27 November 2012

S4M-04970 St Andrew’s Day

The Presiding Officer (Tricia Marwick): The next item of business is a debate on motion S4M-04970, in the name of Fiona Hyslop, on St Andrew’s day: a celebration of Scotland.

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

Why should we celebrate St Andrew’s day? Some reasons are historical, some are cultural, some are even political, some are humorous and some are personal.

I will start by extending our knowledge of the flag. It is also one of the international signal flags; it stands for the letter M and it means that a doctor is on board, which fits neatly with our tradition of training doctors around the world.

We have heard of countries that have St Andrew as their patron saint. He is also the patron saint of Patras in Greece, Amalfi in Italy, Luqa in Malta and Esgueira in Portugal. He was the patron saint of Prussia and of the order of the golden fleece. Andrew is also the patron saint of the United States army rangers. He certainly gets about a bit—indeed, the Church of Scotland has many St Andrew’s kirks around the world, which demonstrates his reach.

Mark Griffin very nicely and properly mentioned my constituents who founded BrewDog, which is a very successful brewery. They are two young lads of Mark Griffin’s age rather than my age. My favourite beer from there—which I can just about make relevant to the debate—is Trashy Blonde, which is a very nice blonde beer. That leads me to one of the reasons why it is a little unwise for the Tories to have approached the debate in the way that they have. If we want to celebrate St Andrew’s day for party-political reasons, I have a better starting point than any of the other members, because 30 November 1990 was the day on which a removal van arrived at 10 Downing Street to remove Maggie Thatcher from that address. Perhaps the Tories will be celebrating that as well. Others may have celebrated when I left the Bank of Scotland on 30 November 1999, so it is for the goose as it is for the gander. By moving from banking to politics, I sought to improve my reputation.

Any members in the chamber who have done any genealogical research will have seen that many of our ancestors used the St Andrew’s cross to make their mark on certificates before the days of literacy.

The order of St Andrew is the highest order of merit in modern Russia. It is a very ancient order, and was suspended during the time of the Soviet Union. I note that the second-highest order in Russia is the order of St George, so they have got things right in that country at least. Recipients of the order of St Andrew in Russia have been Peter the Great, Mikhail Gorbachev and—less encouragingly—Mikhail Kalashnikov.

The name “Andrew” itself is of interest. It comes from the Greek, and means “manly”, “brave”, “manhood” and “valour”—a whole series of attributes of which I think we can all accept that we should be proud.

There are not just 800,000 Scots living in England, but 40 million Scots living around the world. The majority of my living relatives of whom I am aware live outside Scotland, mostly in the United States but also in Sweden, Denmark, South Africa, Australia, New Zealand and Hong Kong.

Margo MacDonald: Does Stewart Stevenson feel any further away, distant and separate from his family members just because they are in different states from him? In my experience of having a daughter working in Ireland and a sister working in England, I was just as close to both of them.

Stewart Stevenson: Margo MacDonald makes a good point. Of course, the bounds of geography in the modern electronic world are much shrunk, and emotionally I feel no distance whatever. My niece in Sweden and my nephew in Denmark are Scandinavians, just as after independence we will continue to be Britons, but by geography rather than political choice.

It is interesting to look at what we have achieved jointly with our friends south of the border. I am approximately one quarter English myself, and I have a number of great-grandparents from south of the border. We have achieved a great deal together, which is to our shared credit. We have fought and won two world wars, but many independent countries joined the alliance voluntarily; we did not have to be bound in a political union to do that.

There are a lot of local St Andrew’s day events in a lot of different constituencies and we will celebrate in our own individual ways. In my constituency, we will have travellers’ tales in Fraserburgh library tomorrow; great reads for winter nights in Peterhead two days later; and, on 1 December, a meet-the-author event with Shona MacLean in Banff castle. Those will be excellent contributions to aiding understanding all around the world.

It is worth looking at what we have on our doorstep. There is a new statue of Robert Ferguson outside the Canongate kirk. He is the man that Robert Burns described as

“my elder brother in the muse”.

Adam Smith’s statue is in Canongate kirk’s yard, too. He is someone who made an immense contribution and whose works are carried by capitalists and communists around the world.

