26 October 2006

S2M-4999 Young People and Families

Scottish Parliament

Thursday 26 October 2006

[THE PRESIDING OFFICER opened the meeting at 09:15]

Young People and Families

The Presiding Officer (Mr George Reid): Good morning. The first item of business is a debate on motion S2M-4999, in the name of Patrick Harvie, on young people and families.


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Stewart Stevenson (Banff and Buchan) (SNP): Today's debate is an opportunity to examine the chasm between Executive rhetoric and delivery. It allows us to focus on young people as guardians of our nation's future and not as the cause of our present problems. It suits too many on the Executive benches to characterise young people as dark creatures of the night. Mike Rumbles may gesticulate, but that serves only to confirm the correctness of the reference.

I turn to the motion and the amendments and the intention behind them. The Executive amendment retains but four words from the Green party's substantive motion. It seeks to delete

"acknowledges that families and young people need support from time to time"

and insert

"reiterates the determination of this Parliament to stand up to antisocial behaviour".

It seems that every time we discuss our youth, the Executive seeks to insert negative references to antisocial behaviour. It is as if youth and antisocial behaviour are partners in the same dance. As long as that continues to happen, we are sending unhelpful messages to our youth: we are telling them that they should be disconnected from the mainstream of Scottish society and life.

I respect Robert Brown's championing of youth issues, but he does our youth a disservice and reveals his inner convictions about the merits of youth by the words that he gets sucked into using, perhaps by his Labour partners or, more simply, as the result of drafting by civil servants who are not sufficiently sensitive to what needs to be done.

The way we deal with antisocial behaviour is ambiguous. At the heart of the ambiguity is the sense that we view the whole issue as essentially a criminal justice issue but, by virtue of the way in which charges relating to antisocial behaviour have been incorporated into law, in essence antisocial behaviour is dealt with by the civil and not the criminal law. If people commit crimes, we should use the criminal law to address that. Our use of the civil law fudges the whole issue.

What has been missing from the debate so far is the issue of children as victims. The reality is that the overwhelming majority of actions that come under the charge of antisocial behaviour are perpetrated by adults, not children. I refer to antisocial behaviour that results from drinking, drug taking, deprivation and violence. The BBC has on its website a helpful discussion under the unhelpful heading "Are Scotland's young people demonised?" Dave from Glasgow comments:

"In some areas we are into the 3rd generation without +ve family role models. As a voluntary youth worker in inner city Glasgow I have known and worked with kids whose parents (& grandparents) set an awful example ... If this is the environment for people in their 'impressionable years' then what hope is there."

The answer to parliamentary question S2W-28897, which I received yesterday, reinforces the real difficulties that kids experience. My question was

"how many people have been found guilty of committing an offence specifically involving child victims in each year since 1999",

which is the year the Executive came to power. It may surprise members to hear that the latest figure was 545, which is 50 per cent higher than the figure for 1999, which was 368. There has been a steady increase year on year. We do ourselves no justice—and we do youth no justice—if we do not accept that children as victims should be at the core of the debate. Children should not be demonised as the cause of the antisocial behaviour difficulties in society.

Robert Brown said that the debate

"is based on a fallacy."

Of course, many of the things that the Executive does to invest in and support young people have the support of the SNP, but I say to the minister that we have to judge the Executive not by what it does but by what it achieves. On the measure of the answer to my parliamentary question, we are not achieving nearly enough.

The present relationship between the Executive and youth can be characterised as one that is based on trust and understanding: the Executive does not understand youth and youth do not trust the Executive.


25 October 2006

Subject Debate: Scotland International

Scottish Parliament

Wednesday 25 October 2006

[THE PRESIDING OFFICER opened the meeting at 09:00]

… … …

Scotland International

The Presiding Officer (Mr George Reid):
The next item of business is an independents group debate on Scotland international.

… … …

Stewart Stevenson (Banff and Buchan) (SNP): The minister referred to the unstinting support from United Kingdom embassies and consulates around the world. I hope that, at a later stage in the debate, he can tell us how many Scottish events—say in the past 12 months—have been organised in those embassies. I suspect that the answer will be rather disappointing.

