27 January 2011

S3M-7793 Dementia Strategy

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Alasdair Morgan): The next item of business is a debate on motion S3M-7793, in the name of Shona Robison, on the dementia strategy.

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Stewart Stevenson (Banff and Buchan) (SNP):

Irene Oldfather described Alzheimer’s as a terminal illness. That reminded me of what Clive James said in his autobiography:

“Don’t take life seriously; you won’t get out of it alive anyway.”

In other words, we are all going to die; something will kill us. Laughter has a place in every care home.

We must ensure that we have environments in which quality of life includes the whole range of human emotions that people suffering from dementia are capable of enjoying. It will be different for each person, so care must be tailored to each person. If we are to do that, the focus must be on diagnosis—and early diagnosis.

Jamie Stone covered some of the range of difficulties that people with dementia and their families can experience. I suggest strongly that, while mental capacity exists, people should get the kind of advice that will enable them to deal with future mental incapacity. Like some other members, I guess, I have already made arrangements for my future mental incapacity—to which my wife refers from time to time—by putting in place a power of attorney, so that arrangements are in place if I get into a position of mental incapacity in the legal sense. Early diagnosis and good advice to carers and families helps them to do that and removes one of a wide range of burdens that they will experience during the progression of the condition that is dementia.

Ian McKee talked about the changing nomenclature and descriptions that have been attached to the condition. As someone who for at least 50 years has taken an interest in genealogy, I have probably read thousands of death certificates, because they contain a lot of information. The modern system of certification was introduced in Scotland in 1855. On certificates from that date onwards—including certificates for members of my family—you see the term “senile decay” or “senile dementia”, with an indication of the period of time over which the person concerned suffered it. The diagnosis is relatively imprecise and imperfect, but it is clear that dementia is not a new condition but has been with the human race for a long time.

We must also focus on the fact that the burden that we place on carers—the expectations that we may have of close family members—can create illness, especially psychological illness, in those carers. It is important that they get the right kind of support. The gamut of emotions that many carers experience is not dissimilar to bereavement, but without the opportunity to move to the final phase of bereavement—accommodation, which involves putting in place happy memories of the person who has been lost and coming to terms with that loss—because the loss of the person from their carer’s life is postponed by their condition, even though their mental capacity to interact with the carer may already have departed.

I have a dear friend whose wife is suffering from dementia. She distresses him so much that he has not seen her for four years; she has been unable to communicate with or to recognise him for well nigh 10 years. The condition of that very elderly gentleman tugs at my heartstrings whenever I talk to him about his wife.

My sister-in-law has just retired—at the age of 73—as a mental health nurse, working in a care home for the elderly mentally infirm, and my mother used to chair the local mental health services committee in Cupar in Fife, so I have had a lifelong interest in this issue. There are absolutely no easy answers to it, but the document that the Government has produced and the good heart that has been seen in all participants in the debate should give us great encouragement that we are on the right track.


26 January 2011

S3M-7504 Car Sharing (North East Scotland)

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Alasdair Morgan): The final item of business today is a members’ business debate on motion S3M-7504, in the name of Alison McInnes, on getabout and liftshare. The debate will be concluded without any question being put.

Motion debated,

That the Parliament notes that, following the first ever liftshare week, membership of the UK-wide car-sharing network has now exceeded 400,000; further notes that car sharing, as well as bringing environmental benefits, can save participants money through shared travelling costs; congratulates liftshare on its recent success in the Contribution to the Community category at the Nectar Small Business Awards; considers outstanding the work of Getabout, a partnership between Nestrans, Aberdeen City and Aberdeenshire councils, local universities and other organisations, in promoting better transport choices, including car sharing, in the north east, and believes that encouraging car sharing and other more sustainable transport options can play a key part in helping the transport sector to meet its share of Scotland’s climate change reduction targets.

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Stewart Stevenson (Banff and Buchan) (SNP):

I congratulate Alison McInnes on bringing the debate to the chamber. I know of her very personal interest in the matter over the long haul, as she was previously chair of the north east of Scotland transport partnership.

I have on my parliamentary desk two mugs with the getabout logo on them, because I attended the launch at Inverurie. It is fair to say that the best car journey is the one you do not make, but it is necessary to make car journeys. Sharing our journeys with others in rural areas is economic and addresses climate issues.