When Dennis Canavan successfully introduced his member’s bill to create a holiday in Scotland, he worked closely within the Parliament’s powers, which allow us to prescribe and create bank holidays. Bank holidays are, in a technical sense, only days on which banks may not charge interest—that is all that a bank holiday is. Of course, he also created holidays for civil servants. Would that he had been able—through that member’s bill—to create holidays for wider Scotland. That must be voluntary; it cannot be created by the powers of this Parliament.

John Park (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Lab): Is Stewart Stevenson saying that the Scottish Government’s position is that it would create an extra holiday on this day if the powers were available?

The Deputy Presiding Officer: Stewart Stevenson, you should come to a close, please.

Stewart Stevenson: I no longer speak for the Scottish Government; John Park will need to ask others whether that is what they want.

The remains of St Andrew were taken to the ends of the earth, so it is no wonder that Scots, who travelled to the ends of the earth, adopted him as our saint. I visited Hebron in the West Bank in the 1970s and, a thousand years later, there were freckled Arabs with red hair. The footprint of the Scots is everywhere, as is the footprint of St Andrew.


20 November 2012

S4M-04874 Air Passenger Duty

The Presiding Officer (Tricia Marwick): The next item of business is a debate on motion S4M-04874, in the name of Keith Brown, on air passenger duty. Members who wish to speak in the debate should press their request-to-speak buttons now. I call on Fergus Ewing to speak to and move the motion. Mr Ewing, you have 14 minutes. I remind all members that time is extremely tight. I allowed an extra five minutes for topical questions, which impinges on the time for this debate.

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Stewart Stevenson (Banffshire and Buchan Coast) (SNP):
It is just over a year since Northern Ireland gained devolved control over aspects of air passenger duty so that it is no longer subject to Westminster’s hikes.

Incidentally, the example that was given by Hanzala Malik illustrates perfectly one of the irrationalities of the current scheme. Flights to Lahore are in band B of APD, but flights to India are in band C. Perhaps Lahore could become a hub because, provided that people stop for 24 hours in Lahore, they do not have to pay APD on their flight to India. That is just one of the many irrationalities that exist in the current scheme.

Glasgow, Aberdeen and Edinburgh airports have described APD as a “significant barrier” and an “increasing burden” and they would welcome its devolution. The then Cabinet Secretary for Infrastructure and Capital Investment, Alex Neil, stated:

“APD was a contributory factor in the demise of Glasgow Prestwick’s link with Stansted Airport.”

We are definitely suffering indeed.

Lower air passenger duties can correlate with benefit to the environment, because direct flights not only give us more efficient travel, less hassle and increased tourism but reduce the environmental impact. Given that the environment has featured in this debate, let me talk about some of the positive things that full devolution of APD powers could do for us.

First, we could reduce APD for flights that are towed out from the terminal to the departure point. That would require some capital investment, but it would reduce fuel for short-haul flights by between 5 and 10 per cent.

Let us see reduced APD for turboprop flights. For anyone who thinks that a bit irrational, I should say that the shortest scheduled service between Scotland and London happens to be a turboprop flight—on short flights, there is no time disadvantage. That saves between 25 and 40 per cent fuel and, because the turboprops fly at a lower level, the radiative forcing is reduced.

Patrick Harvie: Will the member take an intervention?

Stewart Stevenson: I really will not have time.

Let us reduce APD for flights that burn low sulphur kerosene. At the moment, the marine and aviation industries are the only ones to use fuels that are still 3 per cent sulphur, whereas the fuel for our cars is now down to 0.5 per cent sulphur. That would reduce SO2 emissions and have significant environmental impacts.

We heard a little bit about biofuels. If we move to a position in which we are able to use hydrogen fuel, which can be produced 100 per cent from renewable energy, that would more or less eliminate the CO2 emissions from aviation in the longer term. Would it not be good, through APD, to be able to encourage aviation operators to start to move in that direction via biofuels?

We could use some of the receipts from APD to invest in longer runways. Longer runways mean that the plane needs less power for take-off and landing, which are the very significant parts of a flight. One reason why Aberdeen’s figures have gone up is that the runway has been extended by around 100m. For example, the Azerbaijan Airlines flight from Aberdeen to Baku, which could previously take only 40 passengers, can now fill the plane because the runway has been lengthened.

