insecure. Twenty-five per cent of our children live in poverty, and figures suggest that that will rise if we do not see amelioration of and response to Westminster’s position of financial constraint and austerity. Too many people rely on food banks, and nutritious food is yet to be accessible to and affordable for all. One of the things that my wife always thinks about at Christmas—it is actually at the top of her shopping list—is what she will buy to take to the food bank. I hope that others do the same, although it is disappointing that we have to do so.

That leads us to the broader question of socioeconomic disadvantage and marginalisation, which exists in the wealthy north-east of Scotland as it does in other parts of our country. That inequality relates to discrimination against women and too much unhealthy eating.

Are we on target to meet our goals? We are making progress on a number of targets, particularly on water and sanitation, energy share from renewables and forest management. It is an all-encompassing agenda. Steps towards the eradication of poverty and the phasing out of food banks have been made, along with the creation of the Scottish welfare fund, which provides cash grants that assist people in need.

There are tools that we can use—the report by the University of the West of Scotland and the Oxfam Partnership and the work of the SDG Network Scotland show that there has been progress. We are some distance from 2030, but the reality is—as one gets older time seems to speed up—that 2030 is almost tomorrow in planning and policy terms.

I am pleased to see businesses, individuals and civil society standing behind the effort. We are making progress on perhaps only a minority of the indicators in the national framework that relate to the issue, but we are making progress. We need a coherent approach; the proposal that Lewis Macdonald made on aligning Parliament’s activities more closely with the issue is not one that I had heard before, but it is interesting.

I close by congratulating all who have been involved with the report and saying that I hope that we hear some interesting things from the minister.


15 January 2020

S5M-20295 World Wetlands Day 2020

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Christine Grahame): The final item of business is a members’ business debate on motion S5M-20295, in the name of John Finnie, on celebrating Scotland’s wetlands on world wetlands day 2020. The debate will be concluded without any question being put.

Motion debated,

That the Parliament celebrates World Wetlands Day on 2 February 2020; believes that Scotland’s wetlands are sites of important biodiversity, providing a habitat that is a unique home for a wide array of species of birds, fish, mammals and invertebrates, and provide vital hunting grounds for many other predator species; notes that these sites across Scotland are designated for their protection under the Ramsar Convention; understands that Scotland’s wetlands produce significant benefits to the overall environment and provide vital flood control and water filtration; believes that the climate emergency and continued development on these sites pose an existential threat to the future of Scotland’s wetlands and the species that call them home, and welcomes calls on the Scottish Government encouraging it to support continued and greater protection for Scotland’s wetlands.

... ... ...

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

I congratulate John Finnie on bringing this subject to the chamber.

In my constituency, we have a wetland that is recognised in the Ramsar convention of wetlands. I am proud to represent the Loch of Strathbeg, which is a shallow, nutrient-rich loch and the largest dune slack pool in Britain. It is a rich habitat for flora and fauna, with reed beds, freshwater marshes and much more besides. Most importantly, it is a wintering habitat for many wetland bird species, including geese, the whooper swan and other varieties of waterfowl.

Wetlands are, of course, among the most biodiverse ecosystems on the planet and our most productive ecosystems. In the United Kingdom, they make up 3 percent of our land cover and 10 percent of our total biodiversity. They create resilience in a changing environment—that is why they are critical. Their benefits include acting as nature’s shock absorbers in the face of extreme weather. They store rain during storms, reduce flooding, and delay the onset of droughts. That may be obvious, but I will talk about it a little more.

We have already heard a little bit about Australia. We should think about California. Over the past decade, both have faced years of droughts, which have been punctuated—particularly at the moment—by tragic wildfires. That is happening even as we speak. It is telling that it has been estimated that California has lost 90 percent of its wetlands over the past century. In Australia, the figure is similar.

That raises the question of what role the presence of those lost wetlands would have played in the tragic situation that we see playing out. Perhaps there would have been better storage of rain during storms rather than water being lost to evaporation. Perhaps the onset of drought would have been delayed. I accept that the destruction of wetlands is far from being the sole contributor to those tragedies, but it is one of a range of factors.

Destroying wetlands has consequences, and we must accept that those consequences are not yet fully realised. It is critical that we ensure that we reverse the destruction that we can reverse.

I have certainly visited peatland that has been rewetted, and I have been astonished to see how quickly some parts of its diversity have come back. Not necessarily all of it came back, but certainly, a great deal of it did.

