25 October 2012

S4M-03911 Neil Armstrong

The Deputy Presiding Officer (John Scott): The next item of business is a members’ business debate on motion S4M-03911, in the name of Willie Coffey, on Neil Armstrong. The debate will be concluded without any question being put.

Motion debated,

That the Parliament notes with sadness the death of Neil Armstrong, the first man on the moon and commander of Apollo 11, which landed on the Moon on 20 July 1969; recognises the significant human and scientific achievement made by the Apollo 11 team of Neil Armstrong, lunar module pilot, Buzz Aldrin and command module pilot, Michael Collins; notes Neil Armstrong’s family connections with the town of Langholm in Scotland, and echoes the sentiments expressed by commander Armstrong as he set foot on the moon when he said, “that’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind”.

... ... ...

Stewart Stevenson (Banffshire and Buchan Coast) (SNP):
The story of Neil Armstrong is the story of what a country can achieve when it cleaves to its bosom the highest of ambitions. It was, of course, driven by the flight on 12 April 1961 of Yuri Gagarin of the Soviet Union, who went for a single orbit around the earth. That was the ultimate, highest and greatest of game changers.

When, on 25 May 1961—only a few weeks after that flight—John F Kennedy set his country on the path that took Americans to the moon, that was deemed to be absolutely impossible. No one knew how to do it or that it could be done. There were huge technical challenges to be overcome.

The leading plans—there were four alternatives—relied on the rendezvous of space vehicles in orbit around the moon. That had never been done around the earth at that stage, far less around the moon. The onboard navigational computer to which Iain Gray referred—the Apollo guidance computer—had only 1.3W of electricity and only 2,000 words of computer memory to do its computations.

Some of the challenges were organisational. The programme involved 400,000 people and 20,000 firms and universities. As an organisational challenge in a short period of time, it was beyond previous contemplation.

When Neil Armstrong stepped on to Apollo 11 with his fellow astronauts, he knew that the flight was not without risk. Gus Grissom, Ed White and Roger Chaffee died on Apollo 1 in a flash fire on the launch pad and Vladimir Komarov was the first cosmonaut to be killed during space flight, on Soyuz 1. Like Gus Grissom, Vladimir Komarov was the first person from his nation to fly twice in space.

There were aspects of the programme that are perhaps little known and little regarded. Almost all the mathematical computations were undertaken by women. NASA decided to employ all-women teams to do the calculations because they were deemed to be more reliable and it was deemed that better intuition could be applied by the women. That built on the previous experience of Rear-Admiral Grace Hopper, who was the first computer programmer in the electronic age—Lord Byron’s niece, Ada Lovelace, was the first at all, of course.

I had the good fortune in the early 1990s to stay for three nights with a guy called Lanny Lafferty, who worked for the jet propulsion laboratory. He was the man who designed and operated the first robot hand that grasped Martian soil. There is so much in the programme that is absolutely fascinating and it has contributed so much—Teflon, for example, and the computer that was the first to be built on integrated computer chips.

In today’s modern world, we owe so much to this programme, but above all we owe so much to Neil Armstrong, who put his life on the line to inspire us and to inspire others. Ambition, courage and fine management delivered, but Neil Armstrong put his life on the line. Thank you, Neil Armstrong.


04 October 2012

S4M-04081 Land Reform (Isle of Gigha)

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Elaine Smith): The next item of business is a members’ business debate on motion S4M-04081, in the name of David Stewart, on the Isle of Gigha—10 years of pioneering land reform. The debate will be concluded without any question being put.

Motion debated,

That the Parliament congratulates the community of the Isle of Gigha on the tenth anniversary of what is considered its pioneering community buy-out; acknowledges the efforts of the Isle of Gigha Heritage Trust to redevelop the community by introducing development projects in the area; understands that, over the 10 years, the population in the community has risen from 96 to 160; welcomes the inspirational example that it considers those on Gigha have set for other communities; believes that there is much work still to be done throughout Scotland regarding land reform; notes the recommendations of the Land Reform Review Group, and believes that valuable lessons can be learned from Gigha.

... ... ...

Stewart Stevenson (Banffshire and Buchan Coast) (SNP):
I thank David Stewart for giving us the opportunity to debate an important subject. In his opening remarks, he said that we have some half a million acres in community ownership. It may be as well to give a sense of perspective on that: 20 per cent of the Westminster constituencies in Scotland exceed that size.