Let us look at the environmental advantages that would arise if, instead of transporting people from Edinburgh to Manchester airport, the railway line transported people from Manchester to Edinburgh airport because Edinburgh had a competitive advantage from lower APD. If there was more choice at Edinburgh airport, people would travel more directly, and that would be helpful.

If we had the full powers of an independent country, we could look at aircraft routing. We are congested in central Scotland. We have a one-way system for Edinburgh and Glasgow airports, which means that aircraft on their way out have to travel west across towards Prestwick and then down to Dean Cross in the lake district. We could consider that.

Let us think about allowing single-engine instrument flights, as the whole of Scandinavia does and which reduces emissions. Let us look at whether we could have precision global positioning system approaches, which reduce the approach time and flying time.

There are so many things that we could do with APD and with the normal powers of an independent country.


07 November 2012

S4M-04694 Scotland’s Relationship with Malawi

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Elaine Smith): The next item of business is a debate on motion S4M-04694, in the name of Humza Yousaf, on Scotland’s relationship with Malawi.

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

It is a great privilege for me to speak in the debate. When I demitted office as a minister in September this year and Humza Yousaf was appointed, it was a bit of a wake-up call for me to discover that he is 40 years younger than I am.

The debate offers us a good opportunity to consider the achievements of previous members of this Parliament. Lord McConnell—or Jack McConnell, as we knew him when he was here—has two major achievements to his name: developing our relationship with Malawi in the form that it now takes, and Scotland’s anti-smoking legislation.

It is, therefore, somewhat ironic that tobacco is one of Malawi’s largest exports. The value of tobacco is falling, and the proportion of the country’s exports that it constitutes is rising. If nothing else, we owe Malawi a debt because we are trying to eliminate the market for one of its biggest exports, which I hope that we will succeed in doing at some point in the future.

It was my great privilege and pleasure to chair the meeting in May this year at which the First Minister and Mary Robinson announced the launch of the climate justice fund. Mary Robinson has a relationship with Malawi and with its President, Joyce Banda. In 2010, Joyce Banda joined the global leaders council for reproductive health, which Mary Robinson chairs. Many of the connections that matter to us and to Malawi are multistranded and familiar to us, and it is our job to support and sustain as many of them as possible.

When I was in Rio for the Rio+20 conference, I was able to meet people from Malawi to talk with them about the support that we are giving. To highlight the interest that exists among our young people in Scotland, I will tell the chamber that I took part in a teleconference through the glow network in Scotland’s schools and one of the topics that came up was Malawi. I was sitting in South America, talking about Malawi in Africa to schoolchildren in Scotland. That illustrates how interdependent and small the modern world is.

As other members have, I commend the work of Martha Payne, who has fabulously illustrated the potential of those who are so young—which, of course, includes the minister, who is 40 years younger than I am.

Humza Yousaf: Only 40.

Stewart Stevenson: Only 40, but for me it sometimes feels much more.

The issue of women in Malawi has been a strand running through much of today’s debate. In Forbes magazine’s list of the 100 women who run the world, Joyce Banda, the president of Malawi, is number 71. Fine, but how many people from the British isles are on that list? The answer is only two. One of those is the Queen, at number 26, and the other is J K Rowling, at number 76. Therefore, that international recognition of the position of Joyce Banda is quite significant.

Joyce Banda is, of course, no relation to Hastings Banda, who was the first president of Malawi. In 1941, he got his second medical degree at the University of Edinburgh and—I say this so as not to disappoint my fans—my father was at university with Hastings Banda and was doing his medical degree and was president of the union at that time. A further connection—I know that members want more—is that David Livingstone’s grandson was a gentleman called Dr Wilson, who lived in St Fillan’s. He came and did my father’s locum so that we could go on holiday each year. As a youngster, therefore, I remember that we talked about not Malawi, but Nyasaland and its predecessors.

Returning to the subject of women, I think that climate change—incidentally, Donald Trump says that climate change has been invented by the Chinese, but if he says that it merely proves that we should believe in it utterly and sincerely—is an issue that differentially affects women. In countries such as Malawi, women are the water gatherers, and they have to go further for water because aridity is an increasing problem. They have to go further for firewood, because there is less of it as trees are being burned. The output of agricultural industries in Malawi and much of sub-Saharan Africa is greatly reduced as the climate changes, and that differentially affects women in particular.