On the global issue of the destruction of wetlands, we have to think big. We think that as much as 64 percent of the world’s wetlands have been degraded since 1900. It is significant—John Finnie referred to this—that they are immense carbon sinks. The issue is therefore highly relevant to the climate emergency and, of course, to creating the circumstances in which dry land promotes fires and allows them to continue. We cannot continue with that approach.

This debate will make its small contribution to all of us recognising the importance of restoring wetlands, and I hope that it will lead the way for others to challenge themselves on wetlands in other countries. Crucially, humanity’s collective ignorance of wetlands is the greater challenge. We are engaged in the subject, but most of our population is not. We must overcome that ignorance, and persuade our friends and colleagues and people across Scotland and the world that it is now time to act on the subject of wetlands.


S5M-19364 Independent Prison Monitors

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Linda Fabiani): The first item of business is a members’ business debate on motion S5M-19364, in the name of Alexander Stewart, on the valuable role of independent prison monitors. The debate will be concluded without any question being put.

Motion debated,

That the Parliament acknowledges that, on 31 August 2015, the first independent prison monitors (IPM) went into Scotland’s 15 prisons, including HMP Glenochil in Clackmannanshire, to ensure humane treatment and conditions for prisoners; believes that, in the months leading up to the launch, HM Inspectorate of Prisons for Scotland (HMIPS) had been on a journey of change by developing a new structure for prison monitoring to replace the previous work done by the long-established prison visiting committees; notes that IPMs are volunteers from communities who visit prisons on at least a weekly basis to observe practices and to speak to prisoners about their experiences; understands that this information about conditions and treatment is collated and that the regional and national findings help detect patterns and provide information for continuous improvement; notes that this system is supported by a team of four prison monitoring co-ordinators based at HMIPS along with an advisory group with expertise in human rights, criminology, prisons and healthcare; acknowledges that each IPM holds statutory authority under the Public Services Reform (Inspection and Monitoring of Prisons) (Scotland) Order 2015; believes that the IPMs play an essential role in the justice system in aiming to ensure that prisoners’ human rights are upheld and that life in prison contributes to rehabilitation; considers that the IPM system has brought a new group of people from a wide range of backgrounds into prisons to act as the eyes and ears of prisoners and their families, and believes that the commitment, motivation and enthusiasm of the growing team of IPMs has been tangible over the last four years and this system has gone a long way to improving Scotland’s prisons, as well as informing best practice in independent monitoring to protect prisoners’ human rights.

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

I thank Alexander Stewart for giving us the opportunity to debate the important subject of prisons.

In session 2, I was my party’s spokesperson on prisons. Because of that role, and because there has long been a prison in my constituency, I have been to many prisons—not just in Scotland; I have been into prisons in Wales, France and Georgia, in the Caucasus. Different jurisdictions have different approaches to incarceration and the treatment of prisoners, but all prisons deal with the same, difficult part of our communities, that is, people who have got themselves into trouble through their deliberate—or sometimes inadvertent—actions.

People in prison are likely to have lower IQs than people in the population as a whole. There is a greater incidence of mental ill health in prisons, and a much higher proportion of prisoners are functionally illiterate and/or innumerate. There are substantial problems with the people who end up in prison, which are not necessarily as pervasive in the general population.

I have interviewed and listened to prisoners in a number of our prisons and it is always revealing to do that. The first thing that I learned is that most of the people in prison are remarkably similar to the people outside: they are not thinking criminal acts 24 hours a day or planning to be in prison.

As a community, we should be interested in punishment—the deprivation of liberty is a punishment—and we also want to protect our society from the more violent members of our prison population, which is a very small proportion of them. However, even more important, we also want to promote new behaviours and new beginnings for prisoners when they leave the prison.

The prisoners are, of course, isolated from their families and social circles. Therefore, the role of prison visitors, and now of the independent prison monitors, is very important in ensuring that those people have a proper connection with the outside world and someone independent of the system to whom they can take their concerns, whether those are valid or invalid. It is proper and necessary that they can bring their concerns to somebody’s attention.

As an example, I sat in a cell at Saughton with six, or it may have been eight, murderers who were on life sentences. The prison chaplain was at the door in case I was at risk, ready to shout to the staff if necessary, but I had a private conversation with the prisoners. One of them was quite interesting. While he had been out on licence, he was at the scene of another murder. He did not perpetrate the murder, but he wondered why he was recalled to prison. It is interesting that there is often a disconnect between the thinking of people in prisons and the criminal justice system and the thinking that we would like them to have.