Alison McInnes referred to travel planning, for which there is a range of options. Traveline Scotland is now a well-established part of the landscape; I used it to find out how to get from my rural home in Banffshire to the Burns supper in West Kilbride at which I am speaking on Saturday night. I think that there are seven legs to the journey, but members can imagine the difficulties if I had not had access to automated ways of planning it.

In the old days there were other ways in which we could avoid driving our own cars. As a student in Aberdeen I used to hitch-hike regularly to get home to Cupar at the end of each term. It was not to save the planet, of course—it was mainly to save my wallet. Many of us used to do that, but it is no longer a popular way of doing things as there are real concerns about safety.

A structured approach that gives people the opportunity in a controlled way to join up with others who are making similar journeys is something that we must encourage. Every time we get two people in a car there is a 50 per cent saving in costs and climate impacts.

Some significant ideas that are relevant include giving priority parking to car sharers. That type of facility would increase the attractiveness of the option and be worth publicising. Car pools organised by employers are another way of ensuring that we make the most of the commute that must be done.

Here in Edinburgh, on the very doorsteps of Parliament, we can see cars from the Edinburgh city car club, which is another part of the package. A Labour councillor with whom I worked in my previous role has given up his car, and was able to attest that he was saving some £3,000 a year and suffering no disadvantage whatsoever. I hope that such schemes will be extended across Scotland in due course, because if we have fewer vehicles on our roads there will be less impact on the infrastructure of our roads, less need to spend money on maintaining them and less need to invest in creating additional capacity. The benefits come at a primary level and at many secondary and tertiary levels as well.

It is important that we look at our successes. Co-operation between Aberdeen city and Aberdeenshire now happens in a range of areas. We should look to that co-operation and ensure that the lessons are more widely learned. On that basis, it is timely that Alison McInnes has introduced the debate—and I will be interested to hear what the minister has to say about the future of such schemes.


20 January 2011

S3M-7735 Protecting Public Services

The Presiding Officer (Alex Fergusson): Good morning. The first item of business is a debate on motion S3M-7735, in the name of Patrick Harvie, on protecting public services.

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Stewart Stevenson (Banff and Buchan) (SNP):

Michael McMahon rehearsed a very old calumny about the SNP’s inability to work with Westminster. I put on record my gratitude for the letters from a UK Government minister and from three members of the Labour Party at Westminster that I received on my recent departure from office. That shows that I, for one, was able to work with Westminster, but I know that there is nothing unique about my experience. Early in my ministerial career, I met a UK Labour minister who said that after a considerable number of years in office, I was the first Scottish minister they had met. Co-operation is the name of the game, and the SNP knows how to play it.

I want to cover just two issues in my short contribution. The Green motion contains the phrase

“rejects the Scottish Government’s decision simply to hand on these cuts to Scottish public services”

and goes on, essentially, to demand tax rises. A more “economically illiterate”—to use another phrase from the Green motion—approach would be hard to find.

Let us remind ourselves what tax powers we have, because the Calman powers, if they come at all, certainly will not be with us for years, nor would a land value tax, were we to conclude that we wanted such a thing. We can raise or lower the basic rate of income tax by 3p and we can tune the council tax, but raising taxes would not make the cuts go away. It would move them to cuts in personal incomes across Scotland, and it would not even do so in a progressive way. The council tax, in particular, hits the elderly hard. That is why we sought to build a coalition of interests in this place to replace it with a new, fair, income-determined tax.

Patrick Harvie: Will the member give way?

Stewart Stevenson: I will give way to the member if he takes 10 seconds.

The Presiding Officer:
We have some flexibility on time, Mr Stevenson.

Patrick Harvie: I understand the overall question of cuts versus taxes but I believe that it is possible to take a progressive approach that means that the poor pay less and the rich pay more, and that untaxed business assets pay their share, too. If the member does not accept that, surely he must accept that if we are not willing to raise revenue, we are handing on the cuts. The numbers do not add up any other way.