Therefore, it is right in our climate change work and in our support for Malawi that we have a whole series of projects to support women: we are empowering women as local leaders; we are supporting a midwifery model; we are involved with Mary’s Meals, as has been talked about; and we are supporting a maternal health project. All of that is absolutely excellent. It is part of our moral duty to support people who have been affected by what we have benefited from on climate change. Malawi is our current focus; we can do much more in the future and I hope that we do so.

Ultimately, the future belongs to the young, in particular the young of Malawi. Let us make sure that the young of Malawi benefit from much of what we do.


01 November 2012

S4M-04627 Drink-driving

The Presiding Officer (Tricia Marwick): Good afternoon. The first item of business this afternoon is a debate on motion S4M-04627, in the name of Kenny MacAskill, on drink-driving.

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

I draw members’ attention to my membership of the Institute of Advanced Motorists, which is an organisation that is interested in training drivers for safety.

We now have the ability to change the legal alcohol limit for drivers in Scotland and we can all clearly identify that drink-driving is an obvious hazard. When we combine that with our rather unpredictable weather on dark roads during Scotland’s winters, we have a toxic mix that we need to tak tent of. Less alcohol in the bloodstream of fewer drivers equals fewer accidents and deaths. Therefore, changing the legal blood alcohol content levels from 80mg to 50mg per 100ml of blood will deliver much at little cost and with no real inconvenience. That is a positive change that I and many others—that is clear from the debate—have supported for a long time.

Countless stories can be told of loss, pain, death and injury resulting from the impairing effects of alcohol on drivers, such as reduced co-ordination, slowed motor skills, blurred vision and poor judgment. We have the opportunity for Scotland to take the lead, just as the Labour-led Administration—to its eternal credit—took the lead with smoking.

The BMA tells us that driving becomes considerably more risky once the alcohol level rises above 50mg per 100ml of blood. Despite a 10 times greater risk than there is with sobriety, we currently let drivers at the 80mg level into cars to drive legally on our streets.

What would a reduction really mean? At 50mg, the crash risk would be dramatically reduced, to a fifth of that at 80mg. That is still double the risk for a non-drinking driver, but it is an enormous advance on the current arrangement. Risk rises steeply with increasing alcohol in the bloodstream. The rest of Europe and a good percentage of the rest of the world have lowered the levels, and it is time that we did so.

A report that was provided by the International Center for Alcohol Policies demonstrates that, in Austria, Denmark, the United States and Sweden, there was a decrease

“in the number of reported drink-drive trips and injurious or fatal accidents after BAC levels were lowered”.

We know that doing that works.

Lewis Macdonald had a little bit to say about devolution. Devolution is not the core of the debate. Let us do what we can, but it might be useful if whole policy areas were handed over under devolution. As members know, I am in favour of the 100 per cent devolution of everything, but we are not debating that today. However, it would be simpler for the Administrations on both sides of the border if we conducted things in that way.

Richard Simpson made a thoughtful contribution, as ever, on health matters. He talked about France. I have just come back from France. There was a bit of confusion, as I had thought that I needed breathalysers in my hire car and was a bit disconcerted to find that they were not there. I am glad to have found that I was driving legally rather than in terror. I am also pleased to hear that Dennis Robertson does not drive, although I have twice participated in Grampian Society for the Blind’s driving day, when blind people and blindfolded members of the Scottish Parliament drive around a race track in a time trial. It is interesting to think about that.

Dennis Robertson: Will the member take an intervention?

Stewart Stevenson: Of course—if the member will promise that he will be seen driving some time soon.

Dennis Robertson: When the driving instructors at the Alford transport museum take their blind or blindfolded members round in the car, they have not been drinking.

Stewart Stevenson: Many of the blind drivers have displayed far greater skills than drivers with sight and lots of alcohol in their system have.

We had a history lesson from Richard Lyle. Like many GPs, my father, in the 1950s, used to test people who were brought in as potential drunks to see whether they could walk along a white line. It is clear that Richard Simpson remembers that happening as well. Thank goodness we have moved to a more scientific and much more objective basis of testing.

As we change the limit—as change it we must—we must have an education and information programme that gets home to the difficult-to-reach groups that are our driving recidivists. I use that phrase advisedly. We must be in a position in which nobody can in practice say, “I didnae ken.” That is never an excuse in law, and it must not be an excuse that people can deploy in practice. The International Center for Alcohol Policies has stated:

“heightened public awareness of drink-driving issues”


“largely responsible for decreases in drink-driving infractions following the lowering of”

limits. That is an important point that we need to take account of.