Independent prison monitors play an important part in helping prisoners to understand what behaviour outside prison should look like and in keeping them, particularly those with long sentences, in touch with any changes that are happening. In my constituency, Peterhead prison was Scotland’s centre for sex offenders with sentences of more than four years. Some prisoners had been there for well over 10 years—sometimes more than 20 years—and they were totally disconnected from the world outside. They had few visitors, because many of their offences were committed against members of their own families.

I congratulate everyone who takes up the role of independent prison monitor. They have my thanks and, I suspect, the thanks of everyone here. They are a vital part of the system in helping prisoners to come out of prison a wee bit better than when they went in. I hope that they have every success in future.


8 January 2020

S5M-19517 Women, Peace and Security

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Christine Grahame): The final item of business is a members’ business debate on motion S5M-19517, in the name of Emma Harper, on women, peace and security.

Motion debated,

That the Parliament acknowledges the unanimous passing of UN Security Council Resolution 1325 (SCR1325) on 31 October 2000 on Women, Peace and Security; notes that it was the first resolution to specifically address the impact of war on women and women’s important contribution to peace; acknowledges that it commits all UN member states to valuing, understanding and including women in the promotion of international peace, security and conflict resolution, including through the provision of secure spaces and sanctuary for women affected by conflict, involving women in international decision making and noting the abilities of women in resolving international and national conflicts; understands that some nations have developed action plans to implement the resolution, which has three principle aims, preventing gender-based violence, promoting the role of women in international peace building and implementing women-specific gender-based policies to protect women from conflict; considers that Scotland is already making significant progress in achieving these aims, including through it having a gender-balanced cabinet, its establishment of national advisory groups on human rights and women’s and girls’ issues and the adoption of polices of peace and the promotion of women internationally; acknowledges the view that more must still be done by governments both in the UK and around the world to achieve all of SCR1325’s goals, and welcomes opportunities to discuss how best to reach these objectives.

... ... ...

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

I congratulate Emma Harper on providing us with the opportunity to debate this important subject.

The debate is anchored on resolution 1325, which does not, of course, stand alone in Security Council resolutions. There have been significant numbers on this subject since then, culminating in resolution 2493, which was passed last year. Twenty years have passed and the United Nations Security Council continues to make resolutions on this subject. That illustrates something important: fine words in the Security Council and fine words in this Parliament are of limited value. They set examples and frameworks, but they do not solve the problem.

We know that there are women out there who are leaders in the fight for peace and who are examples to us. Mother Theresa is a great example as a humanitarian; Mary Robinson is a great example as a champion in tackling climate change, particularly its effects on women; and of course 17-year-old Greta Thunberg is leading the way in persuading people of all genders across the world of the importance of creating a safe and secure world in which we can all live.

We know, if we look at our prisons, that the overwhelming majority of people who are in prison are men, not women. We know that, in practice, men are relatively likely to be predisposed to violent and extra-social—against social norms—behaviours that lead to their being convicted and put in prison. We should not pretend that there are not women out there who espouse violence—Boudicca, the Amazonian women perhaps, and Golda Meir as well. Women can get engaged in violence, but they are very much the exception, not the rule.

The 2011 Nobel peace prize was won by three women. That was a first, although I hope that it will not by any means be the last time that women win that prize.

Women’s achievements are manifold across many parts of our society. I am not a great fan of honours, but I look at them for what they are, and I note that 60 per cent of the awards that were given to Scottish people on the recently published new year’s honours list were given to women, which tells us about the enormous contribution of women to our society.

There are a couple of important things that we might focus on. In the debate, we have primarily talked about the role of women in making peace after violence and war. However, women play an equally or perhaps even more important role in preventing war in the first place. That is why it is important that, around the world, an increasing number of women are becoming prime ministers and presidents and are undertaking leadership roles in places in which they might be more likely to prevent violence. Prevention is much better than cure, particularly in this area of activity.

We must think also about what is going on in the minds of people who espouse violence—I am thinking in particular of men, who, as I exemplified earlier, are perhaps more likely to be disposed towards violence. There are three things that we can look at in that regard: first, men can be trained to respond to particular situations in this domain as in others; secondly, men can acquire skills and knowledge that help us to reason a way through problems in a way that we have not previously considered or thought about; and, thirdly, actions can be taken in relation to the autonomic response—the important automatic response that happens unthinkingly—in order to programme men of future generations to respond in a way that is more appropriate to the needs of the world with regard to peace.

Finally, let us not imagine that women perpetually have to be victims. Women are the answer, not the problem.


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