Mr McCabe: I cannot give a specific number at the moment, but I can tell the member that our embassies and consulates promote Scotland at every opportunity. From my experience of travelling on behalf of the Executive, I know that this country receives tremendous and enthusiastic support from the embassies and consulates throughout the world. In a few weeks' time, I will travel to Poland, in conjunction with our embassy, to help to celebrate St Andrew's day.

Stewart Stevenson: I thank the minister and hope that at a later stage we will get the figures that he does not currently have. I am sure that they will inform a continuing debate on the subject.

I begin by making an obvious remark, which is that Scotland touches the world and the world touches Scotland. Indeed, six days ago, a family in my constituency feared that it had lost one of its number to Nigerian bandits. Thankfully, today that family is complete again. However, the two Banff and Buchan oilmen who were held hostage knew that while Scotland touches the world—which, with the world's largest offshore oil base at Peterhead in my constituency, it frequently does—the world's touch on Scotland is not always a comfortable one. It is an interesting place out there, in all possible senses of the word. Of course, the difficulties that are experienced from time to time by individuals and by initiatives should in no sense discourage us from persisting.

To my certain knowledge and experience, Scotland has been engaged with the world for at least a millennium—more or less from the point at which Scotland became an identifiable country in its own right. As others have done—and as I am sure later speakers will too—I draw on some personal experience. During a visit to the west bank town of Hebron, I found a firm echo of Scotland's engagement with the world. A thousand years ago, the Scots crusaders travelled to the holy land to fight for their faith, rather like Scotland's football supporters make forays to countries throughout the world today. Some of those football supporters like it so much that they do not bother to come home. So it was with the crusaders in the middle east. As one walks down the street in Hebron, if one looks carefully enough, one will be struck by the number of red-haired, freckle-faced Muslim Arabs striding the streets of that west bank town. The reason is of course that the Scottish genes continue to survive a thousand years after our uninvited visit to another land.

A personal interest of mine is family history, so I find that example of the persistence of a connection that is based on genealogy and genes fascinating. I have about 2,000 names in my family tree and they perfectly illustrate—as will be the case for other families—the diaspora that is Scotland. I have hundreds of relatives in Canada and the United States of America. I have others in Australia, New Zealand and South Africa, and I have one or two in each of France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Denmark, Sweden, Italy, Lebanon, Egypt and India. One of my cousins died in China. Politically, I find connections as well. I have a cousin who was an MP in the New South Wales Parliament, another cousin who was a senator in Canada and even—I say this with some hesitation—an English cousin who is a member of the House of Lords.

I want to do something slightly unusual in this debate without a motion, which means that we do not have to divide the Parliament or the people in it, and congratulate a Government agency—the General Registers of Scotland. The GROS is an important administrative part of the Government, which looks after records that go back to the middle of the 17th century. Its record keeping is some of the best in the world. It, more than any other agency or department of the Scottish Government, is most closely engaged with the Scottish diaspora—nowadays via the internet. It provides excellent services for genealogists across the globe. Such people are so committed to being engaged with Scotland that they pay for the privilege; we are not having to lay out our money to pay them. We should perhaps consider upping the ante with people who are interested in Scotland and persuade them to visit us and represent us wherever they are.

My calculation based on information from the Executive's website is that there are 58 consuls in Scotland. We have a strong brand, which is recognised throughout the world. We must be careful to reinforce it and not devalue it. Show anyone in the world a kilt and they will pretty certainly recognise it as being from Scotland. Show them a bottle of whisky from Scotland and we have a friend.

Scotland is a country with a terrific international reputation, but it does not have the position in the world that many other countries have and is limited in the way in which it can engage with the world. We are doing decent work in Malawi and other countries, which my colleagues and I support. However, it is time that we joined the family of nations. SNP members will continue to strive to achieve that.


04 October 2006

S2M-4884 Food Supply Chain

Scottish Parliament

Wednesday 4 October 2006

[THE PRESIDING OFFICER opened the meeting at 14:00]

… … …
Food Supply Chain

The Presiding Officer (Mr George Reid): The next item of business is a debate on motion S2M-4884, in the name of Sarah Boyack, on the Environment and Rural Development Committee's eighth report of 2006, which is on the committee's inquiry into the food chain.