I caution Alex Johnstone, who I think is getting confused about statistics. Of course the risk of people who are three or four times above the limit is dramatically higher—probably 50 times higher—than those who are sober, but that does not alter the fact that most people who are over the limit are near the limit. In numerical terms, those people are responsible for most of the accidents that we seek to reduce.

The world has changed. When my father was a GP in the 1950s, he could prescribe alcohol to his anaemic patients. We used to have samples of Sweetheart Stout and Guinness sitting in the surgery waiting to go out.

I will close with a few comments about aviation. It is worth saying that breathalysers in Scotland are already calibrated to test at the 20mg level. That information comes from answers to questions that I asked of the previous Executive in session 2. An additional requirement that is placed on pilots beyond the 20mg limit is that they are forbidden to drink for eight hours before they fly. Therefore, there are further measures that we can think about in future. I pose the question that, if we want pilots to be at that standard of safety, why would we get into a car with somebody who is operating at a lower safety standard? To save lives and ensure safe travel, we need lower levels and systematic breath testing. I am very happy to support the Government’s motion.


S4M-04418 Organ Donation (Presumed Consent)

Motion debated,

That the Parliament regrets what it considers the tragic death of 43 people in Scotland last year while awaiting an organ transplant; applauds the Respect My Dying Wish campaign by NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde urging people who wish to donate their organs after death to tell their loved ones of their desire so that their wishes can be respected, and recognises calls to introduce a system of presumed consent to help save the lives of more people awaiting organ transplant.

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

As other members did, I congratulate Kenny Gibson on securing this important debate.

Coming as I do from a substantially medical family, the demise of people is something to which I have been close for much of my life. The motion asks that the Parliament

“recognises calls to introduce a system of presumed consent”,

but I would go further and support a position of positive advocacy for presumed consent, coupled, of course, with respect for people who regard the remains of deceased relatives differently from the way in which I do.

Malcolm Chisholm made international comparisons, and it is important that we look further at them. One of my nieces is the transplant co-ordinator for Queensland in Australia. When my father-in-law died at a comparatively early age some 40 years ago, his entire remains were donated for medical research and the training of medical students. It was interesting that we had his funeral in the absence of a coffin, which changed the dynamic and emotional charge for all who attended, because we were in a much more positive place, thought more about my late father-in-law’s achievements and contributions, and were less fixated on his remains.

My mother-in-law, who died much later, wished the same for her, but for practical reasons we were unable to have her preserved for research within the 48-hour limit that applies, because she had the grave misfortune to die on the first day of a three-day weekend—sometimes those things happen. My wife and I have left instructions that others are to have the use of any and all our remains.

Each of us will have achievements in our lives that we can look back on with pride and, if we are lucky, others will remember them after we depart and confer on us a degree of immortality. However, how much more our contribution is when we allow someone else to live after we no longer do. Modern medical technology can keep many living beyond the point of failure of critical organs. Most of us will be familiar with kidney dialysis, but fewer will be aware of the professional, social and practical cost of living on dialysis. When a kidney failure sufferer gets a transplant, it not only prolongs their life but dynamically changes it.

The majority of people in our country die without making a will. We have substantial evidence that people are broadly reluctant to engage with the issue of their own mortality—we know that people simply like not to think about it. Like others, I think that it is time to think positively about two actions. First, we should give legal force to the deceased’s clearly expressed desire for their organs to be used after their death. We must consider making their wish in that regard paramount. After all, we can make a will about our tangible assets, so it is time to think about doing the same for our mortal remains.

Secondly, we should move to the presumption that the organs of the newly deceased may be re-used. There would have to be strong protections for those of faith or other beliefs to ensure that it is not a repugnant act for those affected. It is not a matter for hasty legislation and we would need to consult widely, but other countries have done it and we ought to be able to.

From personal experience, I know that national health service staff find it delicate and difficult to talk to people about imminent demise. We must consider training NHS staff in that regard.

As I said, other countries have moved to the presumption of organ donation and it is time for us to do likewise. The respect my dying wish campaign is absolutely excellent and, like others, I am happy to support it.


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