06 November 2003

S2M-559 Sustainable Scotland

The Presiding Officer (Mr George Reid): Good morning. The first item of business is a debate on motion S2M-559, in the name of Robin Harper, on sustainable Scotland, and three amendments to the motion.

... ... ...

The Deputy Presiding Officer: I can give a degree of latitude to Stewart Stevenson, who is closing for the Scottish National Party.


Stewart Stevenson (Banff and Buchan) (SNP): That is a dangerous offer, Presiding Officer, but thank you for it anyway. I sometimes think that Jamie McGrigor knows what he is thinking only when he hears it and I sometimes wish that he would not share it with us quite so generously.

"Sustainable development is not an optional extra. Our social, economic and environmental ambitions are interlinked and we must work to deliver all three if we are going to deliver the quality of life we want for ourselves and for future generations."

I hope that those words are familiar to the minister, because they are, of course, his. I suspect that almost all members will find themselves agreeing with those words and I hope that the Greens will recognise that one of the legs on which sustainable development must stand is economic sustainability.

Personal experience always informs political debate and as I drive each week back home from Aberdeen to Peterhead and am treated to the rather unsightly view of four major tips—which not only service the local area but bring waste to Peterhead from all over Scotland, including from Inverness—the point of sustainability is reinforced: we must eliminate waste.

We have heard a number of interesting speeches. Robin Harper described the fishing industry as wanting economic growth at any cost. He needs to get out and speak to some fishermen, because they are desperate to have a sustainable industry and to ensure that the science that assesses the stocks in the sea is good so that their sons and their sons' sons have a future. It is the regulatory regime that has failed.

Ross Finnie said that the Executive had 78-plus commitments and that 70 per cent of the transport budget would be spent on public transport in the future. That is all very good, but I believe that there is a practical difficulty with that—and I am surprised that the convener of the Finance Committee, Des McNulty, did not bring it to our attention. There are 145 targets in the budget for 2004-05, but how many of them meaningfully address sustainable development? In my estimation—the minister can tell me otherwise—the answer is 10. Furthermore, they come under only three policy areas. Two of the targets come under the communities budget. Seven of the 17 environment and rural development targets could be included—well done, minister—whereas only one of the seven targets for tourism addresses sustainable development. The rhetoric does not necessarily translate into the budget and into the Executive's main targets. There is therefore much more work to do.

As Nora Radcliffe pointed out, sustainability is not an add-on. Even in the Parliament, there are some little, simple things that we do not do or that we do not do well. I was disappointed to discover, on returning to the Parliament for its second session, that, for some reason that I do not understand, we all had new personal computers on our desks. Why are we scrapping equipment after only four years' use? When I retired from my professional life in computers, we had a PC that we had been using for 20 years—we bought it in 1980 and were still using it when I retired in 1999, because it was still working and it still did the job for which it was bought. We do not need to be spending money in the Parliament on things that will last only four years if they actually have a lifespan of 10 years.

Patrick Harvie: Will the member take an intervention?

The Deputy Presiding Officer: The member is in the final minute of his speech.

Stewart Stevenson: Jamie McGrigor referred to forestry. I agreed with a lot of what he said, but his party's track record on sustainable forestry is not terribly impressive. Throughout Scotland can be seen banks of distressed and unmanaged forests, which were introduced for tax reasons. They are sub-economic: the value of harvesting the forests is less than its cost. We cannot afford to repeat the mistakes of the past.

On renewable energy, we welcome support for wind farms, although we are cautious about the unmanaged way in which they are being developed. We have to make progress in that area but, in doing so, we are following the lead of many other European countries, rather than being a leader ourselves. Similarly, we are not doing enough on wave power, where we could be a leader. We could be selling our technology to the rest of the world. There is not a lot of economic benefit for us in wind power, but there is sustainable development benefit.

We have a choice between being leaders and followers. I say to the Executive that we need to be leaders and not—as is suggested under its current plans—followers.


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