We might have made a great advance from where we were, but there is a heck of a lot still to do. I welcome the formation of the new group that will look at what has been done in the past and seek to build on it.

I was an active and enthusiastic supporter of the 2003 act. Indeed, my greatest achievement was to add the single word “add” to the access provisions, which protected from obliteration the existing access rights and ensured that the new act only added to those rights. It took me a heck of a long time to get that, but there we are.

Jamie McGrigor suggested that there is no need for further legislation. I thought that Rob Gibson was quite uncharacteristically kind to the Tories in his contribution—during the passage of the 2003 act, Bill Aitken consistently described it as leading to a Mugabe land grab. I do not think that any members in the chamber—not even Jamie McGrigor—would suggest that that has happened. On the contrary, progress has perhaps been more glacial than we might have hoped that it would be.

The Isle of Gigha is God’s island—it has that name for good reason. I first visited it at five past 1 on 20 May 1993. Members might ask why that time is so accurate; it is because I flew in, so by looking at my log book I can see exactly when I landed.

I found an island in the feudal grip of a landowner who subsequently had to flee to Switzerland and was pursued by the authorities for money. It was not a happy experience. However, he built the landing strip, which had been open for some six weeks when I landed there.

It caused the islanders of Gigha no great grief when the landowner brought his own plane in—which was registered Golf-India-Golf-Hotel-Alpha because the registrations have five letters—and crashed it, writing it off on his own landing strip. That was no great tragedy whatsoever, as no one was injured.

Enormous changes have happened on Gigha. I read on the island’s website that there are now 31 children there. If only communities of that size around Scotland had that proportion of youngsters, because they are the foundations for the future of the community and guarantee the future of the school.

The website also says:

“We ... have virtually full employment on Gigha.”

We should move the whole of Scotland to Gigha—maybe that would be the answer.

Gigha has been blessed by nature. I flew into Gigha one February and found the tar melting on the roads and people sunbathing in their swimming costumes on the beach. However, the community—in particular, the McSporrans—has been absolutely key to changing the dynamic of Gigha. At the end of the day it is always about people, and the people of Gigha have risen to the challenge. What we, as politicians, must do is deconstruct the barriers and help them to do what they do best—manage their communities.


03 October 2012

S4M-04340 Scotland’s Future

The Presiding Officer (Tricia Marwick): The next item of business is a debate on motion S4M-04340, in the name of Johann Lamont, on Scotland’s future. I remind members that the debate is heavily oversubscribed. Your time limits will be extremely strict. I hope that we can accommodate all members who want to speak.

... ... ...

The Deputy Presiding Officer: I am sad to be able to give Stewart Stevenson only two minutes, too.


Stewart Stevenson (Banffshire and Buchan Coast) (SNP):
Malcolm Chisholm, at least, will be pleased if my speech is made of straw. However, it will be made entirely of Labour’s straw.

I have with me a number of Labour leaflets. One central Labour leaflet says, “Freeze council tax”; it does not say, “Freeze council tax for two years”, just “Freeze council tax”. A leaflet from Iain Gray talks about freezing council tax for two years. One Richard Simpson leaflet says,

“Keep free bus passes for the over 60s”

while another says,

“Scottish Labour will not introduce tuition fees to pay for higher education.”

A leaflet from Cathy Peattie mentions a

“Council tax freeze to help household bills”

but says nothing about two years, and another of her leaflets says:

“Labour delivered Scotland-wide ... travel for older people and introduced a young persons concessionary travel scheme. Buses are a lifeline for many.”

A central Labour leaflet mentions “no university tuition fees”; an Allan Wilson leaflet says, “Freeze council tax”; a Colin Davidson leaflet says, “Freeze council tax”; and a Willie Scobie leaflet says, “Freeze council tax”.

Members: Who?

Stewart Stevenson: He was one of Labour’s candidates. I am glad to be able to enlighten Labour on such a wide range of subjects.

However, Labour still has some decent caring people. Carwyn Jones said,

“We’re not going to change the policy on free prescriptions. We can afford it”,

and pointed out,

“If we say that people have to start paying for their medicine where does it end?”

I want to finish with Omar Khayyam.

“Each Morn a thousand Roses bring, you say:

Yes, but where leaves the Rose of Yesterday?

And this first Summer month that brings the Rose

Shall take Miliband and Lamont away.”


Stewart Stevenson
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