Stewart Stevenson: It is a question of who pays for the cuts. The cuts are the reality that the cabinet secretary and all members of this Parliament have to engage with. If we take an approach that takes money out of individuals’ pockets, we affect the whole economy, diminish the prospect of economic recovery and prolong any difficulties that arise from the cuts. I will talk about business in a moment.

We know that the Green party is essentially an anti-growth party and taking money out of ordinary peoples’ pockets would support that objective. I am not sure that it is a sure-fire election winner and, as Patrick Harvie said in his opening remarks, using the SVR is unlikely to be popular. It would certainly create difficulties.

My second point is about business rates. Again, screwing down on business would support the anti-growth agenda. If we were to tinker with business in the wrong way and unravel the huge amount of support that we have given to small business—a vigorous small business sector is the very heartbeat of our economy—we would find ourselves in difficulties.

In recent weeks, the Green party has been rehearsing the idea of introducing a tax on empty properties. Let us look at the effect that that tax has had south of the border. Properties are being demolished and roofs are being taken down, because the burden on a shrinking business with a fixed cost associated with its property leads to such behaviour. It is hardly green to destroy property that could be brought back into use at a later date. That will not improve the economy and it is not the kind of response that will help us to grow our way out of the difficulties that we are in.

This debate has been timely because we are in the run-up to next week’s stage 1 debate on the budget, but I fear that the Greens’ proposals to increase taxes are simply a road that would make things more difficult, not less.


19 January 2011

S3M-7716 Economy, Energy and Tourism Committee’s “Report on the public sector’s support for exporters, international trade and the attraction of inward investment.”

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Alasdair Morgan): The next item of business is a debate on motion S3M-7716, in the name of Iain Smith, on the Economy, Energy and Tourism Committee’s “Report on the public sector’s support for exporters, international trade and the attraction of inward investment.”
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Stewart Stevenson (Banff and Buchan) (SNP):

Like others, I congratulate the committee on its work. Like Jeremy Purvis, I have come to this from outside the process and have read the report with some interest.

Paragraph 237 of the report says that not enough companies are looking for assistance. We must remember that there is a fundamental difference between the approach of the public sector and the approach of the private sector. The public sector is, essentially, risk averse—that is something that we need to change—thinks strategically and looks, generally, to the long term. The private sector, on the other hand, is highly entrepreneurial and opportunistic and tends to look to the short term. Sometimes, the two sectors make quite uncomfortable bedfellows. When we add them together, we can subtract one from the other and end up worse off, or we can benefit from the hybridisation that arises from their diverse approaches. It is quite difficult to achieve the latter, but we should certainly try to do so.

Paragraph 247 addresses the need for SDI not to

“duplicate or crowd out the type of advice and support that is currently being provided by other bodies in Scotland”.

That is a self-evident truth that we should take on board.

Fundamentally, we have a two-way street, just as there is a two-way street between the public and private sectors. There is a benefit to us from bringing trade and companies to Scotland and there is a benefit to our getting out and investing and engaging elsewhere.

Paragraph 241 talks about SDI’s physical presence. I am not in as much sympathy with the points that are expressed in this paragraph as I am with others. In the past three and a half years, I have met SDI people in various locations and spoken with them about what they are doing, and I have always been struck that, although they might have an office in D├╝sseldorf or wherever, they spend a great deal of time elsewhere. I had 1,303 nights as a minister, but I spent only 467 of them at home; the rest were out and about—and not many of them were holidays or party business. I am sure that the SDI employees work on a similar basis and that they spend a bit of the time in their home base but most of their time on the road. Indeed, one third of my 2,769 ministerial meetings were outwith Scottish Government offices.

Iain Smith: The member had too much time on his hands.

Stewart Stevenson: If only I had had more time. I will come back to that issue later.

The key point is that the location of the office is one thing but what is important is the location of the folk who are doing the job.

It is clear that the world is changing rapidly. I first visited China in 1978, and the change that I saw when I visited China as a minister in 2009 was fundamental. In Beijing, there are significantly more cars per household than there are in London, Edinburgh or Glasgow whereas, in 1978, there were probably no private cars at all in China. I visited a wind turbine manufacturer that is co-operating and working with Scottish interests—SDI was key to that arrangement. I visited an electric vehicle manufacturer, where I saw 400 vehicles that were going off to the United States. Ironically, I visited China’s dedicated weather television channel, where I was given the opportunity to see how difficult it is to do a weather forecast. If only I had learned the lesson more thoroughly and remembered it a year later, but there we are. Ho hum—one has to learn from life.