… … …

Stewart Stevenson (Banff and Buchan) (SNP): I draw members' attention to my entry in the register of members' interests.

In the helpful briefing that it issued in advance of this debate, the Federation of Small Businesses reminds us that three quarters of our land mass is under agriculture and that the landscape that we love to see is in the stewardship of our farmers, crofters and growers. The industry produces £2 billion a year, which is about 2 per cent of our gross domestic product and, with whisky, represents £2.4 billion in exports. Some 70,000 people are employed in agriculture in Scotland, which is approaching 10 per cent of our rural workforce. We know that it is important.

Ugly fruit and vegetables have been talked about. I am fortunate in that I am able to go to a shop in Longside in my constituency and buy, from a co-operative, ugly but deliciously tasty fruit. However, there is only one such co-operative in my large constituency and there is none in adjacent constituencies. Next week, when I come down for our party conference, I will be bringing beef from my constituency to my friend who has the great misfortune to live in the central belt. I will be doing so because, of course, the quality of the beef transcends the quality that is associated with the extremely local purchasing that is, perhaps, not sufficient to sustain our industries.

I will pose a few questions about how Governments behave. First, does the Italian Government buy Parma ham or Danish bacon? Secondly, does the French Government buy champagne or cava? I think that we know the answer to those questions. Thirdly, when the First Minister is stocking the drinks cupboard in Charlotte Square, does he buy Vat 69 or does he import that well known Indian whisky, Cat 69? Of course he does not buy the Indian whisky. In other words, there are ways in which one can specify something that is particularly local when one wants to buy it. Some things are within the rules because they come only from a local area. With regard to the Parliament, I propose that, the next time that Frank McAveety wants a scotch pie, he is able to order an Arbroath smokie scotch pie, because Arbroath smokies can come only from Arbroath. That will mean that he will be assured of a quality Scottish product that will meet his every need.

Ross Finnie: Does the member agree that, given that, as well as Arbroath smokies, certain sorts of lamb and beef also have protected geographical indicator status, a scotch pie might be more clearly identified by using the right product?

Stewart Stevenson: I direct the minister to Downies of Whitehills, that excellent fish processor in my constituency, where he may buy and enjoy precisely the product that I have described.

The minister makes precisely the point that I am making. Where there is a designation, there is a way in which we can use that designation to control the sources from which a contract may be fulfilled. The bottom line is that we need to use imagination and energy to promote local sourcing within the rules of the European Union. I have given only some examples, of course. I look forward to Scottish venison receiving a designation and, with that in mind, say that if kids want to eat burgers in schools, perhaps they should be given venison burgers because they are healthier than some of the stuff that they currently eat.

Some health products are food related. For example, yesterday I was told that growing bog myrtle will yield £750 per hectare, yet the Executive offers farmers no support to diversify into that crop. There is a range of imaginative things that we can do. Indeed, they are the kind of things that political colleagues of our Government in Scotland have been seeking to do in Wales in order to promote the value of Welsh food and sustain and support local procurement. The committee makes the point quite forcibly in its report. Paragraph 28 reads:

"The Committee believes that the Executive must think creatively about procurement".

I do not expect all my remarks to be taken seriously or literally, but I make those points in order to engage the minds and sentiments of members with the issue and in the hope that that will encourage them to be similarly creative in thinking of ways in which we can proceed.

It is certainly a huge disgrace that so much waste comes from our supermarkets. They chuck food into the bin to the extent that, in parts of these islands, the freegan movement is operating, whereby people live solely by scavenging from supermarket bins. That tells us something about the waste that is intrinsic in the supermarket system.

I close on the subject of red tape and unnecessary costs for producers by highlighting once again some of the unhelpful activities of the Scottish Environment Protection Agency that put unnecessary costs on farmers. There have been fights over the use of tallow. That fight has been won, but the fights over road planings continue. Better co-ordination between producers, processors in the food chain and Government would certainly help.

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