09 March 2021

S5M-24300 Climate Change Plan

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Lewis Macdonald): The next item of business is a debate on motion S5M-24300, in the name of Gillian Martin, on the climate change plan. I call her to speak to and move the motion on behalf of the Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform Committee.

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

Thank you, Presiding Officer. It is always as well to get the applause in first, because members might not be so enthusiastic at the end of my speech.

As I prepare for my departure from this place, I am wondering what issue I will wish to remain engaged with after I leave the Parliament.

However, before I do that I want to single out the Official Report team for so masterfully converting some of my more obscure contributions into something that approximates readable English, and for being persuaded to accept the majority of my suggested changes to their drafts—especially when they accepted a new word that Bruce Crawford and I created: “cumsnuggered”, which is an adjective that means “overwhelmed by information”. Not all of my previous 852 speeches have been of equal intelligibility, and the people in the OR are the all-but-invisible heroes of our institution. I give them my very heartfelt thanks. [Applause.]

Clearly, as I have been campaigning for our country’s independence since I joined the SNP in November 1961, I will remain engaged in that issue. However, independence is not an end in itself; it is about our having the power to serve wider purposes.

We are not entirely powerless on climate change, but we are allowed to be at the top table of decision makers only occasionally, and at the whim of different ministers of the UK. Let me hasten to say, however, that the signs for COP26 are good in that regard. I was privileged to lead the UK team from time to time during international conferences including COP14, COP15 and COP17. Colleagues have not always been so fortunate.

The update of our climate change plan, which is the subject of today’s debate, is another example of our shared determination to leave a world that is fit for purpose for those who will live after us. Of course, the update is not the last word on the subject. The full plan must arrive in relatively early course and will need to describe the means to the end that I believe we all share in wanting. It must also provide the resources for public agencies’ contributions to delivering that end.

Two foci are particularly important. The first is a just transition for people who currently work in industries that contribute to global warming. That is very important for the area that I represent: oil and gas employ perhaps 20 per cent of the people who work there. We have the skills and determination to be part of the vanguard when it comes to new energy. We are already travelling that road, as renewable energy has increased in importance. Government policy must support private enterprise to create the new jobs that will supplant the old.

Secondly, we must play our part in delivering climate justice. We created the aridity, heat, flooding and storms that affect many people who cannot afford to fix the problem. I am thinking of farmers in Africa in particular. There is also a gender issue in that regard, because many of the worst-affected farmers are female.

Finally, let me leave this place by recognising, as members would expect of me, the varied contributions of members who, like me, plan to leave the Parliament, and of one who plans to stay. In doing so, I acknowledge that no single person or party has a monopoly on wisdom. My list is a fairly random one that recognises that everyone who shares our belief in democracy—which is, in essence, an understanding that we may be dismissed from or denied office by the decisions of the people whom we represent—has the opportunity to make a contribution of value.

When I look at the Tory seats, I greatly miss Alex Johnstone and Alex Fergusson, who departed before their time. They were great friends of mine and great friends of the Parliament. One of my cousins was a Conservative councillor—yes; it is time for admissions. Dr Sandy Paterson was his name, and being a general practitioner was his game.

On the Labour seats to my right, Mary Fee has been radical in her ideas while being moderate and engaging in her expression of them. I served under her on the Justice Sub-Committee on Policing and I admired how she conducted herself in her role as convener. Her colleague David Stewart has distinguished himself on the subject of road safety to very good effect. I cannot imagine that there has been an occasion on which I have disagreed with anything that he said on the subject. I thank them both. My niece, Morag, who is a music teacher, is chair of her local Labour Party in Kent.

John Finnie, in the Green seats, has been a reasoned and reasonable voice for green issues, and I have rarely disagreed with him on matters of principle.

Among Liberal Democrat members is one who no one expects. I am sorry: it is not Liam McArthur, but Mike Rumbles. He has contributed much in his time here, and he is a man of focus and principle, and one whose frustration I felt when I gave him a one-word answer to an exceptionally lengthy question on funding for the Aberdeen western peripheral route that he asked me when I was a minister. Ministers have licence to misbehave occasionally, but I recall that John Swinney, who was sitting beside me, muttered, “Never do that again, Stewart.” My great uncle, Sir Alexander Stewart Stevenson, was a Liberal Lord Provost of Edinburgh, and has six streets named after him. He was responsible for the erection of the statues to William Wallace and Robert the Bruce that we pass between as we go into Edinburgh castle, but he had rather more substantial achievements.

As a genealogist of some 60 years’ standing, I have frequently referred to my relatives. Why should today be any different? My father’s cousin, Lord James Stevenson was, like me, a politician. He was a cross-bencher in the House of Lords, appointed by Ramsay MacDonald as a reward for delivering the empire exhibition in 1924—which, incidentally, provided England with its national football stadium at Wembley. They only got it because of the actions of a Scotsman from Kilmarnock. I can reveal that his coat of arms is supported by squirrels rampant and that, beneath the shield, is the motto: “Carry on”. Is this the end of my family connection to elected politics? No; we shall carry on.

Of course, I leave a very different Parliament from the one that I joined in 2001. I have just looked at my statistics and I will, by the end of this session, have attended 110 virtual committee meetings. That is how much things have changed.

It is now time for me to leave, Presiding Officer, and for another MSP and me to come out together, as it were. I hand my political baton to my cousin—a person with whom I share 11 centimorgans of DNA. She is already a Government minister and a respected and energetic local member of Parliament. So, I say, “Good luck in the election, minister.” With a final ping of my galluses, which I know she admires so much, I now hand my share of family responsibility for political service to a fellow admirer of such luridity: my cousin, Jenny Gilruth.


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