Scotland is famed for its exports. On my world travels, I saw in Burma what is claimed to be the biggest Buddha in the world, which was sitting on a steel stand that was made in Motherwell. Similarly, the ferry that runs across Lake Titicaca between Peru and Bolivia was built on the Clyde. It had to be dismantled to be taken over there and then rebuilt, but it is certainly there.

The Liberals in particular should be proud of the Scotch whisky industry. Lloyd George introduced the requirement—to restrict supply during the first world war—that whisky must be kept in bond for three years. That improved the quality of the brand by eliminating the rotgut and, as a second-level effect, laid the foundations for the Scotch whisky export industry. There are still brands today that state that they are exported under British Government supervision. Of course, Lloyd George’s secretary was Frances Stevenson, so he must have got the good ideas from somewhere.

Educational exports have gone up, as paragraph 248 mentions. I spent some time in the two years before I came to the Parliament lecturing at Heriot-Watt University and had students from more than 20 countries in my class. It is clear that Scotland has huge and very important international connections that we can exploit.

Jeremy Purvis talked about the merchant company that was founded in 1694. That brings to mind, as perhaps it does for Lewis Macdonald, the Aberdeen Shore Porters Society, which was founded in 1492 and claims to be the oldest business in Scotland. That tells us that in Aberdeen the business of exporting, the shore and the harbour have been important for a long time.

I say to Chris Harvie that I have been on the little train from Darjeeling to Ghum; so exciting was it that I kept the ticket. We have that kind of experience to sell to the world.

We should not beat ourselves up too much, as one can take different things from the figures. In table 3 on page 11, the committee provides us with the HM Revenue and Customs regional trade statistics. We can see that, excluding services such as banking and tourism and financial investments, the low in Scotland was £12 billion in 2006, and it has gone back up to £15 billion, albeit that our share is not doing so well. We should look to our successes as well as focusing on our failures.

As we approach 25 January, we should remember that our cultural icons, such as Robert Burns, can deliver a great deal for this agenda. I will be speaking in Bethesda in Maryland on Friday evening, but by internet—I will not be there physically. The modern technology world gives us new export opportunities, and we should try to make use of them.


13 January 2011

S3M-7693 Electricity Market Reform

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Alasdair Morgan): The next item of business is a debate on motion S3M-7693, in the name of Jim Mather, on electricity market reform.

... ... ...

Stewart Stevenson (Banff and Buchan) (SNP):

I was delighted to respond to Liam McArthur's motion on renewable energy on 28 October. In my speech on that day, I focused on the fossil fuel levy, which has been part of the discussion today. It is slightly disappointing that, with 50 minutes to go in the debate, I am the last speaker in the open part. I am, however, happy to use as many of those minutes as the Presiding Officer allows me.

Today, I read a statement by Georg Adamowitsch. He said:

"The North Sea has different conditions and potentials for the generation of renewable energy. Scotland is a fine example of how different offshore technologies (wind parks, wave and tidal technology, onshore potentials, various wind potentials) can be combined to form a coherent approach."

Of course, if we want more and more of the energy that is used in the UK and Scotland to come from renewable sources, that means implicitly that the shift will be towards electricity. Therefore, it is right and proper that we focus on transmission of that electricity from where it is generated to where it is required.

There are, of course, a number of low-level issues that will be discussed on another occasion, such as the fact that if we are to have electric cars, we must also have local delivery of electricity for them to use. Today's debate is much more about transmission over the high-voltage network, which involves minimising transmission losses so that we can deliver from one end of this island to another.

Liam McArthur: I hope that my intervention will help Stewart Stevenson to get through the 20 minutes that are available to him. Transmission is an important issue, but will he touch on the importance of storage? Everyone who has spoken in this debate has been guilty of glossing over that issue, which involves issues around transport and other factors.

Stewart Stevenson: I am not sure that the Presiding Officer responded to my suggestion that I should speak for 20 minutes—

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Trish Godman): We could suspend.

Stewart Stevenson: Hopefully, not by a tender part of my anatomy.

In response to Liam McArthur's point, it is quite interesting to note that one of the storage mechanisms that is mentioned in the Redpoint Energy report is pump storage. Electricity is going to be a key part of producing hydrogen, which might turn out to be one of the main fuels of choice for transport in the future and, of course, there is a range of challenges in relation to how one stores hydrogen because, being the smallest atom that exists, it sneaks through almost any metal and dissipates rapidly.

I will turn to issues that are a little more parochial. In Aberdeenshire, we have some of the highest transmission charges in Scotland, at some £20 per kilowatt, which is in contrast to the subsidy of over £6.50 per kilowatt that is available in the south of England. That does not seem to be fair, and it does not seem to serve the interests of any part of these islands. As Georg Adamowitsch's contribution to the debate illustrated, Scotland has a huge potential to be the renewables powerhouse of Europe, which will benefit Europe and the UK and will, fundamentally, create economic opportunity for Scotland. We have won the energy lottery again, so it is important that we have in place the right policies and practices that will allow us to capitalise on that.

We and the UK Government share a 2050 target of an 80 per cent reduction in carbon emissions, and the effective generation and delivery of electricity is vital to that.

A huge proportion of the UK's gas supply comes ashore in my constituency adjacent to Peterhead, and there is a gas power station in Peterhead itself. It has been very disappointing that because the charges are so great, there is a real risk that one of the generation units could be closed. The unit has to pay £29 million a year for access, whereas an identical power station in the London area would be paid £3 million to generate the power that is required.

There is a broad consensus among energy producers, business groups and trade unions that locational transmission charging is no longer appropriate, and we very much welcome that. Broadly, I have heard no dissenting voices on that, and the issue has now been picked up in the UK Government's consultation. It is a shame in some ways that we did not get to that sooner.

As there are some 26,000 potential Scottish jobs in renewable energy, it is important that we make progress and move away from a model quite distinctly different from that which is used elsewhere in Europe. The Scottish Government has continuously pressed for a change in that regard. As Scotland generates some 12 per cent of the UK's electricity but is forced to pay some 40 per cent of the transmission costs, significant change is in the interests of everyone in these islands.

There has been one disappointment that I have found in my research for which I have not really found an answer. I had thought that there were significant transmission losses when electricity was pumped over long distances, but there is a clear assumption, even in the UK Government's consultation document, that what you put in is what you get out at the other end. I am obviously wrong on that, and I have been corrected by reading the UK Government's document.

It has been entirely appropriate to take a consensual approach on this subject. It is fundamentally clear that any policies in this area will outlast the term in office of any Government in any part of these islands; it is probable that a series of Governments will continue to engage in the policies that are set as a result of the current consultation. It is important that we all contribute, and that we express clearly and unambiguously today the needs of Scotland and the opportunities that we have to provide for the energy needs of our neighbours elsewhere in these islands, and further afield through interconnectors to other countries in Europe.

I will address—perhaps in a slightly contentious way—the point that Stuart McMillan raised about the performance of individual managers in banks, whether those are green banks or otherwise. I came into politics to purge myself of the taint of having worked for a bank for 30 years. We should perhaps start to call bonuses "performance-related pay" and they should perhaps be taken away from a person's pay if that person does not deliver. If we consider the issue in that sense, performance-related pay is not a bad idea, provided that it delivers for the public good and for customers, and is focused on the outcomes that an individual has delivered. In any case, it should be paid only from profits, should there be any.

I will draw my remarks to a conclusion, Presiding Officer, to—as I can see—the great relief of many of my colleagues in the chamber. I welcome the support that I heard in Liam McArthur's reading of his amendment, which confirmed what I took from it. His party can deliver a positive contribution in Government at Westminster via the UK Government's consultation, to give us equitable access and go a little way towards offsetting some other areas of disappointment.

I particularly welcomed Chris Huhne's recognition yesterday that the SNP Government is led by one of Europe's leading energy economists. It should be no surprise that our First Minister has long been engaged in criticising the access regime and the effects that it has on Scotland and on energy supply in the UK as a whole. The existing process of charging must change. I am happy to support the minister's motion—and to allow others to try to fill the time.


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